There Are Almost Certainly Other DAG Rosenstein Memos

As I noted in this post, Robert Mueller’s team of “Attorneys for the United States of America” responded to Paul Manafort’s claim that Rod Rosenstein’s grant of authority to the Special Counsel did not extend to the money laundering he is currently being prosecuted for by revealing an August 2, 2017 memo from Rosenstein authorizing Mueller to investigate, along with a bunch of redacted stuff,

Allegations that Paul Manafort:

  • Committed a crime or crimes by colluding with Russian government officials with respect to the Russian government’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 election for President of the United States, in violation of United States law;
  • Committed a crime or crimes arising out of payments he received from the Ukrainian government before and during the tenure of President Viktor Yanukovych.

As the filing notes, this memo has not been revealed before, neither to us nor to Manafort.

That’s all very interesting (and has the DC press corps running around claiming this is a big scoop, when it is instead predictable). More interesting, however, is the date, which strongly suggests that there are more of these memos out there.

Mueller is unlikely to have waited two and a half months to memorialize his scope

I say that, first of all, because Rosenstein wrote the August 2 memo two and a half months after he appointed Mueller. Given Trump’s raging attacks on the investigation, it’d be imprudent not to get memorialization of the scope of the investigation at each step. Indeed, as I’ve noted, in the filing Mueller points to the Libby precedent, arguing that this memo “has the same legal significance” as the two memos Jim Comey used to (publicly) memorialize the scope of Patrick Fitzgerald’s investigation.

The August 2 Scope Memorandum is precisely the type of material that has previously been considered in evaluating a Special Counsel’s jurisdiction. United States v. Libby, 429 F. Supp. 2d 27 (D.D.C. 2006), involved a statutory and constitutional challenge to the authority of a Special Counsel who was appointed outside the framework of 28 C.F.R. Part 600. In rejecting that challenge, Judge Walton considered similar materials that defined the scope of the Special Counsel’s authority. See id. at 28-29, 31-32, 39 (considering the Acting Attorney General’s letter of appointment and clarification of jurisdiction as “concrete evidence * * * that delineates the Special Counsel’s authority,” and “conclud[ing] that the Special Counsel’s delegated authority is described within the four corners of the December 30, 2003 and February 6, 2004 letters”). The August 2 Scope Memorandum has the same legal significance as the original Appointment Order on the question of scope.

The first of those Comey letters, dated December 30, 2003, authorized Fitz to investigate the leak of Valerie Plame’s identity. The second of those, dated February 6, 2004, memorialized that Fitz could also investigate,

federal crimes committed in the course of, and with intent to interfere with, your investigation, such as perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, and intimidation of witnesses; to conduct appeals arising out of the matter being investigated and/or prosecuted; and to pursue administrative remedies and civil sanctions (such as civil contempt) that are within the Attorney General’s authority to impose or pursue.

It’s the second memo that memorialized Fitz’ authority to prosecute Scooter Libby for protecting Dick Cheney’s role in outing Valerie Plame.

Mueller, then the acting FBI Director, would presumably have been in the loop of the Fitz investigation (as Christopher Wray is in Mueller’s) and would have known how these two letters proceeded. So it would stand to reason he’d ask for a memo from the start, particularly given that the investigation already included multiple known targets and that Trump is even more hostile to this investigation than George Bush and Dick Cheney were to Fitz’s.

Admittedly, unlike the Comey memo, which was designed for public release, there’s no obvious, unredacted reference to a prior memo. Though something that might imply a prior memo is redacted at the top of the released memo (though this is probably a classification marking).

And, given that this memo was designed to be secret, Rosenstein may have written the memo to obscure whether there are prior ones and if so how many.

The memo closely follows two key dates

That said, the date of the memo, August 2, is mighty curious. It is six days after the July 27 Papadopoulos arrest at Dulles airport. And seven days after the July 26 no knock search of Paul Manafort’s Alexandria home.

That timing might suggest any of several things. It’s certainly possible (though unlikely) the timing is unrelated.

It’s possible that Rosenstein wrote the memo to ensure those two recent steps were covered by his grant. That wouldn’t mean that the search and arrest wouldn’t have been authorized. The memo itself notes that Mueller would be obliged to inform Rosenstein before each major investigative step.

The Special Counsel has an explicit notification obligation to the Attorney General: he “shall notify the Attorney General of events in the course of his or her investigation in conformity with the Departmental guidelines with respect to Urgent Reports.” 28 C.F.R. § 600.8(b). Those reports cover “[m]ajor developments in significant investigations and litigation,” which may include commencing an investigation; filing criminal charges; executing a search warrant; interviewing an important witness; and arresting a defendant.

Both Papadopoulos’ arrest and that dramatic search would fit this criteria. So it’s virtually certain Rosenstein reviewed Urgent Memos on both these events before they happened. Plus, his memo makes it clear that the allegations included in his memo “were within the scope of the Investigation at the time of your appointment and are within the scope of the Order,” meaning that the inclusion of them in the memo would retroactively authorize any activities that had already taken place, such as the collection of evidence at Manafort’s home outside the scope of the election inquiry.

As I noted, the memo also asserts that Special Counsels’ investigative authority, generally, extends to investigating obstruction and crimes the prosecutor might use to flip witnesses.

The filing is perhaps most interesting for the other authorities casually asserted, which are not necessarily directly relevant in this prosecution, but are for others. First, Mueller includes this footnote, making it clear his authority includes obstruction, including witness tampering.

The Special Counsel also has “the authority to investigate and prosecute federal crimes committed in the course of, and with intent to interfere with, the Special Counsel’s investigation, such as perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, and intimidation of witnesses” and has the authority “to conduct appeals arising out of the matter being investigated and/or prosecuted.” 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(a). Those authorities are not at issue here.

Those authorities are not at issue here, but they are for the Flynn, Papadopoulos, Gates, and Van der Zwaan prosecutions, and for any obstruction the White House has been engaging in. But because it is relevant for the Gates and Van der Zwaan prosecutions, that mention should preempt any Manafort attempt to discredit their pleas for the way they expose him.

The filing includes a quotation from DOJ’s discussion of special counsels making it clear that it’s normal to investigate crimes that might lead someone to flip.

[I]n deciding when additional jurisdiction is needed, the Special Counsel can draw guidance from the Department’s discussion accompanying the issuance of the Special Counsel regulations. That discussion illustrated the type of “adjustments to jurisdiction” that fall within Section 600.4(b). “For example,” the discussion stated, “a Special Counsel assigned responsibility for an alleged false statement about a government program may request additional jurisdiction to investigate allegations of misconduct with respect to the administration of that program; [or] a Special Counsel may conclude that investigating otherwise unrelated allegations against a central witness in the matter is necessary to obtain cooperation.”

That one is technically relevant here — one thing Mueller is doing with the Manafort prosecution (and successfully did with the Gates one) is to flip witnesses against Trump. But it also makes it clear that Mueller could do so more generally.

Mueller used the false statements charges against Papadopoulos to flip him. He surely hopes to use the money laundering charges against Manafort to flip him, too. Both issues may have been at issue in any memo written to newly cover the events of late July.

Mueller may not have revealed the scope of the Manafort investigation at that time

Now consider this detail: the second bullet describing the extent of the investigation into Manafort has a semi-colon, not a period.

It’s possible Mueller used semi-colons after all these bullets (of which Manafort’s is the second or third entry). But that, plus the resumption of the redaction without a double space suggests there may be another bulleted allegation in the Manafort allegation.

There are two other (known) things that might merit a special bullet. First, while it would seem to fall under the general election collusion bullet, Rosenstein may have included a bullet describing collusion with Aras Agalarov and friends in the wake of learning about the June 9 Trump Tower meeting with his employees. More likely, Rosenstein may have included a bullet specifically authorizing an investigation of Manafort’s ties with Oleg Deripaska and Konstantin Kilimnik.

The Mueller memo actually includes a specific reference to that, which as I’ve noted I will return to.

Open-source reporting also has described business arrangements between Manafort and “a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin.”

The latter might be of particular import, given that we know a bunch of fall 2017 interviews focused on Manafort’s ties to Deripaska and the ongoing cover-up with Kilimnik regarding the Skadden Arps report on the Yulia Tymoshenko prosecution.

All of which is to say that this memo may reflect a new expansion of the Manafort investigation, perhaps pursuant to whatever the FBI discovered in that raid on Manafort’s home. If so, that should be apparent to him, as he and his lawyers know what was seized.

Still, I wouldn’t be surprised if he inquired about what authorized that July 26 raid, if for no other reason than to sustain his effort to make more information on Mueller’s investigation public.

The redactions almost certainly hide two expansions to the investigation as it existed in October 2016

Now let’s turn to what else (besides another possible Manafort bullet) the redactions might show, and what may have been added since.

The unredacted description of the Manafort investigation takes up very roughly about one fifth of the section describing allegations Mueller was pursuing.

The Schiff Memo revealed that DOJ had sub-investigations into four individuals in October 2016.

Endnote 7 made it clear that, in addition to Page, this included Flynn and Papadopoulos, probably not Rick Gates, and one other person, possibly Roger Stone.

In August 2017, all four of those would have been included in a Rosenstein memo, possibly with a bullet dedicated to Gates alone added. That said, not all of these would require two or more bullets (and therefore as much space as the Manafort description). Papadopoulos’ description might include two, one dedicated to the collusion and one to the lying about collusion, or just one encompassing both the collusion and the lying. Flynn’s might include three, one dedicated to the collusion, one to the lying about it, and one to the unregistered foreign agent work, including with Turkey, that we know Mueller to have been investigating; or, as with Papadopoulos, the lying about the collusion might be incorporated into that bullet. Stone’s bullet would likely have only reflected the collusion, an investigation that is currently very active. Carter Page’s suspected role as a foreign agent might be one bullet or two.

That suggests, though doesn’t confirm, that there are a few other things included in those redacted bullets, things not included in the investigation in October 2016 as reflected in the Schiff memo.

Indeed, we should expect two more things to be included in the bullet points: First, the name of any suspect, including the President, associated with the obstruction of justice. Rosenstein himself had already been interviewed with respect to that aspect of the investigation by August 2, so surely Rosenstein had already authorized that aspect of the investigation.

The redactions most likely also include the names of Don Jr and Jared Kushner (and Paul Manafort), for their suspected collusion with Russia as reflected in the June 9 meeting. At least according to public reporting, Mueller may have first learned of this in June when Manafort and Kushner confirmed it in turning over evidence to Congress and Mueller. The first revelations that Mueller was obtaining subpoenas from a dedicated grand jury were on August 3, just one day after this memo. That same day, reports described Mueller issuing subpoenas related to the June 9 meeting.

Indeed, it’s quite possible Rosenstein issued this memo to memorialize the inclusion of the President’s spawn among the suspects of the investigation.

Rosenstein has almost certainly updated this memo since August 2

All that said, there’s not enough redacted space to include the known expanded current scope of the investigation, and given that the newly expanded scope gets closer to the President, Rosenstein has surely issued an update to this memo since then. These things are all definitively included in the current scope of the investigation and might warrant special mention in any update to Rosenstein’s authorizing memo:

Many of these — particularly the ones that affect only Russians — might be included under a generic “collusion with Russia” bullet. The closer scrutiny on Jared, however, surely would get an update, as would any special focus on the Attorney General.

More importantly, to the extent Mueller really is investigating Trump’s business interests (whether that investigation is limited just to Russian business, or more broadly) — the red line the NYT helpfully set for the President — that would necessarily be included in the most up-to-date memo authorizing Mueller’s activities. There is no way Mueller would take actions involving the President personally without having the authorization to do so in writing.

Which is why we can be virtually certain the August 2 memo is not the last memo Rosenstein has written to authorize Mueller’s actions.

Mind you, Mueller probably wouldn’t want to release a memo with several pages of redacted allegations. Which may be why we’re looking at the redacted version of an almost certainly superseded memo.

Updated: Later today Mueller’s team asked to file a copy of an exhibit–which given Judge Berman Jackson’s description of it as released in redacted form, has to be the Rosenstein memo–under seal. Which suggests they’re going to show Manafort what else they’re investigating (which I bet is the Deripaska stuff).

The Papadopoulos Interfax Interview and Another Syria Data Point

The other day, the WaPo had a story reviewing the larger role in the Trump campaign George Papadopoulos had than the Trump folks admit. Much of this work has appeared elsewhere, but I’m particularly interested in the WaPo’s account of the direction Deputy Comms Director Brian Lanza gave to George Papadopoulos regarding an Interfax interview he would do. He emphasized that the campaign wanted the message that it wanted a partnership with Russia on Syria.

When a Russian news agency reached out to George Papadopoulos to request an interview shortly before the 2016 election, the young adviser to then-
candidate Donald Trump made sure to seek approval from campaign headquarters.

“You should do it,” deputy communications director Bryan Lanza urged Papadopoulos in a September 2016 email, emphasizing the benefits of a U.S. “partnership with Russia.”

[snip]

“Received a request from Interfax Russian News Agency with Ksenia Baygarova on U.S.-Russia ties under a President Trump. What do you think?” he wrote to Lanza on Sept. 9, 2016. “If the campaign wants me to do it, can answer similar to the answers I gave in April while in Israel.”

Lanza gave the go-ahead, citing the conflict in Syria as a reason to work with the Russians. Papadopoulos then offered to send the campaign a copy of the interview after it was published.

“You’re the best. Thank you!” Lanza responded.

Lanza declined to comment.

In the interview, published Sept. 30, 2016, Papadopoulos told the Russian media outlet that Trump had been “open about his willingness to usher in a new chapter in U.S.-Russia ties,” specifically citing the need for cooperation in Syria.

As WaPo notes, the resulting interview is one Papadopoulos made sure Ivan Timofeev saw, in what may be part of a signaling process to Russia on Trump policy questions. In it, Papadopoulos specifically came out against regime change, one of the US policies Putin especially loathes.

Q.: Do you share the opinion that the Assad regime should be immediately removed from power in Syria?

A.: We do not support aggressive changes of regimes anywhere including Syria. Look what had happened in Lybia and Iraq. We all remember this. However, it does not mean that we support Assad either.

Syria was key in other signaling — and in Jared’s top policy priorities immediately after the election.

The focus on Syria is key: remember that Jared Kushner explained his request to Sergei Kislyak for a Russian-run secure back challenge as an effort to cooperate on Syria.

The Ambassador expressed similar sentiments about relations, and then said he especially wanted to address U.S. policy in Syria, and that he wanted to convey information from what he called his “generals.” He said he wanted to provide information that would help inform the new administration. He said the generals could not easily come to the U.S. to convey this information and he asked if there was a secure line in the transition office to conduct a conversation. General Flynn or I explained that there were no such lines. I believed developing a thoughtful approach on Syria was a very high priority given the ongoing humanitarian crisis, and I asked if they had an existing communications channel at his embassy we could use where they would be comfortable transmitting the information they wanted to relay to General Flynn.

So it’s possible the attacks on Hillary’s Syria policy were a signal — as the earlier speech’s call for engagement with Russia apparently was — to Timofeev.

The Papadopoulos interview was published on September 30, just 11 days before Don Jr. flew to Paris to meet with some pro-Russian Syrians.

One meeting that Donald Trump Jr. has not fully explained is a speech in Paris on October 11, 2016, just weeks before the election.

In his capacity as a key member of the Trump campaign, Trump Jr. spoke at the meeting at the request of a French think tank, The Center of Political and Foreign Affairs. Trump Jr. was likely paid about $50,000 for the speech, according to the speaking fees listed by talent booking agency that represents him.

The CFPR has a reputation in the French press as being “openly connected to the Russians.” It is difficult, however, to track just how connected they are, as France does not require it’s nonprofit organizations to disclose their finances.

The founders of the center have worked closely with the Russian government to end the conflict in Syria and in 2016, nominated Russian President Vladimir for the Nobel Peace Prize. The center’s director, Fabien Baussart, has been described as “a former lobbyist for Russian oligarchs in France.” He cited Putin’s “peace-making efforts” as reason for his nomination. One of the founders, Baussart’s wife Randa Kassis, heads a political party called the Movement for a Pluralistic Society, which is in part endorsed by Russia in support of Syrian president Bashar al-Asssad.

Now we know, then, that even at the level of flacks, the emphasis in this period was on publicizing (to Russians, in a Russian outlet) the Trump willingness to work together on Syria, and specifically to depart from US efforts to remove Assad.

 

The Daily Beast Guccifer Scoop and Those GRU Officers Sanctioned Last Week

The Daily Beast has a story reporting (in addition to the already reported news that the DNC hack got moved under Robert Mueller) that the person behind the Guccifer 2.0 persona “slipped up” once and failed to use the VPN hiding his location in the GRU headquarters in Moscow.

[O]n one occasion, The Daily Beast has learned, Guccifer failed to activate the VPN client before logging on. As a result, he left a real, Moscow-based Internet Protocol address in the server logs of an American social media company, according to a source familiar with the government’s Guccifer investigation.

The US identified which particular officer was behind the Guccifer persona.

Working off the IP address, U.S. investigators identified Guccifer 2.0 as a particular GRU officer working out of the agency’s headquarters on Grizodubovoy Street in Moscow.

And then, according to TDB, the Guccifer persona was handed off to a more experienced GRU officer, with better English skills.

Sometime after its hasty launch, the Guccifer persona was handed off to a more experienced GRU officer, according to a source familiar with the matter. The timing of that handoff is unclear, but Guccifer 2.0’s last blog post, from Jan. 12, 2017, evinced a far greater command of English that the persona’s earlier efforts.

TDB’s sources did not reveal the name of the officer identified from the VPN “slip up.”

The Daily Beast’s sources did not disclose which particular officer worked as Guccifer.

But we may already know the name or names of the GRU officers involved. As I noted last week, Treasury added two names to the list of GRU officers sanctioned in conjunction with the DNC hack: Sergei Afanasyev and Grigoriy Viktorovich Molchanov. Both would actually be (very) experienced officers — they are 55 and 62. And both include very interesting “as of” dates identifying the last point when our intelligence officials identified their positions: February 2017 and April 2016, respectively.

The latter is of particular interest, as it came during the period when Guccifer 2.0 was setting up his infrastructure. But the government doesn’t know a ton about this guy — they know his birth year, but not his birth date, and possibly not even his passport information.

In any case, last week, the government revealed two new people it blames (and therefore sanctioned) for the DNC hack.

As TDB notes, the revelation that the government has tied Guccifer 2.0 to a known GRU officer is utterly damning for Roger Stone, who has admitted talking to him. But they don’t lay out how squirrelly Stone was in early March when trying to deny he was in trouble for his dalliances with Guccifer 2.0 and Wikileaks, which I laid out here.

In his response he does the following:

  • Raises doubts that he was actually talking to Guccifer 2.0 (even though Guccifer 2.0’s only identity was virtual, so Stone’s online interactions with any entity running the Guccifer Twitter account would by definition be communication with Guccifer 2.0)
  • Repeats his earlier doubts that Guccifer 2.0 is a Russian operative
  • Emphasizes that he couldn’t have couldn’t have been involved in any hack of the DNC Guccifer 2.0 had done because he first spoke to him six weeks after the email release (in reality, he was speaking to him three weeks after the Wikileaks release)
  • Admits he once believed Guccifer 2.0 did the hack but (pointing to the Bill Binney analysis, and giving it a slightly different focus than he had in September) claims he no longer believes that
  • Invents something about a WaPo report that’s not true, thereby shifting the focus to receiving documents (as opposed to, say, information)
  • Denies he received documents from anyone but not that he saw documents (other than the Wikileaks ones) before they were released

This denial stops well short of explaining why he reached out to Guccifer. And it does nothing to change the record — one backed by his own writing — that Stone reached out because he believed Guccifer, whoever he might be, had hacked the DNC.

At the time Stone reached out to Guccifer (as I pointed out, he misrepresented the timing of this somewhat in his testimony), he believed Guccifer had violated the law by hacking the DNC.

He never does explain to Todd why he did reach out.

Guccifer 2.0 never comes back in the remainder of the interview.

Just weeks ago, when his buddy Sam Nunberg was giving (potentially immunized) testimony to the grand jury, Stone was really really squirrelly about whether his conversations with Guccifer 2.0 put him at legal jeopardy. The confirmation of the GRU tie may provide one reason why he’s so squirrelly.

Update: As Kaspersky’s Aleks Gostev notes, Treasury should know far more on Sergei Afanasyev. RT publicly described him as Deputy Chief of GRU in April 2016. And Molchanov is, at least now, head of GRU’s academy.

Duty of Candor: The Timing of the Sessions News

Since Jeff Sessions fired Andy McCabe Friday night and Trump started ratcheting up his attacks on Robert Mueller, few Republicans have vocally supported Mueller (Jeff Flake, Trey Gowdy, and John McCain are exceptions; all are retiring).

There was, however, this story, reporting that three sources say Jeff Sessions was not as dismissive of George Papadopoulos’ plan to reach out to Russians as JD Gordon has claimed.

Three people who attended the March campaign meeting told Reuters they gave their version of events to FBI agents or congressional investigators probing Russian interference in the 2016 election. Although the accounts they provided to Reuters differed in certain respects, all three, who declined to be identified, said Sessions had expressed no objections to Papadopoulos’ idea.

One person said Sessions was courteous to Papadopoulos and said something to the effect of “okay, interesting.”

The other two recalled a similar response.

“It was almost like, ‘Well, thank you and let’s move on to the next person,’” one said.

As the story notes, this conflicts with Jeff Sessions’ November 14 sworn testimony to the House Judiciary Committee.

So in the wake of the Attorney General firing McCabe for violating his duty of candor, three current or former Trump associates leaked that he lied to the House.

The thing is, there can’t be that many people who these sources could be. I’m not sure the annotations from Seth Abramson (above) are all correct, but here’s what it looks like.

Sessions and Gordon are on the record stating Sessions pushed back. Trump hasn’t testified yet.

One may well be Papadopoulos.

That leaves, starting with Abramson’s guesses (here’s a later list of Trump’s national security advisors, which should round out Abramson’s):

  • Joseph Schmitz, who left his job as DOD IG amid some scandal
  • Bert Mizusawa, who is running for VA Senate and presumably wants some national help, but he is himself a lawyer
  • Jim Hoskins, who’s career military (including a lot of time working in intelligence)
  • Walid Phares, appears to still be pitching Trump’s foreign policy adventurism
  • Gary Harrell, who is career special operations
  • Charles Kubic, who even contemporaneously was raising legal concerns about such outreach (and who would be a likely candidate to have been interviewed by Mueller since he showed up in email chains raising such concerns)
  • James Carafano may be the balding man in the foreground (though he’s not in Trump’s list of advisors) — he’s still running interference for Trump’s crazy foreign policy
  • Sam Clovis, who is not identifiable in the picture, raised concerns about legal issues and NATO concerns, but elsewhere was clearly involved in the effort to reach out to Russia, even per Carter Page; he’s in the news because of the potential conflict Joe Di Genova’s reported representation of Trump poses
  • Keith Kellogg is another possible candidate; he remains part of Trump’s foreign policy team and has been interviewed
  • James Woolsey is another candidate — we know he has spoken with Mueller and has been critical of the tension between the White House, Congress, and FBI of late
  • Stephen Miller was at the meeting and interviewed with Mueller last year; I would think he would be a Sessions loyalist, though

I raise all this because, while Republicans in Congress are largely dodging the issue of protecting Mueller from Trump, some people closer to the investigation are calling Sessions on his hypocrisy. That might be far more dangerous to the Trump administration in the near term.

Two Other Trump Tweet Innovations: “Fraudulent Activities” and “Conflicts of Interest”

Much was made over the weekend of Trump, for the first time (though he once RTed this Tweet mentioning the special counsel), invoking Robert Mueller’s name in his Twitter rants. (As a reminder, this searchable archive of his Tweets is genius.)

But I want to look at another innovation in the Tweet. This is also the first time Trump has claimed the investigation itself is based on “fraudulent activities.” During the campaign, he once used the term “fraudulent activity” to accuse Hillary of “fraudulent activity.” And he’s a fan of the word “fraudulent,” having used it 17 times — to describe the Steele dossier, Ted Cruz’s IA victory, Obama’s claims about ObamaCare, and Liberian Ebola patient Thomas Duncan. He most often uses it to describe critical reporting or other claims (such as in advertisements) made about himself.

Then, this morning, Trump for the first time accused the Mueller investigation (this time without using Bobby Three Sticks’ name) of having “conflicts of interest,” a term Trump has actually only used in two other Tweets (one, two), both describing Hillary.

While it’s always fraught to try to understand Trump’s feverish little brain, it is fairly clear his Tweets serve as a mirror of things he’s seeing, most often, but by no means exclusively, Fox and Friends.

So I want to consider what these two innovations in his attacks on the Mueller investigation might suggest.

It may be nothing: just a reflection of his defensiveness.

It might mean his rat-fucking buddies are planning some new conspiracy theory they plan to use to try to undermine the Mueller inquiry; Roger Stone has been working the press this weekend. Or maybe it’s an old one: last summer Trump’s considered challenging Mueller’s appointment because his past history with Jim Comey amounted to a conflict.

But there’s another possibility.

In NYT’s first coverage of Trump and John Dowd’s increasing aggressiveness against Mueller, they tied it to two related events: the ongoing negotiations over a Mueller interview of Trump (which Axios claims  still focuses on the Comey and Flynn firings).

Mueller is said to have sent questions to Mr. Trump’s legal team as part of negotiations over an interview with the president. Mr. Mueller is seeking the interview, according to two people close to the White House, in order to ask follow-up questions, but put forward the list as a start.

They also tie it to (their own report) that Mueller subpoenaed the Trump Organization, which they in turn tie to increased unease among Trump’s legal team.

To keep the president at bay, the lawyers — led by the White House lawyer Ty Cobb — told him that Mr. Mueller’s investigation would be over by last December and that they would ask Mr. Mueller to put out a statement saying the president was not a target of the investigation.

But instead, Mr. Trump was livid anew this week over the Times report that Mr. Mueller had subpoenaed his corporate records, including those related to Russia, according to one person close to the White House.

The president’s lawyers appear to be feeling increasingly uneasy about where they stand. This month, Mr. Trump met with a veteran Washington lawyer, Emmet T. Flood, to discuss coming on board to take over the president’s dealings with Mr. Mueller’s office and possibly replacing Donald F. McGahn II as White House counsel. The president’s personal lawyers, Mr. Dowd and Jay Sekulow, did not know about the meeting, prompting concerns that they could be pushed aside, and potentially making them less resistant to Mr. Trump’s whims about handling the inquiry.

While the other possibilities are admittedly more likely (that is, that these two innovations reflect nothing more than Trump’s natural projection), imagine what would happen if Mueller asked Trump to account for his own conflicts and fraudulent activities, both key to his business model.

Yes, accusing Robert Mueller (or his predecessors) of committing fraudulent activities and having conflicts of interest is an attack squarely within the norm for Trump, those terms are also the perfect mirror for the President’s own business.

The Trump Toadies Who Are Worried about Being Unmasked

Last week, Zoe Tillman noted this FOIA lawsuit from attorney Gene Schaerr, working on behalf of someone who wants to remain anonymous “at present,” suing to obtain records on the unmasking of Trump campaign and transition officials. The thing is, Shaerr isn’t just asking for unmasking records generally.

The odd collection of people being FOIAed

He’s asking for unmasking records pertaining to a really curious group of people:

  1. Steve Bannon
  2. Rep. Lou Barletta
  3. Rep. Marsha Blackburn
  4. Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi
  5. Rep. Chris Collins
  6. Rep. Tom Marino
  7. Rebekah Mercer
  8. Steven Mnuchin
  9. Rep. Devin Nunes
  10. Reince Priebus
  11. Anthony Scaramucci
  12. Peter Thiel
  13. Donald Trump Jr.
  14. Eric Trump
  15. Ivanka Trump
  16. Jared Kushner
  17. Rep. Sean Duffy
  18. Rep. Trey Gowdy
  19. Rep. Dennis Ross
  20. Pastor Darrell C. Scott
  21. Kiron Skinner

Some of these would be obvious, of course: Trump’s spawn, Bannon, Priebus, and Mnuchin. I’m really interested to see Rebekah Mercer (especially given the more we learn on Cambridge Analytica). Mooch is there. The litigious Peter Thiel is there (making him at least a reasonable candidate to be paying for this lawsuit, except for reasons I lay out below).

Mike Flynn, the one person we know to have been unmasked, is not in there (which is particularly odd given all the efforts to find some way to unring Flynn’s guilty plea, though that came after this FOIA was filed).

Then there are the eight members of Congress (in addition to the corrupt FL AG, Pam Bondi, who helped Trump out of a legal pinch in FL after Trump gave her a donation).

Lou Barletta, who’s a loud opponent of “illegal immigration,” a member of the Homeland Security Committee, and who, not long after this FOIA was first filed, prepared a challenge to PA’s Bob Casey in the Senate last year.

Marsha Blackburn, who works on a number of data issues in Congress, and is running to replace Bob Corker as TN Senator. Blackburn worked closely with Tom Marino to shield pharma and pill mills from DEA reach.

Chris Collins from upstate NY. His most interesting committee assignment is on Energy and Commerce, though he has worked on broadband issues.

Tom Marino, former US Attorney for Pennsyltucky who is on the Judiciary Committee. Trump tried to make him the Drug Czar, until it became clear he had pushed through a bill that hurt DEA’s ability to combat the opioid epidemic.

Devin Nunes, whose efforts to undermine the Mueller investigation have been epic, and who first manufactured the unmasking scandal. He’d be a great candidate to be Schaerr’s client, except he would probably just leak this information, which he has already seen.

Sean Duffy, a WI congressman who is chair of the investigations subcommittee of the Financial Services committee, and has been an opponent of CFPB.

Trey Gowdy took over as Chair of the Oversight Committee last year and also serves on the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees. Because of those appointments, even without being designated by Devin Nunes to take the lead on the Mueller pushback, he would have already had the most visibility on the Mueller investigation. But because Nunes put him in charge of actually looking at the intelligence, he is the single Republican who has seen the bulk of the Mueller investigative materials. During Nunes week, he announces his retirement suddenly, and has warned about the seriousness of the Mueller investigation, and he just gave a crazy interview to Fox News (which I’ll return to).

Dennis Ross, from FL, serves on the Financial Services committee.

On top of the Republicans, the list includes two of the few African Americans (with David Clarke, Omarosa, and Tim Scott) who supported Trump.  Darrell Scott was head of a Michael Cohen invented diversity group hastily put together in April 2016. Kiron Skinner is a legit scholar of Reagan who teaches at Carnegie Mellon and has a bunch of other appointments.

As I said, aside from the big obvious players, this list is a curious collection. Of note, however, four people on it should have a sound understanding of how NSA spying and FISA work: Thiel, Nunes, Gowdy, and Marino. But (again aside from the big players), the international ties of most of these people (Thiel and Skinner are big exceptions) are not readily apparent.

The whack understanding of FISA laid out on the complaint

I’m interested in the FISA knowledge of some people named in this list because of the crazy depiction of FISA that the complaint lays out.

The complaint highlights two departments of NSA, claiming they’re the ones that deal with improper use of intelligence (but does not include the Inspector General).

On information and belief, at least two departments within the NSA handle complaints regarding the improper use of intelligence. These departments are known publicly by the codes “S12,” a code name apparently referring to the agency’s Information Sharing Services authority, and “SV,” a code name apparently referring to the agency’s Oversight and Compliance authority.

As part of the FOIA to NSA, Schaerr asked for anything submitted to these departments.

All reports made to S12 and SV regarding improper dissemination of any individual listed in Question 2, above. See National Security Agency, United States Signals Intelligence Directive 18, § 7.5 (January 25, 2011).

That’s an oddly specific request, unless whoever is behind this request knows there are reports there.

That might suggest Nunes, Gowdy, or Marino is behind the request. But then consider how unbelievably wrong the complaint gets FISA.

After introducing FISA, it turns exclusively to Section 702, which is odd because the unmasking pseudo-scandal has thus far been based off the unmasking of individual orders.

Plaintiff’s requests in this case concern the Defendants’ use of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA).1 Section 702 of FISA (“Section 702”) empowers the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence to jointly authorize “the targeting of persons reasonably believed to be located outside the United States to acquire foreign intelligence information.” 50 U.S.C. § 1881a(a) (emphasis added). Section 702 expressly forbids use of this surveillance process to target persons who are either “United States persons” or located “inside the United States.” Id. at 1881a(b).

The complaint then makes three utterly false statements about how labor is divided between the FBI, NSA, and CIA.

14. The FBI collects data on outgoing communications, i.e., from persons in the United States to persons outside the United States.

15. The NSA collects data on incoming communications, i.e., from persons outside the United States to persons inside the United States.

16. The CIA, like the FBI and NSA, analyzes the information that comes from the FBI’s and NSA’s data collection. Unlike the other agencies, the CIA uses the information to engage in international intelligence operations.

The FBI collects on domestic targets, which can include incoming and outgoing comms, plus anything domestic (such as Sergey Kislyak’s calls across town to Mike Flynn; update — the December 29 calls would have been from DC to Dominican Republic, where Flynn was vacationing). The NSA likewise collects incoming and outgoing comms, as well as stuff that takes place entirely overseas (though very little of the latter is done under 702). Both the other agencies, in addition to CIA, use FISA information to engage in international intelligence operations.

The complaint then claims, in contradiction to a bunch of public information, that minimization equates to completely anonymizing US person data.

Section 702 also requires that foreign intelligence surveillance be conducted consistently with “minimization procedures.” Id. § 1881a(e)(1). These procedures are designed to “minimize the acquisition and retention, and prohibit the dissemination, of nonpublicly available information concerning unconsenting United States persons,” but in a manner still “consistent with the need of the United States to obtain, produce, and disseminate foreign intelligence information.” Id. § 1801(h)(1). As relevant here, minimization procedures must be designed to ensure the anonymity of United States persons who may be incidentally surveilled. Id. § 1801(h)(1), (2).

This comment comes immediately after a paragraph on finished intelligence reports, so this may be an incorrect statement of what masking is.

It then makes a claim about how data gets circulated that entirely ignores the sharing of raw data under 702, and further makes claims relying on this article that aren’t actually supported by the article (admittedly, the article doesn’t describe the sharing of raw data, but its focus in primarily on traditional FISA).

Generally, original raw intelligence is not circulated to other agencies; instead, intelligence reports are created and circulated internally. See, e.g., Gregory Korte, What is ‘unmasking?’ How intelligence agencies treat U.S. citizens, USA Today, (Apr. 4, 2017; 2:14 p.m.), https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/ 2017/04/04/ what-unmasking-how-intelligence-agencies-treat-us-citizens/100026368. In the process of summarizing the intelligence, agencies exclude the names of U.S. citizens from the reports, referring to them instead with identifiers like “U.S. Person 1.” Id.

The complaint then describes what sounds like a muddle of upstream collection and back door searches, but gets both wrong.

The NSA also has the ability to search the internet data it collects by entering the name of an individual into a database search tool. This process is known as “upstreaming” and has the effect of creating additional raw intelligence that may contain the names of American persons. Such intelligence is also subject to the usual masking requirements and procedures.

This is wrong because upstream collection uses selectors, not names, whereas back door searches, which can use a name, are done by all three agencies. Such intelligence would not necessarily be masked at FBI if it made it into an investigative report.

The complaint then points to that godawful Circa report that itself muddles the difference between 702 and 704/705b to claim that they were upstream violations during the campaign cycle.

News reports—as well as a declassified Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) opinion—also note that some Americans had their names upstreamed, in violation of internal policies, during the 2016 election cycle, which the opinion described as a “serious Fourth Amendment issue.” See Declassified FISC Court opinion at 19-20, available at http://bit.ly/FISCopApril2017; Circa News, Obama intel agency secretly conducted illegal searches on Americans for years, May 23, 2017), https://www.circa.com/story/2017/05/23/politics/obama-intel-agencysecretly-conducted-illegal-searches-on-americans-for-years.

The violations in question, while serious, actually involve back door searches on upstream collection, and to the extent the searches were done on 704/705b targets, would only have happened were there an individualized FISA order against one of the named people (in fact, NSA’s back door searches on US persons are generally limited to people with individualized orders, those who may be targets of a foreign power, or urgent searches following a terrorist attack or similar situation).

In short, it’s a remarkable garble of how FISA really works. That doesn’t exclude Nunes’ involvement (I would hope both Marino and Gowdy have a better understanding of FISA than this, but don’t guarantee it). But it seems to be an attempt to declassify stuff it knows about, even while it exhibits a remarkable misunderstanding of what it’s talking about.

So why are all these Trump toadies worried about being unmasked

All of which brings me to the puzzle: what the hell is his anonymous client up to? Why is the client concerned about this specific selection of transition officials, but not (say) Mike Flynn?

Update: Laura Rozen notes that this list is the list provided here, except with this chunk taken out, and with some weird alpha order going on.

 

Some Cover-Ups Are More Equal Than Other Cover-Ups

Over at TNR, I’ve got a piece that mocks how former top spooks and officials pretend the partisanship of HPSCI is anything new.

On Monday, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee released what it claimed to be a summary of its investigation into Russia’s role in the election. Among its conclusions, it disagreed with the intelligence community’s 2017 assessment that Vladimir Putin and the Russian government “developed a clear preference” for candidate Trump.

The summary, presumably drafted by aides of Trump transition official and committee Chairman Devin Nunes, disputed that assessment even in the face of the recent indictment of Russian internet trolls, which laid out how they set up anti-Hillary and pro-Trump campaign rallies. The indictment also showed how their social media activity pursued the same anti-Hillary, pro-Trump line, launching hashtags like #TrumpTrain and #Hillary4Prison, the Twitter account March for Trump, and the Facebook accounts Clinton FRAUDation and Trumpsters United.

Even some Republicans on the committee have delicately distanced themselves from the report. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina affirmed that Russia was “motivated in whole or in part by a desire to harm [Hillary Clinton’s] candidacy or undermine her Presidency had she prevailed.” Florida’s Tom Rooney, like Gowdy retiring after this term, said, “I absolutely think there was evidence they were trying to help Trump at some points.”

The report also garnered criticism from former spooks and top officials. John McLaughlin, CIA’s deputy director during the first years of the George W. Bush administration, complained on Twitter about the partisan nature of the stunt.

As a subject or observer of Cong oversight of intell for 40 years, I’ve never seen a party drive a stake thru the process as House Reps just did. It depends on a bi-partisan approach that at least gives the minority a voice. Take that away and the thing dies. It just did.

So did Obama-era Attorney General Eric Holder:

Republican House Intell Comm shut down Russia probe before doing a complete job This is a coverup and a lasting stain on the reputation of what used to be a bipartisan Committee when it was run by Republican Rogers and Democrat Ruppersberger. Politics beat a desire for the truth

Only, McLaughlin has seen such partisanship in congressional oversight before—when he benefited from it. In 2003, after Republicans regained the majority in the Senate, Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Pat Roberts agreed with the CIA to shut down initial efforts by his Democratic predecessor, Bob Graham, to oversee Bush’s torture program. The CIA memorandum of his briefing recorded, “[T]he Senator interjected that he saw no reason for the Committee to pursue such a request and could think of ‘ten reasons right off why it is a terrible idea’ for the Committee to do any such thing,” like observing interrogation as practiced in person. In the same period, Jane Harmon, then the ranking member of House Intelligence Committee, asked the CIA general counsel, “Have enhanced techniques been authorized and approved by the president?” In response, he gave her an evasive answer.

If partisanship drives a stake through effective oversight of the intelligence community, then the efforts to bypass Democratic concerns about torture killed that vampire long ago.

Furthermore, for much of the period that Holder is describing, between 2011 and 2015, Republicans were obsessed with turning the tragedy of the Benghazi assault into a circus. The House Intelligence Committee did its own report on the incident, replete with “additional views” from Rogers offering a sharper attack on the Obama administration, especially Susan Rice. Democrats were left offering “minority views” from Ruppersberger reminding lawmakers that blame for the attack should lie with the attackers.

I realize, of course, I left something out: that Holder was part of the cover-up himself.

In any case, I otherwise thought it a useful piece.

How the DNC Hack Skeptics’ Dominant Theory Sinks Stone

I’ve been thinking about something since I wrote this piece on Roger Stone’s Swiss cheese denials of conspiring with Guccifer 2.0 or Wikileaks on the hack-and-leak. As I laid out, Stone’s denial consists of two tactics: he admits he spoke with Guccifer 2.0 at a time he believed him to have done the hack but notes that that happened after (he claims six weeks, but it was really three) the documents already started coming out. And he denies knowing anything in advance about Wikileaks, which wouldn’t be a problem anyway, he says, because there’s no evidence Wikileaks is a Russian asset.

Effectively, that puts Stone’s involvement after the undeniably criminal act — the hack of the DNC and puts the rest into simple general foreknowledge of Wikileaks’ plan.

As I noted in my first post on Stone’s non-denials, that doesn’t address the possibility he was involved in the Peter Smith led rat-fuck negotiations with Russian hackers to find Hillary’s deleted emails.

But there’s one other problem with it.

According to the public record, Guccifer 2.0 first spoke with Stone on August 12 (though in his statement to Congress, he fudged that date interestingly and claimed the first contact — perhaps meaning DM — was August 14). While that post-dates all known hacking, it pre-dates at least one and possibly several key dates on the leak part of the operation. As Raffi Khatchadourian lays out, Wikileaks may have obtained the John Podesta emails around this time.

A pattern that was set in June appeared to recur: just before DCLeaks became active with election publications, WikiLeaks began to prepare another tranche of e-mails, this time culled from John Podesta’s Gmail account. “We are working around the clock,” Assange told Fox News in late August. “We have received quite a lot of material.” It is unclear how long Assange had been in possession of the e-mails, but a staffer assigned to the project suggested that he had received them in the late summer: “As soon as we got them, we started working on them, and then we started publishing them. From when we received them to when we published them, it was a real crunch. My only wish is that we had the equivalent from the Republicans.”

All of the raw e-mail files that WikiLeaks published from Podesta’s account are dated September 19th, which appears to indicate the day that they were copied or modified for some purpose.

Indeed, Stone’s “Podesta time in the barrel” comment, which Chuck Todd noted addressed Tony but not John Podesta, may even have preceded Wikileaks’ receipt of the emails.

But Stone’s discussions with Guccifer 2.0 undeniably precede an event that, at least according to the skeptics’ theory, necessarily precedes the publication of Podesta’s emails. That’s Craig Murray obtaining … something from someone while he was in the US for the Sam Adams Award on September 25. He has said he didn’t obtain the documents, but it might be a key or something.

That still doesn’t, by itself, make Stone’s conduct criminal. But it does mean his timeline is not exonerating.

[Photo: National Security Agency, Ft. Meade, MD via Wikimedia]

Reality Winner: The Cost of Mounting a Defense Arguing the Government Overclassifies

In this Democracy Now appearance, Reality Winner’s mom, Billie Winner-Davis, suggested that, whereas her case had originally been due to go to trial next month, it now looks like it will stretch into 2019.

We do not have a trial date at this point. The trial was originally scheduled for October, and then it was pushed to March. But as of right now, we do not have a new trial date. So we don’t know when she will be—face the jury. What I’m being told is that it will be late 2018, if not early February 2019.

Earlier this week the two sides submitted a proposed schedule that shows even that may be optimistic. Because Winner’s defense wants to use classified information to argue the document she is accused of releasing is not national defense information, it has to go through the onerous Classified Information Procedures Act process (see this for a description of the CIPA process) to get that information approved for use in a trial. If I’m doing the math correctly, most optimistically the proposed schedule looks like this:

  • March 30, 2018: Defense submits all proposed subpoenas
  • April 30: Deadline for discovery, including remainder of government’s CIPA Section 4
  • June 14: Government’s Rule 16 expert disclosures
  • July 14: Defendant’s Rule 16 expert disclosures, if they already have clearance (former ISOO head, Bill Leonard, who is already serving as expert witness already has clearance)
  • July 29: Defendant’s amended CIPA 5 notice
  • August 13: Government’s supplemental Rule 16 expert disclosures due, government’s objections to adequacy of defendant’s CIPA 5 notice
  • September 10: Government’ CIPA 6(a) motion
  • October 1: Defendant’s response to government’s CIPA 6(a) motion
  • October 15: Government’s reply to CIPA 6(a) motion
  • October 21: CIPA hearing (this is where the two sides argue about what classified information the defense needs to make her case)

At this point, there would either be 42 days to argue about CIPA 6(c) motion (where the government proposes unclassified substitutes). If that happens, it will be 90 days until trial, meaning it would start March 1. If it doesn’t, then the trial would skip that 42 day process and presumably drop into very early 2019).

  • Early January 2019 or March 1: Trial start

Again, this is a joint proposal, meaning the defense is on board with the long delay. Either they think they can win a graymail attempt (meaning the judge agrees they should get the classified information but the government refuses to provide adequate substitutes and so is forced to dismiss the case) or they believe they can make a case (with the help of Leonard) on the NDI claims generally. They may also anticipate that other events — the Mueller investigation, the congressional investigations into the Russian hack, state investigations, or more journalism — may make it clear how absurd it is to try Winner for information that has become publicly available as we have a public discussion about what the Russians did in 2016.

But if not, because (unlike most other people save Hal Martin recently charged under the Espionage Act) she will have been in jail for 19 months assuming an early January 2019 trial, or 21 months assuming a March 2019 trial. Winner is charged with one count of willful retention and dissemination of National Defense Information.

By comparison, Jeffrey Sterling, who was found guilty on nine counts, including five unauthorized disclosure counts, was sentenced to 42 months (the government had been asking for nine years, but Leonie Brinkema seemed to have reservations about the evidence behind a number of the guilty verdicts, and the sentencing came in the wake of the David Petraeus sweetheart two years of probation plea deal). Admittedly, the government piled on the charges in that case, whereas here they charged as one count things they might have charged as several (by charging both the leaks to The Intercept and WaPo, for example, or by charging her for not telling the full truth to the FBI). Nevertheless, Sterling was accused of exposing a critically sensitive program and an intelligence asset, whereas Winner is charged with leaking one document in an environment where very similar information is being leaked or released by multiple government sources.

Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, who pled guilty to one count of disseminating NDI pertaining to CIA resources in North Korea, was sentenced to 13 months.

This is the no-win situation Winner is in, trying to challenge her conviction after having been denied bail. Because of the way we deal with classified information, she’ll have served a likely full sentence by the time she gets to trial.

It still may be worth it. After all, if she wins at trial, she’ll avoid a record as a felon.

But the larger battle seems to be one about the ridiculousness of our classification system. As Leonard said (see PDF 99-100) in his declaration to explain why he was providing his services pro bono in this case, he believes the kind of overclassification of information that may be at issue here amounts to degrading the entire classification system.

My motivation for becoming involved in this case. was my concern for the integrity of the classification system. I strongly believe that classification is a critical national security tool and that the responsibilities of cleared individuals to properly protect classified information are profound. At the same time, government agencies have equally profound responsibilities and in this regard, I have long witnessed the over•classification of rnfonnation within the Executive Branch due to the failure of agencies to fulfill these responsibilities. In this way, the actions of agencies can actually undermine the integrity of the classification system in that to be effective, it must be used with precision. As Justice Potter Stewart said in the Pentagon Papers case, “when everything is classified, then nothing is classified … ”

[snip]

My involvement in [two prior prosecutions, that of Steven Rosen and Thomas Drake] confirmed for me the importance~ especially in criminal prosecutions, of not allowing representatives of the Executive Branch to simply assert that certain information is classified or closely held or potentially damaging if disclosed.

That is, Winner might prove a point: that this kind of information should be more accessible to the public.

But along the way she will have paid a very costly price.

Update, March 15: After two hearings, Magistrate Brian Epps cut two months off this schedule, setting Winner’s trial date for October 15. That will mean she will have been in jail over 16 months by the time of her trial.

Thug, Mob, Rogue: Trump Organization’s Own Description of Its Panama Hotel

While Trump and his son-in-law (and a number of his cabinet members) have clearly been profiting personally from Trump’s presidency (see my NYT op-ed on Jared’s woes), thus far their pursuit of self-interest hasn’t caused any international incidents (moving the US embassy to Jerusalem has come closest).

The scuffle between the Trump organization and the majority owner of the Panama City Trump hotel might just change that.

The problems go back aways (I’ll lay out some of the timeline below). But the short version is that the majority owner of the property, Orestes Fintiklis, got the other owners to vote to fire the Trump Organization in October, claiming the diminished brand and (importantly) a bad sales strategy is part of why the property is at less than 30% occupancy. The Trump Organization (screaming RICO) tried to force the matter into arbitration in December. And Fintiklis has now sued in SDNY to prevent that.

Things started getting crazy a week ago Thursday, when Fintiklis tried to fire the Trump employees, then cut off power, and then got the Panamanian government to side with him and arrest a Trump employed security guard. Significantly, the two sides are fighting over the control room and Fintiklis alleges that Trump employees are shredding documents.

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

This room, the two people said, is shared by the hotel operation and the managers of the residential side of the building, which is no longer operated by the Trump Organization.

I find that interesting given the Reuters report, from last November, describing how Ivanka put a Brazilian money launderer with ties to Russian organized crime, Alexandre Ventura Nogueira, in charge of many of the advanced sales in the project.

A Reuters investigation into the financing of the Trump Ocean Club, in conjunction with the American broadcaster NBC News, found Nogueira was responsible for between one-third and one-half of advance sales for the project. It also found he did business with a Colombian who was later convicted of money laundering and is now in detention in the United States; a Russian investor in the Trump project who was jailed in Israel in the 1990s for kidnap and threats to kill; and a Ukrainian investor who was arrested for alleged people-smuggling while working with Nogueira and later convicted by a Kiev court.

Three years after getting involved in the Trump Ocean Club, Nogueira was arrested by Panamanian authorities on charges of fraud and forgery, unrelated to the Trump project. Released on $1.4 million bail, he later fled the country.

He left behind a trail of people who claim he cheated them, including over apartments in the Trump project, resulting in at least four criminal cases that eight years later have still to be judged.

[snip]

When first approached by Reuters, Nogueira declined to answer questions. Writing on October 4, he said in an email: “Anything I would say could also damage a lot of important and powerful people. I am not sure I should do that.”

Later, Nogueira agreed to meet. In a lengthy interview, he described his contacts with the Trump family and his role in the Ocean Club project. He said he only learned after the Ocean Club project was almost complete that some of his partners and investors in the Trump project were criminals, including some with what he described as connections to the “Russian mafia.” He said he had not knowingly laundered any illicit money through the Trump project, although he did say he had laundered cash later in other schemes for corrupt Panamanian officials.

The role Nogueira played is similar to the one Sergey Millian played for a Trump property in LA, which basically amounts to artificially inflating the sales so as to be able to get the loans for the underlying property.

Two Democrats on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Ranking Member Eliot Engel and Norma Torres, have decided to take this opportunity to ask the Trump Organization if it knew the Panama facility was being used as a money laundering vehicle.

With the possibility that Fintiklis will gain control of the facility before any records of money laundering get shredded, I want to look at the timeline the Trump Organization lays out in their statement on the fracas.

Just before the 2016 election, Fintiklis, who is Cypriot though has a residence in Florida, bought into a majority share in the hotel from the original owners. The Trump Organization could have blocked that sale but, no, they could not, because otherwise the hotel would go under.

In October 2016, the original developer of the Hotel, Newland International Properties Corp., notified Trump Hotels that it was actively negotiating a bulk sale of its remaining 202 units to a company controlled by Mr. Fintiklis. Because the Co-Ownership Regulations for the Hotel preclude any one person from owning more than ten units without Trump Hotels’ consent, Trump Hotels could have blocked the sale as a matter of right. Concerned, however, about the future of the Hotel and the fate of the Hotel’s highly dedicated and loyal staff, Trump Hotels agreed to allow the sale to proceed on one condition: that Mr. Fintiklis agree that he would not in any way attempt to interfere with Trump’s management of the Hotel or take any other steps to terminate its management agreement.

So weeks after Trump became President, Fintiklis agreed to the terms of the sale and eventually finalized the purchase in August.

In February 2017, Mr. Fintiklis agreed, in writing, to these terms and, in August 2017, closed on the purchase of the units, becoming the owner of 202 of the 369 hotel units.

At that time, last August, Fintiklis spoke in rosy terms of the deal, including the hotel operator (that is, Trump).

We are excited to welcome such an iconic property to our investment portfolio and we look forward towards working with the local team, the hotel operator and the Panama community, to establish the Property as the premier hotel in the country and the entire region.

The Trump Organization accuses Fintiklis of orchestrating a conspiracy to remove Trump Hotels from the property.

Unfortunately, within weeks of the closing, it became apparent to Trump Hotels that Mr. Fintiklis had other motives. Rather than abide by the clear terms of the agreement he had signed, Mr. Fintiklis had been conspiring with others to remove Trump Hotels as manager and fire most, if not all, of its loyal and dedicated employees. Looking back, it is now apparent that Mr. Fintiklis, in flagrant violation of the commitments he had made, never had any intention of keeping his word and had been plotting a takeover and termination of Trump Hotels all along.

On October 14, 2017, Mr. Fintiklis furthered his fraudulent scheme, calling a meeting of the hotel condominium under the false pretense of a “meet and greet” and used that moment to hold unlawful votes and declare Trump Hotels in default of the management agreement. Within minutes of the meeting concluding Mr. Fintiklis sent Trump Hotels a default notice and filed for arbitration to terminate the management agreement. Clearly, Mr. Fintiklis had been concocting and planning this scheme for months.

The Trump folks, too, emphasize that part of this fight is over the facility’s computer system.

Together, Mr. Fintiklis and Mr. Lundgren, over the past several days, have resorted to thug-like, mob style tactics, repeatedly attempting to force their way into Trump Hotels’ offices, infiltrate and disrupt its computer systems and threatening and intimidating any employee of the Hotel that resisted.

Now, the Trump Organization made less than a million dollars off management fees for this facility in the last year or so.

In his most recent personal financial disclosure, Trump said his company had received $810,000 in management fees over the preceding 15 ½ months.

They are not getting rich off this facility, certainly not rich enough to sustain the legal fight already brewing over retaining the contract.

These people are all douchebags and the brawling side show is fairly amusing. But it does seem that Fintiklis bought into something far more than a mostly empty hotel, and he’s now using it as leverage against the Trump family business.

The fight over the Trump Panama hotel seems to be as much about the fight over records that may show whether Ivanka knew she was involved in money laundering with Russian mobsters and Colombia narcotics traffickers as it is over who gets to run the mostly empty hotel.

Which is a reminder that it’s not just Robert Mueller who has Trump by the nuts.

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