Who Taught Trump about Weaponized Migration?

Amid the ongoing family separation crisis, I want to look back at something that raised a few eyebrows among the more generalized nausea at Trump’s behavior at the G-7. The WSJ reported this comment Trump made to Shinzo Abe in the context of the horror it elicited from European leaders and along with a related comment he made to Emmanuel Macron.

At one point, Mr. Trump brought up migration as a big problem for Europe and then told Mr. Abe, “Shinzo, you don’t have this problem, but I can send you 25 million Mexicans and you’ll be out of office very soon,” according to the senior EU official who was in the room. A sense of irritation with Mr. Trump could be felt, “but everyone tried to be rational and calm,” the person said.

The EU official said at another point, in a discussion over Iran and terrorism, Mr. Trump verbally jabbed at Mr. Macron, “You must know about this, Emmanuel, because all the terrorists are in Paris,’” the senior official said.

What Trump is talking about when he suggests he could send 25 million Mexicans to Japan is weaponized migration, as envisioned here, the deliberate creation of migration influxes to take out a political leader. In spite of the salience of racism in our politics, it’s not a common concept here. But in Europe, where migration from a destabilized Northern Africa and Middle East poses (as I heard a few MEPs say just before the election in 2016) the single biggest threat to the EU project, it’s a very real concern. For some time, the political cost of her human rights approach to migration has been the key weakness Angela Merkel’s opponents exploit. And in the days since the G-7, the topic of migration has threatened, for the second time this year, to collapse Merkel’s governing coalition.

For some time, there have been signs that the migration from (especially) Syria had been weaponized in two ways: first, by the seeming release of waves of migration that in their intensity would overwhelm Europe’s ability to respond. And more importantly, by the inclusion of terrorists, including returning European Arabs, among the waves of migrations. Most notably, four of the men who attacked the Stade de France on November 13, 2015 came in with a wave of other migrants. While Europeans respond more rationally to terrorist attacks than Americans do, by tying this one to migration, it made the waves of migrants in Europe far more politically toxic than they would otherwise be.

And while it was clear that the migration from Libya and Syria was being orchestrated for maximum damage, at the time (and still) it wasn’t clear who was behind it. Turkey (as the host of many of the Syrian refugees), Saudi Arabia (which maximized the instability of Syria to support ousting Assad), and Syria itself were all possibilities. On February 25, 2016 testimony viewed as particularly inflammatory, then NATO Commander Phillip Breedlove placed the blame squarely on Russia and Syria.

To the South from the Levant through North Africa, Europe faces a complicated mix of mass migration spurred by state instability and state collapse.

And masking the movement of criminals, terrorists and foreign fighters. Within this mix, Daesh — ISIL or Daesh, as I called them, is spreading like a cancer, taking advantage of paths of least resistance, threatening European nations and our own with terrorist attacks. Its brutality is driving millions to flee from Syria and Iraq, creating an almost unprecedented humanitarian challenge.

Russia’s enter into the fight in Syria has wildly exacerbated the problem, changing the dynamic in the air and on the ground. Despite public pronounces (sic) to the contrary, Russia (inaudible) has done little to counter Daesh but a great deal to bolster the Assad regime and its allies. Together, Russia and the Assad regime are deliberately weaponizing migration from Syria. In an attempt to overwhelm European structures and break European resolve.

Around the time Breedlove gave this testimony, GRU hackers would hack Breedlove as a key focus of the DC Leaks campaign that paralleled — but should in my opinion be considered a separate campaign from — the hack and leak of the DNC.

So Trump’s comment, while addressed to Abe, was instead intended for the benefit of Macron and, even more specifically, Merkel, and subsequent events have only borne out the salience of the comment.

I want to know who prepped the fantastically unprepared Trump to deliver this line. Trump knows virtually no policy well enough to deliver a zinger like this, and yet he knew how best to deliver a line to exploit the real vulnerabilities of all the European members of the G-7. And while, from the comments kicking off his campaign by inventing rapist immigrations from Mexico, Trump is perhaps at his best when he’s mobilizing racism, this comment had a more sophisticated vector than his usual bombast. Further, Trump public comments are, so often, just a regurgitation of the last person he engaged closely with. Which makes me acutely interested in who has both the access and the ability to direct his interests such that he managed this line.

There are certainly candidates in his orbit. Obviously, Stephen Miller is all too happy to politicize immigration. But in truth, it’s not clear (though the jury may still be out) that he’s any good at it. The Muslim ban has serially backfired (though we’ll see what SCOTUS says in a few hours), and unified centrists and even conservative supporters of America’s wonderful diversity against Trump in early days of his regime. The family separation policy, thus far, has provided Democrats an effective way to humanize Trump’s vicious policies, and the White House’s failure to manage the messaging of Miller’s hostage-taking has only made things worse. The other key policy effort to politicize immigration, Jeff Sessions’ focus on MS-13, has largely been a laughable dud, both because those who actually comment on the policy recognize that MS-13 is an American phenomenon, and because MS-13 has never done anything as spectacular as ISIS and Al Qaeda with which to generate visceral fear or even much press attention on the policy.

Steve Bannon, who has hob-nobbed with the European far right and is far more sophisticated than Miller, is another likely source for Trump’s remarkably sophisticated understanding of weaponized migration.

I think neither John Bolton nor John Kelly would be the culprit, the former because he’s a different kind of asshole than the racists Miller and Bannon, the latter because his racism has always lagged Trump’s and he seems to have lost much of the control he has over Trump in recent days. Mike Pompeo is also a racist, and a savvy one at that, but I’m not sure even he is cynical enough to prep this line from Trump.

Whoever it was, that line is not just horrifying on its face, but horrifying because whoever explained how weaponized migration works when wielded by competent actors seems to have privileged access to Trump right now.

Update: I first posted this at 8:27. At , Trump tweeted this:

James Wolfe: The Distinction Between FBI’s Investigation of Leaking Classified versus Non-Public Information

There’s something about the James Wolfe case that has stuck with me. For an article published after Wolfe’s indictment was released, Ali Watkins’ lawyer, Mark MacDougall, tempered his concern about Watkins’ call records being seized by suggesting that the scope of charges might somehow legitimate it.

Watkins’ attorney, Mark MacDougall, had described the seizure as “disconcerting.”

“Whether it was really necessary here will depend on the nature of the investigation and the scope of any charges,” MacDougall said in a statement.

While MacDougall has gone silent since then, this comment suggested there might be a reasonable premise for DOJ to seize all of Watkins call records for her entire journalistic career, which is fairly shocking. FBI gets all the call records of someone, these days, to identify all the devices she uses to check that activity as much as they do so to identify specific calls made. There’s nothing revealed by the indictment that would justify that, and a lot (notably, the evidence they had ready access to Wolfe’s phone content) that suggests it wasn’t justified.

With that in mind, I want to look at some details about the known timeline of the investigation:

March 2017: Exec Branch provides SSCI “the Classified Document,” which includes both Secret and Top Secret information, with details pertaining to Page classified as Secret.

March 2, 2017: James Comey briefs HPSCI on counterintelligence investigations, with a briefing to SSCI at almost the same time.

March 17, 2017: 82 text messages between Wolfe and Watkins.

April 3, 2017: Watkins confirms that Carter Page is Male-1.

April 11, 2017: WaPo reports FBI obtained FISA order on Carter Page.

June 2017: End date of five communications with Reporter #1 via Wolfe’s SSCI email.

June 2017: Using pretext of serving as a source, CBP agent Jeffrey Rambo grills Watkins about her travel with Wolfe.

October 2017: Wolfe offers up to be anonymous source for Reporter #4 on Signal.

October 16, 2017: Wolfe Signals Reporter #3 about Page’s subepoena.

October 17, 2017: NBC reports Carter Page subpoena.

October 24, 2017: Wolfe informs Reporter #3 of timing of Page’s testimony.

October 30, 2017: FBI informs James Wolfe of investigation.

November 15, 2017: 90 days before DOJ informs Ali Watkins they’ve seized her call records.

December 14, 2017: FBI approaches Watkins about Wolfe.

Prior to December 15, 2017 interview: Wolfe writes text message to Watkins about his support for her career.

December 15, 2017: FBI interviews Wolfe.

February 13, 2018: DOJ informs Watkins they’ve seized her call records.

June 6, 2018: Senate votes to make official records available to DOJ.

That the Chairman and Vice Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, acting jointly, are authorized to provide to the United States Department of Justice copies of Committee records sought in connection with a pending investigation arising out of allegations of the unauthorized disclosure of information, except concerning matters for which a privilege should be asserted.

June 7, 2018: Grand jury indicts Wolfe.

June 7, 2018: Richard Burr and Mark Warner release a statement:

We are troubled to hear of the charges filed against a former member of the Committee staff. While the charges do not appear to include anything related to the mishandling of classified information, the Committee takes this matter extremely seriously. We were made aware of the investigation late last year, and have fully cooperated with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice since then. Working through Senate Legal Counsel, and as noted in a Senate Resolution, the Committee has made certain official records available to the Justice Department.

June 13, 2018: Wolfe arraigned in DC. His lawyers move to prohibit claims he leaked classified information.

The indictment is quite clear: the investigation leading to Wolfe’s indictment started as an investigation into “multiple unauthorized disclosures of classified information” to the press. It’s clear from Burr and Warner’s statement that they were a bit surprised that the “charges do not appear to include anything related to the mishandling of classified information.” The indictment doesn’t charge Wolfe with leaking classified information.

And the timeline laid out in the indictment suggests that the document provided SSCI in March 2017 led to Watkins confirming that Page was Male-1 in the Victor Podobnyy complaint, the complaint itself is probably not classified. Nor would it, with its reference to Page as Male-1 (also used in this indictment!), be enough to ID Page as the guy Podobnyy was trying to recruit.

As I suggested in this post, for all the focus on Watkins, the indictment actually seemed to prioritize Reporter #1, including on the questionnaire the FBI gave Wolfe when they interviewed him in December. It first asked if Wolfe knew any of the reporters behind that still unidentified story, then asked a question that his relationship with Watkins would clearly refute, which agents contextualized even further by asking specific questions about details they had already confirmed about their relationship, including the international travel Rambo had identified as early as June. Then, after asking a question that would clearly pertain to Wolfe’s undeniable relationship with Watkins, the questionnaire asked whether he had given classified or unclassified documents to any of the journalists he might have admitted to contacting in Question 10, covering the basis for that Podobnyy story.

c. During the interview, FBI agents showed WOLFE a copy of a news article authored by three reporters, including REPORTER #1, about an individual (referred to herein as “MALE-l)”, that contained classified information that had been provided to the SSCI by the Executive Branch for official purposes.

d. Question 9 of the lnvestigative Questionnaire asked “Have you had any contact with” any of those three reporters. As to each reporter, WOLFE stated and checked “No.”

e. Question 10 of the Investigative Questionnaire asked, “Besides [the three named reporters], do you currently have or had any contact with any other reporters (professional, official, personal)?” Before answering this question, WOLFE stated orally to the FBI agents that although he had no official or professional contact with reporters, he saw reporters every day, and so to “feel comfortable” he would check “Yes.” He did so, and initialed this answer.

f. Question 10 of the Investigative Questionnaire further asked, “If yes, who and describe the relationship (professional, official, personal).” In the space provided, WOLFE hand wrote “Official – No” and “Professional – No.” WOLFE then orally volunteered that he certainly did not talk to reporters about anything SSCl-related. FBI agents orally asked WOLFE if he had traveled internationally with any reporter, gone to a baseball game or to the movies with a reporter, or had weekly or regular electronic communication with a reporter. To each question WOLFE verbally responded ‘No.” WOLFE then wrote “Personal – No” on the Investigative Questionnaire.

g. Question 11 of the lnvestigative Questionnaire asked, “If yes to question ten, did you discuss or disclose any official U.S. government information or documents whether classified or unclassified which is the property of the U.S. government without express authorization from the owner of the information?” WOLFE stated and checked “No” and initialed this answer.

Now consider the vote to release official SSCI documents to DOJ, which DOJ appears to have needed before they presented the indictment to the grand jury the next day, but which DOJ knew enough about to already be prepped to indict. That is, DOJ surely already knew what those records showed; what the vote did was permit DOJ to use the records in a prosecution. There are surely records pertaining to the SSCI SCIF that DOJ wanted, including the specific treatment of the Classified Document delivered to SSCI in March 2017.

On or about March 17,2017,the Classified Document was transported to the SSCI. As Director of Security, WOLFE received, maintained, and managed the Classified Document on behalf of the SSCI.

It’s also possible (though unlikely) that SSCI, and not the Executive Branch, counts as custodian of Wolfe’s Non-Disclosure Agreements.

But the only actual SSCI record described in the indictment is the email account he used to communicate with Reporter #1, as well as emails that Page sent to the committee to complain about leaks.

For example, between in or around December 2015 and in or around June 2017, WOLFE and REPORTER #1 communicated at least five times using his SSCI email account.

[snip]

26. On or about October 18, 2011, MALE-1 sent an email to the SSCI, complaining that the news organization had published REPORTER #3’s news article of the previous day, reporting that he had been subpoenaed.

27. On or about October 24,2017, at 7:00 a.m., WOLFE informed REPORTER #3, using Signal, that MALE-1 would testify in closed hearing before the SSCI “this week.” At 9:58 a.m., REPORTER #3 sent an email to MALE-I, asking him to confirm that he would be ‘paying a visit to Senate Intelligence staffers this week.” At 9:23 p.m., MALE-I sent an email to the SSCI, forwarding the email he had received from REPORTER #3, and complaining that the details of his appearance had been leaked to the press.

So it’s possible that, having had SSCI’s cooperation since the time FBI was interviewing Wolfe, DOJ only needed to ensure it could access these email records. It’s possible that DOJ believes convicting Wolfe of false statements charges, and avoiding the hassle of exposing classified information at a trial charging that he leaked classified information, is sufficient punishment.

Or it’s possible that this indictment is just the next step in an investigative process that aims to get confirmation — public or tacit, the latter obtained via a guilty plea with cooperation — regarding the source for that other, still unidentified story that incorporated classified information. I also think FBI may be particularly interested that Wolfe was approaching journalists offering to be a source, as he did in October with Reporter #4, and not vice-versa.

Ty Cobb’s Claim about White House Counsel Recusal Can Only Be Narrowly True

Politico has a story that has generated favorable press for White House Counsel Don McGahn. He had his entire office recuse from the Russia investigation, it claims, basing the claim on public comments by Ty Cobb.

White House Counsel Don McGahn recused his entire staff last summer from working on the Russia investigation because many of his office’s lawyers played significant roles in key episodes at the center of the probe, former White House attorney Ty Cobb said on Wednesday.

McGahn made the decision to halt his staff’s interactions with Special Counsel Robert Mueller because many of his own attorneys “had been significant participants” surrounding the firings of national security adviser Michael Flynn and FBI Director James Comey, Cobb said.

[snip]

While it’s been widely known that McGahn handed over day-to-day responsibilities to Cobb when he started working in the White House last July, neither of the Trump lawyers had ever specified that the entire White House legal office had been recused from the Russia probe in its entirety.

The story explains something I’ve long been struck by — the claim in a John Dowd document from January that eight members of the White House Counsel underwent voluntary interviews with Mueller’s team.

Over 20 White House personnel (not including Campaign team members) voluntarily gave interviews; including 8 people from the White House Counsel’s Office.

Two-fifths of those Mueller interviewed by January were personnel from the White House Counsel’s Office?!?!

Perhaps it’s better to say that this new Ty Cobb story is best explained by that factoid: The White House Counsel’s office was a subject of real scrutiny for Mueller.

After all, public reporting makes it clear that Ty Cobb did not take over all Russian investigation matters, at least not immediately. He was hired by July 14. As late as mid-September, he was publicly bitching about tensions with McGahn and making it clear McGahn was withholding probably responsive documents.

The debate in Mr. Trump’s West Wing has pitted Donald F. McGahn II, the White House counsel, against Ty Cobb, a lawyer brought in to manage the response to the investigation. Mr. Cobb has argued for turning over as many of the emails and documents requested by the special counsel as possible in hopes of quickly ending the investigation — or at least its focus on Mr. Trump.

Mr. McGahn supports cooperation, but has expressed worry about setting a precedent that would weaken the White House long after Mr. Trump’s tenure is over. He is described as particularly concerned about whether the president will invoke executive or attorney-client privilege to limit how forthcoming Mr. McGahn could be if he himself is interviewed by the special counsel as requested.

The friction escalated in recent days after Mr. Cobb was overheard by a reporter for The New York Times discussing the dispute during a lunchtime conversation at a popular Washington steakhouse. Mr. Cobb was heard talking about a White House lawyer he deemed “a McGahn spy” and saying Mr. McGahn had “a couple documents locked in a safe” that he seemed to suggest he wanted access to.

[snip]

Complicating the situation is that Mr. McGahn himself is a likely witness. Mr. Mueller wants to interview him about Mr. Comey’s dismissal and the White House’s handling of questions about a June 2016 meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer said to be offering incriminating information about Hillary Clinton.

Mr. McGahn is willing to meet with investigators and answer questions, but his lawyer, Bill Burck, has asked Mr. Cobb to tell him whether the president wants to assert either attorney-client or executive privilege, according to lawyers close to the case. Mr. McGahn could face legal jeopardy or lose his law license should he run afoul of rules governing which communications he can divulge. He did not respond to requests for comment.

Unless NYT’s reporting — and Cobb’s public blabbing — was entirely wrong, then Cobb can only mean McGahn later recused (or recused sometime just before the Fall Equinox last year, so technically still summer). It’s possible this incident precipitated McGahn’s recusal — not to mention made Mueller even more interested in interviewing him. More likely, the discovery that McGahn could be interviewed — including about his transparently bad defense of the Mike Flynn firing — led Trump to decide that White House Counsel staffers had to be totally recused from matters that pertained to his legal exposure (though if that’s true, I wonder what Emmet Flood is doing).

Alternately, it’s possible that McGahn recognized that his continued exposure to Trump’s obstruction in conjunction with the Russia investigation exposed him to legal jeopardy. If that’s the case, his recusal wasn’t about ethics, it was about self-preservation.

Update: LemonSlayer noted on Twitter there’s a much later indication of the purported recusal McGahn has adopted: collaborating with the Devin Nunes effort.

Nunes, meanwhile, has purposefully not been talking to Trump, to avoid accusations that he is providing sensitive information to the president, according to these people. Instead, Nunes has been relaying the status of his battle with the Justice Department to White House Counsel Donald McGahn.

Mueller to Yevgeniy Prigozhin: Sure You Can Have Discovery … If You Come to the United States to Get It

This Concord Management filing, from Mueller’s team, is attracting a lot of attention because Mueller predictably asked for a protective order and said Russians are still engaging in information operations (so are we!!). Since we covered the certainty that there’d be a protective order in this case over a month ago, I’m going to focus on some other interesting tidbits about this filing.

As a reminder, Concord Management is a company owned by close Putin ally Yevgeniy Prigozhin. Concord is accused in the Internet Research Agency indictment of funding the troll operation.

Defendants CONCORD MANAGEMENT AND CONSULTING LLC (Конкорд Менеджмент и Консалтинг) and CONCORD CATERING are related Russian entities with various Russian government contracts. CONCORD was the ORGANIZATION’s primary source of funding for its interference operations. CONCORD controlled funding, recommended personnel, and oversaw ORGANIZATION activities through reporting and interaction with ORGANIZATION management.

[snip]

To conceal its involvement, CONCORD labeled the monies paid to the ORGANIZATION for Project Lakhta as payments related to software support and development. To further conceal the source of funds, CONCORD distributed monies to the ORGANIZATION through approximately fourteen bank accounts held in the names of CONCORD affiliates, including Glavnaya Liniya LLC, Merkuriy LLC, Obshchepit LLC, Potentsial LLC, RSP LLC, ASP LLC, MTTs LLC, Kompleksservis LLC, SPb Kulinariya LLC, Almira LLC, Pishchevik LLC, Galant LLC, Rayteks LLC, and Standart LLC.

The indictment accuses Prigozhin of supervising the operation closely enough to have been saluted by troll operations in the US.

PRIGOZHIN approved and supported the ORGANIZATION’s operations, and Defendants and their co-conspirators were aware of PRIGOZHIN’s role.

For example, on or about May 29, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators, through an ORGANIZATION-controlled social media account, arranged for a real U.S. person to stand in front of the White House in the District of Columbia under false pretenses to hold a sign that read “Happy 55th Birthday Dear Boss.” Defendants and their co-conspirators informed the real U.S. person that the sign was for someone who “is a leader here and our boss . . . our funder.” PRIGOZHIN’s Russian passport identifies his date of birth as June 1, 1961.

When Concord moved to defend itself, it presented the possibility that it and Prigozhin would obtain discovery, and via Prigozhin, everyone else in Russia who was part of this operation, up to and including Putin. Indeed, the Mueller filing makes it quite clear that is the intent of the defense attorneys. They explicitly asked to share information with co-defendants that serve as officers of Concord, which can only mean they want to share information with Prigozhin.

In its initial proposed protective order, the government proposed a complete prohibition on sharing discovery with any co-defendant charged in this criminal case, whether individual or organizational. Defense counsel proposed that they be permitted to share discovery with a codefendant if that co-defendant is an officer or employee of Concord Management. To the government’s knowledge, the only charged defendant in this category is Yevgeniy Viktorovich Prigozhin, who was charged individually for conspiring to defraud the United States, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371.

So this dispute over the protective order is an effort to continue with the prosecution, while ensuring that Russia doesn’t obtain important information on the investigation into the operation by doing so.

Before I get into how Mueller’s team proposes to resolve the dispute, it’s worth reviewing the data in question, because that’s actually one of the most interesting parts of this filings. Apparently, the government used no classified information in the investigation of social media trolling (or parallel constructed whatever they did use).

As described further in the government’s ex parte affidavit, the discovery in this case contains unclassified but sensitive information that remains relevant to ongoing national security investigations and efforts to protect the integrity of future U.S. elections. [my emphasis]

Later, the filing makes it clear that much of the evidence in the case came from US providers — surely Facebook and Twitter and others.

The evidence includes data related to hundreds of social media accounts, as well as evidence obtained from email providers, internet service providers, financial institutions, and other sources. Additionally, the need to produce much of the data in its original format (formats that include, for example, Excel and HTML files) makes it infeasible to make certain redactions without compromising expeditious review of the data.

These two details confirm a point I made in March: this indictment really doesn’t rely on information as secret as many reporters claimed. It relies on stuff you get from social media providers.

And contrary to what NBC says about the heavy reliance, in the Internet Research Agency indictment, “on secret intelligence gathered by the CIA, the FBI, the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS),” it really wasn’t all that sophisticated from a cybersecurity standpoint. Especially not once you consider the interesting forensics on it (aside from IDing the IRA’s VPNs) would have come from Facebook and Twitter.

That detail — that much of this indictment comes from the social media providers that Russia exploited in 2016 — is important background to this passage (this is the one that has gotten all the press), which asserts that Russia continues to do what Prigozhin’s trolls did in 2016.

Public or unauthorized disclosure of this case’s discovery would result in the release of information that would assist foreign intelligence services, particularly those of the Russian Federation, and other foreign actors in future operations against the United States. First, the substance of the government’s evidence identifies uncharged individuals and entities that the government believes are continuing to engage in interference operations like those charged in the present indictment. Second, information within this case’s discovery identifies sources, methods, and techniques used to identify the foreign actors behind these interference operations, and disclosure of such information will allow foreign actors to learn of these techniques and adjust their conduct, thus undermining ongoing and future national security investigations.

And that, in turn, explains much of the logic for the larger protective order request: the government is trying to prevent Prigozhin and through him Putin from learning what the US is doing to counter its information operations.

The government’s description of what it considers “sensitive” information that it wants to require a special review before sharing with foreign nationals reveals it is also trying to prevent Prigozhin and others from learning about the status of the investigation and its targets.

a. Witness statements provided pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 3500;

b. Information that could lead to the identification of potential witnesses, including civilian, foreign and domestic law enforcement witnesses and cooperating witnesses;

c. Information related to ongoing investigations, including information that could identify the targets of such investigations; and

d. Information related to sensitive law enforcement or intelligence collection techniques.

Finally, the government is trying to hide what it knows about relationships between parties involved in this operation and “other uncharged foreign entities and governments.”

At a high level, the sensitive-but-unclassified discovery in this case includes information describing the government’s investigative steps taken to identify foreign parties responsible for interfering in U.S. elections; the techniques used by foreign parties to mask their true identities while conducting operations online; the relationships of charged and uncharged parties to other uncharged foreign entities and governments; the government’s evidence-collection capabilities related to online conduct; and the identities of cooperating individuals and, or companies. Discovery in this case contains sensitive information about investigative techniques and cooperating witnesses that goes well beyond the information that will be disclosed at trial. [my emphasis]

So one thing the government wants to protect is what it knows about the relationship between Prigozhin and Putin, and the Russian government’s involvement in this trolling operation more generally.

And to do that, the government is demanding the ability to prohibit Concord’s lawyers from sharing information with Prigozhin (or any other defendant) without prior court review.

Notwithstanding the previous categories of authorized persons, no co-defendant charged in this criminal case, whether individual or organizational, shall be deemed an authorized person for purposes of discovery until the co-defendant appears before this Court. Defense counsel shall not disclose or discuss the material or their contents to any co-defendant charged in this criminal case, whether individual or organizational, until the co-defendant appears before this Court unless otherwise directed by this Court. If defense counsel, after reviewing discovery in this matter, believes it necessary to seek to disclose or discuss any material with a co-defendant who has not appeared before this Court, counsel must first seek permission from this Court and a modification of this Order.

Perhaps more interesting, it is demanding that Concord’s lawyers keep anything deemed sensitive in the US, firewalled from the Internet.

Neither defense counsel nor any person authorized by this Court is permitted at any time to inspect or review Sensitive materials outside of the U.S. offices of Reed Smith LLP, without prior permission from of this Court. Defense counsel or a designated and identified employee of Reed Smith LLP must accompany any person at all times while he or she is reviewing Sensitive materials at U.S. offices of Reed Smith LLP, unless otherwise authorized by this Court.

[snip]

Sensitive materials shall not be viewed or stored on any device that is connected to or accessible from the Internet.

Sensitive materials may under no circumstances be transported or transmitted outside the United States.

The logic here is nifty: even if they lose on the ability to protect all materials from Prigozhin, they’ve already succeeded in requiring that he come to the US if he wants to read it. At which point, he’d be met by authorities at customs and promptly put in custody.

On one point I was mistaken. I thought there would be classified discovery of some sort, that would require the use of the Classified Intelligence Protection Act procedures. It will apparently never get to that. The government will either win on this protective order, which will largely moot much of the logic for Concord to contest the case, or it will lose, which will likely lead it to dismiss the indictment against Concord.

Update: Fixed protective for protection, h/t mw.

The New Cyber Sanctions

Even as Trump was working hard to get Russia admitted back into the G-7, Treasury was preparing new cyber sanctions against a number of “Russian” entities. This appears to be an effort to apply sanctions for activities exploiting routers and other network infrastructure (activities that the US and its partners engage in too) that US-CERT released a warning about in April.

One of the designated entities in controlled by and has provided material and technological support to Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), while two others have provided the FSB with material and technological support.  OFAC is also designating several entities and individuals for being owned or controlled by, or acting for or on behalf of, the three entities that have enabled the FSB.

[snip]

Examples of Russia’s malign and destabilizing cyber activities include the destructive NotPetya cyber-attack; cyber intrusions against the U.S. energy grid to potentially enable future offensive operations; and global compromises of network infrastructure devices, including routers and switches, also to potentially enable disruptive cyber-attacks.  Today’s action also targets the Russian government’s underwater capabilities.  Russia has been active in tracking undersea communication cables, which carry the bulk of the world’s telecommunications data.

I’ve included the entire list of sanction targets below.

On paper, at least, it looks like Treasury is sanctioning:

  • An entity, Divetechnoservices, that helps Russia tap into submarine cables along with three of its employees (another thing our spooks do, but one the US and especially UK have been increasingly worried about from Russia); the Treasury release notes that Divetechnoservices got the contract for a FSB submersible craft way back in 2011
  • An entity, Kvant Scientific Research Institute, that has been a research institute for FSB since August 2015 and, since April 2017, the prime contractor on an FSB project
  • An entity, Digital Security, that as of 2015 worked on a project that would expand Russia’s offensive cyber capabilities; the sanctions also include two companies the release claims are Digital Security subsidiaries, both which have US and Israeli locations

All of these were sanctioned under E.O. 13694, which, as amended, included attacks on election processes; given the dates, they might be implicated in the election year hacks, or might just be deemed a threat to national security. Just Kvant was also sanctioned under CAATSA, which is the more general sanctions program forced onto Trump by Congress. I’ve also put the language for the two of those below.

And, as Lorenzo F-B notes, the heads of two of the sanctioned alleged subsidiaries of Digital Security, ERPScan and Embedi, say they have nothing to do with the company.

But one of the security companies named in the new sanctions, ERPScan, denied having anything to do with the Russian government in an email to Motherboard.

“The only issue is that I and some of my peers were born in Russia, oh, cmon, I’m sorry but I can’t change it,” ERPScan’s founder Alexander Polyakov told me. “We don’t have any ties to Russian government.”

ERPScan is mostly known for its product that hunts for vulnerabilities in companies’ systems provided by SAP, a popular German enterprise software maker. Cyber Defense Magazine gave ERPScan an award this year for “best product” in its artificial intelligence and machine learning category.

[snip]

Polyakov, however, claimed that as of 2014, ERPScan is a “private company registered in the Netherlands” and that it has no connections “with other companies listed in this document.”

[snip]

“The news came to us as an unpleasant surprize. We never worked for Russian government, but indeed we have some former Russian researchers in our Research Team (some of them are former employees of Digital Security),” Alex Kruglov, Embedi’s head of marketing, told Motherboard in an email. “It is the only reason we can figure out to be added to a sanctions list.”

And they’re both legit cybersecurity companies, which at the very least raises questions (as the Kaspersky targeting did) about whether this is just infosec protectionism. If these protestations are correct, however, it renews real questions about the accuracy of sanction claims made under Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.

The first indication that Mnuchin’s Treasury Department was offering bullshit to fulfill Congress’ demand for sanctions came when Treasury released a list of Russian oligarchs in January that was basically just the Forbes list of richest Russians, including a number that oppose Putin.

President Trump’s Treasury Department releaseda list of prominent Russian political figures and business leaders who have prospered while Vladimir Putin has led Russia.

The list features 210 people, including politicians such as Prime Minister Medvedev and Minister of Defense Sergey Shoygu. Also on the list are 96 “oligarchs.” Within hours of the list’s posting , media organizations began pointing out the similarity between the 96 billionaires listed and the Russians that appear on Forbes’ 2017 list of the World’s Billionaires.

Forbes went through the lists and confirmed that indeed the Treasury Department’s list is an exact replica of the Russians on the 2017 billionaires list.

For a bit, I thought the list released in March, which added a few new GRU officers, might have reflected new knowledge about GRU officers involved in the targeting of the DNC. Except it turned out those officers were just people readily identifiable off public GRU records. Treasury basically could have gotten them from a spook phone book.

Treasury did better with non-cyber Ukraine-related sanctions in April. It actually named several figures — most obviously Oleg Deripaska and Alexander Torshin — suspected of having played key roles in the election interference. Since then, Deripaska and his aluminum company Rusal have pursued financial games to shield Rusal from sanctions. He’s doing this with the help of Mercury Public Affairs — the Vin Weber lobbying group that shows up in a lot of Manafort’s indictments — and former Trump aide Brian Lanza, who now works there. So it’s not clear whether Deripaska will be significantly impacted.

With that history in mind, it’s worth asking whether Treasury simply can’t do cyber sanctions well, both because it’s hard to distinguish infosec from hacking (it would be equally difficult to do so for any of a number of contractors with close ties to FBI, the analogue of the companies that got sanctioned yesterday), and perhaps because Treasury doesn’t have good intelligence on who is hacking for Russia. Or perhaps Mnuchin is just obstinate.

But thus far, the history of Treasury’s selections on Russian related cyber sanctions leaves quite a bit to be desired.


Today’s action includes the designation of five Russian entities and three Russian individuals pursuant to E.O. 13694, as amended, as well as a concurrent designation pursuant to Section 224 of CAATSA.

Digital Security was designated pursuant to E.O. 13694, as amended, for providing material and technological support to the FSB.  As of 2015, Digital Security worked on a project that would increase Russia’s offensive cyber capabilities for the Russian Intelligence Services, to include the FSB.

ERPScan was designated pursuant to E.O. 13694, as amended, for being owned or controlled by Digital Security.  As of August 2016, ERPScan was a subsidiary of Digital Security.

Embedi was designated pursuant to E.O. 13694, as amended.  As of May 2017, Embedi was owned or controlled by Digital Security.

Kvant Scientific Research Institute (Kvant) was designated pursuant to E.O. 13694, as amended, and Section 224 of CAATSA for being owned or controlled by the FSB.  In August 2010, the Russian government issued a decree that identified Kvant as a federal state unitary enterprise that would be supervised by the FSB.

Kvant was also designated pursuant to E.O. 13694, as amended, for providing material and technological support to the FSB.  As of August 2015, Kvant was a research institute with extensive ties to the FSB.  Furthermore, as of April 2017, Kvant was the prime contractor on a project for which the FSB was the end user.

Divetechnoservices was designated pursuant to E.O. 13694, as amended, for providing material and technological support to the FSB.  Since 2007, Divetechnoservices has procured a variety of underwater equipment and diving systems for Russian government agencies, to include the FSB.  Further, in 2011, Divetechnoservices was awarded a contract to procure a submersible craft valued at $1.5 million for the FSB.

Aleksandr Lvovich Tribun (Tribun) was designated pursuant to E.O. 13694, as amended, for acting for or on behalf of Divetechnoservices.  As of December 2017, Tribun was Divetechnoservices’ General Director.

Oleg Sergeyevich Chirikov (Chirikov) was designated pursuant to E.O. 13694, as amended, for acting for or on behalf of Divetechnoservices.  As of March 2018, Chirikov was Divetechnoservices’ Program Manager.

Vladimir Yakovlevich Kaganskiy (Kaganskiy) was designated pursuant to E.O. 13694, as amended, for acting for or on behalf of Divetechnoservices.  As of December 2017, Kaganskiy was Divetechnoservices’ owner.  Previously, Kaganskiy also served as Divetechnoservices’ General Director.


EO 13694 as amended

E.O. 13694 authorized the imposition of sanctions on individuals and entities determined to be responsible for or complicit in malicious cyber-enabled activities that result in enumerated harms that are reasonably likely to result in, or have materially contributed to, a significant threat to the national security, foreign policy, or economic health or financial stability of the United States.  The authority has been amended to also allow for the imposition of sanctions on individuals and entities determined to be responsible for tampering, altering, or causing the misappropriation of information with the purpose or effect of interfering with or undermining election processes or institutions.

CAATSA Section 224

IN GENERAL.—On and after the date that is 60 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the President shall— (1) impose the sanctions described in subsection (b) with respect to any person that the President determines— (A) knowingly engages in significant activities undermining cybersecurity against any person, including a democratic institution, or government on behalf of the Government of the Russian Federation; or (B) is owned or controlled by, or acts or purports to act for or on behalf of, directly or indirectly, a person described in subparagraph (A);

[snip]

SIGNIFICANT ACTIVITIES UNDERMINING CYBERSECURITY DEFINED.—In this section, the term ‘‘significant activities undermining cybersecurity’’ includes— (1) significant efforts— (A) to deny access to or degrade, disrupt, or destroy an information and communications technology system or network; or (B) to exfiltrate, degrade, corrupt, destroy, or release information from such a system or network without authorization for purposes of— (i) conducting influence operations; or (ii) causing a significant misappropriation of funds, economic resources, trade secrets, personal identifications, or financial information for commercial or competitive advantage or private financial gain; (2) significant destructive malware attacks; and (3) significant denial of service activities.


On the Tactics of the Latest Manafort Indictment

When I went out to run errands yesterday, Paul Manafort was likely facing having his bail revoked next Friday and going to jail, from where he would fight charges that could put him in prison for the rest of his life. When I returned after an hour and a half, Paul Manafort — faced with a new superseding indictment — was probably facing having his bail revoked next Friday and going to jail, from where he will fight charges that could put him in prison for the rest of his life. That is, nothing much has changed, especially if you’ve been following along closely enough to know that Konstantin Kilimnik, who finally got added to Manafort’s indictments, has always been a key part of the election year conspiracy and the damage control since.

The key development, in my mind, is tactical. As Popehat explained in one of two great lawsplainers yesterday, the standard on revoking bail in any case is just probable cause that you’ve committed new crimes while being out on bail. By getting the grand jury to indict the underlying behavior behind the witness tampering claim, you’ve established probable cause.

And by the way, those accusations that Manafort committed a crime on bail? Mueller got a grand jury indictment, establishing probable cause. That may be all the judge requires. Manafort’s in trouble. I mean, even in the context of someone facing multiple indictments trouble.

This makes easier for Amy Berman Jackson to send Manafort to jail next Friday, effectively outsourcing the decision to a bunch of anonymous grand jurors. That is, it takes a likely action and makes it even more likely.

I’m interested in what it does to preserve evidence, though.

Manafort submitted his opposition to having his bail revoked last night, effectively claiming that Mueller has shown almost no evidence of witness tampering.

The Special Counsel creates an argument based on the thinnest of evidence; to wit, Mr. Manafort violated the Release Order’s standard admonition that a defendant not commit an offense while on release by allegedly attempting to tamper with trial witnesses. However, the scant proof of this claim is an 84-second telephone call and a few text messages between Mr. Manafort (or an associate referred to as “Person A”) and two former business associates(Doc. 315-2, Ex. N). These brief text messages followed the filing of the Superseding Indictment on February 23, which was the first time the Special Counsel raised any allegations about the mission and work of the Hapsburg Group. (Doc. 202, ¶¶30, 31.) Closer scrutiny of this “evidence” reveals that the Special Counsel’s allegations are without merit because Mr. Manafort’s limited communications cannot be fairly read, either factually or legally, to reflect an intent to corruptly influence a trial witness.

The merits aside (remember, Jeffrey Sterling spent years in prison based in significant part on metadata showing 4:11 in phone calls, without content, between him and James Risen), I find this footnote most interesting.

2 This is no small matter. It is clear from the Special Agent’s declaration that the agent spoke with the person on the other end of the call (i.e., D1). (See Doc. 315-2, ¶¶ 19, 20). Instead of identifying what was said exactly for purposes of this motion, however, the Special Counsel instead states what D1 “understood” from Mr. Manafort’s brief text messages—not the telephone call that occurred. Id. at ¶19. The Special Agent also states what D1 opines, i.e., what D1 believes Mr. Manafort knew. Id. Person D2, with whom Mr. Manafort had no telephone conversations or text messages, states that D1 told him (D2) that he “abruptly ended the call.” Id. at ¶ 20.

Manafort is complaining that Mueller didn’t reveal precisely what FBC Group’s Alan Friedman (see this post to explain who he is) told the government about the call. Had Mueller not indicted, then he would have had a real incentive to call Friedman as a witness next week to explain precisely why Manafort’s comments reeked of obstruction. Mueller has likely presented the substance of the call to the grand jury, however, and may now have less need to put Friedman on the stand next week.

But there is probably far more interesting evidence that Mueller presented to the grand jury to substantiate these two charges:

Obstruction of Justice

From in or about and between February 23, 2018, and April 2018, both dates being approximate and inclusive, within the District of Columbia and elsewhere, the defendants PAUL J. MANAFORT, JR., and KONSTANTIN KILIMNIK knowingly and intentionally attempted to corruptly persuade another person, to wit: Persons D1 and D2, with intent to influence, delay, and prevent the testimony of any person in an official proceeding

Conspiracy to Obstruct Justice

From in or about and between February 23, 2018, and April 2018, both dates being approximate and inclusive, within the District of Columbia and elsewhere, the defendants PAUL J. MANAFORT, JR., and KONSTANTIN KILIMNIK knowingly and intentionally conspired to corruptly persuade another person, to wit: Persons D1 and D2, with intent to influence, delay, and prevent the testimony of any person in an official proceeding, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1512(b)(1).

Charging both the obstruction charge and the conspiracy charge is, in some ways, insurance. It implicates Manafort in what are mostly Kilimnik’s efforts to get Friedman on the phone to coordinate stories.

But to charge conspiracy to obstruct, as opposed to just obstruction, Mueller also needs to show an agreement between Manafort and Kilimnik. Such an agreement would likely get to the core of Manafort’s intent more quickly than the calls as received by D1. That is, such an agreement would be the evidence that Manafort claims is lacking.

Which brings me to this exhibit, submitted Monday as part of the government’s motion to revoke bail, which is an XLS spreadsheet bearing the title “Open Source Timeline – March 2016 to March 2017 – Edited_lm.xlsx” uploaded to the docket.

It tracks the phone, WhatsApp, and Telegram communications between Manafort and Person D1 and D2, and the WhatsApp and Telegram chats between Kilimnik and D1 and D2 (Manafort uses WhatsApp once to place a phone call, but otherwise the WhatsApp and Telegram communications are all chats). It shows that the government has third-party sources for all of this — either D1 and D2 turning things over on their own, Manafort’s phone company (he was using AT&T quite recently) turning over his toll records, or Apple turning over the contents of Manafort’s iCloud account.

The table also shows time tracked in two scales: All of Manafort’s communications and the single chat between Kilimnik and D1 are in Coordinated Universal Time, while all of Kilimnik’s chats with D2 are in Central European Summer Time. You might get the latter via screen shots from a phone taken while in Central Europe.

Note, even though Kilimnik tells D2 that he had tried D1 “on all numbers,” the log doesn’t show any calls between Kilimnik and D1, it shows only the one WhatsApp chat between Kilimnik and D1. So the log doesn’t even show all the communications to D1 that exist. Just those that the government can provide a source that it’s willing to share publicly. I assure you, however, that the government knows when those calls were placed.

The log, as presented, also doesn’t show any communications between Manafort and Kilimnik.

Now go back to the fact that, yesterday, the government showed the grand jury not just evidence that Manafort and Kilimnik individually tried to suborn perjury from D1 and D2, but that they agreed to do so. At the very least, that would involve communications between the two of them. They’re only going to have the substance of that communication in one of two ways, though: if they did this via WhatsApp chats, those chats would be available on Manafort’s iCloud account, because he’s got really bad OpSec.

But if those communications were via a phone or WhatsApp call, then the government would have gotten that communication via some other means, means it hasn’t shown in that contact log. Keep in mind: as a foreigner with key connections, Kilimnik is a legitimate spying target under any definition of the term, even aside from the allegation he’s got active ties to Russian intelligence. And since January 2017, the NSA has been able to share raw EO 12333 intelligence with intelligence agencies, including the FBI. If that sharing works the same way Section 702 sharing works (and Kilimnik’s WhatsApp activity may or may not be collectable under 702, even before you get to EO 12333 collection), then so long as the FBI has a full investigation, it can obtain raw feeds of the targets covered by that full investigation.

No FISA notice has been filed in this case; it’s not clear whether the government would give notice of EO 12333 data (they should but they likely don’t). In either case they’d only have to if they intended to use that information in trial. The rest, they’d parallel construct by obtaining from the other parties to a communication or Manafort’s iCloud account.

Now, I suspect Mueller did not intend to file a document indicating that this communication log was originally started with a March 2016 to March 2017 scope, making it clear they’ve got a collection of parallel constructed sources for Kilimnik and Manafort communications that go back that far, right back to when Manafort joined the Trump campaign (which is slightly different than saying they got all of Manafort’s communications during the campaign).

That they’re still using the log to track the duo’s really idiotic ongoing communications is testament to the fact that since Manafort was indicted in October, the government has just been sitting back, watching everything Manafort and Kilimnik do and say to each other while getting Rick Gates to flip, collecting more information, and forcing Manafort to pledge all remaining liquidity to get bail. They’ve been watching Manafort and Kilimnik continue their efforts to try to get out of the deep shit Manafort is in, biding their time.

At the very least, revealing the communication log on Monday would have led Manafort to finally change the privacy settings on his phone, though it may well have led to a noticeable security change from Kilimnik as well, perhaps even a new phone without an FBI or NSA sensor collecting everything.

In the interim, too, other corners of the government revealed, in fairly spectacular fashion, that they can and will obtain the Signal and WhatsApp chats involving journalists of even congressional staffers like James Wolfe, meaning not just that they would do the same for alleged criminals out on bail and their co-conspirators, but that the means to do so has become readily available to the FBI for national security investigations. In short, this week the government tipped their hand about a whole slew of communications involving Manafort and Kilimnik that haven’t been disclosed in discovery yet as well as a capability that even lots of national security journalists (present company excepted) didn’t know they had.

Thus the grand jury and the new charges. It strikes me that, after disclosing the additional collection the FBI has on these two (though both have been fairly stupid in response to such disclosures in the past), the government has less incentive to let Manafort remain out on bail, because it will have a diminishing yield of information about the conspiracy. But the government also has a need to move things along without presenting everything they’ve got (including what they’ve asked Friedman about the developments post April 2 that led Kilimnik to try reaching out a second time). The new indictment provides a way to get to probable case without showing everything they’ve got, which in turns makes the chances that Manafort will finally be going to jail that much higher.

Update: On June 12, the government elaborated on the evidence showing that Manafort intended to suborn perjury, noting that the indictment should be enough by itself to revoke bail.

On June 8, 2018, a grand jury sitting in the District of Columbia returned a Superseding Indictment charging Manafort and his longtime associate, Konstantin Kilimnik, with attempted witness tampering and conspiracy to commit witness tampering, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 1512(b)(1) and (k). See Doc. 318 ¶¶ 48-51. Counts Six and Seven of that Superseding Indictment “‘conclusively determine[] the existence of probable cause’ to believe the defendant” committed a federal crime while on pretrial release. Kaley v. United States, 134 S. Ct. 1090, 1097 (2014) (quoting Gerstein v. Pugh, 420 U.S. 103, 117 n.19 (1975)); see also United States v. Smith, 79 F.3d 1208, 1210 (D.C. Cir. 1996) (“[T]he indictment alone would have been enough to raise the rebuttable presumption that no condition would reasonably assure the safety of the community.”). Probable cause to believe that Manafort committed a crime, in turn, triggers a rebuttable presumption “that no condition or combination of conditions will assure that [Manafort] will not pose a danger to the safety of any other person or the community.” 18 U.S.C. § 3148(b). Manafort’s challenge to the strength of the government’s evidence of witness tampering is thus both misplaced and unavailing. See Kaley, 134 S. Ct. at 1098 & n.6 (explaining that “[t]he grand jury gets to say—without any review, oversight, or second-guessing—whether probable cause exists to think that a person committed a crime,” and recognizing that this “unreviewed finding . . . may play a significant role in determining a defendant’s eligibility for release before trial under the Bail Reform Act”). 1

The go on to suggest that given the indictment, they don’t even need to bring the FBI agent to testify, but will.

Although the government submits that the grand jury’s probable-cause determination obviates the need for testimony by the agent who signed the declaration in support of the government’s motion to revoke or revise, the agent will be available to testify if needed per the Court’s Order. The government submits, however, that any remaining factual matters can be addressed by proffer, as is common practice at bail hearings. See Smith, 79 F.3d at 1210; see also United States v. LaFontaine, 210 F.3d 125, 131 (2d Cir. 2000) (calling it “well established . . . that proffers are permissible both in the bail determination and bail revocation contexts”).

Again, all this seems designed to make it easy for Amy Berman Jackson to revoke his bail.

Some Possibilities on the Emails Hope Hicks Wanted to Withhold

Remember this story about how Hope Hicks told Mark Corallo in a conference call on July 9, 2017 that they didn’t have to be fully forthcoming about the purpose of the meeting because the emails would never come out?

In Mr. Corallo’s account — which he provided contemporaneously to three colleagues who later gave it to The Times — he told both Mr. Trump and Ms. Hicks that the statement drafted aboard Air Force One would backfire because documents would eventually surface showing that the meeting had been set up for the Trump campaign to get political dirt about Mrs. Clinton from the Russians.

According to his account, Ms. Hicks responded that the emails “will never get out” because only a few people had access to them. Mr. Corallo, who worked as a Justice Department spokesman during the George W. Bush administration, told colleagues he was alarmed not only by what Ms. Hicks had said — either she was being naïve or was suggesting that the emails could be withheld from investigators — but also that she had said it in front of the president without a lawyer on the phone and that the conversation could not be protected by attorney-client privilege.

At the time, I suggested something didn’t make sense about the story, given the facts we knew at the time, because the NYT already had (what we assume to be) the set of emails that got released.

[T]he NYT admits that even as (or shortly after) that meeting transpired it already had the emails Don Jr released that day and was going to publish them itself.

I suggested at the time that there might be other emails — perhaps between Don Jr and Rob Goldstone, perhaps between other players — that provided more damning information.

But there’s another possibility: that more emails exist, between Don Jr and Rob Goldstone (indeed, we know Goldstone sent follow-up emails involving Vkontakte). Or that there are communications between other players. In which case the release of the current emails might serve to distract from a fuller set that Hicks did succeed in burying.

Given the materials released to SJC — and when they were released — we can be sure there were other emails, and at least some of them have come out.

A return email to Paul Manafort

I’ve already noted one example, or at least part of one example. The Don Jr production turned over by the Trump Organization withheld the version of the original invite letter that includes a response from Paul Manafort.

Of particular interest, however, is a detail revealed about the email that Don Jr released last summer. Effectively, the email thread setting up the meeting appears in two places in the exhibits introduced with Don Jr’s testimony. The thread appearing at PDF 26 to 29 is for all intents and purposes the set he released over two tweets last July 11. That bears Bates stamp DJTJR 485 to 487, which designates that it was the version that Don Jr himself turned over. There’s another version of that thread, though, bearing Bates stamp DJTFP 11895 to 11897, which appears at PDF 1 to 3 in Don Jr’s exhibits (and is used for all the other witnesses). The Bates stamp abbreviation DJTFP, Donald J Trump for President, indicates that that’s the version turned over by the campaign. The exhibit shows the same thread, only with this addition.

That is, after Don Jr informed Jared and Paul Manafort that the meeting would be at 4 instead of 3, Manafort responded, “See you then.”

That — and the fact that Don Jr chose to suppress it when publicly releasing his email — is not by itself damning.

Jared wasn’t copied on the Manafort response, so he couldn’t have turned over the Manafort response (and it wouldn’t have been in the copy leaked to the NYT, if he did the leaking, as suggested by Michael Wolff’s book). Nevertheless by the time Don Jr testified on September 7, SJC had both copies.

Manafort’s awareness of the meeting might be damning by itself, because he spoke with Don Jr and met with Trump on June 7, the day Trump announced the campaign would soon be making a “a major speech on probably Monday of next week, and we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons.”

But it’s possible Manafort’s response wasn’t the last in the thread. Perhaps Don Jr wrote back and said something like, “with the dirt Emin promised we’ll really take out this bitch” or something similarly dignified.

The emails showing Agalarov involvement

As I mentioned in this thread, Goldstone did not fully cooperate with SJC. In the first round he left out a lot of stuff that was responsive to SJC’s request and he never provided phone records; in his later production, two voice mails from Emin appear to be truncated. But in February of 2018 (probably after at least one interview with Mueller’s team), his lawyer provided more documents not produced in the first go-around. Among other things, those materials included more details on Emin’s involvement in crafting a statement, and Kaveladze’s role running everything. Of particular interest, many of these materials would show direct communications between the Agalarov camp and Trump Organization lawyers as they crafted their statement.

The draft statement from July 6

Finally, when considering the possibility that parties withheld damning records, consider this email between Goldstone and Don Jr’s lawyer.

It shows that by the time Goldstone (and Emin and Kaveladze) had some phone calls with Alan Garten and Alan Futerfas at the end of June, the Trump folks already had a statement. When Goldstone gets off his cruise in Greece on July 6, he immediately contacts the Trump camp and asks if that statement has been released.

There’s no record of a response to Goldstone from the Trump camp for several days (though they were on the phone with Kaveladze), until when, on July 9, someone (Goldstone believes it’s the Trump camp) leaked his name. That’s when communications resumed, starting with a Trump request that Goldstone attest that the misleading Don Jr statement they subsequently released is 100% true.

Still, the communication on July 6 is damning enough, because it makes it clear that before Trump is known to have been involved, before Trump spoke to Putin, the Trump camp had what it presented as a finalized statement.

Now imagine if either Goldstone or someone else has a hard copy of that statement and it qualitatively deviates from the existing story?

One notable detail. As noted, Goldstone provided these materials after the NYT story at question here, and after Mark Corallo said he’d testify about Hope Hicks’ obstruction; it possibly took place after the Corallo testimony itself. Goldstone testified to SJC a second time on March 29, not long after Mueller subpoenaed the Trump organization — a subpoena that almost certainly would obtain new copies of the documents at least pointed to if not turned over by others.

All of which is to say that there are numerous emails that have been identified since Don Jr testified that appear not to have been turned over in his production, not to mention any Manafort communications he suppressed.

As I’m still working on showing, there was a tremendous degree of coordination going on in that period. And yet, perhaps in spite of that, some of the key documents didn’t get turned over.

Update: Here’s a version of the document requests to the Trump’s. Any of the emails between the Trump lawyers and Kaveladze or Goldstone would have been responsive. Here is what Jared got (remember, the committee complained that he hadn’t provided everything). And here is what Kaveladze and what Goldstone got. I can see Goldstone arguing the follow-up — and the discussions about earlier Agalarov/Trump meetings — didn’t fit the criteria laid out.

Manafort Renewed His Outreach to FBC Group after Mueller’s Early April Revelations

As I noted, last night Mueller’s team moved to revoke Paul Manafort’s bail because — they allege — he has been attempting to suborn perjury from witnesses associated with the FBC Group PR firm. In addition to a declaration laying out the evidence for that claim, Mueller’s team included a list of contacts between Manafort himself and Konstantin Kilimnik with people at FBC Group. Amy Berman Jackson has scheduled a hearing for June 15 to consider the motion.

As the declaration lays out, person D1 (likely Alan Friedman) hadn’t spoken to Manafort since last July, probably before his public raid by the FBI and around the time Friedman started cooperating with the government. He hung up when Manafort called him in February and regarded the outreach as an effort to suborn perjury.

Person D1 told the government that in or around this period, Manafort called Person D1, and that the two had not spoken since July of the previous year. Person D1 stated that after answering the call and after the caller identified himself as Manafort, Manafort stated that he wanted to give Person D1 a heads-up about Hapsburg. Person D1 immediately ended the call because he was concerned about the outreach.

[snip]

Person D1 told the government that Person D1 understood Manafort’s messages to be an effort to “suborn perjury” by influencing Person D1’s potential statements. Person D1 well knew and believed from frequent interactions with its members that the Hapsburg group in fact lobbied in the United States, and that Manafort and Person A knew that fact.

Most of the declaration focuses on a set of communications immediately in the wake of Rick Gates’ plea deal, which made it clear Mueller had expanded Manafort’s prosecution to include actions of the Hapsburg Group — a bunch of European bigwigs Manafort hired to lie about Ukraine publicly and to Congress. I noted the day of Manafort’s first call that Friedman was surely cooperating with Mueller, but apparently I’m smarter than Manafort.

What I’m interested in, however, is that on April 4, Kilimnik tried again, with WhatsApp and Telegram outreach to both D1 and the PR person on the project.

Unlike the Hapsburg specific outreach, the declaration offers no explanation for Kilimnik’s April outreach.

Approximately one month later, Person A reached out to Person D1 directly as well. On April 4, 2018, Person A sent a message to Person D1: “Hi. This is [Person A’s first initial]. My friend P is looking for ways to connect to you to pass you several messages. Can we arrange that.” Person A reached out to Person D2 the same day, and reiterated his need for help in connecting Person D1 with Manafort. Person A added in his text to Person D2: “I tried him [i.e., Person D1] on all numbers.”

This outreach is non-specific. Kilimnik just appears to have an urgent need to reach out to (presumably) Friedman, in Manafort’s name, on April 4.

The timing is particularly interesting to me. The outreach happens in the wake of the Alex Van Der Zwaan sentencing filings, which provided more detail on Skadden Arp’s involvement in the Yulia Tymoshenko whitewash, and as such may have concerned the Hapsburg players. In addition, the prosecution filing for the first time made (and repeated Rick Gates’ indirect) allegations that Kilimnik himself was and might still be a Russian intelligence officer.

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.

The outreach also happened in the wake of Mueller’s filing of the Rosenstein Memo, as well as public claims that included Oleg Deripaska in the scope of the investigation.

So it’s likely that Paul Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik regarded those early April filings as impacting in some way on FBC Group, and possibly on Alan Friedman personally.

Of course, Friedman wasn’t playing Manafort’s games by that point, and hadn’t been already for over a month (and probably over 8 or 9 months).

Whatever else Manafort learned with yesterday’s filings, he likely also confirmed that. Whatever added risk those early April filings posed to Manafort, FBC Group is probably part of the risk, not part of his efforts to dodge the risk.

Update: I made an error in this post originally, by saying that it pertains to Mercury (Company A or B in Mueller’s findings). Josh Gerstein correctly IDs the company as FBC Media, which would make D1 Alan Friedman.

The Giant Holes in Trump’s Mike Flynn Story Point to “Collusion,” Not Obstruction

I wanted to look more closely at the story the President’s lawyers told Mueller’s team about Flynn’s firing in January, both for what it reveals about the White House’s response to the Sally Yates warning, and for its claims about how it interprets DOJ actions. The letter reveals the following:

  • The White House claims, Sally Yates’ public comments (which they entirely ignore) to the contrary, that they got DOJ permission to release the Mike Flynn intercept; given the timing of the story as laid out, and Trump’s question about FBI leaking, I actually think it possible if not likely that the White House was a source for the February 9 story leaking the intercept. If that’s true, it totally undermines the Trump letter.
  • Don McGahn wrote a memo on the lead-up to Flynn’s firing two days after the firing, and one day after Trump’s “let it go” conversation with Jim Comey. It appears to be inconsistent with Transition materials, particularly an email showing (among other things) that Reince Priebus knew in real time what Flynn told Kislyak on December 29. Firing Comey would have been an effort to prevent FBI from discovering those transition period communications.
  • The Trump letter didn’t address two of the questions asked about Flynn’s firing. In addition to remaining silent about what Trump really knew about what Flynn said to Pence, it doesn’t address Trump’s involvement in the transition period communications with Sergey Kislyak. That’s important because that’s the question that Flynn’s initial interview should have revealed. Contrary to what the letter claims, then, Flynn’s plea and Trump’s silence in the letter about the substance of the plea is proof not that Trump didn’t obstruct, but that Trump continues to refuse to explain why Flynn asked Kislyak to hold off on responding to sanctions, to say nothing of whether Flynn did so on his orders.

The section (less the Comey and McCabe testimony) and associated footnotes follow, with my comments.

Mueller asked for six Flynn related things; Trump only responded to four

Here are the things Mueller asked Trump to explain pertaining to the Flynn firing.He said

  1. Former National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn — information regarding his contacts with Ambassador Kislyak about sanctions during the transition process;
  2. Lt. Gen. Flynn’s communications with Vice President Michael Pence regarding those contacts;
  3. Lt. Gen. Flynn’s interview with the FBI regarding the same;
  4. Then-Acting Attorney General Sally Yates coming to the White House to discuss same;
  5. The President’s meeting on February 14, 2017, with then-Director James Comey;
  6. Any other relevant information regarding former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn;

In our most recent meeting, you mentioned the possibility of obstruction in connection with the case of former National Security Advisor and Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn (Ret.) “Lt. Gen. Flynn”), and that you desired to speak with the President specifically regarding his conversation with then-Director Comey one day after the President fired Lt. Gen. Flynn for lying to the Vice President.

Note, at the outset, how Trump’s lawyers have taken 6 questions about the specifics of communications about Flynn and turned that into a question that focuses on the meaning of the February 14 “Let it go” meeting? So as you’re reading the following, watch how Trump’s lawyers redefine the scope of the questions — I’ll revisit this at the end.

Also as you read this, remember that this response happens in the wake of (and may be the first meeting after) Mike Flynn flipping in part because Jared Kushner hung him out to dry in testimony.

You have already been provided the testimony of White House Counsel and his extensive internal file memo as well as the testimony and notes of the President’s Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus “Mr. Priebus”), and other members of the White House Counsel’s office.

Again, Mueller has asked specifically about Flynn’s comments to Pence. Pence is not included here.

Trump complains that Mueller hasn’t turned over Comey’s memos; the memos seriously undermine some claims made in the letter

According to former Mr. Comey, the following occurred at a February 14, 2017, meeting between him and the President:

The President then returned to the topic of Mike Flynn, saying, “He is a good guy and has been through a lot.” He repeated that Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong on his calls with the Russians, but had misled the Vice President. He then said, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” I replied only that “he is a good guy.” … I did not say I would “let this go.”16

The White House denied and refuted that the President said these words to Mr. Comey.17 We decline to recommend to the President that he be interviewed on this subject for many reasons.

16 We note that you have declined our request on several occasions to share the classified notes of Mr. Comey, which have been leaked to the press and given to members of Congress and publicly disclosed. As Chief Executive Officer, the President has every right to have them. You provided them to While House Counsel. In addition, we note that Mr. Comey has had to correct his testimony on multiple occasions.

17 See infra p. 11 and n. 30.

One of the questions added to Sekulow’s list in March addressed Trump’s tweet suggesting there might be recordings of this meeting, which makes this response all the more interesting. In any case, you’ll see that in January Trump’s lawyers made a number of claims that Comey’s memos solidly refuted.

I’m also confused by the apparent contradiction — both the demand that Mueller turn over Comey’s memos (I’ll return to what Mueller was likely withholding in a bit) followed by the claim that he has given them to Don McGahn.

The sources cited for claims about Flynn don’t support those claims and have since been undermined further

What follows is a non-exhaustive list:

  • First, the President was not under investigation by the FBI;
  • Second, there was no obvious investigation to obstruct since the FBI had concluded on January 24, 2017, that Lt. Gen. Flynn had not lied, but was merely confused.18Director Comey confirmed this in his closed-door Congressional testimony on March 2, 2017.19

18 Evan Perez, Flynn Changed Story to FBI; No Charges Expected, CNN (Feb. 17, 2017)

19 The Editorial Board, The Flynn Information, WALL STREET JOURNAL (Dec. I, 2017) “A Congressional source also tells us that former FBI director James Comey told the House Intelligence Committee on March 2 that his agents had concluded that Mr. Flynn hadn’t lied but had forgotten that had been discussed.”).

I suspect the first of these bullets — that the President was not under investigation — will come back to haunt him. That is, Trump wasn’t investigation yet in part because by firing Flynn he separated the investigation that would soon subsume him, in part because of his own role in the actions Flynn was fired for.

As for the claims about Flynn. First, notice that the first source Trump’s lawyers cite doesn’t support their claims. The story says nothing about Flynn being confused. Rather, it says that, when challenged, Flynn claimed not to remember.

Flynn initially told investigators sanctions were not discussed. But FBI agents challenged him, asking if he was certain that was his answer. He said he didn’t remember.

The FBI interviewers believed Flynn was cooperative and provided truthful answers. Although Flynn didn’t remember all of what he talked about, they don’t believe he was intentionally misleading them, the officials say.

In addition, the CNN story cited notes that the investigation was only done, “barring new information that changes what they know.” A lot would transpire in the weeks after that story, including disclosure of a meeting at which sanctions were raised, that would change how Flynn’s skilled lying looked after the fact.

The second source isn’t any better — it supports the “forgot” claim too. And the GOP HPSCI report makes it clear that even that claim is inaccurate. What Comey said was that the interviewing agents saw no signs of deception.

Director Comey testified to the Committee that “the agents … discerned no physical indications of deception. They didn’t see any change in posture, in tone, in inflection, in eye contact. They saw nothing that indicated to them that he knew he was lying to them.”

From a lifetime intelligence official like Flynn, that’s not that surprising.

Trump’s lawyers get the law on obstruction wrong

Note, in the following section, I’m putting the initial bullet, the argument, and the footnotes all together. The footnotes will appear out of order as a result.

  • Third, as a matter of law, even if there had been an FBI investigation there could have been no actionable obstruction of said investigation under 18 U.S.C. § 1505, since an FBI investigation is not a “proceeding” under that statute. Since there is no cognizable offense, no testimony is required;

To briefly review the relevant law and facts, § 1505 of Title 18, United States Code, as amendedby the Victim and Witness Protection Act of 1982, forbids anyone from corruptly, or by threats of force or by any threatening communication, influencing, obstructing, or impeding any pending proceeding before a department or agency of the United States, or Congress.22Under § 1505, a “pending proceeding” is limited only to agencies with rule-making or adjudicative authority. The investigation of Lt. Gen. Flynn was being conducted by the FBI, which possesses only investigative authority, not adjudicative; it cannot conduct “proceedings” within the cognizance of§ 1505.23No court has ever held than an FBI investigation constitutes a § 1505 proceeding, and the U.S. Attorney’s Manual makes clear that “investigations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are not §1505 proceedings.”24The DOJ has even expressly acknowledged as much to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.25As a matter of law, then, the FBI’s investigation of Lt. Gen. Flynn was not, at the time of the President’s comments as recalled by Mr. Comey, within the scope of § 1505.

22 In 1996, Congress enacted a clarifying amendment to 18 U.S.C. § 1515, which defines the term “corruptly” as used in § 1505 to mean “acting with an improper purpose, personally or by influencing another, including making a false or misleading statement, or withholding, concealing, altering, or destroying a document or other information.” False Statements Accountability Act of 1996, Pub. L. No. I 04-292, §3, I IO Stat. 3459, 3460.

23 Courts have explained it this way.

25 United States v. Adams, 335 Fed. Appx. 338, 342 (4th Cir. 2009) (Government conceded that criminal investigation by FBI or DEA was not pending proceeding within the scope of 18 U.S.C. § I 505, and requested defendant’s conviction on that count be vacated).

As numerous people have noted (including the NYT in an annotation of this), the President’s crack lawyers get which obstruction of justice statute might be at issue wrong.

Trump’s lawyers never address what Sally Yates has stated publicly — which badly undermines the Don McGahn narrative of these issues

The following section is the one I’m most interested in, because it probably added to the evidence that the White House obstructed. Because this argument is so muddled, I’m repeating the “second” point because it’s necessary to make what follows sensible. Having argued that obstructing an FBI investigation is not obstructing justice, Trump’s lawyers are now going to set out to suggest there was no way they could have known that Flynn was under investigation. (Note, for reasons of length, I don’t deal with Comey and McCabe’s testimony; suffice it to say that Comey’s testimony, including him entertaining the investigation of Trump, reportedly led directly to his firing, so the hearing actually proves the opposite of what the White House claims.)

  • Second, there was no obvious investigation to obstruct since the FBI had concluded on January 24, 2017, that Lt. Gen. Flynn had not lied, but was merely confused.18Director Comey confirmed this in his closed-door Congressional testimony on March 2, 2017.19
  • Fourth, both Mr. Comey and Mr. McCabe subsequently testified under oath that there was “no effort to impede” the investigation.20Mr. McCabe’s testimony followed Mr.Comey’s testimony on May 3, 2017, just six days before his termination, that “it would be a big deal to tell the FBI to stop doing something . . . for a political reason. That would be a very big deal. It’s not happened in my experience.”21

The following facts are taken from information voluntarily provided to your office or from information that is publicly available. These facts further demonstrate that the President did not obstruct justice in any manner concerning Lt. Gen. Flynn.

According to Acting Attorney General Sally Yates (“Ms. Yates”), on January 24, 2017, Lt. Gen. Flynn was interviewed by the FBI. According to reports, “The FBI interviewers believed Flynn was cooperative and provided truthful answers. Although Flynn didn’t remember all of what he talked about, they don’t believe he was intentionally misleading them, the officials say.”26

This account of the FBl’s interview and subsequent conclusions was later confirmed by the closed-door congressional testimony of Mr. Comey.27 Mr. Comey also confirmed in his May 3, 2017, Senate Intelligence Committee testimony that he “did participate in conversations about that matter” with Ms. Yates, referring to the FBl’s interview of Lt. Gen. Flynn. before she conveyed the information to the White House in the days that followed.28

27 “A Congressional source also tells us that former FBI director James Comey told the House Intelligence Committee on March 2 that his agents had concluded that Mr. Flynn hadn’t lied, but had forgotten what had been discussed.” The Editorial Board, The Flynn Information, WALL STREET JOURNAL (Dec. 1, 2017).

28 Read the Full Testimony of FBI James Comey in Which He Discusses Clinton Email Investigation, supra n.21.

This repeats what was already said, that the FBI at first came away thinking that Flynn had shown no signs of deception. Trump’s lawyers choose to source these claims to the same CNN and WSJ pieces they had already cited instead of 1) Flynn’s guilty plea 2) Comey’s testimony or 3) what Yates told McGahn. Only after having relied on the press that Trump otherwise demonizes does the letter cite what Yates actually said.

On January 26, 2017, Ms. Yates met with White House Counsel Don McGahn (“Mr. McGahn”). As outlined by Mr. McGahn in his White House Counsel’s Office memo dated February 15, 2017,29“Yates expressed two principal concerns during the meeting: (1) that Flynn may have made false representations to others in the Administration regarding the content of the calls; and (2) that Flynn’s potentially false statements could make him susceptible to foreign influence or blackmail because the Russians would know he had lied.” “Yates further indicated that on January 24, 2017, FBI agents had questioned Flynn about his contacts with Kislyak. Yates claimed that Flynn’s statements to the FBI were similar to those she understood he had made to Spicer and the Vice President.”3029 This confidential and privileged memorandum was provided to your office as part of the White House’s voluntary production, and is identified as SCR002b_SCR002b000000001.30 Recall that Lt. Gen. Flynn had previously been asked questions by other transition team personnel concerning his conversations with Ambassador Kislyak via an email chain of January 12, 2017. See DJTFP00027478. The response provided by Lt. Gen. Flynn was vague, and appears to imply that sanctions were not discussed. DOJ leadership would not advise the White House that transcripts of the calls existed, and of concerns about the content of those transcripts, until January 26, 2017, and even then, when asked by the White House, the DOJ refused to confirm that an investigation was underway.

Three things about this passage. First, whereas elsewhere the letter relies on public testimony (of Comey and McCabe), the letter doesn’t cite Yates’ public testimony. Instead, the White House relies on a narrative that Don McGahn drew up the day after the “let it go” conversation — that is, after such time as Flynn’s firing might be a problem. Here’s what they would have had to include had they actually included Yates’ testimony (which they don’t dispute).

We also told the White House Counsel that General Flynn had been interviewed by the FBI on February 24. Mr. McGahn asked me how he did and I declined to give him an answer to that. And we then walked through with Mr. McGahn essentially why we were telling them about this and the first thing we did was to explain to Mr. McGahn that the underlying conduct that General Flynn had engaged in was problematic in and of itself.

Secondly, we told him we felt like the vice president and others were entitled to know that the information that they were conveying to the American people wasn’t true. And we wanted to make it really clear right out of the gate that we were not accusing Vice President Pence of knowingly providing false information to the American people.

And, in fact, Mr. McGahn responded back to me to let me know that anything that General Flynn would’ve said would have been based — excuse me — anything that Vice President Pence would have said would have been based on what General Flynn had told him.

We told him the third reason was — is because we were concerned that the American people had been misled about the underlying conduct and what General Flynn had done, and additionally, that we weren’t the only ones that knew all of this, that the Russians also knew about what General Flynn had done.

And the Russians also knew that General Flynn had misled the vice president and others, because in the media accounts, it was clear from the vice president and others that they were repeating what General Flynn had told them, and that this was a problem because not only did we believe that the Russians knew this, but that they likely had proof of this information.

And that created a compromise situation, a situation where the national security adviser essentially could be blackmailed by the Russians. Finally, we told them that we were giving them all of this information so that they could take action, the action that they deemed appropriate.

Yates’ public testimony (to which Mary McCord would also be a witness) adds several elements to McGahn’s: she said the sanction discussion itself was wrong (elsewhere HPSCI has claimed she raised Logan Act violations). She talked about concerns about Pence’s credibility (remember–the White House doesn’t address getting Pence’s side of this story at all). And she claims she specifically suggested the White House should take action — that is, fire Flynn.

Finally, note that this passage cites an email chain dated January 12 — what was treated as campaign production with the Bates stamp “DJTJFP.” This is the only time the letter cites that production; they don’t, for example, cite the email chains referenced in Flynn’s plea that make it clear how hard it would have been to forget the Kislyak call because he was basically acting on orders from the President. In any case, the letter remarkably describes nothing about this chain of emails, not even who participated in it. But given the timing, it almost certainly was a response to the January 12 Ignatius story, and therefore was likely a press response chain. It may have also been prep for this all-important Pence appearance.

McGahn’s narrative reveals Trump knew of the Flynn interview before he demanded loyalty from Comey on January 27

Resuming … This is a detail that has gotten far too little attention. After Yates spoke to McGahn, he had a meeting with Trump and Priebus and others.

On January 26, 2017, Mr. McGahn briefed the President concerning the information conveyed by Ms. Yates. Additional advisors were brought in, including White House Chief of Staff Mr. Priebus. It was agreed that additional information would be needed before any action was taken. As recorded by Mr. McGahn, “Part of this concern was a recognition by McGahn that it was unclear from the meeting with Yates whether an action could be taken without jeopardizing an ongoing investigation.” At that time “President Trump asked McGahn to further look into the issue as well as finding out more about the calls.”

Note how important it is that the letter ignore Yates’ public statements? She claims she suggested the White House should take action, meaning they should fire Flynn. The White House claimed (in a piece written after the “let it go” conversation) that they didn’t know whether they could fire Flynn because there might be an ongoing investigation. And Trump used that as an excuse to get more information on the investigation.

McGahn’s narrative claims Yates said DOJ would not mind if the White House publicly revealed the intercept on Kislyak

Which is what leads to the January 27 meeting with Yates and McGahn.

On January 27, 2017, at Mr. McGahn’s request, Ms. Yates and Mr. McGahn had another meeting. Importantly, DOJ leadership declined to confirm to the White House that Lt. Gen. Flynn was under any type of investigation. According to Mr. McGahn’s memo:

During the meeting, McGahn sought clarification regarding Yates’s prior statements regarding Flynn’s contact with Ambassador Kislyak. Among the issues discussed was whether dismissal of Flynn by the President would compromise any ongoing investigations. Yates was unwilling to confirm or deny that there was an ongoing investigation but did indicate that the DOJ would not object to the White House taking action against Flynn. (Emphasis added.)

Further supporting the White House’s understanding that there was no FBI investigation that could conceivably have been impeded, “Yates also indicated that the DOJ would not object to the White House disclosing how the DOJ obtained the information relayed to the White House regarding Flynn’s calls with Ambassador Kislyak.” In other words, the DOJ expressed that the White House could make public that Lt. Gen. Flynn’s calls with Ambassador Kislyak had been surveilled. It seems quite unlikely that if an ongoing DOJ investigation of Lt. Gen. Flynn was underway, the DOJ would approve its key investigation methods and sources being publicized.

Key to the White House argument, then, are two details: first, that Yates didn’t confirm for McGahn that there was an ongoing investigation, but also his claim that, “DOJ would not object to the White House disclosing how the DOJ obtained the information relayed to the White House regarding Flynn’s calls with Ambassador Kislyak” Yates’ testimony portrays that very differently. First of all, she describes talking about the crimes that Flynn might be prosecuted for — surely a tip-off he was being investigated. More interestingly, what McGahn portrayed as DOJ’s assent for releasing news of the FISA wiretap publicly, Yates seems to have taken it to mean DOJ was willing to share the wiretap intercept privately, with the White House; she even implies she meant they could come to DOJ to review the intercept.

WHITEHOUSE: Did you discuss criminal prosecution of Mr. Flynn — General Flynn?

YATES: My recollection is that did not really come up much in the first meeting. It did come up in the second meeting, when Mr. McGahn called me back the next morning and asked the — the morning after — this is the morning of the 27th, now — and asked me if I could come back to his office.

And so I went back with the NSD official, and there were essentially four topics that he wanted to discuss there, and one of those topics was precisely that. He asked about the applicability of certain statutes, certain criminal statutes and, more specifically,

[snip]

And there was a request made by Mr. McGahn, in the second meeting as to whether or not they would be able to look at the underlying evidence that we had that we had described for him of General Flynn’s conduct. And we told him that we were inclined to allow them to look at that underlying evidence, that we wanted to go back to DOJ and be able to make the logistical arrangements for that. This second meeting on the 27th occurred late in the afternoon, this is Friday the 27th. So we told him that we would work with the FBI over the weekend on this issue and get back with him on Monday morning. And I called him first thing Monday morning to let him know that we would allow them to come over and to review the underlying evidence.

That McGahn is spinning this as permission to release the intercept publicly is remarkable, given that it leaked. Want to bet this means FBI determined the leaks about the Flynn wiretap were leaked by the White House?

Trump’s initial loyalty demand from Comey closely followed him learning about Flynn interview

That’s particularly significant given the weird dinner Trump had with Comey that night, which Comey documented at the time. I describe that meeting and its significance as follow-up to the second Yates meeting here. But the key details are that Trump:

  • Invited the FBI to investigate the pee tape to prove it was inaccurate (which I assume was an explicit request for public exoneration)
  • Asked if the FBI leaks (given the White House claim that DOJ said the FISA intercept could be released, the question is all the more interesting)
  • Asked, for the third time, if Comey wanted to keep his job
  • Asked for loyalty
  • Made this remarkable comment suggesting he didn’t trust Flynn that among other things pretended that Trump didn’t know of the impending Putin call

He then went on to explain that he has serious reservations about Mike Flynn’s judgment and illustrated with a story from that day in which the President apparently discovered during his toast to Teresa May that [Vladimir Putin] had called four days ago. Apparently, as the President was toasting PM May, he was explaining that she had been the first to call him after his inauguration and Flynn interrupted to say that [Putin] had called (first, apparently). It was then that the President learned of [Putin’s] call and he confronted Flynn about it (not clear whether that was in the moment or after the lunch with PM May). Flynn said the return call was scheduled for Saturday, which prompted a heated reply from the President that six days was not an appropriate period of time to return a call from the [President] of a country like [Russia]. (“This isn’t [redacted] we are talking about.”) He said that if he called [redacted] and didn’t get a return call for six days he would be very upset. In telling the story, the President pointed his fingers at his head and said “the guy has serious judgment issues.” I did not comment at any point during this topic and there was no mention or acknowledgement of any FBI interest in or contact with General Flynn.

All of which is to say that McGahn’s narrative conflicts in very key ways with the contemporaneous documentation of DOJ.

For some reason (McGahn claims) Reince Priebus grilled Mike Flynn about question he already knew the answer to

Which brings us to the claims that McGahn recorded the day after the conversation but which, in the wake of Flynn’s plea, are remarkable.

Your office is also aware that, in the week leading up to Lt. Gen. Flynn’s termination and the President’s alleged comments to Mr. Comey, Lt. Gen. Flynn had told both White House Counsel and the Chief of Staff at least twice that the FBI agents had told him he would not be charged. The first instance occurred during a discussion at the White House on February 8, 2017, between Mr. McGahn, Mr. Priebus, Mr. John Eisenberg and Lt. Gen. Flynn. “Priebus led the questioning” and “asked Flynn whether Flynn spoke about sanctions on his call with Ambassador Kislyak.” Lt. Gen. Flynn’s “recollection was inconclusive” and he responded that “he either was not sure whether he discussed sanctions, or did not remember doing so.” “Priebus specifically asked Flynn whether he was interviewed by the FBI. Flynn stated that FBI agents met with him to inform him that their investigation was over.” The second occurred on a telephone call on February 10, 2017, wherein Mr. McGahn, Mr. Priebus, and the Vice President confronted Lt. Gen. Flynn concerning his discussions with Ambassador Kislyak. As recorded in Mr. McGahn’s memo, “On the phone, Flynn is asked about the FBI investigation to which he says that the FBI told him they were closing it out.”

On February 10, 2017, upon confirming the true content and nature of Lt. Gen. Flynn’s three telephone calls with Ambassador Kislyak, and in light of his statements to them and the Vice President, White House Counsel Don McGahn and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus advised the President that Lt. Gen. Flynn “had to be let go.” As a result, on February 13, 2017, the President accepted Lt. Gen. Flynn’s resignation.

So the White House counsel says that a memo he wrote on February 15 said that on February 8, he, Reince Priebus, John Eisenberg, and Flynn quizzed Flynn about whether he asked Kislyak about sanctions.

That same day, per Jim Comey, Flynn had chummed up to Comey while he was waiting for a meeting with Priebus. And Priebus had asked Comey if there was a FISA order targeting Flynn personally. So already, the White House story doesn’t make sense. They weren’t trying to find out what Flynn had done, but rather how much scrutiny the White House was under as a result.

And it makes far, far less sense however when you consider that Reince Priebus would have learned in real time that Flynn spoke about sanctions with Kislyak. Tom Bossert forwarded the KT McFarland email detailing her (almost certainly relayed from Trump) instructions to Priebus (and Sean Spicer). What this meeting appears to be is not so much an effort to find out what Flynn said to Kislyak, it’s to find out how damning his lies to the FBI were. To which Flynn twice claimed (according to McGahn) that the FBI had dropped the inquiry.

The White House letter (and apparently McGahn’s narrative) are suspiciously silent on the February 9 WaPo story

The White House claims it got notice about what really happened with Flynn on February 10. The WaPo story revealing what those transcripts said came out after 9PM on February 9. Given the White House claim that DOJ had given permission to leak this, I think it quite possible the White House was the source for this story. Whether or not that’s true, the report in the story — in one of the most sensational stories of the Trump presidency — that “the FBI is continuing to examine Flynn’s communications with Kislyak” completely undermines the White House claim that they had no way of knowing that Flynn remained under investigation.

One way or another by Friday, February 10, the White House had gotten the information McGahn requested of Yates on January 27; given the delay and WaPo’s report, that might include the 302, as well as the intercepts. If it included the 302, it would have made it clear that, whatever the FBI agents believed about Flynn’s demeanor, the investigation hadn’t been  concluded.

Which is why Trump fired Flynn. Not because of anything he told Pence (remember: this letter completely blows off the request to learn about Flynn’s communications with Pence). But because keeping Flynn around meant remaining under scrutiny by FBI. Perhaps, too, Flynn had to be fired because retaining him would sustain the focus on precisely why Flynn (almost certainly operating under orders from Trump) intervened with the Russians about sanctions.

Nevertheless, that’s the opposite of what this letter argues. It uses that February 15 memo from McGahn, a memo that appears to be undermined by the Transition period discovery the White House knew to be in Mueller’s possession (not least because it was cited in Flynn’s plea), that claims no one had any way of knowing that Flynn was under investigation.

According to Mr. Comey’s testimony, the next day, on February 14, 2017, the President made comments expressing his “hope” that Mr. Comey “could see [his] way to letting this go” in reference to the situation with Lt. Gen. Flynn. The White House disputed Mr. Comey’s recollection of that conversation. Regardless, the White House Counsel and Chief of Staff, as well as others surrounding the President, had every reason to believe at that time that the FBI was not investigating Lt. Gen. Flynn, especially in light of the fact that Lt. Gen. Flynn was allowed to keep his active security clearance.

Even as Trump tries to claim he facilitated justice by firing Flynn, he continues to hide the same thing Flynn hid by lying

The letter ends with a bunch of claims that are barely supported, if at all.

  • Fifth, the investigation of Lt. Gen. Flynn proceeded unimpeded and actually resulted in a charge and a plea;
  • Sixth, assuming, arguendo, that the President had made a comment to Mr. Comey that Mr. Comey claimed to be a direction, as the chief law enforcement official pursuant to Article II of the United States Constitution, the President had every right to express his view of the case;
  • Seventh, your office already has an ample record upon which to base your findings of no obstruction. As such there is no demonstrated, specific need for the President’s responses; and,
  • Eighth, by firing Lt. Gen. Flynn, the President actually facilitated the pursuit of justice. He removed a senior public official from office within seventeen days, in the absence of any action by the FBI and well before any action taken by your office.

For all intents, purposes, and appearances, the FBI had accepted Flynn’s account; concluded that he was confused but truthful; decided not to investigate him further; and let him retain his clearance. As far as he could tell, the President was the only one who decided to continue gathering and reviewing the facts in order to ascertain whether Lt. Gen. Flynn’s actions necessitated severe and consequential action — removal from office. The President ordered his White House Counsel to continue its review of the situation, which ultimately concluded that Lt. Gen. Flynn had misled the Vice President. The President did not obstruct justice. To the contrary, he facilitated it.

We emphasize these points because even if an FBI investigation constituted a ‘’proceeding” under the statute, which it does not, the statute also requires intent to obstruct. There could not possibly have been intent to obstruct an “investigation” that had been neither confirmed nor denied to White House Counsel, and that they had every reason (based on Lt. Gen. Flynn’s statements and his continued security clearance) to assume was not ongoing. Further, by insisting on and accepting Lt. Gen. Flynn’s public resignation as national security adviser, the President expedited the pursuit of justice while the DOJ and the FBI were apparently taking no action.

So, to reiterate, within seventeen days of first being advised by DOJ leadership concerning Lt. Gen. Flynn, and within just three days of the President’s senior team confirming the requisite facts, the President took decisive action and directed Lt. Gen. Flynn, his highest ranking national security advisor, to resign. The President did so in spite of the fact that the FBI had, apparently, decided not to pursue the case further. The President did so in spite of the great political cost to himself. Far, far, from obstructing justice, the only individual in the entire Flynn story that ensured swift justice was the President. His actions speak louder than any words.

Let’s work backwards from where Trump claims he was helping justice by waiting 17 days, through a number of classified meetings (including the Putin one), before letting someone go that Yates has suggested should have been fired from the start. I suspect the McGahn letter tries to work backwards to spin the delay in better light.

There’s a good reason why Mueller’s team didn’t give Trump Comey’s memo before they wrote this letter. Because his account of the January 27 and February 8 interactions undermine the White House narrative, quite severely in the case of the January 27 dinner. And those earlier interactions can’t be viewed as Trump just commenting on a case.

That brings us to bullet five and seven: Trump’s claim that Mueller charged Flynn in spite of Trump’s efforts to obstruct and that Mueller has enough information without his testimony.

Both bullets obscure the nature of the inquiry. After all, Flynn got a plea because Mueller needed it to understand what was really going on with his communications with Kislyak (and Israel). That is, it took ten months until Mueller finally got at the jist of the issue, which is whether Flynn’s deferral of sanctions, almost certainly on orders from Trump, was part of a quid pro quo.

And in addition to the Pence questions I’ve focused on, this letter does absolutely nothing to address bullet point one: “information regarding his contacts with Ambassador Kislyak about sanctions during the transition process.” Which is to say that in January, Mueller asked Trump to finally come clean about why he was undercutting Obama’s policy on sanctions (and why Flynn lied about it).

That’s the “collusion” question behind the obstruction one. Trump refused to answer it then, and he continued to refuse to answer it when Mueller asked again (and added a slew more “collusion” questions) in March.

Which is to say, the more Trump refuses to answer Mueller’s questions, the bigger the “collusion” questions get.

Update: Subtitles added for clarity.

Why Was Paul Manafort Fired?

In an attempt to sow outrage because the lifetime Republican Stefan Halper asked Carter Page and George Papadopoulos some questions, the frothy right is now focusing on why DOJ didn’t tell Donald Trump his campaign, the one that asked all manner of people to work for “free,” was infested with suspected foreign assets. They point to this passage in the GOP House Intelligence Report to suggest that if only DOJ had told Trump which of the suspected assets in his campaign they knew about, he would have fired them.

The Trump campaign did not receive a general counterintelligence briefing until August 2016, and even then, it was never specifically notified about Papadopoulos, Page, Manafort, or General Flynn’s Russia ties. 1o.; Further, the counterintelligence briefing provided to Trump and his top advisors did not identify any individuals by name, but rather focused on the general threat posed by adversaries, including Russia and China.

The suggestion that Trump would have fired these men is mostly without merit — after all, after President Obama gave Trump very specific warnings about Mike Flynn, Trump promoted him to oversee all of national security.

Moreover, these frothy defenders of individual liberty are effectively demanding that some kind of Nanny Running Mate do the vetting that — as the HPSCI report also admits — Trump never did.

While the Committee will not go into further detail on the charges against Manafort due to ongoing litigation concerns, Special Counsel Mueller’s indictment of Manafort illustrates the necessity for U.S. presidential campaigns to better investigate individuals who serve in senior positions within the campaign. If the accusations against Manafort are true, he should have never served as a senior official with a campaign for the U.S. presidency, much less campaign chairman or manager.

I mean, sure, DOJ could have done the vetting of Trump’s “free” staffers that the billionaire candidate refused to do, but it would have involved the kind of review of communications and balance sheets that Trump would call “Spying,” and it’d be much more intrusive “Spying” than asking lifetime GOP operative Halper to ask a few questions.

All that said, particularly giving how it took place the day after Trump’s first intelligence briefing on August 17, I am increasingly interested in the campaign’s decision to fire Paul Manafort. Here’s how the GOP House Intelligence Report spins it.

Then-campaign manager[Corey Lewandowski] testified that, when Manafort was hired, [redacted] made no attempt to vet him and was entirely unaware of Manafort’s past work in Ukraine.85 In May 2016, Manafort was promoted to campaign chairman and, after [Lewandowski] was fired the next month, “evolve[d]” into the role of de facto campaign manager.89

(U) Manafort left the campaign in August 2016 following news reports that he had received $12.7 million In secret payments for his work on behalf of Yanukovich’s Party of Regions; news reporting also alleged that Manafort and his aide Rick Gates had “directly orchestrated a covert Washington lobbying operation” on behalf of the party–while failing to register 90 as foreign agents. Campaign press secretary Hope Hicks recalled that, after receiving press inquiries about Manafort’s “professional history,” a major story broke91 on the evening of August 14, 2016. According to Hicks, “Trump had made a decision to make a change in leadership on the campaign outside of Paul’s issues that were being publicly reported,” but those issues “certainly contributed to expediting and intensifying the way in which his role changed, and then ultimately he was fired at the end of that week.”92 Trump directed his son-in-law Jared Kushner to ensure Manafort departed the campaign on August 19, which he did.93 As Kushner put it, ”[t]here was a lot of news that was out there and the decision was that it was time for him to resign.”

But here’s the story as told by Don Jr in his admittedly demonstrably false testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Q. And returning briefly to Mr. Manafort, what was your understanding of how Mr. Manafort ceased to be affiliated with the campaign?

A. I believe there was stuff coming out about Paul that he denied, but he didn’t want to drag any other aspects of that life into the campaign and the work that we were doing. So he removed himself from his position as campaign chairman.

Q. And did he discuss with you or, to the best of your knowledge, anyone else on the campaign his ties with Ukrainian business or Russian interests, his alleged ties?

A. No, not that I recall.

Now, these are not entirely inconsistent stories. In both versions, when Manafort’s ties to Yanukovych became a liability, he was ousted. Though if Manafort’s ties to Ukraine were the primary problem, then Rick Gates should have been ousted at the same time, and he not only remained on the campaign, but stayed on through the inauguration, helping Tom Barrack sell foreigners (including, but not limited to, wealthy Russians) inauguration access.

But, for starters, I find it absurd to suggest that Manafort was ousted because of allegations about his ties to Russia and Ukraine, but that he never spoke about that with the family. You might argue that Don Jr just remained ignorant of the details, but Trump’s spawn, including Don Jr., were instrumental in ousting Lewandowski and elevating Manafort in the first place, so I find it doubtful Manafort would in turn be ousted without their feedback. Indeed, Jared’s reported role in the firing makes it clear he, at least, was centrally involved.

So I find Junior’s claim that he didn’t discuss his Ukrainian and Russian ties just as dubious as these other answers.

Q. Are you aware of any ties, direct or indirect, past or present, between Mr. Manafort and the Russian government?

A. I’ve read that since, but I’m not aware of anything specific, no.

Q. Were you aware of Mr. Manafort’s relationship with and work on behalf of Viktor Yanukovych?

A. Again, I’ve heard that since, but not at the time, no.

[snip]

Q. Do you know Konstantin Kilimnik?

A. Not that I’m aware of.

Plus — something that always gets forgotten in this timeline — between the time the most damning NYT story came out, the time Trump got his first intelligence briefing on August 17 and the day Trump fired Manafort on August 19, he demoted him, also on August 17, putting Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway in charge.

Donald Trump, following weeks of gnawing agitation over his advisers’ attempts to temper his style, moved late Tuesday to overhaul his struggling campaign by rebuffing those efforts and elevating two longtime associates who have encouraged his combative populism.

Stephen Bannon, a former banker who runs the influential conservative outlet Breitbart News and is known for his fiercely anti-establishment politics, has been named the Trump campaign’s chief executive. Kellyanne Conway, a veteran Republican pollster who has been close to Trump for years, will assume the role of campaign manager.

[snip]

Trump issued a statement hours later. “I have known Steve and Kellyanne both for many years. They are extremely capable, highly qualified people who love to win and know how to win,” he said. “I believe we’re adding some of the best talents in politics, with the experience and expertise needed to defeat Hillary Clinton in November and continue to share my message and vision to Make America Great Again.”

[snip]

Trump’s stunning decision effectively ended the months-long push by campaign chairman Paul Manafort to moderate Trump’s presentation and pitch for the general election. And it sent a signal, perhaps more clearly than ever, that the real estate magnate intends to finish this race on his own terms, with friends who share his instincts at his side.

Manafort, a seasoned operative who joined the campaign in March, will remain in his role, but the advisers described his status internally as diminished due to Trump’s unhappiness and restlessness in recent weeks over his drop in the polls and reports over lagging organization in several key states. He told some friends that he was unsure if he was being given candid assessments of news stories and the campaign’s management.

While Trump respects Manafort, the aides said, he has grown to feel “boxed in” and “controlled” by people who barely know him. Moving forward, he plans to focus intensely on rousing his voters at rallies and through media appearances.

Even after the NYT black ledger story, Manafort was being portrayed as a moderating influence in Trump’s campaign. Reports about Manafort’s firing focus more on his treatment of Trump as a child than on his corruption. Even the NYT’s coverage of the firing, in the wake of their blockbuster black ledgers story, minimized the import of that on his ouster, waiting until the very last paragraphs of a long article to describe how the stories led to his loss of support among his kids, especially Jared.

At the same time, the new accounts of Mr. Manafort’s ties to Ukraine quickly eroded the support that he had from Mr. Trump’s family during his earlier battles with Mr. Lewandowski.

According to people briefed on the matter, Jared Kushner, Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, expressed increasing concern after a Times article published on Sunday about allegations of cash payments made to Mr. Manafort’s firm for his work on behalf of his main client, Viktor F. Yanukovych, the former Ukranian president, who is an ally of Mr. Putin.

Mrs. Clinton’s campaign has repeatedly sought to yoke Mr. Trump to Mr. Putin, citing Mr. Trump’s praise for the Russian leader. And the avalanche of stories about his work for pro-Russian entities in Ukraine were becoming untenable for the campaign, according to people briefed on the discussions.

“The easiest way for Trump to sidestep the whole Ukraine story is for Manafort not to be there,” said Newt Gingrich, the former House speaker who has become a counselor to Mr. Trump.

In North Carolina on Thursday, Mr. Trump was informed of the newest such report: an Associated Press article that, citing emails, showed that Mr. Manafort’s firm had orchestrated a pro-Ukrainian lobbying campaign in Washington without registering as a foreign agent.

That was enough, according to people briefed on the calls, for Mr. Trump to call Mr. Bannon and Ms. Conway.

I raise this for two reasons. First, retaining Gates while firing Manafort shows that the concern about Russian ties was only PR, at best. I admit when I first started writing this, I thought firing Manafort might have been a reaction against his willingness to chum up to Russia, possibly up to and including sharing information via Kilimnik with Oleg Deripaska. I believe that at various times in the Trump campaign, he tried to get out of the devil’s bargain he made with Russia, and entertained the possibility that firing Manafort was one of those efforts. But the retention of Gates makes that unlikely.

All that said, Don Jr’s explanation, like his father’s, are convenient post hoc justifications (though this Corey Lewandowski story, which relies on Steve Bannon’s, has the same emphasis).

Still, I find the coincidence of the decision to fire Manafort and that first briefing to be interesting. Did the warning that Russia was attempting to infiltrate his campaign make him more sensitive to Manafort’s burgeoning Russia scandal?

One way or another, I’d love to revisit the events of that week to measure how much Trump and Junior — as distinct from Jared — cared about Manafort’s ties with Russia.

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