GOP Republicans Stage Brooks Brothers Riot 2.0 to Emasculate Their Own Power of the Purse

Twenty-some Republican Congressmen (and a few women) are staging a repeat Brooks Brother riot to stall the ongoing impeachment proceeding. I’ll post a picture if I find an open source one, but the riot is being led by Matt Gaetz and includes, among others:

  • Minority Whip Steve Scalise
  • Steve King
  • Louie Gohmert
  • Andy Biggs
  • Bradley Byrne
  • Mark Walker
  • Mo Brooks
  • Debbie Lesko
  • Alex Mooney
  • Michael Waltz

Some of the members stormed into the House SCIF with their cell phones, which is a violation of strict rules and may degrade the effectiveness of the SCIF. Reportedly, Republican Mike Conaway of Texas has started collecting the electronics of his colleagues.

The riot has delayed the testimony of Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper.

That’s significant–symbolic even. That’s because Cooper is expected to testify on DOD’s response to Trump’s illegal refusal to withhold funds duly appropriated by Congress.

House panels leading the impeachment inquiry are set to hear Wednesday from a Pentagon official responsible for policy toward Ukraine, who is expected to testify about the delay in nearly $400 million in security assistance to the country.

Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia, will be the first Defense Department official to testify before investigators, who have largely heard from State Department officials so far in the investigation. Ms. Cooper arrived at the Capitol on Wednesday morning.

The hold on the aid to Ukraine is at the center of the House’s impeachment inquiry into whether President Trump conditioned the funding for Ukraine on his request to Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky that Ukraine investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter Biden, as well as alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

The White House’s hold on military aid to Ukraine this summer set off alarms at the Pentagon, according to people familiar with the matter. Ms. Cooper’s exact role in the Defense Department’s effort to push back on the hold on the money, which was ultimately released in mid-September, isn’t known.

After the White House communicated the hold to the Defense and State Departments in July, the Pentagon conducted an internal review of the legality of the hold, according to three people familiar with the matter. Pentagon officials argued that the administration couldn’t block money approved by Congress, delivering their analysis to career White House budget office officials at a July meeting, according to two of the people and another person familiar with the matter.

In short, a bunch of Republican Congressmen (and a handful of women) are staging a faux riot in order to prevent DOD from telling Congress how the White House prevented them from following the law that prohibits the White House from withholding funds without a good reason that they share with Congress.

As I’ve said, even these people’s former colleague, Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, has admitted this is a crime.

I know this entire inquiry has stirred up a lot of partisan bickering. But it is stunning that Republicans in Congress, including Minority Whip Steve Scalise, are so desperate to protect Trump that they are trying to prevent Congress from asserting its power of the purse.

There could be no more symbolic self-emasculation than this faux riot. And yet, these members of Congress apparently are willing to trade away their own power like this.

Update: According to a press release released yesterday, here’s who was part of the Brooks Brothers The Farce. Those marked with asterisks are on committees conducting the inquiry, so they’re basically complaining about a process they’re a part of. Those marked with checks were around in 2017 and voted for a rule holding that such protests on the House floor (to say nothing of inside HPSCI’s SCIF) were a violation of House Rules.

  1. Matt Gaetz√
  2. Steve Scalise√
  3. Brian Babin√
  4. Andy Biggs√
  5. Mo Brooks√
  6. Ken Buck√*
  7. Bradley Byrne
  8. Buddy Carter√
  9. Ben Cline
  10. Jeff Duncan√
  11. Drew Ferguson√
  12. Russ Fulcher
  13. Louie Gohmert√
  14. Paul Gosar√*
  15. Mark Green*
  16. Vicky Hartzler√
  17. Kevin Hern
  18. Jody Hice√*
  19. Duncan Hunter√
  20. Bill Johnson√
  21. Jim Jordan√*
  22. Fred Keller*
  23. Steve King√
  24. Debbie Lesko
  25. Carol Miller*
  26. Alex Mooney√
  27. Markwayne Mullin√
  28. Ralph Norman*
  29. Mark Walker√
  30. Mark Meadows√*
  31. Greg Murphy
  32. Peter Olson√
  33. Gary Palmer√
  34. Scott Perry√*
  35. David Rouzer√
  36. Ross Spano
  37. Michael Waltz
  38. Steve Watkins
  39. Randy Weber√
  40. Ron Wright*
  41. Lee Zeldin√*

Also note that the rules Adam Schiff is using for this inquiry are similar to the rules that Mark Meadows used for the investigation of the Russian investigation that he, Gaetz,  Jordan, and Gowdy did last year.

Update: Fixed the gender references as there are a few women who participated.

Bill Barr’s DOJ Engaged in Conspiracy to Defraud the US on Trump’s July 25 Meeting

Yesterday, I wrote a long post showing that DOJ could not have followed their most basic investigative protocols when it got the whistleblower complaint in late August. Had they done so, one of the first steps would have been to see what material FBI already had on all the people named in the complaint. And because a profile of Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman was cited 4 times in the complaint (though their names did not appear in the complaint itself), the original assessment of the complaint should have discovered all the things DOJ already knew about their influence operation, which at that point would have included:

  • Parnas and Fruman were funded by a big transfer from an attorney specializing in helping foreigners launder money
  • They were using that money to provide straw donations to Republicans, most notably a $325,000 donation to a Trump SuperPAC
  • Those donations tied to meetings with the recipients and actions on Ukraine shortly thereafter
  • Parnas was involved in Rudy Giuliani’s disinformation campaign on Ukraine

This table shows what DOJ probably learned by when. Once one part of DOJ got new information on the grifters, that information would have become available to anyone doing a search on their name in FBI databases.

Thus, had DOJ done what it does in virtually all its other assessments of tips (particularly those that have a national security component), line investigators would have discovered that the July 25 call was obviously a part of the influence operation — including Parnas and Fruman, but also Rudy by that point — already under Full Investigation in SDNY.

DOJ explained how it managed to do so by claiming, falsely, that there was no firsthand knowledge reflected in the complaint itself, and so rather than using the complaint (which included that reference to Parnas and Fruman), they used the call transcript, which did not mention the Ukrainian grifters. Because it mentioned Rudy, queries on his name would still have made it clear that the call was part of an influence operation, though it’s possible and defensible that (as happened with the Trump Russian investigation, at least at first) DOJ did not do the same kind of back door searches they would do on everyone else because Rudy was a politically sensitive person.

But it turns out that’s not the only way DOJ affirmatively prevented people from connecting the dots in a national security issue.

Yesterday, MoJo reported on another way that DOJ prevented anyone from connecting the dots. Under a Memorandum of Understanding in place with the FEC, DOJ should have shared campaign finance related complaints with the FEC so they can assess whether the complaint merits civil penalties.

But under a 1978 memorandum of understanding between the department and the FEC—which, like Justice is authorized to penalize campaign finance violations—the complaint should have been passed onto the FEC even if the department declined to launch a criminal investigation, so the election watchdog can determine whether a civil penalty is called for.

Earlier this month, Klobuchar set out to uncover whether the Justice Department had honored this agreement, sending two letters to the FEC inquiring whether it had received any such referral. On October 18, the commission’s Democratic chair, Ellen Weintraub, confirmed to Klobuchar that the FEC had not been notified. “The refusal to inform the FEC and refer the matter regarding the President’s call to the FEC as required to do, as the Justice Department is required, undermines our campaign finance system and is unacceptable in a democracy,” Klobuchar said in Tuesday statement.

FEC, of course, already had the original and supplemental CLC complaint about Parnas and Fruman, so they might have connected the profile showing their work for Rudy, included in the whistleblower complaint, with the President’s demand that Volodymyr Zelensky cooperate with Rudy’s antics on the call.

By not referring the complaint, then, DOJ prevented FEC from connecting the dots, just as treating the call record instead of the complaint itself as the referral prevented Public Integrity investigators assessing the complaint from doing so.

Again: this kind of dot-connecting is what FBI and the rest of our investigative apparatus have been refocused on doing since 9/11, specifically to ensure that any threats to the United States will be identified as quickly as possible. But when such dot-connecting would have knowably implicated powerful Republicans, including the President, it magically didn’t happen in this case.

Unless DOJ can come up with a good explanation for why they failed to share the unclassified part of the complaint with FEC (I’m waiting for DOJ to say that once Matthew Petersen resigned on August 26, just as DOJ was assessing the complaint, the MOU lapsed), then the failure to do so constitutes a willful attempt to thwart FEC from doing its job, something Ellen Weintraub lays out clearly in her letter to Amy Klobuchar. As far as she knows, the MOU remains intact, and therefore DOJ was obliged to share the complaint.

As the Commission explained earlier this year, the MOU3 between the FEC and the DOJ remains active. Though some DOJ-published materials state that DOJ no longer considers the agreement to reflect its current policy,4 it has not renegotiated the agreement with the Commission.5 Indeed, the Commission confirmed in its May response to oversight queries from the Committee on House Administration that the Commission continues to rely on the MOU:

In 1977, the Commission and DOJ entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) relating to their respective law enforcement jurisdiction and responsibilities. The MOU remains the primary guidance/procedural agreement used by the Commission to assist in collaboration and consultation efforts (including referrals) between the Commission and DOJ.6

The Commission has taken no action to change its position that the MOU is the primary guidance and procedural agreement used by the Commission to assist in collaboration and consultation efforts (including referrals) between the Commission and DOJ.

It turns out that deliberately undermining FEC’s ability to do its job is a crime, one of the same crimes that Parnas and Fruman got charged with, the same crime that Bill Barr’s DOJ is vigorously prosecuting against the Russian trolls (though which a recent decision from Dabney Friedrich may put at risk): Conspiracy to Defraud the US.

There’s zero chance, of course, that Bill Barr will charge his top aides with thwarting the ability of the FEC to connect the dots on a referral that directly ties to another complaint already in their hands. But we should be clear that DOJ appears to be engaged in undermining the proper functioning of the campaign finance system in the same way Russian trolls and Parnas and Fruman have been accused of doing.

How DOJ Worked Overtime to Avoid Connecting the Dots in the Whistleblower Complaint

As the legal saga of Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman plays out against the background of an impeachment inquiry launched when DOJ tried to bury a whistleblower complaint, DOJ has been forced to offer a series of increasingly inconsistent explanations about who at DOJ knew what when. I’ve been working on a timeline examining What Did Bill Barr Know and When Did He Know It (that work in progress appears below). While I’m not ready to answer that question, one thing is clear: the personnel under Brian Benczkowski who reviewed and dismissed the complaint in August could not have followed normal process on assessing a referral if NYT’s reporting and Benczkowski’s most recent claims are true.

Benczkowski tries to prevent Rudy Giuliani from implicating him in his crimes

I’m speaking of a comment that Benczkowski had released to NYT for an October 20 story explaining why Benczkowski and fraud investigators would be willing to hear Rudy Giuliani pitch a client’s case when he was under active investigation for influence peddling in SDNY himself.

“When Mr. Benczkowski and fraud section lawyers met with Mr. Giuliani, they were not aware of any investigation of Mr. Giuliani’s associates in the Southern District of New York and would not have met with him had they known,” said Peter Carr, a department spokesman.

That comment was a response to this Rudy-sourced Ken Vogel story that revealed the meeting, though without any of the answers as to Who What When questions that normally appear in finished news stories. The story may have been Rudy’s attempt to do the same thing he did as his shenanigans at State became public, raise the costs of making him the sole scapegoat by making it clear that his activities had high level knowledge and approval by Trump officials at the agency in question. That is, Rudy may have been making sure that if he gets in trouble for influence peddling, Brian Benzckowski will be implicated as well.

Importantly, both NYT stories on the meeting say the meeting happened a few weeks before October 18, a timeline that DOJ sources may be walking back in time considerably to “earlier this summer” included in this CNN article. One of the only ways for all these descriptions of timing be true is if the meeting took place around September 20, which would make it highly likely it involved Victoria Toensing, since Rudy was pictured meeting her and Lev Parnas across the street from DOJ that same day. (h/t DK for that insight) If it did (or if the descriptions of the meeting taking place a few weeks before October 18 are correct), then it means the meeting happened after DOJ reviewed and dismissed the whistleblower complaint about Trump’s July 25 call with Volodymyr Zelensky in late August.

As I’ll show below, the Peter Carr quote to the NYT might be true. But if it is, it means that well-connected Republicans can get a meeting with the Assistant Attorney General with almost no due diligence.

But if the Carr quotation is true (and if the timing of the meeting described to NYT is correct), then it is an on-the-record admission on behalf of Benczkowski that investigators working underneath him who reviewed and dismissed the whistleblower complaint did not follow procedures designed to keep our nation safe that have been codified since 9/11.

Benczkowski’s claim he didn’t know ignores what DOJ knew

Benczkowski’s explanation in the October 20 NYT story is based on a further one that suggests the only way he could have known about the criminal investigation into Parnas, Fruman, and Rudy is if a subordinate informed him directly.

While the Southern District of New York has been investigating Mr. Giuliani’s associates — an inquiry that may be tied to a broader investigation of Mr. Giuliani himself — prosecutors there had not told Mr. Benczkowski of the Criminal Division of the case, as he does not oversee or supervise their work. The United States attorney’s offices report to the deputy attorney general, Jeffrey A. Rosen.

Prosecutors in Manhattan informed Attorney General William P. Barr about the investigation of Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman soon after he was confirmed in February, according to a Justice Department official.

DOJ has locked into a statement that Bill Barr had been briefed on this investigation shortly after he was confirmed in February and repeatedly thereafter since the day the arrest of the Ukrainian grifters became public. But Benczkowski claims he didn’t know about it because he’s not in that chain of command. SDNY reports to the Deputy Attorney General, which would have been Rod Rosenstein when Barr was initially briefed, but would be Jeffrey Rosen in any of the briefings DOJ has admitted to since.

This table attempts to summarize what DOJ learned of Parnas, Fruman, and Rudy when. It’s incomplete in at least one important respect, as I’ll show. But it captures most of the ways DOJ and FBI would have been informed about parts of the Ukrainian grift.

Remarkably, we don’t yet know how the SDNY came to open the investigation. It could have been a Mueller referral, SDNY could have discovered the grift from something that happened in NYC (though the venue that ultimately got laid out in the indictment suggests the obvious signs of corruption took place in FL), or it could have stemmed from a Campaign Legal Center complaint filed with the FEC on July 25, 2018. But by the time Barr was briefed in February, we should assume that DOJ knew at least as much as CLC knew the summer before, which is that Parnas and Fruman had set up a shell company, Global Energy Producers, that they were using to make big donations to Republicans, including a $325,000 donation to a Trump SuperPAC just days after Parnas and Fruman met with Trump at the White House. That’s what Barr would have learned when he got briefed shortly after he was confirmed on February 14: that these Ukrainian-Americans were giving straw donations to Republicans in apparent coordination with key meetings with the recipients.

Here’s where the gap in this table comes in. Someone trying to spin the CNN for its version of the Benczkowski quote claimed that Rudy was not yet a focus of the SDNY investigation at the time Barr was briefed (the claim is silent, however, about all the other times Barr was briefed, per an October 10 statement from DOJ). Nevertheless, as CNN lays out, that claim is probably not true, because a NY lawyer was already getting questions from FBI counterintelligence agents by that time.

A person familiar with the matter said that at the time, Giuliani wasn’t a central figure in the case as he is now. That emerged in recent weeks, the person said.

Still, New York federal prosecutors had their eyes set on Giuliani months ago. A New York lawyer told CNN that FBI counterintelligence agents asked him questions in February or March related to Giuliani and his associates.

The day after the Ukrainian grifters’ arrest became public, NYT reported that Rudy was under investigation for FARA (for activities that extend well beyond his Ukraine work). Particularly given that the National Security Division is setting up a unit to prosecute FARA violations, that, plus the involvement of CI agents, should involve NSD and therefore would suggest that NSD head John Demers would know of the focus on Rudy. That can’t be guaranteed, however, because SDNY often does its own thing. So that’s the gap: We don’t know when Demers would have first learned that Rudy’s under investigation for his sleazy influence peddling.

We do know, however, that sometime in May, State Department’s Inspector General Steve Linick sent FBI (we don’t know which unit) the “Rudy Dossier,” the disinformation developed as part of his Ukraine work. Among the things that dossier includes is an email via which John Solomon sent a draft of this article to Rudy, Victoria Toensing, and Lev Parnas. Whoever received that dossier should have immediately identified that Parnas and Rudy were under active criminal investigation in SDNY for influence peddling, a topic on which that email would be directly relevant. In addition to Victoria Toensing and Rudy, the packet would also directly implicate the White House and Mike Pompeo, because the packet was sent under White House imprimatur to the Secretary of State. So by May, that dossier should have been in Parnas and Rudy’s investigative file. Except that, when Linick asked FBI if they were cool with him sharing the dossier with Congress, they were, which suggests it may not have been added to the investigative file.

Assuming that the vaunted SDNY is at least as sharp as a small campaign finance NGO, then by the time CLC updated their SEC complaint on June 20, SDNY would have known what that GEP’s straw donations (including a $325,000 donation to a Trump SuperPAC) came immediately after Parnas got a $1.2 million infusion from a lawyer who helps foreigners launder money through real estate, something that should have raised further counterintelligence and foreign campaign donation concerns.

After that, the whistleblower complaint comes into DOJ, in two different forms. The first time, it comes when CIA General Counsel Courtney Simmons Elwood and White House Associate Counsel John Eisenberg inform John Demers (who, remember, may or may not know about a FARA investigation into Rudy by this point). Demers went to the White House and reviews the transcript, which would have informed him that multiple people were concerned about the call, that Trump invoked both Rudy and Demers’ boss, Bill Barr, on the call, and that Trump was soliciting dirt related to both the investigation into the Russian operation in 2016 (ongoing parts of which Demers still oversees) and Trump’s imagined 2020 opponent, Joe Biden. If Demers did know that Rudy was under investigation for FARA at this time, Trump’s request that Ukraine share dirt with Rudy would have been directly relevant to that investigation, but in a way that implicated Demers’ boss as well. In any case, a simple database search would have revealed that, along with the $1.2 million cash transfer raising additional concerns about foreign money backing those campaign efforts.

Demers’ reported response to reading the transcript was to tell Brian Benczkowski (who claims not to have known about Parnas and Fruman, but whose Peter Carr quote was silent about whether he knew of any investigation into Rudy) and Jeffrey Rosen (who was probably confirmed after Barr’s first briefing on Parnas and Fruman, but who is currently Geoffrey Berman’s supervisor and so should be in the loop in the subsequent briefings that DOJ admitted Barr had after that initial briefing.

According to public reports, DOJ did nothing with this initial complaint.

DOJ avoids (admitting to) reviewing the full whistleblower complaint based off a false claim it doesn’t include direct knowledge

But then the whistleblower tried again, going to the Intelligence Community Inspector General and writing up his complaint, which then got referred to Brian Benczkowski and some public integrity investigators. According to Kerri Kupec, here’s what happened next.

In August, the Department of Justice was referred a matter relating to a letter the director national intelligence had received from the inspector general for the intelligence community regarding a purported whistleblower complaint. The inspector general’s letter cited a conversation between the president and Ukrainian President Zelensky as a potential violation of federal campaign finance law, while acknowledging that neither the inspector general nor the complainant had firsthand knowledge of the conversation,” Kupec said.

“Relying on established procedures set forth in the justice manual, the department’s criminal division reviewed the official record of the call and determined based on the facts and applicable law that there was no campaign finance violence and that no further action was warranted. All relevant components of the department agreed with this legal conclusion, and the department has concluded this matter,” Kupec concluded.

In another statement, Kupec said that Barr had not spoken with Mr. Trump about Ukraine investigating Biden, and that the president had not asked Barr to contact Ukraine or Giuliani.

In explaining how DOJ came to dismiss this complaint, Kupec cites not from the complaint itself, but from Michael Atkinson’s letter conveying the complaint. Kupec cites from the letter, which notes the whistleblower “was not a direct witness to the President’s telephone call,” and uses that to treat only the transcript of the call — not the broader whistleblower complaint itself, which does include firsthand knowledge — as the official record. And, having referred to just the call, DOJ viewed this as exclusively a campaign finance matter, and therefore dismissed it (DOJ ignores another crime laid out in Atkinson’s letter, a crime Mick Mulvaney has now confessed to, but I’ll come back to how they managed to ignore that).

In fact, parts of the whistleblower complaint make it clear that he was a direct witness to aspects of his complaint, and so DOJ should have treated the complaint itself as an official document (this is why the frothy right invested so much energy into the goddamned whistleblower form, to rationalize DOJ’s decision not to read the actual complaint).

Had DOJ read the complaint and done the most basic investigative work on the materials included in the complaint, they (including Benczkowski) would have known that Trump’s call related directly to matters under active investigation in SDNY.

While the whistleblower complaint does not mention Parnas and Fruman by name, it repeatedly invokes this OCCRP profile (see footnotes 4, 9, 10, 11), The profile would have made it crystal clear — if DOJ’s investigators couldn’t figure it out for themselves — how the evidence that SDNY was already reviewing (including the campaign finance stuff and the Rudy dossier) connected directly with the July 25 call.

Since early last year, the men have emerged from obscurity to become major donors to Republican campaigns in the United States. They have collectively contributed over half a million dollars to candidates and outside campaign groups, the lion’s share in a single transaction that an independent watchdog has flagged as a potential violation of electoral funding law.

The men appear to enjoy a measure of access to influential figures. They’ve dined with Trump, had a “power breakfast” with his son Donald Jr., met with U.S. congressmen, and mixed with Republican elites.

Months before their earliest known work with Giuliani, Parnas and Fruman also lobbied at least one congressman — former U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican — to call for the dismissal of the United States’ ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. She stepped down a year later after allegations in the conservative media that she had been disloyal to Trump.

While setting up meetings for Giuliani with Ukrainian officials, the men also promoted a business plan of their own: Selling American liquefied natural gas to Ukraine to replace Russian imports disrupted by war.

Three days before the call itself, OCCRP and BuzzFeed had already laid out parts of the crime that SDNY has since indicted. And that profile was part of the whistleblower complaint provided to DOJ, in which DOJ claimed they could find no evidence of a crime.

FBI’s three investigative levels are Full Investigations (opened once FBI has evidence that a crime has occurred), Preliminary Investigations (opened once FBI has reason to believe a crime has been committed), and Assessments (the work FBI does to assess the credibility of tips). FBI Agents are expected — encouraged, explicitly, as a matter of national security — to do searches of FBI’s existing investigative databases at the Assessment level. They do this not just to make sure that suspected foreign agents like Parnas and Fruman aren’t allowed to insinuate themselves into top tiers of power unnoticed, but also for deconfliction, to make sure DOJ knows precisely which part of DOJ is investigating which people.

Had FBI followed its DIOG based on the information included in the whistleblower complaint, it would have been crystal clear that the July 25 call related to an ongoing Full Investigation, and the July 25 call — and the President’s extortion — would have been made part of that investigative record.

The Criminal Division Chief has confessed it did not follow protocols in reviewing this complaint

All of which brings me full cycle to DOJ’s efforts to pretend they didn’t know that Rudy was a suspected criminal when they met with him to discuss the accused criminals he represents.

Brian Benczkowski, the head of the Criminal Division (and yet, someone who has never prosecuted a case), claims that he had no way of knowing that Rudy Giuliani’s clients and co-conspirators were about to be indicted when he met with Rudy on some date no one wants to reveal. That may be true — though if it is, it means either his staffers did almost no due diligence before setting up that meeting, or the fact that Rudy, in addition to Parnas and Fruman, was under active investigation did not dissuade Benczkowski from taking the meeting.

But, if the meeting took place after the whistleblower review, as multiple reporters at NYT seem to believe it did, for him to claim that he didn’t know about Parnas and Fruman also amounts to an explicit confession that the investigators reviewing the whistleblower complaint did not follow FBI guidelines requiring them to look up all the names in a tip to see if the FBI already knows about them.

That is, Brian Benczkowski, in trying to claim ignorance of Rudy’s own legal problems in advance of that meeting, confessed that his division, hiding behind whatever false excuses, did not properly investigate the whistleblower complaint.


February 14: Barr sworn in.

February, undated: Barr and Public Integrity lawyers reporting to Brian Benczkowski briefed on investigation into Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, though NYT reported lawyer questioned about Rudy in that time period.

March 5: Barr briefed on Mueller investigation.

March 22: Mueller investigation concludes.

March 24: Barr releases misleading “summary” of Mueller Report.

March 26: John Solomon posts column first reviewed by Joe DiGenova, Victoria Toensing, and Lev Parnas

April 19: DOJ releases redacted Mueller Report.

May, undated: State IG Steve Linick receives Rudy dossier, passes on to FBI.

May 31: Barr does interview explaining his Durham investigation without once explaining any irregularities to justify investigation.

June 20: Campaign Legal Center submits supplemental complaint to FEC.

July 18: OMB informs Departments that Trump has ordered suspension of all aide to Ukraine.

July 25: Trump-Zelensky phone call.

Week after call: Whistleblower informs CIA General counsel Courtney Simmons Elwood, who speaks several times to NSC lawyer John Eisenberg.

August 12: Date of whistleblower complaint.

August 14: Elwood and Eisenberg inform National Security Division head, John Demers.

August 15: Demers reads transcript of call. Senior DOJ officials, including Jeffrey Rosen, Brian Benczkowski, and Barr informed.

The deputy attorney general, Jeffrey A. Rosen, and Brian A. Benczkowski, the head of the department’s criminal division, were soon looped in, according to two administration officials.

Department officials began to discuss the accusations and whether and how to follow up, and Attorney General William P. Barr learned of the allegations around that time, according to a person familiar with the matter. Although Mr. Barr was briefed, he did not oversee the discussions about how to proceed, the person said.

August 26: IG Michael Atkinson hand delivers message on whistleblower complaint to Acting DNI Joseph Maguire.

September 3: Original classified OLC memo deeming the whistleblower complaint “not urgent,” treating Barr’s involvement as Top Secret.

September 20: Rudy, Parnas, Victoria Toensing and Joe DiGenova lunch at Trump International across the street from DOJ. Rudy also attends State Dinner for Australia.

September 24: Declassification of Telcon. Version of OLC memo hiding Barr’s involvement as classified issue.

September 26: Release of TelCon and whistleblower complaint. Justice Department explains non-prosecution:

In August, the Department of Justice was referred a matter relating to a letter the director national intelligence had received from the inspector general for the intelligence community regarding a purported whistleblower complaint. The inspector general’s letter cited a conversation between the president and Ukrainian President Zelensky as a potential violation of federal campaign finance law, while acknowledging that neither the inspector general nor the complainant had firsthand knowledge of the conversation,” Kupec said.

“Relying on established procedures set forth in the justice manual, the department’s criminal division reviewed the official record of the call and determined based on the facts and applicable law that there was no campaign finance violence and that no further action was warranted. All relevant components of the department agreed with this legal conclusion, and the department has concluded this matter,” Kupec concluded.

In another statement, Kupec said that Barr had not spoken with Mr. Trump about Ukraine investigating Biden, and that the president had not asked Barr to contact Ukraine or Giuliani.

September 29: AP claims Barr was “surprised and angry” when he learned he had been lumped in with Rudy. His further denials include a lot of wiggle room (including unofficial contacts).

Barr has not spoken with Trump about investigating Biden or Biden’s son Hunter, and Trump has not asked Barr to contact Ukranian officials about the matter, the department said. Barr has also not spoken with Giuliani about anything related to Ukraine, officials have said.

October 1: State IG Steve Linick briefs Congress on opposition packet routed to him from Pompeo. Preservation letters to Parnas and Fruman.

October 4: Initial rough date for Rudy meeting with Benczkowski.

October 9: Parnas and Fruman lunch with Rudy at Trump Hotel across from DOJ, later that eventing they are indicted and arrested.

October 10: Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman arrest unsealed. Anonymous DOJ sources report that Barr was briefed in February and “in recent weeks.”

Attorney General William Barr was briefed on the case in February, shortly after he was confirmed. Barr has received additional briefings in recent weeks and fully supports the case.

October 11: NYT reports that Rudy under investigation for Ukraine work.

October 18: NYT reports that Rudy was lobbying Brian Benczkowski and lawyers from Fraud section “a few weeks ago” about a very sensitive bribery case.

October 20: NYT story with on-the-record quote from Peter Carr states Benczkowski and fraud section lawyers would not have met with Giuliani if they had known of the investigation of his associates; it describes the meeting as taking place “several weeks ago.”

October 21: CNN adds DOJ clarification that Rudy was not central to investigation briefed to Barr in February, even though CI Agents were questioning witnesses by March, and that Public Integrity lawyers (who report to Benczkowski) were briefed.

Rudy’s Disinformation Campaign Ties Directly with Key Milestones in the Mueller Investigation

In this post, I suggested that Rudy Giuliani’s efforts to broker a complex deal in Ukraine, which dug up dirt on Democrats, undercut the Russian attribution of the 2016 hack, yoked the Republican party to a bizarre Ukrainian gas deal, and have led Volodymyr Zelensky to begin implementation of the Steinmeier Formula, may just be the continuation of a quid pro quo Paul Manafort may have been trying to deliver since August 2, 2016, when he discuss how he planned to win the election in the same secret meeting where he talked about how to carve up Ukraine. That’s all the more likely given three facts:

That is, Mueller suggested that Manafort was using his JDA with the President to conduct other business, and we’re now seeing Trump’s nominal defense attorney pursue precisely the same kind of business, still shielded by a claim to Joint Defense.

In this post, I laid out how the campaign against Marie Yovanovitch appeared to parallel the declining fortunes of Paul Manafort, even in spite of Ukraine’s halt to cooperation on the case against Manafort once Trump sold them some Javelin missiles.

In other words, there’s a lot of circumstantial evidence to suggest that the Ukraine grift is just a continuation of the Russian operation, and is perhaps even a payoff of a quid pro quo Manafort entered into to get help winning 2016. But it’s just circumstantial right now.

That said, we now have two temporal ties linking the Russian investigation to Rudy’s Ukraine graft. One has been known from the start of the Ukraine scandal. Just as Trump turned to his request for a “favor” from Zelensky in their July 25 call, he invoked Mueller’s “incompetent performance” the day before.

The President: I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike … I guess you have one of your wealthy people… The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation. I think you are surrounding yourself with some of the same people. I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it. As you saw yesterday, that whole nonsense ended with a very poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance, but they say a lot of it started with Ukraine. Whatever you can do, it’s very important that you do it if that’s possible.

Trump did so to suggest that much of Mueller’s investigation “started with Ukraine,” which seems to be a reference to the disinformation about DNC efforts (as well as the overlapping efforts of Ali Chalupa) to learn about Manafort’s corruption, and the suggestion that’s the only thing that predicated (or renewed) the investigation into Manafort’s graft.

So the day after Mueller’s testimony seemingly closed his investigation once and for all, Trump got on the phone and extorted Zelensky to provide disinformation undercutting Mueller’s investigation, at the very least (though I think there’s more he was after) the black ledger.

But a WSJ piece on Lev Parnas’ private Instagram account provides another.

It reveals that Ukraine grifter Lev Parnas attended the celebration dinner Trump’s legal team had the day after Bill Barr released a summary about the Mueller Report that was, itself, disinformation. It shows that Parnas, at least, suggested Trump’s legal team deserved some kind of credit for Barr’s roll-out. And it claims that Ukrainian grifter and Trump’s legal team were hard at work moving (and includes notes in the picture that might reveal what Parnas and friends had planned).

So Barr announces the false results of the Mueller investigation and the next day someone involved in the production of disinformation claims credit and looks forward to his next task.

And Mueller provides what Trump claims to be an “incompetent performance” in the House, and the next day Trump extorts a foreign leader for disinformation that Rudy has been concocting with the Ukrainian grifter all summer.

Will Fox News Ask Its Commentators to Disclose Their Mobbed Up Clients?

Yesterday, I asked Fox Media Critic Howard Kurtz if he could dedicate a show to why Fox News commentators Joe DiGenova (who recently took to the air to accuse Democrats of “regicide”) and Victoria Toensing don’t disclose their representation of Dmitry Fitash, whom Rudy Giuliani has publicly asserted has close ties to mobster Semion Mogilevich. It would also be nice if they disclosed that in recent months they were being paid by corrupt Ukrainian oligarch Firtash $250,000 a month to to complain that Hunter Biden was paid $50,000 a month by a different corrupt Ukrainian oligarch.

To be sure, I’m not arguing that there’s a problem with DiGenova and Toensing representing a mobbed up oligarch. Everyone deserves good legal representation and if Firtash wants to spend his money paying for disinformation rather than sound legal advice, that’s his choice.

Mind you, Fox News might feel differently. After all, the network aggressively backed a smear campaign during the Obama Administration to tar any DOJ appointee who had ever represented a terrorism defendant. Among the Fox personalities who, in 2010, believed that lawyers’ past representation of certain kinds of defendants suggested a current ideological affinity for the underlying crime were:

According to Sean Hannity’s logic — “logic” I’m not adopting — DiGenova and Toensing’s representation of a guy with ties to organized crime suggests they, themselves, must support organized crime (and bribery, which is the charge Firtash is trying to beat in the US).

Still, particularly given this precedent, so long as Fox News pretends to be a news organization, it would seem advisable for the network to require DiGenova and Toensing to disclose their ties to someone that the President’s own personal lawyer says has ties to the mob.

Update: Laura Rozen notes that Chris Wallace was among the first to report that Di Genova and Toensing were part of Rudy’s plot.

FOX News has learned the president’s private attorney, Rudy Giuliani, was not acting alone in trying to get dirt from Ukrainian officials on 2020 rival Joe Biden. Two high-profile Washington lawyers, Joe diGenova, who’s been a fierce critic of the Democratic investigation, and his wife Victoria Toensing, were working with Giuliani to get oppo research on Biden.

According to a top U.S. official, all three were working off the books apart from the administration. The only person in government who knows what they were doing is President Trump.

Mick Mulvaney Confesses OMB and DOD Are Withholding Evidence of a Crime from Congress

Amid the tsunami of alarming news Mick Mulvaney made at today’s press conference (Trump is holding the G-7 at Doral next year, he likely will invite Putin, Trump did engage in a quid pro quo with Volodymyr Zelensky on his July 25 call), one of the more important admissions got missed.

Mick Mulvaney admitted that the White House would have been breaking the law by withholding Ukrainian security funds because it did not have a “really really good reason not to do it.”

By the way, there was a report that we were worried that the money, that if we didn’t pay out the money it would be illegal. It would be unlawful. That is one of those things that has a little shred of truth in it, that makes it look a lot worse than it really is. We were concerned about — over at OMB, about an impoundment. And I know I’ve just put half you folks to bed, but there’s a, the Budget Control Act, Impound — the Budget Control Impoundment Act of 1974 says that if Congress appropriates money you have to spend it. At least, that’s how it’s interpreted by some folks. And we knew that that money either had to go out the door by the end of September, or we had to have a really really good reason not to do it. And that was the legality of the issue.

He’s referring, presumably, to a WSJ report that OMB — the agency Mulvaney is still officially in charge of — put a political appointee in charge of withholding duly appropriated security funds for Ukraine so that President Trump could extort concessions from Ukraine.

The White House gave a politically appointed official the authority to keep aid to Ukraine on hold after career budget staff members questioned the legality of delaying the funds, according to people familiar with the matter, a shift that House Democrats are probing in their impeachment inquiry.

President Trump’s order to freeze nearly $400 million in aid to Ukraine in mid-July is at the center of House Democratic efforts to investigate allegations that Mr. Trump used U.S. foreign policy powers to benefit himself politically.

[snip]

The president has the authority to delay the release of money in certain instances, according to the Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan research agency, including if there has been an unexpected change in circumstances for the program. But without being provided explanation or justification about why the administration was delaying the aid, some career officials at the Office of Management and Budget became worried they didn’t have the legal authority to hold up the funds, according to the people familiar.

While career civil servants put an initial hold on the aid, Michael Duffey, associate director of national security programs in OMB, was given the authority for continuing to keep the aid on hold after the career staff began raising their concerns to political officials at OMB, according to the people familiar with the matter. Mr. Duffey also began overseeing the process for approving and releasing funds, called apportionment, for other foreign aid and defense accounts, according to a public document indicating the change.

As noted by Mulvaney today, a law passed in the wake of Richard Nixon playing games with appropriations requires that if you withhold duly appropriated funds, you explain to Congress why you’re doing so, a decision that Congress then gets to veto simply by refusing to approve of the decision. The law makes it clear that the President can’t simply ignore the will of Congress on appropriations.

And yet, that’s what Trump did for the entirety of the summer.

Worse, in his press conference today, Mulvaney admitted that Trump didn’t have a “really really good reason not to” release the funds. Rather, he had a really bad reason: he was trying to extort a quid pro quo.

And that’s why the decision — reported in ho hum fashion on Tuesday as if it were just another case of the Administration refusing Congressional subpoenas — that OMB and DOD would not respond to subpoenas is actually really important.

The subpoena to those agencies lays out some of the evidence that Trump withheld the funds after DOD cleared them. Then it lays out the evidence that Trump was defying bipartisan Congressional will in doing so.

As you are aware, the Impoundment Control Act of 1974 authorizes the President to withhold the obligation of funds only “(1) to provide for contingencies; (2) to achieve savings made possible by or through changes in requirements or greater efficiency of operations; or (3) as specifically provided by law.” The President is required to submit a special message to Congress with information about the proposed deferral of funds.

On August 30, 2019, Chairman Adam Smith and Ranking Member Mac Thornberry of the House Committee on Armed Services wrote a letter to Mr. Mulvaney requesting information why military assistance to Ukraine was being withheld and when it would be released. They wrote: “This funding is critical to the accomplishment of U.S. national security objectives in Europe.”

On September 3, 2019, a bipartisan group of Senators–including Rob Portman, Jeanne Shaheen, Dick Durbin, Richard Blumenthal, and Ron Johnson–wore a letter requesting that OMB release the military assistance to Ukraine that the Trump Administration was withholding:

The funds designated for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative are vital to the viability of the Ukrainian military. It has helped Ukraine develop the independent military capabilities and skills necessary to fend off the Kremlin’s continued onslaughts within its territory. In fact, Ukraine continues to fight daily on its eastern border against Russia-backed separatists in the provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk, and over 10,000 Ukrainian soldiers and civilians have lost their lives in this war. U.S.-funded security assistance has already helped turn the tide in this conflict, and it is necessary to ensure the protection of the sovereign territory of this young country, going forward.

On September 5, 2019, Chairman Eliot L. Engel and Ranking Member Michael McCaul of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs wrote a letter to OMB urging the Trump Administration to lift its hold on security funds to support Ukraine, writing: “These funds, which were appropriated by Congress as Foreign Military Financing and as part of the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative and signed into law by the President, are essential to advancing U.S. national security interests.”

On September 9, 2019, the Committees on Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight wrote to the White House requesting documents related to “the actual or potential suspension of security assistance to Ukraine.” The White House never responded to this request. However, two days later, on September 11, 2019, the White House released its hold on the military assistance to Ukraine.

On September 24, 2019, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell stated that, although he was “very actively involved in advocating the aid,” he “was not given an explanation” about why it was being withheld, even though he talked to the Secretary of Defense and the Secretary of State. He stated: “I have no idea what precipitated the delay.”

The enclosed subpoena demands documents that are necessary for the Committees to examine the sequences of these events and the reasons behind the White House’s decision to withhold critical military assistance to Ukraine that was appropriated by Congress to counter Russian aggression.

That’s the subpoena that Mulvaney’s agency and DOD (the latter, after initially saying it would cooperate) are defying. It’s a subpoena that goes to the zenith of Congress’ authority, whether it is issued within or outside of an impeachment inquiry. But within an impeachment inquiry, it illustrates that on one issue of fact at the core of the investigation, there is bipartisan agreement that the White House was in the wrong.

And today, Mulvaney admitted that the White House did not have a very very good reason to withhold those funds, even while confirming that Trump was withholding the funds, in part, to extort a quid pro quo.

Even if the White House had a very very good reason, the law obliges the White House to explain to Congress why it blew off Congress’ power of the purse. The White House didn’t do it in real time — not even to Mitch McConnell. And the White House is refusing to do it now.

Update: Jack Goldsmith did a review of this issue in Lawfare today, but before the Mulvaney comments.

Update: Lisa Murkowski complained about this issue to Tim Mak today.

Gordon Sondland’s Statement Protects, Does Not Break with, Trump

Gordon Sondland is behind closed doors right now, trying to talk his way out of implication in crimes (he is represented, it should be noted, by the same lawyer who helped Karl Rove talk his way out of crimes in Valerie Plame’s outing, Robert Luskin).

But if Congressional staffers are doing their job, he’s going to have a hard job to spin what he did as anything but criminal. That’s true, in part, because his statement is full of obvious contradictions and evasions. But contrary to what many in the press (fed in advance with deceptive claims about his testimony) have claimed, the statement does not break with Trump, it protects him.

Who’s the boss?

Sondland’s first inconsistency pertains to one of the most important issues: why he was in charge of Ukrainian policy when Ukraine isn’t even in the EU. His general explanation for it is bullshit — and also should raise questions about what he has been doing in Georgia, Venezuela, and Iran. He studiously avoids explaining who ordered him to focus on Ukraine (as other testimony has made clear, the answer is because Trump ordered him to).

From my very first days as Ambassador, Ukraine has been a part of my broader work pursuing U.S. national interests. Ukraine’s political and economic development are critical to the long-lasting stability of Europe. Moreover, the conflict in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea, which began nearly five years ago, continues as one of the most significant security crises for Europe and the United States. As the U.S. Ambassador to the EU, I have always viewed my Ukraine work as central to advancing U.S.-EU foreign policy. Indeed, for decades, under both Republican and Democrat Administrations, the United States has viewed Ukraine with strategic importance, in part to counter Russian aggression in Europe and to support Ukraine energy independence. My involvement in issues concerning Ukraine, while a small part of my overall portfolio, was nevertheless central to my ambassadorial responsibilities. In this sense, Ukraine is similar to other non-EU countries, such as Venezuela, Iran, and Georgia, with respect to which my Mission and I coordinate closely with our EU partners to promote policies that reflect our common values and interests. I always endeavoured [sic] to keep my State Department and National Security Council colleagues informed of my actions and to seek their input.

But the logistics of it are more interesting, particularly as it pertains to coordinating with Rudy Giuliani.

At times (at both the very beginning, after his description of the July 10 meeting, and again to explain away the July 10 meeting), he emphasizes that Mike Pompeo has approved of all this.

I understand that all my actions involving Ukraine had the blessing of Secretary Pompeo as my work was consistent with long-standing U.S. foreign policy objectives. Indeed, very recently, Secretary Pompeo sent me a congratulatory note that I was doing great work, and he encouraged me to keep banging away.

[snip]

We had regular communications with the NSC about Ukraine, both before and after the July meeting; and neither Ambassador Bolton, Dr. Hill, nor anyone else on the NSC staff ever expressed any concerns to me about our efforts, any complaints about coordination between State and the NSC, or, most importantly, any concerns that we were acting improperly.

Furthermore, my boss Secretary Pompeo was very supportive of our Ukraine strategy.

[snip]

While I have not seen Dr. Hill’s testimony, I am surprised and disappointed by the media reports of her critical comments. To put it clearly: Neither she nor Ambassador Bolton shared any critical comments with me, even after our July 10, 2019 White House meeting. And so, I have to view her testimony — if the media reports are accurate — as the product of hindsight and in the context of the widely known tensions between the NSC, on the one hand, and the State Department, on the other hand, which had ultimate responsibility for executing U.S. policy overseas. Again, I took my direction from Secretary Pompeo and have had his consistent support in dealing with our nation’s most sensitive secrets to this very day.

Again, the public record makes it clear he was put in this role by Trump, not Pompeo. And while I’m sure Pompeo knew of what he was doing (his suggestion that Pompeo was “supportive of it” seems most clearly on point), he was reporting directly, via a third channel of authority, directly to Trump.

That said, his suggestion that Pompeo — a former CIA Director but now in charge of diplomacy, which is not supposed to be the realm of utmost secrecy — trusts him “with our nation’s most sensitive secrets,” suggests there’s something else going on here, something about which he’s reassuring Pompeo he’ll remain silent.

The claim that he took his direction from Pompeo, bolded above, is contradicted on the matter of Rudy Giuliani’s involvement.  His description of why Rudy was involved varies slightly over time. Initially, he says he coordinated with Rudy because the Three Amigos, collectively, decided they had to involve Rudy to achieve other diplomatic objectives.

Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker, and I were disappointed by our May 23, 2019 White House debriefing. We strongly believed that a call and White House meeting between Presidents Trump and Zelensky was important and that these should be scheduled promptly and without any pre-conditions. We were also disappointed by the President’s direction that we involve Mr. Giuliani. Our view was that the men and women of the State Department, not the President’s personal lawyer, should take responsibility for all aspects of U.S. foreign policy towards Ukraine. However, based on the President’s direction, we were faced with a choice: We could abandon the goal of a White House meeting for President Zelensky, which we all believed was crucial to strengthening U.S.-Ukrainian ties and furthering long-held U.S. foreign policy goals in the region; or we could do as President Trump directed and talk to Mr. Giuliani to address the President’s concerns.

We chose the latter path, which seemed to all of us – Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker, and myself – to be the better alternative.

Later, he claims that “his understanding” is that Trump ordered Rudy’s involvement, as if he didn’t get that order directly.

Mr. Giuliani does not work for me or my Mission and I do not know what official or unofficial role, if any, he has with the State Department. To my knowledge, he is one of the President’s personal lawyers. However, my understanding was that the President directed Mr. Giuliani’s participation, that Mr. Giuliani was expressing the concerns of the President, and that Mr. Giuliani had already spoken with Secretary Perry and Ambassador Volker.

Still later, he strengthens that, suggesting he was “taking direction from the President” directly.

As I stated earlier, I understood from President Trump, at the May 23, 2019 White House debriefing, that he wanted the Inaugural Delegation to talk with Mr. Giuliani concerning our efforts to arrange a White House meeting for President Zelensky. Taking direction from the President, as I must, I spoke with Mr. Giuliani for that limited purpose.

If he was taking orders from Trump on involving Rudy (which is almost certainly the case), then the claims of Pompeo’s role are just cover.

Sondland is obfuscating on both these issues: why the EU Ambassador was put in charge of Ukraine policy, and why Rudy was allowed to dictate Ukraine policy. While the press thinks Sondland has taken a big break from Trump, he has not on the key issue: that Sondland was taking orders from Trump and doing precisely what the President ordered him to.

The royal we

There are really telling passages in this statement where Sondland slips into the first person plural. Generally, he does so when describing something that he, Rick Perry, and Kurt Volker jointly believe. As noted, he does so is to explain why he and Rick Perry and Kurt Volker coordinated with Rudy.

It was apparent to all of us that the key to changing the President’s mind on Ukraine was Mr. Giuliani. It is my understanding that Energy Secretary Perry and Special Envoy Volker took the lead on reaching out to Mr. Giuliani, as the President had directed.

Indeed, Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker, and I were disappointed by our May 23, 2019 White House debriefing. We strongly believed that a call and White House meeting between Presidents Trump and Zelensky was important and that these should be scheduled promptly and without any pre-conditions. We were also disappointed by the President’s direction that we involve Mr. Giuliani. Our view was that the men and women of the State Department, not the President’s personal lawyer, should take responsibility for all aspects of U.S. foreign policy towards Ukraine. However, based on the President’s direction, we were faced with a choice: We could abandon the goal of a White House meeting for President Zelensky, which we all believed was crucial to strengthening U.S.-Ukrainian ties and furthering long-held U.S. foreign policy goals in the region; or we could do as President Trump directed and talk to Mr. Giuliani to address the President’s concerns.

We chose the latter path, which seemed to all of us – Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker, and myself – to be the better alternative.

Another place he does so is to explain why the Three Amigos moved forward on scheduling the July 25 call when John Bolton and Fiona Hill were opposed (he’s utterly silent about the second half of his July 10 meeting with the Ukrainians).

We three favored promptly scheduling a call and meeting between Presidents Trump and Zelensky; the NSC did not.

He also uses it to describe his meeting with Zelensky on July 26, after Zelensky had delivered on the quid pro quo, where he set up the White House meeting.

During this July 26, 2019 meeting in Kiev, we were able to promote further engagement, including discussions about a future Zelensky visit to the White House.

This is Gordon Sondland’s testimony, remember, not the Three Amigos’ testimony. But in these key passages, he claims — without explaining how he can do so — to speak for all three. He doesn’t explain if they had conversations (or WhatsApp threads) agreeing on all these issues, he just suggests he can speak for all three.

And his denials that he shared this statement with State or White House would not extend to these other people he invokes as “we.”

Perhaps a more interesting invocation of the third person plural comes where he claims that Bill Taylor, along with him and Volker, had no concerns about the push to get to Ukraine to publicly commit to an investigation that would deliver part of a quid pro quo.

First, I knew that a public embrace of anti-corruption reforms by Ukraine was one of the pre-conditions for securing a White House meeting with President Zelensky. My view was, and has always been, that such Western reforms are consistent with U.S. support for rule of law in Ukraine going back decades, under both Republican and Democrat administrations. Nothing about that request raised any red flags for me, Ambassador Volker, or Ambassador Taylor.

Taylor is still with State, so if Sondland is being honest when he says he hasn’t shared his statement, then Taylor has not bought off on this claim. I look forward to seeing whether he backs it when he testifies.

[Update, 11/20: I now believe that some of this use of royal “we” is meant to invoke Trump but not necessarily the other Amigos.]

Schrodinger’s quid pro quo

The press has been most excited about the fact that Sondland claims Trump may have had a quid pro quo, but he was ignorant of it.

But in fact, Sondland does not deny a quid pro quo. In fact, his carefully written statement admitting he knew the quid pro quo involved Burisma (which he claims he had no idea meant Biden) admits that the 2016 ask was part of it.

Mr. Giuliani emphasized that the President wanted a public statement from President Zelensky committing Ukraine to look into anticorruption issues. Mr. Giuliani specifically mentioned the 2016 election (including the DNC server) and Burisma as two anticorruption investigatory topics of importance for the President.

And his denials about knowing that the quid pro quo involved the 2020 elections are laughable. His first such denial claims he only learned later about the specific nature of (part of) Rudy’s quid pro quo, but he doesn’t describe when he learned of it, either there or later.

I did not understand, until much later, that Mr. Giuliani’s agenda might have also included an effort to prompt the Ukrainians to investigate Vice President Biden or his son or to involve Ukrainians, directly or indirectly, in the President’s 2020 reelection campaign.

Later, he denies recalling having any conversations about these aspects of the quid pro quo with 1) Rudy, 2) State, and 3) any “White House official” (does that description include the President?).

Third, given many inaccurate press reports, let me be clear about the following: I do not recall that Mr. Giuliani discussed Former Vice President Biden or his son Hunter Biden with me. Like many of you, I read the transcript of the Trump-Zelensky call for the first time when it was released publicly by the White House on September 25, 2019.

[snip]

Again, I recall no discussions with any State Department or White House official about Former Vice President Biden or his son, nor do I recall taking part in any effort to encourage an investigation into the Bidens.

But he doesn’t deny talking about the nature of the quid pro quo with Volker (who’s not technically a State Department employee), Rick Perry (ditto), or the Ukrainian officials that Fiona Hill saw him discussing Burisma with on July 10.

When he denies Trump’s extortion of Ukraine, he denies only that the quid pro quo involved the 2020 election (and not Naftogaz considerations or claims about what happened in 2016 or, perhaps even more tellingly, Russian help in 2020).

Sixth, to the best of my recollection, I do not recall any discussions with the White House on withholding U.S. security assistance from Ukraine in return for assistance with the President’s 2020 re-election campaign.

In denying Bill Taylor’s concern about a quid pro quo, he dismisses it as a concern about the appearance of a quid pro quo, rather than the actuality of one.

On September 9, 2019, Acting Charge de Affairs/Ambassador William Taylor raised concerns about the possibility that Ukrainians could perceive a linkage between U.S. security assistance and the President’s 2020 reelection campaign.

Taking the issue seriously, and given the many versions of speculation that had been circulating about the security aid, I called President Trump directly. I asked the President: “What do you want from Ukraine?” The President responded, “Nothing. There is no quid pro quo.” The President repeated: “no quid pro quo” multiple times. This was a very short call. And I recall the President was in a bad mood.

Sondland here credits Trump’s statements, as if any Trump statement ever had any veracity, as true, even though they came at a time when the White House already knew about the whistleblower complaint, which makes what would already be unreliable outright laughable, if indeed Trump actually said that at all.

But the bigger point is this: Sondland doesn’t deny a quid pro quo. Just that he knew it was the quid pro quo that the House is currently most closely focused on early on in the process.

Gaps in the timeline

Given the way he is protecting Trump in all this, there are notable key gaps in his timeline.

Sondland doesn’t answer two obvious questions: why the Ambassador to the EU was part of the delegation to Volodymyr Zelensky’s inauguration, and why the inauguration delegation flew back to DC, almost immediately, to brief the President on it.

On May 20, 2019, given the significance of this election, I attended the inauguration of President Zelensky as part of the U.S. delegation led by U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, along with Senator Ron Johnson, Special Envoy Volker, and Alex Vindman from the NSC. During this visit, we developed positive views of the new Ukraine President and his desire to promote a stronger relationship between Kiev and Washington, to make reforms necessary to attract Western economic investment, and to address Ukraine’s well-known and longstanding corruption issues.

On May 23, 2019, three days after the Zelensky inauguration, we in the U.S. delegation debriefed President Trump and key aides at the White House. We emphasized the strategic importance of Ukraine and the strengthening relationship with President Zelensky, a reformer who received a strong mandate from the Ukrainian people to fight corruption and pursue greater economic prosperity. We asked the White House to arrange a working phone call from President Trump and a working Oval Office visit. However, President Trump was skeptical that Ukraine was serious about reforms and anti-corruption, and he directed those of us present at the meeting to talk to Mr. Giuliani, his personal attorney, about his concerns.

One reason those players would have flown to DC to debrief Trump is because of the scheme to take over Naftogaz led by Perry, something Sondland doesn’t mention at all.

He also plays games with his antecedent in trying to claim that a June 4 meeting involving Zelensky, Rick Perry, and Ulrich Brechbuhl (where they discussed natural gas, among other things) had been long planned.

Following my return to Brussels and continuing my focus on stronger U.S.-EU ties, my Mission hosted a U.S. Independence Day event on June 4, 2019. Despite press reports, this event was planned months in advance and involved approximately 700 guests from government, the diplomatic corps, the media, business, and civil society. The night featured remarks by the Ambassador and High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs. Following the main event, we hosted a smaller, separate dinner for about 30 people. President Zelensky and several other leaders of EU and non-EU member states attended the dinner, along with Secretary Perry, U.S. State Department Counselor Ulrich Brechbuhl on behalf of Secretary Pompeo, and numerous other key U.S. and EU officials. Though planned long in advance with the focus on improving transatlantic relations, we also viewed this event as an opportunity to present President Zelensky to various EU and U.S. officials and to build upon the enhanced government ties.

He uses “this event” to refer both to the larger 700 person event and the smaller 30 person meeting, effectively making a claim — that the larger event had been long-planned — that he tries to apply to the smaller one. He also is curiously silent about Jared Kushner’s involvement.

In addition to being silent about the second part of his July 10 meeting — the part that got John Bolton worried about what drug deals he was doing — Sondland is also silent about his pre-call briefing to Trump on July 25, after Bolton’s prep.

I was not on that July 25, 2019 call and I did not see a transcript of that call until September 25, 2019, when the White House publicly released it. None of the brief and general call summaries I received contained any mention of Burisma or former Vice President Biden, nor even suggested that President Trump had made any kind of request of President Zelensky.

And his denials about the post-call summaries mentioning Burisma or Biden do not amount to a denial that his prep did. Nor does that denial address his July 26 conversation with Trump (which he addresses in a different section), which he describes as nonsubstantive without addressing whether Trump mentioned the quid pro quo.

I do recall a brief discussion with President Trump before my visit to Kiev. That call was very short, nonsubstantive, and did not encompass any of the substance of the July 25, 2019 White House call with President Zelensky.

In other words, even where denies talking about the quid pro quo, the denials don’t amount to denials in the most important conversations.

Sondland’s silence about WhatsApp

Finally, Sondland is playing games regarding what communications he has had. With the exception of his July 26 and September 9 calls, doesn’t describe what direct communications with Trump he has had.

Just as key, he is mostly silent about his conduct of diplomacy on WhatsApp, precisely the crime (doing official business on private accounts) Trump accused Hillary of to get elected (though his lawyers wrote a letter claiming that they’re helpless in the face of State’s refusal to share his comms). That’s all the more telling given the structure of Sondland’s denials of extensive comms with Rudy. His statement deals with three different kind of comms. He focuses on in-person meetings and phone calls.

To the best of my recollection, I met Mr. Giuliani in person only once at a reception when I briefly shook his hand in 2016. This was before I became Ambassador to the EU. In contrast, during my time as Ambassador, I do not recall having ever met with Mr. Giuliani in person, and I only spoke with him a few times.

[snip]

My best recollection is that I spoke with Mr. Giuliani for the first time in early August 2019, after the congratulatory phone call from President Trump on July 25, 2019 and after the bilateral meeting with President Zelensky on July 26, 2019 in Kiev. My recollection is that Mr. Giuliani and I actually spoke no more than two or three times by phone, for about a few minutes each time.

[snip]

As I stated earlier, I understood from President Trump, at the May 23, 2019 White House debriefing, that he wanted the Inaugural Delegation to talk with Mr. Giuliani concerning our efforts to arrange a White House meeting for President Zelensky. Taking direction from the President, as I must, I spoke with Mr. Giuliani for that limited purpose. In these short conversations, Mr. Giuliani emphasized that the President wanted a public statement from President Zelensky committing Ukraine to look into anticorruption issues.

[snip]

Ten weeks after the President on May 23, 2019 directed the Inaugural Delegation to talk with Mr. Giuliani, I had my first phone conversation with him in early August 2019. I listened to Mr. Giuliani’s concerns

But he acknowledges that Volker introduced him to Rudy “electronically.”

Ambassador Volker introduced me to Mr. Giuliani electronically.

Nowhere in his statement does he explain what form of electronic communication this introduction took place over, and nowhere does he deny having WhatsApp (or any other kind of texting) communications with Rudy.

That’s all the more curious given that he claims — ridiculously — that his statements to Bill Taylor to avoid talking about a quid pro quo on WhatsApp were not an attempt to avoid leaving a record.

Fifth, certain media outlets have misinterpreted my text messages where I say “stop texting” or “call me.” Any implication that I was trying to avoid making a record of our conversation is completely false. In my view, diplomacy is best handled through back-and-forth conversation. The complexity of international relations cannot be adequately expressed in cryptic text messages. I simply prefer to talk rather than to text. I do this all the time with family, friends, and former business associates. That is how I most effectively get things done. My text message comments were an invitation to talk more, not to conceal the substance of our communications.

Immediately after saying those WhatsApp texts no not really record the truth, he points to some emails that, he says, show that he truthfully did not want a quid pro quo.

I recall that, in late July 2019, Ambassadors Volker and Taylor and I exchanged emails in which we all agreed that President Zelensky should have no involvement in 2020 U.S. Presidential election politics.

Remember: State is withholding all of Sondland’s electronic comms from the impeachment inquiry (even assuming he turned them all over to State). So his games with phone calls and texts should be assumed to be just that, claims made from the temporary security of believing the comms to check his claims will never be turned over.

Which is to say that Sondland says quite a bit in this statement. But the most important things are his silences.

Update: On November 5, Sondland unforgot some stuff laid out in Bill Taylor and Tim Morrison’s testimony. But many of the holes laid out above remain.

The Significance of Fiona Hill’s Testimony: “Whatever Drug Deal Sondland and Mulvaney Are Cooking Up”

A number of people on Twitter have asked me to elaborate on some comments I’ve made about the significance of Fiona Hill’s testimony before the Ukraine impeachment team yesterday.

It’s unclear whether she shared details of her testimony or whether most of the reporting comes from Jamie Raskin (who notably got the import of the State IG’s urgent briefing utterly wrong). But NYT has thus far offered the key description (citing at least two other people beyond Raskin).

Force Bolton to shit or get off the pot

First, the NYT describes Hill citing the abrasive John Bolton saying two fairly stunning things which were bound to make headlines. First, she described Bolton saying Rudy was a “hand grenade” who would blow everyone up (a quote Rudy has already responded to).

Mr. Bolton expressed grave concerns to Ms. Hill about the campaign being run by Mr. Giuliani. “Giuliani’s a hand grenade who’s going to blow everybody up,” Ms. Hill quoted Mr. Bolton as saying during an earlier conversation.

Then, after a July 10 meeting where it became clear Trump was withholding security assistance for campaign propaganda, according to reports of Hill’s testimony, Bolton asked her to tell Deputy White House Counsel John Eisenberg that he was not part of “whatever drug deal” Trump’s flunkies were pursuing.

“I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up,” Mr. Bolton, a Yale-trained lawyer, told Ms. Hill to tell White House lawyers, according to two people at the deposition.

It was clear even before the July 25 call that kicked off this whole scandal that Bolton was on the outs. Tellingly, Bolton was specifically excluded from the call.

But since then, Bolton has (like James Mattis) been talking about writing a book, telling his story for history, rather than for the present and the sake of the Constitution.

By including these two quotes in her testimony, Hill not only ensured that Bolton will be the target of Trump’s ire (after all, Hill didn’t say these things, Bolton reportedly did). But it will force Bolton to either deny them (if he’s certain Hill didn’t take contemporaneous notes), or take a stand against activities he clearly recognized were wrong.

And if Bolton testifies in the impeachment inquiry about his concerns, it will represent someone about whom there can be no doubts as to Republican partisan loyalty. If Hill’s inclusion of Bolton’s comments leads Trump’s former National Security Advisor to provide damning testimony to the impeachment inquiry, it will change both the profile of the inquiry and the possible response attacks.

Force Sondland to rewrite his ever-evolving testimony

Hill’s testimony about that July 10 meeting also provided damning testimony about Gordon Sondland, who is scheduled to testify on Thursday.

One of the most dramatic moments she described came in the July 10 meeting in Mr. Bolton’s office that included Mr. Sondland; Kurt D. Volker, then the special envoy for Ukraine; Rick Perry, the energy secretary; and two Ukrainian officials.

The purpose of the meeting was to talk about technical assistance to Ukraine’s national security council. The Ukrainians were eager to set up a meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Zelensky, who was elected on a promise to clean up corruption and resolve the country’s five-year war with Russian-armed separatists.

Mr. Bolton was trying to not commit to a meeting, according to Ms. Hill’s testimony. Mr. Sondland got agitated, Ms. Hill testified, and let out that there was an agreement with Mr. Mulvaney that there would be a meeting if Ukraine opened up the investigations the White House was seeking.

Mr. Bolton immediately ended the meeting abruptly. As the group moved toward the door, Mr. Sondland said he wanted them to come down to the ward room next to the White House mess to discuss next steps. Mr. Bolton pulled Ms. Hill aside to instruct her to go to the ward room and report to him what they talked about.

When she got downstairs, Mr. Sondland was talking with the Ukrainians and specifically mentioned Burisma, the Ukrainian energy firm that had Hunter Biden, the former vice president’s son, on its board.

Sondland has already test driven two drafts of his intended testimony, much as Michael Cohen did two years ago before he gave false testimony to Congress. Even the most recent of those drafts appears to be rendered inoperative by Hill’s testimony.

I’m sure Adam Schiff would have preferred that Sondland not get another chance to craft his testimony (and I suspect Sondland’s lawyer is trying to convince him that the possibility of being named Secretary of State is not worth perjuring himself for, which is why he’s probably not yet planning on invoking the Fifth).

But thus far, Sondland doesn’t seem to have discovered a story that he can tell that coheres with the other known testimony.

Hill ties Sondland’s actions to Trump

Hill also provided testimony — testimony we know that is backed by other witnesses — that Sondland was playing the role he was playing because the President wanted him to be.

At one point, she confronted Mr. Sondland, who had inserted himself into dealings with Ukraine even though it was not part of his official portfolio, according to the people informed about Ms. Hill’s testimony.

He told her that he was in charge of Ukraine, a moment she compared to Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig Jr.’s declaration that he was in charge after the Ronald Reagan assassination attempt, according to those who heard the testimony.

According to whom, she asked.

The president, he answered.

This will tie Trump directly to this scheme and make Sondland’s later denials about whether he knew Trump to be lying about a quid pro quo even more obviously false than they already are. This is not Rudy freelancing, or State ordering him to, but Trump ordering everyone to.

Hill implicates John Eisenberg

I noted the central role of John Eisenberg in attempts to cover this quid pro quo up weeks ago (and noted that he succeeded in preventing any record of an early quid pro quo from being being made).

Eisenberg is the guy who decided to put the transcript of the July 25 call on the Top Secret server. Eisenberg had a role in framing the crimes, as described to DOJ, such that they could shunt them to Public Integrity and dismiss them, rather than open up another Special Counsel investigation into the President’s extortion.

But Hill’s testimony makes it clear Eisenberg was told of what Bolton analogized to crimes well before the call.

Ms. Hill went back upstairs and reported the encounter to Mr. Bolton, who promptly instructed her to report the issue to John A. Eisenberg, a deputy White House counsel and the chief legal adviser for the National Security Council, along with his line about the drug deal, which he meant metaphorically.

Mr. Eisenberg told Ms. Hill he would report it up his chain of command, which would typically mean Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel.

Eisenberg (whose FBI 302 from the last Trump criminal investigation DOJ is trying to withhold) would have been on the hook anyway for a clear attempt to cover up Trump’s crime. But the revelation that he had advance warning that a crime was in process — and apparently did nothing to prevent it — changes his exposure significantly.

It was the OMB Director, misappropriating funds, in the National Security Advisor’s office

Finally, Hill puts Mick Mulvaney at the scene of the crime.

As I’ve said before, one part of this scandal that has gotten far too little attention is that, to extort Ukraine, Trump withheld funds appropriated by Congress, funds about which there was bipartisan agreement.

Last week, CNN and WSJ reported that to do this, OMB changed the way the funds were distributed, putting a political flunkie in charge, also a detail that has gotten far too little attention.

Not only does that raise the Constitutional stakes of the Executive’s refusal to spend the funds Congress had duly appropriated, but it shows consciousness of guilt.

And per Hill’s testimony Mick Mulvaney, serving in the dual role of OMB chief and Chief of Staff, knew that those funds were being withheld for a quid pro quo or (as John Bolton described it) a drug deal.

Senate Republicans might not ever convict Trump for demanding foreign countries invent propaganda on his political allies. They might feel differently once it becomes clear that the crime involves refusing to do what Congress, with its power of the purse, told him to, without even telling Congress he was doing so (or why). They may not care about Trump pressing for any political advantage for their party, but they may care about Trump neutering their most important authority.

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.

UPDATE, 5/26/21: The further unsealing of these documents have revealed that they pertain to lobbying Department of Labor about ERISA, and so are probably totally unrelated.

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.

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