For Three of the Four Early FBI Subjects Tied to the Trump Campaign, the Campaign Agreed with the Mueller Report Conclusions

Of the first four people tied to Trump’s campaign who were investigated by the FBI — Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, and Paul Manafort — the Mueller Report came to remarkably similar conclusions as the campaign did when all three were fired in 2016. As I’ll show in a follow-up post, the FBI’s concerns about the fourth — Mike Flynn — have proven even better founded.

This shows how ridiculous it is for Bill Barr to go after the origins of the investigation. The Trump campaign itself, institutionally, agreed in real time with the conclusion of the investigation.

On August 19, 2016, Trump forced his campaign manager, Paul Manafort, to resign. Sources told the press he was ousted because of his “involvement with Russia” and the fact that “he hadn’t been entirely forthright about his activities overseas.”

In recent days, Manafort had lost the confidence of Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and one of his closest advisers, and other members of Trump’s family, according to a source close to the campaign. Kushner had once been a major backer of Manafort and was instrumental in his elevation — and the downfall of Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s former campaign manager.

The family was particularly troubled by reports of Manafort’s involvement with Russia and felt he hadn’t been entirely forthright about his activities overseas, the source said. Family members were also unhappy about changes made to the GOP platform that were seen as beneficial to Russia, which they felt Manafort played a role in, the source added.

On February 13, Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled that Paul Manafort had lied — both to the FBI and to the grand jury — about his interactions and communications with Konstantin Kilimnik. Among the things Manafort lied about, according to the Mueller Report, was an August 2, 2016 meeting where Manafort told Kilimnik how the campaign planned to win Michigan and two other swing states, Kilimnik pitched Manafort on a plan to carve up Ukraine, and also told ways he could be paid by his Ukrainian and Russian paymasters. Mueller ultimately, “could not reliably determine Manafort’s purpose in sharing internal polling data with Kilimnik during the campaign period” and raised his lies to question whether he spoke to people on the campaign about the plan to carve up Ukraine.

In other words, the Trump family members who ousted Manafort came to precisely the same conclusion Mueller did: Manafort was lying about his suspicious ties to Russia.

On September 24, 2016, the Trump campaign severed all ties with unpaid foreign policy advisor Carter Page. The next day, Hope Hicks sent out an email instructing that, “Page was announced as an informal adviser in March. Since then he has had no role or official contact with the campaign. We have no knowledge of activities past or present and he now officially has been removed from all lists etc.”

It was untrue that the campaign had no knowledge of Page’s activities. After all, on July 9, 2016, he wrote Sam Clovis about his activities in Moscow.

Russian Deputy Prime minister and NES board member Arkady Dvorkovich also spoke before the event. In a private conversation, Dvorkovich expressed strong support for Mr. Trump and a desire to work together toward devising better solutions in response to the vast range of current international problems. Based on feedback from a diverse array of other sources close to the Presidential Administration, it was readily apparent that this sentiment is widely held at all levels of government.5

That said, even after surveilling Page for at least a year, the Mueller investigation likewise only gained limited understanding of Page’s activities. “Page’s activities in Russia–as described in his emails with the Campaign–were not fully explained.” And a redaction explaining why Page wasn’t charged as a foreign agent suggests it had been a close call.

In other words, Mueller came to the same conclusion that the Trump campaign did when they severed all ties with Page.

The Mueller Report is more circumspect about why George Papadopoulos got fired.

Papadopoulos was dismissed from the Trump Campaign in early October 2016, after an interview he gave to the Russian news agency Inter/ax generated adverse publicity.492

492 George Papadopoulos: Sanctions Have Done Little More Than to Turn Russia Towards China, Interfax (Sept. 30, 2016).

But a recent profile reveals that Papadopoulos has been lying about the campaign response to his Interfax column.

The book claims that Trump headquarters informed him of an interview request from Russian news service Interfax and gave him instructions about what to say, complimenting him afterward. In reality, Interfax contacted Papadopoulos directly, and though the campaign okayed the interview, the feedback afterward apparently wasn’t positive. Papadopoulos wrote to campaign official Michael Glassner to ask if he was, as others had told him, “off the campaign because of an interview I gave.”

This is the column that Papadopoulos shared with Joseph Mifsud (though that is not discussed in the report), and then lied about to the FBI.

On or about October 1, 2016, PAPADOPOULOS sent Foreign Contact 1 a private Facebook message with a link to an article from, a Russian news website. This evidence contradicts PAPADOPOULOS’s statement to the Agents when interviewed on or about January 27, 2017, that he had not been “messaging” with Foreign Contact 1 during the campaign while “with  Trump.”

It’s unclear whether the campaign distanced itself from Papadopoulos because of the press coverage of this article or because of what he said (an earlier WaPo report on it reveals how enthusiastic the pre-approval for it was, including the promise that Trump would work with Russia on Syria). If they fired him because he misrepresented the campaign’s friendliness with Russia, then it would support the Mueller Report’s conclusion that there was evidence to investigate but not to charge.

In particular, the Office did not find evidence likely to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Campaign officials such as Paul Manafort, George Papadopoulos, and Carter Page acted as agents of the Russian government-or at its direction, control, or request-during the relevant time period. 1282

If the campaign fired Papadopoulos because he said things that were inconvenient, it would support the worth of his obstruction charge, which he of course pled guilty to.

Given the seriousness of the lies and omissions and their effect on the FBI’s investigation, the Office charged Papadopoulos with making false statements to the FBI, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001. Information, United States v. George Papadopoulos, No. l:17-cr-182 (D.D.C. Oct. 3, 2017), Doc. 8. On October 7, 2017, Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to that charge pursuant to a plea agreement.

In either case, the campaign didn’t want to be associated with Papadopoulos’ pro-Russian public comments.

Update, 5/27/19: Papadopoulos actually told HJC/OGR that he never left the campaign.

Mr. Ratcliffe. How did you leave the campaign? First of all, when did you leave the campaign?

Mr. Papadopoulos. I don’t know if I ever really left the campaign. I think I was involved throughout the whole way in different ways. I mean, one — in one manner I’m helping edit the first foreign policy speech and I’m setting up, helping set up this meeting with the Egyptian President, and then I’m kind of just feeding information into the campaign from March until — all through the transition, quite frankly. So I don’t think I really ever left the campaign, if that makes sense.

Mr. Ratcliffe. Okay.

Mr. Papadopoulos. I was considering leaving, but I don’t think I ever submitted some sort of resignation to the campaign that would — that would suggest I would formally abdicate my duties on the campaign.

The Attorney General is carrying out an unprecedented investigation into a counterintelligence investigation targeting the suspected infiltration of a campaign by men working on behalf of Russia. In real time, the campaign acted to distance itself from all three men for precisely that reason.

In other words, Bill Barr is targeting the intelligence agencies for agreeing with the Trump campaign about the suspect ties of three of the initially predicated subjects of the investigation.

As I disclosed last July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

23 replies
  1. OldTulsaDude says:

    This, and other similar findings, is why it is imperative to hear from Mueller. Quoting EW from above: “Mueller ultimately, “could not reliably determine Manafort’s purpose in sharing internal polling data with Kilimnik….”

    So what did Mueller not-so-reliably determine about that hand-off and what prevented him from finding out more?

  2. Kick the darkness says:

    When Trump had his little pep rally at CIA headquarters back on Jan 21, 2017 I remember reading an opinion piece to the effect that fucking with the intelligence agencies was perhaps the stupidest thing a president could do. Perhaps the intervening 2+ years have blunted that warning. Still, is this a game Barr thinks he can win? I guess it depends on deeply he plans on poking a stick into the fortress of secrets. Capturing a 24 hr news cycle is one thing…

    • timbo says:

      Um, you do know that in a functioning democracy that the intelligence agencies are subject to civilian oversight, right? While one can argue that Barr’s current initiative is perhaps motivated by the narcissism of Trump, it behooves us all to be willing AND able to look into what our own country’s own services are doing in secret. So, while today is a witch-hunt to draw attention away from the ills of Trump and his minions, we should not throw the baby out with the bathwater here; we want and need civilian governance that is willing to look into what our own spies have been doing in our name.

      • Rayne says:

        At the same time we don’t need an attorney general who has made gross misrepresentations to the public and likely lied to the Senate to put our national security ***and that of non-US individuals and other countries*** at risk by failing to respect the sensitivity of classified intelligence he will handle.

        I have zero faith in Barr no matter how much oversight you believe we must have over our intelligence apparatus. He has earned my distrust.

      • Kick the darkness says:

        With respect, I do not think there is a baby/bathwater distinction to be made here with respect to oversight. For any president to authorize their attorney general to investigate and selectively release information obtained by intelligence agencies is exerting improper influence, not oversight. And in this case, the obvious goal is to gain sufficient control over the intelligence apparatus to use it for authoritarian political purposes. It’s quite clear. How successful Bill Barr will be in executing that we shall see. But if Congress does not act, and push comes to shove I would expect elements within these agencies to resist, as they should. The most powerful weapon at their disposal is information. Coincidentally, that is the one thing that Trump appears to fear the most. I wonder why. There could be quite a trove on Trump. If so, Barr could easily overplay his hand.

        • Kick the darkness says:

          Just noticed this abuse of power comprises Rayne’s article 2.7 for impeachment. I don’t know if such articles are supposed to be ranked in any sort of order with respect to severity, but I’d rank this one pretty high.

        • Rayne says:

          There was no ranking involved. I happened to be going through lists of lawsuits against Trump and his White House and this is the order in which the topics fell out. They’re all bad and I haven’t even touched on issues which resulted in dead Americans.

  3. Geoff says:

    “Mueller ultimately, “could not reliably determine Manafort’s purpose in sharing internal polling data with Kilimnik during the campaign period” and…”

    Pardon my ignorance, but I don’t recall seeing anyone come up with some plausible other explanation as for why this type of secretive meeting took place and what possibly could interest Kilimnik in internal polling data from the US at this time of year. I mean, even if there were absolutely no other context in which to put this, you’d think, JHFCOAPS, that is pretty bizarre and deeply concerning. In the context we now know as to all the various things going on, and how the IRS had an influence campaign going, what were the other possible reasons Russia might want this type of data that would somehow make Mueller’s team unsure as to what the purpose of this handoff was? Anyone???

    • Tom says:

      I’ve had the same feeling reading the Mueller Report. I think if Trump had been found standing in line at a bank holding a gun and wearing a ski mask with a note reading “Give me all the money” in his pocket, Mueller would have concluded that he was unable to determine whether Trump actually intended to rob the bank. My feeling is that, for the sake of the credibility of his team’s findings and to avoid any possible perception of the least iota of bias, Mueller did not offer any conclusions or speculation beyond what he thought the evidence would bear. It’s the same with Mueller stating he could not determine whether two grown men such as Kushner and Don Jr. knew they were doing anything wrong in being willing to accept dirt on Hillary from the Russians at the Trump Tower meeting. He gives Manafort the benefit of the doubt for the same reason (see p. 188 of the report). That’s why it’s so important for Mueller to testify to Congress in order to explain his reasoning on these issues for the broader public.

      • P J Evans says:

        evidence was withheld from his investigation, and people lied about what they said and did.

        • Tom says:

          Yes! Foggy memories, text messages mysteriously missing, people apparently not keeping notes of important conversations … mighty suspicious.

    • timbo says:

      Manafort may have been demonstrating that he was in fact deeply connected to Trump and his campaign so that the people whom Manafort owed money to would see that Manafort himself was useful… perhaps not immediately now but, in future, he would be able to provide them with sensitive and privileged information and had no reservations in giving it to them. Make sense?

      It’s like a peacock strutting, demonstrating that he’s worth keeping happy. Sadly, this particular old peacock had oversold himself in the past and so he had to get into the business of stealing campaign info to prove his worth… or that’s one theory anyways…there are others…

    • Stephen says:

      Remember: Mueller did not say Manafort wasn’t conspiring. He only said that he could not establish this as his motive so strongly that a prosecution would succeed in convicting him despite a vigorous defense. Whether because of the ongoing lies, supposed memory lapses, and legal chicanery (beyong anything justified by a joint defense agreement) or for some other reason, we don’t have >95% certainty here, so nobody is being prosecuted (yet) on conspiracy charges, only for obstruction-related offenses (the lies etc.).

      But although it takes >95% confidence (‘beyond a reasonable doubt”) to convict a person of a felony, and we keep getting reminded of that fact by supposedly rational Republican friends as well as by the community of trolls, it takes a lot less than that before we want to remove a person from a highly sensitive, confidential, and momentous job. Which is what we need to keep reminded said friends of. If you had 3:1 odds that your building contractor was going to use sub-standard materials and then double-charge you, s/he would no longer be your contractor.

  4. Mooser says:

    Looks like it’s going to come down to the old “If you strike at the King” kind of thing.

  5. Bay State Librul says:

    Katal and Preet tweet

    “100% agree with Preet. The whole point of the Special Counsel regulations is to provide public confidence in the administration of justice. I get that Mueller, when he turned in his Report, may have thought public testimony unnecessary, but Barr’s subsequent actions make it so.”

    Let’s not prolong the agony and the ecstasy — Michelangelo vs Pope Julius II or Barr vs Mueller

    I’ll take Bob in four rounds

    • Tom says:

      I used to think about that movie months ago when we were all waiting for Mueller to release his report: “When will you finish? When will you make an end?” And if Michelangelo had used a roller he could have finished the ceiling of the Sistine chapel in a weekend.

    • timbo says:

      In theory, only for things within the actual jurisdiction of the State of New York. What is “left to the States” might have to be adjudicated in this particular case… by the Supreme Court (Federal).

  6. Shaun Mullen says:

    There is an underlying weakness to Marcy’s otherwise spot-on observation that “of the first four people tied to Trump’s campaign who were investigated by the FBI . . . the Mueller Report came to remarkably similar conclusions as the campaign did when all three were fired in 2016.”

    The observation is built on irrefutable logic, and we can all pat ourselves on the back about that, but Trump, Barr, Giuliani, Consovoy et al don’t do logic, and that must be factored in.

    Finally, best wishes to everyone at emptywheel, commenters included, for a relaxing and safe Memorial Day weekend.

  7. Curveball says:

    With this, Marcy has poured Roundup on Barr’s roots. But I’d like to see her finish it off by also reprising parts of some earlier posts in a form to wack the weeds still standing above ground in the TeaParty/Breitbartsphere right now. They’re all excited about how Brennan, Comey etc. are shaking in their boots and pointing fingers at each other as Barr prepares to take them down for their conspiracy against Trump. Because Steele Dossier. Brennan should have been in the trash pile decades ago and Comey is a smarmy prig. But so what.

  8. dwfreeman says:

    The idea that leftwing denialists and Trumplicans are still trying to blunt Mueller’s decision not to prefer criminal conspiracy charges against the Trump campaign in connection with Russia’s 2016 presidential election interference, forces them to deny some very hard facts.

    This contention fails to grasp or remedially recognize the plain sight depth of timeline accounting of the widespread collusion that actually occurred, involving virtually every known figure in the Trump campaign and Russian officials. You don’t need the Mueller Report to discern this or corroborate it. You can find the evidence on Wikipedia.

    In fact, the hard part would be to find one who didn’t know about it or participate in it even after it became a matter of public knowledge and the FBI began investigating it.

    In order to really appreciate this, however, you have to understand the of what the campaign knew, when it first learned about it, and what it deliberately avoided doing afterward, which was to continue engaging and concealing all knowledge of it, especially after being officially warned about it.

    Because this is the underlying crime itself, not whether individuals like George Papadopoulos, Carter Page and Paul Manafort knew it was wrong to communicate with Kremlin-linked operatives. They relished the opportunity for selfish reasons, and ran toward it, doing it to benefit themselves first while thinking it would also help the campaign.

    During the campaign, Manafort even suggested using people like them because they were expendable as intermediaries who could be easily removed and distanced if their communication with foreign sources were ever uncovered or disclosed.

    Trump received his first intelligence briefing as a presidential candidate on Aug. 17, 2016. During the FBI briefing, the campaign was warned that it may be spied on by foreign adversaries including Russia, which had already been reported publicly interfering on Trump’s behalf, something acknowledged by Russian hackers themselves in the press. Following this warning, and in the wake of a New York Times report that Manafort had received millions in payments while working on behalf of Ukraine’s Russian-backed president, Manafort is dumped as campaign chairman in favor of Brietbart News editor and Cambridge Analytica board member, Steve Bannon, as Trump’s third campaign chief. And then afterward, Manafort disappears from campaign view but not from its reach.

    This move hardly curtails the level of Russia-Trump collusion that will persist between then, Election Day and the transition period, in which at least 88 contacts and 13 meetings between Trump associates and Kremlin-linked officials are documented. And it doesn’t foster any honesty or recollection about the previous 163 contacts with Putin government officials that preceded them. So, all told, there were some 251 contacts and meetings between the linked campaign efforts to elect Trump, the one run by the candidate and the one run by the Kremlin on Trump’s behalf.

    And in the end, Trump and his team lied repeatedly and concealed knowledge about every one of them, including at least 15 times in national television interviews.

    Not one contact or meeting was ever reported. And that doesn’t even include the 25 that occurred after the Obama Administration announced new Russia sanctions for Russia’s election interference.

    The level of Russian engagement never stopped even after the campaign was warned, the public was warned and the intelligence community gave a highly unusual public acknowledgement that Russia had hacked the DNC months earlier.

    And so, when Trumpites allege there was no collusion, you now have the numbers to counter the argument they can’t refute.

  9. jaango says:

    Perhaps, I am far too cynical, in that I understand that this Trump ‘authority’ being transferred to Barr, speaks eloquently for the Appointed Official being required to ‘protect’ the Elected Official.

    Therefore, the premise for his behavior is to ‘determine’ from this instrumental access to the 17 intelligence gathering agencies and their private sector ‘contractors,’ will come to fruition in that moment in time and prior to the vote tallies in next year’s election. Consequently, the ‘result’ of Barr’s investigation of the Russian ‘connect’ will come within the form and function of the Office of Legal Counsel’s decision for a non-indictment. And as such, the sole purpose is to investigate what these now seminal agencies have via information relative to the long term Trump history with both Russian governmental agencies and non-governmental agencies and when tallied appropriately, will have no determinative ‘influence’ among voters in Trump’s re-election efforts.

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