DOJ Pre-Dumps the Stone Trial: What BuzzFeed Obtained via FOIA

DOJ released the first batch of Mueller 302s in response to BuzzFeed’s FOIA.

While the documents are really damning (though, in part, simply because they make things reported in the Mueller Report more visible), they actually are going to be among the least damning documents released to BuzzFeed.

DOJ seems to have released documents that pertain to six Mueller team interviews that will likely come out in live testimony in Roger Stone’s trial in the next two weeks. They include interview reports and back-up from three people:

  • Rick Gates. These interviews date to April 10, 2018 (PDF 9-25); April 11, 2018 (PDF 26-38); October 25, 2018 (PDF 39-66).
  • Michael Cohen. These interviews date to August 7, 2018 (PDF 242-274); September 18, 2018 (PDF 67-95).
  • Steve Bannon. This interview is dated February 14, 2018 (PDF 96-241).

All three may testify at Roger Stone’s trial, as Gates and Bannon had direct communications with Roger Stone about WikiLeaks and Cohen witnessed a Trump-Stone phone call where Stone discussed WikiLeaks.

Significantly, while the Gates interviews and the second Cohen interview include testimony that will be repeated at trial, the first Cohen and the Bannon interview were substantially lies (the Mueller Report says this about the first Cohen interview; it’s clear Bannon was lying because much of what is recorded was contradicted by his fall 2018 testimony). Thus, to the extent that these men testify, the interviews we’re seeing will be introduced as derogatory evidence by Stone.

Arguably, the government used this BuzzFeed FOIA to pre-empt damaging information from Stone.

This release doesn’t include the Bannon interview that will be the basis for any testimony in Stone’s trial. And it includes just a tiny bit of information from Gates’ far more extensive comments about Paul Manafort’s Russian entanglements (including the Ukrainian efforts that seem to be a preview of what Rudy Giuliani has been up to). So we’re really only getting a snippet of damaging information we’ll get over the next two weeks.

Plus, by releasing these documents now, it’ll put information that will become public in the next two weeks beyond this existing FOIA, hiding it for some time until BuzzFeed appeals or someone else FOIAs for it. That is, in part, this FOIA “release” is really an attempt to lock down information.

Again, don’t get me wrong. This is valuable stuff. Jason Leopold continues to be able to liberate more useful information than Congress can, with their power of subpoena.

But this is mostly just a pre-dump of the Roger Stone trial.

29 replies
  1. klynn says:

    Thank you for all your work today. Thanks to Jason for rocking the FOIA effort!

    Matt Taibbi is full of borscht.

  2. BobCon says:

    I realize this is complicated, but it’s not clear to me how people are allowed to clean up testimony to the extent that Bannon was.

    Is it because prosecutors decide that they would rather get the correct testimony and essentially forgive the lies, or is it because proving lies to the degree necessary to win a conviction is a difficult thing?

    • Peterr says:

      The latter.

      The difference between a lie and misremembering something is a legally difficult line to draw when you are bringing things before a jury. Yes, catching someone in less-than-accurate testimony gives the prosecutor leverage to push for more, but proving that they knowingly fibbed is not the easiest thing in the world.

      For instance, back in the day, Karl Rove revised his testimony before the Scooter Libby grand jury numerous times, which allowed him to not get indicted himself.

      • emptywheel says:

        Which is a timely reminder, given that Gordon Sondland, who clearly lied to Congress, is represented by Bob “Gold Bars” Luskin, as Rove was.

        • Savage Librarian says:

          Hmm. I wonder if Tiffany Trump has taken or will ever be taking a class taught by Luskin who, I understand, is an adjunct at Georgetown Law.

          • bmaz says:

            We can only hope so. Despite the nature of some of his clients, Luskin is a very active and liberal Democrat, and a pretty interesting guy.

            • Savage Librarian says:

              Thanks, bmaz. Yes, that’s the conclusion I came to after reading about him, too. Very smart and accomplished. And definitely interesting. But my mind still has a hard time with all the twists and turns and connections in this complicated story.

        • Frank Probst says:

          We don’t have Sondland’s transcript yet, but Sondland had the opportunity to review it this past Monday, I think. My impression was that he was pretty clear that no one in the administration ever objected to anything that he was doing. My impression is also that his experience in international diplomacy appears to be limited to what looks like a vanity appointment as Ambassador to the EU, because he was a billionaire fundraiser who donated a million dollars to Trump’s inaugural committee. If he was saying things like “No one at State objected…” or “No one at the NSC objected…”, he can probably say that he just meant Pompeo and Bolton didn’t object, and he really didn’t know who the other people in the room were. They were basically “the help”. As to whether or not Bolton “objected”, I suppose there’s room to say that halting a meeting when a topic is raised isn’t necessarily an objection. Luskin’s MO with Rove seemed to be to clean up his testimony rather than sticking with the story he told on the first try, and Sondland probably has quite a bit of wiggle room to work with.

      • klynn says:

        Is it possible to put a “revisions timeline” together and demonstrate what led to each revision as proof of the lies told? Thereby, casting doubt on the final revision and the trustworthiness of the individual’s word?

        • pres46 says:

          That would be interesting. I don’t know how it would stand as evidence, but in terms of “evolution”, the forensics would be fun to see.

  3. PSWebster says:

    Your query: Where Bannon emails the campaign about “avoiding Manafort like the plague” he is admitting to knowledge of the email leaks ahead of time. I think. Not a surprise since he was running Camb Analytica. He should be convicted of something.
    Anyway: Emptywheel, I hope you take some real satisfaction for driving a lot of this reportage. Your work has been wonderful and amazing. I hope you take a few moments, at least, to celebrate. I know we are not out of the woods yet but it sure seems like we have a view of the way out. Thanks.

  4. Tom says:

    On p. 13 of the released documents it is stated: “Gates said Trump was interested in the [hacked] emails but remained composed with a healthy skepticism.” On p. 14 Gates is quoted as stating that Paul Manafort was likewise “generally skeptical of any offers of information coming to the campaign’s attention.” Later on p. 14 we learn from Gates that, “… during the campaign, Trump and Manafort talked to Sean Hannity often in their offices.”

    This would seem to suggest that both Trump and Manafort were fully aware of who had hacked the 2016 election and therefore not inclined to follow up on any other offers of assistance to the campaign from other–i.e., non-Russian–sources. So all of Trump’s subsequent protests about a witch hunt have been phony, and not even the President believes the conspiracy theories that Bill Barr is currently circling the globe to try and verify.

    I also wonder if Trump started to become skeptical of Michael Flynn’s insight and intelligence for being “adamant” that the Russians were not responsible for the hacking when Trump knew full well that they were. (p. 13)

    And as for Trump and Manafort talking to Hannity “in their offices”, doesn’t this suggest face-to-face meetings that would leave no record and might have–or probably–included strategizing as how Fox News might best coordinate their coverage of the Trump campaign with whatever deceptive cover stories the candidate and Manafort wanted to promote?

  5. obsessed says:

    > it’s clear Bannon was lying because much of what is recorded was contradicted by his fall 2018 testimony

    Will some lawyer please explain why Mueller didn’t charge Bannon, who would almost certainly have flipped on Trump? IANAL, but I am very much appalled by Kushner, Bannon, Prince and so many others walking away scot free when they were obviously up to their necks in crime.

    • General Sternwood says:

      In a number of areas it seems that the investigation pushed as hard as it could until it came up against political barriers that it deemed impassable. Why it deemed them impassable is a question I hope someone works out, possibly by interviews with members of Mueller’s team at some point in the future. In my mind I am very curious whether Mueller really saw the threats in a fundamentally different way (it seems Flynn, Bannon and members of the Trump family were shielded by some assumption of acting out of patriotic intent), or whether he was actually subject to such intense personal and political pressure that avenues of the probe that he wanted to pursue were blocked.

      Good question!

      • P J Evans says:

        Mueller was pretty clear that some of the people he was dealing with lied, or hid or destroyed evidence (like deleting texts and voice mail, or using stuff like Snapchat).

        • AMG says:

          i still find this whole bit frustrating and find it hard to believe that this was just the end of it.

          i’m referencing this copy of the mueller report:

          vol. 1, page 156:
          The conflicting accounts provided by Bannon and Prince could not be independently clarified by reviewing their communications, because neither one was able to produce any of the messages they exchanged in the time period surrounding the Seychelles meeting. Prince’s phone contained no text messages prior to March 2017, though provider records indicate that he and Bannon exchanged dozens of messages. (1094) Prince denied deleting any messages but claimed he did not know why there were no messages on his device before March 2017. (1095) Bannon’s devices similarly contained no messages in the relevant time period, and Bannon also stated he did not know why messages did not appear on his device. (1096) Bannon told the Office that, during both the months before and after the Seychelles meeting, he regularly used his personal Blackberry and personal email for work-related communications (including those with Prince), and he took no steps to preserve these work communications. (1097)
          1094 Call Records of Erik Prince (GRAND JURY REDACTION)
          1095 Prince 4/4/18 302, at 6.
          1096 Bannon 10/26/18 302, at 11; Bannon 2/14/18 302, at 36.
          1097 Bannon 10/26/18 302, at 11.

  6. P J Evans says:

    I just saw it pointed out that some of these show that Hannity was getting info from the campaign, and also that the memos were talking like the win was certain, even before that last week.
    What else might be overlooked that wasn’t picked up before?

  7. AndTheSlithyToves says:

    Keep serving up those Truth Sandwiches, Marcy!

    There’s an issue of Trump’s lies and misleading statements. And the question really is, how should the media deal with these? My proposal is that they deal with them with what I call truth sandwiches.
    A truth sandwich begins with the relevant truths, what is true about a given issue. It then says, here’s what Trump says or has done on this issue that violates those truths. Then it comes back and says the truth again, and it finishes up by saying why the difference between the truth and the lie is important.
    That’s a truth sandwich.
    Now if the media constantly did this — you put the truth at first, and you put the truth at the end, you put the lie in the middle and you say, here’s the difference between the lie and the truth, and here’s why that difference is important, with the truth at the end — that changes things.

  8. Donna says:

    Holy crap. Have you read that document dump? Way towards the end there is a proposal from Barbara Ledeen and some redacted entity.

    Specially page 204 where it talks about blackmailing members of the Clinton Foundation, or even the Clintons themselves if the deleted e-mails could be found.

    • skua says:

      That page continues from the previous page which reads, “Secondly, the Chinese Intelligence Service, together with the Russian and Iranian Cyber Intelligence Forces…. ”

      These are the” Services” who, according to the report, could then “seek to blackmail”.

      What about this specifically do you see as “Holy crap” territory?

  9. dwfreeman says:

    In the end, the Stone trial and the other Mueller defendants activities and testimony will have an impact on the pending Trump impeachment, because the subject matter is ultimately the same. Why were certain members of Trump’s campaign drawn in to working for him to help get elected? Why did so many people in one campaign work for free?

    Trump never expected to win. Why did he pursue the Moscow tower project until November 2016 and why did Putin greenlight the project in 2015?

    It was a done deal. Trump just decided to pull out. The deal was always there.
    That is the essence of the quid pro quo between them. They’re history goes back years with Trump’s varied Russian connections. The media pretends this history is irrelevant.

    Well, it was prologue. And what got Trump elected is what he is trying to do now using the same playbook and principals to get re-elected. Trump used US military aid as leverage to elicit free political dirt on a political opponent, but that was hardly the point of strong-arming Ukraine. In his call, he refers to both Giuliani and Barr as people Zelensky should stay in touch with, because he wants Zelensky to work for him like some election volunteer.

    His country is being squeezed and so Trump never has to pressure anyone. He doesn’t have to threaten to prevent money from being released because he’s not interested in getting Zelensky to do anything other than go along. This is how the GOP now plans to defend Trump, claim that he never did anything that amounts to extortion, he just asked for a favor with no preconditions and no one denied anything they shouldn’t have gotten or ultimately received.

    And so to defeat this contention, the Democrats need to recognize that Trump is no political genius, he’s just repeating the scenario for election he played out in 2016 with all the same players, even those now facing sentences for their previous criminal involvement. The Democrats will be missing the boat entirely if they ignore the details of the Mueller report and how those impact what is happening with Ukraine redux.

    With Trump, it’s always about money and how he and his family will benefit. His support is only as deep as the commitment to ensure he wins and he’s not implicated. Foreign help for US election support is illegal. But you know that Trump and the GOP know this because they’ve denied or prevented every piece of legislation or failed to act on any reform that would eliminate a repeat of Russian meddling in the last presidential election. They don’t want that to happen because they can’t win without that help.

    The problem for the Democrats is making that case. They failed to make it as part of any reform opportunity and they ignored Russia’s help and now allow the media to act as if made no difference 2016 and Trump won some kind of normalized Electoral College win when the mere involvement of a foreign power should have challenged the outcome.

  10. Reader 21 says:

    @Donna—I *think* Ledeen was corresponding with either Bannon there, or with Jerome Corsi. EW would know for sure.

    Was Ledeen ever in contact with peter Smith, in who’s untimely demise Mueller’s team was keenly interested in?

    EW—thank you for another outstanding post and for all your work.

  11. Tom says:

    Watching Kevin McCarthy being interviewed by Margaret Brennan yesterday on “Face the Nation”, it seems that one aspect of the Republican strategy to fight impeachment is to conflate Donald Trump with the office of the President, and to convey the impression that impeachment is an attack on the Presidency itself, rather than a Constitutional means of trying to prevent Donald J. Trump from doing any more damage to the country. Only once during the interview did McCarthy refer to Trump by name and that was when he referred to his election in 2016. Every other time impeachment was discussed, McCarthy spoke in portentous tones of “the removal of the President of the United States” (he used that phrase three times), or the Democrats attempt “to remove the President of the United States” (once for that wording). McCarthy actually referred at one point to “the removal of the Presidency” though that may have been a slip of the tongue rather than an attempt to imply that the Democrats are trying to change the very structure of the government, (though you never know).

    It’s as if the Republicans understand that most Americans think that impeaching Donald Trump sounds like a pretty good idea, so they are hoping that rebranding impeachment as “the removal of the President of the United States” will somehow sound more ominous and suggest that what the House Democrats are now doing with their investigations and planned public hearings is somehow illegitimate. Just another Republican wordplay ploy, like labeling Trump’s efforts to extort the Ukrainians as “just a phone-call”.

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