Four Stories about Paul Manafort from Andrew Weissmann’s Team M
The NYT recently liberated via FOIA the alternative report written by Andrew Weissmann’s Team M, focused on Manafort, as part of the Mueller investigation. As Josh Gerstein described when he wrote up the report, it is heavily redacted and as such includes virtually no new factual details from what has already been made public. But that doesn’t mean the report is uninteresting.
After all, even presenting exactly the same allegations that we’ve seen elsewhere as it does, the report tells us certain things about the investigation.
Before I lay out what the report shows, I want to review the four times this story has been told:
- The Team M Report
- Materials relating to litigation over Manafort’s breach of his plea deal
- The Mueller Report
- The SSCI Report
As I laid out in my Rat-Fucker Rashomon series on Roger Stone, by comparing the various stories and understanding how each meets the particular genre and purpose of the document, we can better identify the gaps and inclusions of each.
(Another place to find more of the investigation into Manafort is in interview 302s; I’ve pulled together all the 302s for Sam Patten and Rick Gates; many of the most recent versions of the Manafort 302s appear in this FOIA release.)
The four stories, read together, reveal that there was a great deal of evidence that Oleg Deripaska and Konstantin Kilimnik leveraged Manafort as part of their very active role in the 2016 operation, as well as follow-up efforts to undermine the investigation into the 2016 operation. The SSCI Report even suggests Kilimnik had a role in the hack-and-leak campaign. Yet none of that showed up in unclassified parts of the Mueller Report and related documents. That’s partly true because all three of those documents — the unclassified part of the Team M Report, the Breach Determination, and the Mueller Report itself — played specific legal functions.
As with the ongoing investigation into Roger Stone that continued past the conclusion of the Mueller Report, those specific legal roles do not entail laying out where an ongoing investigation is headed. That’s why one of the most informative parts of the Team M Report, as released 40 months after it was written, are the number of sections that remain redacted under a b7A ongoing investigation redaction.
N0vember 18, 2018: Team M Report
In the days after the mid-term election in 2018, Trump fired Jeff Sessions, foreboding a different approach to Mueller’s supervision. Whether or not Mueller might otherwise have continued the investigation, with Sessions’ firing, investigators moved to conclude their work and write up a report of prosecutions and declinations. Team M wrote this report with an eye to documenting all their work. As Weissmann explained in his book, this report arose out of frustration with the decisions that Mueller’s Chief of Staff, Aaron Zebley had made, both in limiting the scope of the investigation (which significantly excluded a review of Trump’s finances), and by obscuring gaps in the conclusions.
Teams M and R had many back-and-forths with Aaron with respect to this problem while drafting the report. Aaron was adamant that our report be conclusive, making only definitive conclusions, while the teams on the ground pushed back, noting the many gray areas and gaps in our evidence and the realms we decided not to examine, including the president’s financial ties to Russia; our failure to obtain the truthful cooperation of witnesses who’d been influenced by the president’s conduct in dangling the prospect of a pardon; what questions remained outstanding; what evidence we could not obtain; and our inability to interview certain other witnesses at all, up to and including the president. Only some of these limitations made it into the final report, as Team M and Team R did not have the pen—that is, the final say. To remedy this, at least for posterity, I had all the members of Team M write up an internal report memorializing everything we found, our conclusions, and the limitations on the investigation, and provided it to the other team leaders as well as had it maintained in our files.
We should have been more transparent. We knew our report would be made public and, while our superiors at the Justice Department understood the ultimate parameters of our investigation, the American people did not and cannot be expected to glean them all from our report.
In the end, the wrongdoing we found in the areas in which we chose to look, particularly in the one Russian financial deal we examined as a result of Cohen’s cooperation, left me with a deeply unsatisfying feeling about what else was out there that we did not examine. One of my strengths—and simultaneously one of my flaws—as an investigator is the desire to turn over every rock, go down every rabbit hole, try to master every detail. In this investigation, that tenacity was as much an asset as a curse: The inability to chase down all financial leads, or to examine all crimes, gnawed at me, and still does.
This report, then, was an attempt to capture significant findings that would not make it into the ultimate report.
The Team M Report is structured this way:
The Manafort Investigation — Overview
- Manafort’s Background
- Manafort, Gates, and Kilimnik’s Criminal Prosecutions
- Manafort’s Ties to Russia and Ukraine
- Deripaska Consulting Work
- The Pericles Fund
- Ukraine Political Consulting Work
- Manafort’s Work on the Trump Campaign (March–August 2016)
- Russia & Ukraine Communications 2016-2018
- Communications in March 2016
- Communications in Spring/Summer 2016
- The August 2, 2016 Meeting
- [Manafort’s Account]
- Gates’ Account
- Patten’s Account
- Manafort’s Sharing Trump Campaign Polling Data with Kilimnik
- Post-Election Meetings and Contacts
- Deripaska Consulting Work
In addition to that overview, the report includes three things:
- Lettered footnotes: These seem to explain the context and gaps that Weissmann complained were not making it into the final report.
- Numbered footnotes: These provide the sources and map directly onto the publicly identified sources in the Mueller Report itself.
- “A supplemental submission which is classified:” We can identify some of what might appear in this supplemental submission from the SSCI Report.
December 7, 2018 through March 2, 2019: Breach Litigation
The Team M Report is dated just three days after a joint request to delay a status report in Manafort’s case and eight days before the delayed joint status report reported that Manafort had breached his plea agreement. So it was written at a time when the Weissmann team understood that Manafort had strung them out through the election and had presumably decided to hold him in breach of his plea agreement. But the Team M Report does not correlate, in structure or content, to the list of topics that Weissmann’s team asserted (successfully in three of five areas) that Manafort had been lying about.
The primary representations from Weissmann’s team in the breach litigation were:
- December 7, 2018: Initial Submission
- January 14, 2019: Weiland Declaration with exhibits
- February 4, 2019: Breach Hearing
In those documents and the hearing, Weissmann’s team laid out their case that Manafort had lied about:
Payment to Wilmer Hale: Manafort engaged in some kind of dodgy accounting — perhaps some kind of kickback involving two of Manafort’s firms — to get money to pay his lawyers at Wilmer Hale, who represented Manafort until August 2017.
Manafort’s efforts to protect Konstantin Kilimnik in the witness tampering conspiracy: In 2018, Kilimnik and Manafort were charged for conspiring to hide aspects of their Hapsburg Project, a front NGO used to hide lobbying for Ukraine behind high ranking former European officials. ABJ ruled that the government had not proven that Manafort lied about this topic, because Manafort quickly flip-flopped on his efforts to deny that Kilimnik had conspired with him to hide details of the front.
Interactions with Kilimnik: ABJ did rule that Manafort had lied to cover up details of his interactions with Konstantin Kilimnik, starting during the election and continuing through 2018. This accused lie covers much of the material presented in the Team M Report, but covers (at least in unclassified form, though the classified supplement to the Team M Report must include later communications) a broader time period.
Another DOJ investigation: ABJ judged that Weissmann’s team proved that Manafort lied to cover up details pertinent to another investigation. Given the timing of the allegations and a footnote that must modify the overview section links to Michael Cohen’s Criminal Information, the other investigation is likely the investigation into hush payments to Karen McDougal. The government’s initial submission describes that the information implicated Senior Administration Officials, which must implicate Trump himself and, likely, Kushner. In addition to Cohen and Don Jr., some parts of this lie also appear to implicate Roger Stone.
Manafort’s Contact with the Administration: The government tried, but failed, to prove that Manafort was hiding his ongoing contacts with the Trump Administration, including lobbying others were doing targeting the Department of Labor pertaining to ERISA. Significantly, prosecutors did not include ongoing communication conducted via lawyers.
March 22, 2019: Mueller Report
While Manafort shows up throughout the Mueller Report, the discussion of his case appears in four key areas:
- A 16-page section dedicated to Manafort
- The part of the declinations and prosecutions section describing FARA prosecutions
- The 6-page section of Volume II of the Report dedicated to Trump’s pardon dangles to Manafort
- The sections of the Transfers and Referrals describing Manafort-related investigations, including:
- Manafort’s own prosecution
- The Kilimnik charge
- The Sam Patten prosecution
- The Podesta Group and Mercury investigations prosecution for which was declined
- The Greg Craig (and Skadden Arps) referral that led to Craig’s acquittal at trial
- A referral of Left Hand Ventures to Public Integrity and DC USAO prosecution of which was, under Bill Barr, declined
- A referral of Rebuilding America Now to Public Integrity and DC USAO prosecution of which was, under Bill Barr, declined
- [Any Manafort-related referrals that remained redacted in November 2020, potentially including one that turned into the Tom Barrack prosecution.]
All these prosecution, declination, and referral decisions — save the obstruction discussion pertaining to Trump himself — appear in a series of footnotes in Team M (curiously, Alex Van der Zwaan only appears in the Mueller Report in the “Referenced Persons” section, even though he is not referenced in the report itself). That reflects the stated difference in the documents. The legal purpose of the Mueller Report, as I’ve repeatedly reminded, was to lay out such prosecutorial decisions. Everything in the report should serve to explain those prosecutorial decisions and — at least in the Stone case — prosecutorial decisions that had not yet been reached don’t show up in the body of the Report.
The Manafort section is similar to, but does not quite map to, the structure of the Team M Report:
- Paul Manafort’s Ties to Russia and Ukraine
- Oleg Deripaska Consulting Work
- Political Consulting Work
- Konstantin Kilimnik
- Contacts during Paul Manafort’s Time with the Trump Campaign
- Paul Manafort Joins the Campaign
- Paul Manafort’s Campaign-Period Contacts
- Paul Manafort’s Two Campaign-Period Meetings with Konstantin Kilimnik in the United States
- Post-Resignation Activities
For reasons I’ll lay out below, I’m most interested that the Team M Report — which has a classified supplement — has a heading for “Communications in Spring/Summer 2016” and “The August 2, 2016 Meeting,” whereas the Mueller Report splits this into “Campaign-Period Contacts” and “Two Campaign-Period Meetings with Konstantin Kilimnik in the United States.”
August 18, 2000: SSCI Report
Finally, there is the substantial section — 142 pages of the 966 page report — of the SSCI Report dedicated to explaining why Paul Manafort was a counterintelligence threat to Donald Trump. This section treats Manafort as a threat because of his close ties to Deripaska and Kilimnik, and as such, SSCI’s discussions of those men’s roles in the 2016 operation appear in the Manafort section.
As I observed when conducting a similar comparison for Stone, both because the SSCI Report came later and because it is the only report that attempted to be comprehensive, it included things that weren’t included in the earlier reports.
Importantly, for our purpose, the SSCI Report’s approach to secrets was different. Whereas the Team M Report included a classified supplement, the SSCI Report included such material in the body of the report. Large swaths of this section were deemed classified when the SSCI Report was released in 2020 and, in spite of the fact that Avril Haines promised a review of these classification decisions, nothing new has been released since.
Here’s how the Manafort section of the SSCI Report is organized:
- Introduction and Findings (included three entirely classified bullets on Kilimnik’s role in the hack-and-leak)
- Limitations on the Committee’s Investigation
- Background on Manafort’s Foreign Activities
- Manafort’s Work with Oleg Deripaska
- Manafort’s Influence Operations in Ukraine
- Manafort’s Global Influence Operations for Deripaska
- Konstantin Kilimnik
- Manafort’s Work in Ukraine for the Party of Regions (PoR)
- Manafort’s Work with Oleg Deripaska
- Manafort’s Activities from 2014 until Joining the Trump Campaign
- Former-PoR Associates in Ukraine
- Deripaska and Pericles Lawsuit
- Manafort’s Activities While Serving on the Trump Campaign
- Manafort’s Entry into the Trump Campaign
- Kilimnik’s Awareness of Manafort’s Hiring Before the Public Announcement [including redacted section that, by context, must describe a March 2016 Kilimnik trip to the US]
- Manafort Announces His Position on the Trump Campaign; Extends Private Offers to Russian and Ukrainian Oligarchs
- [Heavily redacted section on] Kilimnik and Deripaska’s Activities in April
- Manafort and Kilimnik Meet in New York City; Discuss Ukraine, Trump Campaign Strategy; Sharing of Internal Trump Campaign Polling Data with Kilimnik Begins
- Manafort Offers to Brief Deripaska Through Kilimnik and Boyarkin; Kilimnik Appears to Have Insider Knowledge of Trump Campaign; [redacted] and Kilimnik Coordinate on [redacted] [includes redacted sections addressing Steele Report]
- Manafort Meets with Kilimnik at the Grand Havana Room in New York City; They Discuss Polling Data, Ukraine Plan, and Debts
- Internal Polling Information and Trump Campaign Strategy
- Ukraine Peace Plan
- [Heavily redacted section on] Possible Connections to GRU Hack-and-Leak Operation
- The “Ledger” and Manafort’s Resignation
- Manafort’s Activities For the Remainder of the Campaign
- Manafort’s Continued Contact with the Trump Campaign; Kilimnik’s awareness of these contacts
- Manafort’s Involvement in Ukrainian Government Outreach to the Campaign
- Manafort’s Activities After the Election
- [Redacted] Kilimnik Seeks to Leverage His Relationship with Manafort; Coordinates [redacted]
- Manafort and Kilimnik Communicate with Yanukovych in Russia Related to Ukraine Plan; Attempt Communications Countermeasures
- [Redacted] Kilimnik and Boyarkin Arrange Meeting for Manafort in Madrid; Manafort [redacted]
- Kilimnik and Lyovochkin Travel to Washington D.C. for Inauguration, Meet with Manafort and Discuss Ukraine
- Kilimnik and Manafort Meet in Madrid; Discuss Counter-Narratives and Ukraine
- [Significantly Redacted] Russian Influence Operations to Undermine Investigations into Russian Interference [includes developments through late 2019, including Rudy Giuliani-related activities of John Solomon]
- Manafort’s Continued Efforts with Kilimnik on Ukraine; Kilimnik’s Own Continued Activities [includes 8 mostly-redacted pages going through 2020]
- Manafort and Gates Communications Regarding Investigations
- Manafort’s Associates Ties to Russian Intelligence Services [Heavily redacted]
- Oleg Deripaska and His Aides
- Deripaska’s Kremlin Ties
- Deripaska’s “Chief of Staff”: Viktor Boyarkin
- Deripaska’s Strategic Advisor: Georgy Oganov
- Deripaska’s Role in Russian Active Measures in Montenegro
- Deripaska’s Involvement in Other Russian Active Measures
- Deripaska’s Connections to Hacking Operations
- Konstantin Kilimnik
- Oleg Deripaska and His Aides
The section of the Manafort materials dedicated to limitations on SSCI’s investigation makes it clear that it relies, in significant part, on the Mueller Report, with all the limitations on that given Manafort’s obstruction. That said, the SSCI Report scope goes through 2019, so obviously also includes later intelligence reporting for many of the mostly redacted later passages. Yet the SSCI Report includes great swaths of material that appear nowhere in the public Mueller materials — save, perhaps, in the classified supplement referenced in the Team M Report. That includes March 2016 visits — seemingly by both Kilimnik and Deripaska — to the US, as well as something that happened in April 2016 more closely linked to Trump’s campaign.
These vast redactions — going to core issues of the Mueller investigation, such as whether Trump’s own campaign manager and the campaign manager’s life-long rat-fucker friend had a direct role in the hack-and-leak campaign and disinformation injected through the Steele dossier — likely reflect both the redacted sections in the earlier reporting and, more importantly, the classified supplement of the Team M Report.
That all means it was likely that, when Trump fired Jeff Sessions in November 2018, the Mueller team had evidence directly linking Manafort, through Kilimnik and through him to Deripaska, to the hack-and-leak operation.
That may explain why Weissmann wanted to ensure his team captured their findings in the Team M Report.
This whole post reminds me so much of how pastors and scholars approach the story of Jesus. First, and least important, you’ve got four sources. Second, each author has particular concerns and circumstances that compel them to write. Third, each has a particular audience in mind as they tell their story. Fourth, all these things combine to shape the way in which they tell the story.
Team M is clearly engaging in bureaucratic warfare, trying to keep their work from being buried, lost, or twisted beyond recognition should their office be shut down. By writing it up like this, and then circulating it relatively broadly inside the investigative team, they insured that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for future DOJ folks to “lose” the report. All it would take would be for one copy to emerge, and the lie would be exposed. Their audience, then, was both other DOJ investigators (here’s what we found, here’s what we couldn’t track down, and here’s where we were not allowed to go) who might be separately looking into other aspects of Trump/Russia, and also the Trump acolytes in DOJ and at the WH. Their goal was to keep the investigation moving forward, spelling out all their work to both protect their investigation and allow others to learn from them. “This is not over!” might be a good summary of this report.
The Breach Litigation stuff, on the other hand, is narrowly crafted with an audience of one – ABJ – in mind. Weissman and his crew are looking to hold Manafort in breach of his plea agreement, so their work does not get into all kinds of other areas, even those related to Manafort.
Mueller, for better or worse, was also writing with an eye toward the courtroom, but not in the same narrow way as Weissman. After a wide-ranging investigation, his report boiled down to two questions: What could be proved, and what charges, if any, should be made based on that? These two questions were put at odds with each other, given his acceptance of the OLC opinion about not charging presidents. In the strictest sense, he also was writing for an audience of one — the AG (be it Jeff Sessions, BDTS, Barr, or an AG yet to come) — but also aware that whatever he wrote (in part or in whole) would be disseminated to the broader general public. Barr’s attempt to read it as a broad exoneration of the president, while limiting its distribution, is proof that Mueller was right to be concerned about how a Trump AG would twist whatever he presented in a way that puts Trump in the best light.
SSCI was working specifically from more of a national security angle, rather than a legal angle or fighting a bureaucratic battle within DOJ. Because this was their approach, they were able to create a strong bipartisan report, rather than something that would be lauded by one side and condemned by the other. By and large, SSCI did not have a bunch of senatorial bomb throwers, but more sober-minded folks who realized just how dangerous it is for Russia to be interfering in US elections narrowly and US foreign policy more broadly.
Four authors, with different audiences and different reasons for writing. Putting them in conversation with one another can bring to light things that we wouldn’t see only by looking at one of them.
Great post, Marcy.
I think Mueller was also affirmatively attempting to protect ongoing investigations — at least that’s what they were trying to do with Stone, by leading him to believe he was only investigated for his ties to WikiLeaks.
I also think that to achieve bipartisan consensus, SSCI punted on some issues. Trump’s finances were one of those. They treated the dossier radically differently than Trump’s rat-fucking with WikiLeaks releases. And they pulled their punches on Trump in other ways.
So Trump’s finances were bracketed off for both Team M and SSCI? That’s interesting . . .
Yup. Funny how that works.
Remember, too, that Richard Burr was telling Don McGahn what he had been briefed about the investigation early on.
For SSCI, that really surprises me.
Part of a basic security clearance review is a look at a person’s finances. (See section 26 of Standard Form 86) Does the person have a financial history (bad debts, failure to pay child support, bankruptcy history, reprimands for misuse of a company credit card, etc.) that they constitute a potential risk? Depending on how the questions in section 26 are answered, a subsequent deeper investigation into the financial history is a standard practice. [That’s likely what kept Jared from getting a security clearance via the normal path.]
SSCI knows this. That they bracketed out any consideration of Trump’s finances is problematic, at best. Maybe that was the price the Dems paid to get the GOP senators on board, but still. If so, to me this isn’t a case of “don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good” but the Dems deciding “don’t let the good be the enemy of the bad.”
I doubt the DP was involved in this decision. In fact, it was the DP that was going to the IRS to get Trump’s returns…although they didn’t push it too hard far as I recall. Eventually, didn’t the Supreme Court allow the House to get those documents if they pushed for it? It’s all fuzzy in my memory now…
Funny, too, in that Trump’s financial records were the most probable area in which to find evidence of serial lawbreaking, continuing into and through his presidency. That investigative record would have formed a strong foundation for his post-presidency prosecution.
It still can
It still is, if the NYS AG’s investigations are any indication?
“This whole post reminds me so much of how pastors and scholars approach the story of Jesus.”
They also are deeply curious about redaction of original sources and supression of material by editors, and attempt to recreate the foundational text through close analysis of redactions.
“But given redacted portions of the SSCI Report released just over a year later, the most interesting part of the Team M Report is likely a classified supplement not released in the FOIA release.”
The doc that didn’t bark in the light.
The quote from Weissmann is great:
“We knew our report would be made public and, while our superiors at the Justice Department understood the ultimate parameters of our investigation, the American people did not and cannot be expected to glean them all from our report.”
One of the distressingly regular features of system breakdowns is how often they are preceded by faulty assumptions about what is understood. Over and over people in responsibility assume something is understood that is not, and when assumption is shown to be faulty, people in responsibility get snippity that it *should* have been understood.
For example, there is an assumption by far too many insiders that it is understood that Deripaska and Kilimnick were part of Putin’s machine, that it is understood that Manafort was engaging with them, and that it is even understood that Manafort was Trump’s campaign manager. And because these things have actually dropped off the radar and are not, in fact understood (if they ever were in the first place), it becomes easy for people like Bill Barr to spread “no collusion” narratives without risking being called out.
Where is the center of this conspiracy? Where is Mr. Big? It always goes back to Ukraine. If Trump had won in 2020, two terror states would be forming now, I think, with the Russia-Ukraine War. If Trump were President, Putin would be able to control the state of emergency in the United States.
The relationship between Trump’s election, his administration, his attempt to retain control of the White House and the threat to Ukraine’s sovereign autonomy hasn’t been made clear enough by the media for the American public.
I don’t doubt at all that Ukraine’s president Zelenskyy would be dead or exiled had Trump been able to stay in the White House simply because Trump would have done what Lukashenko did when Russia invaded Ukraine while ignoring U.S. obligations to NATO.