On the Comey Memos

As you read this thread, remember that whoever leaked the Comey memos is also likely to be one of the people who is calling for Andrew McCabe to be prosecuted for leaking to the media.

January 6, 2017: Trump doesn’t deny the golden showers, just that they were prostitutes

Here’s the operative passage on Trump’s response to being informed about the pee tape.

I think the exchange has been distorted by Comey, who is a prig that would judge anything that reeks of kink.

Trump doesn’t actually deny he engaged in some kind of golden showers event. Rather, he denies there were prostitutes. He’s only denying he paid for sex. Given the way Trump’s associative brain raised what we now know to be hush payments for actual behavior, this seems closer to a confirmation than a denial.

His reference to 2013, while it might be deceit, might also be amazement that the Russians were digging up old dirt.

I’m particularly interested in the redaction, which must say something about the dossier (and possibly Steele’s identity, though Comey didn’t share it). We don’t know who leaked that Trump got briefed on the memo, and I don’t rule out CIA leaking it. But Comey tells Trump that he wants to keep two things secret — that FBI has the dossier and something about the circumstances of the dossier. Those details very quickly leaked. I think it possible — likely even — that Trump leaked these details precisely because Comey said he wanted them kept secret.

January 27, 2017: Trump asks for loyalty, then asks for investigation

While Comey admits that he’s not sure he got the order of the private dinner between him and Trump correct, as he lays it out, Trump raises loyalty (to which Comey doesn’t respond), then asks Comey to investigation the pee tape to prove it wrong, then asks for loyalty again.

I’ve joked that no one should complain now that an investigation arose out of the dossier since Trump asked for just that, but in context, I think the exchange is even more important. Trump asked for an investigation from a loyal person. He expected an investigation that would exonerate him and he tied that to loyalty.

And all that took place against the background of Sally Yates warning Don McGahn about what Mike Flynn had said with Sergei Kislyak. In the conversation, Trump introduced a claim that he doubted Flynn’s judgment, because he hadn’t immediately told Trump that Putin was the first to congratulate Trump on his inauguration (he was among the first to call after the election as well).

I’ve always wondered why Flynn’s firing is treated as part of the obstruction investigation, and not part of the conspiracy. I think the explanation lies, at least partly, in this exchange. It’s clearly spin. It’s not just that Trump was complaining that Flynn wasn’t passing on his messages quickly enough, but it’s that he’s creating the suggestion that Flynn was running Russia response independently, which he wasn’t.

That is, Trump’s first exchange with Comey after learning Flynn was under investigation was to put some distance between the two of them.

February 8, 2017: At a meet-and-greet with Priebus, Comey meets Flynn and Trump

Comey goes for what he calls a meet-and-greet with Reince Priebus, whom he has said he should primarily work with. But before that happens, Flynn sits down with him for five minutes (remember they would have worked together in 2013-2014), without mentioning the FBI interview.

During the Priebus interview, after an extended discussion about the dossier (remember, Paul Manafort had contacted Priebus weeks earlier to discuss the dossier, and possibly to lay out a rebuttal plan to it), he asks whether there’s a FISA order on Flynn.

Here’s analysis suggesting Comey’s answer was yes, here’s one suggesting it was no. The analysis is made more difficult because Comey uses double spaces after a period.

Contextually, the answer was probably no because:

  • Otherwise Comey wouldn’t have made an exception to the normal reporting channels
  • Ordinarily, it takes a while to get a FISC order; the concern about Flynn intensified on January 5, but in the January 24 interview, FBI Agents generally thought he was being honest
  • At this point, FBI was delaying the normal briefing of the counterintelligence investigation because of sensitivity concerns

In any case, though the meeting was supposed to be with Priebus, the Chief of Staff brought Comey into meet with Trump (this feels sort of like another job interview). During it, Trump first raised this remarkably (for him) awkward Putin attempt to protect Trump from the prostitute allegation in the dossier — though like Trump, he’s denying that the women were prostitutes, not that he was with women; Trump claims that Putin said this directly to him, which given Putin’s awkwardness could well be the case. Trump then raised Russian pique with Bill O’Reilly for a question about Putin; Comey judges Trump took offense to his distinction between Russian and US killings (though I’m not even sure that’s right).

February 14, 2017: Trump emphasizes the Flynn didn’t do anything wrong

There are actually three parts to the Flynn content in the famous oval office meeting: a first exchange where Trump defended what Flynn did repeatedly, a second one where Trump complained (rightly) about the leak of the FISA wiretap, and the third exchange about “letting this go.”

Given the context of the Priebus question about the wiretap less than a week earlier, I actually think that’s what the point was. The White House had to get rid of Flynn as an effort to squelch the investigation into actions Trump himself had ordered. But that was only going to work if the FBI did drop the Flynn investigation.

March 1, 2017: Trump calls to check in (and invite Comey to the White House)

This call, which Comey memorialized in an email to Jim Rybicki, seemed designed to get Comey to come of his own accord to the White House. More importantly, the day before Jeff Sessions’ recusal, Trump wanted to get cozy with Comey.

March 30, 2017: Trump asks the cloud be removed

The released memos raise two new details about the “cloud hanging over” phone conversation on March 30. Amid his other comments designed to convince Comey he was innocent, Trump also said he was going to sue Christopher Steele.

This would have been between the Webzilla and the Alfa Bank suits, and long before Michael Cohen launched his ill-advised (and now dropped) suit. While Trump is a litigious fuck and we can’t conclude anything by his threatened suit, it a detail that suggests coordinated lawfare was part of the plan.

In addition, Trump made a reference that made Comey think his “satellite” comment pertained to Sergei Millian. That’s interesting given that 1) George Papadopoulos was also under active investigation at this time and 2) Millian had pitched Papadopoulos to pick up the Trump Tower pursuit when Michael Cohen had dropped it in June.

April 11, 2017: Trump reminds Comey we had that thing

Given the way Trump always coupled his requests for loyalty with comments about Andrew McCabe, I wonder whether, when Trump said “we had that thing,” he doesn’t believe he made a deal with Comey, where Comey could keep McCabe on so long as Comey remained loyal.

Whatever it was, Comey had no inkling.

The Andrew McCabe Referral Is Unsurprising — and Probably Justified

I’ve been traveling a shit-ton in recent weeks (and still am, in a lovely gorgeous undisclosed location). So it wasn’t until a flight today that I read the DOJ IG Report on Andrew McCabe’s lack of candor about confirming an investigation into the Clinton Foundation. Having finally read it, though, I’m thoroughly unsurprised that DOJ made a criminal referral. Indeed, given the standards FBI holds subjects of investigation to, I think the referral was necessary to avoid the perception that the top FBI brass could get away with behavior that results in criminal charges (for people including George Papadopoulos and Mike Flynn) all the time.

Because boy did Deputy and Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe use a lot of the tricks that defendants (try, usually unsuccessfully) to use to get out of lying.

Andrew McCabe was investigated for screwing Hillary over

Before I get into the report, let’s make it clear what McCabe is accused of (because the right wing gets this wrong seemingly every time). As part of an investigation into several leaks, McCabe was interviewed repeatedly about this article by Devlin Barrett, specifically this passage.

According to a person familiar with the probes, on Aug. 12, a senior Justice Department official called Mr. McCabe to voice his displeasure at finding that New York FBI agents were still openly pursuing the Clinton Foundation probe during the election season. Mr. McCabe said agents still had the authority to pursue the issue as long as they didn’t use overt methods requiring Justice Department approvals.

The Justice Department official was “very pissed off,” according to one person close to Mr. McCabe, and pressed him to explain why the FBI was still chasing a matter the department considered dormant. Others said the Justice Department was simply trying to make sure FBI agents were following longstanding policy not to make overt investigative moves that could be seen as trying to influence an election. Those rules discourage investigators from making any such moves before a primary or general election, and, at a minimum, checking with anticorruption prosecutors before doing so.

“Are you telling me that I need to shut down a validly predicated investigation?” Mr. McCabe asked, according to people familiar with the conversation. After a pause, the official replied, “Of course not,” these people said.

The passage, coming in a story on the reopening of the investigation into Hillary’s emails, effectively confirmed the separate investigation into the Clinton Foundation.

After denying it in two interviews, he admitted in a third and fourth (though continued to lie about his transparency about the fact) that he had authorized Lisa Page to provide the background and the quote to Barrett.

Effectively, then, McCabe admitted to confirming 10 days before the election that there was a second investigation into Hillary Clinton. DOJ IG (and the FBI witnesses they consulted) concluded that McCabe did so to protect his own reputation, not to reassure the public that Hillary wasn’t above scrutiny. And they dismissed the notion it was a sanctioned confirmation, both because it was not discussed beforehand and carefully messaged, as such confirmations always are, and because it was anonymous.

So for all that Republicans, starting with Donald Trump, want to make this into a real scandal hurting Republicans, it’s the opposite. McCabe is accused of screwing over Hillary to protect his own reputation.

Signs the report was rushed

I find the report itself very credible; it makes a very damning case against McCabe.

But there are a few details of it that deserve mention, because they demonstrate that this report is just part of the larger report that will be released next month.

First, there is no methodology or request for comment from the bureau (though it includes rebuttals from McCabe), which are both standard features on IG Reports. The methodology would be really useful to see because it would provide a few more dates about when a draft was finalized, that might provide more information on how this came to be released early.

Then there’s a redaction in this passage.

Both public reporting and redaction matching suggests it has to be DAD — that is, Peter Strzok. Other references to him are not redacted. For some reason, and I suspect it’s an investigative one, the FBI didn’t want it known that he was party to the decision of forcing McCabe off the email investigation in late October, just days before the WSJ story in question.

That (and one other detail I get to below) suggests the FBI is protecting the details on Strzok and Page that will show up in the larger report.

So this report was, as public reporting has suggested, pulled out of the larger one and packaged up for February release.

That said, I’m not as convinced that served the nefarious purpose of serving up Andrew McCabe to Donald Trump’s voracious firing appetite. Rather, I suspect that’s when they reached the conclusion that McCabe’s behavior reached a level requiring criminal referral. And while I agree the circumstances surrounding McCabe’s firing still stink to high hell, if they had already made the decision to refer McCabe for criminal investigation, the timing, and the necessity of firing him, do make more sense.

This case really is about lying to FBI Agents

In the same way the Republican claim McCabe hurt Trump is bullshit, another public claim — one favored by some Democrats — is that this is simply a he-said he-said between McCabe and Comey.

While one conversation between them — an October 31, 2016 conversation where leaks came up and McCabe did not offer up that he was behind the WSJ passage — is included in the allegations, the other three, far more compelling, allegations include sworn conversations (the latter two taped) with FBI Inspection Division and Inspector General Agents.

And as I said, this is not — as McCabe has spun it — about an authorized confirmation of an investigation. It is true he gave permission for these conversations. But he did not go through the normal process before confirming an investigation (which wouldn’t have been approved but if it had would have resulted in an on-the-record comment). It’s likely McCabe, out of fury, just fucked up. But he did authorize the anonymous leak of stuff that shouldn’t have been released.

I won’t get into the evidence laid out (other than to say that it is convincing). But the report suggests McCabe didn’t come clean to Comey in October, and then in two subsequent interviews tried to create a cover story, only to discover that the investigation into Page and Strzok would reveal his deceit, at which point he tried to clean up his story in a way that wouldn’t put him in legal jeopardy.

Un-fucking-believably, as McCabe tried to get out of the problems he created he used three dodges often used by criminal defendants when complaining about FBI investigative tactics.

McCabe “can’t recall” diversion one

Along the way, McCabe  created two diversions to deflect blame (the IG Report doesn’t focus on this, but I find these actions to be among McCabe’s most reprehensible for the way they exposed others to disciplinary and legal jeopardy).

First, in the wake of the Barrett story that he was a second-hand anonymous source for, McCabe called the heads of the NY and DC office to bitch them out for leaking.

According to NY-ADIC’s contemporaneous October 30 calendar notes and testimony to the OIG, McCabe called NY-ADIC on Sunday, October 30, at 5:11 p.m., to express concerns over leaks from the FBI’s New York Field Office in the October 30 WSJ article. NY-ADIC told the OIG that McCabe was “ticked about leaks” in the article on the CF Investigation, but NY-ADIC “pushed back” a little to note that New York agents were not privy to some of the information in the article.

Also according to NY-ADIC’s calendar notes, as well as his testimony to the OIG, NY-ADIC spoke to EAD and other FBI managers after his call with McCabe to voice concerns “about getting yelled at about this stuff” when he was supposed to be dealing with EAD on Clinton Foundation issues because of his understanding that McCabe had recused himself from the matter.

W-ADIC told the OIG that he received a call from McCabe regarding the October 30 WSJ article and that McCabe admonished him regarding leaks in the article. According to W-ADIC, McCabe told him to “get his house in order.”

McCabe told us that he did not recall calling either NY-ADIC or W-ADIC to reprimand them for leaks in the October 30 WSJ article.

He did so with the NY-ADIC (probably justifiably) after a second Barrett story.

I believe the first of these scoldings served the purpose of creating a paper trail making it look like other offices were responsible for the Barrett leak.

With regards to both of these hypocritical conversations, in which McCabe pulled rank to yell at people for doing what he had himself done, he claimed afterwards not to recall the conversations in question (and bizarrely for a lifetime FBI Agent, didn’t take the notes that his counterparties did).

I think the first one is of particular concern, as by blaming the field offices, McCabe was deflecting from his own role. And like a long line of high level officials before him, he got away with it by claiming he didn’t recall these conversations.

McCabe blames diversion two on the perennial two-Agent, no recording complaint

McCabe also created a diversion in his first interview, with the Inspection Division (which, because of rank, he knew could not investigate him personally). He told them, falsely, that he had told a bunch of other people about the conversation described in the WSJ, leading INSD to believe there could be any number of suspects.

INSD-SSA1 further told the OIG that McCabe stated during the interview that he had related the account of the August 12 call to others numerous times, leaving INSD-SSA1 with the impression that INSD-SSA1 would “not get anywhere by asking” McCabe how many people could have known about what appeared to be a private conversation between him and PADAG. INSD-SSA1 told us that he didn’t need to take many notes during the interview because, at that point, he viewed McCabe as “the victim” of the leak and McCabe had told the INSD agents that he did not know how this happened. INSD-SSA1 also told us that the whole interaction was short, maybe 5 to 7 minutes, and flowing because McCabe was seemingly the victim and claimed he did not know who did it. INSD-SSA1 said that McCabe’s information could be summarized in one paragraph in his draft statement.

This led them to give up their investigation, for a period. When they sent him their version of the statements he had made to get him to sign and swear to them, he just blew off the request (he was Acting Director at this point, so he admittedly had tons of other things to do, but also real reason to believe his seniority would help him avoid any trouble for his actions).

When McCabe ultimately came clean about his role in this affair, he tried to suggest that the INSD version of what happened was not accurate (as defendants sometimes do, often for good reason, when an FBI 302 leaves out key details). Remarkably though, this guy who must have seen this ploy hundreds of times in his life and knew that FBI Agents always move in twos, suggested that the specific discussion involved just one of the Agents present.

McCabe also asserted that the May 9 meeting concerned an unrelated leak matter and that the discussion about the October 30 article occurred near the end of the meeting when “one of the people on that team pulled me aside and asked me a question about the Wall Street Journal article.” He elaborated by stating that as the INSD agents were “walking out of my office into the hallway, and [INSD Section Chief] kind of grabbed me by the arm and said, hey, let me ask you about something else.” McCabe said that he and INSD-Section Chief were still in his office, he thought standing, during the conversation but that the other two INSD agents (McCabe recalled there being three INSD agents present that day, not two) were outside his office. He said INSD-Section Chief showed him the October 30 WSJ article at that time and asked him “a question or two about it. And that was it. It was a very quick exchange.”

If it had indeed happened this way, it would have made the conversation other than investigative, and might have gotten him off the hook for lying.

Except that SSA-1 took notes, so was obviously present, and INSD made McCabe initial the WSJ article confirming he had read it.

Nevertheless, this is, ultimately, the same complaint criminal defendants make all the time about the FBI’s approach to interviews.

McCabe mounts a Miranda defense

Perhaps most un-fucking-believably, McCabe mounted a Miranda defense to excuse the fact that he lied when he was first asked about the Page-Strzok texts. Effectively, he said that he had an explicit agreement that OIG would not ask him any questions that might put him in legal jeopardy.

In response to review a draft of this report, counsel for McCabe argued that, in asking McCabe about the October 27-30 texts between Special Counsel and DAD regarding the WSJ article, the OIG engaged in improper and unethical conduct, and violated an allegedly explicit agreement with McCabe that when he was interviewed by the OIG on July 28 he would not be questioned outside the presence of counsel with respect to matters for which he was being investigated. McCabe provides no evidence in support of his claim, and based on the OIG’s review of the available evidence, including the transcript of McCabe’s recorded OIG interview on July 28 and the OIG’s contemporaneous notes, as described below, McCabe’s claim is contradicted by the investigative record.

As an initial matter, at the time of the July 28 interview, McCabe was not a subject of an OIG investigation of disclosures in the October 30 WSJ article, nor did the OIG suspect him of having been the source of an unauthorized disclosure of non-public information related to that article. The OIG did not open its investigation of McCabe concerning the WSJ article until August 31, after being informed by INSD that McCabe had provided INSD agents with information on August 18, 2017, that contradicted the information that he had provided to INSD agents on May 9.

Second, the OIG has no record that McCabe stated in advance of the July 28 interview that he was represented by counsel. Moreover, the recording of the July 28 interview shows that at no time did McCabe give any indication that he was represented by counsel. The transcript of the interview shows that the OIG informed McCabe, who has a law degree, that the interview was about “issues raised by the text messages” between Special Counsel and DAD, and that the OIG would not be asking McCabe questions about “other issues related to your recusal in the McAulliffe investigation . . . or any issues related to that.” McCabe responded “Okay” and did not articulate or request any further limitations on the questions he would answer. The OIG added that “This is a voluntary interview. What that means is that if you don’t want to answer a question, that’s fully within your rights.” That “will not be held against you . . . .” The recording of McCabe’s interview further demonstrates that the OIG was entirely solicitous of McCabe’s requests not to respond to certain questions. Towards the end of the interview, before beginning an area of questioning unrelated to Special Counsel/DAD texts or the WSJ article, the OIG prefaced his question to McCabe by stating “if you feel this is connected to the things that are making you uncomfortable, will you let me know?” McCabe responded, “Yes. Yeah, you can ask, I’ll let you . . . If I don’t feel comfortable going forward, I’ll let you know.” At a later point in the interview, after answering a number of questions unrelated to Special Counsel/DAD texts, McCabe expressed a preference for not answering further questions, and the OIG did not ask further questions on the topic. [my emphasis]

I mean, sure, OIG blew that excuse out of the water (and the rebuttal continued with further evidence this claim was bullshit). But when I was reading it I kept thinking “how many fucking times have you been the Agent giving the uneducated interviewee even less opportunity to invoke Miranda! Yet you fucked this up!?!?!”

Did McCabe coordinate his story with Page?

As noted, McCabe’s true undoing came when, in the course of the investigation into the treatment of Hillary, OIG discovered the Page-Strzok texts. McCabe was asked about them in the context of the Page-Strzok contacts, and realized (but lied in a sworn, recorded interview) that the texts disproved all his stories. That led him to correct his testimony to INSD, which then referred it to OIG so someone of the rank that could investigate McCabe could interview him.

Along the way, though, McCabe and Page had a conversation — one she subsequently copped to, but he did not.

McCabe denied that being shown the text messages on July 28 that indicated Special Counsel had spoken to Barrett caused him to change his account in order to protect Special Counsel. McCabe told the OIG that this “thinking process” was done “on my own” without talking to any FBI employees or reviewing past e-mails or text messages. He stated that he did not discuss the Devlin texts with Special Counsel after the July 28 interview. While Special Counsel told the OIG that following McCabe’s July 28 OIG interview, she and McCabe discussed her text messages, she said that McCabe did not discuss his OIG testimony about the WSJ article, or the WSJ article itself, at that time. Special Counsel stated that she and McCabe did not discuss “getting their stories straight” with respect to the WSJ article. Special Counsel told the OIG that the last time she spoke with McCabe about the WSJ article was in approximately October 2016 (when the article was published).

This was not included among the key lack of candor charges, but I suspect the prosecutor will test the veracity of this current operative story.

I get that the way McCabe was fired stinks. I get that McCabe may well be serving as cover for the Mueller interview.

But neither of those observations changes the fact that one of the most senior FBI executives tried all the tricks a lifetime of pursuing criminals would have familiarized him with, and he still blew it.

And because the FBI relies on false statements charges to conduct its interviews, I think the criminal referral is necessary.

The Fire Rosenstein Squad among Trump’s Buddies

WSJ has a fascinating story about the advice that former prosecutor and Trump lawyer Jay Goldberg gave the president last week after the Michael Cohen raid. Rather than keeping the advice confidential or even anonymous, Goldberg instead sat down for two hours to tell the WSJ precisely what he told the president in a 15 minute conversation last week.

The newsy bit is that Goldberg told Trump that Cohen would flip on him if he were charged, and might even agree to wear a wire.

One of President Donald Trump’s longtime legal advisers said he warned the president in a phone call Friday that Michael Cohen, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer and close friend, would turn against the president and cooperate with federal prosecutors if faced with criminal charges.

Mr. Trump made the call seeking advicel [sic] from Jay Goldberg, who represented Mr. Trump in the 1990s and early 2000s. Mr. Goldberg said he cautioned the president not to trust Mr. Cohen. On a scale of 100 to 1, where 100 is fully protecting the president, Mr. Cohen “isn’t even a 1,” he said he told Mr. Trump.

[snip]

[H]e stressed to thje [sic] president that Mr. Cohen could even agree to wear a wire and try to record conversations with Mr. Trump. “You have to be alert,” Mr. Goldberg said he told the president. “I don’t care what Michael says.”

The more troubling revelation is that Goldberg told Trump straight out he should fire Rod Rosenstein.

Prompted by the president for his advice, he also said he recommended Mr. Trump fire Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who appointed Mr. Mueller.

But here’s the other detail of interest. Goldberg told the WSJ that the Cohen raid puts him at more risk than the Mueller investigation.

Goldberg said the volume of correspondence taken and the potential pressure the government can bring to bear on Mr. Cohen to testify puts the president in more potential peril from the Cohen matter than from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Mr. Mueller is examining whether members of Mr. Trump’s campaign team colluded with Russians to affect the 2016 election. Russia officials have denied meddling in the election, and Mr. Trump has denied any collusion took place.

And he said that even while asserting that he doesn’t believe Trump broke the law (in context, I presume this means with Russia, though I’m not certain).

Goldberg recalled the conversation in a two-hour interview in his apartment on New York’s Upper East Side Wednesday, emphasizing that he didn’t believe Mr. Trump had broken the law.

Here’s why I find this so fascinating.

First, clearly Goldberg wants this out, even the details (like that he thinks Cohen might wear a wire) designed to make Trump go nuts. This, then, is presumably another example of a Trump associate trying to speak to him through the press (though why Goldberg chose WSJ instead of Fox, I don’t know — maybe this is an attempt to get booked on Fox, where Trump will see it). Perhaps, too, Goldberg is trying to put pressure on Trump’s legal team, especially Ty Cobb, to let the president fire Rosenstein.

That said, the story will make the legal risk of firing Rosenstein still greater, because it will make the context of all this clear: that firing Rosenstein would be an attempt to prevent Cohen from being charged, which would have the effect of exposing Trump to legal risk. (That analysis seems problematic in any case, because — at least according to my understanding of things — while Rosenstein has to approve any charges Mueller makes, that may not be true of any charges Robert Khuzami would make as acting US Attorney for SDNY, though it’s possible DOJ would demand further approvals because of the political significance of this.)

But the entire premise, if Goldberg is to be believed (and if I’m understanding the context of his comment about Trump not having broken the law), is that Trump is not at legal risk from Mueller but he is at risk for … everything else that Cohen might implicate him in.

Of course, that sentiment was reported last Friday by NYT, in the lead of this story, attributed to “Trump’s advisers” and “people close to Trump” (both descriptions could clearly include Goldberg).

President Trump’s advisers have concluded that a wide-ranging corruption investigation into his personal lawyer poses a greater and more imminent threat to the president than even the Special Counsel’s investigation, according to several people close to Mr. Trump.

In other words, it’s highly likely that we’re seeing Goldberg say on the record to the WSJ what he said anonymously to the NYT last week. But in the process, we’re seeing why: Goldberg doesn’t think Trump broke the law in anything he did with regards to Russia. How much does Goldberg really know what Trump did, I wonder? Either he knows all the details, in which case his judgment may be valid, or he has no clue, in which case we shouldn’t necessarily take the opinion as all that reasonable.

Side note: if I’m Mueller, I’ve already drafted the subpoena for Goldberg, who presumably won’t be able to claim the substance of this conversation with Trump, which he shared with WSJ, is privileged.

All of which leads me to the most shocking part of Friday’s story: that Trump called Cohen that day to “check in.”

Trump called Mr. Cohen on Friday to “check in,” according to two people briefed on the call. Depending on what else was discussed, the call could be problematic, as lawyers typically advise their clients against discussing investigations.

WSJ seems to suggest that, in addition to speaking with Trump, Goldberg also spoke to Cohen, which may be where he got the detailed description of the raid he shared with WSJ.

Mr. Cohen was “shocked,” according to Mr. Goldberg, who also spoke with Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Ty Cobb, in recent days.

So what this looks like by reading the two stories together is that, probably before he spoke to Trump on Friday, Goldberg spoke to Cohen. Maybe that’s part of where he derived his opinion that Cohen would flip on Trump. And then Goldberg called Trump to tell him Cohen wouldn’t remain loyal.

Was that before or after Trump called Cohen to “check in”?

Goldberg may be trying to help Trump by pushing him to fire Rosenstein. But I can think of about five ways that this story really fucks Trump, and that’s assuming that Mueller doesn’t give Goldberg a call to invite him in for a chat.

The Trump Organization Really Doesn’t Want FBI to Have the Michael Cohen Files

In this post yesterday, I noted how hard the Trump Organization has tried to withhold (or claw back documents) from both the Mueller team and SDNY (here’s the government filing these quotes come from).

SDNY fact checks the Cohen claim, backed by his lawyer’s sworn declaration, that he hadn’t fully cooperated with Mueller’s investigation because Mueller asked for everything.

Cohen also states that the SCO “had requested that the Trump Organization produce all of Mr. Cohen’s communications that were within the Trump Organization’s custody, possession, or control,” and that Cohen objected “on the grounds that [the request] called for production of privileged communications, among other things.” (Br. 8-9). Although in the ordinary course, the USAO-SDNY would not comment on investigative requests or demands made to third parties, particularly those from a separate office undertaking its own, independent investigation, in light of the representations made by Cohen’s counsel, USAO-SDNY contacted the SCO about these representations and understands they are not accurate. In particular, the SCO did not request that the Trump Organization produce “all communications” by Cohen in the Trump Organization’s possession or control irrespective of subject matter or privilege. Indeed, the request made by the SCO was considerably narrower, and specifically omitted, among other things, any documents that were protected by privilege or of a purely personal nature. Cohen nonetheless objected to that request for documents and, after discussions between Cohen’s counsel and the SCO, the SCO decided not to seek production at that time. That Cohen sought to preclude the Trump Organization from producing these third party communications belies both (i) his general assertion of cooperation, and (ii) his stated principal interest in protecting attorney-client communications. Indeed, a careful review of Cohen’s motion papers reveals that he does not purport to have personally produced any documents to the SCO.

The intransigence pertaining to Cohen’s documents involving the Trump Organization continued over to last week’s response. While the Trump Organization (which I suspect is really who hired Hendon) did not request to be party to this fight, they did send SDNY a letter last week demanding that it return every document involving Cohen and the Trump Organization.

USAO-SDNY has already received correspondence from counsel for the Trump Organization (Cohen’s former employer), which referenced the searches conducted of Cohen’s premises and claimed:

We consider each and every communication by, between or amongst Mr. Cohen and the Trump Organization and each of its officers, directors and employees, to be subject to and protected by the attorney-client privilege and/or the work-product privilege.

As a reminder: in March, Mueller subpoenaed the Trump Organization for documents, including but not limited to Russia. That’s one reason, I suspect, that Cohen believes this raid is partly about supporting Mueller’s investigation (I wonder whether Trump Org is the entity that has started destroyed documents?).

I also pointed to this passage that suggested someone had started destroying documents.

While we have no way of knowing who or what this redacted passage refers to, we do know that the Trump Organization has recently been destroying documents — in its Panama property, in advance of the majority owner kicking them out.

Two people familiar with Fintiklis’s account said that, after his arrival, hotel employees barricaded office doors with furniture, and they added that documents were shredded. The two people said Trump Organization employees — including an executive who flew down from New York City — also blocked access to a control room that houses servers and surveillance-camera monitors.

It turns out that Trump Organization had a lawyer at yesterday’s hearing.

Early in the hearing, prosecutor Thomas McCay noted that Cohen had not (in briefs, anyway) addressed any materials seized from the Trump Organization.

McKay: Cohen “does not state whether he has retained any material from the Trump Organization when he left over one year ago.” “The silence from the Trump Organization is telling,” he adds later.

Later, Cohen’s lawyer Stephen Ryan mentioned documents pertaining to the Trump Organization — but it seems like he’s more concerned about matters involving Trump personally.

With all due respect, all of use started on Monday with a completely different matter. I want to say, there are five paragraphs in that attachment A that deal directly with seeking the papers of the President of the United States in possession of my client. It is not what the government has represented is about my client’s personal life. There are five paragraphs there. This case is that. And we spent the weekend, frankly, narrowing the issues, taking issues off the table.

Here is what I can tell you. I know that materials for TO, for the Trump Organization, are in the materials that have been seized, so there are some materials for the Trump Organization. But the key here is a priority. The Court can order a prioritization of where a special master is needed and it’s needed with respect to the papers that may contain privileged information about the President of the United States.

It seems like Judge Kimba Wood might appoint a special master for some of the seized files — perhaps those involving Trump personally — but let the taint team proceed with the rest. It’s unclear whether Trump Organization would be included or excluded if Wood gave special master treatment to Trump materials.

One other note. While I don’t think it’d be among the five paragraphs pertaining to Trump in the SDNY seizure (because the SDNY is supposed to be attenuated from the Mueller investigation), Buzzfeed reported that Michael Cohen actually continued to pursue the Trump Tower Moscow deal far later into 2016 than previously revealed, in part working with a former GRU colonel, only canceling a trip to St. Petersburg, which was held from June 16-18, 2016, at the last minute.

Sater hoped to push the deal forward by attending the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum with Cohen in June 2016. Considered the most important economic gathering in Russia, the forum is regularly attended by business executives and top politicians, including President Vladimir Putin. The former Russian intelligence officer helped arrange an invitation to the conference for both Sater and Cohen, the sources said.

But neither Cohen nor Sater attended. Sources said Cohen canceled at the last minute and put the Moscow deal on hold until after the Republican National Convention. After Trump won the presidential election, the Trump Organization announced it would no longer be working on international deals, and Sater stopped working on the project.

Last year, after Sater, Cohen, and the Trump Organization turned over emails and documents to congressional and special counsel investigators, details leaked about the Trump Moscow deal and the attempt to get VTB to finance it.

Buzzfeed notes that Sater’s emails include details of these later negotiations. And SDNY has already obtained Cohen’s emails.

(Side note: if Cohen really was planning on going to St. Petersburg on anything but a 3-day cruise vacation, but canceled at the last minute, he would have had to have gone through the effort of getting a visa, which would be in …a  passport. And yet no visa for Russia was in the passport Cohen shared with Buzzfeed last year.)

In my piece yesterday, I noted that Cohen and Trump seem very concerned about policing responsiveness, keeping the SDNY review within the scope of the warrants with which the material got seized (and frankly, that’s an issue that even the most ardent Trump hater ought to support, some efforts to prevent a fishing expedition). But now that SDNY has secured the materials and prevented them from being destroyed like Trump Organization’s Panama documents were, Mueller could certainly obtain his own warrant for some of the seized materials.

Update: According to Axios, not even the Trump Organization knows what Cohen might have done on behalf of the Trump Organization.

  • Cohen knows more about some elements of Trump’s life than anyone else — because some stuff, Ivanka doesn’t want to know.

[snip]

People at the Trump Organization don’t even really know everything he does. It’s all side deals and off-the-books stuff. Trump doesn’t even fully know; he knows some but not everything.”

It’s Not Hannity’s Pee Tape that Matters

Late afternoon on Sunday, Margaret Sullivan wrote a column arguing that Donald Trump might survive his own Saturday Night Massacre of firing Rod Rosenstein or Robert Mueller. The reason Trump might survive where Nixon didn’t, she argues, is Sean Hannity.

Nixon didn’t have Fox News in his corner.

President Trump does — and that might make all the difference if he were to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein or even special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

The pro-Trump media, led by Fox, would give cover, and huge swaths of Americans would be encouraged to believe that the action was not only justified but absolutely necessary.

You can see it coming.

Night after night — for many months — Trump’s sycophant-in-chief, Sean Hannity, has been softening the ground. And his message is sinking in.

In a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, three of four Republicans said they believed the Justice Department and the FBI are actively working to undermine Trump.

“Hannity has been poisoning the well for Mueller’s ‘deeply corrupt’ investigation and laying the groundwork to support the president if he seeks an authoritarian recourse,” wrote Matthew Gertz, of the progressive watchdog group Media Matters for America. That was back in October.

Six months, five convictions and more than a dozen indictments later, that poison has done its job.

Less than 24 hours later, Michael Cohen’s lawyer revealed the name of the third client to whom Cohen claimed to have provided legal advice he wanted to protect under attorney-client privilege, a person who — Cohen had claimed in a brief Sunday, hadn’t wanted his name disclosed. “The client’s name that is involved is Sean Hannity.

In response to the ensuing uproar over learning he was the hidden Client 3, Hannity offered a series of contradictory statements, presumably designed to tamp down any speculation that Cohen had negotiated a hush payment for the star, but which only served to make Cohen’s legal claims more specious.

Michael Cohen has never represented me in any matter. I never retained him, received an invoice, or paid legal fees. I have occasionally had brief discussions with him about legal questions about which I wanted his input and perspective.

I assumed those conversations were confidential, but to be absolutely clear they never involved any matter between me and a third-party.

In response to some wild speculation, let me make clear that I did not ask Michael Cohen to bring this proceeding on my behalf, I have no personal interest in this proceeding, and, in fact, asked that my de minimis discussions with Michael Cohen, which dealt almost exclusively about real estate, not be made a part of this proceeding.

As I joked, Hannity said he had eight lawyers. I wonder which three different lawyers wrote these statements, and whether one of them was the other lawyer he shares with Donald Trump, Jay Sekulow.

So Cohen advised Hannity “almost exclusively about real estate,” which in this crowd sometimes means money laundering, and not about buying off Playboy bunnies.

But what are the other conversations about?

Hannity has played even more of a role in protecting Trump than Sullivan makes out. It’s not just that he fed the uproar over Trump’s lawyer being raided. But he did an interview with Julian Assange in January 2017 that helped seed the narrative that Russia didn’t hand the DNC files to Wikileaks. More grotesquely, Hannity fed the conspiracy theories about Seth Rich (I hope the multiple entities that are suing Hannity over that will demand discovery on any claimed privileged conversations about the topic with Trump’s lawyer).

Sure, the matters on which Cohen purportedly gave legal advice to Hannity might be about buying a condo.

But given the effort Cohen made to protect those conversations from the eyes of the FBI, they also might involve coordination on some of the more insidious pushback on the Russian story.

SDNY Will Be Forced to Talk about Crimes Involving the President Today

At 2PM today, in a court room in southern Manhattan, a lawyer someone hired last Wednesday to represent Donald Trump, Joanna Hendon, will push prosecutors from the Southern District of New York to explain that they have probable cause to believe crimes involving the president have been committed. Here’s why.

Last Monday, the FBI served Michael Cohen warrants listing crimes known to pertain to his taxi medallion businesses and his efforts to suppress information about Trump’s embarrassing sexual behavior, though the warrants themselves probably listed bank fraud, wire fraud, and campaign finance violations as the crimes. “[T]he riders to the search warrants – copies of which have been provided to Cohen – identify the federal criminal statutes under which Cohen is being investigated,” the government emphasized in its memo.

The taxi medallion stuff has no known tie to Trump. The hush arrangements clearly do, but at least in the case of Stormy Daniels, Trump and Cohen have both publicly denied an attorney-client role, which the government pointed out. “President Trump has publicly denied knowing that Cohen paid Clifford, and suggested to reporters that they had to ‘ask Michael’ about the payment.” It’s certainly possible Cohen has claimed to have firewalled Trump in other hush payments in the same effort to avoid campaign finance violations; to the extent that Trump has not been a formal party in those agreements, he may have likewise waived privilege.

And then there’s the crime-fraud exception to privilege, which the government invokes four times in its response to Cohen, describing how an investigative team can legally access such materials without approval from Cohen or his client if a judge okays it.

[T]he Filter Team will review them to determine whether the material is: (1) not privileged, (2) potentially privileged, (3) requires redaction, and/or (4) potentially meets an applicable exception (for example, the crime-fraud exception). To be clear, under no circumstances will a potentially privileged document or a document potentially subject to the crime-fraud exception be provided to or described to the Investigative Team without the consent of the privilege holder or his/her counsel, or the court’s approval. If the Filter Team is unable to clarify a document’s category, or if there is an exception to the privilege that applies to particular material, such as the crime-fraud exception, or any waiver of the privilege – the Filter Team will (1) confer with counsel for the privilege holder at the appropriate time and before any such material is shared with the Investigative Team and, if no agreement can be reached, submit the material under seal to an appropriate court for a determination as to whether the material is privileged;

[snip]

In the face of inaccurate and/or overbroad claims of privilege, the USAO-SDNY would be seriously prejudiced if it were not able, through a Filter Team, to evaluate the validity of such claims. As Judge Barbara Jones explained in permitting review by a filter team, “[w]ithout the benefit of such a review, the privilege team would likely be unable to argue, for example, that no attorney-client privilege attached to the communication because of the crime-fraud exception, or that a document should be available for use at trial, regardless of work-product contents, because of necessity and unavailability by other means.” [my emphasis]

Even though the FBI informed Cohen he was raided as the subject of an investigation pertaining to his own business, he fought the memo by invoking the part of the US Attorney’s Manual pertaining to witnesses, not subjects, which SDNY corrected.

Cohen’s reliance on the USAM misplaced, but he invokes the wrong section. Cohen cites to section 9-19.220 of the USAM, which, as Cohen points out, applies to “attorneys who are not suspects” of a criminal investigations. See Br. at 22; USAM § 9-19.220 (noting the procedure to be followed when privileged materials are sought from a “disinterested third party”). Cohen, however, is not the disinterested third party contemplated by the USAM. The applicable provision is that which applies when the attorney is a “suspect, subject or target” of the investigation.

And even though he was told he was being investigated for crimes unrelated to it, his lawyers nevertheless treated the raid as part of the Mueller investigation. Their description of communications with SDNY, for example, begins this way, followed by several redacted lines.

On April 9, 2018, Mr. Cohen’s legal counsel was advised in a telephone call by an Assistant United States Attorney from the Southern District of New York, that the Office of Special Counsel (Robert Mueller) had “referred a portion of” the subject matter of the warrants to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. Id. ¶ 31. Each page of the attachments to the search warrants contains a footer with the date “2017.08.02” (August 2, 2017)—that happens to be the same date that the Office of Special Counsel’s jurisdiction was amended by the Deputy Attorney General. One obvious and credible explanation is that the attachments listing the subject matter of the warrant used by the U.S. Attorney’s Office were drafted by the Office of Special Counsel as earlier as that date. [three lines redacted]

The government, in addition to mocking Cohen’s assumption based off the footer metadata, reveals what that redaction hides: Cohen speculated, “see Br. at 10, that the SCO drafted the search warrants.”

Nevertheless, both sides treat Cohen’s attempt to treat this as a question of the Russia investigation seriously. The government provides three pieces of evidence to describe why Cohen couldn’t be trusted to turn these materials over pursuant to a subpoena — because the crimes themselves involve fraud and deception, because he had, by Friday, already invoked the Fifth in the Stormy Daniels civil suit suggesting he’d withhold documents here as well, and because a tantalizingly redacted passage that suggests Cohen or someone else has already started destroying evidence…

In addition, however, the government does contest Cohen’s claim that he fully cooperated with any of the three Russia investigation his lawyer addresses at length in his declaration, which (having treated this raid as part of the Mueller investigation rather than pertaining to separate crimes) he uses to argue that Cohen could be trusted to turn over documents willingly. For example, the government notes that Cohen himself has said he didn’t cooperate with the Congressional investigations (and wasn’t treated as a target).

It appears that Cohen was not a target of those investigations. Additionally, while Cohen claims in his motion to have been cooperative, he offers no support for this assertion. Publicly, Cohen suggested the opposite, telling Time Magazine that he declined a voluntary request from Congress because it was “too broad.”

Even better, and critically important to the Trump filing submitted last night, is where SDNY fact checks the Cohen claim, backed by his lawyer’s sworn declaration, that he hadn’t fully cooperated with Mueller’s investigation because Mueller asked for everything.

Cohen also states that the SCO “had requested that the Trump Organization produce all of Mr. Cohen’s communications that were within the Trump Organization’s custody, possession, or control,” and that Cohen objected “on the grounds that [the request] called for production of privileged communications, among other things.” (Br. 8-9). Although in the ordinary course, the USAO-SDNY would not comment on investigative requests or demands made to third parties, particularly those from a separate office undertaking its own, independent investigation, in light of the representations made by Cohen’s counsel, USAO-SDNY contacted the SCO about these representations and understands they are not accurate. In particular, the SCO did not request that the Trump Organization produce “all communications” by Cohen in the Trump Organization’s possession or control irrespective of subject matter or privilege. Indeed, the request made by the SCO was considerably narrower, and specifically omitted, among other things, any documents that were protected by privilege or of a purely personal nature. Cohen nonetheless objected to that request for documents and, after discussions between Cohen’s counsel and the SCO, the SCO decided not to seek production at that time. That Cohen sought to preclude the Trump Organization from producing these third party communications belies both (i) his general assertion of cooperation, and (ii) his stated principal interest in protecting attorney-client communications. Indeed, a careful review of Cohen’s motion papers reveals that he does not purport to have personally produced any documents to the SCO.

The intransigence pertaining to Cohen’s documents involving the Trump Organization continued over to last week’s response. While the Trump Organization (which I suspect is really who hired Hendon) did not request to be party to this fight, they did send SDNY a letter last week demanding that it return every document involving Cohen and the Trump Organization.

USAO-SDNY has already received correspondence from counsel for the Trump Organization (Cohen’s former employer), which referenced the searches conducted of Cohen’s premises and claimed:

We consider each and every communication by, between or amongst Mr. Cohen and the Trump Organization and each of its officers, directors and employees, to be subject to and protected by the attorney-client privilege and/or the work-product privilege.

As a reminder: in March, Mueller subpoenaed the Trump Organization for documents, including but not limited to Russia. That’s one reason, I suspect, that Cohen believes this raid is partly about supporting Mueller’s investigation (I wonder whether Trump Org is the entity that has started destroyed documents?). And that’s one reason, I suspect, that Cohen’s team made a bid to review the seized documents for responsiveness (they use the word 13 times in their filing) before SDNY’s taint team gets the documents.

That is, in addition to whatever other crimes Cohen has facilitated for the Trump Organization, he wants to make sure that the government can’t use materials seized in this raid to investigate other crimes, such as those Cohen might be suspected of in relation to the Mueller investigation.

Having failed to cooperate with both the congressional and Mueller investigations, which is one reason SDNY cites for having used a warrant rather than a subpoena, Cohen now wants to reset the clock so he can treat this raid as a subpoena rather than a warrant so he gets to decide what is responsive to the crimes he is being investigated for or even to the demands of the Russia investigation.

Frankly, to the extent that Mueller might use Cohen’s own crimes as an excuse to search his documents (which the FBI seems to have sorted, even to the level of describe specific checks on the search warrant returns) and his devices (which they seized) to find materials relating to the Russian investigation, I’m sympathetic to Cohen’s case. Sure, Mueller can and may already be working on obtaining warrants to search for materials he might use now that the devices are in the government’s possession. But given how advanced the Mueller investigation is, it seems the government should be expected to obtain separate probable cause warrants rather than rely on plain view doctrine to search for materials on Cohen’s devices relating to Russia.

All of which brings us to the letter Hendon submitted last night on behalf of Trump personally. Herndon actually goes several steps further than Cohen’s team did (while he asked to do the first review, he made a concerted case to appoint a Special Master to do it), asking that Cohen get copies of the seized materials, after which Cohen will decide what pertains to Trump, which Trump will then get to review to decide whether he will assert privilege, only after which SDNY will be permitted to object.

1. Enjoining the government from using a taint team to conduct an initial privilege review;

2. Directing the government to provide Mr. Cohen and his counsel with a copy of the materials seized from Mr. Cohen by the government on April 9, 2018;

3. Directing Mr. Cohen and his counsel, after the government provides Mr. Cohen and his counsel with a copy of the seized materials, to identify to the President all seized materials that relate to him in any way and to provide a copy of those materials to him and his counsel;

4. Directing the President and his counsel, after they review the materials provided by Mr. Cohen, to identify for the government’s taint team all materials over which the President asserts privilege;

5. Authorizing the government’s taint team to raise any objections to the President’s assertions of privilege with the Court; and

6. Prohibiting the government’s taint team from providing the Investigation Team with (a) any materials over which the President asserts a privilege without objection from the taint team, and (b) any materials that the Court rules are privileged over the taint team’s objection.

This effectively flips the process on its head, turning the seizure back into a subpoena situation. And while Herndon doesn’t make this as obvious as Cohen’s team did, they intend the Cohen and Trump reviews to include a review of responsiveness as well as privilege.

The level of protection provided to the privilege-holder in the familiar context of a grand jury subpoena duces tecum should be accorded to the President here. When a grand jury subpoena for documents is served, the recipient, with the advice of his counsel, reviews the documents in his possession and produces the responsive documents, with one critical exception: with notice to the government, the recipient withholds all responsive documents that he and his counsel conclude are subject to a privilege, identifying such documents in some fashion without disclosing the privileged contents, often by means of a privilege log. [my emphasis]

Curiously, Herndon doesn’t contest that the government has good reason to believe materials have gotten destroyed, but says that now that the government has obtained the documents, any risk of destruction is gone. Here’s the entirety of the section where Herndon addresses the government’s need to seize these documents.

Of course, here, the government chose not to serve a grand jury subpoena, but instead to execute search warrants on an attorney’s office, residences, and effects. The government asserts that this truly extraordinary measure was necessary to prevent the destruction of evidence. (Gov’t Opp. at 14.) But even if that is true, the exigency has dissipated entirely, as the seized materials are now in the government’s control, beyond any of the potential misuses of the materials that motivated the seizure in the first place. Therefore, the fact that the government seized privileged documents rather than subpoenaing them is now irrelevant – except for the profoundly important privilege issues that the government’s unilateral and peremptory action has raised.

The government insists that it is “entitled” to the seized materials. (Id. at 2, 19.) However, to the extent the government seized privileged information, it is not entitled to have that information, much less review it. See, e.g., von Bulow, 828 F.2d at 99 (recognizing the “urgent” “need for timely protection [from disclosure] … where the discovery sought is … blanketed by the absolute attorney-client privilege”). It simply cannot be the case that by acting in such an aggressive, intrusive, and unorthodox manner, the government has somehow created an entitlement on its own part to eliminate the President’s right to a full assertion of every privilege argument available to him. Indeed, if the Court were to endorse the use of a taint team under these circumstances, raids of law offices would likely become more commonplace, as they would permit the government to wrest from the privilege-holder the ability, in the first instance, to assert privilege over documents and rightfully withhold them.

The government has done what it has done, and it has thereby protected against every notional evil it could have articulated in favor of its action. It no longer has any cognizable interest in proceeding by any procedure other than that which is typically employed to ensure that the attorney-client privilege is fully protected.

Note what has fallen out of the discussion of exigency? The crime-fraud exception, which SDNY had made clear it expected to find ample evidence of.

Elsewhere, Herndon does mention SDNY’s expectations of finding materials that fall under the crime-fraud exception, but she suggests that a taint team cannot be trusted to access the documents first because it might provide the investigative team documents that are clearly not privileged, a non sequitur to the point of crime-fraud exception documents.

The government has assured the Court that “under no circumstances will a potentially privileged document or a document potentially subject to the crime-fraud exception be provided to or described to the Investigative Team without the consent of the privilege-holder or his/her counsel, or the court’s approval.” (Gov’t Opp. at 6.) Presumably the government intends by those words to comfort the Court, but the government simply cannot make that guarantee. See, e.g., Lek, 2018 WL 417596, at *1-3. As discussed above, under the government’s proposal, the taint team will turn over to the Investigative Team all materials that the taint team itself deems not privileged. If such materials contain any privileged information that the taint team failed to identify, the President’s privilege will be irremediably violated. The President, the public, and the government have a vital interest in ensuring the integrity of the privilege review process, and the taint team procedure is plainly inadequate to the task. [my emphasis]

Remarkably, Herndon suggests that the public (!!!) has an interest in letting criminal suspect Michael Cohen, who has already proven uncooperative with valid investigations, sort through his materials to decide whether the government should have documents that prove he abused his position as a lawyer to commit fraud on behalf of a client.

As the government has said, it’s not clear Cohen has any clients besides Donald Trump.

Which is why I suspect SDNY is going to provide details in court today of the crimes that it has probable cause to believe were committed. Because, in the face of an otherwise compelling claim that this is an exceptional case, what SDNY is investigating is still that Cohen served not to provide legal advice to Donald Trump, but to provide legal cover for fraud.

I have no idea what Kimba Wood will do in response (and I suspect SDNY will challenge the legal precedents Herndon has invoked).

But I suspect we’re going to hear a lot more about how SDNY has reason to believe that Michael Cohen hasn’t been serving as a lawyer for Trump, he has been serving as a fixer for him.

And Stormy Daniels will be looking on as evidence of that fact.

Update: In their filing laying out the scope of what Michael Cohen considers privileged this morning, his lawyers make their concerns about plain view doctrine even more explicit.

The choice here is between allowing the Government to make an end run around the Fourth Amendment by scooping up and viewing all of the communications seized in the search of a lawyer’s office (in this case, all of the documents and data of the President’s personal attorney) regardless of whether the documents seized were the subject of the judge’s original probable cause determination, or appointing a neutral third party to conduct that review. If the government can obtain a search warrant for particular items but then seize and review everything in an attorney’s office, the protections of the Fourth Amendment are meaningless.

[snip]

In addition, a Special Master should be appointed in the interest of the administration of justice to ensure that the Government does not have access to materials for which they have not yet shown would be obtained through a valid search warrant through a showing of probable cause. In obtaining the search warrant, the Government had to make a showing of probable cause that Mr. Cohen is in possession of evidence of a crime. The search warrant is designed to allow the Government to obtain that material – and that material only.

And they again invite SDNY to lay out evidence that this stuff isn’t covered under the crime-fraud exception.

Moreover, without proffering any evidence of its applicability, the government referred to the “crime-fraud” exception in its opposition brief, (Gov’t Opp. Br. at 6, 10), and during oral argument. 4/13/18 Tr. at 28. The government also referred to its search warrant application – which we have never seen – as including “evidence for the crimes that were set forth in [a] detailed affidavit.” 4/13/18 Tr. at 60. Since there is, according to the government, an “ongoing grand jury investigation” (which is required to remain secret), it would most certainly be embarrassing and “detrimental” to Mr. Cohen’s clients if he were to reveal their identities publicly.

SDNY Doesn’t Think Michael Cohen Is Much of a Lawyer

In this post, I noted that a bunch of what got seized in a raid of Michael Cohen’s home and office on Monday wouldn’t be privileged.

But boy oh boy was I being nice compared to the way the prosecutors from Southern District of New York dismissed the notion that Cohen was much of a lawyer in this filing opposing Cohen (and Trump’s) efforts to prevent FBI from going through Cohen’s seized documents.

Housekeeping

Before I get into that, a few clarifications on questions we’ve had. First, the filing makes it clear that the referral from Mueller’s office came months ago. SDNY has their own taint team.

The FBI agents who seized materials pursuant to the search warrants were filter agents who are not part of the investigative team and have been walled off from those AUSAs or FBI personnel assigned to the investigation (the “Investigative Team”).

The venue in SDNY is primary. Indeed, they mock Cohen’s representation that Mueller’s team wrote this warrant application by pointing out his misunderstood the metadata of it.

Although Cohen accurately states that the Special Counsel’s Office (“SCO”) referred this investigation to the USAO-SDNY, the investigation has proceeded independent from the SCO’s investigation. Cohen’s speculation, see Br. at 10, that the SCO drafted the search warrants is unfounded. The date in the bottom corner of the attachments is the date that the USAO-SDNY’s standard form search warrant rider was most recently updated for use by the office.

Given that Mueller handed off this part of the investigation entirely, then, it’s highly unlikely Mueller thinks there’s evidence of coordination between Wikileaks and the Access Hollywood video, as I laid out here (which is not to say Mueller isn’t happy that SDNY has raided Cohen).

In addition, the filing makes it clear that Geoffrey Berman has recused, with Robert Khuzami acting as US Attorney for this investigation.

The filing also reveals the scope of the search: “Michael Cohen’s residence, hotel room, office, safety deposit box, and electronic devices,” even while noting that they limited their search to certain categories of documents.

Not much of a lawyer

The lawyers from the famously self-important SDNY spend much of their brief not just demonstrating that Cohen was not serving as an attorney in the seized materials, but that he’s not much of a lawyer in any case.

The repeatedly note he has few if any clients besides Trump.

Based on information gathered in the investigation to date, the USAO-SDNY and FBI have reason to believe that Cohen has exceedingly few clients and a low volume of potentially privileged communications.

In a long passage arguing — as I did — that much of what was seized would not be protected by privilege, they sniff about how Cohen differs from a “traditional law office,” mocking the idea that he “holds himself out as a practicing attorney.”

Although Cohen is an attorney, he also has several other business interests and sources of income. The searches are the result of a months-long investigation into Cohen, and seek evidence of crimes, many of which have nothing to do with his work as an attorney, but rather relate to Cohen’s own business dealings. As set forth below, unlike a search of a traditional law office, the information gathered thus far in the investigation suggests that the overwhelming majority of evidence seized during the searches will not be privileged material, but rather will relate to Cohen’s business dealings.

Nevertheless, because Cohen holds himself out as a practicing attorney, each of the search warrants contains the following provision: Additionally, review of the items described in this Attachment shall be conducted pursuant to established procedures designed to collect evidence in a manner reasonably designed to protect any attorney-client or other applicable privilege.

When appropriate, the procedures shall include use of a designated “filter team,” separate and apart from the investigative team, in order to address potential privileges.

In one redaction, they suggest something about Cohen’s recent behavior suggests he couldn’t be practicing much law.

Cohen’s discussion in his own memo of the Strategic Partnership between him and Patton Boggs is entirely redacted (it may be included in the significant redaction on page 3), but in the government’s memo much of it remains unredacted. Which means this redaction might state, in more damning terms, what is described elsewhere — that they cut him off on March 2, in part because he had brought in only 5 clients for the $500,000 a year he got paid.

SDNY goes on at more length about how weak Cohen’s claim that his marketing relationship with Patton Boggs creates a great risk of privilege in the materials that got seized.

Second, Cohen’s claim to have privileged communicatons through a law firm that he describes as “Law Firm-1” omits facts about his relationship with Law Firm-1 that render it unlikely that a significant volume of attorney-client privileged material – if any – was seized in connection with Cohen’s relationship with that law firm. Specifically, on or about March 1, 2017, Cohen—through his wholly-owned entity, Michael D. Cohen & Associates P.C.—entered into a “Strategic Alliance Agreement” with the law firm (the “Agreement”).6 Among other things, the Agreement provided that Cohen would receive a $500,000 annual “strategic alliance fee” from the law firm. Under certain circumstances, Cohen would also receive a percentage of the fees charged by the law firm for clients introduced to the law firm by Cohen. The Agreement also spelled out other aspects of the relationship between Cohen and the law firm, including: (1) Cohen would be given an office at the law firm; (2) Cohen would maintain his own computer server system not connected to the law firm’s computer server system; and (3) the law firm would not have a key to Cohen’s office. In addition, based upon conversations with a representative of the law firm, the USAO-SDNY understands as follows, in substance and in part: (1) Cohen did not have an email address associated with the firm; (2) Cohen did not have access to the firm’s shared drives or document systems—and vice versa; (3) Cohen’s documents were to be kept in a locked filing cabinet; and (4) Cohen did not have access to any of the firm’s client files.

What is left (and what I’ll deal with in a follow-up) is the way Cohen wields his relationship with the President to try to shield his files.

Earlier in the Week, Trump May Have Looked Presidential; on Friday, He Looked Like a Criminal Suspect


Sarah Huckabee Sanders tweeted out this image last night, stating,

Last night the President put our adversaries on notice: when he draws a red line he enforces it. (Inside the Situation Room as President is briefed on Syria – Official WH photos by Shealah Craighead)

While she didn’t actually make the claim but implied it, the photo couldn’t have been taken “last night” (that is, Friday, just before the decision to bomb Syria), because Mike Pence was in Peru on Friday. My guess, given that Mike Pompeo is not in the frame, is it may have been taken on Thursday during the CIA Director’s confirmation hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

In any case, the significance of Sanders using this dated photo to show Trump looking presidential has little to do with Pence. Rather, it has to do with Trump.

The White House, presumably, doesn’t have a picture of Trump looking presidential on Friday to offer (Sanders would have been better tweeting out Trump’s Friday speech).

And there’s a likely reason for that. Rather than acting presidential on Friday, Trump was acting like a criminal suspect, calling his consigliere, Michael Cohen, while he was blowing off a court hearing to hang out with mobbed up friends, to try to understand the full impact of a FBI raid on the two of them.

As his lawyers went to court in New York on Friday to try to block prosecutors from reading files that were seized from the personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, this week, Mr. Trump found himself increasingly isolated in mounting a response. He continued to struggle to hire a new criminal lawyer, and some of his own aides were reluctant to advise him about a response for fear of being dragged into a criminal investigation themselves.

The raids on Mr. Cohen came as part of a monthslong federal investigation based in New York, court records show, and were sweeping in their breadth. In addition to searching his home, office and hotel room, F.B.I. agents seized material from Mr. Cohen’s cellphones, tablet, laptop and safe deposit box, according to people briefed on the warrants. Prosecutors revealed in court documents that they had already secretly obtained many of Mr. Cohen’s emails.

Mr. Trump called Mr. Cohen on Friday to “check in,” according to two people briefed on the call. Depending on what else was discussed, the call could be problematic, as lawyers typically advise their clients against discussing investigations.

Reports are that Trump sees more risk from this investigation than he does from the Mueller one (I’ll post later why I think that’s not quite right, but a lot depends on what happens tomorrow in court). Whichever investigation will end up getting Trump, I agree with Adam Davidson (though he, like virtually all journalists, gets NYT’s self-appointed red line wrong) that if the FBI is able to go through Cohen’s files thoroughly, it will bring Trump’s presidency to an end.

There are lots of details and surprises to come, but the endgame of this Presidency seems as clear now as those of Iraq and the financial crisis did months before they unfolded. Last week, federal investigators raided the offices of Michael Cohen, the man who has been closer than anybody to Trump’s most problematic business and personal relationships. This week, we learned that Cohen has been under criminal investigation for months—his e-mails have been read, presumably his phones have been tapped, and his meetings have been monitored. Trump has long declared a red line: Robert Mueller must not investigate his businesses, and must only look at any possible collusion with Russia. That red line is now crossed and, for Trump, in the most troubling of ways. Even if he were to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and then had Mueller and his investigation put on ice, and even if—as is disturbingly possible—Congress did nothing, the Cohen prosecution would continue. Even if Trump pardons Cohen, the information the Feds have on him can become the basis for charges against others in the Trump Organization.

This is the week we know, with increasing certainty, that we are entering the last phase of the Trump Presidency. This doesn’t feel like a prophecy; it feels like a simple statement of the apparent truth. I know dozens of reporters and other investigators who have studied Donald Trump and his business and political ties. Some have been skeptical of the idea that President Trump himself knowingly colluded with Russian officials. It seems not at all Trumpian to participate in a complex plan with a long-term, uncertain payoff. Collusion is an imprecise word, but it does seem close to certain that his son Donald, Jr., and several people who worked for him colluded with people close to the Kremlin; it is up to prosecutors and then the courts to figure out if this was illegal or merely deceitful. We may have a hard time finding out what President Trump himself knew and approved.

However, I am unaware of anybody who has taken a serious look at Trump’s business who doesn’t believe that there is a high likelihood of rampant criminality.

As well as Davidson describes this moment, I think the photo does so even better. A White House concerned first and foremost about the president’s image has no photo of him looking presidential before “he” made the decision to make an illegal military strike. And the reason for that may well be that he was far more occupied with his legal jeopardy than with doing his job.

Michael Cohen’s Claim the Steele Dossier Is False Is Not Affirmed in His Lawyer’s Declaration

As you know, I’ve long asserted that the Steele dossier has not been proven — and I extend that caution to the recent report about investigators having found evidence that Michael Cohen traveled from Germany to Czech Republic sometime in 2016.

But as I was writing about something else I couldn’t help but notice something about this paragraph from his lawyers’ motion to show cause (basically, his request to put someone other than the government — preferably his own lawyers — in charge of determining which of the materials they’ve seized are subject to attorney-client privilege).

This arduous journey began for Mr. Cohen over 16 months ago with the publication of his name in the so-called Steele dossier. The references to Mr. Cohen in the Steele dossier are false and have been completely debunked. Nevertheless, because of those false allegations, Mr. Cohen has had to spend the last 16 months defending himself in front of numerous government investigatory agencies.

It appears in the statement of fact section, meaning it is supposed to be backed by a statement in the declaration submitted by his attorney, Todd Harrison, as almost every other sentence in that section is. For comparison, note how the paragraph just before the Steele dossier one cites each assertion to a paragraph of Harrison’s declaration.

On November 8, 2016, Mr. Trump was elected President of the United States. Id. ¶ 9. Mr. Cohen resigned from the Trump Organization on January 20, 2017. Id. ¶ 10. Following Mr. Cohen’s resignation from the Trump Organization, President Trump allowed Mr. Cohen to continue using the title, “Personal Attorney to President Donald J. Trump,” in his email signature block. Id. ¶ 10. Mr. Cohen has served as Mr. Trump’s personal legal counsel from at least 2006 to the present. Id. ¶ 11.

As it is, the government called out Cohen for playing fast and loose with one of his claims — that the government seized his family’s health records.

Cohen also suggests that the USAO-SDNY seized personal communications with Cohen’s family and medical records.Notably, this assertion does not appear in the sworn affidavit of Cohen’s counsel, Todd Harrison, and to the extent the unsworn claim is true, it is likely because such records exist on Cohen’s electronic devices, which were expressly covered by the search warrants.

And the government calls out at more length the way he makes a carefully couched claim that he cooperated with ongoing investigations. (Cohen’s attorneys play fast and loose with their claims in one other area I’ll return to.)

But the entire paragraph claiming that the investigation into him derives from the Steele dossier — aside from being false both in this investigation into his taxi business and hush payments, and false in the larger Russia investigation that also pertains to his attempts to set up a Trump Tower in Moscow — is not backed by a sworn declaration at all. Indeed, Harrison is silent on the issue of the Steele dossier.

Cohen would like Judge Kimba Wood to believe that the dossier has been debunked. But his lawyer is unwilling to stake his own legal reputation on the claim.

This is a more subtle version of what Cohen tried in his declaration to the House Intelligence Committee. That declaration stopped short of outright denying the dossier’s allegations (aside that he went to Prague) then, and this one falls even further short.

So whether or not Cohen went to Prague, it seems that his lawyer is unwilling to claim the other things in the dossier are false.

Update: I’ve come up with something that may be a plausible explanation of the new Cohen in Prague news: Buzzfeed hired Anthony Ferrante to conduct an investigation into the dossier claims, in hopes of corroborating enough of it to defeat the several lawsuits — including Cohen’s — against it. His team is precisely the kind of investigator that might be able to scan border crossings with sufficient attention to see Cohen traveling across one. Certainly, if they found anything they would also share with Mueller’s team.

How Yevgeniy Nikulin Might Play into the Mueller Investigation

For three reasons, Yevgeniy Nikulin, the Russian hacker alleged to be behind massive breaches of the LinkedIn and MySpace hacks, is in the news of late.

  • The report that Michael Cohen was tracked traveling from Germany to Czech Republic in 2016 has raised questions about whether both Cohen and Nikulin were in Prague at the same time, Mohammed Atta-like
  • Nikulin was suddenly extradited from Prague some weeks ago
  • His (Russian-provided) lawyer says he’ll entertain a plea deal

All of which provides a good opportunity to lay out what role he may have (or may be said to have) played in the DNC hack-and-leak.

The Michael Cohen in Prague story

The McClatchy report describing Robert Mueller receiving evidence of Cohen traveling from Germany to Czech Republic and some unknown date in 2016 seems to derive from outside investigators who have shared information with Mueller, not from Mueller’s team itself (which is consistent with his locked down shop). As such, it falls far short of being a confirmation of a meeting, or even validation that Mueller has confirmed any intelligence shared with his investigators. Moreover, the report has little detail as to timing, either of the visit or when Mueller actually got this intelligence.

And while it took a bit of time (Cohen can be forgiven for the delay because he apparently has very urgent business hanging with his homies smoking cigars), he did deny this report, offering the same partial story he offered last year.

That said, given the claimed timing, any coincidental presence in Prague by both Cohen and Nikulin is unlikely. Cohen’s presence in Prague is said to have roughly aligned with that reported in the dossier, so August or September. According to the FBI’s arrest affidavit for Nikulin he passed from Belarus into Poland on October 1, 2016, and probably was still there when posting from Warsaw on October 3; Nikulin was arrested in Prague on October 5. So unless Cohen went to Prague during his known October 2016 trip to England (definitely a possibility, but inconsistent with the dossier reporting), then they would no more have met in Prague (or planned to) than Mohammed Atta and Iraq’s Ahmad Samir al-Ani did.

The sudden Nikulin extradition

That said, I do think the sudden Nikulin extradition, even as pro-Russian Czech President Milos Zeman fought with Czech Justice Minister Robert Pelikan over it — even to the point of threatening to replace him — is worth noting. That’s true, first of all, because it appears Paul Ryan — purportedly on vacation with his family, but making appearances with everyone but Zeman — had a hand in it.

During a visit to the Czech Republic, U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan said on March 27 that “we have every reason to believe and expect that Mr. Nikulin will be extradited to America.”

“The United States has the case to prevail on having him extradited, whether it’s the severity of the crime, which is clearly on the side of U.S., or the timing of the request for the extradition,” he told reporters.

In an interview with RFE/RL in Prague on March 26, Ryan said that the “case for extraditing [Nikulin] to America versus Russia is extremely clear.”

Ryan, who met with Prime Minister Andrej Babis and other Czech officials during his visit, told RFE/RL that he would raise the issue in those talks.

“He did violate our laws, he did hack these companies…. So the extradition claim is very legitimate,” he said. “And I just expect that the Czech system will go through its process, and at the end of that process, I am hopeful and expecting that he’ll be extradited.”

Nikulin was extradited just days later, even as the decision looked like it would be reviewed.

Zeman has since made very bizarre comments criticizing Ryan for his involvement.

Zeman said he had a different view of the Nikulin case than Justice Minister Robert Pelikan (ANO), who had given consent to the extradition of this Russian citizen to the USA, but that he fully respected the minister’s right to decide on this matter.

Apart from the United States, Russia was seeking Nikulin’s extradition, too, based on a suspected online theft.

“When Donald Trump was elected American president, (U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul) Ryan wore a black tie. The same Mr Ryan arrived in the Czech Republic (last week). He publicly stated that he had arrived basically in order to get Mr Nikulin to the United States, in which he succeeded. Well, one of the versions is that Mr Nikulin may in some way serve as a tool of the internal American political fight – to which the black tie served as well,” Zeman said.

“I do not consider this a very good solution if Czechs were to meddle in the American political situation,” Zeman added.

Ryan, who appreciated the Czech government for the extradition of Nikulin, did not meet Zeman during his recent visit to Prague without citing the reasons.

It may be that Ryan was doing the bidding of Trump. Or, more likely, Ryan may have made the move in what appears to be fairly unified NATO response to the attempted Sergei Skripal assassination.

Nikulin’s Russian-provided lawyer makes it clear they will negotiate

That said, I find it very interesting that Nikulin’s lawyer, whom the Russians asked to get involved, is explicitly already talking about a plea deal.

The legal team for Yevgeniy Nikulin, the Russian hacker accused of stealing data from LinkedIn and other American tech firms, will explore a plea deal with the U.S. government, according to Nikulin’s lawyer, Arkady Bukh.

“The likelihood of a trial is not very high,” Bukh said. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, where Nikulin’s trial would occur, “has over a 99 percent conviction rate. We are not throwing clients under the bus,” Bukh said.

[snip]

Bukh was first contacted by the Russian consulate and asked to help on the case. He  was approved on Wednesday to act as a lawyer for Nikulin by the court. Although Bukh has been in regular and sustained contact with both Nikulin’s family and the Russian consulate, he had yet to speak with his client as of Wednesday night.

The Russian consulate has expressed concerns about Nikulin’s mental condition, and Bukh said he “appears to be depressed.”

Perhaps Bukh is taking this route because the Feds have Nikulin dead to rights and a plea is the most logical approach. Perhaps Russia has learned its lesson from Roman Seleznev, the son of a prominent Duma member, who has been shipped around to different jurisdictions to have additional onerous sentences added to his prison term; I’m fairly certain there are other sealed indictments against Nikulin besides the one he was charged under that DOJ could use similarly.

Or perhaps Russia has reason to want to bury any public airing of evidence regarding what Nikulin has done or could be said to have done.

How Nikulin might be involved in the 2016 operation

I’ve long suggested that Nikulin may have had a facilitating role in the 2016 operation. That’s because credentials from his LinkedIn hack were publicly sold for a ridiculously small amount just before May 18, 2016, rather inexplicably making them available outside the tight-knit group of Russians who had been using the stolen credentials up to that point.

Almost all of the people whose email boxes were sent to Wikileaks were affected by the LinkedIn (and/or MySpace) breach, meaning passwords and emails they had used became publicly available in the middle of the Russian operation. And those emails were exfiltrated in the days immediately following, probably May 19-25, the public release of those credentials.

In other words, it is possible that stolen credentials, and not GRU hacks, obtained the emails that were shared with WikiLeaks.

None of that is to say that Russia didn’t steal the emails shared with Wikileaks or arrange that handoff.

Rather, it’s to say that there is a counter-narrative that would provide convenient plausible deniability to both the Russians and Wikileaks that may or may not actually be how those emails were obtained, but also may be all wrapped up ready to offer as a narrative to undercut the claim that GRU itself handed off the emails.

Note, too, how that timing coincides with the public claims Konstantin Kozlovsky made last year, which I laid out here.

April 28, 2015: FSB accesses Lurk servers with Kaspersky’s help.

May 18, 2016: LinkedIn credentials allegedly stolen by Yevgeniy Nikulin made widely available.

May 18, 2016: Kozlovsky arrest.

May 19-25, 2016: DNC emails shared with WikiLeaks likely exfiltrated.

October 5, 2016: Yevgeniy Nikulin arrest in Prague.

October 20, 2016: Nikulin indictment.

November 1, 2016: Date of Kozlovsky confession.

December 5, 2016: Arrest, for treason, of FSB officers Dmitry Dokuchaev and Sergey Mikhailov.

February 28, 2017: Indictment (under seal) of FSB officers, including Dmitry Dokuchaev, Alexey Belan, and Karim Bartov for Yahoo hack.

March 15, 2017: Yahoo indictment unsealed.

August 14, 2017: Kozlovsky posts November 1 confession of hacking DNC on Facebook.

November 28, 2017: Karim Baratov (co-defendant of FSB handlers) plea agreement.

December 2, 2017: Kozlovsky’s claims posted on his Facebook page.

March 30, 2018: Extradition of Nikulin.

April 2, 2018: Report that Dokuchaev accepted a plea deal.

April 17, 2018: Scheduled court appearance for Nikulin.

With each new hacker delivered into US custody, something happens in Russia that may provide an alternate narrative.

And consider that in the wake of Nikulin’s extradition, Dmitry Dokuchaev and another of the people accused of treason in Russia have made a partial confession that will, like any Nikulin plea, serve to bury much of the claimed evidence against them.

Two of the four suspects in a Russian treason case, including a former agent in the FSB’s Information Security Center, have reportedly signed plea bargains where they confess to transferring data to foreign intelligence agencies. Three sources have confirmed to the magazine RBC that former FSB agent Dmitry Dokuchaev and entrepreneur Georgy Fomchenkov reached deals with prosecutors.

One of RBC’s sources says the two suspects claim to have shared information with foreign intelligence agencies “informally,” denying that there was anything criminal about the exchange. Dokuchaev and Fomchenkov say they were only trying to help punish cyber-criminals operating outside Russia and therefore outside their jurisdiction. Lawyers for the two suspects refused to comment on the story.

As a result of the plea bargains, the two men’s trials will be fast-tracked in a special procedure where the evidence collected against them isn’t reviewed. Dokuchaev and Fomchenkov will also face lighter sentences — no more than two-thirds of Russia’s maximum 20-year sentence for treason, says one of RBC’s sources.

The other two suspects in the treason case, former FSB Information Security Center agent Sergey Mikhailov and former Kaspersky Lab computer incidents investigations head Ruslan Stoyanov, have reportedly turned down plea bargains, insisting on their innocence.

All of which is to say that Nikulin offers at least a plausible counter-explanation for the DNC hack-and-leak, one that might shift blame for the operation to non-state actors rather than GRU, which is something Vladimir Putin has been doing since Nikulin’s extradition first became likely, even if he has changed his mind about whether such non-state Russians will be celebrated or demonized upon their roll-out.

Rolling out plea deals here and in Russia may be an effort to try to sell that counter-narrative, before Robert Mueller rolls out whatever he will about the hack-and-leak in coming days.

Update: A reader notes correctly that all the dossier’s reporting on Cohen, especially that describing a meeting in Prague, post-dates the Nikulin arrest. See this post for more on the timing of the Cohen reporting, piggy-backing off of PiNC’s analysis.