The Criminal Investigation into Paul Manafort Was (and May Still be) Ongoing–and Likely Pertains to Trump’s Ukraine Extortion

Robert Mueller was never able to determine whether Paul Manafort entered into a quid pro quo on August 2, 2016, trading — either on his own or with the approval of Trump — promises to help carve up Ukraine to Russia’s liking in exchange for help winning the election.

Mueller never made that determination, in part, because Manafort lied during the period he was purportedly cooperating with the investigation.

Here’s what Mueller did determine was reliable:

First, Manafort and Kilimnik discussed a plan to resolve the ongoing political problems in Ukraine by creating an autonomous republic in its more industrialized eastern region of Donbas,922 and having Yanukovych, the Ukrainian President ousted in 2014, elected to head that republic.923 That plan, Manafort later acknowledged, constituted a “backdoor” means for Russia to control eastern Ukraine.924 Manafort initially said that, if he had not cut off the discussion, Kilimnik would have asked Manafort in the August 2 meeting to convince Trump to come out in favor of the peace plan, and Yanukovych would have expected Manafort to use his connections in Europe and Ukraine to support the plan.925 Manafort also initially told the Office that he had said to Kilimnik that the plan was crazy, that the discussion ended, and that he did not recall Kilimnik asking Manafort to reconsider the plan after their August 2 meeting.926 Manafort said [redacted] that he reacted negatively to Yanukovych sending-years later-an “urgent” request when Yanukovych needed him.927 When confronted with an email written by Kilimnik on or about December 8, 2016, however, Manafort acknowledged Kilimnik raised the peace plan again in that email.928 Manafort ultimately acknowledged Kilimnik also raised the peace plan in January 2017 meetings with Manafort [redacted — pertains to him admitting continuation of the plan into 2018] 929

Second, Manafort briefed Kilimnik on the state of the Trump Campaign and Manafort’s plan to win the election.930 That briefing encompassed the Campaign’s messaging and its internal polling data. According to Gates, it also included discussion of “battleground” states, which Manafort identified as Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota.931 Manafort did not refer explicitly to “battleground” states in his telling of the August 2 discussion, [redacted]

Third, according to Gates and what Kilimnik told Patten, Manafort and Kilimnik discussed two sets of financial disputes related to Mana fort’s previous work in the region. Those consisted of the unresolved Deripaska lawsuit and the funds that the Opposition Bloc owed to Manafort for his political consulting work and how Manafort might be able to obtain payment.933

922 The Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics, which are located in the Donbas region of Ukraine, declared themselves independent in response to the popular unrest in 2014 that removed President Yanukovych from power. Pro-Russian Ukrainian militia forces, with backing from the Russian military, have occupied the region since 2014. Under the Yanukovych-backed plan, Russia would assist in withdrawing the military, and Donbas would become an autonomous region within Ukraine with its own

Although Mueller included this significant summary of the issue in his Report (and a description of how Rick Gates kept sending polling data to Konstantin Kilimnik, to be shared with Ukrainian oligarchs and Oleg Deripaska’s GRU-linked aide, Viktor Boyarkin), the government nevertheless refused to release the details regarding this dispute that were laid out in court filings and exhibits regarding his breach of his plea deal when WaPo tried to liberate them starting in March. The government explained that, “a number of matters [related to his lies that were referred] to other offices in the Department of Justice … remain ongoing,” and asked for any further matters in WaPo’s challenge be deferred until six months later, which happens to be Tuesday. Judge Amy Berman Jackson never ruled differently, so that’s where things have stood, at least on the public docket, since April, shortly after the Mueller Report was released.

That’s interesting because the government accused Manafort of lying about five different topics. Some are definitely related to each other, and some (as well as his underlying guilty verdicts) are also definitely related to recent events relating to Ukraine and Russia. Which is why it’s worth looking back to learn what Manafort worked hardest to obscure in September and October 2018. Doing so suggests that Trump’s Ukraine call — including the demand for election help and Volodymyr Zelensky implementation of the Steinmeier Formula since — may simply be one step in paying off his campaign debts from 2016. As such, Rudy Giuliani’s involvement with Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman may just be the continuation of what Manafort was pursuing — also being paid by a cut-out system — even after he got sent to jail.

In this post, I’ll look specifically at how the lies Manafort told do and may relate to current events. In a follow-up, I hope to show how the issues for which he was prosecuted also relate to current events, well beyond Trump’s efforts to undermine Manafort’s prosecution to make a pardon easier. Taken together, such analysis will show that the Ukraine scandal is completely inseparable from the Russia one.

Manafort told five lies

Altogether, the government tried to hold Manafort accountable for five lies. Those were:

  1. How he got paid using a kick-back system involving a SuperPAC, Rebuilding America Now, which (on top of violating prohibitions on coordination with the campaign) may have accepted funds from foreigners. Mueller’s team never seemed to figure out how that scheme worked, in part because Manafort never settled on an explanation for the kickbacks. ABJ ruled that Manafort lied about this.
  2. Whether he tried to dissociate Konstantin Kilimnik from his own witness tampering to hide the true role of the Hapsburg Group, some former European leaders Manafort used to lobby for Viktor Yanukovych’s party. Effectively, the government accused Manafort of trying to suggest that Kilimnik wasn’t willfully part of what he was doing during a period that spanned from February (when the actual witness tampering happened) through April 2018 (when Manafort tried to tamper again). ABJ agreed in principle that Manafort had lied about this, but ruled the government did not present a preponderance of the evidence, so didn’t count this against him in sentencing.
  3. Whether he lied to adapt his story to a more exonerating one being told by a Trump flunkie — it’s not clear who — involved in doing something — it’s not clear what — to save Trump’s campaign in the last days during which Manafort managed the campaign. ABJ agreed he had.
  4. What the fuck he was doing on August 2, 2016, and (though this is always unstated) whether his lies to hide repeated discussions to support a Ukrainian “peace” plan between then and April 2018 were an attempt to hide an effort to pay off a quid pro quo tied to assistance winning the election.
  5. Whether Manafort spoke to the Administration after inauguration, either directly or indirectly. ABJ ruled that the government had not provided evidence that Manafort lied about his ongoing communications with the Administration.

Of these lies, the lies about another investigation (lie 3 above) seem to be unrelated to the rest. That’s because they involved, well before the Mueller investigation finished, another part of DOJ, and so almost certainly have nothing to do with Russia or Ukraine. Unsurprisingly, the Trump campaign may have been willing to cheat multiple ways to win the 2016 electionm.

The kickback system (lie 1 above) may or many not relate to the Russian and Ukraine questions. Mueller was never able to sort it out, so it’s not clear what to make of it. For my purposes, however, it’s relevant that Manafort’s claims of working for “free” may turn out to be false. Instead, Paul Manafort — who pled guilty a year ago to laundering money and refusing to register to hide how his influence campaigns in the US were being paid for by Ukrainian oligarchs — may have been paid to run Trump’s campaign by foreigners laundering those payments via various means. That’s significant because, last week, DOJ accused Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman of laundering money (from sources Russian, Ukrainian, and unknown) through various front companies, including one called Global Energy Production apparently created for the function, to engage in influence campaigns relating to Ukraine, effectively the same kind of scheme that Manafort engaged in for years. Particularly given that Rudy claims to be both working for and employing Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, it raises questions about whether his claims to be working for “free” are also bogus, just a lie to hide how the cut through works.

Kilimnik and Manafort’s efforts to push a Ukraine “peace” plan overlap with their witness tampering

Lies 2 and 4 are obviously related, because Konstantin Kilimnik — as Manafort’s tie to several Ukrainian oligarchs and Oleg Deripaska — is at the center of both of them. Manafort’s efforts to deny that Kiliminik was his co-conspirator may have been motivated by nothing more than a need to permit Kevin Downing to claim, falsely, that Manafort’s guilty plea affirmed no “collusion” between the President’s campaign manager and any Russians had occurred. Not only did ABJ affirmatively state that, whatever Kilimnik’s ties to GRU, his role did amount to a link to Russia.

So Manafort was both trying to lie that he had pled guilty to entering a conspiracy with a Russian suspected of ties to GRU, but he was lying to hide precisely what the nature of any conspiracy that may have tied assistance with the 2016 election to help implementing a Ukraine “peace” plan favored by Russia and Russian-aligned Ukrainian oligarchs.

Still, even within that context, there are details of the two Kilimnik lies that deserve more attention. Consider how the timeline of the two sets of lies intersect in 2018, months after Manafort was first charged, in the weeks and months after Trump had reportedly told allies that he was sure he would survive the Mueller investigation because Manafort would not flip on him.

In the weeks after that claim was published, from February 5 through 10, 2018, Manafort was still trying to deliver on his “New initiative for Peace” (PDF 82).

Later in February, after Mueller unveiled Rick Gates’ cooperation and made it clear he was pursuing another of the vehicles Manafort used to hide his influence operations, the Hapsburg Group, he and Kilimnik reached out to key players in that influence operation (who, unbeknownst to Manafort, had already been cooperating for some time) in an attempt to get them to lie about the influence operation. Those contacts, over Telegram and WhatsApp, took place between February 24 and 28.

But knowing that another part of his past influence operation was under scrutiny still didn’t dissuade Manafort from pursuing that “peace” plan Kilimnik first pitched him on August 2, 2016, amid a discussion of how to get Trump elected. On March 9, he was sending some unnamed person related documents from Kilimnik. (PDF 92ff) The breach hearing and other documents make it clear this was an effort to test the viability of a Ukrainian candidate, including his willingness to implement the “peace” plan.

He was doing it again on March 26. (PDF 97)

Manafort would try to dissociate this polling from the people who were really implementing, including, apparently, trying to pretend that Kilimnik didn’t know about it.

Then — included in the contacts that (the government says) were part of Manafort’s conspiracy to obstruct with Kilimnik, though it’s not clear how — there were more contacts with the Hapsburg Group flacks on April 4.

In fact, Manafort’s efforts to pursue this “peace” plan continued even further, with him hoping that some unnamed person would find documents valuable on May 4. (PDF 95)

There’s a lot more sealed evidence about how relentlessly Manafort pursued a Ukrainian “peace” plan between August 2, 2016 and at least the time he was jailed for bail violations in June 2018 (though remember, the government alleges he continued to communicate in incriminating ways even from jail, via laptops carried by his attorneys). Altogether, there are 38 exhibits documenting Manafort’s false denials of his actions on that front. Because the government says it has (or had) an ongoing investigation into such matters, we don’t get to see what the exhibits are. But Manafort’s lawyer, Kevin Downing (who filled in at Parnas and Fruman’s bail hearing the other day) has seen them. And Downing, reportedly, was sharing details of Manafort’s cooperation with other lawyers in Manafort’s Joint Defense Agreement with the President, including Rudy Giuliani.

Trump “hired” his “free” defense attorney Rudy Giuliani on April 19, 2018, after current Parnas and Fruman attorney John Dowd quit. And once Manafort could no longer pursue  his Ukraine “peace” plan, Rudy got involved in efforts to press for certain concessions in Ukraine.

Manafort’s attempts to communicate with the Administration (excepting via counsel)

Finally, there’s the last alleged lie, the one ABJ said prosecutors did not prove.

It’s not really clear what prosecutors believed Manafort was communicating about, beyond hires (like Steve Calk) in the Administration, because the topic of interest (which in some redactions appears to be too short to refer to Ukraine or Russia) is redacted in the documents released. They only submitted six exhibits to substantiate their claim. But the two unredacted exhibits presented in support of their case are notable.

On May 15, Manafort drew up a document that (the government’s declaration makes clear) included a section titled “Targets,” along with notes indicating Manafort would reach out to people about those targets. (PDF 152)

It might be a coincidence, but Manafort draws up this document right at the beginning of Parnas and Fruman’s efforts to donate big money to key Republicans through their shell company.

And on May 25, someone asked Manafort via WhatsApp whether it was cool to invoke his name if he or she met with Trump the following week, one-on-one. (PDF 156)

In the breach hearing, ABJ summarizes this:

You say that what he said was false because he did in fact agree to have messages sent to the administration on his behalf. And you point to evidence in which he offered to have other people contact the [redacted] on behalf of Mr. [redacted], for example, or to press buttons. But that outreach appears to have been two people outside the administration who themselves would have contacts within. There is some evidence that Mr. Gates said that Mr. Manafort said he still had connections, and that another individual asked Mr. Manafort if he, that individual, could tell [redacted (the President)] he was still close to Manafort.

And you have his involvement in lobbing with respect to [redacted], and Exhibit 404 is this memo summarizing the group’s plan that say, somewhat ambiguously, [redacted] will find out if [redacted] did her bit and get her to call [redacted] And it’s not even crystal clear that he was supposed do that by calling her.

In explaining the lie, Greg Andres makes it clear that Manafort was also representing in March that he had the ability to send messages to someone (probably Trump) in the Administration.

Significantly, Manafort lawyer Richard Westling dismisses that anyone would value Manafort’s advice or support at a time when he was already under indictment.

he was already under indictment at this point and, you know, the idea that he was going to pass a message and it would have some value, frankly, no offense to Mr. Manafort, but I can’t see that.

It’s notable that Downing did not make that claim because — as recent reports make clear — Rudy continued to consult Manafort on these Ukraine issues even after he went to prison, through Downing.

Especially since, in all its representations about these ongoing communications, the government makes clear,

for the purposes of proving the falsity of Manafort’s assertions in this section, the government is not relying on communications that may have taken place, with Manafort’s consent, through his legal counsel. We previously so advised the defense.

It’s clear the government knew Manafort continued to communicate with Trump via Downing and Rudy; they just weren’t going to reveal that they had pierced privilege or what they had learned.

The Ukrainian grifters timeline

Now consider how the timelines of Manafort’s relentless pursuit of a “peace” deal, his witness tampering with Kilimnik, and his efforts to communicate with Trump overlap with the known timeline of the Ukrainian grifters (I’ll continue to update this). It suggests that Parnas and Fruman kicked in their influence operations just as Manafort’s legal problems made him unable to do so.

February 5-10, 2018: Manafort working on “a new Peace initiative”

February 19, 2018: Manafort email pertaining to “peace” plan

February 21, 2018: Manfort emails document pertaining to “peace” plan to undisclosed recipients

February 23, 2018: Mueller reveals Rick Gates’ plea deal

February 24-28, 2018: Kilimnik and Manafort attempt to script testimony of Hapsburg Group flacks

March 2, 2018: Pentagon issues final approval to send Javelin missiles to Ukraine

March 3, 2018: Fruman participates in high donor meeting at Mar-a-Lago

March 9, 2018: Manafort working on polling regarding Ukraine “peace” plan for potential client

March 26, 2018: Manafort working on Ukraine “peace” plan

April 4, 2018: Kilimnik again attempts to witness tamper with Hapsburg Group flacks

Early April, 2018: Reported halt to Ukraine’s cooperation with Mueller

April 11, 2018: Parnas and Fruman form Global Energy Producers

April 19, 2018: Trump “hires” “free” defense attorney Rudy Giuliani

April 29, 2018: Someone first solicits help creating a website for GEP

May 2, 2018: NYT reports that Ukraine has stopped cooperating with Mueller probe

May 4, 2018: Manafort sends unnamed person information on Ukraine plan

May 8, 2018: Parnas and Fruman meet with Trump and seven other people “about preparations for victory in the midterm elections;” Fruman raises “America’s support for Israel and Ukraine,” topics about which “Trump … was absolutely positive”

May 15, 2018: Real estate lawyer Russell Jacobs deposits $1.26 million pass through funds into Aaron Investments LLC

May 15, 2018: Manafort document lists “Targets” and reflects commitment on his part to reach out about them.

May 17, 2018: Parnas LLC Aaron Investments donates $325,000 to Trump PAC, America First Action in the name of GEP

May 21, 2018: Parnas has breakfast with Don Jr and Tommy Hicks Jr, head of America First

May 24, 2018: Someone again solicits help creating a website for GEP

June 8, 2018: Manafort charged with witness tampering; prosecutors move to revoke bail

June 21, 2018: GEP donates $50K to Ron DeSantis

September 14, 2018: Manafort enters into what would be a failed plea agreement, admitting he laundered money and influence on behalf of Ukrainian oligarchs, but entering into a five week process of learning what prosecutors know

Mid-to-late 2018: Rudy referred to Parnas and Fruman for work with “Fraud Guarantee”

Around November 2018: Rudy starts working for Parnas and Fruman

Late 2018: While Parnas and Rudy were eating together, “someone” approached Rudy and gave him information about Ukraine

January 8, 2019: Manafort lawyer’s redaction fail reveals that Manafort was asked about the Ukraine “peace” plan and that Manafort was lying about whether it got raised while working on the campaign and also that he was being asked about ongoing contacts with the Administration

Background

I have laid out the structure of Manafort’s lies in these posts:

The primary sources for them are these documents:

The President’s Joint Defense Agreement with the Russian Mob

If we survive Trump and there are still things called museums around that display artifacts that present things called facts about historic events, I suspect John Dowd’s October 3 letter to the House Intelligence Committee will be displayed there, in all its Comic Sans glory.

In it, Dowd memorializes a conversation he had with HPSCI Investigation Counsel Nicholas Mitchell on September 30, before he was officially the lawyer for Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, now placed in writing because he had since officially become their lawyer. He describes that there is no way he and his clients can comply with an October 7 document request and even if he could — this is the key part — much of it would be covered by some kind of privilege.

Be advised  that Messrs. Parnas and Fruman assisted Mr. Giuliani in connection with his representation of President Trump. Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman have also been represented by Mr. Giuliani in connection with their personal and business affairs. They also assisted Joseph DiGenova and Victoria Toensing in their law practice. Thus, certain information you seek in your September 30, 2019, letter is protected by the attorney-client, attorney work product and other privileges.

Once that letter was sent, under penalty of prosecution for false statements to Congress, it became fact: Parnas and Fruman do work for Rudy Giuliani in the service of the President of the United States covered by privilege, Rudy does work for them covered by privilege, and they also do work for Joseph Di Genova and Victoria Toensing about this matter that is covered by privilege.

Dowd might be forgiven if he immediately adopted the strategy that worked so well in guiding Trump through the Mueller investigation: just engage in a 37-person conspiracy to obstruct justice and name it a Joint Defense Agreement. Indeed, there are even similarities with current events. Then, John Dowd, Jay Sekulow, and Rudy Giuliani offered things of value to the others in the JDA — pardons — in exchange for their silence or even lies. Conspicuously, Toensing represented two people that — the Mueller Report seems to suggest — weren’t entirely candid in their testimony, Erik Prince (who managed to lose texts that explained why he was taking back channel meetings with Russians) and Sam Clovis (who sustained his lack of memory of being told that Russians were offering emails long enough for George Papadopoulos to change his mind on that front). Papadopoulos even managed to call Marc Kasowitz, when he still represented the President, to ask if he also wanted to represent a coffee boy with an inclination to lie to the FBI. The strategy all built to its successful crescendo when, instead of cooperating with prosecutors as he signed up to do, Paul Manafort instead figured out what they did and didn’t know, lied to keep them confused, and reported it all back through his own attorney, Kevin Downing, and Rudy to the President.

It was never really clear who was paying the lawyers (aside from the RNC paying Hope Hicks’ lawyers and some other key staffers). And as details of Manafort’s lies came out, it became clear there was some kind of kick-back system to keep the lawyers paid.

Still, Mueller never tied Manafort’s trading of campaign strategy for considerations on Ukraine and payment by Ukrainian and Russian oligarchs to the President. And so it may have seemed sensible for Dowd, in a bit of a pinch, to adopt the same strategy, with Rudy representing everyone, Dowd representing the Ukrainian grifters, and Kevin Downing even filling in in a pinch.

It all might have worked, too, if Parnas and Fruman hadn’t gotten arrested before they managed to flee the country, headed for what seems to have been a planned meeting a day later with their sometime attorney Rudy Giuliani in Vienna, just one day after a lunch meeting with him at Trump Hotel across the street from the Department of Justice that was busy inking an indictment against the Ukrainians even as they paid money to Trump Organization for their meal.

I mean, it still could work. Trump is still the President and DOJ, at least, will give some consideration to the attorney-client claims, so long as Rudy and Trump can maintain the illusion that Rudy is and was really doing legal work for the President.

But something that Dowd may not have considered, before he sent a letter to Congress laying out an incestuous nest of ethical atrocities, is that by the time he sent the letter, DiGenova and Toensing were on the record as representing Dmitry Firtash, a Ukrainian oligarch who was named in some of the early search warrants targeting Paul Manafort. And in March, Rudy Giuliani went on the record to explain that Firtash was, “one of the close associates of [Semion] Mogilevich, who is the head of Russian organized crime, who is Putin’s best friend.” Yesterday, Reuters closed the circle, making it clear that Parnas and Fruman work for Firtash, the former as a translator for DiGenova and Toensing’s representation of Firtash.

Firtash, by the way, is in Vienna, where Parnas and Fruman attempted to flee and where the President’s lawyer was planning to meet them a day later.

Thus, when Dowd wrote Congress, explaining that Rudy worked for both Trump and the Ukrainian grifters, and the Ukrainian grifters worked for DiGenova and Toensing, he was asserting that the President is a participant in an ethical thicket of legal representation with a mob-linked Ukrainian oligarch fighting extradition (for bribery) to the United States. And all of that, Dowd helpfully made clear, related to this Ukraine scandal (otherwise he could not have invoked privilege for it).

In other words, the President’s former lawyer asserted to Congress that the President and his current lawyer are in some kind of JDA from hell with the Russian mob, almost certainly along with the President’s former campaign manager, who apparently gets consulted (via Kevin Downing) on these matters in prison.

If that weren’t all overwhelming enough, there’s one more twist.

The reason Rudy was emphasizing the mob ties of his current partner in crime lawyering, Dmitry Firtash, back in March is because the President’s former former lawyer, Michael Cohen, shared a lawyer at the time with Firtash, Lanny Davis. Davis, the Democratic version of Paul Manafort, is every bit as sleazy as him (which should have been a huge red flag when Davis was parading Cohen around as a big hero). Curiously, at a time when Davis was also representing Firtash and Cohen was furiously trying to come up with some incriminating evidence he could tell prosecutors that might keep him out of jail, Cohen apparently didn’t mention Ukraine at all. Now, the lawyer that Cohen used to but no longer shares with Firtash claims he has some insight onto these Ukrainian dealings. That’s likely just a desperate effort to stay relevant. But who knows?

Until then, John Dowd’s desperate attempt to make this scandal go away the same way he made the Russia scandal go away (if you pretend they’re not actually all the same scandal and thus even the past JDA strategy may end up failing) at the same time involved admitting, in a letter to Congress, that his former client and his then current not-yet-but-soon-to-be-indicted clients are in a Joint Defense Agreement with the Russian mob.

Don’t take my word for it. Take John Dowd’s legal representation to Congress.

The Problem with Letting the Client-in-Chief Rewrite Impeachment Strategy Mid-Week

Daily Beast confirms something I asserted in this post. Trump wrote the intemperate letter that White House Counsel Pat Cipollone signed his name to (with help from Rudy Giuliani, before Rudy started looking down the gun of indictment for conspiracy).

It was crafted, in large part, by President Donald Trump himself.

According to two people familiar with the process, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone had multiple meetings with President Trump in the days leading up to the issuance of the letter. During those meetings with Cipollone, the president would get especially animated when names such as Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), chair of the House Intelligence Committee leading the probe into the whistleblower complaint, came up. The sources said that Trump enthusiastically suggested adding various jabs at Democratic lawmakers and would request that their “unfair” treatment of him be incorporated into the letter.

The result was what Bob Bauer, who served as President Obama’s White House counsel, called a “remarkable” and “extraordinarily political document.”

Trump had also privately consulted on the letter with Rudy Giuliani, his notably pugnacious personal lawyer who is at the center of the Ukraine and Biden-related scandal engulfing the administration. Trump talked to Giuliani about how he and the White House should proceed in fighting back and challenging the legitimacy of the impeachment probe, one of the sources noted.

The problem with this (well, one problem) is precisely the one I noted in my post.

The tell — for those teams of well-compensated journalists treating this as a factual document — might have been the addressees. While the letter got sent to Adam Schiff, Eliot Engel, and Elijah Cummings, it did not get sent to Jerry Nadler, who has been pursuing an impeachment inquiry of sorts since the Mueller Report came out. The White House knows Nadler is also part of the impeachment inquiry, because even as the White House was finalizing the letter, Trump’s DOJ was in DC Chief Judge Beryl Howell’s courtroom fighting a House Judiciary request for materials for the impeachment inquiry.

While Trump had Cipollone address the letter to all the Democratic Chairs he was furious at, at that moment, he did not address it to Jerry Nadler, who also has been pursuing impeachment. There’s perhaps good reason why Cipollone didn’t send it to Nadler: because none of the claims made about the Adam Schiff-led Ukraine-related impeachment inquiry are true of the Nadler-led Russia and other corruption led impeachment inquiry, which has tried accommodation, has allowed lawyers to cite White House equities in interviews, and included public hearings.

Indeed, even as Trump was writing this letter and making Cipollone sign it, Trump’s DOJ was arguing an entirely different strategy before DC’s Chief Judge Beryl Howell, effectively arguing that because Nadler was being so accommodating, DOJ could not be forced to turn over grand jury testimony.

The result is a rather significant whiplash to DOJ’s legal strategy with HJC. On Tuesday, in an apparent effort to convince Judge Howell that DOJ was not obstructing HJC’s requests for FBI 302s, which don’t have the protections of the grand jury, they (apparently for the first time) suggested that HJC was going to get most of the 302s they were asking for, including the 302s for two of the guys defending against turning them over, DAAG James Burnham and AAG Jody Hunt, both of whose names are on these filings.

The Department currently anticipates making the remaining FBI-302’s available under the agreed upon terms as processing is completed, so long as they do not adversely impact ongoing investigations and cases and subject to redaction and potential withholding in order to protect Executive Branch confidentiality interests. These include, in alphabetical order (1) Stephen Bannon; (2) Dana Boente; (3) James Burnham; (4) James Comey; (5) Annie Donaldson; (6) John Eisenberg; (7) Michael Flynn; (8) Rick Gates; (9) Hope Hicks; (10) Jody Hunt; (11) Andrew McCabe; (12) Don McGahn; (13) Reince Priebus; (14) James Rybicki; (15) Jeff Sessions. In addition, the Committee requested the FBI-302 for the counsel to Michael Flynn, which also has not yet been processed.

Last night, however, they submitted filings that suggested that because Congress is pursuing impeachment their prior offer for accommodation may no longer be valid.

Finally, as explained in the Department’s filing of October 8, 2019, and its September 13, 2019 response to the Committee’s Application, in early June, the Department agreed to provide to the Committee access to certain FBI-302s in order to accommodate its oversight responsibilities following the Committee’s issuance of a subpoena in April and subsequent letter in May. As further noted in paragraph two of the Department’s Tuesday filing, that agreement includes confidentiality provisions that significantly limit the use and dissemination of information that the Committee accesses. The Department has consistently viewed this agreement as part of the accommodation process in connection with the Committee’s oversight activities. As the Court is aware, subsequent to the filing of this application regarding Rule 6(e) materials, the Speaker of the House stated publicly that, in her view, the House of Representatives has now commenced an impeachment inquiry (in addition to its regular oversight responsibilities). To the extent the Committee now believes future productions in this process are part of that impeachment inquiry, that implicates very different issues for the Executive Branch as a whole–as set forth by the White House in its letter of Tuesday, October 8, 2019, to the Speaker and Chairmen of three committees. The Department and the Committee have not yet discussed whether they may need to amend the current agreement to ensure appropriate handing by the Committee in order for the accommodation process to continue as anticipated. The Department will work diligently with the Committee to resolve this issue and to continue a productive accommodation process.

Effectively, on Tuesday morning DOJ argued that HJC was wrong, their request was not part of an impeachment inquiry, in part because it was so accommodating, so it couldn’t have any grand jury material. Two days later, however, DOJ is saying the very same cooperative process has become an impeachment inquiry that — in spite of Jerry Nadler being excluded from the recipients of Cipollone’s letter — DOJ now considers an impeachment inquiry, and so DOJ won’t comply because other parts of Congress are playing hardball.

Heads I win and you can’t have grand jury materials, tails you lose and you can’t have grand jury materials, is effectively the argument here.

That, and (as noted) DOJ is now claiming that US v Nixon is not binding precedent.

This is what happens when you let the Client-in-Chief do all the lawyering.

Consider How Paul Manafort’s Fate May Have Affected Marie Yovanovitch

WaPo has published fired Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch’s prepared statement from her deposition today. It’s a powerful statement from a committed public servant — so go read it yourself.

But reporters have started focusing on a detail Yovanovitch included, but exclusively as it relates to yesterday’s events. When she asked Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan why she had been withdrawn with almost no notice, he told her Trump had been pressuring State to do so since Summer 2018.

Finally, after being asked by the Department in early March to extend my tour until 2020, I was then abruptly told in late April to come back to Washington from Ukraine “on the next plane.” You will understandably want to ask why my posting ended so suddenly. I wanted to learn that too, and I tried to find out. I met with the Deputy Secretary of State, who informed me of the curtailment of my term. He said that the President had lost confidence in me and no longer wished me to serve as his ambassador. He added that there had been a concerted campaign against me, and that the Department had been under pressure from the President to remove me since the Summer of 2018. He also said that I had done nothing wrong and that this was not like other situations where he had recalled ambassadors for cause.

It is true that these events would have shortly followed the first efforts from Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman to cultivate Trump and his “free” lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, whom Trump “hired” (for free) in April.

At almost precisely that time, in April 2018, Ukraine stopped cooperating with Mueller on the Manafort prosecution, possibly in response to the approval of an export license for Javelin missiles, one of the same things Trump used again this summer to extort Ukraine.

Nevertheless, Trump’s efforts to fire Yovanovitch took place even while — in spite of Ukraine’s halt to their cooperation — things started going south for the President’s former campaign manager.

The government first moved to revoke Manafort’s bail because he was tampering with witnesses on June 4. Amy Berman Jackson sent him to jail (first club fed, then after his lawyers got cute, Alexandria jail) on June 15. Jurors in EDVA returned a guilty verdict on August 21. And on September 14, Manafort entered into what purported to be a cooperation agreement with Mueller’s prosecutors (but what, instead, turned out to be an intelligence gathering effort on what they knew and wanted to know, intelligence he shared with Trump). Throughout that period, Trump expressed real worry that Manafort would really flip on him.

As I will show, virtually everything we know about Manafort’s purported cooperation effort connects, in some way, to this Ukraine affair. Plus, we know that Rudy Giuliani was consulting with Manafort as he pursued his schemes. And Manafort’s lawyer Kevin Downing — the same one coordinating on these issues with Rudy — represented Parnas and Fruman in their EDVA appearance yesterday.

This Ukraine story is nothing more than the continuation of the Russian story, and much of it goes through Paul Manafort. Thus, it’s not surprising that as it looked increasingly likely that Manafort would pay for his crimes, and might implicate Trump in them, Trump tried to shut down one area of pressure.

Parnas and Fruman are likely just facilitators to make that happen.

DOJ Confirms that Trump’s Anti-Biden Propagandists Were in the Employ of a Russian

Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman were arrested last night as they tried to flee the country in advance of Congressional subpoenas for their testimony. These are the men who, their recently hired attorney, former Trump personal attorney John Dowd, described how intertwined their actions were with the President’s in an effort to excuse them from testifying in the House impeachment inquiry.

Messrs. Parnas and Fruman assisted Mr. Giuliani in connection with his representation of President Trump. Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman have also been represented by Mr. Giuliani in connection with their personal and business affairs. They also assisted Joseph DiGenova and Victoria Toensing in their law practice. Thus, certain information you seek in your September 30, 2019, letter is protected by the attorney-client, attorney work product and other privileges.

The indictment charging Parnas and Fruman with multiple counts of conspiracy lays out how they pursued policies pushed by a Ukrainian politician (and, not coincidentally, Trump), in part by getting Congressman Pete Sessions’ help.

[T]hese contributions were made for the purpose of gaining influence with politicians so as to advance their own personal financial interests and the political interests of Ukrainian government officials, including at least one Ukrainian government official with whom they were working. For example, in or about May and June 2018, PARNAS and FRUMAN committed to raise $20,000 or more for a then-sitting U.S. Congressman [Sessions], who had also been the beneficiary of approximately $3 million in independent expenditures by [one of the PACs they ran] during the 2018 election cycle. PARNAS and FRUMAN had met [Sessions] at an event sponsored by an independent expenditure committee to which FRUMAN had recently made substantial contribution. During the 2018 election cycle, [Sessions] had been the beneficiary of approximately $3 million in independent expenditures by [their PAC]. At and around the same time PARNAS and FRUMAN committed to raising those funds for [Sessions], PARNAS met with [Sessions] and sought [his] assistance in causing the U.S. Government to remove or recall the then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine []. PARNAS’s efforts to remove the Ambassador were conducted, at least in part, at the request of one or more Ukrainian government officials.

This, of course, is the recall of Marie Yovanovitch, that Trump discussed in his quid pro quo call with Volodymyr Zelensky.

What the indictment is less clear about is who the Russian bankrolling all this is. A key part of Parnas and Fruman’s crime is that they were laundering funds for “a foreign national Russian citizen and businessman.”

From in or about June 2018 through April 2019, LEV PARNAS, IGOR FRUMAN, DAVID CORREIA, and ANDREY KUKUSHKIN, the defendants, and others known and unknown, conspired to make political donations — funded by Foreign National-1 [the Russian] — to politicians and candidates for federal and State office to gain influence with candidates as to policies that would benefit a future business venture.

Putting together the Dowd letter and the indictment, it becomes clear that the John Solomon propaganda that Trump was pushing (and which Rudy sent to Mike Pompeo’s State Department as part of the effort to get rid of Yovanovitch and which Lindsey Graham just invited Rudy to come present to the Senate Judiciary Committee) was funded by an as yet unnamed Russian.

It was only a matter of time before Trump was implicated in ConFraudUs with Russia.

Update: Now add this passage from Trump’s call to Zelensky, and it becomes hard to see how Trump is not implicated in the charged conspiracy.

President Zelenskyy: Yes it is. very important for me and everything that you just mentioned earlier. For me as a President, it is very important and we are open for any future cooperation. We are ready to open a new page on cooperation in relations between the United States and Ukraine. For that purpose, I just recalled our ambassador from United States and he will be replaced by a very competent and very experienced ambassador who will work hard on making sure that our two nations are getting closer. I would also like and hope to see him having your trust and your confidence and  have personal relations with you so we can cooperate even more so. I will personally tell you that one of my assistants spoke with Mr. Giuliani just recently and we are hoping very much that Mr. Giuliani will be able to travel to Ukraine and we will meet once he comes to Ukraine. I just wanted to assure you once again that you have nobody but friends around us. I will make sure that I surround myself with the best and most experienced people. I also wanted to tell you that we are friends. We are great friends and you Mr. President have friends in our country so we can continue our strategic partnership. I also plan to surround myself with great people and in addition to that investigation [into the source of the Russian investigation], I guarantee as the President of Ukraine that all the investigations will be done openly and candidly. That I can assure you.

The Pre·sident: Good because I heard you had a prosecutor who was very good and he was shut down and that’s really unfair. A lot of people are talking about that, the way they shut your very good prosecutor down and you had some very bad people involved. Mr. Giuliani is a highly respected man. He was the mayor of New York Ci:ty, a great mayor, and I would like him to call you. I will ask him to call you along with the Attorney General. Rudy very much knows what’s happening and he is a very capable guy. If you could speak to him that would be great. The former ambassador from the United States, the woman, was bad news and the people she was dealing with in the Ukraine were bad news so I just want to let you know that. The otter thing, There’s a lot of. talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great. Biden went around bragging that he stopped the prosecution so if you can look into it … It sounds horrible to me.

President Zelenskyy: I wanted to tell ·you about the prosecutor. First of all I understand and I’m knowledgable about the situation. Since we have won· the absolute majority in our Parliament, the next prosecutor general will be 100% my person, my candidate, who will be approved, by the parliament and will start as a new prosecutor in September. He or she will look into the situation, specifically to the company that you mentioned in this issue. The issue of the investigation of the case is actually the issue of making sure to restore the honesty so we will take care of that and will work on the investigation of the case. On top of that, I would kindly ask you if you have any additional information that you can provide to us, it would be very helpful for the investigation to make sure that we administer justice in our country with regard to the Ambassador to the United States from Ukraine as far as I recall her name was Ivanovich. It was great that you were the first one. who told me that she was a bad ambassador because I agree with you 100%. Her attitude towards me was far from the best as she admired the previous President and she was on his side. She would not accept me as a new President well enough.

The President: Well, she’s going to go through some things.

At a minimum, this makes it clear that the withdrawal of Yovanovitch — which was done with the involvement of Rudy and Parnas –was tied up in the quid pro quo extorted on that call. Indeed, Trump’s suggestion she was “going to go through some things” suggests far worse.

But it is also at least likely that one of the two prosecutors Rudy was pitching was the Ukrainian involved mentioned elsewhere in this indictment.

All of which provides substantial evidence that the quid pro quo Trump engaged in on July 24 — the day after Mueller testified before Congress — is just a continuation of the conspiracy charged in the Parnas and Fruman indictment.

Three Things: Erasing, Erased, Erasure

[NB: check the byline, thanks! /~Rayne]

There are so many more than three different items under this theme, I could write a book about this. But in the interest of time and resources, I’ll opt for simplicity.

You are being erased if you haven’t been already.

~ 3 ~

Writer and former business consultant Anand Giridharadas shared an excerpt yesterday from a financial adviser’s newsletter to clients.

Transcript:

[…] I just got a great leak that I want to share with you from someone’s financial adviser. You may have a financial adviser. This is a financial adviser trying to advise people what would happen to America if Elizabeth Warren was elected president. And by the way I think a lot of this would apply to Bernie Sanders if he was elected president as well. I think there’s a similarity. And so what would a Warren presidency do to markets. I just want to read some of this to you because it really is hilarious obviously in a way that these boring people did not intend.

And um, so they say, “We have been getting increasing inquiries to address the potential market of her policies as she has gained a lot of momentum over the last couple of weeks.”

And um, it says, “To be clear we do not get involved in political opinions.” To be clear. “So we did a surface level dive on her platform,” they say, “and our intention is to understand the market implications,” they say, and I quote, “Many of these policies are designed specifically to reduce corporate profits and earnings, and instead use those funds to benefit number one workers, number two the environment, number three those with lower incomes, and number four,” oh gosh,”women and minorities. It is important to understand that Warren’s policy goal is to reduce the retained earnings of businesses across multiple sectors and to benefit other parties as mentioned above. As such it is very reasonable statement that if Warren were elected and those policies were enacted it would likely be negative for the stock market because stock prices are an expectation of future earnings.” And so on and so forth.

“The policies would hurt corporate earnings universally,” it says, “although they would likely improve quality of life for many demographics at the expense of corporate profits. Whether that trade-off is positive or negative is not our place to say.” People, stocks, which is better? We don’t know. “We are simply focused on facts. Again, we do not get involved in political opinions,” it said. So now they break it down in case this is not obvious enough, good for people, bad for, for uh, stocks, in case that’s not obvious enough they break it down by policies. Let’s just go through that, shall we? Is that okay? You got time? I got time. I’m in a hoodie.

“Number one ban fracking. Warren wants to ban fracking for oil and gas based on environmental concerns.” Now they do a nice thing where they do who’s this negative for, who’s this positive for, super helpful. “Negative for energy companies and indices, positive for the price of oil/gasoline, supply would be reduced.” Uh, that’s interesting.

“Policy number two eliminate private prisons. Warren wants to end federal contracts to private prisons and withhold funding to make state and local governments do the same. Materially negative for private prison stocks,” ooh, that would be rough for them, yeah.

“Reinstate Glass-Steagall. Warren wants to reinstate the law that separated commercial banking and investment banking. Negative for the major investment banks — JPM, MS, BAC, GS, et cetera, as they would likely have to spin off retail banking operations.

Policy number four, increase taxes on the wealthy. Warren is advocating an ultra-millionaire tax on the 75,000 richest families in the U.S. along with other tax increases aimed at high earners. This could reduce disposable income. Negative for consumer discretionary retail sectors and lingerie stocks. She wants to double the national minimum wage,” they say, “from $7.25 to $15.00. Negative for the entire stock market, the entire stock market,” well, then maybe some more people would be able to buy stocks. “And small business margins. This would significantly compress corporate margins across industries and would result in a reduction of expected earnings for the S&P 500. Those negative effects would be some partially offset,” it goes on, “by more disposable income from minimum wage earners.

“Number six, Warren supports the Family Act, which would create paid national family and medical leave for up to 12 weeks. Negative for small businesses. For large corporations, not much of an impact.” Uh, you know, there we go.

“Number seven agribusiness, breaking up agribusiness.” In fact maybe even break up the word agribusiness into two separate words, agri and business. “Most of the country’s and world’s meat and agriculture production is concentrated in a few major companies. Warren wants to break up these vertically integrated agriculture and food companies. Negative for the agriculture sector, companies in the ag stocks as well as pesticide producers.” And so on and so on.

“The bottom line from a market standpoint is that these policies will be negative for stocks with some being downright negative for the broad markets. How negative would they be for stocks? No one knows exactly.” But this is where it gets interesting. “Again, this doesn’t mean these policies don’t have winners. These are policies designed to reduce retained corporate earnings in favor of other things Warren and her supporters deem more important. So voters will decide if they want to support that type of trade-off. Everyone has their hierarchy of what’s important.”

This is where it gets, we’re getting into Kant here, this is philosophy here in a financial advisor’s report. You gotta pay extra to get to this paragraph. “Everyone has their hierarchy of what’s important, and Warren is an unapologetic populist, who if in power would enact policies designed to reduce corporate earnings to benefit other stakeholders,” parentheses, “workers, the environment, et cetera.” So, I think like all people and the planet are (air quotes) other stakeholders.

“Regardless of your opinion of that strategy it is important to understand that investment accounts would likely be negatively affected under these policies, and if they become reality, we need to take steps to mitigate that damage. As we move closer to the election we’ll obviously be keeping close watch on the implications of the Democratic primary giving you market intelligence on what the headlines mean for stocks going forward.”

They also want to reiterate that this is not political.

It boggles the mind to think that workers, the environment, women and minorities are just sucking drains on the audience for which this opinion piece was written.

We’re roughly 75% of citizens and the entire natural physical world but we’re just an inconvenience drawing down on corporate profits.

We’re not 75% of human beings who’ve been driven over roughshod, had our labor stolen from us for compensation less than subsistence, and the steadily destroyed environment which all of us share and in which we live.

How easily we are erased from consideration by the plutarchy.

One upside: now we know with certainty the financial industry views Warren as both a serious contender for the Democratic nomination and a threat.

Downside: we know, too, that in spite of their B-school education the financial industry is still as dumb as a box of rocks, likely to trash the entire economy and the planet, because they can’t see outside of the rut they’ve been in forever, where only white men have capital and make economies. They are incapable of seeing the untapped promise for stock market growth and saving our planet, locked within more than two decades of stagnant wages, monopsonic job markets, and millennia of toxic colonization.

Note how health care wasn’t at all mentioned; the financial sector is incapable of seeing the benefits to the broader markets if businesses were freed of the burden of health insurance shopping and premium payments.

~ 2 ~

In 1986 I worked for a small machining business. My boss was a bigoted lecher, I’ll be frank. It wasn’t unexpected when he told me if I got pregnant while I worked for him he’d fire me. Fortunately having kids wasn’t yet in the cards for me and I could afford to ignore his misogyny though I couldn’t afford to quit.

In 1988 I applied for a job with a business that did custom manufacturing. I was offered the job but turned it down because their health insurance didn’t cover women’s reproductive care or maternity coverage and they didn’t expect to offer it any time soon, especially since I’d be only one of two women on staff. I took a job with a Fortune 100 company instead; their plan had women’s reproductive care and maternity coverage.

In 1989 my supervisor at that same employer told my older female co-worker he had a limited amount of money to offer his department staff of 10, two of which were male. “I have to give the boys raises because they have families to support.” Never mind that this older woman had teenagers at home, or that the rest of us junior female staff members assisted these two male staffers, or that we might have wanted families we couldn’t yet afford.

In 1993 I got pregnant the month the company fired my supervisor’s equally misogynist boss. I swear the egg waited to drop until I had a new female department head. She was understanding and considerate even though she’d never had any kids of her own.

In 1997 after three years in a new department, I became pregnant with my second child. My boss was itchy and weird throughout my pregnancy, increasingly so over time. You’d think a lawyer would know better than to ask every week during my seventh and eighth month when I was due and was I going to go on leave soon. I had to go to HR to ask for an intervention; I left a week before my scheduled delivery.

It’s not just my own experience; my sister ran into friction from her Fortune 500 employer while she was pregnant. Thankfully she had support from both HR and her union — just not the men she worked with. I can’t tell you how many female friends have likewise been harassed at work for being pregnant.

Don’t get me started about simple systemic problems. Ever tried to sit in one of these for several hours while eight months pregnant?

Academic Chair-Desk

When Elizabeth Warren said she was fired when her pregnancy became visible, I believed her. I am furious with news media outlets for entertaining the idea this was ever not true, or that this isn’t a continuing problem today.

[Let’s not forget the outlet which propelled the attack on Warren was the same one which was tasked with the original Trump dossier — Washington Free Beacon. Are they using material from a Warren dossier?

Let’s not forget, too, that outlets like CBS which continued to poke at Warren have had a wretched history of treating women poorly — or has everyone already forgotten Les Moonves and his nasty habits, including blackballing Janet Jackson for a wardrobe malfunction?]

Think back upon your education and work experience; how many times during K-12 education do you recall seeing a pregnant teacher? I never did any time between 1965 and 1978, and more than 85% of the teachers I saw were female, most of childbearing age. I don’t recall seeing a pregnant instructor during college at all.

How many times did you see a pregnant woman in the workplace? I didn’t until I was in my 30s and having kids myself.

And now my daughter has to put up with crap regarding reproductive health coverage, more than 30 years after I had to turn down a job for not having it as part of their benefits. Why has this not changed for the better? Why is it worse because our government  has now butted into the mix to make it worse rather than ensuring we all get the health care we need regardless of gender?

Why is the essential human fact that women need reproductive care or maternity coverage still something we must fight for against the plutocratic patriarchy which wants to deny it and erase us?

~ 1 ~

There’s a theory that stingy millennials are to blame for the sluggish economy, said financial news network CNBC, parroting investment firm Raymond James.

Are you fucking kidding me?

When 40% of Americans can’t muster $400 cash for an emergency, it’s not stinginess that they aren’t stimulating the economy.

When the reason so many Americans are strapped is because of debt, it’s not stinginess.

When 45 million American students and parents hold educational debt amounting to  ~$1.5 trillion — more than what Americans owe on their credit cards or auto loans — it’s not stinginess.

When minimum wage workers across the entire country can’t afford rent on 2-bedroom apartment, it’s not stinginess.

When 25% of Americans ages 18-64 report having problems paying medical bills, it’s not stinginess.

Somehow the financial sector including media dedicated to covering it have erased all the other reasons why millennials — Americans born between 1981-1996 (23-38 years old) — might not be able to fully participate in stimulating the economy.

Conveniently, the several hundred uber wealthy families represented at the far right of the interactive graphic in the tweet below don’t worry at all about erasure.


They own the erasers.

~ 0 ~

This is an open thread.

The Press Gets Utterly Snookered on the White House Rebranding of the Same Old Unrelenting Obstruction of Congressional Prerogatives

Yesterday, the White House sent a letter to Nancy Pelosi and just some of the Committee Chairs conducting parts of an impeachment inquiry into the President, purporting to refuse to participate in that impeachment inquiry. Since then, there has been a lot of shocked coverage about how intemperate the letter is, with particular focus on the fact that White House Counsel, Pat Cipollone, used to be considered a serious lawyer. There has been some attempt to analyze the letter as if it is a legal document and not instead the President’s rants packaged up in Times Roman and signed by one of his employees. A number of outlets have thrown entire reporting teams to do insipid horse race coverage of the letter, as if this is one giant game, maybe with nifty commercials on during halftime.

None I’ve seen have described the letter as what it is: an attempt to rebrand the same old outright obstruction that the White House has pursued since January.

The tell — for those teams of well-compensated journalists treating this as a factual document — might have been the addressees. While the letter got sent to Adam Schiff, Eliot Engel, and Elijah Cummings, it did not get sent to Jerry Nadler, who has been pursuing an impeachment inquiry of sorts since the Mueller Report came out. The White House knows Nadler is also part of the impeachment inquiry, because even as the White House was finalizing the letter, Trump’s DOJ was in DC Chief Judge Beryl Howell’s courtroom fighting a House Judiciary request for materials for the impeachment inquiry. In the hearing, DOJ literally argued that the Supreme Court’s 8-0 US v. Nixon was wrongly decided.

Howell picked up on that point by pressing DOJ to say whether then-U.S. District Court Chief Judge John Sirica was wrong in 1974 to let Congress access a detailed “road map” of the Watergate grand jury materials as it considered President Richard Nixon’s impeachment.

Shapiro argued that if the same Watergate road map arose today, there’d be a “different result” because the law has changed since 1974. She said the judge wouldn’t be able to do the same thing absent changes to the grand jury rules and statutes.

Howell sounded skeptical. “Wow. OK,” she replied.

DOJ also argued that Congress would have to pass a law to enshrine the principle that this binding Supreme Court precedent already made the law of the land.

In the HJC branch of the impeachment inquiry, the few credible claims made in yesterday’s letter — such as that Congress is conducting the inquiry in secret without the ability to cross-examine witnesses or have Executive Branch lawyers present — are proven utterly false. And with the claims made in yesterday’s hearing, the Executive demonstrated that they will obstruct even measured requests and negotiations for testimony.

The Trump White House obstructed normal Congressional oversight by absolutely refusing to cooperate.

The Trump White House obstructed an impeachment inquiry focused on requests and voluntary participation.

The Trump White House obstructed an impeachment inquiry where subpoenas were filed.

The Trump White House obstructed an impeachment inquiry relying on whistleblowers who aren’t parties to the White House omertà.

The Trump White House obstructed what numerous judges have made clear are reasonable requests from a co-equal branch of government.

Nothing in the White House’s conduct changed yesterday. Not a single thing. And any journalist who treats this as a new development should trade in her notebooks or maybe move to covering football where such reporting is appropriate.

It is, however, a rebranding of the same old unrelenting obstruction, an effort to relaunch the same policy of unremitting obstruction under an even more intransigent and extreme marketing pitch.

And that — the need to rebrand the same old obstruction — might be worthy topic of news coverage. Why the White House feels the need to scream louder and pound the table more aggressively is a subject for reporting. But to cover it, you’d go to people like Mitt Romney and Susan Collins, who already seem to be preparing to explain votes against the President. You even go to people like Lindsey Graham, who is doing ridiculous things to sustain Rudy Giuliani’s hoaxes in the Senate Judiciary Committee — but who has condemned the principle of making the country dramatically less safe for whimsical personal benefit in Syria. Or you go to Richard Burr, who quietly released a report making it clear Russia took affirmative efforts to elect Trump in 2016.

This week, Trump looked at the first few Republicans getting weak in the knees and his response was to double down on the same old policies, while rolling out a campaign trying to persuade those weak-kneed members of Congress who are contemplating the import of our Constitution not to do so.

The President’s former lawyer testified earlier this year, under oath, that this has always been a branding opportunity to Donald Trump.

Donald Trump is a man who ran for office to make his brand great, not to make our country great. He had no desire or intention to lead this nation – only to market himself and to build his wealth and power. Mr. Trump would often say, this campaign was going to be the “greatest infomercial in political history.”

His latest attempt to cajole Republican loyalty is no different. It’s just a rebranding of the same intransigence. Treating it as anything but a rebranding is organized forgetting of what has taken place for the last nine months, and journalists should know better.

Trump Specifically Ensured Republicans Wouldn’t Know about His Extortion

Kurt Volker’s prepared testimony from yesterday has been released. It is very unconvincing in several places, particularly read in conjunction with his texts that makes it clear there was a quid pro quo tied to security assistance and aid. Most charitably, it reads like the narrative of someone whose intentions were good, but in denial about his actions in service of an ultimate outcome — the continued provision of aid to Ukraine.

As is well documented, I had long supported lifting the ban on lethal defensive assistance to Ukraine, advocated for the supply of javelin anti-tank systems, advocated for an increase in U.S. assistance, and urged other nations to provide more assistance as well.

The issue of a hold placed on security assistance to Ukraine also came up during this same time I was connecting Mr. Yermak and Mayor Giuliani. I did not perceive these issues to be linked in any way.

On July 18, I was informed that at an interagency (sub-PCC) meeting, OMB had said that there was a hold being placed on Congressional Notifications about security assistance to Ukraine. No reason was given.

A higher level interagency meeting (PCC) was then scheduled to take place to discuss the issue on July 23. I met in advance with the individual who would represent the State Department at that meeting, Assistant Secretary of State for Pol-Mil Affairs, R. Clarke Cooper. I stressed how important it was to keep the security assistance moving – for Ukraine’s self-defense, deterrence of further Russian aggression, as a symbol of our bilateral support for Ukraine, and as part of having a strong position going into any negotiations with Russia. He fully agreed and intended to represent that position at the PCC meeting. I also had separate conversations with the Pentagon and NSC staff to reiterate the same position.

I was told later that there was no outcome from the PCC meeting. That said, I was not overly concerned about the development because I believed the decision would ultimately be reversed. Everything from the force of law to the unanimous position of the House, Senate, Pentagon, State Department, and NSC staff argued for going forward, and I knew it would just be a matter of time.

As well, Volker avoids admitting this was partly about inventing dirt on Joe Biden by treating the possibility of election interference as credible, without any basis (and it’s clear he conducted this projection repeatedly in real time).

Concerning the allegations, I stressed that no one in the new team governing Ukraine had anything to do with anything that may have happened in 2016 or before – they were making TV shows at the time. Mr. Lutsenko, however, would remain in place until a new government was seated in a month or more. It was important to reach out and provide strong U.S. support for President-elect Zelenskyy.

I also said at that July 19 meeting that it is not credible to me that former Vice President Biden would have been influenced in anyway by financial or personal motives in carrying out his duties as Vice President. A different issue is whether some individual Ukrainians may have attempted to influence the 2016 election or thought they could buy influence: that is at least plausible, given Ukraine’s reputation for corruption. But the accusation that Vice President Biden acted inappropriately did not seem at all credible to me.

But the key new detail in Volker’s statement, beyond what we already knew, is confirmation that not only did OMB freeze assistance to Ukraine, but it also froze notifications about security assistance to Congress, effectively hiding the fact that Trump was using the aid authorized by Congress to extort election assistance from Ukraine.

On July 18, I was informed that at an interagency (sub-PCC) meeting, OMB had said that there was a hold being placed on Congressional Notifications about security assistance to Ukraine. No reason was given.

Withholding the aid is something Republicans were on the record opposing. Indeed, Mitch McConnell claims (credibly or not) that even he was not informed that Trump was withholding the aid to extort campaign assistance.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said he was not provided an explanation for why the Trump administration held up aid to Ukraine when he pressed senior officials on the matter over the summer.

“I was not given an explanation,” McConnell told reporters Tuesday as the congressional furor grew over President Trump’s interactions with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

McConnell said he spoke to Secretary of Defense Mark Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo twice about the matter without receiving clarification for the delay in $391 million in aid to Ukraine.

“I was very actively involved in advocating [for] the aid. I talked to the secretary of Defense, the secretary of State once,” he said.

“The good news was it finally happened,” he added, noting the administration finally released the aid. “I have no idea what precipitated the delay.”

Whatever other story Republicans want to tell to excuse this behavior (and, as I said, McConnell’s claim here reads like CYA), Republicans should be furious that, first, Trump ignored the stated will of Congress on something they all claimed to care about and, second, that Trump’s OMB very specifically froze them out of notice they were entitled to have, as Congress.

Again, this scandal is not just about Trump demanding that other countries help him get reelected. It’s also about Trump defying the will of Congress to obtain leverage to extort that aid. Now we know that he even deliberately kept Congress in the dark about what he was doing.

Republicans surely will continue to excuse this behavior. But by doing so, they are utterly emasculating the prerogatives of Congress to do so.

Update: Multiple sources suggest that by August 31, Ron Johnson knew why aid was being held up, and by September 12, McConnell and James Inhofe did too.

Trump Is Being Impeached for Harming America to Extort Campaign Help

There’s a narrative solidifying among journalists that Democrats are conducting an impeachment inquiry (at least as it pertains to Ukraine) into whether Trump solicited foreign help for an election.

Even setting aside that on the call with Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump first asked Ukraine’s president to provide “evidence” backing Russian disinformation about the last election, foreign election assistance is not (all) Trump is being impeached for. Trump is being impeached for pursuing US policies that serve to coerce his foreign partners into helping him win the 2020 election.

His demand that China start an investigation into the Bidens was separated from his assertion that “if they don’t do what we want, we have tremendous power” by less than 30 seconds.

We’re looking at a lot of things. China’s coming in next week. We’re going to have a meeting with them. We’ll see. But we’re doing very well. Some of the, uh, numbers are being affected by all of the nonsense, all of the politics going on in this country, but the Democrats, I call them the do-nothing Democrats because they do nothing for this country. They don’t care about this country. But, uh, the numbers really are looking very good going into the future. So we’ll see. I have a lot of options on China. But if they don’t do what we want, we have tremendous power.

[comment on how he wants Zelensky to investigate the Bidens]

And by the way, likewise, China should start an investigation into the Bidens. Because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with uh, with Ukraine.

And a key part of the whistleblower’s complaint is that,

On 18 July, an Office of Management and Budget (OMB) official informed Departments and Agencies that the President “earlier that month” had issued instructions to suspend all U.S. security assistance to Ukraine. Neither OMB nor the NSC staff knew why this instruction had been issued. During interagency meetings on 23 July and 26 July, OMB officials again stated explicitly that the instruction to suspend this assistance had come directly from the President, but they still were unaware of a policy rationale. As of early August, I heard from U.S. officials that some Ukrainian officials were aware that U.S. aid might be in jeopardy, but I do not know how or when they learned of it.

Trump held up the money, which had been appropriated by Congress, overruling John Bolton’s and some other national security advisors’ counsel (which may be why Bolton was excluded from the call), as well as that of some Republican Senators. At least some of the Ukrainians in the loop claimed to be blindsided by the freeze and talked about how the freeze made Ukraine more vulnerable vis a vis Russia. Trump restored the aid only after Congress forced him to, even as the whistleblower complaint was breaking.

In short, Trump was defying Congress’ orders, and his excuses (that he was trying to get Ukraine to work on corruption) don’t hold up.

Trump has a lot of leeway to set the foreign policy of the US (but not in defiance of Congressional budgetary guidance). But he has come very close to suggesting that he is setting the foreign policy priorities of the country in such a way as to get leverage over other countries to help him politically.

And DOJ, when receiving this whistleblower complaint, did not review whether this amounts to extortion or bribery, the latter of which is specifically enumerated as an offense demanding impeachment in the Constitution.

This is what impeachment is about: Trump is considering inflicting more damage on farmers and manufacturers and this summer helped an adversary (admittedly the one who helped him get elected the last time), all in an effort to coerce help from foreign leaders.

Update: Fox just obtained encrypted texts showing that temporary Ambassador to Ukraine William Brockenbrough Taylor Jr. said “it’s crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign,” which would appear to make the intent clear.

Bill Barr Risks becoming Joseph Mifsud’s New Coffee Boy

Yesterday, the Daily Beast provided details about what Bill Barr was doing in Italy on the trip to dig up dirt first confirmed by the WaPo. According to DB, Barr and John Durham went to Italy on short notice (that is, even as the Ukraine scandal he is personally implicated in was breaking) to watch a videotaped deposition by Joseph Mifsud.

Barr was in Rome on an under-the-radar mission that was only planned a few days in advance. An official with the embassy confirmed to The Daily Beast that they had to scramble to accommodate Barr’s sudden arrival. He had been in Italy before, but not with such a clear motive. Barr and Durham are looking into the events that led to Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, and suddenly all roads were leading to Rome.

The Daily Beast has learned that Barr and Durham were especially interested in what the Italian secret service knew about Joseph Mifsud, the erstwhile professor from Malta who had allegedly promised then-candidate Donald Trump’s campaign aide George Papadopoulos he could deliver Russian “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. The Italian justice ministry’s public records show that Mifsud had applied for police protection in Italy after disappearing from Link University, where he worked and, in doing so, had given a taped deposition to explain just why people might want to harm him.

A source in the Italian Ministry of Justice, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told The Daily Beast that Barr and Durham were played the tape. A second source within the Italian government also confirmed to The Daily Beast that Barr and Durham were shown other evidence the Italians had on Mifsud.

There are a ton of reasons why this trip is batshit crazy. For one, Barr is placing himself in the role of a line Special Agent, someone without the requisite expertise chasing off to watch taped depositions while he should be running DOJ. For another (as I’ll show in more detail later), Barr is literally just chasing conspiracy theories sown by sworn liar George Papadopoulos, conspiracy theories which fabulist John Solomon (and his obvious sources named Rudy Giuliani and some Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs including Oleg Deripaska) has both fed and magnified. That Barr is doing it as he becomes personally embroiled in a scandal which could implicate him criminally suggests he and Trump may be trying to beat the clock, produce results before the shit really hits the fan.

But what’s most remarkable about the trip is the Attorney General of the United States went out on this goose chase without first ensuring he’d get what he was promised.

There’s a principle often aired when discussing Trump’s failed diplomacy with North Korea. You don’t send out the Principal for a meeting before getting certain commitments that advance your own goals. Trump should not have met with Kim Jong-Un without first getting concessions, because by doing so he took away several things of value (such as conferring credibility on the world stage) that Kim was most interested in.

The same is true here. The Attorney General should never run off to do the work of an FBI line Special Agent. But he certainly shouldn’t do so unless he was getting what he was really after.

And Billy Barr just flew to Italy without getting what he was really looking for.

Handily, for this scandal, Papadopoulos and Solomon and Chuck Ross have been ready scribes for the script that Trump and Billy Barr are supposed to be following. It’s all out in the open.

The Attorney General’s voyage to Italy got set in motion last fall when Ross published two stories relying on Mifsud’s “attorney” Stephen Roh (who himself has close ties to Russia). The first, dated September 10, reported that Mifsud was alive and well hiding in Italy. The second, published October 24, was explicitly a set-up for George Papadopoulos’ testimony before the joint OGR/HJC investigation into the Russian investigation. It included comments from Roh alleging that Mifsud was not a Russian asset, but was instead a Western one. Ross included those comments almost as a side note, even though the comments make what would normally be big news.

Roh told TheDCNF this week that Mifsud claimed in their previous meetings that he was working under the direction of the FBI when he made contact with Papadopoulos. He also claims that Mifsud told him that he was ordered to stay out of the public spotlight until the conclusion of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

“Prof Mifsud explained that he is and was always a trusted cooperator of Western Intelligence services,” Roh said on Oct. 20.

“Prof Mifsud explained to us that he agreed not to speak, not to give interviews and to hide until the [Mueller] Investigation is terminated,” said Roh, who added that Mifsud claimed that he was being assisted by a London law firm in his discussions with the Mueller team.

The claims, if true, would be bombshell developments in the Russiagate saga. But TheDCNF was not able to independently verify Roh’s claims. The special counsel’s office declined comment.

While some of Roh’s claims about Mifsud would seem to support Papadopoulos’s theories, Roh has also said that Mifsud denies Papadopoulos’s allegation that he mentioned Clinton emails during their April 2016 meeting. Roh has asserted that Papadopoulos was working as an “agent provocateur” for a Western spy agency.

The next day, Papadopoulos — cued by Zachary Somers, then Majority Counsel for Bob Goodlatte — pointed to the Daily Caller piece as the basis for his belief that Joseph Mifsud was actually western intelligence.

Q Okay. So, and Mifsud, he presented himself as what? Who did he tell you he was?

A So looking back in my memory of this person, this is a mid-50’s person, describes himself as a former diplomat who is connected to the world, essentially. I remember he was even telling me that, you know, the Vietnamese prime minister is a good friend of mine. I mean, you have to understand this is the type of personality he was portraying himself as.

And, you know, I guess I took the bait because, you know, usually somebody who — at least in Washington, when somebody portrays themselves in a specific way and has credentials to back it, you believe them. But that’s how he portrayed himself. And then I can’t remember exactly the next thing that happened until he decided to introduce me to Putin’s fake niece in London, which we later found out is some sort of student. But I could get into those details of how that all started. Q And what’s your — just to kind of jump way ahead, what’s your current understanding of who Mifsud is?

A My current understanding?

Q Yeah. A You know, I don’t want to espouse conspiracy theories because, you know, it’s horrifying to really think that they might be true, but just yesterday, there was a report in the Daily Caller from his own lawyer that he was working with the FBI when he approached me. And when he was working me, I guess — I don’t know if that’s a fact, and I’m not saying it’s a fact — I’m just relaying what the Daily Caller reported yesterday, with Chuck Ross, and it stated in a categorical fashion that Stephan Roh, who is Joseph Mifsud’s, I believe his President’s counsel, or PR person, said that Mifsud was never a Russian agent.

In fact, he’s a tremendous friend of western intelligence, which makes sense considering I met him at a western spying school in Rome. And all his interactions — this is just me trying to repeat the report, these are not my words — and when he met with me, he was working as some sort of asset of the FBI. I don’t know if that’s true or not. I’m just reporting what my current understanding is of this individual based on reports from journalists.

As I’ll show, this was not the only time Papadopoulos did this in a deposition that was supposed to air what Papadopoulos knew, personally. His testimony served to validate conspiracy theories planted in right wing propaganda outlets.

In May Devin Nunes, in the guise of raising counterintelligence concerns about the number of high level people (including Boris Johnson, who would not be Prime Minister of the UK right now without dodgy financing of Leave) who had interacted with Mifsud, wrote a letter airing Roh’s claims and information that otherwise has been sourced from Roh, wrote Mike Pompeo, Paul Nakasone, Gina Haspel, and Chris Wray claiming Mueller misrepresented Mifsud.

Alternatively, if Mifsud is not in fact a counterintelligence threat, then that would cast doubt on the Special Counsel’s fundamental description of him and his activities, and raise questions about the veracity of the Special Counsel’s statements and affirmations. It should be noted that the Special Counsel declined to charge Mifsud with any crime even though, to justify seeking a prison sentence for Papadopoulos, the Special Counsel claimed Papadopoulos’ untruthful testimony “undermined investigators’ ability to challenge the Professor [Mifsud] or potentially detain or arrest him while he was still in the United States.” Furthermore, it’s still a mystery how the FBI knew to ask Papadopoulos specifically about Hillary Clinton’s emails, on multiple occasions throughout 2016-17 before having interviewed Mifsud, if the FBI hadn’t already somehow received this information directly or indirectly from Mifsud himself.

Obviously, Nunes’ “concerns” are rank bullshit. The tip from Australia was sufficient to raise question about the emails. And Mueller didn’t charge a bunch of other suspected foreign assets (some even in the US), which is how counterintelligence works. But Nunes’ letter sufficed to make this an official request.

Apparently, then, Stephen Roh shared a transcript of a deposition with some Republicans in Congress and Solomon. That, and more cues from Republicans, Roh, Papadopoulos, and who knows who else, got laundered through a Solomon story full of obvious misrepresentations (one that irks me, for example, is his use of a February 2017 email Mifsud sent following up on his FBI interview to claim Mifsud exchanged emails with the FBI, as if that substantiated an otherwise independent relationship with the Bureau). The news hook of the story is that John Durham wanted to interview Mifsud. But if he couldn’t do that, Solomon dutifully reported, Durham would like to “review a recorded deposition” he gave to Roh.

An investigator told Swiss attorney Stephan Roh that Durham’s team wanted to interview Mifsud, or at the very least review a recorded deposition the professor gave in summer 2018 about his role in the drama involving Donald Trump, Russia and the 2016 election.

The contact, confirmed by multiple sources and contemporaneous email, sent an unmistakable message: Durham, the U.S. attorney handpicked by Attorney General William Barr to determine whether the FBI committed abuses during the Russia investigation, is taking a second look at one of the noteworthy figures and the conclusions of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s final report.

Solomon went on to claim — and the frothy right believes it as scripture now — that if Durham would just interview Mifsud, he would learn that the whole Papadopoulos story was actually a set-up by Western intelligence agencies seeking to frame George Papadopoulos and Donald Trump.

Roh told me the information he is preparing to share with Durham’s team from his client will accentuate those concerns.

Mifsud was a “longtime cooperator of western intel” who was asked specifically by his contacts at Link University in Rome and the London Center of International Law Practice (LCILP) — two academic groups with ties to Western diplomacy and intelligence — to meet with Papadopoulos at a dinner in Rome in mid-March 2016, Roh told me.

A May 2019 letter from Nunes to U.S. intelligence officials corroborates some of Roh’s account, revealing photos showing that the FBI conducted training at Link in fall 2016 and that Mifsud and other Link officials met regularly with world leaders, including Boris Johnson, elected today as Britain’s new prime minister.

A few days after the March dinner, Roh added, Mifsud received instructions from Link superiors to “put Papadopoulos in contact with Russians,” including a think tank figure named Ivan Timofeev and a woman he was instructed to identify to Papadopoulos as Vladimir Putin’s niece.

Mifsud knew the woman was not the Russian president’s niece but, rather, a student who was involved with both the Link and LCILP campuses, and the professor believed there was an effort underway to determine whether Papadopoulos was an “agent provocateur” seeking foreign contacts, Roh said.

The evidence, he told me, “clearly indicates that this was not only a surveillance op but a more sophisticated intel operation” in which Mifsud became involved.

The point is, though, that the ask was an interview, at which Barr and Durham (and, if they had brought experienced interrogators, which the DB does not report they did) would be able to test Mifsud’s credibility. Sitting in a secure room and watching a deposition (without experts there to test the provenance of the deposition video, no less) was not the ask and provides no way to obtain what would really be necessary.

But Barr didn’t demand that, and he didn’t get that. Instead, he allowed himself to be lured into a dark room in Italy to watch something — possibly without anyone with the relevant counterintelligence expertise to help him understand it — that provides very little useful information to test Mifsud’s claims. That puts the Attorney General in an incredibly vulnerable position (even beyond being implicated in covering up the President’s extortion to get such access), because he not only has traded away a lot of leverage to get what he would actually need to test this information, but he has already met a suspected Russian asset on the asset’s terms.

A lot of what Papadopoulos has done over the last three years was downright idiotic. But he has the excuse of being stupid, untrained, venal, and overly ambitious.

Billy Barr has no excuses for doing something that is even stupider than much of what Papadopoulos did. And yet he did just that.

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