Another Shoe Dropped: Cambridge Analytica Used Its Own Kompromat

I confess, I did NOT see this coming, a perfect example of blindness based in preconceived notions about technology companies.

UK’s Channel 4 just aired a report in which Cambridge Analytica executives were secretly filmed discussing the creation and use of compromising material in campaigns. Some of the acts described violate UK Bribery Act and the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Watch:

Last evening there had been teasers revealing Cambridge Analytica had used actual Facebook users’ account information while demonstrating their psychographic profiling product, without masking the users’ personal information. This is ugly on its own, violating users’ privacy without permission.

But the creation and use of kompromat…wow.

This is an open thread. Have at it.

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.

Facebook Cuts Off Cambridge Analytica, Promises Further Investigation

As I noted in my post on Andrew McCabe’s firing, the far more important news of the weekend is that Facebook has suspended Cambridge Analytica’s access to its data.

As Facebook explained, back in 2015, Cambridge researcher Aleksandr Kogan harvested data on millions of Americans by getting them to willingly use his research app. When Facebook found out that he had handed the data off to two downstream companies (this detail is important), it made them delete the data based on developer user agreements.

In 2015, we learned that a psychology professor at the University of Cambridge named Dr. Aleksandr Kogan lied to us and violated our Platform Policies by passing data from an app that was using Facebook Login to SCL/Cambridge Analytica, a firm that does political, government and military work around the globe. He also passed that data to Christopher Wylie of Eunoia Technologies, Inc.

Like all app developers, Kogan requested and gained access to information from people after they chose to download his app. His app, “thisisyourdigitallife,” offered a personality prediction, and billed itself on Facebook as “a research app used by psychologists.” Approximately 270,000 people downloaded the app. In so doing, they gave their consent for Kogan to access information such as the city they set on their profile, or content they had liked, as well as more limited information about friends who had their privacy settings set to allow it.

Although Kogan gained access to this information in a legitimate way and through the proper channels that governed all developers on Facebook at that time, he did not subsequently abide by our rules. By passing information on to a third party, including SCL/Cambridge Analytica and Christopher Wylie of Eunoia Technologies, he violated our platform policies. When we learned of this violation in 2015, we removed his app from Facebook and demanded certifications from Kogan and all parties he had given data to that the information had been destroyed. Cambridge Analytica, Kogan and Wylie all certified to us that they destroyed the data.

They now claim to have new information that CA didn’t delete the data (I have firsthand knowledge that Facebook knew of this at least a year ago, and these pieces argue Facebook knew even earlier).

Several days ago, we received reports that, contrary to the certifications we were given, not all data was deleted. We are moving aggressively to determine the accuracy of these claims. If true, this is another unacceptable violation of trust and the commitments they made. We are suspending SCL/Cambridge Analytica, Wylie and Kogan from Facebook, pending further information.

We are committed to vigorously enforcing our policies to protect people’s information. We will take whatever steps are required to see that this happens. We will take legal action if necessary to hold them responsible and accountable for any unlawful behavior.

What changed is that the guy who operationalized all this data, Christopher Wylie, just came forward publicly. Here’s how Carole Cadwalladr, the Guardian reporter who has owned this story, describes Wylie.

Or, as Wylie describes it, he was the gay Canadian vegan who somehow ended up creating “Steve Bannon’s psychological warfare mindfuck tool”.

In 2014, Steve Bannon – then executive chairman of the “alt-right” news network Breitbart – was Wylie’s boss. And Robert Mercer, the secretive US hedge-fund billionaire and Republican donor, was Cambridge Analytica’s investor. And the idea they bought into was to bring big data and social media to an established military methodology – “information operations” – then turn it on the US electorate.

Wylie describes how he profiled Americans so they could tailor political ads.

[W]hile studying for a PhD in fashion trend forecasting, he came up with a plan to harvest the Facebook profiles of millions of people in the US, and to use their private and personal information to create sophisticated psychological and political profiles. And then target them with political ads designed to work on their particular psychological makeup.

“We ‘broke’ Facebook,” he says.

And he did it on behalf of his new boss, Steve Bannon.

Wylie is going on the record (and providing the records) to back this description of how, contrary to repeated claims made in parliamentary testimony, Alexsandr Kogan harvested data in the guise of doing research.

Kogan then set up GSR to do the work, and proposed to Wylie they use the data to set up an interdisciplinary institute working across the social sciences. “What happened to that idea,” I ask Wylie. “It never happened. I don’t know why. That’s one of the things that upsets me the most.”

It was Bannon’s interest in culture as war that ignited Wylie’s intellectual concept. But it was Robert Mercer’s millions that created a firestorm. Kogan was able to throw money at the hard problem of acquiring personal data: he advertised for people who were willing to be paid to take a personality quiz on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk and Qualtrics. At the end of which Kogan’s app, called thisismydigitallife, gave him permission to access their Facebook profiles. And not just theirs, but their friends’ too. On average, each “seeder” – the people who had taken the personality test, around 320,000 in total – unwittingly gave access to at least 160 other people’s profiles, none of whom would have known or had reason to suspect.

What the email correspondence between Cambridge Analytica employees and Kogan shows is that Kogan had collected millions of profiles in a matter of weeks. But neither Wylie nor anyone else at Cambridge Analytica had checked that it was legal. It certainly wasn’t authorised. Kogan did have permission to pull Facebook data, but for academic purposes only. What’s more, under British data protection laws, it’s illegal for personal data to be sold to a third party without consent.

“Facebook could see it was happening,” says Wylie. “Their security protocols were triggered because Kogan’s apps were pulling this enormous amount of data, but apparently Kogan told them it was for academic use. So they were like, ‘Fine’.” [my emphasis]

Here’s where the violation(s) come in. While participants in Kogan’s harvesting project willingly participated in the project (and in the process made their friends’ Facebook data accessible to Kogan as well), he told Facebook it was for research, and in spite of the fact that the harvesting was done in the UK, he didn’t get consent before he sold the data to CA.

Both Cadwalladr and NYT’s story are calling this a “breach” which in my opinion is counterproductive for a lot of reasons, not least that consumer recourse for “breaches” in the US is virtually nothing — as the recent experience of those exposed in Equifax’ breach has made clear.

Whereas the kinds of TOS violations that Kogan committed in the UK do provide consumers recourse, not just to demand transparency about what happened, but also financial fines. Facebook, in the EU, is similarly exposed (full disclosure: I believe I have a still running challenge in Ireland for my CA-related FB data).

Just as this story was breaking, David Carroll, who has been a key activist on this issue, filed a claim against CA in the UK.

In other words, with Wylie’s testimony, there are sticks to use in Europe to first gain transparency about what happened, and possibly fine the parties. Which is probably why Facebook finally suspended CA’s access to Facebook, without which it is far less dangerous.

There are other aspects of this story: shell companies, a pitch to Lukoil, and questions about the citizenship of those who worked for CA in the 2014 and 2016 elections, potentially raising questions about the involvement of foreign (British) actors in our elections. But here’s the detail in the NYT story I’m most interested in.

While the substance of Mr. Mueller’s interest is a closely guarded secret, documents viewed by The Times indicate that the firm’s British affiliate claims to have worked in Russia and Ukraine.

The Ukrainian side of Paul Manafort’s involvement in the Party of Regions — the American lobbying side of which is what got him charged with conspiracy to defraud the US — pertains to bringing American style politics to Ukraine.

He also directed Yanukovych’s party to harp on a single theme each week—say, the sorry condition of pensioners. These were not the most-sophisticated techniques, but they had never been deployed in Ukraine. Yanukovych was proud of his American turn. After he hired Manafort, he invited U.S. Ambassador John Herbst to his office, placed a binder containing Manafort’s strategy in front of him, and announced, “I’m going with Washington.”

Manafort often justified his work in Ukraine by arguing that he hoped to guide the country toward Europe and the West. But his polling data suggested that Yanukovych should accentuate cultural divisions in the country, playing to the sense of victimization felt by Russian speakers in eastern Ukraine. And sure enough, his clients railed against nato expansion. When a U.S. diplomat discovered a rabidly anti-American speech on the Party of Regions’ website, Manafort told him, “But it isn’t on the English version.”

Yanukovych’s party succeeded in the parliamentary elections beyond all expectations, and the oligarchs who’d funded it came to regard Manafort with immense respect.

There are Americans doing this overseas more and more of late, and Manafort’s efforts for Yanukovych precede the foundation of CA (and Manafort’s involvement in the Trump campaign largely precedes Bannon and Cambridge Analytica’s). But that’s the basis for his relationships in the region.

There’s a lot of implications of the Wylie testimony, assuming law enforcement, parliament, and Congress find his underlying documents as compelling as the journalists have. For starters, this significantly limits what CA (and its intelligence contractor SCL) will be able to do, which neutralizes a powerful tool Bannon and the Mercers have been holding. I believe that both CA and FB are both already at significant legal exposure. I suspect this will finally force FB to get a lot more attentive to what app developers do with FB user data. I’ve been saying for a while that at some point US tech companies may want to harmonize with Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which starts being enforced in May. Certainly, it would provide a solution to some of the political problems they’re already facing and harmonization would make compliance easier. That would provide even more teeth to prevent this illicit kind of downstream data usage.

But there also may be aspects of this story that expose CA and their clients, including the Trump campaign, to legal concerns that piggy back on any conspiracy with Russia.

On McCabe’s Firing

I’m going to refrain from making any conclusions about Andy McCabe’s firing until we have the Inspector General Report that underlies it. For now (update: I’ve now cleaned this up post-Yoga class), keep the following details in mind:

Michael Horowitz is a very good Inspector General

The allegations that McCabe lacked candor in discussions about his communications with Devlin Barrett all arise out of an investigation Democrats demanded in response to FBI’s treatment of the investigation into Hillary Clinton. It is being led by DOJ’s Inspector General, Michael Horowitz. Horowitz was nominated by Barack Obama and confirmed while Democrats still had the majority, in 2012.

I’ve never seen anything in Horowitz’ work that suggests he is influenced by politics, though he has shown an ability to protect his own department’s authority, in part by cultivating Congress. Of significant note, he fought with FBI to get the information his investigators needed to do the job, but was thwarted, extending into Jim Comey’s tenure (as I laid out in a fucking prescient post written on November 3, 2016).

As I’ve long covered, in 2010, the FBI started balking at the Inspector General’s proper investigative demands. Among other things, the FBI refused to provide information on grand jury investigations unless some top official in FBI said that it would help the FBI if the IG obtained it. In addition, the FBI (and DEA) have responded to requests very selectively, pulling investigations they don’t want to be reviewed. In 2014, the IG asked OLC for a memo on whether it should be able to get the information it needs to do its job. Last year, OLC basically responded, Nope, can’t have the stuff you need to exercise proper oversight of the FBI.

DOJ’s Inspector General, Michael Horowitz, has been trying for some time to get Congress to affirmatively authorize his office (and IGs generally, because the problem exists at other agencies) to receive the information he needs to do his job. But thus far — probably because Jim Comey used to be known as the world’s biggest Boy Scout — Congress has failed to do so.

I care about how FBI’s misconduct affects the election (thus far, polling suggests it hasn’t done so, though polls are getting closer as Republican Gary Johnson supporters move back to supporting the GOP nominee, as almost always happens with third party candidates). But I care even more about how fucked up the FBI is. Even if Comey is ousted, I can’t think of a likely candidate that could actually fix the problems at FBI. One of the few entities that I think might be able to do something about the stench at FBI is the IG.

Except the FBI has spent 6 years making sure the IG can’t fully review its conduct.

So while I don’t think he’d be motivated by politics, he has had a running fight with top FBI officials about their willingness to subject FBI to scrutiny for the entirety of the Comey tenure.

McCabe has suggested that the investigation into him was “accelerated” only after he testified to the House Intelligence Committee that he would corroborate Jim Comey’s version of his firing.

I am being singled out and treated this way because of the role I played, the actions I took, and the events I witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of James Comey. The release of this report was accelerated only after my testimony to the House Intelligence Committee revealed that I would corroborate former Director Comey’s accounts of his discussions with the President. The OIG’s focus on me and this report became a part of an unprecedented effort by the Administration, driven by the President himself, to remove me from my position, destroy my reputation, and possibly strip me of a pension that I worked 21 years to earn. The accelerated release of the report, and the punitive actions taken in response, make sense only when viewed through this lens.

I’m not sure this timeline bears out (the investigation was supposed to be done last year, but actually got extended into this year). The statement stops short of saying that he was targeted because his testimony — presumably already delivered to Robert Mueller by the time of his HPSCI testimony — corroborated Comey’s.

What we’ve seen of the other personnel moves as a result of this investigation — the reassignment of Peter Strzok and Lisa Page for texts that really did raise conflict issues (to say nothing of operational security problems), and the reassignment of James Baker — seem reasonable. McCabe’s firing was reviewed by a whole bunch of people who have been around DOJ a long time.

So it’s possible the underlying claim has merit. It’s also possible that McCabe is getting the same punishment that a line agent would get if he did not answer the IG honestly.

Trump’s comments matter

Obviously, all that cannot be taken out of context of Trump’s own statements and Jeff Sessions’ efforts to keep his job.

We will get these details in upcoming days, and almost all the details will come from people who’ve got a big stake in the process.

Michael Bromwich — McCabe’s lawyer — says they didn’t get a review of the allegations against McCabe until very recently, and were still trying to contest the firing two days ago (as was publicly reported). I find his claim that this was “cleaved off” from the larger investigation unconvincing: so were Strzok and Page, but that was done to preserve the integrity of the Mueller investigation, and Chris Wray had said publicly that he wanted to act on problems as they found them. Bromwich curiously is not saying that McCabe’s firing violates any agreement McCabe made when he took leave to await retirement.

Undoubtedly, Jeff Sessions did this in the most cowardly way possible. While I think it’s likely, I’m not 100% convinced that the timing was anything other than trying to make a real decision rather than let the retirement make it.

There’s no evidence, yet, that McCabe will lose all his pension

It has been said for over a month that McCabe was just waiting out his birthday so he could “get” his pension. That was so he could start drawing on it immediately. Josh Gerstein laid out the best thing I’ve seen on the implications (as well as what limited legal recourse McCabe has).

The financial stakes for McCabe could be significant. If he had made it to his 50th birthday on Sunday while still in federal service, he would have been eligible to begin drawing a full pension immediately under provisions that apply to federal law enforcement officers, said Kimberly Berry, a lawyer in Arlington, Virginia, who specializes in federal retirement issues.

Berry disputed reports, however, that McCabe would lose his pension altogether.

“He doesn’t lose his retirement,” she said. “It’s not all thrown out in the garbage.“

Even after his dismissal, McCabe will probably be eligible to begin collecting his pension at about age 57, although he would likely lose access to federal health coverage and would probably get a smaller pension than if he stayed on the federal payroll, experts said.

There have been claims McCabe could get hired by a member of Congress for a week so he can start drawing on it. But I’ve heard the finances aren’t even the issue, it’s the principle, which if you want to be a martyr, being fired works better.

This will have a far smaller impact on the Mueller probe than Comey-McCabe loyalists and John Dowd lay out

McCabe and others have suggested that there has been a successful effort to retaliate against Comey’s three corroborating witnesses, though that is least convincing with regards to Jim Rybicki, who was replaced as happens as a matter of course every time a new FBI Director comes in.

But the Comey-McCabe loyalists make far too much of their role in the Mueller probe, making themselves the central actors in the drama. Yes, if their credibility is hurt it does do some damage to any obstruction charges against Trump, which, as I keep repeating, will not be the primary thrust of any charges against Trump. Mueller is investigating Trump for a conspiracy with Russians; the obstruction is just the act that led to his appointment as Special Counsel and with that, a much more thorough investigation. Contrary to what you’re hearing, little we’ve seen thus far is fruit of the decisions Comey and his people made. While all were involved in the decision to charge Mike Flynn, he has already pled guilty and started spilling his guts to Mueller. There’s no reason to believe McCabe or Comey are direct witnesses in the conspiracy charges that will be filed against people close to Trump, if not against Trump himself.

For all those reasons, John Dowd’s claim that McCabe’s firing should end the investigation is equally unavailing.

I pray that Acting Attorney General Rosenstein will follow the brilliant and courageous example of the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility and Attorney General Jeff Sessions and bring an end to alleged Russia Collusion investigation manufactured by McCabe’s boss James Comey based upon a fraudulent and corrupt Dossier.

I mean, if this really is Dowd’s impression of why his client is being investigated, I almost feel sorry for Trump.

But the truth is the dossier has always been a distraction. The obstruction charge was probably used to distract Trump (and his NYT stenographers) while Mueller’s team collected the far more serious evidence on the conspiracy charges, though events of this week may well add to the conspiracy charges. And Comey didn’t manufacture any investigation; if anything, his people were not aggressive enough in the months he oversaw the investigation, particularly as it pertains to George Papadopoulos.

So if Dowd thinks McCabe’s firing will affect the core of the evidence Mueller has already developed (and, I suspect, started hanging on a sealed magnet indictment), he is likely to be very disappointed.

Regardless of the merits of the McCabe firing, it (and the related shit storm) may give Rosenstein and Mueller more time to work. It’s not clear they need that much more time to put together the conspiracy charges that are sitting right beneath the surface.

Finally — and I’m about to do a post on this — the far more important news from yesterday is that Facebook is cutting off Cambridge Analytica for violating its agreements about data use. That may well lead to some far more important changes, changes that Trump has less ability to politicize.

10 Years Out: What’s with the Bear in the Middle?

[NB: Check the byline — it’s me, Rayne. I am not a registered financial representative or a lawyer; this post is based on my own observations and opinions. As always, your mileage may vary.]

On a chilly March evening ten years ago tonight, I was yelling at loved ones: Sell. For gods’ sake, SELL.

My own household had moved its investments from a number of mutual funds to guaranteed income. Every fund in the portfolio to that point contained a chunk of an investment bank and was therefore exposed to what I felt was sure to come.

It was obvious to anyone who was really paying attention that something was really off. Trying to buy a house in 2004 was almost impossible where I live, in spite of the ongoing migration of manufacturing jobs offshore. In the target price range for a 2000-square foot house, there were only a handful of homes listed and they all needed more than $50K in improvements. The nearby farmers’ fields were full of a new crop: single-family homes, mostly 3-bedroom and up, had eaten acres and acres in less than a year. It was insanity — there was no way this pace could be maintained, not with my state’s problematic over-reliance on the automobile industry.

Instead of buying an existing home, I built a new one. It didn’t make sense to spend $50K on improvements requiring a lot of construction if I couldn’t guarantee I could hire a contractor when new construction was so hot. I didn’t build in the top end neighborhood, either. I left myself some room in case I had to leave the area quickly for a new job; I also left room for the market to improve.

Except it didn’t. The last landscaping contractor must have pulled away from my new home in 2005 just as the bubble began to deflate. There were signs it was going to get worse, too, what with fuel prices skyrocketing. Banks increasingly offered crazy terms on mortgages just so they could something, anything, not taking the hint the market was saturated. Given the number of people relying too heavily on adjustable rate mortgages with ridiculously low entry rates, the increased gasoline price costing the average family more than $1000 a year was certain to cause credit card defaults and foreclosures.

Something ugly was coming.

~ ~ ~

In March 2008 — almost exactly a month after the Washington Post published an op-ed by New York’s then-Governor Eliot Spitzer exhorting action on subprime mortgages — 85-year-old  American investment bank Bear Stearns crashed and burned.

After urgent, fancy foot work by the Federal Reserve Bank, J.P. Morgan and other key investors, settlements were made with bail out money and remnants of the firm were ultimately snapped up by J.P. Morgan for what amounted to the cost of Bear Stearn’s headquarters building, about $2 per share. By St. Patrick’s Day, Bear Stearns was no more, completely subsumed.

It would be another six months before the next large investment bank crashed — Lehman Brothers — taking the global economy with it.

~ ~ ~

At the time the crash was blamed on lax controls on lending to home buyers, encouraging an excess of subprime mortgages, combined with investment banks’ more recent taste for collateralized debt obligations bundling mortgages into tranches for slicing up and trading.

But not all of the trash loans were residential mortgages stuffed into tranches. Some of the loans were to developers and contractors who were building commercial facilities and multi-family buildings. Some of these loans were packaged into funds which were more like offshore corporations.

The two funds triggering Bear Stearns’ meltdown were just that: offshore funds incorporated in the Cayman Islands in 2003, holding various assets including tranches of poorly-collateralized mortgages, managed by Bear Stearns Asset Management (BSAM). What mortgages were in these two funds the public doesn’t really know; were they single-family residential mortgages or commercial facilities mortgages, or some combination? The information is out there somewhere but it’s not at the public’s fingertips.

The financial media still paints a messy picture even a decade later, blaming Bear Stearns management but not its own persistent failure to provide a more comprehensive and accessible picture of the financial industry’s health.

These two funds collapsed because too many mortgages within their CDOs failed; the effect on the bank was like pulling out two critical load-bearing pieces in a game of Jenga. The cascading demand for cash to resolve the failures may have pushed other investment banks’ equally sketchy funds to fail as well, crashing the entire heap nearly a decade ago.

~ ~ ~

It was a surprise blast from the unpleasant past to see Bear Stearns’ name pop up in the middle of recent testimony before the House Permanent Subcommittee on Intelligence. Fusion GPS’ Glenn Simpson cited the investment bank as a source of financing for Donald Trump and some sketchy condominium development.

[SIMPSON]… There’s the Trump vodka business that was earlier. And then ultimately, you know, what we came to realize was that the money was actually coming out of Russia and going into his properties in Florida and New York and Panama and Toronto and these other places.

And what we, you know, gradually begun to understand, which, you know, I suppose I should kick myself for not figuring out earlier, but I don’t know that much about the real estate business, which is I alluded to this earlier, so, you know, by 2003, 2004, Donald Trump was not able to get bank credit for — and if you’re a real estate developer and you can’t get bank loans, you know, you’ve got a problem.

And all these guys, they used leverage like, you know, — so there’s alternative systems of financing, and sometimes it’s — well, there’s a variety of alternative systems of financing. But in any case, you need alternative financing.

One of the things that we now know about how the condo projects were financed is that you have to — you can get credit if you can show that you’ve sold a certain number of units.

So it turns out that, you know, one of the most important things to look at is — this is especially true of the early overseas developments, like Toronto and Panama — you can get credit if you can show that you sold a certain percentage of your units.

And so the real trick is to get people who say they’ve bought those units, and that’s where the Russians are to be found, is in some of those pre-sales, is what they’re called. And that’s how, for instance, in Panama they got the credit of — they got a — Bear Stearns to issue a bond by telling Bear Stearns that they’d sold a bunch of units to a bunch of Russian gangsters.

And, of course, they didn’t put that in the underwriting information, they just said, we’ve sold a bunch of units and here’s who bought them, and that’s how they got the credit. So that’s sort of an example of the alternative financing. … [bold mine, excerpt pages 95-96]

The timing mentioned, 2003-2004, is very close to the time that Bear Stearns launched the two Cayman-based funds which failed first. Is it possible Trump’s financing provided by Bear Stearns ended up in the funds’ CDOs? Probably not — Simpson refers to bonds. But let’s look at a financial statement from one of the subject funds:

It’s difficult to tell what’s in any of the CDOs listed in this summary. Who knows what mortgages are in them or from where they originated without access to more details?

Note the bonds at the bottom — again, what’s in them? What percentage of these bonds consisted of dicey or outright fraudulent financing for construction related to money laundering? Again, we can’t tell without access to more granular details. We don’t know whether bond(s) offered to Trump developments were in Bear Stearns’ first two failed funds or if they helped cause the eventual financial pyroclastic flow toward Bear Stearns’ end.

~ ~ ~

Another thing sticks in my craw — a bit from Michael Lewis’ The Big Short:

The bond market, because it consisted mainly of big institutional investors, experienced no similarly populist political pressure. Even as it came to dwarf the stock market, the bond market eluded serious regulation. Bond salesmen could say and do anything without fear that they’d be reported to some authority. Bond traders could explore inside information without worrying that they would be caught. Bond technicians could dream up ever more complicated securities without worrying too much about government regulation — one reason why so many derivatives had been derived, one way or another, from bonds. … [bold mine]

In other words, nobody would look askance at all at bonds sold to finance a condominium development with rather thin commitment to payment. Nobody looked askance at the ratio of CDOs to bonds, either, though Bear Stearns would try to offset the CDOs’ losses by liquidating bonds. This fund as an example couldn’t manage this offset based on the ratio alone; it would have been catastrophically worse if the collateral beneath the bonds was as fraudulent as many subprime adjustable rate mortgages in CDOs were at the time.

The root cause of the 2008 crash remains the collapse of poorly collateralized as well as fraudulent mortgages. But I have to wonder:

— With so much attention on CDOs and mortgage defaults combined with a lack of bond market adequate monitoring, how much did crappy bonds, based on fraudulent representations of collateral, contribute to the crash?

— If there was so little regulation and oversight of the bond market, how much sketchy or fraudulent project financing was in bonds on the banks’ books — including projects like Trump’s, based on promises to pay made by offshore vehicles or non-U.S. citizens?

— With so little regulation and oversight, would it have been possible for one or more nation-states using offshore finance vehicles to “weaponize” banks’ books? How many of the crappy bonds contributing to the 2008 crash were based on poorly collateralized pre-sales to Russian oligarchs and gangsters?

— What assurances do we have today — especially with Mick Mulvaney defunding the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau and knocking off an opportunity to look more deeply into credit reporting by killing off the Equifax investigation — that investment banks have changed their practices and ensured legitimate projects are financed?

—What assurances do we have that our legislators see the slippery slip when they approve legislation like S. 2155 just this week, weakening Dodd-Frank reforms?

~ ~ ~

Recall the state of the economy between Bear Stearns’ and Lehman Brothers’ crashes. Oil prices rose to over $150/barrel, resulting in $4/gallon gasoline. Other commodity prices rose in tandem with fuel prices. The home buyers who could least afford any change in their household expenses were the same ones targeted for subprime mortgages with shady terms; it came down to paying for gas to get to work and feeding the family, or making the mortgage payment.

The price of oil at the time had been driven up by excess speculation. Legislation passed in June 2008 requiring all commodity futures trading to require a minimum of 30% margin upfront rather than 10%. Oil prices dropped drastically and reduced in volatility almost overnight, but it was already too late. Too many home buyers could no longer afford their payments and mortgage defaults began to snowball.

Which brings me to yet another question: if the bond market could have been “weaponized” at that time, could a volatile commodities market likewise have been used as a trigger?

Are there any other weak points in our market which could be “weaponized,” for that matter?

~ ~ ~

On this tenth anniversary after the crash began with Bear Stearns’ collapse, I feel more secure about my retirement portfolio. There were no frantic phone calls to family members exhorting moves to safety this evening. My exposure to the remaining weaknesses of investment banking have been minimized as much as possible, though I remain vulnerable because I have a mortgage. Real estate isn’t the sure return it once was. Only uber-wealthy investors buying into certain urban markets come out on top. But wealthy real estate investors can still cause self-inflicted damage.

Atlanta, Georgia’s market has turned around since the crash — but it was home to another failed Trump real estate project, a 363-unit Trump Tower which went into foreclosure with pre-sales of only 100 units. (In January 2017, Trump ranted about Atlanta as Rep. John Lewis’ district, calling it “falling apart” and “crime infested.” One wonders what crime he meant…)

Hollywood, Florida had a brush with a failed Trump project:

In 2006, he and billionaire condo king Jorge Perez began selling a 23-story apartment building near Mar-a-Lago, but the project was abandoned a year later because of slow sales. Another Perez-Trump deal, the 200-unit Hollywood oceanfront tower, was foreclosed in 2010 after selling less than 15% of its units. (The building eventually opened, still Trump-branded, but without Perez.)

So did the Miami, Florida area:

Trump Sunny Isles, a three-tower residential complex outside Miami, has also struggled. Trump partnered with Perez again and another developer named Gil Dezer to build the project, which targeted wealthy Latin Americans. . . .

Unfortunately, the last two towers of the development opened in the middle of the financial crisis, and Perez bailed on them. . . .

And Puerto Rico, too, was home to a Trump-branded golf course which failed in 2015.

Though with so many failures followed by continued attempts, it’s worth asking if this is a business model. How does Trump continue to benefit from so much failure? How do the backers he has benefit from staking Trump money or title?

Trump’s business alone wasn’t the cause of the 2008 crash. There were far more players involved — millions, if we want to blame residential homeowners who were misled by banks to believe they could safely contract a mortgage in spite of either inadequate collateral or income and ultimately forced into foreclosure. But at least one of Trump’s business projects was in the mix if Fusion’s Simpson’s testimony is truthful; what would keep Trump or real estate investors like Trump from contributing to (if not causing) another crash today?

We must ask when we see that Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort and his former son-in-law Jeffrey Yohai were engaged in sketchy real estate development projects the community/regional Banc of California may have deterred by forcibly shutting their accounts.

And ask again when we see a community bank like The Federal Savings Bank of Chicago involved in another of Manafort’s bank frauds.

The damage could be even worse, in the case of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is over his head in debt on 666 Fifth Avenue and whose family business is distressed, possibly causing geopolitical turmoil to shakedown new financing.

How many of these flimsy real estate deals and junky mortgages, loans, and bonds are there in the system when we can now see these affiliated with the president and his campaign advisers? How many of them will it take to cause another crash if legislators continue to pick away at safeguards?

Let’s hope I’m not writing another financial postmortem like this one in March 2028.

BREAKING! Robert Mueller Would Be Fucking Stupid If He DIDN’T Subpoena Trump Organization

The NYT has everyone all huffing and puffing about their scoop that Robert Mueller has subpoenaed documents from the Trump Organization.

The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, has subpoenaed the Trump Organization to turn over documents, including some related to Russia, according to two people briefed on the matter. The order is the first known time that the special counsel demanded documents directly related to President Trump’s businesses, bringing the investigation closer to the president.

The breadth of the subpoena was not clear, nor was it clear why Mr. Mueller issued it instead of simply asking for the documents from the company, an umbrella organization that oversees Mr. Trump’s business ventures. In the subpoena, delivered in recent weeks, Mr. Mueller ordered the Trump Organization to hand over all documents related to Russia and other topics he is investigating, the people said.

The NYT then goes on to suggest this tells us anything new about how long this investigation will take.

The subpoena is the latest indication that the investigation, which Mr. Trump’s lawyers once regularly assured him would be completed by now, will drag on for at least several more months. Word of the subpoena comes as Mr. Mueller appears to be broadening his investigation to examine the role foreign money may have played in funding Mr. Trump’s political activities.

It further speculates this might cross a “red line” they put there themselves back in July, a red line commentators routinely report incorrectly as pertaining to any business interests of his.

Mr. Mueller could run afoul of a line the president has warned him not to cross. Though it is not clear how much of the subpoena is related to Mr. Trump’s business beyond ties to Russia, Mr. Trump said in an interview with The New York Times in July that the special counsel would be crossing a “red line” if he looked into his family’s finances beyond any relationship with Russia.

BREAKING: Robert Mueller would be fucking stupid if he weren’t subpoenaing this information.

First, of all, we know that in the late part of last year, Mueller was locking in testimony from everyone involved in the June 9 Trump Tower meeting, and he subsequently recalled at least one of the participants back for seconds. We know there’s good reason to believe the public story the participants are telling about the meeting doesn’t make sense, and that they may be hiding a second part of the meeting. We know Mueller is examining Trump’s relationship with the Agalarovs, in particular. We know from what Sam Nunberg has told us he was asked about the Miss Universe contest. From his subpoena, we know that Mueller is dating his investigative scope from the time, in 2015, when Trump was considering yet another Moscow Trump Tower deal. Several key witnesses, notably Don Jr and Rhona Graff were interviewed [by Congress] as Trump Organization employees, represented by Abe Futerfas.

All of this pertains to Trump’s business! And it is common practice among prosecutors, especially prosecutors dealing with shifty types, to first ask for voluntary production, and then subpoena it. It would be stupid of Mueller to not do the same here.

Robert Mueller is not stupid. Therefore it is not BREAKING news that he is subpoenaing this information, and it may even mean he’s doing that just so he can finalize presentations to the grand jury, particularly given the “recent weeks” timing — the most interesting detail about this report.

One more thing. As I said, while the NYT got their own reporting right, most people quoting from it misquote what Trump actually said about any red line. Here’s the exchange.

SCHMIDT: Last thing, if Mueller was looking at your finances and your family finances, unrelated to Russia — is that a red line?

HABERMAN: Would that be a breach of what his actual charge is?

TRUMP: I would say yeah. I would say yes. By the way, I would say, I don’t — I don’t — I mean, it’s possible there’s a condo or something, so, you know, I sell a lot of condo units, and somebody from Russia buys a condo, who knows? I don’t make money from Russia. In fact, I put out a letter saying that I don’t make — from one of the most highly respected law firms, accounting firms. I don’t have buildings in Russia. They said I own buildings in Russia. I don’t. They said I made money from Russia. I don’t. It’s not my thing. I don’t, I don’t do that. Over the years, I’ve looked at maybe doing a deal in Russia, but I never did one. Other than I held the Miss Universe pageant there eight, nine years [crosstalk].

SCHMIDT: But if he was outside that lane, would that mean he’d have to go?

[crosstalk]

HABERMAN: Would you consider——

TRUMP: No, I think that’s a violation. Look, this is about Russia. So I think if he wants to go, my finances are extremely good, my company is an unbelievably successful company. And actually, when I do my filings, peoples say, “Man.” People have no idea how successful this is. It’s a great company. But I don’t even think about the company anymore. I think about this. ’Cause one thing, when you do this, companies seem very trivial. O.K.? I really mean that. They seem very trivial. But I have no income from Russia. I don’t do business with Russia. The gentleman that you mentioned, with his son, two nice people. But basically, they brought the Miss Universe pageant to Russia to open up, you know, one of their jobs. Perhaps the convention center where it was held. It was a nice evening, and I left. I left, you know, I left Moscow. It wasn’t Moscow, it was outside of Moscow.

Aside from the prompted feel of the question (as if Trump or Chris Ruddy set these reporters up to pose the questions so Trump could “warn” Mueller), it pertains only to business unrelated to Russia. Trump seems to admit that the mobbed up Russians buying his condos would be pertinent, his Miss Universe contest, and his serial efforts to get a Trump Tower in Moscow.

Even the example the NYT points to today — the involvement of UAE in some pre-inauguration meetings — pertains to Russia, as one of the points of the meetings were to set up a back channel with … Russia.

I think Jared Kushner’s business ties … that’s a different issue. But as to the substance of Trump’s purported red line, nothing in today’s report says Mueller has crossed that (even if he cared about such things).

So let’s sum up:

  1. Robert Mueller would be fucking stupid not to subpoena stuff he had already received
  2. Robert Mueller is not fucking stupid
  3. Therefore, that Robert Mueller has subpoenaed this stuff is not BREAKING news

Shew. Glad I got that off my chest.

Update: I realized in reading CNN’s version of this BREAKING news that they reported in January that Mueller had already obtained documents from Trump Org voluntarily.

The New Russian Hack Sanctions

The Treasury Department issued new Russian sanctions today, partly fulfilling the congressionally-mandated requirement it do so, but also adding to the retaliatory sanctions President Obama imposed in December 2016. Effectively, this applied the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act of 2017 (CAATSA) sanctions ordered by Congress to the Russian spooks (but not the private hackers) Obama sanctioned, and applies the Obama EO-based sanctions to the Russians and companies listed in the Internet Research Agency indictment.

The breadth of accused activities

Given the limited number of people actually newly sanctioned (and the symbolic nature of sanctions imposed on people who are unlikely to travel to or have money in the US), this may be just Steve Mnuchin’s effort to buy time for the Administration; the Treasury press release even includes a promise for more CAATSA sanctions at a later date.

“The Administration is confronting and countering malign Russian cyber activity, including their attempted interference in U.S. elections, destructive cyber-attacks, and intrusions targeting critical infrastructure,” said Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin. “These targeted sanctions are a part of a broader effort to address the ongoing nefarious attacks emanating from Russia. Treasury intends to impose additional CAATSA sanctions, informed by our intelligence community, to hold Russian government officials and oligarchs accountable for their destabilizing activities by severing their access to the U.S. financial system.”

That said, the press release for the sanctions is rather interesting in the breadth of activities these sanctions are said to be retaliation for. It includes the election hack, the NotPetya attack recently attributed to GRU (the rough equivalent to DIA) by the UK and US, and ongoing attacks on American critical infrastructure. (DHS and FBI issued a report on the latter.)

Today’s action counters Russia’s continuing destabilizing activities, ranging from interference in the 2016 U.S. election to conducting destructive cyber-attacks, including the NotPetya attack, a cyber-attack attributed to the Russian military on February 15, 2018 in statements released by the White House and the British Government. This cyber-attack was the most destructive and costly cyber-attack in history. The attack resulted in billions of dollars in damage across Europe, Asia, and the United States, and significantly disrupted global shipping, trade, and the production of medicines. Additionally, several hospitals in the United States were unable to create electronic records for more than a week.

Since at least March 2016, Russian government cyber actors have also targeted U.S. government entities and multiple U.S. critical infrastructure sectors, including the energy, nuclear, commercial facilities, water, aviation, and critical manufacturing sectors. Indicators of compromise, and technical details on the tactics, techniques, and procedures, are provided in the recent technical alert issued by the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Bureau of Investigation.

The move happens to come when the White House issued both a formal statement joining European allies in pinning the attempted assassination of former GRU officer Sergei Skripal on Russia and Trump endorsing that view in statements to the press.

FSB not SVR sanctions

In addition to not resanctioning the private individuals named in December 2016, today’s sanctions are interesting in that they continue to blame FSB (a more thuggish equivalent of FBI) alongside GRU for the hack. I described why the inclusion of FSB was interesting here.

But it’s interesting for another reason: recent reporting. Both Dutch reporting on how its intelligence service caught Russian hackers in real time and a recent David Sanger article have instead credited SVR (the rough equivalent of CIA) with the hack. The head of SVR is already sanctioned, but it would seem that if the most up to date intelligence says SVR did the hack, they might be included here.

Two new GRU sanctionees — of the age they might have overlapped with Skripal

The sanctions also add two new GRU officers described only as senior GRU officers.

AFANASYEV, Sergei (a.k.a. AFANASYEV, Sergey), Russia; DOB 16 May 1963; Gender Male (individual) [CAATSA – RUSSIA] (Linked To: MAIN INTELLIGENCE DIRECTORATE).

MOLCHANOV, Grigoriy Viktorovich; DOB 01 Jan 1956 to 31 Dec 1956; citizen Russia; Gender Male (individual) [CAATSA – RUSSIA] (Linked To: MAIN INTELLIGENCE DIRECTORATE).

At roughly 55 and 62, these guys may have overlapped with Skripal (as would the others, whom the US obviously has more information on).

The last known dates

Perhaps most interesting, however, the Treasury press release description of the targeted GRU officers includes fascinating “as of” dates that would seem to indicate the last time it’s willing to admit we’ve gotten intelligence on these people.

Korobov came to the US in late January (and he’s a public figure that our own intelligence services would coordinate with), so it’s unsurprising his information is the most up-to-date, to that same time.

But we apparently (admit to having) more recent data, dating to last February, on one of the people newly added to this list — Afanasyev — than on the First Deputies originally sanctioned. That precedes the NotPetya activity being sanctioned here.

Most interesting is Molchanov. We not only don’t have passport information for him (though that’s not definitive, as none of the IRA people have passports listed, and we must have passport numbers for the ones that traveled to the US), but we don’t even have a solid date of birth. The “as of” date for him, April 2016, comes before the DNC hack was public, but around the time George Papadopoulos was learning about it. It also comes from before the sanctions in December 2016. Clearly, we’ve learned something about him since then that has won him significantly more focus, even if we don’t know when to send his birthday greetings.

These two new additions are both pretty old to be doing any hacking themselves (indeed, they’re contemporaries of all the top brass). But their addition may suggest we’ve learned more about how GRU’s hacking operates.

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.

Lordy, There Were Tapes

No, not of Stormy Daniels and Trump — though there appear to be tapes of that too! But of Trump’s conversations with Jim Comey.

Here’s another section of the Democratic report on all the things HPSCI didn’t investigate.

After firing FBI Director James Comey on May 9, 2017, President Trump tweeted on May 12, 2017: “James Comey better hope that there are no “tapes” of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!” On June 9, 2017, the Committee sent White Counsel Donald McGahn a letter requesting that, “the White House inform the Committee if there exist now, or at any time have existed, any recordings, memoranda, or other documents within the possession of the White House which memorialized conversations between President Donald J. Trump and former FBI Director James Comey.” On June 23, 2017, the Committee received a response letter from the Assistant to the President for Legislative Affairs referring the Committee to “President Trump’s June 22, 2017, statement regarding this matter” as its official response. The letter quotes in full the President’s statement that was made in the form of successive tweets on Twitter, in which the President stated that he has “no idea whether there are ‘tapes’ or recordings” of his conversations with James Comey and that the President “did not make” and does “not have any such recordings.”

On June 29, 2017 the Committee sent the White House a second bipartisan letter urging the White House to appropriately and fully comply with the Committee’s June 9 request and clarifying that, should the White House not respond fully, “the Committee will consider using compulsory process to ensure a satisfactory response.” The Committee made clear that the President’s statement on Twitter, and the White House’s letter referring to the President’s statement, were only partially responsive to the Committee’s request. By only referring to the President’s statement, the White House’s letter did not clarify for the Committee whether the White House has any responsive recordings, memoranda, or other documents.

The White House responded that same day—June 29, 2017—stating: “To clarify, the White House’s previous response to your letter advising you that the White House has no recordings, together with the President’s public statements on the matter, constitute our response to your request.” As the Minority made clear to the Majority at the time, the White House’s two responses are woefully inadequate and sidestep the Committee’s explicit requests by not acknowledging or addressing (1) whether “recordings, memoranda, or other documents” at “any time have existed” within the “possession of the White House which memorialized conversations between President Donald J. Trump and former FBI Director James Comey”; and (2) whether any memoranda or other documents “exist now” in the White House’s possession memorializing the same.

The Minority has a good faith reason to believe that the White House does in fact possess such documentation memorializing President Trump’s conversations with Director Comey.

Subsequent press reporting revealed the existence of a memorandum reportedly composed by President Trump and Stephen Miller that referenced President Trump’s communications with Director Comey. The Committee should subpoena to the White House to produce all responsive documents.

Effectively the passage notes the following:

  • June 9: HPSCI members from both parties sent a request for tapes or memoranda
  • June 23: The day after Trump tweeted that he didn’t know if there were tapes, the White House responded that the President didn’t make tapes
  • June 29: Members from both parties sent a letter noting the WH response did not state whether it had any recordings or memoranda
  • June 29: The WH responded the same day stating that it has no recordings (and remaining silent about memoranda)

That’s when the Republicans got cold feet. Having been given an answer allowing for the possibility that tapes had been made (and destroyed), and a memo was written up about the conversation.

Maybe that’s the one McGahn was hiding in his safe, the one John Dowd complained about?

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.

Even more interesting than what this does for the obstruction case against people like McGahn, it suggests Trump continued his habit of taping his meetings from his practice earlier in his career.

That might be as significant for our understanding of the June 9, 2016 meeting as it is for any meetings Trump had with Comey.

Why Do You Send Your Digital Guy to Meet with the Russian Ambassador?

The HPSCI Democrats have released the report they should have had ready to go last night: their 21-page report on all the thing the HPSCI Russian investigation didn’t cover but should have. It’s an interesting list (though it seriously lets the GOP off the hook for treating this investigation as an obstructive lark). I’ll likely reflect on what kind of mirror it holds up to the Republican sense of which witnesses they had to vet for Trump.

For now, I want to point at an interesting little detail. In the section describing why HPSCI should know more about the Trump campaign’s digital operations, the report reveals that Jared Kushner sent the Trump campaign Assistant Director of Data Analysis, Avi Berkowitz, to go meet with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak a month after the election, around the same time Russia was floating back channels so banks could bail out Kushner’s failing family real estate empire.

Trump Campaign Digital Operation: The Committee ought to interview all relevant persons involved or associated with the Trump campaign’s digital operation to determine whether the campaign coordinated in any way with Russia in its digital program. The Committee will not be able to fully evaluate the campaign’s digital operation without speaking to a broader crosssection of individuals who can provide greater insight into the digital operation’s day-to-day activities or its relationship with Cambridge Analytica. The Committee also must interview individuals from other companies who conducted technology-related work on behalf of the Trump campaign or on behalf of other entities being funded through independent expenditures to gain a full picture of whether there was any coordination between Russia’s extensive social media efforts on Trump’s behalf and the campaign itself.

For example, Avraham (Avi) Berkowitz, served as Assistant Director of Data Analytics on the Trump Campaign. He was also an associate of Jared Kushner and Brad Parscale. The Committee has reason to believe that Mr. Kushner may have dispatched Mr. Berkowitz to meet with Russian Ambassador Kislyak in December 2016. Theresa Hong, who served as Digital Content Director for the Trump campaign, should also be asked to testify. Ms. Hong has spoken to the press about the campaign’s digital operation and her team’s work alongside Cambridge Analytica.

That very same month, I asked whether dark marketing had a role in all the mobs seemingly providing pressure in support of Trump at key moments.

That Berkowitz made that visit did get reported last spring. But not with the emphasis that Berkowitz was so central to the campaign’s digital organization.

Maybe (as someone suggested to me on Twitter) Jared was just sending Berkowitz to retrieve the thumb drives they had shared during the campaign?

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