Some Important Historical Details Michael Cohen Probably Shared with Mueller’s Team

The attention since Michael Cohen pled guilty has focused largely on his role in brokering a Trump Tower deal, which was the substance of his lies to Congress as detail in his plea. But there are other things about which he was surely a really useful witness for Mueller. ABC provided some sketchy details, including the enticing detail that Cohen knew about pardon offers (possibly, even for him).

Cohen has spent more than 70 hours in interviews with Mueller’s team. The questioning has focused on contacts with Russians by Trump associates during the campaign, Trump’s business ties to Russia, obstruction of justice and talk of possible pardons, sources familiar with the discussions have told ABC News.

But I want to point to two historical details of particular interest.

It’s clear that Mueller has some interest in campaign finance irregularities, at least those of Roger Stone. But the crowd Roger rat-fucks with actually has a history with Michael Cohen. Cohen set up a 527 in 2011 into which Trump Organization funneled probably illegal cash.

As I’ve noted, in 2011, one of the people closely involved in Stone’s 2016 rat-fucking, Pamela Jensen, was involved in a 527 called ShouldTrumpRun that listed Michael Cohen as President.

The organization was apparently laundering Trump corporate cash into campaign spending. But when the issue came before the FEC, Commissioner Don McGahn helped kill an investigation into it.

During McGahn’s FEC tenure, one of those he helped save from enforcement action was Trump himself. In 2011, when the future president-elect was engaged in a high-profile process of considering whether to enter the 2012 race for the Republican presidential nomination, Trump was formally accused in an FEC complaint of violating agency regulations. The case was dismissed on a deadlocked vote of the FEC commissioners.

A four-page complaint filed by Shawn Thompson of Tampa, Fla., accused Trump of illegally funneling corporate money from his Trump Organization into an organization called ShouldTrumpRun.com. McGahn and fellow FEC Republicans Caroline Hunter and Matthew Petersen voted to block FEC staff recommendations that Trump be investigated in the matter—designated Matter Under Review (MUR) 6462.

Ultimately, Trump opted not to run for president in 2012. Nonetheless, FEC staff attorneys concluded his activities before that decision may have violated campaign finance rules regarding money raised to “test the waters” for a candidacy. A staff report from the FEC Office of General Counsel, based largely on news articles and other documents about Trump’s flirtation with running for president—including Trump’s own quoted statements— recommended that the commissioners authorize a full FEC investigation backed by subpoena power.

FEC Democrats voted to pursue the recommended probe, but the votes of McGahn and the other FEC Republicans precluded the required four-vote majority needed for the commission to act.

McGahn and Hunter issued a “ statement of reasons” explaining their votes in the Trump matter in 2013. The 11-page statement blasted FEC staff attorneys in the Office of General Counsel for reviewing volumes of published information regarding Trump’s potential 2012 candidacy in order to determine whether to recommend that the FEC commissioners vote to authorize a full investigation. McGahn and Hunter argued that the FEC counsel’s office was prohibited from examining information other than what was contained in the formal complaint submitted in the case.

The Office of General Counsel shouldn’t be allowed to pursue an “unwritten, standardless process whereby OGC can review whatever articles and other documents not contained in the complaint that they wish, and send whatever they wish to the respondent for comment,” the Republican commissioners wrote.

And this public trial balloon in 2011 is interesting for another reason. It means that when Trump set up the Miss American deal in 2013, the Russians knew he might consider running for President. Cohen was closely involved in that deal, too.

That Cohen was involved in negotiations with the Agalarovs in 2013  is interesting enough. But I’m particularly intrigued by something that happened in the wake of the disclosure of the June 9 meeting. As the Trumps and Agalarovs started getting testy about each others’ response, Ike Kaveladze called Roman Beniaminov’s attention to a picture from the Las Vegas announcement party that got leaked to the press, highlighting Cohen and Keith Schiller.

On July 13, 2017, Ike Kaveladze (who was really in charge of the meeting for his boss, Aras Agalarov) and Roman Beniaminov (Emin Agalrov’s assistant, who heard ahead of time the meeting was about dealing dirt on Hillary to the Trumps) had the following exchange by text (PDF 34).

[Kaveladze sends link]

Beniaminov: But I don’t recall taking any video. And I can’t understand why it looks so similar.

Kaveladze: I mean his trump organization employees.

By July 13, the Agalarovs and Trumps were increasingly at odds on how to respond to the story, not least after the Trumps leaked Rod Goldstone’s name to the press after saying they wouldn’t. After that, there seemed to be increasing amounts of dirt being leaked, perhaps by both sides.

It appears that Kaveladze may have phoned Beniaminov right before this to raise this CNN story, which had just been posted. Beniaminov seemed to think Kaveladze had suggested that he, Beniaminov, had taken the video, even while he seems to have been present at the Las Vegas event back in 2013.

Scott Balber, the Agalarov’s ever-present lawyer (who had actually represented Trump on a Miss Universe related issue in 2013), was quoted in the piece.

“It’s simply fiction that this was some effort to create a conduit for information from the Russian federal prosecutors to the Trump campaign,” Balber said on CNN’s “New Day.” “It’s just fantasy world because the reality is if there was something important that Mr. Agalarov wanted to communicate to the Trump campaign, I suspect he could have called Mr. Trump directly as opposed to having his son’s pop music publicist be the intermediary.”

I don’t rule out Balber having taken and leaked the video.

Or maybe not: What Kaveladze is interested in highlighting to Beniaminov is the presence of two other Trump employees in the video: Keith Schiller and Michael Cohen, shown above.

I don’t know what to make of the reference — though it’s equally possible they were involved in the 2017 response, or were viewed for some other reason as an additional concern regarding the June 9 meeting.

While Schiller actually was in the loop of the June 9 meeting (Rob Goldstone chatted with him the day of the meeting and asked about how to mail things to Trump given increased security), there’s no public evidence Cohen was.

But perhaps Kaveladze realized Cohen might know something about the 2013 events that would be of concern as the investigated heated up.

In any case, we know from Mueller’s questions he thinks the 2013 does serve as a key part of the investigation. And while Schiller — with his sinecure at the RNC — may not be talking, Michael Cohen is.

There are other aspects of Trump’s business that Cohen will explain for Mueller, including corrupt deals with Russians and related countries.

But these two past events are likely to be of particular interest for Mueller’s prosecutors.

July 22, 2016: The Sater and Cohen Deal Gets Handed Off To Millian and Papadopoulos?

Last night on TV, Anthony Cormier said that the negotiations between Michael Cohen and Felix Sater actually continued into July, but that the later discussions were on encrypted chats that got deleted.

We know that Sater was at Trump Tower on July 21, 2016, because he bought some campaign swag that showed up in FEC filings. (h/t Andrew Rice on Twitter)

Sater told POLITICO he was unaware he had exceeded the maximum contribution. Informed that purchases of campaign paraphernalia count as contributions, Sater said he had bought campaign merchandise in the basement of Trump Tower last month. He said he made two $2,700 contributions to the Trump campaign online through his iPad.

The purchase of campaign merchandise and two contributions for $2,700 each are all dated July 21 in the FEC filing.

That same day, George Papadopoulos signaled something to Ivan Timofeev about Trump’s RNC speech.

“How are things [Timofeev]? Keep an eye on the speech tonight. Should be good.”

The next day is almost certainly when Sergei Millian first started cultivating Papadopoulos.

Millian’s cultivation of Papadopoulos likely explains this reference in the affidavit supporting Papadopoulos’ arrest, showing Papadopoulos asking Ivan Timofeev over Facebook on July 22, 2016 for any information he had on someone he was about to meet for the first time (see my timeline here).

“If you know any background of him that is noteworthy before I see him, kindly send my way.”

That would say that, on the same day WikiLeaks released the DNC emails — which itself took place a day after Papadopoulos signaled something about Trump’s RNC speech to Timofeev — Millian started cultivating Papadopoulos, who apparently had started spending more time in NYC.

That relationship would lead to a proposed business deal between Millian and Papadopoulos — basically as cut-outs for the business deal that Cohen and Sater started.

Mr. Trump’s improbable victory raised Mr. Papadopoulos’s hopes that he might ascend to a top White House job. The election win also prompted a business proposal from Sergei Millian, a naturalized American citizen born in Belarus. After he had contacted Mr. Papadopoulos out of the blue over LinkedIn during the summer of 2016, the two met repeatedly in Manhattan.

[snip]

Mr. Millian proposed that he and Mr. Papadopoulos form an energy-related business that would be financed by Russian billionaires “who are not under sanctions” and would “open all doors for us” at “any level all the way to the top.”

One billionaire, he said, wanted to explore the idea of opening a Trump-branded hotel in Moscow. “I know the president will distance himself from business, but his children might be interested,” he wrote.

Apparently, a new witness recently went to the FBI to describe Papadopoulos’ continued involvement in this deal — and his direct ties to Trump.

The letter, dated November 19 and obtained last week by The Atlantic, was sent to Democratic Representative Adam Schiff’s office by an individual who claims to have been close to Papadopoulos in late 2016 and early 2017. The letter was brought to the attention of Schiff and House Intelligence Committee staff, according to an aide who requested anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation. The letter was also obtained by federal authorities, who are taking its claims “very seriously,” said two U.S. officials who also requested anonymity because of the sensitivities of the probe.

The statement makes a series of explosive but uncorroborated claims about Papadopoulos’s alleged coordination with Russians in the weeks following Trump’s election in November 2016, including that Papadopoulos said he was “doing a business deal with Russians which would result in large financial gains for himself and Mr. Trump.” The confidant—whose name The Atlantic is withholding on request but whose identity is known to congressional and federal investigators—stated a willingness to take a polygraph test “to prove that I am being truthful” and had come forward now after seeing Papadopoulos “become increasingly hostile towards those who are investigating him and his associates.” A lawyer for Papadopoulos declined to comment.

[snip]

The confidant who sent the letter to Schiff’s office last week claimed to have witnessed a phone call between Papadopoulos and Trump in December 2016, around the same time that Papadopoulos was allegedly boasting about the Russia deal and sending emails to Flynn and Trump’s campaign CEO, Steve Bannon. In one email, Flynn urged Papadopoulos to “stay in touch, and, at some point, we should get together.” Trump has called Papadopoulos “a coffee boy” who played no meaningful role on the campaign.

In his sentencing memorandum, Papadopoulos alluded to his concern about getting the job he expected in the Trump Administration (on which the deal with Millian was premised) to explain why he lied to the FBI in January 2017.

The agents asked George to accompany them to their office to answer a “couple questions” regarding “a guy in New York that you might know[,] [t]hat has recently been in the news.” George thought the agents wanted to ask him about Russian businessman Sergei Millian. Wanting clarification, he asked the agents, “…just so I understand, I’m going there to answer questions about this person who I think you’re talking about.” The agents assured George that the topic of discussion was Mr. Millian who had been trending in the national media.

En route to the FBI office, George voiced concern about the repercussions of his cooperation ever becoming public because the Wall Street Journal had just reported that Sergei Millian was a key source in the “Trump Dossier” controversy. George explained that he was in discussions with senior Trump administration officials about a position and the last thing he wanted was “something like this” casting the administration in a bad light.

[snip]

George knew Mr. Millian only as a businessman pitching an opportunity to George in his personal capacity. The agents asked how they first met, what they discussed, how often they talked or met in person, if George knew whether Mr. Millian was connected to Russia or a foreign intelligence service, and who else on Mr. Trump’s campaign may have been in contact with Mr. Millian.

[snip]

George found himself personally conflicted during the interrogation as he felt obligated to assist the FBI but also wanted to distance himself and his work on the Trump campaign from that investigation. Attempting to reconcile these competing interests, George provided information he thought was important to the investigation while, at the same time, misleading the agents about the timing, nature, and extent Case 1:17-cr-00182-RDM Document 45 Filed 08/31/18 Page 9 of 16 10 of his contacts with Professor Mifsud, Olga, and Ivan Timofeev. In his answers, George falsely distanced his interactions with these players from his campaign work. At one point, George told the agents that he did not want to “get too in-depth” because he did not know what it would mean for his professional future.

[snip]

Out of loyalty to the new president and his desire to be part of the administration, he hoisted himself upon his own petard.

All of that suggests the deal was still on in January 2017, and Papadopoulos was trying to preserve his opportunity to serve as a cut-out for the deal and so lied to the FBI.

Mind you, it may be that the deal was not entirely handed off. Glenn Simpson told HPSCI that Fusion had substantiated ties between Millian and Cohen (though I hope he looked further than Twitter).

And then, you know, as further time went on, we found he was connected to Michael Cohen, the President’s lawyer. And eventually, after boasting about a lot of this stuff on camera, on tape, to the TV network, he backed away from all of it suddenly when the Russia controversy began to get hot.

And Michael Cohen was very adamant that he didn’t actually have a connection to Sergi, even though he was one of only like 100 people who followed Sergi on Twitter. And they — we had Twitter messages back and forth between the two of them just – we just pulled them off of Twitter.

In a blockbuster follow-up to their May report that laid out all this Trump Tower stuff, Buzzfeed hints at other people Cohen was in contact with, who also were involved in the hack and leak operation.

Two FBI agents with direct knowledge of the Trump Tower Moscow negotiations told BuzzFeed News earlier this year that Cohen was in frequent contact with foreign individuals about the real estate venture — and that some of these individuals had knowledge of or played a role in 2016 election meddling. The identity of those individuals remains unknown.

Which of course would make it unsurprising if July 22, the same day WikiLeaks released the DNC emails, was the day the real estate deal backing it up would get handed off to further obscure it.

Update: In this really report on Cohen’s plea, Rudy sounds like he’s not sure whether the deal went forward or not.

“The president, as far as he knows, he remembers there was such a proposal for a hotel,” Giuliani said. “He talked it over with Cohen as Cohen said. There was a nonbinding letter of intent that was sent. As far as he knows it never came to fruition. That was kind of the end of it.”

Cohen’s Testimony Implicates Trump and His Spawn

As you’ve heard, Michael Cohen pled guilty to lying to Congress this morning in conjunction with the Mueller investigation. Even what he testified to will implicate Trump and Don Jr directly. Here’s what the information says Cohen lied to cover up:

Cohen continued to pursue a Trump Tower Moscow deal for far longer than he testified he did, and briefed “family” on it, which presumably includes Don Jr (who therefore lied to Congress about it)

The Moscow Project was discussed multiple times within the Company and did not end in January 2016. Instead, as late as approximately June 2016, COHEN and Individual 2 discussed efforts to obtain Russian governmental approval for the Moscow Project. COHEN discussed the status and progress of the Moscow Project with Individual 1 on more than the three occasions COHEN claimed to the Committee, and he briefed family members of Individual 1 within the Company about the project.

The plans continued after the campaign got information about emails and were specifically structured around Trump getting the nomination; they ended when the DNC hack was reported

COHEN agreed to travel to Russia in connection with the Moscow Project and took steps in contemplation of Individual 1’s possible travel to Russia. COHEN and Individual 2 discussed on multiple occasions traveling to Russia to pursue the Moscow Project.

COHEN asked Individual 1 about the possibility of Individual 1 traveling to Russia in connection with the Moscow Project, and asked a senior campaign official about potential business travel to Russia.

On or about May 4, 2016, Individual 2 wrote to COHEN, “I had a chat with Moscow. ASSUMING the trip does happen the question is before or after the convention . . . Obviously the pre-meeting trip (you only) can happen anytime you want but the 2 big guys where [sic] the question. I said I would confirm and revert.” COHEN responded, “My trip before Cleveland. [Individual 1] once he becomes the nominee after the convention.”

On or about May 5, 2016, Individual 2 followed up with COHEN and wrote, “[Russian Official 1] would like to invite you as his guest to the St. Petersburg Forum which is Russia’s Davos it’s June 16-19. He wants to meet there with you and possibly introduce you to either [the President of Russia] or [the Prime Minister of Russia], as they are not sure if 1 or both will be there. . . . He said anything you want to discuss including dates and subjects are on the table to discuss.”

On or about May 6, 2016, Individual 2 asked COHEN to confirm those dates would work for him to travel. COHEN wrote back, “Works for me.”

From on or about June 9 to June 14, 2016, Individual 2 sent numerous messages to COHEN about the travel, including forms for COHEN to complete. However, on or about June 14, 2016, COHEN met Individual 2 in the lobby of the Company’s headquarters to inform Individual 2 he would not be traveling at that time.

Cohen was in direct communication with Dmitry Peskov’s office; and Putin’s office contacted Felix Sater

On or about January 14, 2016, COHEN emailed Russian Official 1’s office asking for assistance in connection with the Moscow Project. On or about January 16, 2016, COHEN emailed Russian Official 1’s office again, said he was trying to reach another high-level Russian official, and asked for someone who spoke English to contact him.

On or about January 20, 2016, COHEN received an email from the personal assistant to Russian Official 1 (“Assistant 1”), stating that she had been trying to reach COHEN and requesting that he call her using a Moscow-based phone number she provided.

Shortly after receiving the email, COHEN called Assistant 1 and spoke to her for approximately 20 minutes. On that call, COHEN described his position at the Company and outlined the proposed Moscow Project, including the Russian development company with which the Company had partnered. COHEN requested assistance in moving the project forward, both in securing land to build the proposed tower and financing the construction. Assistant 1 asked detailed questions and took notes, stating that she would follow up with others in Russia.

The day after COHEN’s call with Assistant 1, Individual 2 contacted him, asking for a call. Individual 2 wrote to COHEN, “It’s about [the President of Russia] they called today.”

And all this is just what Mueller wants us to know.

According to ABC, Cohen has been providing information about ongoing contacts with Russians, and floated pardons, among other things.

The questioning has focused on contacts with Russians by Trump associates during the campaign, Trump’s business ties to Russia, obstruction of justice and talk of possible pardons, sources familiar with the discussions have told ABC News.

Remember, too, that Trump just submitted a sworn open book test that would have answered this question:

What communication did you have with Michael D. Cohen, Felix Sater and others, including foreign nationals, about Russian real estate developments during the campaign?

I would bet a lot of money Trump lied in his answer. Don Jr is in immediate trouble and pops isn’t that far behind.

Did Jerome Corsi (or Roger Stone) Get Podesta Emails from Guccifer 2.0?

Thus far, the public narrative about Jerome Corsi’s travails with Robert Mueller (aside from the fact that he just hired Larry Klayman and is submitting a complaint about Mueller to Matt Whitaker) pertain to how he served as the long-hidden go-between between Roger Stone and WikiLeaks.

But I want to lay out a number of data points to suggest that — after he learned information on WikiLeaks via Ted Malloch — he (or Stone) may have obtained actual Podesta emails from Guccifer 2.0.

This post assumes that Corsi and Stone learned not just that GRU and WikiLeaks had Podesta emails but also that the emails included documents pertaining to Joule Holding, as laid out in this post.

Corsi had access to Guccifer 2.0 through his Peter Smith buddies

Roger Stone has said he was not involved in the Peter Smith operation to find the emails Hillary Clinton deleted, but Corsi was. And Smith reached out to Guccifer 2.0.

The activists, the journalist-turned-entrepreneur Charles Johnson and his former business partner Pax Dickinson, agreed to help Smith’s quixotic mission, which failed to track down copies of Clinton’s emails. Johnson is a polarizing figure who was banned from Twitter in 2015 after promoting an effort to “take out” a Black Lives Matter activist but maintains ties to White House officials. Smith also reached out to “Guccifer 2.0”—an alias the U.S. intelligence community has linked to Russian state hackers—and was advised to seek the help of a white nationalist hacker who lives in Ukraine.

Smith also appears to have had advance knowledge of the Podesta emails, and was fundraising off of their release in October 2016.

Corsi’s information was sourced to “hackers,” not “friend in embassy”

When Corsi reported information about upcoming releases back to Stone, he first referred to “friend in embassy,” meaning Assange, but then described the “game hackers are now about.”

Word is friend in embassy plans 2 more dumps. One shortly after I’m back. 2nd in Oct. Impact planned to be very damaging.… Time to let more than [the Clinton Campaign chairman] to be exposed as in bed w enemy if they are not ready to drop HRC [Hillary Rodham Clinton]. That appears to be the game hackers are now about.

Sure, Assange is himself a hacker, of sorts. But the reference to the hackers, plural, seems to reference a different actor. (Chuck Ross has a screen cap of the email here.) Perhaps he was thinking of GRU itself, or people like Chuck Johnson and Weev (described above).

Guccifer 2.0 was happy to search for specific files

In a number of instances, Guccifer 2.0 sought out and provided files pertinent to a specific interlocutor, as when on August 15, 2016, Guccifer 2.0 sent files on his opponent to a congressional candidate.

On or about August 15, 2016, the Conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, received a request for stolen documents from a candidate for the U.S. Congress. The Conspirators responded using the Guccifer 2.0 persona and sent the candidate stolen documents related to the candidate’s opponent.

[I reiterate earlier warnings that I believe this person may be different than the person usually presumed to be the candidate.]

So Guccifer was at times happy to deliver precisely what interlocutors wanted, down to searching on a name.

Corsi’s statement of offense incorporates the GRU investigation

Two parts of Corsi’s statement of the offense reflect that his discussions with prosecutors may extend to the investigation into GRU.

First, there’s the scope laid out (which must reflect an expansion of the investigation from what it was on August 2, 2017, when Rod Rosenstein first memorialized it in detail). In addition to the connections between Trump’s campaign and the Russian government, the investigation included GRU (this was four months after the GRU indictment) and how GRU got the documents to WikiLeaks.

At the time of the interview, the Special Counsel’s Office was investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, including:

a. the theft of campaign-related emails and other documents by the Russian government’s Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff (“GRU”);

b. the GRU’s provision of certain of those documents to an organization (“Organization 1”) for public release in order to expand the GRU’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign; and

c. the nature of any connections between individuals associated with the U.S. presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump (“Trump Campaign”) and the Russian government or Organization 1.

Then there are the prosecutors who signed off on the draft plea deal.

In addition to Jeannie Rhee, Andrew Goldstein, and Aaron Zelinsky (all of whom we’ve seen in the Andrew Miller proceedings), Rush Atkinson is included. Before this document, Atkinson had only shown up on the Russian side of the investigation — the IRA and GRU indictments.

Corsi refused to name his Podesta email source before the grand jury

Corsi’s so-called cooperation went to hell when he refused to name his real Podesta email source before the grand jury (note, given what was laid out in his draft plea, I think the date of this must be November 2, not November 9).

A source with knowledge of Corsi’s most recent grand jury appearance, which occurred last Friday, told TheDCNF that he was pulled out of the proceeding because prosecutors were frustrated with his testimony.

[snip]

Corsi says that Mueller’s team zeroed in on a trip he took to Italy with his wife in July and August 2016 to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. It was on that trip that Corsi claims his theory about Wikileaks and Podesta finally clicked.

“When I flew to Italy in July and early August 2016 for my 25th wedding anniversary, I really put it together,” he says of Wikileaks having Podesta’s emails.

Corsi says that he came up with his theory after realizing that Wikileaks’ July 22, 2016 release of DNC emails did not contain any from the Clinton campaign chairman.

“I noticed there weren’t any Podesta emails in there. In July, flying over to Italy I thought, ‘I bet Assange has Podesta’s emails,’” Corsi asserts.

Corsi said that prosecutors rejected that explanation.

“They really wanted me to tell the truth, and I did. But they wouldn’t accept that.”

Prosecutors “drilled on and drilled on and drilled on” Corsi’s activities in Italy, including his phone calls and emails, he said.

Admittedly, this could just be Ted Malloch or someone (or, again, someone like Chuck Johnson, who has ties to Assange). But Corsi’s refusal to name his real source would make more sense if it were something even more scandalous.

The date Corsi and Stone are trying to explain away is the same date Stone talked with Guccifer

As I’ve pointed out a couple of times, Stone and Corsi have offered conflicting stories about … something that happened on August 14, 2016. At one level, it’s totally obvious what happened: The NYT published a story that revealed Paul Manafort’s graft and ties to Russia, and they talked about ways to respond by projecting such accusations against someone else. But that doesn’t explain why and how their response focused on Podesta. And Stone and Corsi’s cover stories both appear to struggle to explain what went on between the two of them that day.

For example, in the cover story Corsi did in March 2017 (which he now says he presented to the grand jury in immunized testimony), he claims he started researching his August 31 research report on that day.

On Aug. 14, 2016, I began researching for Roger Stone a memo that I entitled “Podesta.”

In his immunized testimony, Corsi admitted that he didn’t start this research until August 30, and did so as an explicit cover story.

Stone has several times claimed something in Breitbart — perhaps this post — focused their attention. But that doesn’t make any sense at all, because that’s still a focus on Joule, not on the Manafort-related Tony Podesta sleaze Corsi’s report would cover.

We can assume that Corsi and Stone met on or around August 14. He only returned home from Italy on August 12. And Corsi published this interview on August 15. August 15 is also the very first day Stone ever tweeted about John Podesta.

Those two days are also when Stone reached out to Guccifer.

Guccifer is almost certainly talking about the DCCC files dropped on August 12, which because of the amount of personal details leaked were the most sensitive files dumped. But it’s just possible the reference to posted files were to files posted somewhere else.

The emails Corsi deleted match up to both the Joule disclosure and the last Guccifer post

Finally, there’s this from Corsi’s statement of the offense:

Between approximately January 13, 2017 and March 1, 2017, CORSI deleted from his computer all email correspondence that predated October 11, 2016, including Person 1’s email instructing CORSI to “get to [the founder of Organization 1]” and CORSI’s subsequent forwarding of that email to the overseas individual.

The dates here are interesting. The October 11 date is pretty easy to explain. That’s why the Peter Smith foldering email was expressing happiness with the Podesta emails that were then dropping. It’s also the date when Wikileaks released the Joule documents; if Stone and Corsi were discussing Joule before that, it would represent prior knowledge.

There are a great of possible explanations for why, on January 13, Corsi might have decided he wanted to delete all the emails pertaining to his campaign activities, including that that’s the day SSCI announced their investigation [Update: See CJ’s suggestion — that it pertains to how Time Machine does back-ups — here]. It is, however, the day after the last Guccifer post, when he falsely claimed to be unrelated to Russian intelligence again, itself a response to the Intelligence Community Assessment stating with high confidence he was and January 10 testimony from the top spooks reinforcing that point. That same day, Stone associate Lee Stranahan DMed Guccifer and asked if he wanted to do an interview.

In other words, if Stone and Corsi had worked with Guccifer — directly or indirectly — to plan their attacks on Podesta, the stakes for doing so would have gone up right before — according to the government — he may have started thinking about deleting his emails.

As for March 1, that’s the day before Jeff Sessions recused (though it was clear he would have to do so before that); though the end date may also pertain to a preservation order or some investigative explanation — though that would have been remarkably early for such a step, given the timing of known George Papadopoulos steps. It’s particularly remarkable that Corsi had deleted his emails by March 1 given that the cover story he wrote up for Roger Stone was written over three weeks later.

All of this is, mind you, highly speculative, and thus far there’s no hint in anything serial fabulist Corsi has said to indicate that’s the case. But it is a theoretical possibility, one that would explain a lot about what just happened.

Trump’s Two Denials Could Provide Reason for Mueller to Demand an Interview

According to an updated NYT story on this week’s Paul Manafort and Jerome Corsi developments, the delay in Trump’s submission of his open book test came in response to two things: Seeing a reference to Roger Stone’s regular contact with then-candidate Trump in Corsi’s draft statement of the offense and learning that Mueller had informed Manafort he had caught him lying.

Mr. Corsi’s dealings with Mr. Mueller’s prosecutors have caused alarm among the president’s legal team, who were informed of developments by Mr. Corsi’s lawyer. President Trump’s lawyers were especially troubled by a draft statement of offense against Mr. Corsi that was passed on to them, according to people familiar with the situation. In it, prosecutors claimed that Mr. Corsi understood that Mr. Stone was “in regular contact with senior members of the Trump campaign, including with then-candidate Donald J. Trump” when he asked Mr. Corsi in late July 2016 to “get to” Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks.

The reference to Mr. Trump coincided with other events that so disturbed the president’s lawyers that they delayed turning in his responses to written questions after negotiating over them with the special counsel for nearly a year. At roughly the same time, the Justice Department inadvertently released a secret criminal complaint against Mr. Assange and Mr. Trump’s legal team learned that prosecutors were accusing Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman, of lying. Only after Mr. Mueller’s team reassured Mr. Trump’s lawyers that they were not trying to lure the president into a trap did they forward his answers on Nov. 20.

Unsurprisingly, CNN has already confirmed that Trump denied culpability in his answers to the two questions that address those topics.

President Donald Trump told special counsel Robert Mueller in writing that Roger Stone did not tell him about WikiLeaks, nor was he told about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting between his son, campaign officials and a Russian lawyer promising dirt on Hillary Clinton, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

One source described the President’s answers without providing any direct quotes and said the President made clear he was answering to the best of his recollection.

Remember, the GRU indictment described Stone as “a person who was in regular contact with senior members of the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump,” so the inclusion of “including with then-candidate Donald J. Trump” reflects language added since July. Recall, too, that Stone at first complained about that description, insisting that “My contact with the campaign in 2016 was Donald Trump. I was not in regular contact with campaign officials,” only to backtrack to, “I certainly acknowledge that I was in touch with Trump campaign officials,” when he realized the implications of that. As CNN notes, in recent weeks Mueller’s team asked for records of Stone’s calls and visits to Trump Tower. So it’s possible a recent witness — Michael Cohen and Steve Bannon could both be possibilities — suggested that Stone had conveyed WikiLeaks information directly to Trump, leading to the request for more records.

And (as I used as a hypothetical last night on Chris Hayes’ show), we know that Manafort and Trump met on June 7, 2016, just before Trump announced an attack on Hillary Clinton in coming days and two days before the June 9 meeting.

So it is quite likely Mueller has evidence that both of Trump’s claims are lies.

Finally, remember that one excuse Trump has given for refusing to sit for an interview is that none of this really affects him directly, so Mueller has no need to engage in back-and-forth with him. It’s quite likely that a Corsi indictment and a Manafort sentencing report could be public within the next month alleging that both of the claims Trump made are false. While I still doubt Mueller would wait for a Trump interview, any inconsistency between Mueller’s evidence and Trump’s answers would make it far easier to demand an interview.

Jerome Corsi Prepared the Lies He told Special Counsel

I noted several times that Jerome Corsi’s lawyer, David Gray, claimed on the record in an interview with the WaPo that Corsi was offered, but declined, to engage in criminal behavior with Roger Stone.

Gray said he was confident that Corsi has done nothing wrong. “Jerry Corsi made decisions that he would not take actions that would give him criminal liability,” he added, declining to elaborate.

Asked if Corsi had opportunities to take such actions, Gray said, “I wouldn’t say he was offered those opportunities. I would say he had communications with Roger Stone. We’ll supply those communications and be cooperative. My client didn’t act further that would give rise to any criminal liability.”

That story was published on October 5, the day before he his first interview with Mueller’s team. We now know some of what Corsi said at that interview. He admitted that Roger Stone had asked him to reach out to WikiLeaks to find out what it had.

CORSI said that in the summer of 2016 an associate (“Person 1”) who CORSI understood to be in regular contact with senior members of the Trump Campaign, including with then-candidate Donald J. Trump, asked CORSI to get in touch with Organization 1 about materials it possessed relevant to the presidential campaign that had not already been released.

But, Corsi claimed in an interview the day after his lawyer had told the press he declined to engage in criminal behavior, he had declined Stone’s request.

CORSI said he declined the request from Person 1 and made clear to Person 1 that trying to contact Organization 1 could be subject to investigation. CORSI also stated that Person 1 never asked CORSI to have another person try to get in contact with Organization 1, and that CORSI told Person 1 that they should just wait until Organization 1 released any materials.

That seems to suggest that Corsi denied he had reached out to Ted Malloch, somehow obtained information on what WikiLeaks had planned, and shared that with Stone because he believed it would involve criminal liability — and his lawyer agreed.

But his plea agreement doesn’t include reaching out to WikiLeaks among the crimes it says would be covered if he took the plea deal. That plea deal only envisioned Corsi’s risk to include lying, more lying, and conspiring to lie.

In consideration of your client’s guilty plea to the above offense, your client will not be further prosecuted criminally by this Office for the conduct set forth in the attached Statement of the Offense; for any other false statements made by him to this Office or to the grand jury between September 6, 2018 and November 2, 2018; and for obstructing, aiding or abetting in the obstruction of, or conspiring to obstruct or commit perjury before congressional or grand jury investigations in connection with the conduct described in the Statement of Offense.

Now, Corsi claims that he told those lies because he didn’t remember what really happened, and because he had deleted all his emails (in a very curiously specific period, January 13 to March 1, which means the government is somehow sure he did it weeks before he first rolled out the public cover story he had worked on with Stone), couldn’t refresh his memory until the FBI obtained the deleted emails from his computer. So it’s possible that Gray really believed Corsi’s claim to have declined Stone’s requests (though it’s unclear why he would have thought that responding to them would involve criminal liability — as I keep saying, speaking to Guccifer 2.0 or WikiLeaks is not, by itself, a crime, and Corsi would have the added protection of being able to claim he was acting as a journalist).

Still, all this seems to suggest that Corsi prepared the lie he told prosecutors, believing that telling the truth would expose him to criminal liability.

That’s going to make it a lot harder to claim this was all an accident brought on by poor memory once he does get charged.

Hillary Clinton Caught Her Stroke from Jerome Corsi

Gotta give Jerome Corsi: For a guy that not even his spouse should believe, he has taken down a series of Democratic presidential candidates. One thing we learn from the plea agreement he didn’t sign, for example, is that a campaign attack claiming that Hillary had had a stroke may have originated with the same guy who invented the Swift Boat Veterans and a Kenyan birth certificate.

On August 2, 2016, having consulted with someone who consulted with Julian Assange, Corsi advised Roger Stone to start setting up a claim that Hillary had had a stroke.

On or about August 2, 2016, CORSI responded to Person 1 by email. CORSI wrote that he was currently in Europe and planned to return in mid-August. CORSI stated: “Word is friend in embassy plans 2 more dumps. One shortly after I’m back. 2nd in Oct. Impact planned to be very damaging…. Time to let more than [the Clinton Campaign chairman] to be exposed as in bed w enemy if they are not ready to drop HRC [Hillary Rodham Clinton]. That appears to be the game hackers are now about. Would not hurt to start suggesting HRC old, memory bad, has stroke — neither he nor she well. I expect that much of next dump focus, setting stage for Foundation debacle.” [my emphasis]

On August 3, by his own accounting, Roger Stone spoke with Trump.

On August 5, Trump started an attack on Hillary that would evolve into claims she had a stroke.

Donald Trump pumped up his attacks on Hillary Clinton’s character Saturday night by suggesting that the former secretary of state is not mentally fit to be president.

“She took a short-circuit in the brain. She’s got problems,” Trump said, seizing on Clinton’s explanation that she “short-circuited” a recent answer about her truthfulness in discussing her email server.

“Honestly, I don’t think she’s all there,” he added.

A perhaps more interesting detail is that when Corsi tried to destroy all evidence he had been conspiring with people working with emails stolen by Russia, he deleted all those before October 11.

Between approximately January 13, 2017 and March 1, 2017, CORSI deleted from his computer all email correspondence that predated October 11, 2016, including Person 1’s email instructing CORSI to “get to [the founder of Organization 1]” and CORSI’s subsequent forwarding of that email to the overseas individual.

October 11 is the day WikiLeaks released the emails including attachments relating to Joule were released. If you wanted to eliminate all evidence of foreknowledge of those emails, you’d start there. And Corsi tried to do just that, eliminate evidence of the period leading up to WikiLeaks’ release of Joule emails, during a period when Stone was working on a cover-up story.

Mueller Just Guaranteed He Can Issue a Public Report

Back when Paul Manafort first entered a plea agreement, I argued the effects of it could not be pardoned away.

Here’s why this deal is pardon proof:

  1. Mueller spent the hour and a half delay in arraignment doing … something. It’s possible Manafort even presented the key parts of testimony Mueller needs from him to the grand jury this morning.
  2. The forfeiture in this plea is both criminal and civil, meaning DOJ will be able to get Manafort’s $46 million even with a pardon.
  3. Some of the dismissed charges are financial ones that can be charged in various states.

Since that time, Mueller has been busy finishing up the Roger Stone indictment, Trump has finally finished his open book test, and any owners of the property Manafort had to forfeit under the plea deal had their 30-day window to challenge the forfeiture (only the bank owning the loan on his Trump Tower condo is known to have contested the forfeiture, which means the government may already be irretrievably seizing $43 million of Manafort’s property).

Which brings us to the status report that Mueller’s team delayed long enough to get that open book test.

Paulie can’t help himself. According to Mueller’s team, he has kept lying and lying since entering the cooperation agreement.

After signing the plea agreement, Manafort committed federal crimes by lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Special Counsel’s Office on a variety of subject matters, which constitute breaches of the agreement. The government will file a detailed sentencing submission to the Probation Department and the Court in advance of sentencing that sets forth the nature of the defendant’s crimes and lies, including those after signing the plea agreement herein.

As the defendant has breached the plea agreement, there is no reason to delay his sentencing herein.

As I noted back in September, the standard the government has to prove to claim Manafort has breached his agreement is just “good faith,” as compared to preponderance of the evidence with Rick Gates.

With Gates, the standard the government has to prove to argue he has breached his agreement is preponderance of the evidence or, in case of committing a crime, probable cause. With Manafort, the government only has to prove “good faith.”

Now, it is true that Trump can pardon Manafort (though that probably won’t happen right away). That’s the only sane explanation for Manafort doing what he did, that he is still certain he’ll be pardoned. But many of these charges can still be charged in state court.

Just about the only explanation for Manafort’s actions are that — as I suggested — Trump was happy to have Manafort serve as a mole in Mueller’s investigation.

But Mueller’s team appears to have no doubt that Manafort was lying to them. That means they didn’t really need his testimony, at all. It also means they had no need to keep secrets — they could keep giving Manafort the impression that he was pulling a fast one over the prosecutors, all while reporting misleading information to Trump that he could use to fill out his open book test. Which increases the likelihood that Trump just submitted sworn answers to those questions full of lies.

And that “detailed sentencing submission … sett[ing] forth the nature of the defendant’s crimes and lies” that Mueller mentions in the report?

There’s your Mueller report, which will be provided in a form that Matt Whitaker won’t be able to suppress. (Reminder: Mueller included 38 pages of evidence along with Manafort’s plea agreement, which I argued showed how what Manafort and Trump did to Hillary was the same thing that Manafort had done to Yulia Tymoshenko.)

Update: I’ve tweaked this post since first posting it.

As I disclosed in July, 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. 

After 14 Years, Conspiracy Artist Jerome Corsi Continues to Successfully Yank the Media’s Chain

Before I address Jerome Corsi’s latest success at playing the media, let me review my theory of why Mueller’s team is so interested in Corsi with respect to Stone (which they’ve been pursuing since March).

Jerome Corsi probably knew not just that WikiLeaks would release Podesta emails, but also what they contained

On October 6, 2016, Jerome Corsi renewed an attack on John Podesta first floated in a Peter Schweitzer and Steve Bannon report released on August 1 (and funded by Rebekah Mercer).

Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign manager, John Podesta, was on the executive board of a client of the Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, which is at the heart of the the Panama Papers investigation into massive global offshore money-laundering.

The company for which Podesta served as a board member, Joule, also received $35 million from a Putin-connected Russian government fund at the same time then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spearheaded the transfer of U.S. advanced technology, some with military uses, as part of her “reset” strategy with Russia, according to a report titled “From Russia With Money,” released in August by the Government Accountability Institute. “Clinton Cash” author Peter Schweizer is president of GAI, and Steve Bannon, the CEO of the Trump campaign, is a director.

The Russian entities that funneled money to Joule and its related companies, and ultimately to Podesta, include a controversial Russian investor with ties to the Russian government, Viktor Vekselberg, and his Renova Group, a Russian conglomerate with interests in oil, energy and telecommunication.

It was a remarkably prescient report! Just hours later, WikiLeaks would start releasing John Podesta’s emails, and would you know it?!?, starting on October 11, those emails included documents pertaining to Podesta’s efforts to unwind his relationship with Joule. He and Roger Stone both returned to that attack on October 13, after WikiLeaks had released those files. And on October 17, Corsi finally got around to a post linking the released files to (claim to) substantiate the attack.

While that’s in no way proof, it certainly seems to suggest that either Corsi or Stone not only had advanced warning that WikiLeaks would release Podesta emails, but knew that those emails would include documents pertaining to Joule.

As it happens, though, Corsi and Stone spoke about Joule back in August, probably on August 14, before Stone predicted that it’d soon be Podestas’ time in the barrel. Corsi explained that conversation in March 2017, at a time when Stone was pushing Randy Credico to back his explanations for the Podesta comment, this way:

On Aug. 14, 2016, the New York Times reported that a secret ledger in Ukraine listed cash payments for Paul Manafort, a consultant to the Ukraine’s former President Viktor F. Yanukovych.

When this article was published, I suggested to Roger Stone that the attack over Manafort’s ties to Russia needed to be countered.

My plan was to publicize the Government Accountability Institute’s report, “From Russia With Money,” that documented how Putin paid substantial sums of money to both Hillary Clinton and John Podesta.

Putin must have wanted Hillary to win in 2016, if only because Russian under-the-table cash payments to the Clintons and to Podesta would have made blackmailing her as president easy.

On Aug. 14, 2016, I began researching for Roger Stone a memo that I entitled “Podesta.”

Stone has explained whatever digital tracks and the timing of that conversation slightly differently, claiming first that it pertained to a reference to a Schweitzer piece, but probably currently relying on this piece.

If Stone and Corsi plotted on August 14 to return to the Joule attack after WikiLeaks released files on it, then that conversation would have shortly follow the trip to Italy in late July and early August that, according to Corsi, Mueller appears to believe is where Corsi learned about the Podesta emails.

But Corsi says — in spite of apparent emails in Mueller’s possession proving otherwise — he figured out WikiLeaks would release Podesta’s emails just by “forensic analysis.”

“I connect the dots,” he said. “I didn’t need any source to tell me.”

Corsi said he determined in August that WikiLeaks head Julian Assange had obtained Podesta’s emails and was likely to release them in October — and he said several emails he sent in the summer of 2016 would confirm that fact. But he said his awareness was simply a logical deduction, not inside information from WikiLeaks.

[snip]

Corsi said that he had “sources” who had given him 1,000 pages of information over the summer of 2016 on how the Democratic Party’s computers worked. He said he did a “forensic analysis” of those emails to infer that Podesta’s were missing from the batch.

“Whoever was in that server, had to have seen Podesta’s emails,” he said. “It was a guess, but it was a conclusion that Assange had Podesta’s emails. … He was going to release them in October. Assange always releases things strategically.”

Which brings us to where we are today. After twice getting the media all worked up over claims about plea deals, Corsi now says he is rejecting a plea deal on one count of perjury.

Matt Whitaker May Determine What Happens Next

It’s not just that Corsi has succeeded in yanking the media’s chain, twice setting off press tizzies closely covering the claims of a man whose job is getting the press to embrace elaborate lies. It’s that Corsi’s chain-yanking have occurred at key times in the Matt Whitaker era. Consider this timeline:

November 7: Trump fires Jeff Sessions and replaces him by the end of day with designated hatchet man Matt Whitaker

November 8: In hearing in Andrew Miller subpoena challenge, Michael Dreeben lays out what Mueller can do with and without Attorney General appointment, noting that subpoenaing a journalist requires AG approval

November 8: On his podcast, Corsi suggests something big is going down with Mueller

November 9: Corsi appears before the grand jury and doesn’t give the answer — regarding how he learned that WikiLeaks would release John Podesta’s emails — that prosecutors expected; they told him they were going to charge him with perjury

November 12: On his podcast, Corsi says he expects to be indicted; a huge media frenzy follows

November 13: The media frenzy continues until (he claims), moments before starting an MSNBC interview, his lawyer tells him to call it off

November 15: Trump tweet apparently reflects Corsi’s claim of prosecutors yelling at him to give specific testimony they seek

November 19: In supplemental filing in Miller case, Mueller says he retains full authority of US Attorney until and uniless appointing regulations get changed

November 23: Corsi goes to the WaPo (off the record), AP, and MSNBC (the latter two both on the record) to tell them he is in plea negotiations

November 26: Corsi announces he has been offered, but will reject, a plea deal to one count of perjury, accuses Mueller of Gestapo tactics, and claims he will file a complaint with Whitaker

I’ve been wondering since November 9 whether Whitaker and Mueller had differences of opinion about what should happen with Jerome Corsi. We don’t actually know, yet, what kind of role Whitaker has played in overseeing Mueller’s investigation yet, partly because it’s not clear whether he’d be read in before the conclusion of an ethics review that it’s not at all clear he would pass (he can refuse to recuse anyway, but that will pose risks to his law license).

Still, it seems likely that, going forward, Whitaker will have an opportunity to weigh in on what happens to Corsi. If Mueller decides, once Corsi refuses a plea deal, to charge Corsi with that lie and perhaps others (or a role in a larger conspiracy), Whitaker may have an opportunity to veto it. And DOJ would presumably treat Corsi, a clear propagandist, but one with prior ties to the President, as a journalist.

To be clear, Corsi would be charged for lies to the grand jury. Even assuming he claimed he did so to protect a source, he’d be in a different position than (say) when James Risen refused to say anything about a source. He’d have already lied.

Still, by treating Corsi with heightened First Amendment privileges, Whitaker could add layers of review to any new charges (again, assuming anything Corsi says is true).

Meanwhile, Corsi has told multiple outlets that he wants to accuse Mueller of advising Corsi to lie to FINRA about pleading guilty.

Corsi has also added a new twist to the saga, claiming that he plans to file a complaint with Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker over Mueller’s team’s alleged recommendation that he keep his plea deal a secret from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).

“FINRA requires by law that I immediately report anything that might affect my ability to hold securities licenses,” Corsi explained. “So I asked the special counsel’s team how they expected me to fulfill my legal obligation to FINRA if they want me to keep the plea deal a secret. And they said, ‘you don’t have to tell FINRA because this will all be under seal.’ So I told them I was going to file criminal charges against them with Whitaker, because they just advised me to commit a crime.” The special counsel’s office declined to comment.

By making claims that are probably bullshit and were probably made in front of his attorney, Corsi risks really screwing up his legal representation.

But all this is pretty obviously theater performed for two audience members: Donald Trump (who has already publicly responded) and Matt Whitaker (who believes in Bigfoot and time travel). So it may work!

Does Mueller need Corsi’s prosecution, or does he need his testimony?

Nevertheless, if Corsi serially lied to investigators, I would imagine Whitaker would eventually approve of charges against him.

But that may not be what Mueller wants (and Corsi may know that).

While it seems clear part of Corsi’s lies pertain to how he learned that WikiLeaks had and would release Podesta’s emails, Corsi told Nashsa Bertrand that the lie pertained to an email he sent to Roger Stone telling him to go see Assange.

Corsi told me that he emailed Stone in 2016 (he didn’t specify what month) telling him to “go see Assange”—an email that prosecutors showed him during an interview earlier this year that Corsi apparently had not voluntarily produced. “I couldn’t remember any of my 2016 emails,” Corsi said. “I hadn’t looked at them. So they let me amend my testimony, but now they want to charge me for the initial day [of my interview with prosecutors] when I said I didn’t remember that email. I won’t plead guilty to it.”

Corsi’s story doesn’t make sense — not least because if this really were about his original interview, it would be charged as False Statements, not Perjury — but if what Mueller needs is an account of Corsi’s August communications with Stone, then Corsi’s current stunt may actually achieve part of its objective.

Mueller probably doesn’t want to charge Corsi — and certainly not Corsi alone — because he’s such a gaslighter the trial will be a pain in the ass (and while he’s got a credible lawyer, he obviously doesn’t have any control over Corsi’s stunts). What Mueller probably wants is the testimony he needs to be able to charge Stone as part of a larger conspiracy.

The bigger question, though, is whether Mueller needs that testimony before he takes his next investigative steps.

Yevgeniy Prigozhin Continues to Troll Both Online and in the Courts

xkcd comic used under Creative Commons license — available online at https://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/free_speech.png

The trolls are engaging in lawfare again.

For some time, I’ve been fascinated by the way, particularly in the wake of the 2016 election tampering, Russians have engaged in lawfare to score political points against the US. There were the multiple lawsuits pertaining to the Steele dossier. There was Concord Management’s unexpected defense in the Internet Research Agency indictment. Last week, Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s trolls struck again, this time suing Facebook for deleting the account of Federal Agency of News on April 3, 2018.

I’m a bit mystified by this suit. It may be a moonshot bid to learn more about Mueller’s investigation and insinuate that Facebook is an agent of the US government. More likely, it may be as much about pressuring Facebook in Russia as it is about winning reinstatement on Facebook.

Another Prigozhin attempt to use lawfare to embarrass the US government (and their willing partner Facebook!)

As with Concord’s defense, Prigozhin has hired legit American lawyers for the lawfare. But unlike Concord’s defense, it’s not clear how seriously to take this effort. The suit complains, in significant part, that Facebook has deprived FAN of its First Amendment rights.

FAN’s publications and posts on Facebook were the exercise of its constitutionally protected freedom of speech to inform the general public of historical and current events in politics, entertainment and other areas of public interest.

Facebook violated FAN’s First Amendment rights by deleting the contents of FAN’s Facebook Page and blocking FAN’s access to its Facebook account.

Facebook took action against FAN in an effort to silence and deter FAN’s free speech.

Facebook violated FAN’s First Amendment rights solely on account of its and its members’ national origin.

As xkcd famously explained once, that’s not the way the First Amendment works. It only prevents the government from limiting speech. Facebook is a private company, and it can boot whatever users it sees fit. But FAN may be trying to do two things. First, by treating Facebook’s terms of service as a contract, it claims it fulfilled its side of the relationship, but Facebook nevertheless deleted its account.

FAN complied with the terms of the Contract by properly registering with Facebook, paying any fees that were due and complying with all applicable terms of service.

At no time did FAN violate the terms of the contract.

Despite its contractual obligation to provide FAN with access to Facebook. Facebook breached the contract by removing FAN’s Facebook account and blocking FAN’s content without a legitimate reason.

Then, by tying Facebook’s efforts to crack down on Russian trolls to US government efforts to respond to Russia’s 2016 operation, I suspect it is trying to argue that Facebook deleted FAN’s account as an agent of the US government, thereby amounting to a First Amendment violation. The very first section of the complaint’s Background description details, “Facebook and the United States Government Target Russian Websites.” Among other details to substantiate that effort, it cites:

  • The January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment that described “a close Putin ally with ties to Russian intelligence” funding the Internet Research Agency
  • Former Facebook CISO Alex Stamos’ statements, which went overboard in trying to assure people they were hunting down all Russian influence operations, “even those with very weak signals of a connection and not associated with any known organized effort”
  • Mark Zuckerberg’s comments that Facebook was “actively working with the U.S. government on its ongoing investigations into Russian interference”

As the lawsuit lays out, when Facebook removed FAN’s account in April, both Stamos and Zuck said they were doing so solely because FAN was controlled by the Internet Research Association.

All that said, it’s still highly unlikely this will work. I’m not sure if any of the CA-specific complaints will either, but like I said, this is a moonshot.

Prigozhin’s corporate laundromat

To make the argument at all, of course, FAN has to dismiss the presumed and explicit reasons Facebook banned them, starting with the accusation that they’re tied to IRA. In part, that involves claiming that IRA was disbanded in 2016.

Upon information and belief, the IRA was liquidated on or about December 28, 2016.

It also describes the new digs FAN got in 2015, after cohabiting with IRA for a year.

At the time of FAN’s incorporation and until in or about the middle of 2015, FAN and the IRA were located in the same building at 55A Savushkina Street, Saint Petersburg, the Russian Federation, 197183.

In or about the beginning of 2015, FAN searched for new premises that would be more convenient for its business with regard to a larger space for the office premises. On July 1, 2015, FAN moved to a business center at 23J Krasnogvardeiskiy Lane, Saint Petersburg, 197342.

But it also involves denying claims made in the complaint against Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova that was filed in September but not unsealed until October, events that post-dated Facebook’s banning of FAN by over five months. In that complaint, FBI Agent David Holt had alleged that FAN was one of the entities that helped obscure Project Lakhta’s disinformation efforts.

Beginning in or around mid-2014 and continuing to the present, Project Lakhta obscured its conduct by operating through a number of Russian entities, including Internet Research Agency LLC (“IRA”), Internet Research LLC, MediaSintez LLC, GlavSet LLC, MixInfo LLC, Azimut LLC, NovInfo LLC, Nevskiy News LLC (a/k/a “NevNov”), Economy Today LLC, National News LLC, Federal News Agency LLC (a/k/a “FAN”), and International News Agency (a/k/a “MAN”).

The complaint claims FAN has nothing to do with these efforts, in part by denying (correctly, by all public accounts) that Lakhta is a legal entity.

FAN has no knowledge of “Project Lakhta”. There is no known business or other organization in the Russian Federation that operates under such name. To the extent it is some sort of informal organization, FAN is unaware of its membership, goals or methods of operation.

FAN is not an entity within “Project Lakhta” and has no relationship with “Project Lakhta”, the IRA or GlavSet. To the contrary, FAN is a news gathering and dissemination organization. In that capacity, FAN gathers news from conventional sources and adheres to journalistic standards in its operations.

Denying any tie to IRA and Lakhta, however, also involves making claims about Khusyaynova that directly conflict with the claims in the complaint. Khusyaynova, the lawsuit claims, is FAN’s accountant, but that’s the only place she works.

Ms. Khusyaynova has been FAN’s chief accountant since at least August 2, 2016. As such, Ms. Khusyaynova has been involved in FAN’s day-to-day accounting operations, including the purchase of office equipment and furniture and payments for advertising or other business contracts as assigned by Mr. Zubarev in his capacity as the General Director of FAN.

As the Chief Accountant, Ms. Khusyaynova’s duties are akin to those of a bookkeeper in the United States. She is not an officer of FAN, does not exercise discretionary authority over the editorial content of FAN’s publications and is not aware of what stories are going to be published or not published.

To the best of FAN’s knowledge, Ms. Khusyaynova’s sole employment is with FAN. In fact, she has explicitly stated that FAN is her sole employer and that she does not provide any services to any other entity and denies any involvement with “Project Lakhta”.

FAN has no reason to believe that Ms. Khusyaynova or any of its employees were providing services to another entity, much less to an entity under the umbrella of “Project Lakhta”.

And it’s not just Khusyaynova about whom FAN must make claims that dispute those made by the US government. The complaint does the same of Aleksandra Yurievna Krylova, who was accused in the IRA indictment of planning and carrying out an intelligence gathering trip to the US in 2014.

Defendant ALEKSANDRA YURYEVNA KRYLOVA (Крылова Александра Юрьевна) worked for the ORGANIZATION from at least in or around September 2013 to at least in or around November 2014. By approximately April 2014, KRYLOVA served as director and was the ORGANIZATION’s third-highest ranking employee. In 2014, KRYLOVA traveled to the United States under false pretenses for the purpose of collecting intelligence to inform the ORGANIZATION’s operations.

[snip]

Only KRYLOVA and BOGACHEVA received visas, and from approximately June 4, 2014 through June 26, 2014, KRYLOVA and BOGACHEVA traveled in and around the United States, including stops in Nevada, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Louisiana, Texas, and New York to gather intelligence. After the trip, KRYLOVA and BURCHIK exchanged an intelligence report regarding the trip.

Here, the lawsuit has a bit more difficulty just dismissing ties. It admits that Krylova was the founder and first director of FAN, but in that passage of the lawsuit declines to mention when that was.

The founder and first General Director of FAN was Aleksandra Yurievna Krylova. The Special Counsel has alleged that Krylova was an employee of the IRA from in or around September 2013 to in or around November 2014. FAN has no knowledge of this allegation and therefore does not know if it is accurate or not.

But as the lawsuit admits elsewhere, FAN was incorporated on May 22, 2014.

On May 22, 2014, FAN was incorporated in order to satisfy public needs of Russian and foreign legal entities and individuals by way of gathering, transmitting and supplying domestic and international news reports and other publications of public interest.

So at the time Krylova traveled to the US (while hiding her true purpose, thereby committing visa fraud), she had just recently formed FAN.

All this is no big deal, the lawsuit suggests, because FAN doesn’t know anything about it and besides it has been a long time.

Anna Vitalyevna Botneva succeeded Krylova as General Director of FAN, on November 17, 2014, and on December 24, 2014, Krylova sold 100% of the company’s shares to Botneva.

[snip]

At the time of Ms. Krylova’s indictment, she had no connection with FAN for more than three years.

At the time of Krylova’s indictment, of course, she also had had no connection with IRA for the same length of time.

FAN is silent about how long Botneva ran the show and how long she remained the sole shareholder. What it does make clear is that Evgeniy Lvovich Zubarev — the guy who’s being fronted as a plaintiff and the one who presumably would be asked to claim to have ignorance of IRA’s ties to FAN and Khusyaynova’s day job — became the sole shareholder last year.

Since August 2, 2016, Evgeniy Lvovich Zubarev has been the General Director of FAN, and since April 5, 2017, he has been the sole shareholder of the company.

In preparation of the Concord Management challenge of the IRA indictment, Prigozhin got himself named the director, which would give him the opportunity to claim to need to review discovery. This feels like the opposite: the creation of a figurehead who can claim to be dumb and dissociated from Prigozhin’s other efforts.

I highly doubt this well get very far (in part, because FAN would have to provide better proof than it has provided that these things are true).

A set-up to claim Facebook is conducting influence operations in Russia

Which finally brings us to where I think this is going. A First Amendment claim here in the US is unlikely to get anywhere, though it does give Russian propagandists an opportunity to claim Russia is being deplatformed by American social media along with the Nazis and terrorists.

But how Russia will use this argument within Russia is another matter. The lawsuit describes its injury, in part, in terms of a loss of access in Russia.

As of October 2018, FAN is ranked among the Top 35 most visited websites in Russia by LiveInternet, one of the largest Russian internet blogging platforms; among the Top 20 by Mail.ru, a Russian internet company which reaches approximately 86% of Russian internet users per month; and among the Top 25 by Rambler, a Russian search engine and one of the biggest Russian web portals.

Many of FAN’s subscribers are also Facebook users who for at least the past four years were able to access FAN through Facebook and who did, in fact, access FAN through Facebook.

That is, FAN is making an argument that it has lost Russian readers, not just American ones, because of Facebook’s actions.

And, in the last line of the introduction, the lawsuit uses language that (I could imagine) Russia might use in the future to accuse Facebook of conducting its own influence operations.

Facebook seeks to dictate news content based upon its own political view point thereby attempting to influence the public media coverage of internal political events in the Russian Federation.

After laying out a claim that Facebook was acting as an agent of the US government in cutting off trolls, it ends with a suggestion that Facebook’s real goal here is to influence “internal political events” within Russia.

That, I suspect, is the real purpose of this effort, setting up a future attack against Facebook operating in Russia.

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