Oleg Deripaska Probably Fed Both Parties Dirt in 2016 Election

As I disclosed last month, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

In this post arguing that some if not much of the Steele dossier was disinformation planted by the Russians, I noted that Chuck Grassley seemed to believe Oleg Deripaska leaked the dossier to Buzzfeed.

Grassley seems to think Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska was in on the loop of this. Deripaska is important to this story not just for because he owns Paul Manafort (he figures heavily in this worthwhile profile of Manafort). But also because he’s got ties, through Rick Davis, to John McCain. This was just rehashed last year by Circa, which has been running interference on this story.

There is a report that Manafort laid out precisely the strategy focusing on the dossier that is still the main focus of GOP pushback on the charges against Trump and his campaign (and Manafort).

It was about a week before Trump’s inauguration, and Manafort wanted to brief Trump’s team on alleged inaccuracies in a recently released dossier of memos written by a former British spy for Trump’s opponents that alleged compromising ties among Russia, Trump and Trump’s associates, including Manafort.

“On the day that the dossier came out in the press, Paul called Reince, as a responsible ally of the president would do, and said this story about me is garbage, and a bunch of the other stuff in there seems implausible,” said a personclose to Manafort.

[snip]

According to a GOP operative familiar with Manafort’s conversation with Priebus, Manafort suggested the errors in the dossier discredited it, as well as the FBI investigation, since the bureau had reached a tentative (but later aborted) agreement to pay the former British spy to continue his research and had briefed both Trump and then-President Barack Obama on the dossier.

Manafort told Priebus that the dossier was tainted by inaccuracies and by the motivations of the people who initiated it, whomhe alleged were Democratic activists and donors working in cahoots with Ukrainian government officials, according to the operative.

If Deripaska learned of the dossier — and obtained a copy from McCain or someone close to him — it would make it very easy to lay out the strategy we’re currently seeing.

It would make sense that someone working on behalf of Deripaska would leak the dossier and the Paul Manafort, working on Deripaska’s instructions, orchestrated the strategy we’ve seen since, attempting to discredit the entire Russian investigation by discrediting the dossier.

I spent much of that post suggesting other ways that Russians may have learned of the Steele dossier project so as to be able to insert disinformation in it, including via Fusion GPS’ clients Natalia Veselnitskaya or Rinat Akhmetshin. I’ve since suggested Democrats may have been discussing hiring Steele while GRU’s hackers were still in the Democrat’s email server.

But the right wing propagandists’ latest obsession offers a far more alarming suggestion: that it was Deripaska from the start who learned of the dossier and arranged to have it filled with disinformation.

Of the several stories on former DOJ organized crime head Bruce Ohr’s call logs, is this one from Byron York. It describes Christopher Steele’s discussions with Ohr in early 2016, including efforts to pitch Deripaska as a useful source on organized crime who therefore should be permitted a visa to the US.

The emails, given to Congress by the Justice Department, began on Jan. 12, 2016, when Steele sent Ohr a New Year’s greeting. Steele brought up the case of Russian aluminum magnate Oleg Deripaska (referred to in various emails as both OD and OVD), who was at the time seeking a visa to attend an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in the United States. Years earlier, the U.S. revoked Deripaska’s visa, reportedly on the basis of suspected involvement with Russian organized crime. Deripaska was close to Paul Manafort, the short-term Trump campaign chairman now on trial for financial crimes, and this year was sanctioned in the wake of Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election.

“I heard from Adam WALDMAN [a Deripaska lawyer/lobbyist] yesterday that OD is applying for another official US visa ice [sic] APEC business at the end of February,” Steele wrote in the Jan. 12 email. Steele said Deripaska was being “encouraged by the Agency guys who told Adam that the USG [United States Government] stance on [Deripaska] is softening.” Steele concluded: “A positive development it seems.”

And in February, Steele was very excited that Deripaska might be rehabilitated by the US government.

Steele said he was “circulating some recent sensitive Orbis reporting” on Deripaska that suggested Deripaska was not a “tool” of the Kremlin. Steele said he would send the reporting to a name that is redacted in the email, “as he has asked, for legal reasons I understand, for all such reporting be filtered through him (to you at DoJ and others).”

Byron goes to great lengths to assume all further conversations are about Trump and not Deripaska. He describes many of these conversations as taking place on Skype, which was not yet encrypted, confirming my belief (based in part on personal experience) that DOJ and FBI have truly shoddy operational security.

But he’s right about one thing: Steele relied on Deripaska for intelligence, and even while he was screaming about Trump’s compromise by the Russians, he was under the impression that Deripaska, who virtually owned Donald Trump’s campaign manager during most of the time Steele was digging dirt on Trump, had been purified of his corrupt ways and influence by the Kremlin.

If this is what it appears, it should be an opportunity for both sides to step back and agree, Jeebus christmas did Russia ever pawn our collective asses in 2016!, and move on to cooperating on ways to recover from all that.

That won’t happen, of course, because both sides still believe the parties were in charge of dealing the dirt, and not Russia, dealing it on both sides.

Update: For those asking for the case on disinformation, here’s a very dated post. The dossier was, on the hack-and-leak, way behind contemporary reporting and flat out embarrassingly wrong on a number of points. Per Glenn Simpson, Hillary used the dossier to decide how to respond to the hack, which would have (and may have) led her to be complacent. As for the rest, some might be rumor (such as who Page met in Russia, even though who he actually met was public). But other stuff–notably blaming Gubarev for what Prigozhin was known to be doing–almost certainly also has to be disinformation.

Update: One other point. Almost everyone in this thread appears to be missing the import of the dossier being used to feed disinformation, if that’s the case. In the same way it is important to know how Russia fed disinformation via Internet trolls and the press, it is important to understand how they fed disinformation directly to the people who were responding to the attack. Understanding that will remain critical going forward, in part because without it we won’t understand how Russia succeeded.

Goldstone’s Bare Facts: Attorney, Damaging Information, Democrats, Hillary Clinton, Useful to the Trumps

As I disclosed last month, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

The other day, I argued that people should stop looking for a pee tape. The kompromat that Vladimir Putin has on Donald Trump are what I called “receipts” of his willingness to engage in a conspiracy with Russia to win the election.

People are looking in the entirely wrong place for the kompromat that Putin has on Trump, and missing all the evidence of it right in front of their faces.

Vladimir Putin obtained receipts at each stage of this romance of Trump’s willing engagement in a conspiracy with Russians for help getting elected. Putin knows what each of those receipts mean. Mueller has provided hints, most obviously in that GRU indictment, that he knows what some of them are.

For example, on or about July 27, 2016, the Conspirators  attempted after hours to spearphish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office. At or around the same time, they also targeted seventy-six email addresses at the domain for the Clinton Campaign.

But Mueller’s not telling whether he has obtained the actual receipts.

And that’s the kompromat. Trump knows that if Mueller can present those receipts, he’s sunk, unless he so discredits the Mueller investigation before that time as to convince voters not to give Democrats a majority in Congress, and convince Congress not to oust him as the sell-out to the country those receipts show him to be. He also knows that, on the off-chance Mueller hasn’t figured this all out yet, Putin can at any time make those receipts plain. Therein lies Trump’s uncertainty: It’s not that he has any doubt what Putin has on him. It’s that he’s not sure which path before him — placating Putin, even if it provides more evidence he’s paying off his campaign debt, or trying to end the Mueller inquiry before repaying that campaign debt, at the risk of Putin losing patience with him — holds more risk.

Trump knows he’s screwed. He’s just not sure whether Putin or Mueller presents the bigger threat.

On Twitter yesterday, NYCSouthpaw demonstrated how this worked by noting that in his email asking Don Jr for a meeting Rob Goldstone had laid out “all the essential elements of the relevant criminal statute so clearly.” NYCSouthpaw highlighted the words, “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr Trump,” which show that in accepting the meeting, Don Jr was accepting something of value from a foreigner.

Remarkably, Goldstone liked that NYCSouthpaw’s tweet.

He then RTed and commented positively on a TCleveland tweet suggesting that Goldstone was only doing what he was told when he set up the meeting.

That’s actually fairly consistent with Goldstone’s (and Ike Kaveladze’s) SCJ testimony. He described Emin Agalarov telling him, over and over, that all he had to do was get a meeting with Don Jr; he didn’t even have to actually attend the meeting. Ike would coordinate once Goldstone got the meeting. And when things started getting crazy a year later, as news of the meeting came out, Agalarov repeated that Goldstone didn’t really have a role in the meeting.

Given my contention that the Russians created kompromat in the way they got Trump or his flunkies to buy into a conspiracy with a kind of call and response, however, I’m particularly interested in this exchange in Goldstone’s testimony.

Q. — you talked about with my colleague, I know we have asked you a lot of questions. I just want to have you explain. When you say there — you wrote the statement “based on the bare facts I was given,” exactly what were the bare facts that you were given?

A. So, to the best of my recollection, when I spoke to Emin, he said to me: I would like you to set up a meeting. A Russian attorney met with my — a well-connected Russian attorney met with my dad in his office, and she appears to have or seems to have damaging information on the Democrats and its candidate, Hillary Clinton. And I think it could be useful to the Trumps.

He talked about the Trumps rather than the campaign. And he would like us to get a meeting. To me, that was it. That’s when I started pushing for more information. But those would be the bare facts: attorney, damaging information, Democrats, Hillary Clinton.

Goldstone doesn’t repeat “could be useful to the Trumps” in his “bare facts” formulation. But he lays out with those words the things that Emin wanted to be included in any request for a meeting: “attorney, damaging information, Democrats, Hillary Clinton, useful to the Trumps.”

Not only were those bare facts enough to excite Don Jr, but he seemed to have some expectation about what this damaging information about Democrats and Hillary Clinton that would be useful to the Trumps would be. “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”

Call: Russians have emails they want to release to help Trump, they’d like to discuss a series of escalating meetings

Response: Trump’s April 27 speech, which George Papadopoulos told Ivan Timofeev is a signal to meet, includes this line:

Some say the Russians won’t be reasonable. I intend to find out. If we can’t make a deal under my administration, a deal that’s great — not good, great — for America, but also good for Russia, then we will quickly walk from the table. It’s as simple as that. We’re going to find out.

Call: “attorney, damaging information, Democrats, Hillary Clinton, useful to the Trumps.”

Response: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”

Response: Here are just a few docs from many thousands I extracted when hacking into DNC’s network.

Call: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 (Clinton) emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

Response:

For example, on or about July 27, 2016, the Conspirators attempted after hours to spearphish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office. At or around the same time, they also targeted seventy-six email addresses at the domain for the Clinton Campaign.

Goldstone is right. He did what Aras Agalarov’s son told him to do, he set up a meeting by promising, “attorney, damaging information, Democrats, Hillary Clinton, useful to the Trumps.” That he did so via email is gravy. Because (as NYCSouthpaw noted), he clearly presented the offer to Don Jr in such a way that it would fulfill all the terms of the election law statute prohibiting accepting something of value from a foreigner.

And Don Jr responded, joining a Conspiracy to Defraud the United States of its ability to enforce that election law.

August 2016: When Paulie’s Panic Set In

As I disclosed last month, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

Back in June, Eric Trump made news when he claimed that, “My father’s life became exponentially worse the minute he decided to run for president.”

That’s not yet clear — though I think it possible that conspiring with Russians to get elected may yet bring down the Trump empire and put at least one of his family members in prison.

The case may be easier to make for Paul Manafort however. As evidence laid out in his trial has made clear this week, it is true that when Viktor Yanukovych was ousted in Ukraine, he started going broke. Yet somehow, he tried to trade up the oligarch ladder, to do for Donald Trump what he had done for his Russian client in Ukraine. In doing so, however, Manafort made himself far more vulnerable to having his influence peddling and corruption exposed.

In August 2016, things started to fall apart. That’s a story increasingly told in the collective legal proceedings revealed by the Mueller inquiry.

First, recall that the Mueller team appears to have the communications between Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik since March 2016, as this spreadsheet that appears to show a parallel constructed source of such communications suggests.

That would suggest the government has a good deal of background on the two meetings Kilimnik and Manafort had during the campaign, including the one that took place on August 2.

In August, as tension mounted over Russia’s role in the U.S. presidential race, Donald Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, sat down to dinner with a business associate from Ukraine who once served in the Russian army.

Konstantin Kilimnik, who learned English at a military school that some experts consider a training ground for Russian spies, had helped run the Ukraine office for Manafort’s international political consulting practice for 10 years.

At the Grand Havana Room, one of New York City’s most exclusive cigar bars, the longtime acquaintances “talked about bills unpaid by our clients, about [the] overall situation in Ukraine . . . and about the current news,” including the presidential campaign, according to a statement provided by Kilimnik, offering his most detailed account of his interactions with the former Trump adviser.

[snip]

Kilimnik said his meetings with Manafort were “private visits” that were “in no way related to politics or the presidential campaign in the U.S.” He said he did not meet with Trump or other campaign staff members, nor did he attend the Republican National Convention, which took place shortly before the Grand Havana Room session. However, he said the meetings with Manafort included discussions “related to the perception of the U.S. presidential campaign in Ukraine.”

Meanwhile, as much of the evidence presented in Manafort’s EDVA case last week makes clear, he was in deep financial trouble. That’s why, prosecutors allege, he submitted fraudulent numbers to get loans fromThe Federal Savings Bank of Chicago and Citizen’s Bank, among other banks. Next week, prosecutors will probably present exhibits 268 and 269, emails to an employee, Dennis Raico (who will be granted immunity if he testifies) of TFSBC asking for the professional details of his boss, Stephen Calk. (h/t pinc)

268 2016.08.03 Email D. Raico to P. Manafort re Need S. Calk Resume

269 2016.08.04 Email P. Manafort to S. Calk re S. Calk- Professional Bio

The next day, Trump named Calk to his financial advisory committee.

Last week, prosecutors showed that, on August 10, Manafort told his tax preparer, Cindy LaPorta, that she should claim he’d be paid $2.4 million for work in Ukraine in November. (h/t NYCSouthpaw for this observation)

Even as he was allegedly engaging in bank fraud to stay afloat, Manafort (and his daughter) would get what appear to be blackmail attempts — threats to release details of his corrupt actions in Ukraine — details of which were later leaked on the dark web.

A purported cyberhack of the daughter of political consultant Paul Manafort suggests that he was the victim of a blackmail attempt while he was serving as Donald Trump’s presidential campaign chairman last summer.

The undated communications, which areallegedly from the iPhone of Manafort’s daughter, include a text that appears to come from a Ukrainian parliamentarian named Serhiy Leshchenko, seeking to reach her father, in which he claims to have politically damaging information about both Manafort and Trump.

Attached to the text is a note to Paul Manafort referring to “bulletproof” evidence related to Manafort’s financial arrangement with Ukraine’s former president, the pro-Russian strongman Viktor Yanukovych, as well as an alleged 2012 meeting between Trump and a close Yanukovych associate named Serhiy Tulub.

[snip]

In a Tuesday interview, Manafort denied brokering a 2012 meeting between Trump and Tulub and also pointied out that he wasn’t working for Trump at the time.

However, Manafort did confirm the authenticity of the texts hacked from his daughter’s phone. And he added that, before the texts were sent to his daughter, he had received similar texts to his own phone number from the same address appearing to be affiliated with Leshchenko.

He said he did not respond directly to any of the texts, and instead passed them along to his lawyer. He declined to provide the texts to POLITICO.

[snip]

Manafort said that the first of the texts arrived shortly before The New York Times published an August exposé revealing that the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine had obtained documents — which have since come under scrutiny — that appeared to show $12.7 million in cash payments earmarked for Manafort.

That NYT story came out on August 14, just 3 days after he promised a bank he had millions more coming from Ukraine around the same time as the presidential election. The very next day, the AP would pile on, asking for comment on a story about Manafort’s undisclosed lobbying for Yanukovych that it would publish on August 17. As prosecutors pointed out in a filing in the DC case, this exchange with the AP — and the Manafort-Gates effort to sustain a lie about their lobbying campaign — is a big part of the reason they lied when DOJ asked them to register under FARA that fall.

For example, on August 15, 2016, a member of the press e-mailed Manafort and copied a spokesperson for the Trump campaign to solicit a comment for a forthcoming story describing his lobbying. Gates corresponded with Manafort about this outreach and explained that he “provided” the journalist “information on background and then agreed that we would provide these answers to his questions on record.” He then proposed a series of answers to the journalist’s questions and asked Manafort to “review the below and let me know if anything else is needed,” to which Manafort replied, in part, “These answers look fine.” Gates sent a materially identical message to one of the principals of Company B approximately an hour later and “per our conversation.” The proposed answers Gates conveyed to Manafort, the press, and Company B are those excerpted in the indictment in paragraph 26.

An article by this member of the press associating Manafort with undisclosed lobbying on behalf of Ukraine was published shortly after Gates circulated the Manafort-approved false narrative to Company B and the member of the press. Manafort, Gates, and an associate of Manafort’s corresponded about how to respond to this article, including the publication of an article to “punch back” that contended that Manafort had in fact pushed President Yanukovych to join the European Union. Gates responded to the punch-back article that “[w]e need to get this out to as many places as possible. I will see if I can get it to some people,” and Manafort thanked the author by writing “I love you! Thank you.” Manafort resigned his position as chairman of the Trump campaign within days of the press article disclosing his lobbying for Ukraine.

Manafort’s role with the Trump campaign is thus relevant to his motive for undertaking the charged scheme to conceal his lobbying activities on behalf of Ukraine. Here, it would be difficult for the jury to understand why Manafort and Gates began crafting and disseminating a false story regarding their Ukrainian lobbying work nearly two years after that work ceased—but before any inquiry by the FARA Unit—without being made aware of the reason why public scrutiny of Manafort’s work intensified in mid-2016. Nor would Manafort’s motives for continuing to convey that false information to the FARA Unit make sense: having disseminated a false narrative to the press while his position on the Trump campaign was in peril, Manafort either had to admit these falsehoods publicly or continue telling the lie.

The day the article came out, August 17, Trump gave Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway larger roles in the campaign. Two days later, Manafort would resign, though he would remain in the loop with Trump. Indeed, according to the hacked texts from his daughter, he remained involved and actually “hired [Bannon and Conway]. Interviewed them in trump towers.” (h/t ee)

But according to leaked texts allegedly hacked from the phone of his daughter Andrea Manafort Shand, Manafort’s resignation was all for show, and he continued to wield influence in the campaign.

On August 19, when Paul Manafort officially resigned, the allegedly hacked texts show that Manafort Shand wrote to one her contacts:

So I got to the bottom of it, as I suspected my dad resigned from being the public face of the campaign. But is still very much involved behind the scenes.

He felt he was becoming a distraction and that would ultimately take a toll on the campaign.

Several hours later, a different contact appears to have texted Andrea Manafort to say, “Thoughts go out to your pops—I can only imagine that he’s relieved, angry, hurting, a combination of a lot of emotions. Wishing you and your fam the best.” To which Andrea responded: “Hahaha you’re so silly. It’s all just pr.”

But — as the Mueller filing makes clear — the pushback on the AP and NYT stories didn’t end Manafort and Gates’ efforts to lie about their activities in Ukraine. A filing in the Alex van der Zwaan prosecution details that on September 12, 2016, in the wake of the Kyiv Post’s exposure of new details about this work (h/t ms), Kilimnik would contact van der Zwaan, leading to a series of communications between the two of them and Skadden Arps’ Greg Craig regarding how Manafort and Gates laundered money and its sources to pay Skadden for a report on Yulia Tymoshenko’s prosecution.

Instead of truthfully answering questions about his contacts with Gates and Person A, van der Zwaan lied. He denied having substantive conversations with Gates and Person A in 2016. When confronted with an email dated September 12, 2016, sent by Person A to van der Zwaan, the defendant again lied. The email was sent to the defendant’s email address at his law firm, though the Special Counsel’s Office had obtained the email from another source. The email said, in Russian, that Person A “would like to exchange a few words via WhatsApp or Telegram.” van der Zwaan lied and said he had no idea why that email had not been produced to the government, and further lied when he stated that he had not communicated with Person A in response to the email.

[snip]

Further, van der Zwaan in fact had a series of calls with Gates and Person A—as well as the lead partner on the matter—in September and October 2016. The conversations concerned potential criminal charges in Ukraine about the Tymoshenko report and how the firm was compensated for its work. The calls were memorable: van der Zwaan had taken the precaution of recording the conversations with Gates, Person A, and the senior partner who worked on the report. In van der Zwaan’s recorded conversation with Person A, in Russian, Person A suggested that “there were additional payments,” that “[t]he official contract was only a part of the iceberg,” and that the story may become a blow for “you and me personally.”

[snip]

Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agents assisting the Special Counsel’s Office assess that Person A has ties to a Russian intelligence service and had such ties in 2016. During his first interview with the Special Counsel’s Office, van der Zwaan admitted that he knew of that connection, stating that Gates told him Person A was a former Russian Intelligence Officer with the GRU.

These are the contacts van der Zwaan hid, at first, from Mueller’s investigators. Van der Zwaan would claim he wasn’t hiding those contacts because he knew Kilimnik was a former GRU officer, but instead to hide that he recorded the conversation with Craig from the Skadden lawyers who represented him in the first interview with the FBI. But it’s still not clear why he made the recording. It sure feels like blackmail to me, though may also have been an effort to stay on track on his quest to make partner at Skadden (remember that van der Zwaan was being romanced into the family of Alfa Bank founder German Khan during 2016; he would marry Khan’s daughter in 2017).

Indeed, Paul Manafort’s life looks like a series of blackmail attempts during that period.

Which makes the stakes of the question Carrie Johnson asked in her Manafort trial round-up all the greater.

Left unanswered so far, Scott, is why Manafort joined the Trump campaign in 2016 for no money when he was bleeding. He was bleeding money and got no salary from that Trump campaign.

Why was Manafort, badly underwater at the time, willing to work for Trump for “free”? What was the $2.4 million he expected to be paid in November for?

And given all the publicly known things Manafort did out of desperation at the time, what kind of non-public desperate things could he also be coerced into doing?

Update: Added the Kyiv Post and Andrea Manafort details.

Update: Added Calk and TFSBC details.

Timeline

August 2: Manafort has an in-person meeting with Kilimnik where they discussed “the perception of the U.S. presidential campaign in Ukraine”

August 3: Manafort asks Dennis Raico for the resume of his boss, Stephen Calk

August 4: Manafort asks Raico for Calk’s professional biography

August 5: Trump named Calk to his financial advisory committee

August 10: To obtain a fraudulent bank loan, Manafort tells his tax preparer to claim $2.4 million in payments from Ukraine for which he had no documentation

Before August 14: Manafort is blackmailed, allegedly by Ukrainian politician Serhiy Leshchenko

August 14: NYT publishes “Secret Ledger in Ukraine Lists Cash for Donald Trump’s Campaign Chief”

August 15: In advance of an AP story on their undisclosed lobbying, Manafort and Gates work out a false story with Mercury Consulting and the Podesta Group

August 17: AP publishes “Paul Manafort helped a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine secretly route at least $2.2M to DC lobbyists”; Trump gives Bannon and Conway larger roles in the campaign

August 19: Manafort resigns from campaign

September 12: Kilimnik contacts van der Zwaan regarding cover-up regarding payments to Skadden Arps

Trump Tweets a Confession, Then Sekulow Admits His Client Has Been Lying about His Involvement

As I disclosed last month, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

Maybe the President and his lawyers think the best way to avoid an interview with Robert Mueller is to confess to everything before noon on Sunday morning?

Amid a series of batshit tweets just now, in an attempt to rebut reporting in this story, Trump admitted that his spawn took a meeting with people described as “part of Russia and its government’s support” for his father to obtain dirt on his opponent.

Set aside, for the moment, Trump’s claims that the meeting went nowhere (for which there’s abundant contrary evidence) and that he didn’t know about it. Consider simply that this means Trump sat down with Vladimir Putin last July at the G-20, and came up with a lie to avoid admitting the fact Pops just admitted, the lie that Junior took a meeting to learn about Russian adoptions.

That’s some pretty damning admission of a conspiracy right there.

Even as the President was admitting to entering into a conspiracy with the Russian President and his envoys, his less incompetent lawyer, Jay Sekulow, went on ABC news and said,

I had bad information at that time and made a mistake in my statement, I talked about that before, that happens when you have cases like this … in a situation like this, over time facts develop.

What he means by “cases like this” and “a situation like this” are “cases and situations where your client is a pathological liar.”

Sure, Sekulow didn’t use the word liar, but he made it clear that Trump lied to him at the start, but that it was only after time (and the realization they couldn’t pull off the lie) that the White House settled on some version of the truth (stopping short, of course, of admitting that Putin helped to craft the statement).

So, at almost the same time the President’s less incompetent lawyer was on TV admitting his client lies, the President was tweeting that he did not know about the June 9 meeting.

This conspiracy trial is going to be awesome.

 

 

On the Apparent Complexities of Charging Roger Stone

As I disclosed last month, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

Last night, Sam Nunberg reportedly told Ari Melber he thought Roger Stone would be indicted on “broad charges of conspiring against America … backed up by some financial charges.” That has led to some Tweet lawyering suggesting that such ConFraudUS charges would arise naturally from Stone’s known interactions with WikiLeaks and Guccifer 2.0.

I’m certain things are not as simple as that. If they were, Mueller would not have spent much of the last five months focusing on testimony relating to Stone, including (this list doesn’t include at least one other person whose Stone-related testimony is not public):

  • February 22: Sam Nunberg questioned by Mueller’s team
  • March 9: Mueller obtains a warrant for 5 AT&T phones (and probably a similar number of Verizon ones)
  • March 9: Sam Nunberg appears before grand jury
  • March 27: Ted Malloch stopped at Logan airport, questioned about Stone and Wikileaks, devices seized, subpoenaed to appear before grand jury on April 13 (the grand jury appearance was rescheduled or canceled)
  • May 2: Michael Caputo interviewed by Mueller team; among the topics discussed was outreach by “Henry Greenberg” to deal dirt on Hillary Clinton to Stone
  • May 10: Mueller subpoenas Andrew Miller for documents and testimony, Miller agrees to meet voluntarily with Mueller’s team
  • May 11: Alicia Dearn contacts Mueller and says Miller is no longer willing to appear
  • May 14: Mueller’s team contacts Dearn to inquire about her representation of Miller; she does not return the call
  • May 18: John Kakanis reportedly subpoenaed after having been interviewed by Mueller’s team
  • May 18: Miller blows off a May 18 appearance before the grand jury; Dearn’s employee says Dearn will contact Mueller’s team on May 21
  • May 21: Dearn blows off promised call to Mueller’s team
  • May 23: Mueller’s team emails Dearn a second set of subpoenas, to appear on June 1
  • May 25: Stone says 8 associates have been asked for testimony
  • May 25: Mueller’s team follows up on subpoenas; Dearn asks for more time to comply “given the volume of responsive documents;” Mueller agrees to adjourn document production to June 5 and appearance to Jun 8
  • May 31: Mueller contacts Dearn to confirm appearance; Dearn complains about “patently irrelevant” responsive materials; Mueller agrees to exclude those materials
  • June 1: Jason Sullivan appears before grand jury
  • June 5: Mueller emails new subpoenas reflecting the June 5 production date and June 8 appearance
  • June 6: Mueller emails Dearn to confirm appearance and arrange for travel
  • June 8: Miller blows off grand jury appearance
  • June 11, 8:50AM and 2:15PM: Mueller emails Dearn and asks for immediate contact, warning that Special Counsel would move towards contempt
  • June 12, 9:07AM and 2:15PM: Dearn twice says she’ll provide correspondence within an hour but does not
  • June 13: Mueller moves to compel
  • June 14: Miller filed opposition purporting to be a motion to quash
  • June 18: At hearing on motion to quash, court orders Miller to appear on June 28
  • June 28: Miller retains Paul Kamenar, paid by the National Legal and Policy Center, who challenges subpoenas as challenge to Appointments Clause, borrowing argument from Concord Management motion
  • June 29: At status hearing in Miller challenge, Kamenar adds another challenge, that Mueller was appointed by “Head of Department”
  • July 18: Hearing on Miller challenge, attended by 5 Mueller lawyers, with follow-up briefing
  • July 31: Chief Judge Beryl Howell rules that Miller must testify ASAP
  • August 1: Kristin Davis interviewed by Mueller team; investigators express an interest in having her appear before grand jury
  • August 3: Dabney Friedrich entertains ignoring DC Circuit and SCOTUS precedent to rule for Concord Management’s challenge of Mueller’s authority, with Kamenar watching; Concord lawyer Eric Dubelier suggests conspiracy in the timing of Howell’s ruling
  • August 10: Kristin Davis appearance before grand jury

While some of these witnesses were clearly asked about Wikileaks, others were reportedly asked about meetings involving Rick Gates, Stone’s finances, and even whether he fathered Davis’ two year old child. And while Stone’s buddies claim Mueller is generally investigating his finances, Mueller’s focus seems to be on the recipients of expenditures from Stone’s SuperPAC.

Clearly, whatever question Mueller is investigating (and whatever potential crimes he showed probable cause of, if he indeed seized the contents of Stone’s phone back in March) is more complex than just chatting up Assange or Guccifer 2.0. Indeed, even the discussions we know of show Stone involved in — or at least entertaining — more than that. That said, Mueller will need to prove that whatever Stone did involved the understanding that he was accepting things of value (or even, soliciting the active help) from foreigners or other illegal actions.

That’s one reason why the circumstances of Stone’s flip-flop in early August 2016, in which Stone went from admitting that the DNC hack was done by Russia to claiming it was not seemly in one day in which he was in Southern California is so important: because he established a contemporaneous claim he has relied on to excuse any coordination with Guccifer 2.0 and WikiLeaks. Given the import of Stone’s flip-flop, I find it interesting that so much of the funding for his SuperPAC came from Southern California, especially from John Powers Middleton. Did he meet with his donors when he orchestrated the flip-flop that makes it harder to argue his discussions and foreknowledge of Guccifer 2.0 and WikiLeaks events count as entering into a conspiracy to break one or several laws?

Whatever the circumstances of that flip-flop, from that point forward, Stone pushed several lines — notably the Seth Rich conspiracy — that would be key to Russian disinformation. A big chunk of his SuperPAC funds also spent on “Stop the Steal,” which may also tie to Russian disinformation to discredit the election.

One of the complexities Mueller may have spent months digging through may be whether and how to hold Stone accountable for willfully participation in disinformation supporting Russia’s larger efforts to swing the election to Donald Trump.

In March, when this focused pursuit started, Mueller wanted to know what the President knew about communication between Stone, his associates, Julian Assange, and Wikileaks. Since then, it appears the question has gotten more complex.

And along the way, a key Roger Stone aide has managed to stall three months on providing testimony.

Update: Fixed spelling of Miller’s attorney’s last name to Dearn.

The Russian NRA Spy: “Just Remember that It’s a Grand Illusion”

As I disclosed last month, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

On top of being the guy who prevented the Republican platform from taking an aggressive stance against Russia, JD Gordon is the Trump associate who spends a lot of time claiming that Jeff Sessions opposed George Papadopoulos’ plans to set up a meeting between Trump and Putin.

Which is why I get such a kick out of the story that Russia’s NRA spy, Mariia Butina, spent September and October cultivating Gordon, and they even went to a Styx concert together.

The two exchanged several emails in September and October 2016, culminating in an invitation from Gordon to attend a concert by the rock band Styx in Washington. Gordon also invited Butina to attend his birthday party in late October of that year.

Which means the Russian NRA spy and the Trump campaign National Security Advisor went to hear a version of the Grand Illusion together.

“I wonder which prominent Republican political figures she hasn’t come across?” Gordon asked.

 

GRU’s Alice Donovan Persona Warned of a WannaCry-Like Event a Year before It Happened

As I disclosed last month, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

In this post, I suggested that The Shadow Brokers persona served as a stick to the carrots Vladimir Putin dangled in front of Donald Trump. When Donald Trump took an action — bombing Syria to punish Bashar al-Assad — that violated what I believe to be one of the key payoffs in the election quid pro quo, Shadow Brokers first bitched mightily, then released a bunch of powerful NSA tools that would soon lead to the WannaCry global malware attack.

It turns out GRU warned of that kind of attack a year before it happened.

One of the tidbits dropped into a very tidbit-filled GRU indictment is that GRU ran the Alice Donovan propaganda persona.

On or about June 8, 2016, and at approximately the same time that the dcleaks.com website was launched, the Conspirators created a DCLeaks Facebook page using a preexisting social media account under the fictitious name “Alice Donovan.”

That tidbit has led to some follow-up on the Donovan figure, including this typically great DFRLab piece arguing that Russia had two parallel streams of troll campaigns, the Internet Research Agency one focused on the election, and the GRU one focused on foreign policy.

Donovan was first exposed in December of last year after WaPo reported on and CounterPunch did a review of “her” work after then WaPo reporter Adam Entous contacted CP after learning the FBI believed “she” had some tie to Russia.

We received a call on Thursday morning, November 30, from Adam Entous, a national security reporter at the Washington Post. Entous said that he had a weird question to ask about one of our contributors. What did we know about Alice Donovan? It was indeed an odd question. The name was only faintly familiar. Entous said that he was asking because he’d been leaked an FBI document alleging that “Alice Donovan” was a fictitious identity with some relationship to Russia. He described the FBI document as stating that “Donovan” began pitching stories to websites in early 2016. The document cites an article titled “Cyberwarfare: Challenge of Tomorrow.”

As both pieces emphasize, the first article that Donovan pitched — and “she” pitched it to multiple outlets — pertained to cyberattacks, specifically to ransomware attacks on hospitals.

The article was first published in Veterans Today on April 26, 2016. That’s the same day that Joseph Mifsud first told George Papadopoulos Russia had emails — emails hacked by Donovan’s operators — they planned to leak to help defeat Hillary Clinton.

CounterPunch published the cybersecurity article on April 29. That’s the day the DNC first figured out that GRU (and FSB’s APT 29) had hacked them.

Those dates may well be coincidences (though they make it clear the Donovan persona paralleled the hack-and-leak campaign). I’m less sure about the third publication of the article, in Mint Press, on August 17, 2016, just four days after Shadow Brokers went live. So just days after Shadow Brokers had called out, “!!! Attention government sponsors of cyber warfare and those who profit from it !!!” an article was republished with the penultimate paragraph accusing the US of planning to shut down Iran’s power grid.

Moreover, the U.S. has been designing crippling cyber attack plans targeting the civilian sector. In case its nuclear negotiations with Iran failed, the U.S. was prepared to shut down the country’s power grid and communications networks.

The basis for that accusation was actually this article, but “Donovan” took out the reference (bolded below) to GRU’s attack on Ukraine’s power grid in the original.

Today such ransomware attacks are largely the work of criminal actors looking for a quick payoff, but the underlying techniques are already part of military planning for state-sponsored cyberwarfare. Russia showcased the civilian targeting of modern hybrid operations in its attack on Ukraine’s power grid, which included software designed to physically destroy computer equipment. Even the US has been designing crippling cyberattack plans targeting the civilian sector. In case its nuclear negotiations with Iran failed, the US was prepared to shut down the country’s power grid and communications networks.

Imagine a future “first strike” cyberattack in which a nation burrowed its way deeply into the industrial and commercial networks of another state and deployed ransomware across its entire private sector, flipping a single switch to hold the entire country for ransom. Such a nightmare scenario is unfortunately far closer than anyone might think. [my emphasis]

And “Donovan” adds in this sentence (from elsewhere in the Forbes article).

Government itself, including its most senior intelligence and national security officials are no better off when a single phishing email can redirect their home phone service and personal email accounts.

When this article was first published, the memory was still fresh of the Crackas with Attitude hack, where self-described teenagers managed to hack John Brennan and James Clapper and forward the latter’s communications (among the men serving prison sentences for this attack are two adult Americans, Andrew Otto Boggs and Justin Liverman).

Most of the rest of the article uses the threat of malware attacks on hospitals to illustrate the vulnerability of civilian infrastructure to cyberattack. It cites a Kaspersky proof of concept (recall that Shadow Brokers included a long play with Kaspersky). It cites an FBI agent attributing much of this hacking to Eastern Europe.

Stangl said the hackers, most of them from Eastern Europe, have increasingly targeted businesses, which are often able to pay more than individuals to unlock data. The hackers “scan the Internet for companies that post their contact information,” then send them email phishing attacks. Unsuspecting employees, Stangl said, are asked to click on what seem to be innocuous links or attachments — perhaps something as simple as a .PDF purporting to be a customer complaint — and before they know it, their computers are infected.

And the “Donovan” article explains at length — stealing from this article — why hospitals are especially vulnerable to malware attacks.

Such attacks may all sound like nightmare scenarios, but the experts say they’re becoming almost routine. And hospitals have not made cybersecurity a priority in their budgets. On average hospitals spent about 2 percent on IT, and security might be 10 percent of that. Compare that percentage to the security spending by financial institutions: for example, Fidelity spends 35 percent of its budget on IT.

Moreover, medical facilities are vulnerable to these attacks in part because they don’t properly train their employees on how to avoid being hacked, according to Sinan Eren, who has worked in cybersecurity for government and health-care organizations for two decades.

“It’s not like the financial-services industry, where they train employees how to spot suspicious emails,” said Eren, general manager at Avast Mobile Enterprise. Also, many hospital computer systems are outdated, bulky and in dire need of upgrades or newer software, he said. But such institutions often don’t have — or don’t want to spend — the money to make sweeping changes.

While it’s still unclear which computer WannaCry first infected in May 2017, Britain’s National Health Service was easily the most famous victim, with about a third of the system being shut down. Not long after WannaCry, NotPetya similarly spanned the globe in wiperware designed to appear as ransomware (though the latter’s use of NSA tools was mostly just show). While the US and UK have publicly attributed WannaCry to North Korea (I’m not convinced), NotPetya was pretty clearly done by entities close to GRU.

And a year before those global pseudo-ransomware worms were launched, repeated just days after Shadow Brokers started releasing NSA’s own tools, GRU stole language to warn of “a nation burrow[ing] its way deeply into the industrial and commercial networks of another state and deploy[ing] ransomware across its entire private sector, flipping a single switch to hold the entire country for ransom. Such a nightmare scenario is unfortunately far closer than anyone might think.”

(h/t TC for the heads up on this file and a number of the insights in this piece)

Update: MB noted that the “added” sentence actually also comes from the original Forbes article (it links to an earlier column that notes the Crackas tie explicitly).

Lawfare’s Theory of L’Affaire Russe Misses the Kompromat for the Pee Glee

As I disclosed last month, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

Lawfare has updated a piece they did in May 2017, laying out what they believe are the seven theories of “L’Affaire Russe,” of which just five have withstood the test of time. It’s a worthwhile backbone for discussion among people trying to sort through the evidence.

Except I believe they get one thing badly wrong. Close to the end of the long post, they argue we’ve seen no evidence of a kompromat file — which they imagine might be the pee tape described in the probably disinformation-filled Steele dossier.

On the other hand, the hard evidence to support “Theory of the Case #6: Kompromat” has not materially changed in the last 15 months, though no evidence has emerged that undermines the theory either. No direct evidence has emerged that there exists a Russian kompromat file—let alone a pee tape—involving Trump, despite a huge amount of speculation on the subject. What has changed is that Trump’s behavior at the Helsinki summit suddenly moved the possibility of kompromat into the realm of respectable discourse.

Nevertheless, along the way, they point to evidence of direct ties between Trump’s behavior and Russian response.

The candidate, after all, did make numerous positive statements about Russian relations and Vladimir Putin himself—though how much of this has anything to do with these meetings is unclear. At a minimum, it is no small thing for the Russian state to have gotten a Republican nominee for president willing to reverse decades of Republican Russia-skepticism and commitment to NATO.

[snip]

What’s more, two days before the meeting, Trump promised a crowd that he would soon be giving a “major speech” on “all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons”—but after the meeting turned out to be a dud, the speech did not take place. And notably, the hacking indictment shows that the GRU made its first effort to break into Hillary Clinton’s personal email server and the email accounts of Clinton campaign staff on the same day—July 27, 2016—that Trump declared at a campaign stop, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing” from Clinton’s email account.

For some reason, they describe Don Jr’s reported disappointment about the June 9 meeting, but not Ike Kaveladze’s testimony that his initial report to Aras Agalarov (the report made in front of witnesses) was positive. Based on Don Jr’s heavily massaged (and, public evidence makes clear, perjurious) testimony, they claim that the Trump Tower meeting was a dud. Then they go on to note that the Russians at the June 9 meeting asked for Magnitsky sanction relief, rather than offering dirt.

In June 2016, Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort met with a group of Russian visitors in Trump Tower, including attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya. In the now-infamous email exchange that preceded the meeting, Trump, Jr. wrote, “I love it, especially later in the summer” when informed that the meeting would provide him with documents that “would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.” Trump, Jr. and other representatives of the Trump campaign were reportedly disappointed when Veselnitskaya failed to provide the promised “dirt” on Clinton and discussed the issue of Russian adoptions under the Magnitsky Act instead.

[snip]

While there is evidence—most notably with respect to the Trump Tower meeting—of Trump campaign willingness to work with the Russians, there’s not a lot of evidence that any kind of deal was ever struck.

To sustain their case that “there’s not a lot of evidence that any kind of deal was ever struck,” they neglect a number of other points. They don’t mention, for example, that a week after the Trump Tower meeting, the Russians released the first of the stolen files. They don’t mention that (contrary to Don Jr’s massaged testimony and most public claims since) there was a significant effort in November 2016 to follow-up on that June 9 meeting. They don’t mention that that effort was stalled because of the difficulty of communicating given the scrutiny of being President-elect. They don’t mention that the same day the Agalarov people discussed the difficulty of communicating with the President-elect, Jared Kushner met the Russian Ambassador in Don Jr’s office (not in transition space) and raised the possibility of a back channel, a meeting which led to Jared’s meeting with the head of a sanctioned bank, which in turn led to a back channel meeting in the Seychelles with more sanctioned financiers. And inexplicably, they make no mention of the December 29, 2016 calls, during which — almost certainly on direct orders from Trump relayed by KT McFarland — Mike Flynn got the Russians to stall any response to Obama’s sanctions, a discussion Mike Flynn would later lie about to the FBI, in spite of the fact that at least six transition officials knew what he really said.

Why does Lawfare ignore the basis for the plea deal that turned Trump’s one-time National Security Advisor into state’s evidence, when laying out the evidence in this investigation?

All of which is to say that even with all the things Lawfare ignores in their summary, they nevertheless lay out the evidence that Trump and the Russians were engaged in a call-and-response, a call-and-response that appears in the Papadopoulos plea and (as Lawfare notes) the GRU indictment, one that ultimately did deal dirt and got at least efforts to undermine US sanctions (to say nothing of the Syria effort that Trump was implementing less than 14 hours after polls closed, an effort that has been a key part of both Jared Kushner and Mike Flynn’s claims about the Russian interactions).

At each stage of this romance with Russia, Russia got a Trump flunkie (first, Papadopoulos) or Trump himself to publicly engage in the call-and-response. All of that led up to the point where, on July 16, 2018, after Rod Rosenstein loaded Trump up with a carefully crafted indictment showing Putin that Mueller knew certain things that Trump wouldn’t fully understand, Trump came out of a meeting with Putin looking like he had been thoroughly owned and stood before the entire world and spoke from Putin’s script in defiance of what the US intelligence community has said.

People are looking in the entirely wrong place for the kompromat that Putin has on Trump, and missing all the evidence of it right in front of their faces.

Vladimir Putin obtained receipts at each stage of this romance of Trump’s willing engagement in a conspiracy with Russians for help getting elected. Putin knows what each of those receipts mean. Mueller has provided hints, most obviously in that GRU indictment, that he knows what some of them are.

For example, on or about July 27, 2016, the Conspirators  attempted after hours to spearphish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office. At or around the same time, they also targeted seventy-six email addresses at the domain for the Clinton Campaign.

But Mueller’s not telling whether he has obtained the actual receipts.

And that’s the kompromat. Trump knows that if Mueller can present those receipts, he’s sunk, unless he so discredits the Mueller investigation before that time as to convince voters not to give Democrats a majority in Congress, and convince Congress not to oust him as the sell-out to the country those receipts show him to be. He also knows that, on the off-chance Mueller hasn’t figured this all out yet, Putin can at any time make those receipts plain. Therein lies Trump’s uncertainty: It’s not that he has any doubt what Putin has on him. It’s that he’s not sure which path before him — placating Putin, even if it provides more evidence he’s paying off his campaign debt, or trying to end the Mueller inquiry before repaying that campaign debt, at the risk of Putin losing patience with him — holds more risk.

Trump knows he’s screwed. He’s just not sure whether Putin or Mueller presents the bigger threat.

How ABC Broke a Story about Mueller LIMITING Questions on Obstruction and Claimed It Showed a Focus on Obstruction

As I disclosed last month, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

On Monday, Rudy Giuliani revealed that Robert Mueller had gone ten days without responding to the White House’s latest set of conditions under which President Trump would be willing to sit for an interview.

We have an offer to [Mueller] — by now, like, the fifth offer back and forth, so you’d have to call it a counter-counter-counteroffer. And, where it stands is, they haven’t replied to it and it’s been there about 10 days,” he said. “Despite the fact that we’re getting more and more convinced that maybe he shouldn’t do it, we still have that offer outstanding, and in good faith, if they came back and accepted it, or if they came back and modified it in a way that we can accept, we would consider it.

By yesterday afternoon, ABC, showing unbelievable credulity, reported that Mueller wanted to ask Trump questions about obstruction.

Special counsel Mueller wants to ask Trump about obstruction of justice: Sources

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office wants to ask President Donald Trump about obstruction of justice, among other topics, sources close to the White House tell ABC News. According to sources, the president learned within the last day that the special counsel will limit the scope of questioning and would like to ask questions both orally and written for the President to respond to.

This left the impression — not just among readers who aren’t paid to know better, but among journalists who are — that the focus of any interview would be obstruction, not the President’s role in a conspiracy with the Russians.

By the end of the day, more responsible reporting revealed that pretty much the opposite of what ABC reported had occurred. In his latest proposal, Mueller offered to drop half the obstruction questions.

In a letter sent Monday, Mueller’s team suggested that investigators would reduce by nearly half the number of questions they would ask about potential obstruction of justice, the two people said.

That would, of course, mean that a greater proportion of the questions would be on that conspiracy with Russia, not on obstruction. That’s not surprising. Between January and March, after all, the focus of Mueller’s questions (as interpreted by Jay Sekulow) shifted more towards that conspiracy than obstruction.

Meanwhile, the President’s favorite scribes pushed another bullshit line he has been pushing for over six months: in spite of what you might conclude given his increasing attacks on Mueller on Twitter, the NYT would have you believe, Trump wants to do an interview, against his lawyers’ better judgment, and isn’t just stalling while trying to claim he’s not obsessed with and afraid of this investigation.

President Trump pushed his lawyers in recent days to try once again to reach an agreement with the special counsel’s office about his sitting for an interview, flouting their advice that he should not answer investigators’ questions, three people briefed on the matter said on Wednesday.

Mr. Trump has told advisers he is eager to meet with investigators to clear himself of wrongdoing, the people said. In effect, he believes he can convince the investigators for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, of his belief that their own inquiry is a “witch hunt.”

[snip]

Mr. Trump has put his lawyers in the vexing position of trying to follow the desires of their client while seeking to protect him from legal jeopardy at the same time.

Here’s CNN showing Rudy planting the bullshit line, as well as another bullshit line the press continues to repeat uncritically, that this inquiry is leading towards a report to Congress and not another set of indictments.

He added that Trump has “always been interested in testifying. It’s us, meaning the team of lawyers, including me, that have the most reservations about that.”

Giuliani also sent a message to Mueller: It’s time for the special counsel to “put up or shut up.”

“They should render their report. Put up — I mean I guess if we were playing poker (you would say) ‘Put up or shut up.’ What do you got?” Giuliani said. “We have every reason to believe they don’t have anything of the President doing anything wrong. I don’t think they have any evidence he did anything wrong.”

Why is it that the press can easily identify outright bullshit when it comes directly from Trump or Rudy’s mouth, but when they tell you equally obvious bullshit on terms that they’re telling you a secret, it somehow gets reported as if it’s true, all the evidence notwithstanding?

Ferfecksake, people. Trump and his legal team have spent weeks claiming that “collusion” is not a crime. He stood next to Vladimir Putin as the latter replayed the June 9 script, looking like a whipped puppy, and denied he got elected thanks to Putin’s assistance, siding with a hostile foreign leader over the United States’ intelligence community. The last indictment Mueller released included a paragraph nodding vigorously towards GRU’s hackers responding to requests from Trump, as if responding to a signal (a practice for which Mueller has already shown evidence).

For example, on or about July 27, 2016, the Conspirators attempted after hours to spearphish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a third party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office. At or around the same time, they also targeted seventy-six email addresses at the domain for the Clinton Campaign.

Do you really think Mueller would put Donald Trump right there on page 8 of the GRU indictment and be focused primarily on obstruction? Do you really think Mueller doesn’t have the conspiracy to defraud the US (and conspiracy to commit CFAA) indictment that has been clear since February planned out, where even without an interview he could include Trump as “Male 1” to indicate how he communicated acceptance of a Russian deal over and over? Do you really think people with a significant role in the conspiracy would know that Trump was moving within 14 hours of the polls closing to pay off his debts to Russia if there weren’t more evidence that Donald J Trump willingly joined a conspiracy with Russia?

I even got asked the other day, by a self-described expert on this case, why so many witnesses are talking about being asked questions about obstruction. I noted that the only witnesses we’ve heard from recently — close associates of Roger Stone — were instead describing questions about meetings attended and Russian deals floated and social media campaigns launched. That is, they were asked about conspiracy, not obstruction. We don’t even know what Jared Kushner was asked in his lengthy April questioning, but I assure you it wasn’t focused primarily on obstruction.

I get it. Mueller isn’t leaking and readers want more Russia stories so any time the White House seeds one, all secret like except that CNN films it, you gotta tell it in such a way that you’ll get those cable-televised secrets the next time. But please please please treat those claims with the same skepticism you treat Trump and Rudy bullshit when it is delivered where the public can see it. If Trump and Rudy are lying in public, there is zero reason to believe they’re telling you the truth when they claim to be feeding you secrets.

Robert Mueller is investigating the President of the United States for willfully entering a conspiracy with Russians offering to help him get elected, I believe in exchange for certain policy considerations, including changes to US Syria policy. Yes, Mueller obtained evidence demonstrating that conspiracy in large part because, in an effort to thwart any investigation into how he got elected, Trump fired the last guy who was investigating it (and investigating it less aggressively). Yes, that means obstruction is one of the crimes that Mueller believes Trump may have committed (if you’re going to harp on obstruction, then please focus on Trump’s pre-emptive offers of pardons to Mike Flynn and Paul Manafort, because it’s one of the most grave examples of obstruction and it’s critical to understanding what is going on now in EDVA).

I can’t predict how this will end — whether Mueller will decide he has enough evidence to implicate a sitting president, if so, how Mueller might lay out Trump’s involvement along with that of his family and aides, what Congress will do in response, what the long term impact on the country will be.

But that doesn’t mean the press is doing its readers any favors by playing dumb about what Mueller is really pursuing.

The Non-EDVA Manafort Thread: Paulie Continues to Work for His Pardon

Today, a bunch of stalwart journalists are fighting the back-asswards conditions in Alexandria’s courthouse to bring breaking news from the first day of Paul Manafort’s tax evasion trial. In this post, I’m going to look at a few details that have happened outside of the courthouse

Yesterday, The Daily Beast provided some kind of an explanation for Rudy Giuliani’s weird TV meltdown yesterday. It turns out Rudy was (successfully) pre-empting a NYT story.

The day began with a morning interview with Fox & Friends, during which Giuliani insisted that “collusion [with Russian election-meddlers] is not a crime” in the first place. He then headed to CNN where he proceeded to, ostensibly, break a bit of news about the infamous Trump Tower meeting that the president’s son took with a Russian lawyer reportedly tied to Kremlin officials.

Two days before that meeting, Giuliani relayed, former Trump attorney and fixer Michael Cohen claimed that there was a separate meeting; this one, involving five people, including Cohen himself. According to Giuliani, three of the five people in that supposed meeting told him “it didn’t take place.” Not only that, they had done so “under oath on it and the other two couldn’t possibly reveal it because [Special Counsel Robert] Mueller never asked us about it.”

“You get to the other meeting he says he was at, that the president wasn’t at…with Donald [Trump] Jr., Jared [Kushner], [Paul] Manafort…[Rick] Gates and one other person. Cohen also now says that—he says too much—that two days before he was participating in a meeting with roughly the same group of people—but not the president, definitely not the president—in which they were talking about the strategy of the meeting with the Russians,” Giuliani continued. “The people in that meeting deny it, the people who we’ve been able to interview. The people we’ve not been able to interview have never said that about that meeting.”

[snip]

In subsequent interviews on Monday, the president’s lawyer claimed that, in fact, he was only speaking off of as-yet unverified details from reporters who had contacted Team Trump to ask about the planning meeting.

Giuliani told The Daily Beast that this included reporters from The New York Times, such as the paper’s star Trump reporter Maggie Haberman, who had reached out about the alleged pre-meeting meeting. So, he added, “Jay [Sekulow] and I spent a great deal of [Sunday] trying to run it down.”

Giuliani said that he believes they managed to “shut it down” and help kill the story, and speculated the journalists had also found other reasons not to run the item. Giuliani and Sekulow—according to Giuliani—had to “go to [alleged participants’] lawyers, and they had to go back to their notes, because nowadays no one wants to be inaccurate”—a rather ironic statement.

As others have noted, this explanation may be most interesting for the glimpse it offers on the Joint Defense Agreement, in which Rudy can call up other potential defendants’ lawyers and agree on a story. And, after consulting with these other lawyers, Rudy appears to claim the following:

  • At a June 7 meeting attended by Jr, Jared, Manafort, Gates, one other person, and Cohen, strategizing the Russian meeting did not come up.
  • At another meeting, reportedly including the President and four of the six who attended the June 7 meeting, he was not told about the Russian meeting.

Also, collusion is not a crime because only hacking is.

Rudy provides us some clues here. Rudy’s says that three of five people in the meeting including Trump told Mueller it didn’t happen and the other two weren’t asked about it by Mueller. Those other two must be Don and his spawn, because they haven’t been interviewed by Mueller. But if that’s the case, the math actually works out to just two people telling Mueller it didn’t happen, because Cohen also hasn’t been interviewed. There’s a 66% chance that Manafort and Gates are the ones who told Mueller it didn’t happen.

Then there’s the June 7 meeting — a meeting on the same day that Manafort also had a meeting with Trump, and the day that Trump promised a report on Hillary in the upcoming days (so a day when the campaign would have been strategizing a Hillary attack of one sort or another). Rudy suggests that meeting was attended by someone or someones who they haven’t been able to interview, but who nevertheless have never said anything about strategizing the Russia meeting. Perhaps this is just a reference to Cohen, a way of claiming he never said this before. Or perhaps there’s someone else who’s not part of the JDA.

Notice how this story, thus far, relies on Junior (who has not been interviewed and clearly is a target) and Gates (who has subsequently flipped) and Manafort (whose first trial just started)?

Given the centrality of Manafort in this story — and Trump’s prior admission that Manafort could incriminate him — I’m particularly interested in this other bit from Rudy, suggesting the possibility that Manafort has flipped and “lied.” (h/t CH)

They’re putting Manafort in solitary confinement — which sounds more like Russian than the US — in order to get him to break. And maybe they’ve succeeded in cracking this guy, and getting him to lie. I don’t know. I’m not sure of that.

So Cohen may (or may not) be blabbing about stories that greatly incriminate Trump. To rebut them, his lawyer is taking to the cable shows to reveal multiple previously undisclosed meetings, and assuring the public that those who either were or maybe just the people who remain in a JDA with the President say it didn’t happen. Which leaves Gates, who has flipped, and Manafort, whom Rudy is obviously worried might flip.

Meanwhile, as he was heading into his client’s trial this morning, Manafort lawyer Kevin Downing apparently said there was “no chance” his client would flip to avoid trial. From whence Downing proceeded to go spend much of his opening argument blaming Gates for Manafort’s epic corruption. Here’s HuffPo.

An attorney for former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort told jurors during opening arguments in his tax and bank fraud trial on Tuesday that Manafort’s longtime aide Rick Gates ― now a witness for special counsel Robert Mueller ― is a liar who can’t be trusted.

Manafort, attorney Tom Zehnle told jurors, made a mistake in “placing his trust in the wrong person” who was now willing to say anything to keep himself out of trouble. Zehnle told jurors that Manafort “rendered a valuable service to our system of government” because of his involvement in multiple presidential campaigns.

And here’s Reuters.

“Rick Gates had his hand in the cookie jar,” defense attorney Thomas Zehnle said in opening statements at Manafort’s trial in federal court in Virginia. “Little did Paul know that Rick was lining his own pockets.”

Meanwhile, several developments in Manafort’s cases happened outside the courtroom. First, he dropped his challenge to Mueller’s authority in the DC Circuit. The DC Circuit denied his bid to get out of jail during this and while awaiting his DC trial, based primarily on the additional witness tampering charges that followed Amy Berman Jackson’s warnings about violating her gag order.

Most interesting however, was this exchange. Last night, Manafort asked for a 25-day delay in a pre-trial report he has to submit jointly with the prosecution in his DC case, citing his ongoing EDVA trial. But as the scathing response made clear, he brought that on himself when he refused to waive venue for these tax charges and instead took his chances with two trials.

[T]he Court’s August 1, 2018, deadline is no surprise; it has been in place for five months, when this Court entered its Scheduling Order on March 1, 2018. (Doc. 217). Nor was it a surprise that Manafort (like the government) would need to prepare for two trials when Manafort elected to have two trials. Indeed, this Court advised the defense that the defendant’s choice to have two trials might well result in “a trial in the Eastern District of Virginia before this one. So you may want to keep that in mind.”

More interesting, the Mueller team described how Manafort has spent the last two weeks accepting details of the government’s plan in the DC case, without reciprocating or warning them he was going to ask for a delay.

[T]he government spent the last two weeks making disclosures to Manafort of all of the different components required by the joint pretrial statement. The government furnished to the defense: (a) a proposed joint statement of the case; (b) an estimate of the length of the government’s case-in-chief; (c) proposed jury instructions; (d) a notice of intended expert witnesses; (e) an exhibit list; (f) all proposed stipulations; (g) a proposed special jury instruction (in lieu of a list of matters for the Court to take judicial notice); and (h) a proposed verdict form.1 Notably, the government identified a list of hundreds of exhibits—with Bates numbers and descriptions—it intends to use at trial, giving the defense a roadmap of its case. With each submission to the defense, the government asked the defense to alert it to its position, so the government could inform the Court in the joint statement due on August 1, 2018. Not once did Manafort respond, in any way, to any of the government’s disclosures. Similarly, the defense produced no reciprocal materials to the government.

When Manafort dropped his challenge to Mueller’s authority, some wondered whether that was a sign he’s about to flip. But this ploy with the DC schedule makes it clear he continues to do what he has been doing from the start: using his trials as an effort to discredit Mueller as much as possible, while obtaining as much information about the case in chief — the conspiracy with Russia.

As I’ve said repeatedly, that seems to be the terms of his pardon deal with Trump: he spends his time discrediting the Russian conspiracy case, and in the future, Trump may reward him in kind.

Given that Gates may actually have already told Mueller about the meetings Rudy is trying to deny, I expect more attacks in Rick Gates in the coming weeks, then.

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