Quid Pro Quo Redux, Part One: The Trump Tower Dangle

Last May, I wrote a series using the questions (as imagined by Jay Sekulow) Mueller had posed to Trump to lay out what theory of investigation Mueller might be pursuing — and what details we know about it. We’ve learned a lot more about the investigation and confirmed that the investigation focusing on Trump personally includes both a criminal and a counterintelligence component. I wanted to update the series. Because we know so much more about both sides of this quid pro quo, the organization of the series will be somewhat different.

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, Aras Agalorov helped Trump put on Miss Universe in Moscow; Trump Tower meeting attendees Rob Goldstone and Ike Kaveladze were both involved, as were Don Jr, Michael Cohen, and Keith Schiller. 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.

The prior trip set up the 2016 quid pro quo in several ways. First, it deepened Trump’s desire for a Moscow Trump Tower — an effort the Agalrovs and Trumps pursued for years after the meeting. It established Trump’s enthusiasm for Vladimir Putin — though Putin reportedly disappointed Trump’s desire for a meeting on that prior occasion. It also introduced Trump to a bunch of other oligarchs.

Just after Trump kicked off his presidential bid, Emin invited Trump to his father’s birthday party in Moscow on November 8 (PDF 17), the first of a series of outreaches during Trump’s campaign which would continue through the election. The Agalarovs would remain the key handlers of the Trump family until shortly after the election, when first Sergei Kislyak, then Putin himself, would take over interacting with Trump and his family.

September 25, 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

By September 25, 2015, Felix Sater and Michael Cohen already had a Moscow design study completed for a Trump Tower in Moscow. Days later, Andrey Rozov was promising to build Donald Trump the tallest tower in Europe. In October 2015, Felix Sater (whose actions in brokering this deal seemed designed to ensure that Trump’s willingness to work with Russian military intelligence and sanctioned banks would leave a digital paper trail) started pitching the centrality of Putin to the deal. On October 28, at a time when his presidential bid was meeting unexpected success, Trump signed a Letter of Intent on a deal that stood to make him a fantastic sum of $300 million.

In the days after getting the signed letter of intent and in response to Trump publicly complimenting Putin at a press conference, Sater bizarrely tied the deal to getting Trump elected. He claimed to believe that if Putin complimented Trump’s deal-making prowess at a press conference tied to a then hypothetical Trump trip to Moscow, it would help Trump’s election chances.

Michael my next steps are very sensitive with Putins very very close people, we can pull this off. Michael lets go. 2 boys from Brooklyn getting a USA president elected.

Sater first tried to get commitments for both Cohen and Trump to travel to Moscow (with the documents to prove it) in December 2015. While Cohen was willing to share his passport, he held off on Trump’s. Perhaps as a result of Cohen’s increasing impatience with Sater’s swapping out a lightly sanctioned bank for a more compromising one, Cohen said he wanted to take more control. That led to him to reach out to Dmitry Peskov directly (who had been involved in Trump’s efforts to meet Putin in 2013), which in turn led him to have a 20 minute call with Peskov’s personal assistant on January 21, 2016. Over the course of that conversation, she would have taken notes recording Cohen committing to Trump’s willingness to work through a former GRU officer and with sanctioned banks to get his $300 million deal. By the next day, Putin’s office had that in hand, the first of many receipts he would obtain on Trump, making him susceptible to compromise regardless of what happened.

Cohen smartly shifted negotiations to the encrypted communication app Dust for a time. But when Sater renewed discussions about a trip to Russia to make this happen in May 2016, he did so on texts that would be accessible to law enforcement. And Cohen made it clear Trump had to seal the nomination before he would risk making his coziness with Putin public, making it crystal clear that the election and the Trump Tower deal remained linked in his brain.

Both Trump and Don Jr were thoroughly briefed on these negotiations. That means when Don Jr accepted a meeting offering dirt on Hillary as part of Russia’s support for Trump, he would have known that a $300 million real estate deal might depend on taking the meeting. Don Jr took the June 9, 2016 meeting and — per four sworn witnesses’ statements — agreed to revisit Magnitsky sanctions if his father won.

At almost exactly the moment that meeting broke up, Felix Sater texted Cohen to take the next step on a deal, a trip for him to St. Petersburg, potentially to meet with Putin personally. Oleg Deripaska and Sergei Millian (the latter of whom Cohen had also worked with in the past) would also have been at the event.

In the days after the Trump Tower meeting, Sater and Cohen were scrambling to put together the trip to St. Petersburg at the last minute. But they looked like they would pull it off, only to have the WaPo report, on June 14, 2016, that Russia hacked the DNC postpone the plans for the trip.

That said, Cohen only said, “he would not be traveling at that time.” The news that Russia hacked Trump’s opponent didn’t kill the deal. It just made it more difficult.

On July 22, 2016 — the day that WikiLeaks released the DNC emails — George Papadopoulos (possibly with the coaching of Ivan Timofeev) and Sergei Millian seem to have picked up keeping discussions of a deal alive from Cohen and Sater.

According to the President’s current teevee lawyer, Trump answered Mueller’s questions on this topic to allow for the possibility that the Russian deal remained active through November. He’s just not committing to any story about how long the deal remained (or remains) active.

One thing to remember about this Trump Tower deal. The deal was too good to be true (and to some degree that’s the point!). But it fed all of Trump’s character weaknesses. The promise of having the tallest tower in Europe would feed Trump’s narcissism. The fairly ridiculous claim Trump Organization stood to make $300 million off of it would have been irresistible to the highly indebted family.

And in exchange for that, Trump showed repeated and sustained willingness to deal with GRU-tied individuals and sanctioned banks. And at the June 9 meeting, his spawn made it clear he’d trade policy considerations to get the deal.

As I disclosed last July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

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 302

Mike Flynn statement of the offense

Mike Flynn cooperation addendum

Peter Strzok 302 (describing Flynn’s interview)

Michael Cohen statement of the offense

Internet Research Agency indictment

GRU indictment

Senate Judiciary Committee materials on June 9 meeting

BuzzFeed documents on Trump Tower deal

Text of the Don Jr Trump Tower Meeting emails

Jared Kushner’s statement to Congress

Erik Prince HPSCI transcript

Jerome Corsi’s Theory of Roger the Rat-Fucker’s Mule Prosecution

I did something rash recently. I bought Jerome Corsi’s book, Silent No More.

It’s a … remarkable work of autobiographical fiction. It has two unbelievable chapters — one on how he met Stone and one claiming to describe how he figured out WikiLeaks had John Podesta’s emails; I’ll deal with the former in this post, and do a follow-up on the latter.

The rest of the book is a narrative of Corsi’s botched cooperation that is fairly clearly designed to provide all the details of his interactions with Mueller’s team to others, without, however, even clarifying details about events that should be central to the story.

Corsi continues to hide details of his Strip House trip with Stone

One of those missing details is what date Corsi introduced Stone to Ted Malloch over dinner at the Strip House in NYC. After that dinner, Stone had Corsi email two requests to Malloch, one of which is the email that appears in Corsi’s botched plea:

a. On or about July 25, 2016, Person 1 sent an email to CORSI with the subject line, “Get to [the founder of Organization 1].” The body of the message read: “Get to [the founder of Organization 1] [a]t Ecuadorian Embassy in London and get the pending [Organization 1] emails . . . they deal with Foundation, allegedly.” On or about the same day, CORSI forwarded Person 1’s email to the overseas individual.

b. On or about July 31, 2016, Person 1 emailed CORSI with the subject line, “Call me MON.” The body of the email read in part that the overseas individual “should see [the founder of Organization 1].”

c. On or about August 2, 2016, CORSI responded to Person 1 by email. CORSI wrote that he was currently in Europe and planned to return in mid-August. CORSI stated: “Word is friend in embassy plans 2 more dumps. One shortly after I’m back. 2nd in Oct. Impact planned to be very damaging.… Time to let more than [the Clinton Campaign chairman] to be exposed as in bed w enemy if they are not ready to drop HRC [Hillary Rodham Clinton]. That appears to be the game hackers

A second request from Stone — which Corsi says was sent August 16 — Corsi describes as being limited to Bernie Sanders’ brother, but at least one other description I’ve heard about may also include a reference to WikiLeaks.

Here’s the context of Corsi’s two references to that dinner and his description of the August 16 email:

After meeting Roger Stone in February 2016, I arranged a dinner in New York City with Roger and Ted Malloch, a strong supporter of Donald Trump, for the next time both were in New York City at the same time. Malloch was anxious to assist the Trump campaign and he hoped Malloch [sic] could arrange to have him appointed to Trump’s presidential advisory staff—a hope that never materialized.

[snip]

On Tuesday, August 16, 2016, I sent Ted Malloch an email in the U.K., asking Ted if he could find Bernie Sanders’ brother who was in the U.K. at that time. My email to Malloch continued: “He (Bernie Sanders brother) is on the record of saying he plans to vote for Trump. Roger Stone suggested you might track down Sanders’ brother.” This was the third request Stone made of Malloch. At the dinner in New York City when I introduced Roger to Ted, Roger asked Ted to research Bill Clinton’s time as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. Roger believed Bill Clinton had been dismissed from the program because Clinton had raped a female graduate student at Oxford. Then, on July 25, 2016, I passed Roger’s email onto Ted, asking Ted to go see Assange in London. Ted waned [sic] an advisory position with the Trump campaign and Stone believed Malloch could improve his chances by scoring on one of these three requests. To the best of my recollection, Ted never said anything to me to suggest he had succeeded on any of the three requests.

One published version of the dinner puts it in late February or March, almost immediately after Corsi met Stone.

Corsi told the Guardian he introduced Malloch to Stone over steaks at the Strip House in midtown Manhattan in late February or March 2016. Mueller’s investigators “wanted to know about the dinner”, he said. When asked if Assange was discussed during the meal, Corsi said he was not a “human tape recorder”.

I think the actual date of the meeting is later, but if that date is right — given the possibility that WikiLeaks came up at the meeting — it would have Stone pursuing information about what WikiLeaks had around the same time as (possibly even before) the Russians first hacked John Podesta on March 19.

Update: One other detail of Corsi’s suppression of details about Malloch. In the book, he describes the only time he met with Trump during the campaign.

During the campaign, I only recall seeing Trump once up close, and that was as Trump was entering the elevator at Trump Tower. On that occasion, Trump jokingly pointed at me and said, “That’s trouble there.” The last time I recall having a telephone conversation with Trump was in 2011.

Elsewhere, however, he made it clear that that exchange happened with Malloch.

Corsi said he spoke to Trump only once during the 2016 presidential campaign. It happened when he brought London-based conservative author Ted Malloch to Trump Tower to show him the campaign headquarters and possibly meet Trump. Corsi said Malloch was interested in potentially doing policy work for the campaign.

Shortly after Corsi and Malloch entered the lobby, Trump happened to be getting into the elevator, Corsi said.

“We said hello. Trump points to me and he points to Malloch and he says, ‘There’s trouble there,'” Corsi said. “And he laughs, we laugh, and that’s the only time I spoke to Donald Trump [during the campaign].”

Corsi never explains what crime he stopped short of committing with Stone

The book is also entirely inconsistent with the fact that before Corsi first lied to Mueller’s prosecutors, his lawyer, David Gray, suggested that Corsi had had the opportunity to engage in, but stopped short of, committing some crime.

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

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

As I note here, Gray’s pre-interview comments make it really hard for Corsi to claim faulty memory.

Corsi emphasizes Stone’s ongoing, yet deniable, role in Trump’s campaign

I raise those two details as background to what Corsi lays out in the chapter called, Meet Roger Stone. It describes:

  • Meeting Stone for the first time on February 22, 2016
  • Claiming that Stone’s campaign role as an “outside adviser” was intentionally designed to give Trump plausible deniability regarding Stone’s “various maneuvers”
  • Learning that — at least in February 2016 — Stone spoke to Trump every day and got him to adopt about 70% of his suggestions
  • Giving Stone the credit for getting Paul Manafort hired

And then it goes into a theory of Stone’s crime, real or imagined, I’m not sure which.

Corsi avoids the GRU indictment like the plague but nevertheless suggests Stone could be the mule

Mind you, I’m not sure if this is Corsi’s theory about what Stone actually did or what he thinks Mueller thinks Stone did (the theory is somewhat inconsistent with what Corsi suggests Mueller thinks Stone did as presented later in the book, which is more focused on Julian Assange). In part, it addresses what he seems to think Democrats suspect about Stone.

Democratic opponents of Trump raised the question that if Roger Stone had known in advance that Assange was holding the Podesta emails, as evidenced by his tweet on August 21, was it possible Stone had colluded with the Russians and with WikiLeaks? Had all this happened by accident or were the WikiLeaks DNC email drops just Roger Stone’s crowning achievement in a career distinguished by dirty tricks. Put simply: Did Roger Stone coordinate with Russia to steal the DNC emails and give them to WikiLeaks, having having arranged with Assange in advance a strategy to use the hacked DNC emails to prevent Hillary from achieving the White House?

But it ends by suggesting that when he was first subpoenaed, he “suspected immediately” that he was a key link in a theory that (bizarrely) had Stone serving as a mule between Guccifer 2.0 and WikiLeaks (it’s worth noting that Corsi claims to believe, erroneously, that the Podesta emails came from a DNC server, in which case the reference could be about the Podesta emails).

On August 28, 2018, when I was served the subpoena from the Mueller grand jury, I suspected immediately the prosecutors in the Special Counsel office were in possession of evidence that suggested I might have been the link between Stone and Assange. As David Gray and I prepared to go to Washington, we speculated Mueller may have targeted me as the link who provided Stone his advance knowledge in August 2016 that Assange possessed DNC emails from John Podesta that WikiLeaks planned to release serially over a number of days as the 2016 “October Surprise,” designed to deal a knock-out punch to the Clinton campaign. If I was Stone’s link to Assange, was this the connection with WikiLeaks that Stone used to get WikiLeaks the Guccifer 2.0 hacks of the DNC computers?

The theory relies on a really weird timeline of the relevant events, which I’ve reproduced below. Several things stick out about the timeline. First, Corsi dates WikiLeaks’ indexing of Hillary’s FOIAed emails as part of WikiLeaks’ election year activities (something he continues later in the book). That’s interesting because of Cambridge Analytica’s related efforts in that early period (not to mention the funding of an attack on Hillary as being close to Russia), as well as the way a WikiLeaks’ request for Hillary’s speech transcripts precedes the John Podesta hack. If Corsi knows that that indexing was part of a larger campaign (and as I’ll show in the follow-up post, he does know stuff about WikiLeaks he should not), then it suggests that he knows that WikiLeaks knew the hacks were coming.

The timeline is also weird for the way it jumps over all the exchanges between Stone and Corsi in the aftermath of the DNC email release, details that are absolutely central to the rest of the narrative in the book.

It’s oddest, however, in the way this chapter makes no mention of the initial Guccifer 2.0 posts, even though in his chapter purporting to explain how he knew Podesta’s emails were coming, Corsi admits to having tracked those releases very closely (and links two of the posts). Just as notably, Corsi’s narrative only mentions Mueller’s GRU indictment indirectly (an odd habit he continues in his Podesta explanation), instead relying on the 2018 coverage of the indictment for his claims about what’s in it. Even there, however, Corsi doesn’t link the coverage (not even Fox!) where Stone admitted he’s the person cited in the GRU indictment. This leads Corsi to treat the mention of Stone in the GRU indictment to be merely “suspect” rather than confirmed.

Clearly, Stone’s tweets with Guccifer 2.0 target him as a likely suspect for that person, especially given that Stone remained in regular contact with Trump even after Stone resigned as Trump’s political advisor.

Perhaps both those choices are just attempts to avoid acknowledging familiarity with the evidence that would utterly disprove his later whack theories about the Podesta emails (which go well beyond the Podesta emails). But it seems to adopt a very indirect method to avoid admitting that, yes, Stone was DMing with  Guccifer 2.0, but that nothing in the public record suggests those DMs were criminal in any way.

Let me be clear: There’s nothing in the public record that suggests Stone had a role in getting any files from the Russians to WikiLeaks (though I considered the possibility Guccifer 2.0 was a source for the men here). But the handoff of the Podesta emails is part of the operation that remains unexplained. And even while Corsi goes to great lengths to spin up this theory of Stone’s prosecution, he (a guy who puts his PhD in his Twitter handle) studiously avoids the primary sources that make this case.

Timeline

February 22, 2016: Stone and Corsi first meet

March 16, 2016: First WikiLeaks drop (in reality, indexing of documents obtained via FOIA)

July 13, 2016: Guccifer 2.0, a hacker who previously claimed to have breached the computers of the DNC, released a cache of purported DNC documents to The Hill

July 14, 2016: Guccifer 2.0 sends WikiLeaks link to archive of DNC documents [Corsi botches this section badly, in part by getting the year of the GRU indictment wrong]

July 22, 2016: DNC release “Julian Assange timed the release of the DNC emails to be the Friday before the DNC National Nominating Convention”

July 24, 2016: DWS resigns

July 24, 2016: Robby Mook announces Russia hacked emails “for the purpose of helping Donald Trump”

July 25, 2016: Assange tells NBC “there is no proof whatsoever” he got emails from Russia

August 21, 2016: Stone tweets “Podesta’s time in the barrel”

October 7, 2016: WikiLeaks starts dumping Podesta files

November 7, 2016: “final WikiLeaks post … dropped by WikiLeaks on November 7, 2016, three days after the presidential election was held.”

March 10, 2017: Stone post Corsi relies on to describes his DMs with Guccifer 2.0

July 13, 2018: WaPo story on Stone and the GRU indictment

July 15, 2018: NYT story on GRU indictment

August 28, 2018: Corsi subpoena

As I disclosed last July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

The Disinformation Campaign Targeting Mueller and the Delayed Briefing to SSCI on Russian Election Interference

A lot of people are reporting and misreporting details from this Mueller filing revealing that it had been the target of disinformation efforts starting in October.

1000 non-sensitive files leaked along with the file structure Mueller provided it with

To substantiate an argument that Concord Management should not be able to share with Yevgeniy Prigozhin the sensitive discovery that the government has shared with their trollish lawyers, Mueller revealed that on October 22, someone posted 1000 files turned over in discovery along with a bunch of other crap, partially nested within the file structure of the files turned over in discovery.

On October 22, 2018, the newly created Twitter account @HackingRedstone published the following tweet: “We’ve got access to the Special Counsel Mueller’s probe database as we hacked Russian server with info from the Russian troll case Concord LLC v. Mueller. You can view all the files Mueller had about the IRA and Russian collusion. Enjoy the reading!”1 The tweet also included a link to a webpage located on an online file-sharing portal. This webpage contained file folders with names and folder structures that are unique to the names and structures of materials (including tracking numbers assigned by the Special Counsel’s Office) produced by the government in discovery.2 The FBI’s initial review of the over 300,000 files from the website has found that the unique “hashtag” values of over 1,000 files on the website matched the hashtag values of files produced in discovery.3 Furthermore, the FBI’s ongoing review has found no evidence that U.S. government servers, including servers used by the Special Counsel’s Office, fell victim to any computer intrusion involving the discovery files.

1 On that same date, a reporter contacted the Special Counsel’s Office to advise that the reporter had received a direct message on Twitter from an individual who stated that they had received discovery material by hacking into a Russian legal company that had obtained discovery material from Reed Smith. The individual further stated that he or she was able to view and download the files from the Russian legal company’s database through a remote server.

2 For example, the file-sharing website contains a folder labeled “001-W773.” Within that folder was a folder labeled “Yahoo.” Within that folder was a folder labeled “return.” Within the “return” folder were several folders with the names of email addresses. In discovery in this case, the government produced a zip file named “Yahoo 773.” Within that zip file were search warrant returns for Yahoo email accounts. The names of the email accounts contained in that zip file were identical to the names of the email address folders within the “return” subfolder on the webpage. The webpage contained numerous other examples of similarities between the structure of the discovery and the names and structures of the file folders on the webpage. The file names and structure of the material produced by the government in discovery are not a matter of public record. At the same time, some folders contained within the Redstone Hacking release have naming conventions that do not appear in the government’s discovery production but appear to have been applied in the course of uploading the government’s production. For example, the “001- W773” folder appears within a folder labeled “REL001,” which is not a folder found within the government’s production. The naming convention of folder “REL001” suggests that the contents of the folder came from a production managed on Relativity, a software platform for managing document review. Neither the Special Counsel’s Office nor the U.S. Attorney’s Office used Relativity to produce discovery in this case. [my emphasis]

It sounds like Mueller’s office found out about it when being contacted by the journalist who had been alerted to the content on Twitter.

But before Mueller asked Concord’s trollish lawyers about it, the defense attorneys — citing media contacts they themselves had received — contacted prosecutors to offer a bullshit excuse about where the files came from.

On October 23, 2018, the day after the tweet quoted above, defense counsel contacted the government to advise that defense counsel had received media inquiries from journalists claiming they had been offered “hacked discovery materials from our case.” Defense counsel advised that the vendor hired by the defense reported no unauthorized access to the non-sensitive discovery. Defense counsel concluded, “I think it is a scam peddling the stuff that was hacked and dumped many years ago by Shaltai Boltai,” referencing a purported hack of Concord’s computer systems that occurred in approximately 2014. That hypothesis is not consistent with the fact that actual discovery materials from this case existed on the site, and that many of the file names and file structures on the webpage reflected file names and file structures from the discovery production in this case.

Without any hint of accusation against the defense attorneys (though this motion is accompanied by an ex parte one, so who knows if they offered further explanation there), Mueller notes any sharing of this information for disinformation purposes would violate the protective order in the case.

As stated previously, these facts establish a use of the non-sensitive discovery in this case in a manner inconsistent with the terms of the protective order. The order states that discovery may be used by defense counsel “solely in connection with the defense of this criminal case, and for no other purpose, and in connection with no other proceeding, without further order of this Court,” Dkt. No. 42-1, ¶ 1, and that “authorized persons shall not copy or reproduce the materials except in order to provide copies of the materials for use in connection with this case by defense counsel and authorized persons,” id. ¶ 3. The use of the file names and file structure of the discovery to create a webpage intended to discredit the investigation in this case described above shows that the discovery was reproduced for a purpose other than the defense of the case.

Update: Thursday evening, Mueller submitted another version of this clarifying that the @HackingRedstone tweets alerting journalists to the document dump were DMs, and so not public (or visible to the defense). The first public tweet publicizing the dump came on October 30, so even closer to the election.

Shortly after the government filed, defense counsel drew the government’s attention to the following sentence, which appears on page nine of the filing: “On October 22, 2018, the newly created Twitter account @HackingRedstone published the following tweet: ‘We’ve got access to the Special Counsel Mueller’s probe database as we hacked Russian server with info from the Russian troll case Concord LLC v. Mueller. You can view all the files Mueller had about the IRA and Russian collusion. Enjoy the reading!’” Defense counsel pointed out that this sentence could be read to suggest that the Twitter account broadcast a publicly-available “tweet” on October 22. In fact, the Twitter account @HackingRedstone began sending multiple private direct messages to members of the media promoting a link to the online file-sharing webpage using Twitter on October 22. The content of those direct messages was consistent with, but more expansive than, the quoted tweet to the general public, which was issued on October 30. By separate filing, the government will move to file under seal the text of the direct messages. The online file sharing webpage was publicly accessible at least starting on October 22.

I’m not sure it makes the defense response any more or less suspect. But it does tie the disinformation even more closely with the election.

The Mueller disinformation was part of a month-long election season campaign

This thread, from one of the journalists who was offered the information, put it all in context back on November 7, the day after the election.

The thread shows how the release of the Mueller-related files was part of a month-long effort to seed a claim that the Internet Research Agency had succeeded in affecting the election.

Update: This story provides more background.

Other signs of the ongoing investigation into Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s trolls

Given how the Mueller disinformation functioned as part of that month-long, election oriented campaign, I’m more interested in this passage from the Mueller investigation than that the investigation had been targeted. Mueller argues that they shouldn’t have to share the sensitive discovery with Yevgeniy Prigozhin because the sensitive discovery mentions uncharged individuals who are still trying to fuck with our elections.

First, the sensitive discovery identifies uncharged individuals and entities that the government believes are continuing to engage in operations that interfere with lawful U.S. government functions like those activities charged in the indictment.

To be sure, we knew the investigation into Prigozhin’s trolls was ongoing. On October 19, just days before these files got dropped, DOJ unsealed an EDVA complaint, which had been filed under seal on September 28, against Prigozhin’s accountant, Alekseevna Khusyaynova. Along with showing Prigozhin’s trolls responding to the original Internet Research Agency indictment last February, it showed IRA’s ongoing troll efforts through at least June of last year.

Then, in December, Concord insinuated that Mueller prosecutor Rush Atkinson had obtained information via the firewall counsel and taken an investigative step on that information back on August 30.

On August 23, 2018, in connection with a request (“Concord’s Request”) made pursuant to the Protective Order entered by the Court, Dkt. No. 42-1, Concord provided confidential information to Firewall Counsel. The Court was made aware of the nature of this information in the sealed portion of Concord’s Motion for Leave to Respond to the Government’s Supplemental Briefing Relating to Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss the Indictment, filed on October 22, 2018. Dkt. No. 70-4 (Concord’s “Motion for Leave”). Seven days after Concord’s Request, on August 30, 2018, Assistant Special Counsel L. Rush Atkinson took investigative action on the exact same information Concord provided to Firewall Counsel. Undersigned counsel learned about this on October 4, 2018, based on discovery provided by the Special Counsel’s Office. Immediately upon identifying this remarkable coincidence, on October 5, 2018, undersigned counsel requested an explanation from the Special Counsel’s Office, copying Firewall Counsel on the e-mail.

[snip]

Having received no further explanation or information from the government, undersigned counsel raised this issue with the Court in a filing made on October 22, 2018 in connection with the then-pending Motion to Dismiss. In response to questions from the Court, Firewall Counsel denied having any communication with the Special Counsel’s Office.

This was a bid to obtain live grand jury investigative information, one that failed earlier this month after Mueller explained under seal how his prosecutors had obtained this information and Dabney Friedrich denied the request.

What this filing, in conjunction with Josh Russell’s explanatory Twitter thread, reveals is that the Mueller disinformation effort was part of a disinformation campaign targeted at the election.

Dan Coats doesn’t want to share the report on Russian election tampering with SSCI

And I find that interesting because of a disturbing exchange in a very disturbing Global Threats hearing the other day. After getting both Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and FBI Director Christopher Wray to offer excuses for White House decisions to given security risks like Jared Kushner security clearance, Martin Heinrich then asked Coats why ODNI had not shared the report on election tampering even with the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Heinrich: Director Coats, I want to come back to you for a moment. Your office issued a statement recently announcing that you had submitted the intelligence community’s report assessing the threats to the 2018 mid-term elections to the President and to appropriate Executive Agencies. Our committee has not seen this report. And despite committee requests following the election that the ODNI brief the committee on any identified threats, it took ODNI two months to get a simple oral briefing and no written assessment has yet been provided. Can you explain to me why we haven’t been kept more fully and currently informed about those Russian activities in the 2018–

Chairman Richard Burr interrupts to say that, in fact, he and Vice Chair Mark Warner have seen the report.

Burr: Before you respond, let me just acknowledge to the members that the Vice Chairman and I have both been briefed on the report and it’s my understanding that the report at some point will be available.

Coats then gives a lame excuse about the deadlines, 45 days, then 45 days.

Coats: The process that we’re going through are two 45 day periods, one for the IC to assess whether there was anything that resulted in a change of the vote or anything with machines, uh, what the influence efforts were and so forth. So we collected all of that, and the second 45 days — which we then provided to the Chairman and Vice Chairman. And the second 45 days is with DHS looking, and DOJ, looking at whether there’s information enough there to take — to determine what kind of response they might take. We’re waiting for that final information to come in.

After Coats dodges his question about sharing the report with the Committee, Heinrich then turns to Burr to figure out when they’re going to get the information. Burr at least hints that the Executive might try to withhold this report, but it hasn’t gotten to that yet.

Heinrich: So the rest of us can look forward — so the rest of us can then look forward to reading the report?

Coats: I think we will be informing the Chairman and the Vice Chairman of that, of their decisions.

Heinrich: That’s not what I asked. Will the rest of the Committee have access to that report, Mr. Chairman?

[pause]

Heinrich: Chairman Burr?

Burr; Well, let me say to members we’re sort of in unchartered ground. But I make the same commitment I always do, that anything that the Vice Chairman and myself are exposed to, we’ll make every request to open the aperture so that all members will be able to read I think it’s vitally important, especially on this one, we’re not to a point where we’ve been denied or we’re not to a point that negotiations need to start. So it’s my hope that, once the final 45-day window is up that is a report that will be made available, probably to members only.

Coming as it did in a hearing where it became clear that Trump’s spooks are helpless in keeping Trump from pursuing policies that damage the country, this exchange got very little attention. But it should!

The Executive Branch by law has to report certain things to the Intelligence Committees. This report was mandated by Executive Order under threat of legislation mandating it.

And while Coats’ comment about DOJ, “looking at whether there’s information enough there to take — to determine what kind of response they might take,” suggests part of the sensitivity about this report stems from a delay to provide DOJ time to decide whether they’ll take prosecutorial action against what they saw in the election, the suggestion that only members of the committee (not staffers and not other members of Congress) will ever get the final report, as well as the suggestion that Coats might even fight that, put this report on a level of sensitivity that matches covert actions, the most sensitive information that get shared with Congress.

Maybe the Russians did have an effect on the election?

In any case, going back to the Mueller disinformation effort, that feels like very familiar dick-wagging, an effort to make key entities in the US feel vulnerable to Russian compromise. Mueller sounds pretty sure it was not a successful compromise (that is, the data came from Concord’s lawyers, not Mueller).

But if the disinformation was part an effort to boast that Putin’s allies had successfully tampered with the vote — particularly if Russia really succeeded in doing so — it might explain why this report is being treated with the sensitivity of the torture or illegal spying program.

Update: I’ve corrected this to note that in the end the Intelligence Authorization did not mandate this report, as was originally intended; Trump staved that requirement off with an Executive Order. Still, that still makes this look like an attempt to avoid admitting to Congress that your buddy Putin continues to tamper in US elections.

As I disclosed last July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

Things Not Said in Roger Stone’s Indictment: “Trump Directed” and Other More Damning Details

I’m a leading purveyor of the theory that Robert Mueller is producing his mythical “report” via one after another speaking indictments. That said, it has always been true that some of the most interesting parts of his indictments involved what didn’t get said. That’s especially true in today’s Roger Stone indictment. Before I explain what didn’t get said, let me review what got said. The indictment shows that Stone was asked to figure out what emails on Hillary Julian Assange had, and using at least Jerome Corsi and Randy Credico as go-betweens, Stone did so, providing information (most explicitly) to Trump campaign manager Steve Bannon. When Congress asked Stone about all this, he lied, first hiding any of his go-betweens, and then seemingly using Randy Credico to hide Jerome Corsi. Mueller provides a lot of the communications between Stone and his go-betweens and the communications from October 2016, as well as some of the ones from the cover-up period.

But he doesn’t provide us everything.

I have argued that the early morning raid, not to mention the larding on of charges, suggest this is an effort to get Stone to flip, both against Jerome Corsi (which is why Meuller locked in testimony from Corsi’s stepson yesterday) and Trump himself.

With that in mind, here are the things that Mueller doesn’t say.

With whom — besides Campaign Manager Steve Bannon — at the Trump Campaign did Roger Stone speak

The word “campaign” shows up 52 times in Stone’s indictment, of which (by my count) 7 are generic references, 16 are to Hillary’s campaign or a descriptor for John Podesta, and 29 are to Trump’s campaign or associates of it. The indictment describes Stone’s discussions with people on the campaign over and over. While a number of those are to identified individuals — most notably Steve Bannon — a number of those are generic, including the following references.

During the summer of 2016, STONE spoke to senior Trump Campaign officials about Organization 1 and information it might have had that would be damaging to the Clinton Campaign. STONE was contacted by senior Trump Campaign officials to inquire about future releases by Organization 1.

[snip]

STONE also continued to communicate with members of the Trump Campaign about Organization 1 and its intended future releases.

[snip]

By in or around June and July 2016, STONE informed senior Trump Campaign officials that he had information indicating Organization 1 had documents whose release would be damaging to the Clinton Campaign.

[snip]

STONE thereafter told the Trump Campaign about potential future releases of damaging material by Organization 1.

It does so in an indictment that alleges (correctly, obviously) that one of Stone’s lies to the House Intelligence Committee that was material was whom he was speaking with on the campaign. The description of that lie cites the October 4 Bannon communication and the “supporter.” But it still leaves who else he spoke with unstated.

STONE’s False and Misleading Testimony About Communications with the Trump Campaign

35. During his HPSCI testimony, STONE was asked, “did you discuss your conversations with the intermediary with anyone involved in the Trump campaign?” STONE falsely and misleadingly answered, “I did not.” In truth and in fact, and as described above, STONE spoke to multiple individuals involved in the Trump Campaign about what he claimed to have learned from his intermediary to Organization 1, including the following:

a. On multiple occasions, STONE told senior Trump Campaign officials about materials possessed by Organization 1 and the timing of future releases.

And, of course, there’s this reference, which uses the word “directed” exactly a week after BuzzFeed got pilloried for using it about Trump.

After the July 22, 2016 release of stolen DNC emails by Organization 1, a senior Trump Campaign official was directed to contact STONE about any additional releases and what other damaging information Organization 1 had regarding the Clinton Campaign.

Mind you, this indictment had to have been approved in advance by Big Dick Toilet Salesman Matt Whitaker, and the last time he permitted prosecutors to name Individual-1 in an indictment, he got chewed out for it.

So maybe Mueller is not saying who else on the Trump campaign Stone was talking to (though we know he had frequent calls with Trump all through the campaign) to hide what else he knows. Maybe the Big Dick Toilet Salesman wouldn’t let Mueller lay this out (though I doubt that’s the case). Or maybe Mueller is just trying to avoid a second week in a row featuring headlines about what Trump “directed” his associates to do as part of the Russian conspiracy.

Corsi’s (and possibly Credico’s) role in the conspiracy

As I noted above, Mueller got aggressive with Stone to get him to flip on others. Obviously, the big prize is Trump. But there’s space for Stone to take his revenge on Jerome Corsi (and possibly even Randy Credico).

I suspect that Credico is not in any danger here. That said, he is described as a potential co-conspirator, Person 2, and did clearly discuss a conspiracy to obstruct HPSCI’s investigation. “‘Stonewall it. Plead the fifth. Anything to save the plan’ . . . Richard Nixon,” Stone wrote as he tried to persuade Credico not to testify to HPSCI.

There’s just one detail that makes me wonder if Credico was not fully truthful with Mueller. When Credico discussed Stone’s September request that he ask Assange about emails pertaining to Hillary’s efforts to undermine a Libyan peace effort with WSJ last year, he denied he had sent the request to either Assange or his lawyer Margaret Kunstler.

“Please ask Assange for any State or HRC e-mail from August 10 to August 30–particularly on August 20, 2011,” Mr. Stone wrote to Randy Credico, a New York radio personality who had interviewed Mr. Assange several weeks earlier. Mr. Stone, a longtime confidant of Donald Trump, had no formal role in his campaign at the time.

Mr. Credico initially responded to Mr. Stone that what he was requesting would be on WikiLeaks’ website if it existed, according to an email reviewed by the Journal. Mr. Stone, the emails show, replied: “Why do we assume WikiLeaks has released everything they have ???”

In another email, Mr. Credico then asked Mr. Stone to give him a “little bit of time,” saying he thought Mr. Assange might appear on his radio show the next day. A few hours later, Mr. Credico wrote: “That batch probably coming out in the next drop…I can’t ask them favors every other day .I asked one of his lawyers…they have major legal headaches riggt now..relax.”

Mr. Credico said in an interview with the Journal that he never passed the message on to Mr. Assange or his lawyers, but “got tired” of Mr. Stone “bothering” him, and so told Mr. Stone he had passed along the message.

The indictment says he in fact did forward the request to Kunstler.

On or about September 20, 2016, Person 2 forwarded the request to a friend who was an attorney with the ability to contact the head of Organization 1. Person 2 blind-copied STONE on the forwarded email.

That said, the indictment clearly remains silent about a lot of the details Mueller has incriminating Corsi in a cover-up (who, remember, prosecutors threatened to charge in a conspiracy to suborn perjury with respect to Stone’s testimony, and whose stepson Mueller locked into testimony before this indictment). The indictment includes this reference to a November discussion between Stone and Corsi.

On or about November 30, 2017, STONE asked Person 1 to write publicly about Person 2. Person 1 responded, “Are you sure you want to make something out of this now? Why not wait to see what [Person 2] does. You may be defending yourself too much—raising new questions that will fuel new inquiries. This may be a time to say less, not more.” STONE responded by telling Person 1 that Person 2 “will take the 5th—but let’s hold a day.”

But it remains silent on the report that Stone asked Corsi to write in August 2016 to establish a cover story, and it remains silent on whether Stone paid Corsi hush payments to stay silent after that.

Farage and Malloch and any other go-betweens

The indictment names Ted Malloch, though not as a co-conspirator.

On or about the same day, Person 1 forwarded STONE’s email to an associate who lived in the United Kingdom and was a supporter of the Trump Campaign.

[snip]

The body of the email read in part that Person 1’s associate in the United Kingdom “should see [the head of Organization 1].”

It doesn’t, however, put the Malloch references into context.

For example, it doesn’t reveal that — around the time someone “was directed” to get Stone to find out what WikiLeaks had — Stone and Alex Jones met with Nigel Farage at the RNC, which ultimately led to Farage joining Trump at a campaign event.

One night during the convention, Farage was introduced to Trump’s longtime adviser, the infamous political trickster, Roger Stone, at an Italian restaurant in The Flats district of Cleveland, according to both men.

Stone, who was accompanied that night by the Internet radio host and conspiracy theorist Alex Jones, said Farage’s main goal appeared to be to get a meeting with Trump.

The next day, Stone said, he tried to help by calling his former business partner, Paul Manafort – then Trump’s campaign chairman – and suggested that the Republican nominee get together with Farage. Manafort’s response was something along the lines of, “I’ll put a good word in,” Stone recalled.

Then, Stone met Ted Malloch — with Corsi — for dinner in NYC.

Asked about the nature of his relationship with Malloch, Stone said he did not know the other man well. He initially said he met Malloch three times but later said he recalled only two meetings with him.

Stone’s and Malloch’s first meeting was at a New York restaurant, Strip House, during the 2016 campaign. The two men dined with Jerome Corsi, a far-right political commentator and conspiracy theorist, Stone said.

Stone said his conversation with Malloch and Corsi at dinner was friendly but not memorable, and that they discussed “Brexit and globalism.” He added that they never discussed WikiLeaks, Assange, or Russia.

Stone, at least, is very sketchy about the timing of this, though it may actually precede when Stone asks Corsi to reach out to Malloch (indeed, might be the very reason he thought Corsi could get to Assange via Malloch).

That led to Farage’s campaign appearance with Trump on August 23.

Note, too, that the Stone indictment actually doesn’t say that Corsi is the go-between that Stone was hiding when he instead claimed Credico was his link to Assange. Indeed, of that go-between, he says he had only phone contact (though as I’ll write in a follow-up, that may have been for other reasons).

Particularly given Stone’s move to begin setting up a cover-story in August 2016, I’m not yet convinced we know who Stone’s real go-between is (and I’m still fairly certain that he and possibly Corsi had actual Podesta emails by then). He could have been working with Malloch directly. Or it could be someone else entirely.

Whoever it is, nothing in the Stone indictment tells us that for sure.

The Assange pardon

The Stone indictment is also silent about something that they have evidence — in the form of texts between Credico and Stone, surely among other things — that Stone tried to get Assange a pardon early last year.

In early January, Roger Stone, the longtime Republican operative and adviser to Donald Trump, sent a text message to an associate stating that he was actively seeking a presidential pardon for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange—and felt optimistic about his chances. “I am working with others to get JA a blanket pardon,” Stone wrote, in a January 6 exchange of text messages obtained by Mother Jones. “It’s very real and very possible. Don’t fuck it up.” Thirty-five minutes later, Stone added, “Something very big about to go down.”

The recipient of the messages was Randy Credico, a New York-based comedian and left-leaning political activist whom Stone has identified as his back channel to WikiLeaks during the 2016 campaign—a claim Credico strongly denies. During the election, Stone, a political provocateur who got his start working for Richard Nixon’s presidential campaign, made statements that suggested he had knowledge of WikiLeaks’ plans to publish emails stolen from Hillary Clinton’s campaign chairman, John Podesta, and other Democrats, and his interactions with WikiLeaks have become an intense focus of special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation into Russian election interference. As Mueller’s team zeroes in on Stone, they have examined his push for an Assange pardon—which could be seen as an attempt to interfere with the Russia probe—and have questioned at least one of Stone’s associates about the effort.

Particularly given that any pardon would have had to involve the one guy in the United States who can pardon Assange, it seems relevant to Mueller’s investigation. And yet it doesn’t show up in this indictment.

That’s something, then, that Stone could walk Mueller through as an effort to get rid of the 20-year witness tampering charge he faces.

Russia

Finally, the indictment remains mostly silent about Russia, particularly Roger Stone’s 180-turn on August 1 to claim that Russia may not have been behind the hack of the DNC. That’s all the more interesting given the way the indictment lays out the attribution to Russia made in mid-June.

On or about June 14, 2016, the DNC—through Company 1—publicly announced that it had been hacked by Russian government actors.

And then included Stone’s denial that Russia had hacked the DNC in his statement before HPSCI.

“These hearings are largely based on a yet unproven allegation that the Russian state is responsible for the hacking of the DNC and [the Clinton Campaign chairman] and the transfer of that information to [Organization 1].”

The indictment makes these two nods to attribution even as (as a number of people have observed) in their motion to seal Stone’s indictment, prosecutors deemed Stone’s indictment to be related to the GRU indictment, and his docket includes one of the DC AUSAs also on the Internet Research Agency case, Jonathan Kravis. (I’ve updated my running docket of Mueller and potentially related cases here.)

Remember, the GRU indictment describes (but doesn’t charge) Stone’s communications with Guccifer 2.0.

On or about August 15, 2016, the Conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, wrote to a person who wasin regular contact with senior members of the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump, “thank u for writing back . . . do u find anyt[h]ing interesting in the docs i posted?” On or about August 17, 2016, the Conspirators added, “please tell me if i can help u anyhow . . . it would be a great pleasure to me.” On or about September 9, 2016, the Conspirators, again posing as Guccifer 2.0, referred to a stolen DCCC document posted online and asked the person, “what do u think of the info on the turnout model for the democrats entire presidential campaign.” The person responded, “[p]retty standard.”

So prosecutors are saying that Stone’s crimes are more closely related to the actual Russian hack (which, remember, continued into September, after Stone deemed the DCCC analytics Guccifer 2.0 released to be “standard”) than they are to Flynn or Manafort or Papadopoulos or anyone else’s indictments.

Mind you, WikiLeaks appears as an unindicted co-conspirator in both the Stone and the GRU indictments, which may explain the connection.

But for some reason, Mueller thinks it important to note in Stone’s indictment that he pretended to believe Russia didn’t hack the DNC long after the hack had been attributed, without ever once mentioning that he had also spoken with the GRU persona dumping files.

Update: I’ve taken out the reference to Sam Nunberg, who says he’s not the person listed in this indictment.

Update: I’ve corrected this to reflect it was Jerome Corsi’s stepson who appeared before the grand jury Thursday. h/t AK

As I disclosed last July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

Trump’s Lawyers Raised Concerns with Mueller’s Office about Testimony They Shouldn’t Know Whether Is Phony or Not

In the day since I noted Rudy Giuliani taking credit for the Peter Carr statement Friday night, multiple outlets have confirmed that Trump’s lawyers (the reports have not specified which lawyers) contacted Mueller’s office Friday morning  about Buzzfeed’s report that Trump had directed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress. NBC describes that Trump’s team “‘raised concerns’ in a letter to Mueller’s office.” Meanwhile, CNN has a report that seems to back off WaPo’s report that “In the advanced stages of [Mueller’s discussion about the story Friday], the deputy attorney general’s office called to inquire if the special counsel planned any kind of response, and was informed a statement was being prepared.” Instead, CNN describes Rosenstein’s office getting just a “heads up,” not calling to check in if Mueller was releasing a statement. 

The statement was drafted internally within the special counsel’s office, which made the decision to release it, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the situation. The deputy attorney general’s office, which oversees the special counsel, was only given a heads up it was coming Friday evening.

Whatever happened, Friday was the first time Mueller’s office has issued a statement on a specific story and the first time Trump has offered such positive comments about Mueller’s team.

It was a total phony story, and I appreciate the special counsel coming out with a statement last night. I think it was very appropriate that they did so. I very much appreciate that.”

So even if Trump has bitched before (WSJ says they have not; NYT Maggie says they have) — this has been the only time it worked.

The thing is — Trump shouldn’t know one way or another whether Buzzfeed’s was a phony story. They should have zero idea how Michael Cohen testified (though I note, again, that Mueller has a real incentive to be very modest about how they claim Cohen has testified). Trump’s lawyers may know what Trump Organization employees testified through a joint defense agreement. But Trump’s own lawyer said yesterday that it’s possible Trump spoke to Cohen about his testimony to Congress (he’s now trying to walk that back). If Rudy doesn’t know whether Trump told Cohen to “make it happen” or not, as Buzzfeed alleges, then he can’t know whether the story is phony.

As I disclosed last July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

The SCO Statement and Why Cohen Should Not Testify Feb. 7

Marcy wrote a great post this morning titled “Peter Carr Speaks“. I agree with almost all of it, if not all of it, but feel compelled to add a couple of things.

As to what the motivation of Carr and Mueller was, it is, at this date, unclear, despite the high handed and dismissive sudden reactive reportage of Devlin Barrett, Zapotsky and Demerjian at WaPo and Ken Dilanian of NBC/MSNBC. They have shown even less sources and credibility than Buzzfeed that they now conveniently and eagerly dismiss. Maybe the Mueller statement is a tad more nuanced and unknown than that.

As to what the target of the Mueller/Carr statement was, when Marcy says:

But I suspect Carr took this step, even more, as a message to SDNY and any other Agents working tangents of this case. Because of the way Mueller is spinning off parts of this case, he has less control over some aspects of it, like Cohen’s plea. And in this specific case (again, presuming I’m right about the SDNY sourcing), Buzzfeed’s sources just jeopardized Mueller’s hard-earned reputation, built over 20 months, for not leaking. By emphasizing in his statement what happened in “the special counsel’s office,” “testimony obtained by this office,” Carr strongly suggests that the people who served as sources had nothing to do with the office.

Yes, this looks almost certain from where I stand. Wasn’t the only aim of Carr’s arrow on behalf of Mueller, but was a rather large one.

Secondly, and since many media outlets and commenters are clacking about how the proof of Trump directly telling Cohen to lie is the end all and be all as to necessity for discussion, that is just wrong.

The record before the Buzzfeed article already established, through signed and accepted court filings, that Cohen indeed lied to Congress with the express intent of supporting the lies Trump was fostering.

That is not in dispute at this point. As to whether Trump personally ordered Cohen to do so, face to face, (and there is still a decent shot of that being true, but we do not know), that is not the end of the discussion legally.

First off, if those around Trump, (think lawyers and family, if not Trump himself), discussed and encouraged Cohen to lie to Congress, that is a huge problem for Trump. Let me remind people of one of the most basic definitional provisions in the criminal code, 18 USC §2:

(a) Whoever commits an offense against the United States or aids, abets, counsels, commands, induces or procures its commission, is punishable as a principal.

(b) Whoever willfully causes an act to be done which if directly performed by him or another would be an offense against the United States, is punishable as a principal.

So,  all of the nonsense by Rudy Guliliani is simply nonsense. That is without even considering conspiracy law and implications thereof.

So, sure, the SCO hit on Buzzfeed hurt the narrative in the press. Did it really hurt the narrative legally? No, not so much.

Lastly, I would like to address the upcoming House Oversight Committee hearing Cohen is scheduled for on February 7. He was voluntarily appearing after restrictions Cummings and the Committee agreed to, purportedly, with Mueller. The ground has changed. Frankly,  I think the hearing this quickly was ill considered and premature grandstanding to start with, but now strikes me as nuts given the changed circumstances after the Buzzfeed piece, SCO brushback and Trump’s direct threats to Cohen’s extended family.

Given the aggressive nature of Trump’s followers, there is a credible threat to Cohen and his family. But, more than that, there is a threat to his credibility and usability as a witness in the future. The ranking member on the House Oversight Committee is the odious Jim Jordan. His other GOP minority members will undoubtedly fall in line to attack Cohen, especially after the vague pushback comment of Carr/Mueller last night. It is set up now as a clown show.

The hearing should either be affirmatively postponed by Cummings or withdrawn from by Cohen personally. There is nowhere near enough good that can come from Cohen’s appearance, and a lot to lose for both him and Mueller given the shitshow that the GOP members will bring to the affair. Cancel that February 7 hearing and testimony. Just do not do it.

[For the record, I originally lodged this as a comment on Marcy’s post, but for unrelated reasons, thought the points about criminal liability and conspiracy needed to be included in a separate post, and did not wish to step on hers at the time.]

Compromise: Before Trump Won His First Primary, Putin Collected His First Receipt

In this post, I noted that, while important, the Buzzfeed story on Trump’s role in Michael Cohen’s lies to Congress did not advance our understanding of  how the Trump Tower deal fits into the larger Trump conspiracy with Russia.

It doesn’t include a number of details that would be more important for understanding how the Trump Tower deal relates to other parts of Trump’s conspiracy with Russians: who (if not Trump himself or Don Jr) was the senior campaign official who knew of Cohen’s negotiations, precisely what Don Jr knew of the negotiations on June 3 when he took a meeting described to be “part of  Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” and whether the timing of Cohen’s plans for a trip to St. Petersburg — which started on June 9 and ended on June 14 — related somehow to the June 9 Trump Tower meeting and the June 14 revelation that Russians had hacked the DNC. It’d also be useful to know whether Cohen had any 2016 dealings with Ike Kaveladze, who knew of Cohen from the 2013 business dealings between Trump and the Agalarovs, and who had a curious reaction to a video of him in the wake of the June 9 meeting story breaking. Those are the details that would advance the story of how the Trump Tower deal relates to Russia’s efforts to hack the election.

But there is a piece of the Cohen statement of the offense the significance of which hasn’t gotten sufficient attention. That’s the detail that Dmitry Peskov’s personal assistant took detailed notes from a 20-minute January 20, 2016 phone call with Cohen, which led to Putin’s office contacting Felix Sater the next day.

On or about January 16, 2016, COHEN emailed [Peskov]’s office again, said he was trying to reach another high-level Russian official, and asked for someone who spoke English to contact him.

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

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

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

Cohen had lied about this, claiming that he had emailed Peskov’s public comment line just once, but gotten no response.

This language is important not just because it shows that Cohen lied.  It’s important because of what Cohen would have said to Peskov’s assistant. And it’s important because a written record of what Cohen said got handed on to Putin’s office, if not Putin himself.

BuzzFeed’s piece from May reveals that Cohen would have been in discussions with one of two banks in January 2016: VTB or GenBank.

Their surrogates in Moscow would be meeting with Putin and a “top deputy” just two days later, and they had financing: VTB Bank President and Chairman Andrey Kostin was on board to fund the project, Sater said in an email.

The bank was a dicey choice. VTB was under US sanctions at the time, with American citizens and companies forbidden to do business with it. Asked by congressional investigators if he knew the bank was blacklisted, Sater responded: “Of course. I wasn’t seeking funding, the local development partner would have. Trump Organization never gets financing from local partners.”

[snip]

New Year’s Eve 2015, he sent Cohen an image of a letter from GenBank — not VTB Bank, as they had earlier discussed — inviting the men to Moscow for a visit.

Just nine days earlier, the US Treasury Department had sanctioned GenBank for operating in Crimea after the disputed Russian takeover. GenBank became the first Russian financial institution to move into the Crimean peninsula.

Both were sanctioned. While Sater (who seems to have knowingly set this trap) dismissed the import of the sanctions, Cohen clearly knew — and left record that he knew in communications with Sater — that they were the intended funders.

A former GRU officer contact of Sater’s was key to obtaining funding from VTB.

This friend is a former member of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence unit that the US intelligence community believes interfered during the 2016 election.

[snip]

[On December 19], Sater told Cohen that their invitations and visas were being arranged by VTB Bank, and that Kostin, the bank’s powerful president and chairman, would meet Cohen in Moscow. Key to getting VTB on board was the former GRU spy; Sater told congressional and special counsel investigators that the former spy said he had a source at VTB Bank who would support the deal.

Obtaining funding from GenBank would have relied on Putin and Peskov.

Sater told Cohen that GenBank operates “through Putin’s administration and nothing gets done there without approval from the top. The meetings in Moscow will be with ministers — in US, that’s cabinet-level and with Putin’s top administration people. This likely will include Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s press secretary. To discuss goals, meeting agenda and meeting time between Putin and Trump.”

The BuzzFeed article makes it clear that Sater’s GRU contact got back involved after Cohen’s conversation with Peskov’s assistant.

All of which is to say that when Cohen called Peskov’s assistant, he would have told her that he was speaking on behalf of Donald Trump, that Trump remained interested in a Trump Tower in Moscow (as he had been in 2013, the last time Putin had dangled a personal meeting with Trump), and that on Trump’s behalf Cohen was willing to discuss making a deal involving both a sanctioned bank (whichever one it was) and a former GRU officer.

So it’s not just that Trump was pursuing a real estate deal while running for President. He was pursuing a real estate deal involving a sanctioned  bank — possibly one sanctioned for its involvement in Crimea — and involving someone with ties to the intelligence agency that was preparing to hack Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager.

Cohen told Peskov’s assistant Trump was willing to negotiate that deal while running for President. The assistant wrote all that down (how Mueller knows this is an interesting question on its own right). And then she or Peskov passed on at least the content of the notes to get Putin’s office to contact Sater.

And all that happened before Trump performed unexpectedly well in the Iowa caucuses on February 1.

Last year, I argued that — pee tape or no — the kompromat Putin has on Trump consists of a series of receipts of Trump formally communicating his willingness to enter into a conspiracy with Russia, receipts that would be devastating if Putin released them.

Trump and the Russians were engaged in a call-and-response, a call-and-response that appears in the Papadopoulos plea and (as Lawfare notes) the GRU indictment, one that ultimately did deal dirt and got at least efforts to undermine US sanctions (to say nothing of the Syria effort that Trump was implementing less than 14 hours after polls closed, an effort that has been a key part of both Jared Kushner and Mike Flynn’s claims about the Russian interactions).

At each stage of this romance with Russia, Russia got a Trump flunkie (first, Papadopoulos) or Trump himself to publicly engage in the call-and-response. All of that led up to the point where, on July 16, 2018, after Rod Rosenstein loaded Trump up with a carefully crafted indictment showing Putin that Mueller knew certain things that Trump wouldn’t fully understand, Trump came out of a meeting with Putin looking like he had been thoroughly owned and stood before the entire world and spoke from Putin’s script in defiance of what the US intelligence community has said.

People are looking in the entirely wrong place for the kompromat that Putin has on Trump, and missing all the evidence of it right in front of their faces.

Vladimir Putin obtained receipts at each stage of this romance of Trump’s willing engagement in a conspiracy with Russians for help getting elected. Putin knows what each of those receipts mean.

What Cohen’s plea deal makes clear is that Putin pocketed the first of those receipts — a receipt showing Trump’s willingness to work with both sanctioned banks and the GRU — even before the first vote was cast. Even before GRU hacked its first Democratic target (though APT 29 had been spying on the Democrats since the previous summer).

Discussing a real estate deal is not, as Trump has repeated, illegal. If that’s all this were about, Trump and Cohen might not have lied about it.

But it’s not. Even before the GRU hacked John Podesta, even before Don Jr told his June 9 visitors that his dad would consider lifting sanctions if he got elected, Michael Cohen let a key Putin deputy know that Trump would be happy to discuss real estate deals that involved both partnering with the GRU and with sanctioned banks.

And Putin has been sitting on that receipt ever since.

Update: 22-paragraphs into a 1400-word story on the latest developments in the Trump Tower Moscow story yesterday, the NYT revealed the name of the officer, without explaining why the connection is important to the larger story of a GRU-led operation targeting the US election.

One of the people Mr. Sater contacted was Evgeny Shmykov, a former general in Russian military intelligence who once worked with anti-Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. Mr. Sater appears to have seen Mr. Shmykov as a conduit to get Russian government approval for the Trump project.

According to emails reviewed by The Times, Mr. Sater sent an urgent message to Mr. Cohen in late 2015 saying that Mr. Shmykov was on the phone and he needed passport information for Mr. Cohen and Mr. Trump so they could receive visas.

As I disclosed in July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

William Barr’s Asymmetric Confusion about Shitty Mueller Reporting

It turns out that once and future Attorney General William Barr has been better able to wade past shitty reporting on the outcome of the Mueller investigation than he has shitty reporting on the public evidence about what Mueller has found.

In two of my posts on Barr’s memo about the Mueller investigation (one, two), I note that Barr’s project consists of writing up 19 pages on a subject that start with an admission he knows nothing about the subject.

Barr also adopts the logically and ethically problematic stance of assuming, in a memo that states, “I realize I am in the dark about many facts” in the second sentence, that he knows what Mueller is up to, repeating over and over claims about what theory of obstruction he knows Mueller is pursuing.

Both in his prepared statement yesterday and in his testimony, he excused his memo by blaming his badly mistaken understanding of what Mueller was doing on media reports.

[M]y memo was narrow in scope, explaining my thinking on a specific obstruction-of-justice theory under a single statute that I thought, based on media reports, the Special Counsel might be considering.

He’s not wrong! I have long bitched about shitty Mueller reporting that suggested Mueller was primarily investigating whether Trump obstructed justice. Such problems persist even in recent reports that the counterintelligence focus on Trump was any different from the obstruction inquiry.

The investigation the F.B.I. opened into Mr. Trump also had a criminal aspect, which has long been publicly known: whether his firing of Mr. Comey constituted obstruction of justice.

That has, in turn, led to claims that the counterintelligence concerns stemmed exclusively from the firing of Jim Comey and not a slew of other behaviors going back some time before that.

So Barr might be excused for totally misunderstanding what the public evidence from the Mueller investigation actually showed (though not his willingness to comment without first learning what the evidence actually was), because most mainstream media reports badly misreported the public record.

Curiously, Barr didn’t get snookered by the other topic that is consistently badly reported (and badly reportedly, most likely, for the same reason — because Trump’s team has seeded that shitty reporting): whether and how Mueller will issue a report. A great deal of yesterday’s testimony pertained to whether Barr will release “the Mueller report.” Barr promised, in his his prepared testimony and later, to release as much of the results of the investigation as he could.

I also believe it is very important that the public and Congress be informed of the results of the Special Counsel’s work. For that reason, my goal will be to provide as much transparency as I can consistent with the law.

But both Democratic and Republican Senators were concerned by that (which is itself a testament to wildly divergent understandings of what Mueller is looking at), with John Kennedy going so far as suggesting Barr should release all the grand jury materials and Dianne Feinstein conditioning her vote on whether Barr commits to make Mueller’s report public.

In fact, Barr did two things. First, he said he’d speak to Rod Rosenstein and Mueller to understand what their current plans for a report were. But he also repeatedly cited the regulations to argue that Mueller’s report is — by regulation — confidential.

For shits and giggles and because I knew what response I’d get, I asked Mueller’s spokesperson Peter Carr what form their report will take today. I wasn’t disappointed. His response was to attach their governing regulations and call attention to the language that describes the mandated Special Counsel Report.

Thanks for reaching out. All I can point you to is the regulations that govern our office, which are attached. Section 600.8 states the following:

(c) Closing documentation. At the conclusion of the Special Counsel’s work, he or she shall provide the Attorney General with a confidential report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions reached by the Special Counsel. [my emphasis]

That is, if you ask Mueller — or the closest thing we get, his spokesperson — he will answer precisely what Barr did: that his mandated report is simply a confidential prosecutions and declinations report.

That shouldn’t be surprising, either. Mueller continues to use pseudonyms for identities of people in his filings — like Donald Trump himself — that are readily identifiable, based on the principle that DOJ doesn’t refer to uncharged individuals. It’s a principle that explains part of why Mueller submitted yesterday’s Manafort filing in heavily redacted form.

[T]he redactions relate to ongoing law enforcement investigations or uncharged individuals, and public disclosure of certain information in the submission could unduly risk harming those efforts.

In other words, virtually all of the coverage of the “Mueller report” has promised it will be something other than we had reason to believe — short of an indictment request overridden by the Attorney General — that it would be.

By the same token, there’s abundant reason to believe that that’s not what the “Mueller report” will be.

Yesterday, the same day questions about a Mueller report were central to Barr’s confirmation hearing, the WSJ reported this entirely unsurprising detail about Michael Cohen’s testimony before the Oversight Committee on February 7.

Mr. Cohen, who is scheduled to speak in an open hearing on Capitol Hill for the first time Feb. 7, won’t be able to talk about topics that he has discussed with special counsel Robert Mueller, according to a person close to Mr. Cohen.

The indication that Cohen’s testimony will be sharply limited (presumably based on the intercession of Mueller’s congressional liaison, Stephen Kelly, about whom we’re likely to hear more in coming days) suggests several things: First, Mueller doesn’t expect to be done with Michael Cohen by February 7. That, in turn, suggests that all the claims — which I’ve heard too — that Mueller will soon issue a “report” likely misunderstand what form that report will take, because a one-time report covering the importance of Trump Tower deals to entice Trump’s family would present little reason to silence Cohen next month, particularly because he’d be free to talk about it anyway. But if something more public — such as an indictment, even if it’s just of Trump Organization — or if a non-public report that can be conveyed to the House Judiciary Committee is in the works, then you’d want to silence Cohen. Indeed, contrary to a lot of other bad reporting, Cohen remains on the hook in his cooperation with Mueller; he won’t get a reduction in sentence until they decide he has done enough to get a year lopped off his existing sentence.

That many reporters are being told by reliable sources that Mueller will soon unveil a “report” and that Mueller still officially maintains that their required report won’t be public suggests Mueller is moving towards yet another speaking indictment, which is how he has always reported. That’s consistent with the limits on Cohen’s report, it’s consistent with reports that Mueller is presenting evidence against Jerome Corsi to a grand jury, and it’s consistent with what we saw in yesterday’s Manafort filing (which presented evidence of Trump campaign crimes dating to 2016).

I have my concerns about Barr, especially his willingness to make policy decisions informed only by right wing propaganda (on which point he was worse on his testimony about immigration and criminal justice issues than on Mueller). Those concerns extend to what will happen if Barr gets to decide what parts of a Mueller report gets made public; it’s clear that Barr currently believes that Mueller will issue a report finding that Trump did nothing criminal. Those concerns are heightened by the fact that on virtually every other topic, Barr had not done enough homework to answer basic questions (the most remarkable instance of which was his confession that he hasn’t read the Supreme Court’s decision in Carpenter), but he was prepared to state, correctly, that Mueller’s report will be confidential, addressed solely to him.

I have other concerns. Once CSPAN fixes their transcript, I hope to show how badly hypocritical Barr is about both Matt Whitaker and Donald Trump’s sleazy influence peddling. His comments about recusal from the Mueller investigation were troubling. And he seems to believe — as he explained to Patrick Leahy near the end of the hearing — that in November 2017 there remained, after DOJ had investigated both and after Mueller had rolled out the George Papadopoulos plea deal showing him trying to hide that he was discussing emails and meetings with Putin in the days after he became a foreign policy advisor to Trump, more evidence to support an investigation of the Uranium One and Clinton Foundation allegations than into “collusion.”

But Barr also strongly suggested he would not step in the way of any Mueller indictments. And Senators did get him on the record agreeing that if Trump suborned perjury it would be criminal. And he respects Mueller, so if Mueller shows him evidence that Trump has been gravely compromised, then he should take that evidence seriously.

Barr appears to be an arrogant man who believes right wing propaganda is sufficient evidence to base policy decisions on.

But he also has a better idea of what the regulations say to expect from a Mueller report — as distinct from Mueller indictments — than the Senators questioning him did.

Update: This useful JustSecurity piece lays out the regulations and the Attorney General’s discretion.

As I disclosed July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

William Barr Falsely Denies His Mueller Memo Makes the Case for Impeachment

William Barr has released his opening statement for his confirmation hearing tomorrow. While it surely is tailored to address the biggest concerns about his nomination, there’s a lot to like about it.

He suggests he’s not as big of a hawk on criminal justice as he used to be. He emphasizes the need to protect the right to vote. He seems to suggest a concern about rising hate crimes.

And — as most outlets have focused on — he affirms the importance of Robert Mueller finishing his work and being able to publish his findings.

First, I believe it is vitally important that the Special Counsel be allowed to complete his investigation. I have known Bob Mueller personally and professionally for 30 years. We worked closely together throughout my previous tenure at the Department of Justice under President Bush. We’ve been friends since. I have the utmost respect for Bob and his distinguished record of public service. When he was named special counsel, I said that his selection was “good news” and that, knowing him, I had confidence he would handle the matter properly. I still have that confidence today.

Given his public actions to date, I expect that the Special Counsel is well along in his investigation. At the same time, the President has been steadfast that he was not involved in any collusion with Russian interference in the election. I believe it is in the best interest of everyone – the President, Congress, and, most importantly, the American people – that this matter be resolved by allowing the Special Counsel to complete his work. The country needs a credible resolution of these issues. If confirmed, I will not permit partisan politics, personal interests, or any other improper consideration to interfere with this or any other investigation. I will follow the Special Counsel regulations scrupulously and in good faith, and on my watch, Bob will be allowed to complete his work.

Second, I also believe it is very important that the public and Congress be informed of the results of the Special Counsel’s work. For that reason, my goal will be to provide as much transparency as I can consistent with the law. I can assure you that, where judgments are to be made by me, I will make those judgments based solely on the law and will let no personal, political, or other improper interests influence my decision.

I’m most interested, however, in the way that Barr addresses the memo on the Mueller investigation he wrote last year. In comments also surely designed to reassure Democrats, Barr claims that the memo only addressed one theory of obstruction.

I would like to briefly address the memorandum that I wrote last June. I wrote the memo as a former Attorney General who has often weighed in on legal issues of public importance, and I distributed it broadly so that other lawyers would have the benefit of my views. As I explained in a recent letter to Ranking Member Feinstein, my memo was narrow in scope, explaining my thinking on a specific obstruction-of-justice theory under a single statute that I thought, based on media reports, the Special Counsel might be considering. The memo did not address – or in any way question – the Special Counsel’s core investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Nor did it address other potential obstruction-of-justice theories or argue, as some have erroneously suggested, that a President can never obstruct justice. I wrote it myself, on my own initiative, without assistance, and based solely on public information.

The claim that that’s what he addressed — which I correctly unpacked here — is important because, as Jack Goldsmith has since laid out, Barr’s views on that theory of obstruction fit solidly within OLC precedent.

Yet Barr makes a false claim in that paragraph: that his memo “did [not] address other potential obstruction-of-justice theories.” Indeed, before he finishes his first page, he addresses another potential obstruction-of-justice theory:

Obviously, the President and any other official can commit obstruction in this classic sense of sabotaging a proceeding’s truth-finding function. Thus, for example, if a President knowingly destroys or alters evidence, suborns perjury, or induces a witness to change testimony, or commits any act deliberately impairing the integrity or availability of evidence, then he, like anyone else, commits the crime of obstruction. Indeed, the acts of obstruction alleged against Presidents Nixon and Clinton in their respective impeachments were all such “bad acts” involving the impairment of evidence. Enforcing these laws against the President in no way infringes on the President’s plenary power over law enforcement because exercising this discretion — such as his complete authority to start or stop a law enforcement proceeding — does not involve commission of any of these inherently wrongful subversive acts.

It’s right there, on the bottom of his first page, another potential obstruction of justice theory.

As if his reference to Nixon and Clinton didn’t already make it clear, the rest of his memo describes that the proper remedy when the President engages in such crimes is impeachment.

And, as I have laid out, the public evidence (even before recent disclosures about how the FBI worried that Trump was literally taking orders from Russian when he fired Comey) provides strong circumstantial evidence that Trump attempted to impair the integrity and availability of evidence to the FBI, possibly including suborning perjury from Mike Flynn.

While Barr doesn’t presume to dictate whether Congress must judge such behavior adequate to sustain impeachment, he certainly sees it as an adequate basis for impeachment.

Which is why I find his statement troubling. He’s not only placating Democrats with this statement (and opposing any possibility that the President can be charged for criminal acts). He’s also backing off the clear implication of his memo, that if Trump engaged in witness tampering, it would be improper.

All that’s separate from the wisdom and ethics of writing 19 pages, as he did, on a theory based off a really skewed understanding of the evidence, or accepting a job after having done so in the scope of job considerations.

To be sure, if Barr really intends to let Mueller finish and ensure the right to vote, he may be the best Attorney General candidate we’re likely to get from Trump. But he still needs to be asked whether he backs the implications of his memo, which actually back impeachment.

Update: This is fairly batshit. In a letter to Lindsey Graham dated yesterday — the same day Barr released opening statements that say “Nor did [his memo] address other potential obstruction-of-justice theories,” he said that his entire memo was a different theory of obstruction of justice.

The principal conclusion of my memo is that the actions prohibited by section 1512(c) are, generally speaking, the hiding, withholding, destroying, or altering of evidence – in other words, acts that impair the availability or integrity of evidence in a proceeding. The memorandum did not suggest that a President can never obstruct justice. Quite the contrary, it expressed my belief that a President, just like anyone else, can obstruct justice if he or she engages in wrongful actions that impair the availability of evidence. Nor did the memorandum claim, as some have incorrectly suggested, that a President can never obstruct justice whenever he or she is exercising a constitutional function. If a President, acting with the requisite intent, engages in the kind of evidence impairment the statute prohibits – regardless whether it involves the exercise of his or her constitutional powers or not – then a President commits obstruction of justice under the statute. It is as simple as that.

As I disclosed last July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

Trump’s “Official Acts” to Pay Off a Russian Bribe Should Make Impeachment a Legal Issue, Not Just a Political One

The pearl clutchers screamed about Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib saying that we need to impeach the motherfucker, Donald Trump, demeaning the presidency.* While I’m glad that she has refused to back down from her beliefs in the face of the attacks, I think her more substantial argument about impeachment deserves further attention (which I hope to return to in a later post). More important, I think that the response to Tlaib’s comments has resulted in members of both parties retreating to a debate about Trump’s impeachment using the old formulation that it’s a political, not a legal question.

It is true that impeachment is political question insofar as, so long as there’s the political will, a president can be impeached for anything, even lying about a consensual blowjob immaterial to an investigation into financial scandal. But impeachment is also a legal question. Indeed, the Constitution mandates that the President be removed from office if he is impeached and convicted not just for the unenumerated grab bag of “high crimes and misdemeanors” — where Congress exercises the political will to decide whether a blowjob merits impeachment — but also the enumerated crimes of treason and bribery.

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

In spite of Emmet Sullivan’s question — as one of the only people who has read sealed documents laying out what Trump’s transition team did — about whether Mueller’s investigators considered charging Mike Flynn with treason, there’s no chance that Trump will be named in a treason charge.

But there is very good chance he will be named in a conspiracy involving a quid pro quo trading dirt and real estate deals for sanctions relief and other policy considerations.

The other day, I realized something ironic: in precisely the same period Trump was entering in an apparent quid pro quo with Russians, John Roberts was authoring a unanimous Supreme Court decision that clarified the limits of quid pro quo bribery.

And while the Supreme Court believed that Governor Bob McDonnell had not accepted bribes for setting up meetings in exchange for gifts, the language Roberts wrote in the weeks after Trump’s son told some Russians they would revisit Magnitsky sanctions if his father won does not so narrow the definition of bribery as to make Trump’s actions legally excusable.

Roberts described an official act this way:

In sum, an “official act” is a decision or action on a “question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy.” The “question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy” must involve a formal exercise of governmental power that is similar in nature to a lawsuit before a court, a determination before an agency, or a hearing before a committee. It must also be something specific and focused that is “pending” or “may by law be brought” before a public official. To qualify as an “official act,” the public official must make a decision or take an action on that “question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy,” or agree to do so.

Notably, the bribed public official doesn’t actually have to follow through on the official act he agreed to take, so it doesn’t help Trump that Congress has repeatedly prevented him from overturning sanctions on Russia.

Under this Court’s precedents, a public official is not required to actually make a decision or take an action on a “question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy”; it is enough that the official agree to do so.

And there are a number of data points in the public record that suggest Trump did believe he had made a deal with the Russians and that Russia had what it believed was a commitment from Trump. For example, four of the people who attended the June 9 meeting testified (most under oath) that Don Jr said his father would revisit sanctions relief if he got elected.

Natalia Veselnitskaya said Don Jr said they’d revisit the topic.

Mr. Trump, Jr. politely wound up the meeting with meaningless phrases about somewhat as follows: can do nothing about it, “if’ or “when” we come to power, we may return to this strange and confusing story.

Ike Kaveladze said that Don Jr said they might revisit the issue if his father won.

There was no request, but as I said, it was a suggestion that if Trump campaign wins, they might get back to the Magnitsky Act topic in the future.

Rinat Akhmetshin said that Don Jr said they would revisit Magnitsky when they won.

A. I don’t remember exact words which were said, but I remember at the end, Donald, Jr., said, you know, “Come back see us again when we win.” Not “if we win,” but “when we win.” And I kind of thought to myself like, “Yeah, right.” But it happened, so — but that’s something, see, he’s very kind of positive about, “When we win, come back and see us again.” Something to that effect, I guess.

Anatoli Samochornov, Veselnitskaya’s translator, who is the most independent witness and the only one who didn’t compare his story with others, said that Don Jr said they would revisit the issue if Trump won.

A. Like I described, I remember, not verbatim, the closing that Mr. Donald Trump, Jr., provided, but that’s all that I recall being said from the other side.

MR. PRIVOR: That closing being that Donald Trump, Jr., suggested —

MR. SAMOCHORNOV: If or when yes, and I do not remember if or when, but if or when my father becomes President, we will revisit this issue.

And Ike Kaveladze, in the call back to his boss to report on the meeting that witnesses observed, was happy with the outcome of the meeting.

It’s not just the Russians who seem to have acted on the meeting. Michael Cohen’s allocution seems to suggest that the meeting tied directly to the negotiations over a Trump Tower, because he took steps to travel to Russian on the day of the meeting.

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

Remember: a “senior campaign official” was involved in discussions about trips to Russia. And had the President’s personal lawyer actually taken this trip to St. Petersburg, the plan was to meet Vladimir Putin (who did attend the forum that year).

While the dates provided in Cohen’s allocution also suggest the disclosure that Russia hacked the DNC halted Cohen’s plans “at that time,” we know that the plans did resume after that canceled trip into July.

The Russians certainly believed they had an agreement. They put in some effort to meet again after Trump won. While finding an appropriate communication channel failed for the Agalarovs, Flynn and Jared Kushner moved to establish a back channel via Sergey Kislyak. When Trump met with Preet Bharara and reportedly agreed to keep him on, Veselnitskaya panicked, and suggested Trump planned to keep him on so he could take him out.

In its indictment of Veselnitskaya, DOJ just established that she was actually working as part of the Russian government when she claimed to have fought to get an MLAT request in her Prevezon case. And Veselnitskaya believed that after Trump won the election, he would take out the prosecutor whom she was facing in court. Ultimately, Trump did take out Preet, firing all his US Attorneys in an effort to do so.

And details from Mike Flynn’s allocution provide one important piece of evidence that Russians believed they had received a commitment from Trump.

After Obama imposed sanctions on Russia partly in retaliation for the election year operation, Trump’s team panicked, both because they wanted to improve relations with Russia, but also because Russia’s role in his victory delegitimized the victory. That is, even those unlikely to be unaware of any quid pro quo recognized that the public accounting of Russia’s role in helping defeat Hillary would make it all the more difficult to deal with Russia.

Obama is doing three things politically:

  • discrediting Trump’s victory by saying it was due to Russian interference
  • lure trump into trap of saying something today that casts doubt on report on Russia’s culpability and then next week release report that catches Russia red handed
  • box trump in diplomatically with Russia. If there is a tit-for-tat escalation trump will have difficulty improving relations with Russia which has just thrown USA election to him.

Trump’s response, however, was to reach out to Russia and assure them they didn’t need to worry about Obama’s new policy. In response, the Russians made it very clear that Putin had decided not to respond based on the assurances that Flynn gave Kislyak.

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.

Mueller, of course, has the full transcript of what Flynn said to Kislyak that successfully placated Putin. It is highly likely the transcript provides explicit evidence of an official act to pay off his side of the deal, sanctions relief.

All of which is to say that Mueller may well be finalizing a conspiracy indictment of Don Jr and Trump Org laying out a quid pro quo in which Trump agreed to provide sanctions relief (and some other stuff) in exchange for Russia’s help winning the election.

That Mueller might be able to show all this is bribery may not affect Republican willingness to take the action laid out in the Constitution, to convict Trump in an impeachment inquiry. But given that the Constitution specifically envisions impeaching a President who has accepted a bribe, commentators should stop treating impeachment exclusively as a political issue.

Update: I posted this before I had read this analysis from Jack Goldsmith raising concerns about investigating the President for foreign policy decisions. While I think Goldsmith raises key points, he focuses on actions Trump took as President. But that’s one reason I think the transition activities are so important. If I’m right that the calls to Kislyak amount to an official act, then Trump took it to undermine the official policy of the government, not set it as President. Further, The Trump team had been asked — and at least one person had agreed — to not undermine Obama’s policies during the transition. There were several efforts to hide that they were doing so: the indications they couldn’t reengage on Magnitsky sanctions using the same channels as they used during the election, the request for a back channel, and the meeting with Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan that Susan Rice discovered by unmasking the identities of those who met with him.

The actions Trump took that led to Flynn and Comey’s firings were part of an effort to hide these clandestine efforts during the transition. Yes, they were conducted while he was President. But they were conducted to cover up actions taken before he became President. This is why I keep harping on the remarkable lack of curiosity about why Trump really fired Flynn. The public story Trump is telling is assuredly false. The real reason almost certainly ties back to these transition period actions.

As I disclosed in July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I’m going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post. 

*Full disclosure: I donated to Tlaib’s campaign.

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