Some Important Historical Details Michael Cohen Probably Shared with Mueller’s Team

The attention since Michael Cohen pled guilty has focused largely on his role in brokering a Trump Tower deal, which was the substance of his lies to Congress as detail in his plea. But there are other things about which he was surely a really useful witness for Mueller. ABC provided some sketchy details, including the enticing detail that Cohen knew about pardon offers (possibly, even for him).

Cohen has spent more than 70 hours in interviews with Mueller’s team. The questioning has focused on contacts with Russians by Trump associates during the campaign, Trump’s business ties to Russia, obstruction of justice and talk of possible pardons, sources familiar with the discussions have told ABC News.

But I want to point to two historical details of particular interest.

It’s clear that Mueller has some interest in campaign finance irregularities, at least those of Roger Stone. But the crowd Roger rat-fucks with actually has a history with Michael Cohen. Cohen set up a 527 in 2011 into which Trump Organization funneled probably illegal cash.

As I’ve noted, in 2011, one of the people closely involved in Stone’s 2016 rat-fucking, Pamela Jensen, was involved in a 527 called ShouldTrumpRun that listed Michael Cohen as President.

The organization was apparently laundering Trump corporate cash into campaign spending. But when the issue came before the FEC, Commissioner Don McGahn helped kill an investigation into it.

During McGahn’s FEC tenure, one of those he helped save from enforcement action was Trump himself. In 2011, when the future president-elect was engaged in a high-profile process of considering whether to enter the 2012 race for the Republican presidential nomination, Trump was formally accused in an FEC complaint of violating agency regulations. The case was dismissed on a deadlocked vote of the FEC commissioners.

A four-page complaint filed by Shawn Thompson of Tampa, Fla., accused Trump of illegally funneling corporate money from his Trump Organization into an organization called McGahn and fellow FEC Republicans Caroline Hunter and Matthew Petersen voted to block FEC staff recommendations that Trump be investigated in the matter—designated Matter Under Review (MUR) 6462.

Ultimately, Trump opted not to run for president in 2012. Nonetheless, FEC staff attorneys concluded his activities before that decision may have violated campaign finance rules regarding money raised to “test the waters” for a candidacy. A staff report from the FEC Office of General Counsel, based largely on news articles and other documents about Trump’s flirtation with running for president—including Trump’s own quoted statements— recommended that the commissioners authorize a full FEC investigation backed by subpoena power.

FEC Democrats voted to pursue the recommended probe, but the votes of McGahn and the other FEC Republicans precluded the required four-vote majority needed for the commission to act.

McGahn and Hunter issued a “ statement of reasons” explaining their votes in the Trump matter in 2013. The 11-page statement blasted FEC staff attorneys in the Office of General Counsel for reviewing volumes of published information regarding Trump’s potential 2012 candidacy in order to determine whether to recommend that the FEC commissioners vote to authorize a full investigation. McGahn and Hunter argued that the FEC counsel’s office was prohibited from examining information other than what was contained in the formal complaint submitted in the case.

The Office of General Counsel shouldn’t be allowed to pursue an “unwritten, standardless process whereby OGC can review whatever articles and other documents not contained in the complaint that they wish, and send whatever they wish to the respondent for comment,” the Republican commissioners wrote.

And this public trial balloon in 2011 is interesting for another reason. It means that when Trump set up the Miss American deal in 2013, the Russians knew he might consider running for President. Cohen was closely involved in that deal, too.

That Cohen was involved in negotiations with the Agalarovs in 2013  is interesting enough. But I’m particularly intrigued by something that happened in the wake of the disclosure of the June 9 meeting. As the Trumps and Agalarovs started getting testy about each others’ response, Ike Kaveladze called Roman Beniaminov’s attention to a picture from the Las Vegas announcement party that got leaked to the press, highlighting Cohen and Keith Schiller.

On July 13, 2017, Ike Kaveladze (who was really in charge of the meeting for his boss, Aras Agalarov) and Roman Beniaminov (Emin Agalrov’s assistant, who heard ahead of time the meeting was about dealing dirt on Hillary to the Trumps) had the following exchange by text (PDF 34).

[Kaveladze sends link]

Beniaminov: But I don’t recall taking any video. And I can’t understand why it looks so similar.

Kaveladze: I mean his trump organization employees.

By July 13, the Agalarovs and Trumps were increasingly at odds on how to respond to the story, not least after the Trumps leaked Rod Goldstone’s name to the press after saying they wouldn’t. After that, there seemed to be increasing amounts of dirt being leaked, perhaps by both sides.

It appears that Kaveladze may have phoned Beniaminov right before this to raise this CNN story, which had just been posted. Beniaminov seemed to think Kaveladze had suggested that he, Beniaminov, had taken the video, even while he seems to have been present at the Las Vegas event back in 2013.

Scott Balber, the Agalarov’s ever-present lawyer (who had actually represented Trump on a Miss Universe related issue in 2013), was quoted in the piece.

“It’s simply fiction that this was some effort to create a conduit for information from the Russian federal prosecutors to the Trump campaign,” Balber said on CNN’s “New Day.” “It’s just fantasy world because the reality is if there was something important that Mr. Agalarov wanted to communicate to the Trump campaign, I suspect he could have called Mr. Trump directly as opposed to having his son’s pop music publicist be the intermediary.”

I don’t rule out Balber having taken and leaked the video.

Or maybe not: What Kaveladze is interested in highlighting to Beniaminov is the presence of two other Trump employees in the video: Keith Schiller and Michael Cohen, shown above.

I don’t know what to make of the reference — though it’s equally possible they were involved in the 2017 response, or were viewed for some other reason as an additional concern regarding the June 9 meeting.

While Schiller actually was in the loop of the June 9 meeting (Rob Goldstone chatted with him the day of the meeting and asked about how to mail things to Trump given increased security), there’s no public evidence Cohen was.

But perhaps Kaveladze realized Cohen might know something about the 2013 events that would be of concern as the investigated heated up.

In any case, we know from Mueller’s questions he thinks the 2013 does serve as a key part of the investigation. And while Schiller — with his sinecure at the RNC — may not be talking, Michael Cohen is.

There are other aspects of Trump’s business that Cohen will explain for Mueller, including corrupt deals with Russians and related countries.

But these two past events are likely to be of particular interest for Mueller’s prosecutors.

24 replies
  1. Rugger9 says:

    All those bread crumbs, so little time before Kaiser Quisling decides he’s not going to risk any more.  It may be pushed along at the G20 with Putie-Poot giving him his next set of instructions (or telling KQ it’s time to go because of the mess he’s made). Perhaps the next signal involves Butina (who we haven’t heard from in a while).

    For those who think Pence will stand up… no.  He caves when confronted by significant force, as we saw in Indiana while he was governor there.

    More popcorn, dadgummit!

      • BobCon says:

        I realize there are different types of confinement that get called solitary, but as a general rule I think it’s wrong. I think there are ways to keep prisoners in secure conditions without resorting to the kind of solitary you see in typical US conditions. It’s something I wouldn’t even want to impose on Trump or his minions.

        • Rayne says:

          She was moved to solitary for a specific reason. She’s been charged with spying and she understands what her role is based on the exchanges she had with her handlers. Passing ANY information after being arrested should have been treated this way. For all we know her effort was a test of federal security; the demand to be removed from solitary may also have been a test. I don’t have it in me to feel sorry for her since Russia may yet defenestrate her after release just to remove a witness. By comparison staying in a dorm room by herself is safe.

          I should also point out something that came up during the subsequent fallout after the Illegals Program spies were rolled up in 2010. Putin said in an interview the sleeper cell spies would only have become operational “in crisis periods, say, in case of a breakup of the diplomatic relations.” We cannot be certain if there were other cells and if they have become operational because of the sanctions imposed and the Magnitsky Act. Given how much damage has been done to our sovereignty and democratic system since 2015 and the risk of additional sleeper cells undiscovered, I don’t think it’s in the U.S.’s interest to let Butina enjoy typical detention when she has violated the terms of her incarceration.

  2. Eureka says:

    Well that’s a relief, another loop back into Stone besides Corsi.  I remember those posts about the earlier PACs but it is hard to keep all of the crime syndicate balls in the air as to how they may relate ultimately to the Mueller investigation.  So appreciate you are on top of it all.  These people are so exhausting!

  3. Semanticleo says:

    Hoping Muellers self-,,,imposed gag order is lifted soon. It must be embarrassing enduring so many scofflaws of putative legal entities and low-lifes of Manaforts statuous Republican iconography.

  4. Jenny says:

    Thanks Marcy for continuing to put all the puzzle pieces together.  At this point, I need a score card to tell the players.

    Shady Don McGahn’s name was in the book, Blinded by the Right, not very flattering back in the 80s and 90s.  Now he is front and center.  Questionable as FEC, Commissioner.  Will he go down too?

    Did these individuals all go to Trump University majoring in Crime 101: Collusion, Corruption and Obstruction?

  5. BobCon says:

    Was there any kind of detailed examination of that video ever published? In the link to the CNN story above, people don’t seem to be reacting like they would to a camera or a phone being held up, but the angle makes it seem like it’s taken by someone looking through a viewfinder. I guess it’s possible some kind of mini camera is hidden in someone’s hairpiece, fake eye, or nose piercing, except there’s definitely some zooming going on, which would mean someone is also operating remotely, and that seems like a stretch. I don’t really know about surveillance, though.

    • Eureka says:

      Did you see the part at :37 length where a woman to the right seems to make eye contact with the filmer?  (Technically she would be looking at a lens eye, I suppose, but the glance looks like human eye to human eye contact.)

      It’s a weird video because because it seems to be taken from higher-up, as if atop a taller person, but the woman looking at lens/eye is shorter than e.g. 45.  So maybe it’s set to  wide-angle for the most part; I just figured it was a less conspicuous version of what (glassholes) can do.

      ADD: lol, we will just do the forensic analysis right here on the emptywheel blog

      She seems to know he is filming and making sure he follows along, and/or it’s just her date and she is making sure the person follows along with the moving crowd.

      • BobCon says:

        The camera seems to be entering circles of people without getting a reaction, except in random cases like the one you mention. And while you might expect a bunch of twenty-somethings to ignore a guy with a GoPro stuck to his head, this crowd seems like it would be a lot more wary. I’m not sure I can figure this out.

        • Rayne says:

          Almost like someone was wearing a pair of Google Glass, which was released in February 2013. I’d expect those being observed to have more reaction to them if so but perhaps they’d been mingling for a while and had become inured.

          Certainly doesn’t seem like camera phone, nor does it seem like a video camera which would have better resolution. I don’t think it’s a GoPro-type device.

        • Eureka says:

          That’s what I was getting at with glassholes, but envisioning a better, spyware version.  Anyway, apparently also contact lenses, see below–

        • Eureka says:

          I think it’s just a very tiny camera.  It could be part of standard-looking eyeglasses.  Or contact lenses (see below).  Or a chip in the eye, even, is possible* (I saw nothing where the filmer was engaged in conversation; CNN may have edited out – or such parts were never provided- where the filmer was engaged in conversation, thus possibly revealing more about the camera mechanism/location (and identity of filmer).

          Google invents smart contact lens with built-in camera: Superhuman Terminator-like vision here we come – ExtremeTech
          *re eye implants, I am not sure about clicking on some of the sites coming up in results (camera eye chip keyword search).  But they are implanting lenses in regular people’s eyeballs these days to remedy presbyopia, so maybe not such a stretch for something that could wifi transmit images.

          Here from 2008 is a literal tiny camera, with a prosthetic eye (and plans to install same:

          Eye Spy: Filmmaker Plans to Install Camera in His Eye Socket | WIRED

        • travy says:

          looks like a physical zoom lens to me. same as used in the paparazzi line later. i think it’s a trusted photographer rather than a hidden camera.

      • Eureka says:

        *adding, because I didn’t get all the caveats into the edit window:  could be just someone she knows, or could be she is a solicitous-enough person to eye-summon/ check in with a(n new) acquaintance to come along, etc. etc.

        Is her ID known?

        • Eureka says:

          Look at 7-8 seconds mark.  Emin changes from laughing conversation with people to left of the filmer, scratches and rubs his hand down his suddenly displeased-looking face as he makes eye contact with the woman.


          That would be a possible Bat Signal (at the very least, indicative of familiarity all things considered).  Perhaps the call is coming from inside the metaphorical Agalarov house.  I mean, Emin did make that music video lampooning 45 & fam.

        • Eureka says:

          * he literally wipes the smile off his face.  My hot-take reaction was he seemed frustrated/annoyed/pissed like they were wasting their time not getting (to) what they may have wanted/anything valuable or something wasn’t going right/needed redirection.

  6. Sean Dunn says:

    Karma for those tiny Diet Cokes he had to have…

    1A account of that night

    He walked into a nightclub that was under current investigation by pretty much the same people he’s currently being investigated by (ironic)

    We should have the done the Golden showers routine that would have been truly ironic…

    We blinked and didn’t becuz of ongoing investigations and an ongoing legal battle with adelson

    Ivan spooks with dumbfuck Donny and his clown posse walk into the only ongoing investigation in Las Vegas. And someone is going to find out adelson knew all these morons were there entire night (poor tippers)

    Schiller was never comfortable with the Ivans around…..

    Thanks for partying with us

  7. pseudonymous in nc says:

    As the past couple of threads have noted, this week’s plea deal joined the dots between the campaign’s Russian outreach and the Moscow Project. I wonder how much of that overlap has been supplied to Mueller’s team by Gates in the nine months since he took the plea.

    Of all people, Chris Matthews had an interesting hypothesis on tonight’s Hardball: that the early part of the campaign was a tacit sales pitch not just for the Family Business but specifically for the long-desired Moscow Project, essentially big-upping Putin with an eye on winning his approval, and that flipped by the end of the primary season when the active measures got into gear. That’s compromising in and of itself.

  8. Mitch Neher says:

    Beniaminov: But I don’t recall taking any video. And I can’t understand why it looks so similar.

    It still seems as though Beniaminov is implying that he took video of some other event that looks similar to the leaked video of the 2013 event. He also seems to be implying that Kaveladze would have known at what other event Beniaminov had taken video. It is not clear whether Schiller and Cohen would have been at the other event implied.

    Maybe the interior decorating at the one Trump hotel is indistinguishable from the décor at some other Trump hotel.

  9. Taxidermist says:

    I followed some bread crumbs and found the blog post credited as the source of the photos, dated 06/17/2013. There is one pic where someone has a video camera, and another where a reflection shows a guy in glasses at an angle that could possibly be a google-glasses film taker. I’ll try to link and paste next. Also, I don’t know anything about the security of the website, it says it’s a live journal.  I hope someone can read Russian!

    • DVA says:

      Alferova’s pictures are, she says, from the Vegas announcement that Miss Universe would be in Moscow in November 2013.

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