The Year Long Trump Flunky Effort to Free Julian Assange

The NYT has an unbelievable story about how Paul Manafort went to Ecuador to try to get Julian Assange turned over. I say it’s unbelievable because it is 28 paragraphs long, yet it never once explains whether Assange would be turned over to the US for prosecution or for a golf retirement. Instead, the story stops short multiple times of what it implies: that Manafort was there as part of paying off Trump’s part of a deal, but the effort stopped as soon as Mueller was appointed.

Within a couple of days of Mr. Manafort’s final meeting in Quito, Robert S. Mueller III was appointed as the special counsel to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election and related matters, and it quickly became clear that Mr. Manafort was a primary target. His talks with Ecuador ended without any deals.

The story itself — which given that it stopped once Mueller was appointed must be a limited hangout revealing that Manafort tried to free Assange, complete with participation from the spox that Manafort unbelievably continues to employ from his bankrupt jail cell — doesn’t surprise me at all.

After all, the people involved in the election conspiracy made multiple efforts to free Assange.

WikiLeaks kicked off the effort at least by December, when they sent a DM to Don Jr suggesting Trump should make him Australian Ambassador to the US.

Hi Don. Hope you’re doing well! In relation to Mr. Assange: Obama/Clinton placed pressure on Sweden, UK and Australia (his home country) to illicitly go after Mr. Assange. It would be real easy and helpful for your dad to suggest that Australia appoint Assange ambassador to DC “That’s a really smart tough guy and the most famous australian you have! ” or something similar. They won’t do it, but it will send the right signals to Australia, UK + Sweden to start following the law and stop bending it to ingratiate themselves with the Clintons. 12/16/16 12:38PM

Weeks later, Hannity would go to the Embassy to interview Assange. Assange fed him the alternate view of how he obtained the DNC emails, a story that would be critical to Trump’s success at putting the election year heist behind him, if it were successful. Trump and Hannity pushed the line that the hackers were not GRU, but some 400 pound guy in someone’s basement.

Then the effort actually shifted to Democrats and DOJ. Starting in February through May 2017, Oleg Deripaska and Julian Assange broker Adam Waldman tried to convince Bruce Ohr or Mark Warner to bring Assange to the US, using the threat of the Vault 7 files as leverage. In February, Jim Comey told DOJ to halt that effort. But Waldman continued negotiations, offering to throw testimony from Deripaska in as well. He even used testimony from Christopher Steele as leverage.

This effort has been consistently spun by the Mark Meadows/Devin Nunes/Jim Jordan crowd — feeding right wing propagandists like John Solomon — as an attempt to obstruct a beneficial counterintelligence discussion. It’s a testament to the extent to which GOP “investigations” have been an effort to spin an attempt to coerce freedom for Assange.

Shortly after this effort failed, Manafort picked it up, as laid out by the NYT. That continued until Mueller got hired.

There may have been a break (or maybe I’m missing the next step). But by the summer, Dana Rohrabacher and Chuck Johnson got in the act, with Rohrabacher going to the Embassy to learn the alternate story, which he offered to share with Trump.

Next up was Bill Binney, whom Trump started pushing Mike Pompeo to meet with, to hear Binney’s alternative story.

At around the same time, WikiLeaks released the single Vault 8 file they would release, followed shortly by Assange publicly re-upping his offer to set up a whistleblower hotel in DC.

Those events contributed to a crackdown on Assange and may have led to the jailing of accused Vault 7 source Joshua Schulte.

In December, Ecuador and Russia started working on a plan to sneak Assange out of the Embassy.

A few weeks later, Roger Stone got into the act, telling Randy Credico he was close to winning Assange a pardon.

These efforts have all fizzled, and I suspect as Mueller put together more information on Trump’s conspiracy with Russia, not only did the hopes of telling an alternative theory fade, but so did the possibility that a Trump pardon for Assange would look like anything other than a payoff for help getting elected. In June, the government finally got around to charging Schulte for Vault 7. But during the entire time he was in jail, he was apparently still attempting to leak information, which the government therefore obtained on video.

Ecuador’s increasing crackdown on Assange has paralleled the Schulte prosecution, with new restrictions, perhaps designed to provide the excuse to boot Assange from the Embassy, going into effect on December 1.

Don’t get me wrong: if I were Assange I’d use any means I could to obtain safe passage.

Indeed, this series of negotiations — and the players involved — may be far, far more damning for those close to Trump. Sean Hannity, Oleg Deripaska, Paul Manafort, Chuck Johnson, Dana Rohrabacher, Roger Stone, and Don Jr, may all worked to find a way to free Assange, all in the wake of Assange playing a key role in getting Trump elected. And they were conducting these negotiations even as WikiLeaks was burning the CIA’s hacking tools.

82 replies
  1. BobCon says:

    From the NY Times: “There is no evidence that Mr. Manafort was working with — or even briefing — President Trump or other administration officials on his discussions with the Ecuadoreans about Mr. Assange. Nor is there any evidence that his brief involvement in the talks was motivated by concerns about the role that Mr. Assange and WikiLeaks played in facilitating the Russian effort to help Mr. Trump in the 2016 presidential election, or the investigation into possible coordination between Mr. Assange and Mr. Trump’s associates, which has become a focus for Mr. Mueller.”

    That’s an oddly definitive statement. It either ought to be attributed to a source, qualified with a statement that this is only to the best knowledge of the reporters, or justified with an explanation of how much investigation was done to back up this claim.

    • bmaz says:

      No evidence he wasn’t is the flip side of those words. In short the NYT doesn’t know and should just say so.

      • BobCon says:

        There’s an argument for that kind of forumulation when it’s an article about an ordinary citizen in the middle of an unusual circumstance. But when it’s convicted felon Paul Manafort, who has been linked in a court of law to dirty dealings and has been the subject of extensive reporting to other acts, that kind of definitive, unqualified, unsourced statement is awful journalism.

        It doesn’t read as something thrown in by nervous lawyers for the publishers. It reads as something added as a favor to a source without thinking of their obligations to their readers.

        • pseudonymous in nc says:

          It’s exactly this. It’s a story designed to anticipate other stories and presumably what might come out on Friday. As such, the significant source-related questions, such as how Jason Maloni continues as Paulie’s flack, go unanswered.

          All of the stories over the past week with some kind of Ecuadorian connection are starting to coalesce. I don’t think there was much (or any!) public reporting connecting Manafort to Assange a week ago. Now there are three distinct and murky strands — Luke Harding’s piece, which generated immediate pushback and suggestions that it was meant to embarrass the Graun; Bernstein’s reporting on Mueller’s interest in the Quito meeting; now, this NYT piece. Combined, it suggests that there’s a Manafort-Assange narrative set to emerge from the special counsel’s office and various reporters are being allowed to touch different parts of the elephant.

        • emptywheel says:

          I think the Guardian was deliberate disinformation to make the truth — the negotiations with Ecuador — less damning. All the better that they burn Harding, who has been Steele’s mouthpiece.

        • pseudonymous in nc says:

          Yeah, that’s how it looks: more like a fake rhino horn than the elephant’s arse-end. Ecuadorian disinfo to get ahead of Bernstein? Even if Paulie was freelancing and bullshitting when he headed to Quito, it doesn’t look good for Lenin Moreno, and it’s better for the current Ecuadorian admin if there’s a bullshitty embassy backstory from 2016.

          But I think I’m right that the Manafort and Assange streams hadn’t publicly crossed until last week, yes? And even though this past week’s stories are murky, only one participant faces an accounting of his lies to investigators on Friday.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          Yep, getting rid of Luke Harding, a longtime conduit for MI-6, would lead to a measurable improvement in the accuracy of the Guardian’s reporting (until the SIS made it hire his replacement).

        • BobCon says:

          What’s ridiculous about that extensive bit is that it goes far beyond touching the elephant.

          It’s not just saying “I felt this long curvy thing that seems like a snake ” — it’s also saying “I can state definitively it has nothing to do with an elephant, which I have seen before, nor the known fact that I am in an Indian wildlife preserve, and it definitely has no connection to that giant pile of dung that I can smell.”

  2. Rugger9 says:

    Assange was a conduit and apparently knows more about the hacks than we’ve seen reported.  That alone is reason enough to have the OSC chat with him, and perhaps about the relationship with Parscale.

    OT but I think important since it points to desperation and perhaps a future “wag the dog” exercise to try to save Kaiser Quisling:

    Yesterday the stock market rallied on news that the trade war was suspended, but it appears the PRC said “not so fast, Cheeto”.  JP Morgan is not prone as far as I know to making statements like this, and combined with the 3 and 5-year bond inversion yesterday (last time that happened we had the 2008 meltdown) tells me that the business world is getting suspicious of the Palace.

    • oldoilfieldhand says:

      Being close to the end of one investigation may be newsworthy, but the Mueller led SCO investigation of the Russian interference in the US elections will continue until the GOP has used all of its Get Out Of Jail Free Cards in the Senate. The House is where the action will be in 2019 and 2020. Representatives who value the rule of law as well as free and democratic participation in elections will be busy for some time! The Speaker and the Committee  Chairmen/Chairwomenn will likely open additional investigations to trace the NRA money sources that flooded the 2016 election; and Pence may not be indicted, but you can bet your ass he’s nervous! Manafort knows the secrets of Mike’s successful failures and where the money came from…

    • Pete says:

      Isikoff via Yahoo News….well it is true once one starts an investigation they are closer to wrapping it up than before they started it.

      But I would not return a Festivus present from Bobby Three Sticks.

    • Trip says:

      This is stretched internationally. I hope that we don’t end it with small operators being the only ones netted.

    • Avattoir says:

      Endgame is a term drawn from chess, right?

      In the recently ended World Chess Championship, as with the one most immediately before, the challenger was able to earn or salvage draw after draw, with each individual game having its own endgame. Counting this most recent one and its predecessor, less than a handful of more than 2 dozen such endgames resulted in anything other than a draw, and then the match moved on.

      In each case, Magnus Carlsen won over the challenger AFTER the unfolding of ten endgames brought no end, simply the next day’s confrontation.

      I’m the sort whose antenna stiffens on seeing so much shared conventional wisdom among so-called disinterested purported expert observers, especially when it’s plain hat they all share sources from the same one side — this instance exacerbated by their almost uniform certainly chronic inability or unwillingness or WTF ever is going on with failing even to cite let along parse applicable regulations and laws. So right upon the very first time I read fearless leader suggesting Mueller’s “report” would be delivered in talking indictments, I leaped in with support (I’ve been annoying about insisting on it in half a dozen or more other websites.). IAE, when I see “endgame”, I have a similar reaction.

      Though with endgame, all is being played out on this reality:

      1. one side is bound by the terms of a written mandate & the Rule of Law – if you will then, constantly forced to play the black pieces; whereas

      2. the other is lacking in most if not all conscience, desperate, impulsive, paranoid, willful, substantially unbounded by norms, has a long history of resorting to the lowest and most brutal forms of what passes for calculation & cunning, and always gets to play the white pieces.

  3. cw says:

    Off topic, but at some point don’t you think Putin is going to burn Trump? I think they may have hoped to get the sanctions eased but even though that didn’t happen, they are still benefiting from all the turmoil his presidency is causing. But at some point–maybe when everything is at peak disruption–it makes sense to me that they will drop a huge bombshell on things, just to take the craziness up to the next level. They still have plenty of cards to play, I bet.

    • Trip says:

      Take a look at what Putin is doing with Ukraine. And high-fivin’ MbS. Look at the US on the world stage, it is a laughing stock, diminished state. In that sense, Trump has done a great deal for Putin.

  4. bmaz says:

    The Binney/Trump cite is priceless. Too many people still invest themselves in VIPS, which long ago went over the deep end of batshitery.

    • Valley girl says:

      Yeah.  At one point irrc Binney was hailed as a good guy savior.  But even as I read the post, before your comment, I was thinking:  Was Binney always off the rails, but sometimes fell off on the right side of the tracks?

      • bmaz says:

        Don’t get me wrong, Binney, Drake and Wiebe’s exposure of Thin Thread being replaced by Trailblazer and its successors was truly heroic and a good thing that they paid dearly for. At this point though, it is getting nutty.

        • Trip says:

          What do you make of the Craig Murray involvement? I mean, at one point he did the right thing by bringing abuse/human rights violations to the surface. Is he now just simply team batshittery, too?  Is it a sense of paranoia after witnessing legit wrongdoing in the past? Is there some monetary or political advantage in the position? Is there any truth? He put himself in the center of it all, claiming to be a Wiki-mule for documents.

        • earlofhuntingdon says:

          Some of Murray’s work is fine.  Like Greenwald, for example, he has bugaboos where he goes off the deep end and is unreadable.

  5. cw says:

    I don’t know all the details, but I think the most likely summary of what happened with Trump/Russia is, Putin compromised Trump years ago. Trump is really dumb and really corrupt and it would have been super easy. They probably have all kinds of crap on him: money laundering, pee tapes, etc….  And they just did it because that what they do. Collect assets in case the someday might be useful. Then he ran for president and against all odds, it started looking like he’d get the nomination. And the Russians who were already messing with the election, decided to help Trump, because what would be more embarrassing for a country that Donald Trump being one of the two finalists? So they contacted the Trump org, sent them Manifort, probably helped them with demographic/polling info from Cambridge Analytica. And they’re cracking up this whole time. Who would have thought goofy Donald Trump–who we own, ha!–would be the republican nominee? They are high-fiving because everything has just fallen into place. And then he gets elected! They can’t believe it. Maybe they can get the sanctions lifted. If not, no big deal. Look at the damage they had done to the US. Donald Trump, of all people, is now president. It’s like a supersized geopolitical prank and to the Russians, it’s got to be hilarious. Donald Trump, president of the USA.

    • oldoilfieldhand says:

      And that ladies and gentlemen is what $100/bbl oil can do to democracy. KSA and Russia can counteract any number of human rights initiatives when their coffers are full of oil money; simply buying a few thousand lawmakers worldwide is a bargain.

      AOC is right, time for the US moon shot to start the transition from fossil fuels to a green renewable energy future while air is still breathable and the dwindling supply of  water still potable…

  6. Trip says:

    I’m going to split in two, so it doesn’t get stuck in moderation. Worth a full read, the parallel operation in the UK:

    Trump adviser sought WikiLeaks emails via Farage ally, Mueller document alleges

    Dark money investigations: what we’ve found out, and why we’re looking

    It started with the Democratic Unionist Party. We forced them to confess that a huge Brexit donation had come via a secretive group in Glasgow. We showed that the chair of that group was connected to the former head of Saudi intelligence and to a Danish man involved in gun-running in India. We travelled round Northern Ireland and the west of Scotland, banging on doors and meeting sources, but were blocked at every turn. BBC Northern Ireland picked up the story and followed it to Kiev…And then there was “the man who bought Brexit”, Arron Banks. Did the millions he poured into the Leave campaigns really come from his own pockets?…

      • Trip says:

        HAHAHA, Trump picks the mirror image of himself: “lauded as a “genius” or “global sherpa” by Margaret Thatcher”, JFC.

    • Charlie says:

      There are now some good and persistent people, working in a similar way to EW, in the UK. Looks like there have been some govt. cover-ups here too. Good podcast is:- DialMforMueller as we really DO need an investigation. I do not believe that it is likely as there are too many links between politics and the media who are working to avoid exposure.

  7. Rapier says:

    When the make a movie about all this it’s got to be a comedy.  I can see the scenes of Muller’s office.  Not grim faced lawyers with rolled up sleeves in hushed conference rooms but people doubled over in laughter at the water cooler.

      • Buford says:

        hmmm…at this point it is more like a bad writer’s dream of a muli-year contract to write trashy corrupt filled fiction based on the real life of a convicted ex-president…

  8. Kevin says:

    You may be right here, but the facts so far seem to be consistent with both explanations:

    1. Manafort was working to free Assange as one of many Trump friends doing the same, or

    2. Manafort suggested bringing Assange to the US for prosecution as a side deal to a lucrative China project. The deal was off after the Mueller appointment because Manafort became poison.

  9. Trip says:

    “….I am a Tariff Man”~D Trump.


    I am tariff Man!

    Has he lost his mind?
    Can he see or is he blind?
    Can he walk at all
    Or if he moves will he fall?

    Is he alive or dead?
    Has he thoughts within his head
    We’ll just pass him there
    Why should we even care?

    • Avattoir says:

      Tariffs were widely accepted as the American way of conducting international trade in the eighties & nineties … the 1880s and 1890s, that is.

      Called it the Golden Age, they did.

      • Trip says:

        His quote made me think of an old Ozzie Osborne song, Iron Man, (which are the rest of the lyrics posted).

        • Jenny says:

          Trip very creative.  The man does not have both oars in the water.  Too many diet cokes?  He cheats at golf, cheats on his wives, cheats about finances – a cheater and a liar.

          Most of all what is telling about Groper in Chief, he doesn’t have a dog.  Not sure he never had a dog.  Speaks volumes about his character.

        • Trip says:

          I’ve mentioned the pet thing in the past. I think he is the only recent president whose family didn’t have one. His empathy is very limited. And his kids kill endangered species, so…

          (Also it’s Ozzy, not Ozzie, but I’m not actually a fan, except this one is nice:

        • Jenny says:

          Name one development in history of humankind that has increased happiness more than the domestication of dogs.  Aaron Easterly


        • bmaz says:

          If you saw Ozzy and Sabbath live back in the day, you might have a different opinion. One of the best shows I ever saw was the Black and Blue tour with Sabbath and Blue Oyster Cult.

        • bmaz says:

          I have no idea why Tube links are not able to post correctly. I fixed Trip’s, but cannot, apparently, my own.

        • Trip says:

          I was putting the “cut n paste” part in the link so the video wouldn’t embed. They used to just show up and were huge. How did you do mine, without the embed?

          I know people need money, but reality TV is never the way to go. So I can’t take Ozzy too seriously.

        • Greenhouse says:

          “Iron Man” is actually Black Sabbath and Geezer Butler is the man behind most of the lyrics Ozzy sang.

        • Greenhouse says:

          I’m pretty that’s his nickname and “Geezer” is what everybody in the Sabbath orbit have always referred to him as such.

  10. Rick says:

    I don’t quite understand why they would plant THIS story.

    Is it because they actually did talk a lot through intermediates and through other methods, but it should be able to disprove a physical meeting at an embassy? And then they use this to discredit any other stories?

  11. David Karson says:

    One question I have is what did Right Wing Radio, especially Sean Hannity, know about the source of Wikileaks? After all, back in 2010 time frame, Hannity was calling Assange a Traitor. Then, overnight  in 2016, he became Assange’s biggest supporter. Also, Hannity knows Corsi and Stone. Hannity frequently met with Trump.  Hannity went to London to interview Assange. Finally, Hannity claimed on his radio show that Assange was a computer hacking genius. From my reading of the public sources, knowing that Guccifer 2.0 was actually Russian Government (Military) Cyber Spies was fairly obvious to anyone with only moderate hacking skills.  That would suggest that Assange knew, or should have known, that the Guccifer 2.0 hacked e-mails were coming from the Russians.  So any chance that the Mueller investigation will investigate Hannity or other Right Wing Radio Hosts?

    • Hops says:

      And aside from Trump, Hannity was Cohen’s only other client.

      I have a hypothesis: Cohen was used to make arrangements between Hannity and Trump under attorney-client privilege.

      And if Hannity does get caught up in the dragnet, imagine the reaction of the wingnuts…



  12. Erin McJ says:

    This was exactly the post I wanted to read today – thanks. Spring 2017 was when Shadow Brokers posted a threat (looking like blackmail) in response to a Trump admin strike in Syria, right? Are these cyber-arms-smugglers related in some way? Or is spring 2017 just the natural time for everyone sketchy who had ties to Trump to call in their debts?

    • Mulder says:

      I couldn’t help but notice that the usual disclaimer is missing from the last four posts. Perhaps an oversight.

      I also couldn’t help but notice this sentence in the linked Binney/Trump post from about a year ago. “I’m not sure the report is 100% accurate; for example, I know of a non-political witness in the election-related hack being interviewed by Mueller’s people.”

      An Easter egg, perhaps? Cue the King! We can’t go on together with suspicious minds. Lol.


  13. Erin McJ says:

    Also, why did Ecuador give Assange refuge in the first place? What has been in it for them and did that change?

  14. Rusharuse says:

    I’m bored! When’s the Flynn thing happening?
    I’m so not happy, they’ve moved my desk four times already this year, and I used to be over by the window, and I could see the squirrels, and they were merry, but then, they switched from the Swingline to the Boston stapler, but I kept my Swingline stapler because it didn’t bind up as much, and I kept the staples for the Swingline stapler and it’s not okay because if they take my stapler then I’ll set the building on fire…

    57 of 59 found this interesting | Share this

    • Trip says:

      Kyle Cheney‏Verified account @kyledcheney

      Also, notable: The NRCC retained CrowdStrike, which helped respond to the hack. This is the same firm that the DNC relied on in 2016 and has become the source of endless conspiracy theories in pro-Trump media…Doubly notable: It appears for the second cycle in a row, a foreign actor obtained Republican-affiliated emails and *didn’t* release them.

  15. Tom says:

    Yes, the Flynn sentencing memo has to be submitted by midnight or Trump turns into a pumpkin, though actually …

  16. CaliLawyer says:

    The Russia/Assange connection dates at least to 2012, when he tried to get the Ecuadorians to allow him private Russian security.

    “Durante algunas ocasiones, una de las solicitudes del “huésped” habría sido la elección de su propio Servicio de Seguridad en el interior de la Embajada, llegando a proponer la participación de operadores de nacionalidad rusa. Para los agentes de la Senain dicha elección supondría, entre otros inconvenientes, la pérdida de control de la propia sede diplomática al dejar en manos del “huésped” el control de acceso y gestión de la información. En el informe afirmarían incluso que “sería como dar un golpe de Estado a la sede”.”

    In light of that history, it doesn’t seem surprising that Manafort and Assange might have some as yet unrevealed connection, since both seem to have deep ties to Russian intelligence. The Guardian piece seemed like a shot across the bow, whether true or not, since both the Ecuadorians and the Brits seem fed up with the Assange problem. Of course, truth also depends on accurate context, and there is almost no context in any of these recent Assange/Manafort stories.

    • CaliLawyer says:

      Not to mention the fact that Stone and Manafort have been partners in crime, literally, for decades, and Stone has clearly been linked to Assange. Hard to know with those two who is covering for whom.

  17. Rusharuse says:

    . . after midnite goin to let it all hang down . . JJ you fucking dude! So . . day of mourning- check flair with superviser. . roger that . . dum de dee . . after midnite gonna chugalug . . FFS Mueller you’re up.

    • Greenhouse says:

      It’s rainin’ inside a big brown moon
      How does that mess your baby up
      Leg eatin’ a Reuben sandwich with sauerkraut
      Don’t stop now baby, let it all hang out

  18. Trip says:

    So is Whitaker holding up the Flynn report? Are they talking Trump off the roof? Writing their own Nunes report before it’s released?

  19. Michael says:

    “Then the effort actually shifted to Democrats and DOJ”
    Shouldn’t that be “to DERIPASKA and DOJ”?

  20. CaliLawyer says:

    All embassies are heavily surveilled, but Assange must take this to the next level. I imagine that a few intelligence services want him out of there and have no problem playing the press, regardless of what any head of state says.

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