The Quest: Trump Learns of the Investigation (Part Four)

In this series, I’m analyzing the Mueller questions as understood by Jay Sekulow and leaked to the NYT to show how they set up a more damning investigative framework than commentary has reflected.

This post laid out how the Agalarovs had been cultivating Trump for years, in part by dangling real estate deals and close ties with Vladimir Putin. This post shows how during the election, the Russians and Trump danced towards a quid pro quo agreement, with the Russians offering dirt on Hillary Clinton in exchange for a commitment to sanctions relief, with some policy considerations thrown in. This post laid out how, during the transition period, Trump’s team took a series of actions they attempted to keep secret that moved towards consummating the deal they had made with Russia, both in terms of policy concessions, particularly sanctions relief, and funding from Russian sources that could only be tapped if sanctions were lifted.

This post will look at Mueller’s reported investigative interest in Trump’s reaction to discovering the “Deep State” was investigating the election year operation, including the actions his team had tried to keep secret. Note, I have put all of the events leading up to Flynn’s firing here (not least because I think the firing itself often gets treated improperly as obstruction), though just some of the Jim Comey events. I will repeat the timeline of events in the next post, which overlaps temporally, for clarity.

January 6, 2017: What was your opinion of Mr. Comey during the transition?

This is a baseline question for Trump’s firing of Jim Comey. At a minimum, Trump would need to explain his decision to keep Comey. It also provides Trump an opportunity to rebut Comey’s claim that, in the January 6 meeting, Trump told Comey he:

had conducted myself honorably and had a great reputation. He said I was repeatedly put in impossible positions. He said you saved her and then they hated you for what you did later, but what coice did you have? He said he thought very highly of me and looked forward to working with me, saying he hoped I planned to stay on. I assured him I intended to stay. He said good.

January 6, 2017: What did you think about Mr. Comey’s intelligence briefing on Jan. 6, 2017, about Russian election interference?

One key detail Comey (and the other representatives of the intelligence community) would have detailed for Trump that day is not just that Russia interfered in the election, but their basis for concluding that “We also assess Putin and the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances,” a conclusion Republicans have objected to repeatedly.

In his book, but not his memos, Comey describes that immediately after the briefing, Trump first asked for assurances Russian interference hadn’t affected the outcome and then, with his team, started strategizing how to spin the conclusions so as to dismiss any outcome on the election.

‘I recall Trump listening without interrupting, and asking only one question, which was really more of a statement: “But you found there was no impact on the result, right?” The intelligence team said they had done no such analysis.

‘What I found telling was what Trump and his team didn’t ask. They were about to lead a country that had been attacked by a foreign adversary, yet they had no questions about what the future Russian threat might be.’

Instead, Trump and his team immediately started discussing how they would “spin” the information on Russia as if the intelligence officers were not in the room. ‘They were keen to emphasize that there was no impact on the vote, meaning that the Russians hadn’t elected Trump.’

This reflects the same concern expressed in the KT McFarland email from just days earlier (which probably reflected detailed Trump involvement) that acknowledging Russian involvement would “discredit[] Trump’s victory by saying it was due to Russian interference.”

January 6, 2017: What was your reaction to Mr. Comey’s briefing that day about other intelligence matters?

In its analysis of the questions, NYT takes this question to be exclusively about Comey’s briefing on the Steele dossier, and it may be. But in Obama’s January 5 briefing covering the same issues, according to Susan Rice, Comey and others discussed concerns about sharing classified information with the Trump team, especially Mike Flynn.

The memorandum to file drafted by Ambassador Rice memorialized an important national security discussion between President Obama and the FBI Director and the Deputy Attorney General. President Obama and his national security team were justifiably concerned about potential risks to the Nation’s security from sharing highly classified information about Russia with certain members of the Trump transition team, particularly Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn.

Even though concerns about Flynn came up in that Obama briefing, the FBI counterintelligence investigation did not. It’s possible that this passage from Comey’s memo, which describes the main part of the briefing and not that part dedicated to the Steele dossier, pertained to the counterintelligence concerns about Flynn,which Obama had already shared with Trump the previous fall; such a warning may or may not have included Flynn’s conversations with Sergey Kislyak.

If Comey briefed anything to do with Flynn, it would significantly change the importance of subsequent events.

As for the Steele dossier conversation, which surely is included with this question, Comey has claimed that Trump first tried to convince Comey is wasn’t true that he would need to “go there” to sleeping with prostitutes, “there were never prostitutes,” even though Trump’s reference to “the women who had falsely accused him of grabbing or touching them” actually undermined his defense.

Comey has also claimed that Trump seemed relieved when he said (in the context of the Steele briefing), that the FBI was not investigating him. Importantly, this took place after Comey had said he didn’t want people to claim the information came from the FBI.

I said media like CNN had them and were looking for a news hook. I said it was important that we not give them an excuse to write that the FBI has the material or [redacted] and that we were keeping it very close-hold.

[snip]

I responded that we were not investigating him and the stuff might be totally made up but that it was being said out of Russia and our job was to protect the President from efforts to coerce him. I said we try to understand what the Russians are doing and what they might do. I added that I also wanted him to know this in case it came out in the media.

He said he was grateful for the conversation, said more nice things about me and how he looks forward to working with me and we departed the room.

January 12, 2017: What was your reaction to news reports on Jan. 12, 2017?

On January 12, in the context of a discussion of Trump aiming for better relationships with Putin, David Ignatius reported revealed that Flynn had called Sergey Kislyak “several times,” asking whether but not asserting that it might be an attempt to undercut sanctions.

Trump said Wednesday that his relationship with President Vladimir Putin is “an asset, not a liability.” Fair enough, but until he’s president, Trump needs to let Obama manage U.S.-Russia policy.

Retired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, Trump’s choice for national security adviser, cultivates close Russian contacts. He has appeared on Russia Today and received a speaking fee from the cable network, which was described in last week’s unclassified intelligence briefing on Russian hacking as “the Kremlin’s principal international propaganda outlet.”

According to a senior U.S. government official, Flynn phoned Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak several times on Dec. 29, the day the Obama administration announced the expulsion of 35 Russian officials as well as other measures in retaliation for the hacking. What did Flynn say, and did it undercut the U.S. sanctions? The Logan Act(though never enforced) bars U.S. citizens from correspondence intending to influence a foreign government about “disputes” with the United States. Was its spirit violated? The Trump campaign didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The report neither revealed the FBI had intercepts of the conversation nor confirmed an investigation. But it may have alerted Trump that the actions he was probably a party to weeks earlier might have legal consequences.

January 24: FBI interviews Mike Flynn and he lies about talking about sanctions

January 26 and 27, 2017: What did you know about Sally Yates’s meetings about Mr. Flynn?

According to Sally Yates’ public testimony, she met with Don McGahn to discuss Mike Flynn’s interview with the FBI on January 26, 2017. She framed it by describing that DOJ knew Mike Pence’s January 15 comments about Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak were not correct.

YATES: So I told them again that there were a number of press accounts of statements that had been made by the vice president and other high-ranking White House officials about General Flynn’s conduct that we knew to be untrue. And we told them how we knew that this – how we had this information, how we had acquired it, and how we knew that it was untrue.

And we walked the White House Counsel who also had an associate there with him through General Flynn’s underlying conduct, the contents of which I obviously cannot go through with you today because it’s classified. But we took him through in a fair amount of detail of the underlying conduct, what General Flynn had done, and then we walked through the various press accounts and how it had been falsely reported.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I remember that Mr. McGahn asked me whether or not General Flynn should be fired, and I told him that that really wasn’t our call, that was up to them, but that we were giving them this information so that they could take action, and that was the first meeting.

Then there was a follow-up meeting on January 27. Among the five topics discussed, McGahn asked if Flynn was in legal jeopardy, and if “they” (presumably meaning he and the Associate WHCO in the meeting) could see the underlying intelligence.

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

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

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

[snip]

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

By the time the materials for review became available on January 30, Yates had been fired, nominally because she refused to defend Trump’s Muslim ban.

The HPSCI report (particularly content newly unredacted on May 4; see PDF 63 ff) reveals there were several concerns about Flynn’s contradictory comments (which Republicans bizarrely present as conflict). First, there had been a counterintelligence investigation into Flynn still active in December 2016, though FBI may have been moving to shut it down. The interview may have been sparked by Logan Act concerns, or it may have been Flynn’s public comments to Pence (the Republican report ignores that this would pose a blackmail problem). Comey told HPSCI that the agents found Flynn — a lifetime intelligence officer — exhibited no physical signs of deceit, but made it clear the Agents did find his statements plainly conflicted with known facts.

When Mueller asks the President what he knew about the meetings, he likely wants to know (and already has answers from McGahn and likely the Associate) whether they told him about the Flynn interview, if so when, and in how much detail. If they did tell Trump, Mueller may also want to know about whether McGahn’s questions on the 27th (including whether Flynn was in legal jeopardy) reflect Trump’s own questions.

Obviously, one other subtext of this question pertains to whether Yates’ pursuit of Flynn contributed to her firing.

The other critical point about whether and what Trump knew of Yates’ meetings with McGahn: on January 27, he had his first creepy meeting with Jim Comey. Then, on January 28, he had his first phone call with Vladimir Putin, a call Flynn attended.

January 27, 2017: What was the purpose of your Jan. 27, 2017, dinner with Mr. Comey, and what was said?

At lunchtime on January 27 — so after McGahn had called Yates to set up a follow-up meeting and indicated concerns about Flynn’s legal jeopardy, but before that meeting happened — Trump called Comey and set up dinner that day. According to Comey, several minor things that would recur later came up, including questions about Andrew McCabe and Trump’s exposition of the Hillary email investigation.

In addition, five other key things happened at the meeting.

He invited the FBI to investigate “the Golden Showers” thing to prove it was a lie:

At this point, he turned to what he called “the golden showers thing”

[snip]

He said he had spoken to people who had been on the Miss Universe trip with him and they had reminded him that he didn’t stay over night in Russia for that. [this is not true]

[snip]

He said he thought maybe he should ask me to investigate the whole thing to prove it was a lie. I did not ask any questions. I replied that it was up to him, but I wouldn’t want to create a narrative that we were investigating him, because we were not and I worried such a thing would be misconstrued. Ii also said that is very difficult to disprove a lie. He said ‘maybe you’re right,’ but several times asked me to think about it and said he would also think about it.

He asked if the FBI leaks:

He asked whether the FBI leaks and I answered that of course in an organization of 36,000 we were going to have some of that, but I said I think the FBI leaks far less than people often say.

He asked if Comey wanted to keep his job, even though they had discussed it twice before:

He touched on my future at various points. The first time he asked “so what do you want to do,” explaining that lots of people wanted my job (“about 20 people”), that he thought very highly of me, but he would understand if I wanted to walk away given all I had been through, although he thought that would be bad for me personally because it would look like I had done something wrong, that he of course can make a change at FBI if he wants, but he wants to know what I think. There was no acknowledgement by him (or me) that we had already talked about this twice.

I responded by saying that he could fire me any time he wished, but that I wanted to stay and do a job I love to and think I am doing well.

He asked for loyalty:

He replied that he needed loyalty and expected loyalty.

[snip — this comes after the request for an investigation]

He then returned to loyalty, saying “I need loyalty.” I replied that he would always get honesty from me. He paused and said that’s what he wants, “honest loyalty.” I replied, “you will get that from me.”

He claimed to suspect Mike Flynn’s judgment because he had delayed in telling Trump about Putin’s congratulatory phone call:

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

Trump would be hard pressed to argue the meeting was unrelated to the Yates meeting and the FBI investigation. Which would mean one thing Trump did — in a meeting where he also lied to claim he hadn’t had sex in Moscow — was to disclaim prior knowledge of the Putin meeting the next day (even while emphasizing the import of it).

Of course, the claim he thought Flynn had poor judgment didn’t lead him to keep Flynn out of the phone call with Putin the next day.

January 28: Trump, Pence, Flynn, Priebus, Bannon, and Spicer phone Vladimir Putin

February 9, 2017: What was your reaction to news reports on Feb. 8-9, 2017?

According to Jim Comey, he went for a meet and greet with Reince Priebus on February 8. While he was waiting, Mike Flynn sat down to chat with him though didn’t mention the FBI interview. Then, after clarifying that the conversation with Comey was a “private conversation,” he asked if there was a FISA order on Flynn. Comey appears to have answered in the negative. Priebus then took Comey in to meet with Trump, who defended his answer in an interview with Bill O’Reilly released on February 6) that “There are a lot of killers. You think our country’s so innocent?” After Comey criticized that part of the answer, Trump, “clearly noticed I had directly criticized him.” (h/t TC for reminding me to add this.) Since Yates had told McGahn how they knew Flynn had lied, Priebus’ question about a FISA order suggests the White House was trying to find out whether the collection was just incidental, or whether both sides of all Flynn’s conversations would have been picked up.

On February 9, the WaPo reported that Flynn had discussed sanctions, in spite of public denials from the White House that he had.

National security adviser Michael Flynn privately discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia with that country’s ambassador to the United States during the month before President Trump took office, contrary to public assertions by Trump officials, current and former U.S. officials said.

Flynn’s communications with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak were interpreted by some senior U.S. officials as an inappropriate and potentially illegal signal to the Kremlin that it could expect a reprieve from sanctions that were being imposed by the Obama administration in late December to punish Russia for its alleged interference in the 2016 election.

Flynn on Wednesday [February 8] denied that he had discussed sanctions with Kislyak. Asked in an interview whether he had ever done so, he twice said, “No.”

On Thursday [February 9], Flynn, through his spokesman, backed away from the denial. The spokesman said Flynn “indicated that while he had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn’t be certain that the topic never came up.”

Officials said this week that the FBI is continuing to examine Flynn’s communications with Kislyak. Several officials emphasized that while sanctions were discussed, they did not see evidence that Flynn had an intent to convey an explicit promise to take action after the inauguration.

In addition to tracking Flynn’s changing claims, it also noted that on January 15, Mike Pence had denied both any discussion of sanctions in the December call and discussions with Russia during the campaign.

On February 10, Trump was asked by reporters about Flynn’s answer. Trump played dumb: “I don’t know about that. I haven’t seen it. What report is that? I haven’t seen that. I’ll look into that.” (h/t TC)

Presumably, Mueller wants to know how surprised Trump was about this story (which actually builds on whether McGahn told him about the Yates conversation). But given Trump’s earlier question about FBI leaks, I also wonder whether Mueller knows that Trump knew this was coming. That is, some of the leaks may have come from closer to the White House, as an excuse to fire Flynn, using the same emphasis that the story (and Yates) had: the claim that Flynn had lied to Pence.

Except Mueller probably knows that the effort to soothe Russia’s concerns about sanctions made in December were a surprise to few top aides in the White House, least of all Trump.

February 13, 2017: How was the decision made to fire Mr. Flynn on Feb. 13, 2017?

We have remarkably little reporting on how and why Flynn was actually fired — mostly just the cover story that it was because Flynn lied to Pence — though after Flynn flipped last year, Trump newly claimed he had to fire Flynn because he lied to the FBI (something that, if the claims about the original 302 are correct, FBI hadn’t concluded at the time Trump fired him).

The thing is, neither story makes sense. It’s virtually certain that many people in the White House knew what Flynn had said to Sergey Kislyak back in December 2016; Tom Bossert was included in KT McFarland’s emails to Mike Flynn, and he sent it to Reince Priebus, Stephen Bannon, Sean Spicer, and at least two other people. All of those people, save Bossert, are known to have provided testimony to Mueller’s team.

But it also makes little sense to argue that Trump had to fire Flynn because he lied. If so, he would have done so either immediately, before the Putin meeting, or much later, after FBI actually came to the conclusion he had lied.

One logical explanation is that Flynn lied because he was told to lie, in an effort to continue to hide what the Trump Administration was doing in the transition period to pay off its debts to Russia. But faced with the prospect that the FBI would continue to investigate Flynn, Trump cut him out in an effort to end the investigation. Which explains why things with Comey proceeded the way they did.

Update: This post has been updated with new details surrounding February 8-10 and newly unredacted details from the HPSCI report.

RESOURCES

These are some of the most useful resources in mapping these events.

Mueller questions as imagined by Jay Sekulow

CNN’s timeline of investigative events

Majority HPSCI Report

Minority HPSCI Report

Trump Twitter Archive

Jim Comey March 20, 2017 HPSCI testimony

Comey May 3, 2017 SJC testimony

Jim Comey June 8, 2017 SSCI testimony

Jim Comey written statement, June 8, 2017

Jim Comey memos

Sally Yates and James Clapper Senate Judiciary Committee testimony, May 8, 2017

NPR Timeline on Trump’s ties to Aras Agalarov

George Papadopoulos complaint

George Papadopoulos statement of the offense

Mike Flynn statement of the offense

Internet Research Agency indictment

Text of the Don Jr Trump Tower Meeting emails

Jared Kushner’s statement to Congress

Erik Prince HPSCI transcript

THE SERIES

Part One: The Mueller Questions Map Out Cultivation, a Quid Pro Quo, and a Cover-Up

Part Two: The Quid Pro Quo: a Putin Meeting and Election Assistance, in Exchange for Sanctions Relief

Part Three: The Quo: Policy and Real Estate Payoffs to Russia

Part Four: The Quest: Trump Learns of the Investigation

Part Five: Attempting a Cover-Up by Firing Comey

Part Six: Trump Exacerbates His Woes

Trump Repeats the “Tapp” Story Line from Season One

Last March 4, as it became clear the FBI was investigating him, President Trump wrote a bunch of tweets that claimed, falsely, that he had been wiretapped.

He even called for a “good lawyer” to make a case out of the “fact” that Obama was tapping his phone.

Today, Day Two of the Don and Rudy show, NBC has an exclusive story reporting that Michael Cohen’s phones were tapped before he was raided by the FBI a few weeks ago.

It’s certainly possible that the story is true. After all, prosecutors already revealed that “the USAO-SDNY has already obtained search warrants – covert until this point – on multiple different email accounts maintained by Cohen.” They also referred to some [redacted] reason to be concerned that Cohen was destroying evidence. So it’s certainly feasible SDNY had probable cause and reason to want to wiretap mob lawyer Michael Cohen.

But within minutes of the story breaking, Rudy was on the phone with Robert Costa, making false claims that if the wiretap picked up a conversation between Trump and Cohen, as the NBC report claims based off a single source, the FBI would need to notify Trump.

Giuliani tells me he can’t confirm there were wiretaps, hasn’t been informed. But when read NBC report, he was furious. “If they picked up the president, they would have had to notify him.” Said if true, wld be a “mockery” of attorney-client privilege and “gov’t misconduct”

And Giuliani’s concerns echo advice he gave Trump as the Cohen story was breaking, to stay off the phones with Cohen because they might be tapped. something the story itself describes, attributed to “sources close to” Rudy.

After the raid, members of Trump’s legal team advised the president not to speak to Cohen, according to a person familiar with the discussion.

Two sources close to Trump’s newest attorney, Rudolph Giuliani, say he learned that days after the raid the president had made a call to Cohen, and told Trump never to call again out of concern the call was being recorded by prosecutors.

Why would this detail be included in this NBC story? It’s like a Chekhov suicide pill, unnecessary to the story in chief but useful for giving a story additional dramatic meaning [yes, I made that term up, but I’ve got a PhD in literature, so am taking license to do so].

Incidentally, Corey Lewandowski was dining with Rudy last night before he went on Hannity.

As to the report about the wiretap itself, the NBC story is sourced to:

” two people with knowledge of the legal proceedings involving Cohen” [a kind of code often used to describe defense lawyers, though there are so many involved in this wiretap that it could be any of many]

“one person with direct knowledge”

“the person ” [that is, with direct knowledge — this is the confirmation that a call to the White House got picked up]

Nowhere does the story explain why someone with knowledge of a wiretap would want to burn it.

Certainly, there are explanations that given the people involved might explain the story. Michael Avenatti has claimed to know quite a bit about the surveillance of Michael Cohen; certainly, he has had communications with prosecutors involved, not least about whether he can intervene in the case. Alternately, Rudy is still quite close to some of NY’s more unethical FBI Agents, and it’s certainly possible one of them leaked the news.

By all means, let’s entertain the distinct possibility that the President’s personal lawyer, with all his mob ties, got treated like a mob lawyer. But let’s remember that Rudy appears to have made promises he can end the investigations into the President in the short term. He’s a liar. And Trump has specifically lied about being wiretapped before. So even if Cohen was wiretapped, beware serial liars making claims about the impact of such wiretaps on the President himself.

The President who cried “wiretap” once too often should be treated with a great deal of skepticism, particularly given the way Rudy immediately used this story to attack the investigation into Cohen.

Update: And now Rudy is using the alleged wiretap to call for Sessions to investigate those who were investigating  Cohen.

Rudy Giuliani called for Attorney General Jeff Sessions to intervene in the Michael Cohen case and put the people behind the probe “under investigation” in a phone call with The Hill on Thursday.

“I am waiting for the Attorney General to step in, in his role as defender of justice, and put these people under investigation,” Giuliani said, reacting to an NBC News report that phones belonging to Cohen, President Trump’s longtime personal attorney, had been tapped by investigators.

He gives up the game when he complains that FBI didn’t inform “us” of the alleged wiretap.

But Giuliani said that a wiretapping of Cohen would amount to “gross misconduct” by the government. He further alleged that “this case has been surrounded by numerous acts” that fit that description.

Giuliani added sarcastically, “And they don’t even notify us? I mean, he’s only the president of the United States.”

Rudy wasn’t representing Trump when the raid occurred.

Update: Rudy again gives up the game when he suggests only the FBI, the independent counsel, or DOJ would know about this wiretap.

Giuliani said that he found out about the wiretap news from NBC News’ report, which cited “two people with knowledge of the legal proceedings,” and not from Cohen himself. He believed someone in the Justice Department was behind the leak.

“Nobody else would know about it,” Giuliani said. “Cohen didn’t know about it, so it has to be the FBI, the independent counsel, or the Justice Department.”

“Anybody who says that I’m exaggerating when I say that this is an out-of-control investigation and they’re acting like storm troopers––give me a break, baby! They prove it every day.”

As I’ve already suggested, Avenatti is one other outsider who might have a whiff of this, if true. But in any case, the raid, and therefore the wiretap, is understood to have involved an independent investigation conducted by SDNY, not Mueller’s team. If true, there’s no way Mueller would know about it either. And yet Rudy uses it to suggest the Mueller investigation is out of control.

Update: … and NBC has retracted the story. FBI had a pen register on Cohen, not a wiretap. Which of course they would, because that’s one thing they use to decide which emails — which we know they collected — to read.

The Quo: Policy and Real Estate Payoffs to Russia (Part Three)

In this series, I’m analyzing the Mueller questions written down by Jay Sekulow and leaked to the NYT to show how they set up a damning investigative framework. This post laid out how the Agalarovs had been cultivating Trump for years, in part by dangling real estate deals and close ties with Vladimir Putin. This post shows how during the election, the Russians and Trump danced towards a quid pro quo agreement, with the Russians offering dirt on Hillary Clinton in exchange for a commitment to sanctions relief, with some policy considerations thrown in.

Here, I’ll lay out the questions that show Mueller’s interest in how Trump and the Russians began settling the quid pro quo during the transition. To the extent these are quid pro quo payoffs, and not simply Logan Act violations, they’d be key elements in a conspiracy.

The quo: policy payoffs

Immediately after the election, the Russians called to collect on their winnings.

According to Jared Kushner’s statement to Congress, the day after the election, Putin sent a congratulatory email to the campaign. In response, he reopened communications with Sergey Kislyak. A day later, the Agalarovs emailed congratulations to let the Trumps know they were “always at your disposal here in Russia.”

“Don!!! Amazing run and a glorious victory!!!!! Congratulations to you and your dad, we are proud and happy for you !!!!!! Always at your disposal here in Russia

On November 28, Rob Goldstone sent an email passing on sanctions materials to Trump’s assistant Rhona Graff.

“Aras Agalarov has asked me to pass on this document in the hope it can be passed on to the appropriate team.

Natalia Veselnitskaya, too, followed up on her Magnitsky request.

In addition to the sanctions demand, according to Jared, the Russians emphasized policy concessions on Syria. A retracted Brian Ross story said that emphasis started even before the election, but in reality the outreach happened almost immediately after the election.

December 1, 2016: What did you know during the transition about an attempt to establish back-channel communication to Russia, and Jared Kushner’s efforts?

On December 1, Jared and Flynn met with Sergey Kislyak. Jared reportedly asked for the Russians to provide a secure channel. Jared claims the idea for a secure channel came from Kislyak (Mueller likely has intercepts that clarify Kislyak’s version of the story). But he makes it clear the back channel pertained to Syrian policy.

[Kislyak] 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. The Ambassador said that would not be possible and so we all agreed that we would receive this information after the Inauguration.

Given how often Kushner and Trump talk face to face, this may be one of the questions about which Mueller has the least certainty of the answer. But we know that in Jared’s interview with Mueller’s prosecutors, they focused on that meeting. They also asked if he had information that exonerated Flynn; his answers (and Flynn’s reported unhappiness that Trump had proven disloyal) led immediately to Flynn’s plea deal, so for some reason Mueller must believe Flynn over Kushner.

Mueller’s interest in how much Trump knew about Kushner’s pursuit of a back channel is important for several reasons. It provides evidence that Kushner (and the Trump Administration generally) was engaged in what I call ConFraudUs on foreign policy, pretending to pursue US foreign policy that actually served other interests. And Kushner’s pursuit, possibly at Trump’s direction, of unmonitored channels is important background to Trump’s response as it became clear the FBI had collected evidence of wrong-doing during the transition.

Curiously, Sekulow’s version of these questions does not include one about Kushner’s December 13 meeting with Sergey Gorkov, the head of the sanctioned Vnesheconombank.

December 29, 2016: What did you know about phone calls that Mr. Flynn made with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, in late December 2016?

According to Flynn’s Statement of Offense, as he was on the phone with Kislyak, he was coordinating closely with a transition official we know to be KT McFarland.

On or about December 29, 2016, FLYNN called a senior official of the Presidential Transition Team (“PTT official”), who was with other senior ·members of the Presidential Transition Team at the Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, to discuss what, if anything, to communicate to the Russian Ambassador about the U.S. Sanctions. On that call, FLYNN and the PTT official discussed the U.S. Sanctions, including the potential impact of those sanctions on the incoming administration’s foreign policy goals. The PIT official and FLYNN also discussed that the members of the Presidential Transition Team at Mar-a-Lago did not want Russia to escalate the situation.

Immediately after his phone call with the PTT official, FLYNN called the Russian Ambassador and requested that Russia not escalate the situation and only respond to the U.S. Sanctions in a reciprocal manner.

Shortly after his phone call with the Russian Ambassador, FLYNN spoke with the PTT official to report on the substance of his call with the Russian Ambassador, including their discussion of the U.S. Sanctions.

On or about December 30, 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin released a statement indicating that Russia would not take retaliatory measures in response to the U.S. Sanctions at that time.

On or about December 31, 2016, the Russian Ambassador called FLYNN and informed him that Russia had chosen not to retaliate in response to FL YNN’s request.

After his phone call with the Russian Ambassador, FLYNN spoke with senior members of the Presidential Transition Team about FL YNN’s conversations with the Russian Ambassador regarding the U.S. Sanctions and Russia’s decision not to escalate the situation.

We know Mueller has an email — one the transition probably didn’t turn over to Congress in voluntary discovery, and about which they may have intended to invoke executive privilege — that captures part of the discussion about sanctions. Of critical importance, the transition team opposed these sanctions for two reasons: 1) because they wanted better relations with Russia and 2) because they believed that sanctioning Russia for tampering with the election created the appearance that Trump wouldn’t have won without Russia’s help.

On Dec. 29, a transition adviser to Mr. Trump, K. T. McFarland, wrote in an email to a colleague that sanctions announced hours before by the Obama administration in retaliation for Russian election meddling were aimed at discrediting Mr. Trump’s victory. The sanctions could also make it much harder for Mr. Trump to ease tensions with Russia, “which has just thrown the U.S.A. election to him,” she wrote in the emails obtained by The Times.

[snip]

Mr. Obama, she wrote, was trying to “box Trump in diplomatically with Russia,” which could limit his options with other countries, including Iran and Syria. “Russia is key that unlocks door,” she wrote.

She also wrote that the sanctions over Russian election meddling were intended to “lure Trump in trap of saying something” in defense of Russia, and were aimed at “discrediting Trump’s victory by saying it was due to Russian interference.”

“If there is a tit-for-tat escalation Trump will have difficulty improving relations with Russia, which has just thrown U.S.A. election to him,” she wrote.

In other words, Mueller has a good deal of evidence showing that Flynn’s actions were closely directed from Mar-A-Lago. He has multiple different versions from people involved about how closely Trump was involved in this direction. He also has substantial evidence that suggests that the worry about diminishing the victory idea actually comes from Trump. The question, then, aims not just to prove that Trump ordered Flynn to undermine the official policy of the United States at a time when he did not have the authority to set US foreign policy, but also to tie these orders to the response Trump took as FBI started discovering his conspiracy with the Russians.

January 11, 2017: What do you know about a 2017 meeting in Seychelles involving Erik Prince?

After Jared asked for a back channel, after UAE’s crown prince Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan made an unannounced visit to Trump Tower with Jared, Flynn, and Steve Bannon in December, Erik Prince ended up at a meeting in the Seychelles set up by Nahyan with Russian Direct Investment Fund head Kirill Dmitriev and a bunch of other shady funders. On top of looking like the back channel Jared had been seeking in December, the meeting is also a logical follow-on to Jared’s meeting with Gorkov (RDIF is a somewhat less sanctioned subsidiary of Vnesheconombank).

Mueller has George Nader’s testimony about what happened at this meeting, and probably a good deal of SIGINT, which reportedly shows that Erik Prince lied in his HPSCI testimony when he claimed his meeting with Dmitriev had been a chance encounter.

On or around January 11, 2017, I traveled to the Seychelles to meet with some potential customers from the UAE for the logistics business of which I am chairman. After the meeting, they mentioned a guy I should meet who was also in town to see them, a Kyrill Dmitriev from Russia, who ran some sort of hedge fund.

I met him in the hotel bar, and we chatted on topics ranging from oil and commodity prices to how much his country wished for resumption of normal trade relations with the — relationship with the USA.

Even Prince’s testimony ties sanctions relief with policy considerations in Syria and elsewhere that countered the official policy of the US. And it likely also ties those policy considerations to the personal enrichment of people like Prince and Jared, if not Trump personally.

One note: by repeatedly pitching Trump and his associates using businesses under sanction, the Russians provided Trump with his own incentive to relieve sanctions, the opportunity for Russian investment.

Late January, 2017: What do you know about a Ukrainian peace proposal provided to Mr. Cohen in 2017?

In late January 2017, just after the inauguration, Ukrainian parliament member Andrii Artemenko met with Felix Sater and Michael Cohen to propose a peace deal for Ukraine that would have Ukrainian voters endorse a long term lease of Crimea for Russia and undermine the government  of Petro Poroshenko. Cohen passed on the plan to Flynn just before he resigned. Sater — who claims to be cooperating with Mueller — said that the deal was endorsed by Russia.

Given Sater’s involvement in brokering both the Trump Tower deal and this with Cohen, it’s possible that this deal is another thing that ties policy concessions to Russia with business deals for Trump. Mueller will have both Sater and Flynn’s version of this story. Any records pertaining to it seized by SDNY will be preserved until such time as Mueller asks for them.

RESOURCES

These are some of the most useful resources in mapping these events.

Mueller questions as imagined by Jay Sekulow

CNN’s timeline of investigative events

Majority HPSCI Report

Minority HPSCI Report

Trump Twitter Archive

Jim Comey March 20, 2017 HPSCI testimony

Comey May 3, 2017 SJC testimony

Jim Comey June 8, 2017 SSCI testimony

Jim Comey written statement, June 8, 2017

Jim Comey memos

Sally Yates and James Clapper Senate Judiciary Committee testimony, May 8, 2017

NPR Timeline on Trump’s ties to Aras Agalarov

George Papadopoulos complaint

George Papadopoulos statement of the offense

Mike Flynn statement of the offense

Internet Research Agency indictment

Text of the Don Jr Trump Tower Meeting emails

Jared Kushner’s statement to Congress

Erik Prince HPSCI transcript

THE SERIES

Part One: The Mueller Questions Map Out Cultivation, a Quid Pro Quo, and a Cover-Up

Part Two: The Quid Pro Quo: a Putin Meeting and Election Assistance, in Exchange for Sanctions Relief

Part Three: The Quo: Policy and Real Estate Payoffs to Russia

Part Four: The Quest: Trump Learns of the Investigation

Part Five: Attempting a Cover-Up by Firing Comey

Part Six: Trump Exacerbates His Woes

The Quid Pro Quo: a Putin Meeting and Election Assistance, in Exchange for Sanctions Relief (Part Two in a Series)

As I explained in Part One of this series, I think the Mueller questions leaked by the Trump people actually give a far better understanding of a damning structure to the Mueller investigation — one mapping out cultivation, a quid pro quo, and a cover-up — than the coverage has laid out. This post will lay out how, over the course of the election, the Russians and Trump appear to have danced towards a quid pro quo, involving a Putin meeting and election assistance in exchange for sanctions relief if Trump won (as noted, the Russians dangled real estate deals to entice Trump based on the assumption he wouldn’t win).

April 27, 2016: During the campaign, what did you know about Russian hacking, use of social media, or other acts aimed at the campaign?

Given the structure of George Papadopoulos’ plea, it’s highly likely Mueller knows that Papadopoulos passed on news that the Russians had thousands of Hillary emails they planned to release to help Trump to people in the campaign. Papadopoulos could have passed on that news to Stephen Miller and Corey Lewandowski as early as April 27. On the same day, Papadopoulos helped draft Trump’s first foreign policy speech, which Papadopoulos reportedly told Ivan Timofeev signaled a willingness to meet.

Between the time the GRU first exfiltrated DNC emails in April and the election, Trump invoked “emails” 21 times on Twitter (usually to refer to emails from Hillary’s server). The first of those times came on June 9, less than an hour after the Trump Tower meeting. The most famous of those came on July 27, when Trump addressed Russia directly.

Earlier in the day, Trump had called on Russia to release the emails not to the FBI, but to the press.

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

The timing may reflect awareness among some in the campaign that the call to Russia was a step too far legally. (h/t TC for the addition)

That Trump’s email comments pertain mostly to Hillary’s home-based server doesn’t actually exonerate him. Right after the DNC release (and therefore the July 27 Trump tweet), GOP rat-fucker Peter Smith started reaching out to Russian hackers in hopes of finding hacked versions of those emails. His support documents named Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Sam Clovis, and Mike Flynn. If those people actually learned of the effort (there’s reason to believe Smith was just overselling the ties to the campaign), it’s possible that Trump learned about it as well.

As to social media, while it has gotten virtually no attention, the reference to three Florida-based Trump campaign officials in the Internet Research Agency indictment suggests further investigative interest in them.

[T]here are three (presumed) Americans who, both the indictment and subsequent reporting make clear, are treated differently in the indictment than all the other Americans cited as innocent people duped by Russians: Campaign Official 1, Campaign Official 2, and Campaign Official 3. We know, from CNN’s coverage of Harry Miller’s role in building a cage to be used in a fake “jailed Hillary” stunt, that at least some other people described in the indictment were interviewed — in his case, for six hours! — by the FBI. But no one else is named using the convention to indicate those not indicted but perhaps more involved in the operation. Furthermore, the indictment doesn’t actually describe what action (if any) these three Trump campaign officials took after being contacted by trolls emailing under false names.

So Mueller may be pursuing whether there was state-level coordination going on, and if so, how far up the campaign chain of command knowledge of that coordination extended.

May 31, 2016: What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding any meeting with Mr. Putin? Did you discuss it with others?

On June 16, 2015, the day Trump announced his campaign, the Agalarovs offered to serve as an intermediary between him and Putin.

Then, starting at least as early as March 31, 2016 (with Trump’s first foreign policy meeting), his aides started floating pitches for meetings with increasingly senior campaign officials that would hypothetically lead up to one between Trump and Putin.

Those include at least:

  • The George Papadopoulos thread, spanning from March 21 through August 15
  • The Carter Page thread, including his Moscow trip in July, and possibly continuing through his December Moscow trip
  • The NRA thread, focusing on the NRA meeting in Kentucky in May; NRA’s longer outreach includes Trump associates John Bolton and David Clarke

We know Trump was present and did not object when Papadopoulos pitched this in the May 31 meeting. Several of the other entrees went through Don Jr. Many of the offers got briefed at least as far as Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort. We don’t know how many of the other offers he learned about. We just know that years earlier he had joked about becoming Putin’s best friend, and over the course of the campaign, Russian intermediaries made repeated, persistent efforts to work towards a meeting between Trump and Putin, with a meeting between Agalarov representatives (who, again, had offered to serve as intermediaries with Putin when Trump kicked off the campaign) and the most senior people on the campaign happening just as Trump sealed up the nomination.

May 31, 2016: What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding Russian sanctions?

This is an open-ended question that might pose particular problems for Trump given the misleading statement claiming the June 9 meeting was about adoptions and not the Magnitsky sanctions. More interesting still are hints that Mueller sees a signaling going back and forth involving Papadopoulos; some of this may have involved signaling a willingness to provide sanctions relief.

Both Aras Agalarov and Natalia Veselnitskaya followed up after the election pushing for sanctions relief.

June 9, 2016: When did you become aware of the Trump Tower meeting?

Sam Nunberg has suggested Trump probably learned of the Trump Tower meeting before it happened. While he is unreliable on that point, the original June 3, 2016 email Rob Goldstone sent to Don Jr suggests reaching out to Trump’s assistant Rhona Graff.

I can also send this info to your father via Rhona, but it is ultra sensitive so wanted to send to you first.

Democrats suspect that between two calls Don Jr had with Emin Agalarov about the meeting on June 6, 2016, he called his dad.

Trump Jr.’s phone records show two calls to and from the same Russian number on June 6, 2016.62 The first call occurred at 4:04 pm on June 6, 2916 – just 21 minutes after Goldstone emailed Trump Jr. to say that Emin Agalarov was “on stage in Moscow but should be off within 20 minutes so I am sure can call. [emphasis added]” 63 At 4:38 pm, Trump Jr emailed Goldstone, “Rob, thanks for the help.”64

This documentary evidence indicates that a call likely took place between Trump Jr. and Emin Agalarov. During his interview, Trump Jr. confirmed that the Russian phone number belonged to Agalarov, though he claimed to not recall whether he actually spoke with him. Rather, despite one of the two calls reflecting a two-minute connection, Trump Jr. suggested that Agalarov may have left voice messages.65

The phone records also show a “blocked” number at 4:27 pm, between the two calls to and from Emin Agalarov. Trump Jr. claimed he did not know who was associated with the blocked number.66 While the Committee has not pursued leads to determine who called Trump Jr. at this crucial time from a blocked number, Corey Lewandowski told the Committee that Mr. Trump’s “primary residence has a blocked [phone] line.” 67

Mueller, of course, almost certainly has the phone records the Democrats weren’t able to obtain.

Finally, Steve Bannon has stated that he’s certain Don Jr “walk[ed] these jumos up to his father’s office on the twenty-sixth floor” on the day of the meeting. There’s reason to believe Ike Kaveladze and Goldstone could have done so, including the new piece of evidence that “Kaveladze left [a meeting with Rinat Akhmetshin and Natalia Veselnitskaya] after a few minutes to take a call from Agalarov to discuss the meeting.”

The day after the meeting — and four days before Trump’s birthday — Agalarov sent Trump an expensive painting as a present.

The June 9 meeting is, as far as is public, the most important cornerstone in a presumed quid pro quo. Russians offered unnamed dirt that Don Jr seemed to know what it entailed even before speaking to Emin Agalarov personally. Having offered dirt, four Russians — including two representatives of Trump’s long-time handler Aras Agalarov — laid out a pitch to end the Magnitsky sanctions. And less than a week later, a presumed Russian agent released the first dirt stolen from Hillary Clinton.

July 7, 2016: What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign?

We don’t have many details on what Mueller knows about Manafort’s requests for help on the campaign. We do know he remained in close touch with Russians via someone the FBI believed was a Russian intelligence agent, Konstantin Kilimnik, through whom he remained in communications with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. Deripaska is named in some court documents in a way that suggests his relationship with Manafort may be the still hidden third prong of investigation into Manafort approved by August 2, 2017.

Starting in April, Manafort and Kilimnik (whom Rick Gates and therefore presumably Manafort knew was a former GRU officer), exchanged a series of cryptic emails, suggesting that Manafort might be able to pay off the $20 million he owed Deripaska with certain actions on the campaign. In an email sent on July 7, Manafort offered to provide briefings on the campaign to Deripaska. On or around August 2, Manafort and Kilimnik met in person at the Grand Havana Club, in Kushner’s building at 666 5th Avenue. Both deny that anything about the campaign came up. Shortly after this meeting, one of Deripaska’s jets came to Newark, and Russian opposition figure Viktor Navalny has claimed to have proof the jet went from there to a meeting between Deripaska and Russian deputy prime minister Sergei Prikhodko.

An August 2017 report describes intercepts picking up “Russian operatives discussing their efforts to work with Manafort, … relay[ing] what they claimed were conversations with Manafort, encouraging help from the Russians.”

There’s one more area of potential assistance I find of interest. Since January, we’ve been getting hints that Oleg Deripaska has some tie to the Steele dossier, possibly through a lawyer he and Steele share. I’ve raised repeated concerns that the Russians learned about the dossier and found ways to feed Steele disinformation. If they did, the disinformation would have led Democrats to be complacent about the hacks that targeted them. And whether or not the dossier is disinformation (and whether or not Deripaska had a role in that, if true), Paul Manafort coached Reince Priebus on how to attack the dossier as a way to discredit the investigation into the campaign’s ties with Russia.

With regards to this Manafort question: remember that Rick Gates flipped on February 23, and the questions date to early March. So Gates may have proffered confirmation about these details. In any case, Mueller likely has learned far more about them two months after Gates flipped.

July 10-12, 2016: What involvement did you have concerning platform changes regarding arming Ukraine?

The Majority HPSCI Russia Report explains that the RNC platform was changed by staffers at the convention based off Trump’s public statements on sanctions.

[Rick] Dearborn generated a memorandum, dated August 1, 2016, outlining a detailed sequence of events that occurred between July 10 and 12, 2016. As part of that memo, J.D. Gordon created a timeline that noted candidate Trump’s policy statements–including at a March 31, 2016, national security meeting–served as the basis for the modification of [Diana] Denman’s amendments. Gordon’s timeline made it clear that the change was initiated by campaign staffers at the convention–not by Manafort or senior officials.

J.D. Gordon has not confirmed that he was asked about this, but he surely was. I would expect Mueller to have tested the timeline Gordon laid out in summer 2016 (when the platform change was a big political issue) against the testimony and communications records of everyone else involved.

Of course, by asking the question in this fashion, Mueller doesn’t reveal what he has already confirmed about the platform changes.

August 5, 2016: What did you know about communication between Roger Stone, his associates, Julian Assange or WikiLeaks?

After multiple public statements that the Russians were behind the hack-and-leak, on August 5, 2016 (after traveling from NY to LA to his home in FL), Roger Stone wrote a column claiming to believe that Guccifer 2.0 was a hacktivist with no ties to Russia. Stone’s purportedly changed beliefs about Guccifer 2.0 coincide with an August 4 claim he made in an email to Sam Nunberg that he had met with Julian Assange the night before. Stone’s claimed belief that Guccifer 2.0 is not Russian is key to his denials of any involvement or pre-knowledge of hack-and-leak events. It also kicked off an alternative story that others, up to and including Trump, have adopted to excuse their own embrace of the stolen emails. In other words, a key prong in the plausible deniability the Russians built into the hack-and-leak campaign came from long-time Trump associate Roger Stone, after a dramatic and unexplained change in beliefs (Lee Stranahan, who used to work for Breitbart and now works for Sputnik, has claimed some credit for the change, and given how lucid the August 5 column is, someone had to have helped Stone write it).

Ten days later, after Stone had called on Twitter to let him out of Twitter jail, Guccifer 2.0 and Stone started exchanging (fairly innocuous) DMs.

There are events both before and after that which suggest Stone — probably through more interesting go-betweens than Randy Credico — sought information on what dirt Assange and Wikileaks had, and what and when planned to do with it.

Much has been made, especially in the DNC lawsuit, about Stone’s seeming prediction that “it would soon be Podesta’s time in the barrel.” Perhaps that’s true (and Stone’s explanation for the tweet is garbage), but any explanation of Stone’s supposed prediction needs to acknowledge that he more often predicted Wikileaks would release Clinton Foundation emails, not Podesta ones, that he got the timing somewhat wrong, and that he didn’t dwell on the Podesta emails at all once Wikileaks started releasing them (preferring, instead, to talk about Bill Clinton’s lady problems). Still, that may reflect Stone involvement in the Peter Smith operation, and efforts to get WikiLeaks to release purported Clinton Foundation emails passed on via hackers.

That Mueller is even asking this suggests (if the several grand jury witnesses in recent months dedicated to it don’t already) that Mueller has a pretty good idea that Stone’s communications were more extensive than his denials let on. That he thinks Stone may have shared that information with Trump is all the more interesting.

All of which is to say that the known answers to Mueller’s questions map out a quid pro quo set up during the election, in which Russians offered a Putin meeting and dirt on Hillary, with the expectation that Trump would lift the Magnitsky sanctions if he won (and would get a Trump Tower in Moscow if he lost). I suspect there are other pieces to the quid pro quo, dealing with Ukraine and Syria. But certainly the June 9 meeting set up an understanding: dirt in exchange for Magnitsky relief. The release of the Guccifer 2.0 emails may indicate the Trump camp provided some signal they had formally accepted the offer.

Update: Fixed syntax in last paragraph, h/t LT.

RESOURCES

These are some of the most useful resources in mapping these events.

Mueller questions as imagined by Jay Sekulow

CNN’s timeline of investigative events

Majority HPSCI Report

Minority HPSCI Report

Trump Twitter Archive

Jim Comey March 20, 2017 HPSCI testimony

Comey May 3, 2017 SJC testimony

Jim Comey June 8, 2017 SSCI testimony

Jim Comey written statement, June 8, 2017

Jim Comey memos

Sally Yates and James Clapper Senate Judiciary Committee testimony, May 8, 2017

NPR Timeline on Trump’s ties to Aras Agalarov

George Papadopoulos complaint

George Papadopoulos statement of the offense

Mike Flynn statement of the offense

Internet Research Agency indictment

Text of the Don Jr Trump Tower Meeting emails

Jared Kushner’s statement to Congress

Erik Prince HPSCI transcript

THE SERIES

Part One: The Mueller Questions Map Out Cultivation, a Quid Pro Quo, and a Cover-Up

Part Two: The Quid Pro Quo: a Putin Meeting and Election Assistance, in Exchange for Sanctions Relief

Part Three: The Quo: Policy and Real Estate Payoffs to Russia

Part Four: The Quest: Trump Learns of the Investigation

Part Five: Attempting a Cover-Up by Firing Comey

Part Six: Trump Exacerbates His Woes

The Mueller Questions Map Out Cultivation, a Quid Pro Quo, and a Cover-Up (Part One, Cultivation)

I wasn’t going to do this originally, but upon learning that the Mueller questions, as NYT has presented them, don’t maintain the sixteen subjects or even the 49 questions that Jay Sekulow drew up from those 16 areas of interest, and especially after WaPo continues to claim that Mueller is only investigating “whether Trump obstructed justice and sought to thwart a criminal probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election,” I am going to do my own version of the questions, as released by the NYT.

I’m not pretending that this better represents what Mueller has communicated to Sekulow, nor am I suggesting NYT’s version isn’t valid. But the questions provide an opportunity to lay out a cultivation, quid pro quo, and cover-up structure I’ve been using to frame the investigation in my own mind.

This post lays out the “cultivation” questions Mueller wants to pose.

The cultivation

The questions start well before the election, focusing on both Trump’s persistent interest in building a Trump Tower in Moscow, the cultivation of Trump by the Agalarov camp, and Trump’s interest in becoming best friends with Vladimir Putin. The questions may also include other real estate deals that would be less obviously tied to Russia, but possibly just as compromising. It’s worth remembering, Trump probably didn’t expect he’d win. So the Trump Tower offers were a prize that would be available (and easier to take advantage of) based on the assumption he’d lose.

November 9, 2013: During a 2013 trip to Russia, what communication and relationships did you have with the Agalarovs and Russian government officials?

On November 9, 2013, the Agalorovs helped Trump put on Miss Universe in Moscow; Trump Tower meeting attendees Rob Goldstone and Ike Kaveladze were both also involved. If the pee tape — or any kompromat involving “golden showers,” as Jim Comey claims Trump called it — exists, it was made on November 8, 2013.

Leading up to the event, Trump talked about meeting Putin and “will he become my new best friend?,” but that reportedly did not happen. But he did meet a bunch of other oligarchs. In the aftermath of the event, the Agalorovs floated building a Trump Tower in one of their developments.

November 2, 2015 to November, 2016: What communication did you have with Michael D. Cohen, Felix Sater and others, including foreign nationals, about Russian real estate developments during the campaign?

On November 3, 2015, at a time when Trump’s campaign was experiencing remarkable success, and well after (per the Internet Research Agency indictment) the election year operation had started, Felix Sater approached Michael Cohen to pitch yet another Trump Tower in Moscow deal. He tied the deal explicitly to getting Trump elected.

Michael I arranged for Ivanka to sit in Putins [sic] private chair at his desk and office in the Kremlin. I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected. We both know no one else knows how to pull this off without stupidity or greed getting in the way. I know how to play it and we will get this done. Buddy our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get Putins [sic] team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.

Remember: Mueller’s subpoena to Sam Nunberg goes back to November 1, 2015, suggesting this is the timeframe he’s thinking explicitly about.

The initial public story about the deal — which Cohen tried to squelch before his congressional interviews — claimed that the deal fizzled out in January 2016. More recent reporting has revealed that one of the people involved in this deal has ties to GRU, the Russian intelligence organization behind the hack-and-leak, and that Cohen pursued it at least as late as June, 2016.

Around that time (possibly on July 22, with the involvement of Ivan Timofeev, who was involved in offering up emails), Sergei Millian — who had brokered Trump business with Russians in the past — started cultivating George Papadopoulos. After the election, Millian pitched that the two of them should do a Trump Tower deal.

The Trump Tower offers are only the most obvious election-related deal Mueller might be interested in. In October 2016, for example, Cypriot businessman Orestes Fintiklis obtained a majority stake in the troubled Trump Panama development, which he has since taken over (possibly along with a bunch of papers showing the money laundering Ivanka did to fill the building). And all that’s before you consider any deals Jared was pitching.

RESOURCES

These are some of the most useful resources in mapping these events.

Mueller questions as imagined by Jay Sekulow

CNN’s timeline of investigative events

Majority HPSCI Report

Minority HPSCI Report

Trump Twitter Archive

Jim Comey March 20, 2017 HPSCI testimony

Comey May 3, 2017 SJC testimony

Jim Comey June 8, 2017 SSCI testimony

Jim Comey written statement, June 8, 2017

Jim Comey memos

Sally Yates and James Clapper Senate Judiciary Committee testimony, May 8, 2017

NPR Timeline on Trump’s ties to Aras Agalarov

George Papadopoulos complaint

George Papadopoulos statement of the offense

Mike Flynn statement of the offense

Internet Research Agency indictment

Text of the Don Jr Trump Tower Meeting emails

Jared Kushner’s statement to Congress

Erik Prince HPSCI transcript

THE SERIES

Part One: The Mueller Questions Map Out Cultivation, a Quid Pro Quo, and a Cover-Up

Part Two: The Quid Pro Quo: a Putin Meeting and Election Assistance, in Exchange for Sanctions Relief

Part Three: The Quo: Policy and Real Estate Payoffs to Russia

Part Four: The Quest: Trump Learns of the Investigation

Part Five: Attempting a Cover-Up by Firing Comey

Part Six: Trump Exacerbates His Woes

Paul Manafort’s iPod (and Other Apple Product) Habit Rivals His Antique Rug Habit

In addition to a misleading motion to conduct an investigation into leaks about the investigation into him, Paul Manafort submitted similar (but not identical) motions to the motions he submitted to throw out the fruits of searches of his storage facility and condo in the DC case.

In addition to one or two different precedents (reflecting the different circuit), the biggest difference in the condo search motion is that Manafort lists all the devices the FBI took from his condo. The disorderly list of his devices includes at least 20 Apple devices:

  • 4 DVD discs
  • 7 external hard drives
  • 12 SD cards
  • 7 memory sticks
  • 1 micro SD card
  • 1 iPod
  • 3 compact flash cards
  • 1 MacBook Air hard drive
  • 2 iPads
  • 9 thumb drives
  • 1 iPhone
  • 1 micro vault pro
  • 1 DEWF_COMBO1: A 1TB (containing forensic images and device extractions from rooms: C, F, K, and Q)
  • 7 iPods
  • 1 iMac (including 1 Solid State Drive (SSD) and 1 Hard Disk Drive (HDD))
  • 4 iPhones
  • 1 SD card
  • 12 digital flash drives
  • 1 Macbook Air
  • 2 iPad Minis
  • 2 micro SD HC cards
  • 2 SD HC cards
  • 1 ultra-SD XC I card [my emphasis]

I raise this not just because Manafort appears to collect Apple devices like he also collects (er, launders) antique rugs. But also for another detail.

In the original filing, Manafort suggested that an Agent could not possibly have believed that an iPod would contain any evidence.

For example, the search warrant inventory of electronic devices seized or imaged includes things such as an Apple iPod music device and some Apple iPod Touch music and video devices. No agent could have reasonably believed that he was seizing electronic devices used in the commission of the subject offenses.

Not so, I argued.

Except that’s not right: you can use Signal on iPods, so these might have stored communication. Which would be precisely the kind of thing that would be of most interest: devices that could be used for encrypted comms that would not show up on cell records.

See this piece for how communicating using an iPod over WiFi is the most secure way to communicate.

The government was similarly unimpressed with Manafort’s focus on his iPods.

Manafort’s contention again rests on his mistaken reading of the warrant—that is, that it authorized only the seizure of computers and storage media that were instrumentalities of the Subject Offenses. As explained above, however, the warrant also authorized agents to search “storage media (such as hard disks or other media that can store data)” for the 11 categories of records enumerated in Attachment B. See Doc. 264-1 Attach. A. Devices such as the iPod and iPod Touch plainly qualify as “storage media,” since they can store files such as contact lists and can even be used as backup drives. See, e.g., See United States v. Ballard, 551 Fed. Appx. 33, 36 (3d Cir. 2014) (unpublished) (personal information relevant to identity-theft scheme found on iPod); United States v. Okeayainneh, No. 11-cr-87, 2011 WL 2457395, at *10 (D. Minn. May 13, 2011) (affidavit established probable cause to believe that an iPod was among the devices used to store and transmit information in a fraud and identity-theft scheme). Because those devices are capable of storing evidence that falls within the scope of the warrant, the agents properly imaged those devices or took them for offsite review under Attachment A to the warrant.

The government goes on to note that even if they shouldn’t have taken the iPods, the only recourse Manafort has is to suppression of evidence submitted at trial. And the government won’t be using evidence from the iPods at trial in this case.

In any event, Manafort would not be entitled to suppression even if he were correct. Absent evidence that the government flagrantly disregarded the terms of the warrant (which Manafort does not allege), the remedy for the seizure of materials outside the scope of a warrant is suppression of the improperly seized materials. See Maxwell, 920 F.2d at 1034 n.7. Here, Manafort identifies only the two iPod devices as supposedly falling outside the warrant’s terms, but the government will not be introducing any evidence obtained from those devices at the trial in this case. There is, in short, nothing to suppress. [my emphasis]

I’m a bit confused by the government reference to “two iPod devices,” because Manafort’s new list identifies eight. The discrepancy may arise from iPods that were taken versus those that were simply imaged.

In any case, Manafort cites the government in his EDVA motion, again focusing on a handful — whether a big or small handful — of iPods as proof that the search was improper. But he doesn’t cite the government motion directly.

In his opposition to Mr. Manafort’s motion to suppress evidence seized from his residence filed in the related matter pending in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, the Special Counsel stated that he would not seek to introduce evidence from the iPods seized from the residence, see United States v. Manafort, Dkt. No. 17-cr-201 (D.D.C.) Doc. No. 284 at p. 18, further underscoring the unreasonableness of their seizure in the first place.

Rather than stating that “the government will not be introducing any evidence obtained from those devices at the trial in this case,” Manafort instead claims that “the Special Counsel stated that he would not seek to introduce evidence from the iPods seized from the residence.”

Mueller’s team only said they wouldn’t be introducing evidence from the iPods “in this case,” not that they wouldn’t introduce evidence from them “in some future case.”

Manafort is likely to face criminal charges in at least one more case (as indicated by the redacted — to us — bullet in several documents shared more broadly with Manafort). That case is presumably the hack-and-leak conspiracy — the one in which Manafort may have reached out “to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign.” As a reminder, unlike the storage unit warrant, the condo search warrant included evidence about the June 9, 2016 meeting.

Mueller’s team said nothing about introducing evidence from the iPods Manafort is so hung up about in some other trial.

Given how unlikely Manafort is to succeed with these suppression motions, they may pertain as much to evidence that will be used for the hack-and-leak conspiracy as they do to these cut-and-dry money laundering ones. (Michael Cohen’s concern about the FBI searches in NY may similarly reflect concerns about evidence that can be used in the larger conspiracy cases.)

And in both jurisdictions, Manafort seems awfully worried about his iPod devices.

“Just Obstruction” Is the New “Red Line”

In the past, I have complained about how the NYT (including Mike Schmidt) themselves set a “red line” over which Robert Mueller shouldn’t cross, then gleefully focused on that in their reporting.

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.

[snip]

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).

Effectively, the NYT reporters who kept harping on a limit they themselves either set or parroted back on someone’s cue served to justify Trump’s own threats against Mueller and others. They had become the news.

It appears the same is true for the extended reporting — from the NYT, among others (though this NBC report is a rare exception) —  that Mueller is primarily investigating Trump for obstruction. For some time, the press has been reporting that Mueller is honing in on an obstruction case against Trump, seemingly without understanding that some things being labeled obstruction — such as the response to Mike Flynn lying about implementing the policy concessions to Russia Trump made in the transition period — actually went to prove the quo part of a quid pro quo.

And so, when NYT published their list of questions Mueller had given Trump’s lawyers, almost a third of which have nothing to do with obstruction and many others have to with have to do with both the conspiracy case in chief and obstruction, the headline focused exclusively on obstruction.

And while Mike Schmidt’s report on the questions does mention “Russian ties” and include two paragraphs on the questions that address topics besides obstruction, the lead might be read to focus on obstruction itself.

Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating Russia’s election interference, has at least four dozen questions on an exhaustive array of subjects he wants to ask President Trump to learn more about his ties to Russia and determine whether he obstructed the inquiry itself, according to a list of the questions obtained by The New York Times.

This morning, Trump predictably pointed to the list that one of his associates leaked, claiming to be outraged by a new “leak,” and asserted, evidence to the contrary, that the questions did not address “collusion.”

That, in turn, led a bunch of people on Twitter to try to fact check Trump, as if such “facts” would persuade either Trump (who is doing this to manipulate coverage, not to assert facts) or his followers (who wouldn’t believe the fact-checkers over Trump anyway).

Schmidt added this line to his own story, without acknowledging that his own outlet had “incorrectly” used a headline that backed Trump’s claim, even if the details themselves did not.

President Trump said on Twitter on Tuesday that it was “disgraceful” that questions the special counsel would like to ask him were publicly disclosed, and he incorrectly noted that there were no questions about collusion.

I get that Trump’s claims that the questions include none on the underlying conspiracy need to be debunked.

But one reason why he tweeted what he did is because it plays into a narrative that the press has long very credulously helped to create. What is needed now (indeed, what was needed months ago) is loud reporting that the whole obstruction emphasis was a distraction partly seeded by those being investigated for a conspiracy, a distraction in which the press was complicit.

As with the “red line” of Trump’s (non-Russian) business interests, the notion that he is being investigated only for obstruction is a tactic he has used, and used well, to play public opinion. Before trying to get the man to acknowledge public facts his team itself released, however, the press ought to consider how they’ve been doing just what Trump did this morning for months, ignoring the details that implicate him personally in “collusion.”

Mueller Offers Trump an Open Book Test — Trump Should Refuse

Someone (possibly named Rudy 911) leaked the questions Robert Mueller wants to ask Trump to the NYT. The NYT, as they’ve been doing for some time, are presenting the president’s exposure in terms of obstruction.

Except that of 44 questions as presented by NYT, 13 are explicitly not about obstruction, and several of the obstruction questions are, I’m fairly sure, about “collusion.”

  1. What did you know about phone calls that Mr. Flynn made with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, in late December 2016?
  2. What was your reaction to news reports on Jan. 12, 2017, and Feb. 8-9, 2017?
  3. What did you know about Sally Yates’s meetings about Mr. Flynn?
  4. How was the decision made to fire Mr. Flynn on Feb. 13, 2017?
  5. After the resignations, what efforts were made to reach out to Mr. Flynn about seeking immunity or possible pardon?
  6. What was your opinion of Mr. Comey during the transition?
  7. What did you think about Mr. Comey’s intelligence briefing on Jan. 6, 2017, about Russian election interference?
  8. What was your reaction to Mr. Comey’s briefing that day about other intelligence matters?
  9. What was the purpose of your Jan. 27, 2017, dinner with Mr. Comey, and what was said?
  10. What was the purpose of your Feb. 14, 2017, meeting with Mr. Comey, and what was said?
  11. What did you know about the F.B.I.’s investigation into Mr. Flynn and Russia in the days leading up to Mr. Comey’s testimony on March 20, 2017?
  12. What did you do in reaction to the March 20 testimony? Describe your contacts with intelligence officials.
  13. What did you think and do in reaction to the news that the special counsel was speaking to Mr. Rogers, Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Coats?
  14. What was the purpose of your calls to Mr. Comey on March 30 and April 11, 2017?
  15. What was the purpose of your April 11, 2017, statement to Maria Bartiromo?
  16. What did you think and do about Mr. Comey’s May 3, 2017, testimony?
  17. Regarding the decision to fire Mr. Comey: When was it made? Why? Who played a role?
  18. What did you mean when you told Russian diplomats on May 10, 2017, that firing Mr. Comey had taken the pressure off?
  19. What did you mean in your interview with Lester Holt about Mr. Comey and Russia?
  20. What was the purpose of your May 12, 2017, tweet?
  21. What did you think about Mr. Comey’s June 8, 2017, testimony regarding Mr. Flynn, and what did you do about it?
  22. What was the purpose of the September and October 2017 statements, including tweets, regarding an investigation of Mr. Comey?
  23. What is the reason for your continued criticism of Mr. Comey and his former deputy, Andrew G. McCabe?
  24. What did you think and do regarding the recusal of Mr. Sessions?
  25. What efforts did you make to try to get him to change his mind?
  26. Did you discuss whether Mr. Sessions would protect you, and reference past attorneys general?
  27. What did you think and what did you do in reaction to the news of the appointment of the special counsel?
  28. Why did you hold Mr. Sessions’s resignation until May 31, 2017, and with whom did you discuss it?
  29. What discussions did you have with Reince Priebus in July 2017 about obtaining the Sessions resignation? With whom did you discuss it?
  30. What discussions did you have regarding terminating the special counsel, and what did you do when that consideration was reported in January 2018?
  31. What was the purpose of your July 2017 criticism of Mr. Sessions?
  32. When did you become aware of the Trump Tower meeting?
  33. What involvement did you have in the communication strategy, including the release of Donald Trump Jr.’s emails?
  34. During a 2013 trip to Russia, what communication and relationships did you have with the Agalarovs and Russian government officials?
  35. What communication did you have with Michael D. Cohen, Felix Sater and others, including foreign nationals, about Russian real estate developments during the campaign?
  36. What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding any meeting with Mr. Putin? Did you discuss it with others?
  37. What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding Russian sanctions?
  38. What involvement did you have concerning platform changes regarding arming Ukraine?
  39. During the campaign, what did you know about Russian hacking, use of social media or other acts aimed at the campaign?
  40. What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign?
  41. What did you know about communication between Roger Stone, his associates, Julian Assange or WikiLeaks?
  42. What did you know during the transition about an attempt to establish back-channel communication to Russia, and Jared Kushner’s efforts?
  43. What do you know about a 2017 meeting in Seychelles involving Erik Prince?
  44. What do you know about a Ukrainian peace proposal provided to Mr. Cohen in 2017?

Indeed, the questions seem almost an attempt to pit Trump’s word against Jim Comey’s (questions 6 through 23) as a way to lure him into answering questions that even as written will sink Trump. And that’s assuming there’s not some ulterior motive to the question (and for some of the most open-ended questions — like 33,39, 40, and 41 — I suspect, there is).

So yeah, if Trump has any lawyers still working for him, they should advise him not to take this interview.

But when that happens, it should badly undercut Trump’s claims there was no collusion.

 

On Manafort’s Referral of the Papadopoulos Offer(s)

I want to return to something from the George Papadopoulos plea agreement in light of last week’s HPSCI Russia reports. In it, there was a footnote describing Paul Manafort’s response to Papadopoulos’ email about efforts to set up a meeting between Trump and Putin.

On or about May 21, 2016, defendant PAPADOPOULOS emailed another high-ranking Campaign official, with the subject line “Request from Russia to meet Mr. Trump.” The email included the May 4 MFA Email and added: “Russia has been eager to meet Mr. Trump for quite sometime and have been reaching out to me to discuss.”2

2 The government notes that the official forwarded defendant PAPADOPOULOS’s email to another Campaign official (without including defendant PAPADOPOULOS) and stated:

“Let[‘]s discuss. We need someone to communicate that DT is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal.”

The Majority HPSCI Report explains the email, first, by noting that it accompanied another one Papadopoulos forwarded regarding a proposed Greek meeting. Then it described Gates and Manafort referring the requests for “these meetings” to a correspond to both.

(U) Although the Committee has no information to indicate that Papadopoulos was successful in setting up any meetings between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, he worked with campaign chief executive Steve Bannon to broker a September 2016 meeting between candidate Trump and Egyptian president Abdel Fatah el-Sisi.181 Trump was apparently pleased with the meeting, which he described In an Interview as “very productive,” describing el-Sisi as “a fantastic guy.”182

(U) While on a trip to Athens, Greece in May 2016, Papadopoulos sent an email to Manafort stating that he expected to soon receive “an official invitation for Mr. Trump to visit Greece sometime this summer should his schedule allow.”183 In the same email to Manafort, Papadopoulos also forwarded a meeting Invitation from Ivan Timofeev, Director or [sic] Programs for the Russian International Affairs Council, and claimed that “Russia has been eager to meet Mr. Trump for quite sometime and have been reaching out to me to discuss. thought it would be prudent to send to you.”184

(U) As of May 2016, Manafort had not yet been elevated to campaign chairman, but had a long track record of work abroad. Manafort forwarded Papadopoulos’ email to his business and campaign deputy [Rick Gates] noting that we need someone to communicate that D[onald] T[rump] is not doing these trips.” 185 Manafort and [Gates] agreed to assign a response of a “general letter” to “our correspondence coordinator.” the person responsible for “responding to all mail of non-importance.”186

Curiously, this account is based off Gates’ production; it should exist in the campaign’s production as well.

The clarification would seem to suggest that Manafort was treating all requests for Trump meetings as formalities, to be responded to with a regrets letter sent by a low level clerk. But it still doesn’t explain what Manafort meant when he said “It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal.”

But there’s another detail that may undermine the claim that Manafort responded to all requests for Russian meetings with regrets. As the Minority HPSCI Report makes clear, Manafort received another request for a Trump-Putin meeting within days of the Papadopoulos one, one tied to Aleksandr Torshin’s trip to the NRA meeting.

On May 10, 2016, Erickson reached out to Rick Dearborn, a longtime senior advisor to Jeff Sessions and a senior campaign official:

“Switching hats! I’m now writing to you and Sen. Sessions in your roles as Trump foreign policy experts / advisors. […] Happenstance and the (sometimes) international reach of the NRA placed me in a position a couple of years ago to slowly begin cultivating a back-channel to President Putin’s Kremlin. Russia is quietly but actively seeking a dialogue with the U.S. that isn’t forthcoming under the current administration. And for reasons that we can discuss in person or on the phone, the Kremlin believes that the only possibility of a true re-set in this relationship would be with a new Republican White House.”44

The email goes on to say that Russia planned to use the NRA’s annual convention to make “first contact” with the Trump campaign and that “Putin is deadly serious about building a good relationship with Mr. Trump. He wants to extend an invitation to Mr. Trump to visit him in the Kremlin before the election.”45

Dearborn communicated this request on May 17, 2016 to the highest levels of the Trump campaign, including Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, and Jared Kushner. The effort to establish a back-channel between Russia and the Trump campaign included a private meeting between Torshin and “someone of high rank in the Trump Campaign.”46 The private meeting would take place just prior to then-candidate Trump’s speech to the NRA. As explained in Dearborn’s email, such a meeting would provide Torshin an opportunity “to discuss an offer he claims to be carrying from President Putin to meet with DJT. They would also like DJT to visit Russia for a world summit on the persecution of Christians at which Putin and Trump would meet.”47

The account of the NRA outreach is a bit muddled between the two reports. But Kushner passed on a related one from Rick Clay — not because he didn’t want to take the meeting, but because he worried they couldn’t verify the back channel.

“Pass on this. A lot of people come claiming to carry messages. Very few we are able to verify. For now I think we decline such meetings,” as well as “(b)e careful.”

But as both reports make clear, Don Jr did meet, briefly, with Torshin, though there is no known record of their face-to-face exchange.

The Majority’s finding on this topic affirms that Trump Jr. met with a Russian government official, Alexander Torshin, at the event, but conveniently concludes that “the Committee found no evidence that the two discussed the presidential election.”48 As with many findings in the report, this relies solely on the voluntary and self-interested testimony of the individual in question, in this case Trump Jr. The Majority refused multiple requests by the Minority to interview witnesses central to this line of inquiry, including Torshin, Butina, Erickson, and others.

These accounts come from the Sessions and Dearborn production. Again, both should also be available via the campaign, but that’s not where they came from, and the NRA requests were also sent to Manafort and Gates (so Gates’ production should include any response from Manafort).

As noted in both reports, Don Jr. met Torshin briefly on May 19, two days after the request for a high level meeting got passed onto senior people in the campaign.

Both reports separate the timelines out by source — and the Majority one presents events out of order, which adds to the confusion. But here’s how the two outreach efforts look.

May 4 [this gets forwarded to Lewandowski, Clovis, and Manafort by May 21]:

Timofeev to Papadopolous “just talked to my colleagues from the MFA. [They are] open for cooperation. One of the options is to make a meeting for you at the North America Desk, if you are in Moscow.”

Papadopolous to Timofeev: “Glad the MFA is interested.”

May 4, Papadopoulos to Lewandowski (forwarding Timofeev email):

“What do you think? Is this something we want to move forward with?”

May 5: Papadopoulos has a conversation with Sam Clovis, then forwards Timofeev email, with header “Russia updates.”

May 8, Timofeev to Papadopoulos:

Emails about setting Papadopoulos up with the “MFA head of the US desk.”

May 10, Paul Erickson email to Rick Dearborn proposes a meeting between Torshin and “someone of high rank in the Trump Campaign … to discuss an offer [Torshin] claims to be carrying from President Putin to meet with DJT.”

May 13, Mifsud to Papadopoulos:

“an update” of what they had discussed in their “recent conversations,” including: “We will continue to liaise through you with the Russian counterparts in terms of what is needed for high level meeting of Mr. Trump with the Russian Federation.”

May 14, Papadopoulos to Lewandowski:

“Russian govemment[] ha[s] also relayed to me that they are interested in hostingMr. Trump.”

May 16: Rick Clay email to Rick Dearborn mentions an “overture to Mr. Trump from
President Putin.” Kushner responds, “Pass on this. A lot of people come claiming to carry messages. Very few we are able to verify. For now I think we decline such meetings.”

May 21, Papadopoulos to Paul Manafort, forwarding May 4 email:

“Request from Russia to meet Mr. Trump”

“Regarding the forwarded message, Russia has been eager to meet Mr. Trump for quite some time and have been reaching out to me to discuss.”

May 21, Manafort forwards Papadopoulos email to Rick Gates:

“Lets discuss. We need someone to communicate that DT is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal.”

As noted, there should be more in the Gates production to describe what Manafort was up to, if he was indeed opposed to meetings themselves.

Of course, we don’t have that — though Mueller does have Gates wrapped up in a cooperation agreement.

Meanwhile, Don Jr kept doing meetings with Russians he would go on to disclaim. And weeks after all these invitations for high level meetings, he, Kushner, and Manafort took a meeting with someone all three had reason to trust, Aras Agalarov’s representatives.

 

The Context of Veselnitskaya’s “Informant” Comment

There seems to be a great deal of confusion about what Natalia Veselnitskaya admitted to in a contentious MSNBC interview. Before I get into the admission(s), consider two details about the interview. First, Veselnitskaya insisted on making her own recording of the interview, which she says she always does for her own “security” (I’m using MSNBC’s translations throughout here, but I await a Russian speaker to see how well that was done). It’s unclear whether she’s doing that because she doesn’t trust the journalists she’s speaking with, or whether she feels like she needs a record to avoid trouble with the Russian state.

Also the interview is based on probably hacked documents leaked to Mikhail Khodorkovsky who then passed them on, precisely the kind of “weaponized” leaking that our intelligence services claim (dubiously) never to do. MSNBC dismisses Veselnitskaya’s accusations that Americans might have hacked her (she provided names but sadly MSNBC doesn’t tell us whom she named) by pointing to Khodorkovsky and his anonymous dropbox, as if he played any different role than Julian Assange played in the Russian election operation, down to the verification using metadata. All’s fair in love and hacking — I’m not complaining that this happened to her — but it’s worth attending to the provenance of the documents, particularly given that key ones are attachments.

There are two separate admissions in the interview (MSNBC has not released a transcript, and the excerpts shown are edited in ways that I believe are, like all else MSNBC does on the Russian story, designed to be as inflammatory as possible often at the expense of clarity, if not fact).

The first admission is that Veselnitskaya has ties to a military organization that has ties to the FSB (MSNBC presents it as her “doing legal work for Russia’s intelligence agency, the FSB”). Here’s what she admits to:

I did not represent the interests of the FSB. … I did not represent the interests of the FSB. I represented the interests of a military unit which has a very remote association with the FSB. … I can’t tell you anything further.

The second admission appears to be that, in regards to a US request to the Russian government for information on Denis Katsyv — the same client and same legal issue whom Veselnitskaya was representing in the Prevezon case through which she worked with US law firm Baker and Hostetler and Fusion GPS — she provided the language to the Russian government used to refuse to comply with an MLAT request. It appears to be in this context — in response to the claim that she may have crafted the official government response — that she used the word “informant.”

Former SDNY Prosecutor Jaimie Nawaday, who worked on the Prevezon case: The US Department of Justice puts out a request to Russia asking for bank records, incorporation records, because the underlying fraud involved the theft of corporate identities.

Richard Engel: How did the Russian authorities respond?

JN: Essentially they responded by saying that the US government’s allegations were without merit, and they would not be providing the records.

RE: Were you surprised by that response?

JN: Well, yes, because it’s not the job of the foreign government to reinvestigate and come to its own conclusion about the merits of the government’s case.

Let me interject and say this is a load of baloney, though it sure makes for good — if misleading — TV. In the same way no one imagines the UK will ever respond to one of Russia’s regularly issued arrest warrants for Bill Browder, the oligarch who is behind the Magnitsky sanctions, no one should expect Russian cooperation on an MLAT request for information on the money laundering of a favored oligarch. That doesn’t justify it. But it’s just pure fantasy to think Russia will cooperate in the prosecution of one of its own.

What MSNBC showed were emails to an official in Russia’s prosecutor general office (to someone named Sergey Bochkarev,* not to Yuri Chaika himself), as well as a Word document with track changes, neither of which is obviously Veselnitskaya (one is HP or NR — her patronymic is Vladimirovna, so her initials in Cyrillic would be HB; the other is a name that doesn’t appear to be hers).

Veselnitskaya at first did not confirm that the emails were hers. And she flatly denied dictating to the Russian prosecutor’s office how it should respond to the US.

Nothing of the sort. It’s not true.

At another point in the interview, she said she wanted something (perhaps this denial, perhaps that what she did constituted obstruction of justice) on the record, but it appears MSNBC edited out what that was.

Later she did admit that the details in the documents (though not the documents) were hers.

There are many things here from my motions. This was in one of my memos I passed along to the prosecutor general’s office.

But again she denies that she had a “back and forth dialogue.”

Finally, though, Engel asks her what her relationship to the prosecutor general is (again, because of the editing, it is totally unclear whether this comes after the discussion of the Katsyv response or after something else), to which she says,

I am a lawyer and I am an informant.

In point of fact, she has previously admitted providing information she obtained from Fusion to the prosecutor general, so she could have simply been repeating that admission. In any case, in context, this appears to be an admission that she provided information about the case against Katsyv to the prosecutor.

These two details come well after Richard Engel asks Veselnitskaya on whose behalf she went to Trump Tower to lobby Trump’s spawn and campaign manager to lift the Magnitsky sanctions (lobbying activities she engaged in publicly and extensively outside of that event). And they come between the time he describes the HPSCI report finding there was no collusion between Trump’s team and Russians and the times he (ridiculously, in my opinion) twice uses the word “collusion” to refer to Veselnitskaya’s interactions with the Russian government on behalf of a known client.

Frankly, I think the MSNBC reporting (or at least editing) is a mess, in part because what one would want to prove is that she was working for Aras Agalarov (Trump’s apparent handler) or Putin when she met with Don Jr and the others. As I’ve intimated elsewhere, I think the reference to “Crown Prosecutor” in Rob Goldstone’s email to Don Jr is some kind of code, not a reference to Yuri Chaika or Veselnitskaya at all.

But in reality, the “informant” admission is the far less interesting of Veselnitskaya’s two admissions in the interview, because at least in context, all she’s admitting to is providing information to the prosecutor general’s office in the course of her representation of Katsyv. The other admission — the confirmation she’s done work for some entity with ties to Russian intelligence — might be more interesting, though still not a smoking gun regarding the background to her appearance at Trump Towers.

Most of all, though, I still think the role of the Agalarovs — whom the Minority HPSCI Report describes offering to set up a Putin meeting and providing birthday gifts days earlier than stolen emails that appear just after Trump’s birthday — is far more crucial to showing that the Trump Tower meeting was an official outreach from the Russian government. Veselnitskaya was just a convenient way to deliver the demand, Magnitsky relief, and that’s a role she played overtly in numerous other occasions.

Update: I meant to note this detail from the HPSCI Minority Report. Dana Rohrabacher apparently explained his 2016 meeting with Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin by “acknowledging” that they were probably spies.

In testimony before the Committee, Congressman Rohrabacher acknowledged that he met Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin on previous occasions, but that in April 2016, he was traveling as part of a Congressional delegation and encountered them by chance at the hotel lobby of the Ritz Carlton in St. Petersburg. He acknowledged that they were probably spies and probably knew the Congressman would be there. HPSCI Executive Session Interview with Dana Rohrabacher, December 21, 2017.

*I’ve been informed Bochkarev is Chaika’s chief of staff. So not him directly, but close to it.

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