Why It Mattered (and Still Matters) that Flynn Continued to Hide His True Relationship with Turkey

The guy who managed the first steps of the process that led to Trump announcing a withdrawal of troops from Syria yesterday was hiding secret ties to both Russia and Turkey when that process started. That’s one of the reasons why it matters that Mike Flynn lied about his relationship with Turkey for so long. It means that both Russia and Turkey have always known Flynn and Trump were vulnerable because they were hiding lies about their ties with those countries.

In this post, I noted that while the work Flynn did as an unregistered foreign agent for Turkey reportedly ended not long after election day (though WSJ reported that he and his spawn met with representatives of Turkey in mid-December to speak further about Fethullah Gulen), that relationship with Turkey would remain unregistered — that is, Flynn would continue to lie about the true nature of it — all the way through his guilty plea on December 1, 2017. For some reason, virtually everyone reporting on Flynn is getting this wrong, claiming that his March 7, 2017 registration — the one he has pled guilty to lying on — constitutes full disclosure about his ties to Turkey. It did not, because it hid that he was working, knowingly, for Turkey.

That’s important because, as I described in a post on what the redactions in the published version of the 302 (“302” is what the FBI calls their interview reports) memorializing Flynn’s January 24, 2017 interview with the FBI hide, he explained away the conversations by claiming that he and Sergei Kislyak discussed the Trump Administration’s plans on working with Russia and Turkey.

The redactions in Flynn’s 302 included two passages on Flynn’s December 29, 2016 phone calls with Ambassador Kislyak. In the first, Flynn offered up that he and Kislyak had discussed two things: a phone call with Vladimir Putin that would take place on January 28, and whether the US would send an observer to Syrian peace talks Turkey and Russia were holding in Kazakhstan the next month.

Later in Flynn’s FBI interview, as Agents were quoting bits of the transcript back to Flynn, he again denied he and Kislyak had discussed expulsions of Russia’s diplomats. He appears to have, again, claimed they talked about sending representatives to Astana.

For some reason, the government considers the specific description Flynn used with the FBI to remain too sensitive to publicly release, either because they don’t want co-conspirators to know precisely what Flynn said, and/or they don’t want the Russians and Turks to know.

The claim that those Kislyak phone calls discussed a later call with Putin and the Astana conference is the same one the Transition would offer to the WaPo the day after David Ignatius made clear that the FBI had recordings of the call. Mueller’s reply to Flynn’s sentencing memo describes that Flynn asked a subordinate to feed this information to the WaPo.

The defendant asked a subordinate member of the Presidential Transition Team to contact the Post on the morning of January 13 and convey false information about the defendant’s communications with the Russian ambassador. The “UPDATE” included at the end of the Post story later reported that two members of the Presidential Transition Team stated that the defendant “didn’t cover” sanctions in his conversation with the Russian ambassador.

As Mueller laid out, after Flynn told this cover story about his calls publicly, he continued to double down on it, such that by the time the FBI came to his office on January 24, he had to stick to that story.

Over the next two weeks, the defendant repeated the same false statements to multiple members of the Presidential Transition Team, including Vice President-Elect Michael Pence, incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, and incoming White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer. Those officials then repeated the defendant’s false statements on national television. See, e.g., Face the Nation transcript January 15, 2017: Pence, Manchin, Gingrich, CBS NEWS (Jan. 15, 2017) (Vice President Pence recounting that defendant told him he did not discuss sanctions with the Russian ambassador); Meet The Press 01/15/17, NBC NEWS (Jan. 15, 2017) (Priebus recounting that he had talked to the defendant and “[t]he subject matter of Case 1:17-cr-00232-EGS Document 56 Filed 12/14/18 Page 2 of 7 -3- sanctions or the actions taken by the Obama [sic] did not come up in the conversation [with the Russian ambassador.]”); White House Briefing by Sean Spicer – Full Transcript, Jan. 23, 2017, CBS NEWS (Jan. 24, 2017) (Spicer recounting that he had spoken with the defendant the day before, who again stated that he (the defendant) had not spoken to the Russian ambassador about the sanctions). Thus, by the time of the FBI interview, the defendant was committed to his false story.

Flynn’s lies to cover the discussion about sanctions and expulsions were not entirely invented; he’s a better liar than that. The Transition really was struggling over its decision of whether to join in a Syrian peace plan that would follow Russia (and Turkey’s lead) rather than the path the Obama Administration had pursued in the previous year. As he noted to the FBI, the Trump Administration had only decided not to send a senior delegation to Astana earlier that week. It was announced on January 21.

These lies compromised Flynn in two ways. As Sally Yates noted when she described the problem with Flynn’s lies to Don McGahn two days after his interview, because Flynn was saying something publicly that Russia knew to be false, Russia could hold that over him (and the Administration).

But by staking his lies on the Astana conference — and the Trump Administration’s willingness to join a Syrian effort that deviated from existing US policy — Flynn also raised the stakes of his past paid relationship with Turkey. It became far more damaging that Flynn had still been on the Turkish government payroll through the early transition, when Trump directed him to conduct early outreach on Syria. So even while DOJ was repeatedly telling Flynn he had to come clean on his Turkish lobbying ties, he lied about that, thereby hiding that the early days of Trump Administration outreach had been conducted by a guy still working for Turkey.

Since that time, both Flynn and Trump were stuck, because they had told lies to the US government that Russia and Turkey knew were lies.

Indeed, Trump may have started telling his own lies right away. Three days after Flynn’s FBI interview, in a conversation with Jim Comey after he had already learned of Sally Yates’ conversation with Don McGahn telling him of DOJ’s concerns about the FBI interview, Trump offered what was probably a bullshit cover story about Flynn’s communications with Russia, possibly bullshit invented to hide what Trump knew about ongoing discussions with Russia. [Here’s version of this story fed to the NYT.]

He then want on to explain that he has serious reservations about Mike Flynn’s judgment and illustrated with a story from that day in which the President apparently discovered during his toast to Teresa May that [Vladimir Putin] had called four days ago. Apparently, as the President was toasting PM May, he was explaining that she ad been the first to call him after his inauguration and Flynn interrupted to say that [Putin] had called (first, apparently). It was then that the President learned of [Putin’s] call and he confronted Flynn about it (not clear whether that was in the moment of after the lunch with PM May). Flynn said the return call was scheduled for Saturday, which prompted a heated reply from the President that six days was not an appropriate period of time to return a call from the [president] of a country like [Russia].

Since his first days as President, Trump (and Mike Flynn, until he pled guilty) has been trying to hide the true substance of the relationship he had with both Russia and Turkey.

As it happens, it appears that Turkey was the country that ultimately exploited that leverage. While Trump did little more than greet Putin at the G20 in Argentina as more details of his negotiations with Russia over a Trump Tower have become clear, he did meet with Recep Tayyip Erdogan. And he spoke with Erdogan by phone yesterday last Friday before he unexpectedly announced that American troops were withdrawing from Syria.

In the wake of yesterday’s decision, Nancy Pelosi (who as a Gang of Eight member, may know non-public information about all this) tied Trump’s announcement to the Flynn sentencing hearing and his work for Turkey; she suggested Trump had made the decision to serve his own personal or political objectives.

It is premature for the President to declare a sweeping victory against ISIS when, just a few weeks ago, our military led more than 250 coalition-conducted airstrikes against targets in Iraq and Syria. All Americans should be concerned that this hasty announcement was made on the day after sentencing in criminal proceedings began against the President’s former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, who admitted that he was a registered foreign agent for a country with clear interests in the Syrian conflict.

[snip]

“When we take the gavel, our Democratic Majority will uphold the Congress’ constitutional oversight responsibilities to ensure that the President’s decisions advance our national security interests, not his personal or political objectives.

I don’t know whether Pelosi is correct (and I actually hope that we do get out of Syria, though perhaps congressional oversight can force Trump to do this in a way that doesn’t result in genocide for our longtime Kurdish allies).

But I know that when Trump ordered a guy who was still on Turkey’s payroll to initiate the negotiations that resulted in yesterday’s announcement, then tried to sustain lies those negotiations, he effectively ceded a lot of control over how negotiations would proceed to the countries that shared his and Flynn’s secrets.

And, of course, Trump’s Treasury Department also announced yesterday that it was reversing sanctions on Oleg Deripaska’s company (though not Deripaska himself, and restrictions on his ownership are quite significant).

Update: Corrected date of call with Erdogan. See this story for significance of that call.

Timeline

November 8, 2016: “Flynn’s” Fethullah Gulen op-ed

November 18: Elijah Cummings writes Mike Pence with concerns about conflicts in Flynn’s lobbying business

November 30: NSD contacts Flynn about registering under FARA

December 1: Flynn ends contract with Inovo

Mid-December: Reported meeting at 21 Club in NYC to discuss rendering Fethullah Gulen

December 29: Flynn discusses attending Syrian peace talks hosted by Turkey and Russia with Sergei Kislyak

January 10: Flynn asks Susan Rice to hold off on assault on Raqqa

January 11, 2017: Flynn tells DOJ he’ll “probably” be registering under FARA

January 12: David Ignatius column makes it clear FBI had intercepted Sergei Kislyak conversation discussing peace process

January 13: Based in part on White House cover story for Flynn-Kislyak call, WaPo reports discussions about participation in Astana conference

After inauguration: Flynn tells Trump Administration he will definitely register

January 21: State Department announces US Ambassador to Kazakhstan, not Flynn, will attend Russian-Turkish peace talks

January 23: Astana conference starts

January 24: Flynn interviews with FBI, and explains away the December 29 call, in part, by saying they discussed an observer to Astana

January 27: Trump tells Comey he questions Flynn’s judgment because he took six days to return a call to Vladimir Putin (he references a Putin call, the first call of congratulations from a foreign leader, but it’s not clear whether it came on January 22, 23, or 24)

January 28: Conference call with Vladimir Putin allegedly discussed on December 29

March 7: Flynn submits FARA filing that still hides true relationship with government of Turkey

December 1: Flynn pleads guilty, in part, to lying in that FARA filing

December 18, 2018: Flynn sentencing hearing

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. 

Rob Kelner–the Guy Who Signed Mike Flynn’s FARA Filings–Continued to Be Insubordinate in Yesterday’s Hearing

Most of the attention in yesterday’s Mike Flynn sentencing hearing has focused on Judge Emmet Sullivan’s invocation of treason, which I addressed at length here. But — particularly since I have belatedly realized that Rob Kelner is one of the lawyers referred to in the Bijan Kian indictment who filed a FARA registration that, because of lies attributed to Flynn and Ekim Alptekin, ended up being a false statement, I want to look at two bullshit answers Kelner offered yesterday about his little ploy of introducing language on Peter Strzok and Andrew McCabe in Flynn’s sentencing memo.

Taking the second one first, Sullivan asked Kelner to explain why he chose to cite Peter Strzok’s August 22, 2017 302, which had some language about what a successful liar Flynn can be, and not Flynn’s own utterly damning January 24, 2017 302. This was a question directing counsel to explain why he tried to pull a fast one over on the judge. Any responsive answer would have to address that January 24 302 (and wouldn’t need to address the McCabe memo, at all).

But instead of answering that question, Kelner instead tried to use it to attack the Mueller team.

THE COURT: The other puzzling question I have is this: Can you explain for the record why Mr. Flynn was interviewed by the FBI on January the 24th but the 302 cited in his sentencing memorandum is dated August the 22nd, 2017? There’s no reference, and the January 24th is not highlighted at all.

MR. KELNER: Yes, Your Honor. Thank you for the opportunity to address that. I think there’s been some public confusion about that. The original draft of our brief cited specifically to the FD-302 for the interview of Special Agent Strozk and cited it specifically to the McCabe memorandum, and actually originally we intended to include those documents with the filing. Prior to the filing, we shared a draft copy of our brief with the Special Counsel’s Office really for two purposes: One was to make sure that we weren’t including anything covered by the protective order, which they objected to our including, which would, perhaps, have to be redacted or filed under seal; and the other reason, frankly, was generally to understand what their reaction might be to particular points in the filing. After that, the Special Counsel’s Office discussed it with us and asked that we consider removing the Strozk 302, and the McCabe memorandum from the brief and to simply cite to them. Given our position as cooperating in the investigation, we acceded to that. We then sent them a draft of the footnotes that we would use to cite to the relevant documents, and originally those footnotes, as drafted by us, named the McCabe memorandum specifically and named the Strozk 302 specifically so that it would be clear to the reader which documents we were talking about. The Special Counsel’s Office requested that we change those citations to simply reference the memorandum and date and the FD-302 and date without the names. We acceded to that request, and I would add would not have acceded to it if in any way we felt it was misleading, but we respected the preferences of the Special Counsel’s Office.

THE COURT: All right. Any objection to what counsel said? Anything that you wish to add to that?

MR. VAN GRACK: Judge, just one point of clarification.

THE COURT: Sure.

MR. VAN GRACK: Which is what we’ve represented to defense counsel in terms of what to and not to include, what we indicated was anything in the Strozk 302 and the McCabe memorandum that they thought was relevant can and should be included in their submissions. What we asked was that they not attach the documents because, as the Court is aware, there are other considerations in the material there that we wanted to be sensitive to.

Look closely: Kelner never actually answers Sullivan’s question, at all. Instead, he blames the decisions surrounding how those materials were cited in Flynn’s memo (which was not Sullivan’s question) on Mueller’s office.

Mueller’s team probably withheld the filings because there are legal proceedings involving both McCabe and Strzok. You can argue that those legal proceedings served as an excuse to hide embarrassing information and you might even be right. But that doesn’t give you permission to just blow off a legitimate question from the judge.

The second one is, given Kelner’s tenure of representation for Flynn, even more egregious.

Sullivan unsurprisingly expressed difficulty squaring the suggestion that there were extenuating circumstances to Flynn’s brazen lies in his FBI interview with Flynn’s claim that he was accepting responsibility for his actions. So the judge asked Kelner why he included them.

THE COURT: The references that I’ve mentioned that appear in your sentencing memorandum raise some concerns on the part of the Court. And my question is, how is raising those contentions about the circumstances under which Mr. Flynn lied consistent with acceptance of responsibility?

MR. KELNER: Your Honor, the principle reason we raised those points in the brief was to attempt to distinguish the two cases in which the Special Counsel’s investigation has resulted in incarceration, the Papadopoulos and Van der Zwaan cases in which the Special Counsel had pointed out as aggravating factors the fact that those defendants had been warned and the fact that those defendants did have counsel and lied anyway, and we felt it was important to identify for the Court that those aggravating circumstances do not exist in this case relevant to sentencing.

Kelner — the guy who signed a FARA registration that he might have faced his own legal consequences for if it weren’t for his client’s guilty plea accepting responsibility for the lies told in the registration himself — completely ignored Flynn’s FARA lies, both in his answer to this question and the brief generally. Flynn not only had benefit of counsel when he told one of the lies he pled guilty, again, to telling yesterday, Flynn had benefit of his, Rob Kelner’s, counsel.

And Kelner is only avoiding consequences for those FARA filings himself because (the existing story goes) his client is such an egregious liar, he has also lied to him, his lawyer, in the past.

That seems like a pretty major aggravating factor.

Much later in the hearing, when Kelner realized his client was facing prison time, he tried to take responsibility for all the things that showed up in that sentencing memo. Rather than leaving well enough alone, Kelner renewed his bullshit claim that what George Papadopoulos and Alex Van Der Zwaan did was worse than lying to the FBI and hiding your paid ties to a frenemy government. That led to Sullivan pointing out why even just Flynn’s lies to the FBI were, because he was in such an important role, worse than those of Mueller’s other false statements defendants.

MR. KELNER: Your Honor, with your indulgence, if I could make a few points.

THE COURT: Sure.

MR. KELNER: First of all, let me make very clear, Your Honor, that the decisions regarding how to frame General Flynn’s sentencing memorandum made by counsel, made by me, made by Mr. Anthony, are entirely ours and really should not and do not diminish in any way General Flynn’s acceptance of responsibility in this case. And I want to make that —

THE COURT: That point is well taken, but you understand why I had to make the inquiry?

MR. KELNER: I do.

THE COURT: Because I’m thinking, this sounds like a backpedaling on the acceptance of responsibility. It was a legitimate area to inquire about. And I don’t want to be too harsh when I say this, but I know you’ll understand.

[snip]

MR. KELNER: Right. We understand the Court’s reason for concern. I just wanted to make very clear the very specific reasons that those sections in the brief were included, to distinguish the Papadopoulos and Van der Zwaan cases, which did result in incarceration, we think are meaningfully distinguishable in many respects.

THE COURT: Let me stop you on that point, because I’m glad you raised that, and I was going to raise this point at some point. We might as well raise it now since you brought up Papadopoulos and Van der Zwaan. The Court’s of the opinion that those two cases aren’t really analogous to this case. I mean, neither one of those individuals was a high-ranking government official who committed a crime while on the premises of and in the West Wing of the White House. And I note that there are other cases that have been cited in the memorandum with respect to other individuals sentenced in 2017, I believe, for 1001 offenses, and the point being made — and I think it’s an absolutely good point — the point being made that no one received a jail sentence. My guess is that not one of those defendants was a high-ranking government official who, while employed by the President of the United States, made false statements to the FBI officers while on the premises of and in the West Wing of the White House. That’s my guess. Now, if I’m wrong, then you can point me to any one or more of those cases. This case is in a category by itself right now, but I understand why you cited them. I appreciate that.

MR. KELNER: Your Honor, we don’t disagree. We recognize that General Flynn served in a high-ranking position, and that is unique and relevant. But I —

THE COURT: Absolutely.

But Kelner took that comment, and kept digging, claiming that Flynn’s cooperation should be worth more because his cooperation was more “consequential” than that of the little people.

MR. KELNER: But I would submit to you a couple of points in response for the Court’s consideration. Number one, because of his high rank and because of his former high office, when it came time to deal with this investigation and to deal with the Special Counsel’s Office, that, too, set a higher standard for him, and he did understand that as a three-star general and a former National Security Advisor, what he did was going to be very consequential for the Special Counsel’s investigation, and very consequential for the nation, so he made decisions early on to remain low profile, not to make regular public statements, as some other people did. That was acknowledged by the Special Counsel’s Office when we did first hear from them, the value of that silence. And then he made the decision publicly and clearly and completely and utterly to cooperate with this investigation, knowing that, because of his high rank, that was going to send a signal to every other potential cooperator and witness in this investigation, and that was consequential, and we appreciate the fact that the Special Counsel memorialized that in his brief. That did make a decision, and that was another kind of high standard that was set for him and that he rose to and met decisively. In addition, there have been other cases —

Sullivan interrupted Kelner at this point, perhaps in an effort to get him to stop damaging his client. It didn’t work though, because having argued that Flynn’s efforts to undo his lies were worth more than that of the little people, Kelner then … brought up David Petraeus.

THE COURT: Can I just stop you right now? Is — How do you wish to proceed? Do you wish to proceed with sentencing today or do you want to defer it?

MR. KELNER: Thank you, Your Honor.

THE COURT: Or are you leading up to that point?

MR. KELNER: I’m leading up to that.

THE COURT: No, that’s fine.

MR. KELNER: Just a bit of indulgence, if I may.

THE COURT: No, no. Go ahead. That’s fine.

MR. KELNER: And let me just finish that last point.

THE COURT: No, no, no. I’m not trying to curtail you. I just wanted to make sure I didn’t miss anything.

MR. KELNER: I’m building up to it. I’m building up to it, Your Honor.

THE COURT: All right.

MR. KELNER: In addition, I would note there have been other high profile cases, one involving a four-star general, General Petraeus.

THE COURT: I don’t agree with that plea agreement, but don’t —

MR. KELNER: It’s a classic —

THE COURT: He pled to a misdemeanor?

Right before Sullivan closed the hearing, he expressed his disapproval of that sentence once again with Kelner, presumably as a warning not to argue Flynn should get light treatment, like Petraeus did, because he’s an important decorated general.

While bringing up the double standard the Obama Administration used with Petraeus is totally fair game, especially in Espionage-charged leak cases (which this is not), this was an instance where Kelner either couldn’t hear or didn’t give a fuck about what the judge had already told him, which is that, having read all the sealed underlying documents, he believes the stuff Flynn lied about “is in a category by itself.”

Honestly, if I were Mike Flynn and I had the money I’d fire Kelner after recent events, because — even if Kelner is not responsible for the ploy that badly backfired (and I suspect he’s not, at least not entirely) — by returning to sentencing with a different lawyer, you can try to start fresh with Sullivan, whom you’ve already pissed off.

But it’s not clear that Flynn can do that.

Because while firing Kelner might permit Flynn to claim he had nothing to do with this disavowal of responsibility that Kelner is now claiming responsibility for, Kelner’s still required to claim that Flynn is responsible for the false statements submitted in a document signed by Kelner back in 2017.

More importantly, according to Kelner, the Kian trial is the only thing left for Flynn to offer as far as cooperation.

Nothing has been held back. That said, it is true that this EDVA case that was indicted yesterday is still pending, and it’s likely, I would think, that General Flynn may be asked to testify in that case. We haven’t been told that, but I think it’s likely, and he’s prepared to testify. And while we believe that the Special Counsel’s Office views his cooperation as having been very largely complete, completed at this point, it is true that there’s this additional modicum of cooperation that he expects to provide in the EDVA case, and for that reason, we are prepared to take Your Honor up on the suggestion of delaying sentencing so that he can eke out the last modicum of cooperation in the EDVA case to be in the best position to argue to the Court the great value of his cooperation.

It seems likely that if Kian goes to trial, it will be Kelner’s testimony, not Flynn’s, that might be most important.

Kelner and Flynn are yoked together, Kelner to the lies Flynn told him to file in that FARA filing, and Flynn to the insubordinate effort to dismiss the importance of Flynn’s lies.

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. 

In Defense of Emmet Sullivan: Van Grack Suggested Mueller Did Review Whether Flynn’s Behavior Amounted to Treason

I’d like to defend Judge Emmet Sullivan’s intemperate mentions of unregistered foreign agents and treason in the Mike Flynn sentencing hearing yesterday. Not only has the discussion about his comments gotten the precise language used wrong, but it fails to understand the import of Mike Flynn’s lies about being an agent of the Turkish government.

There are two comments in question. First, in part of a speech about how he would weigh the mitigating and aggravating factors in Flynn’s sentencing, Sullivan said that Flynn was “an unregistered agent of a foreign country, while serving as the National Security Advisor to the President of the United States.”

I’m going to also take into consideration the aggravating circumstances, and the aggravating circumstances are serious. Not only did you lie to the FBI, but you lied to senior officials in the Trump Transition Team and Administration. Those lies caused the then-Vice President-Elect, incoming Chief of Staff, and then-Press Secretary to lie to the American people. Moreover, you lied to the FBI about three different topics, and you made those false statements while you were serving as the National Security Advisor, the President of the United States’ most senior national security aid. I can’t minimize that.

Two months later you again made false statements in multiple documents filed pursuant to the Foreign Agents Registration Act. So, all along you were an unregistered agent of a foreign country, while serving as the National Security Advisor to the President of the United States. [my emphasis]

Then, after having gotten Flynn to finally take him up on consulting with his attorneys, but before they recessed, Sullivan sat Flynn down and asked prosecutor Brandon Van Grack if prosecutors had evaluated Flynn’s activities to see if his behavior rose to the level of “treasonous activity.” Van Grack responded by answering about the crime of treason.

COURT: All right. I really don’t know the answer to this question, but given the fact that the then-President of the United States imposed sanctions against Russia for interfering with federal elections in this country, is there an opinion about the conduct of the defendant the following days that rises to the level of treasonous activity on his part?

MR. VAN GRACK: The government did not consider — I shouldn’t say — I shouldn’t say did not consider, but in terms of the evidence that the government had at the time, that was not something that we were considering in terms of charging the defendant.

THE COURT: All right. Hypothetically, could he have been charged with treason?

MR. VAN GRACK: Your Honor, I want to be careful what I represent.

THE COURT: Sure.

MR. VAN GRACK: And not having that information in front of me and because it’s such a serious question, I’m hesitant to answer it, especially because I think it’s different than asking if he could be charged under FARA or if there were other 1001 violations, for example. [my emphasis]

Flynn went off, consulted with his lawyers, and wisely decided the last thing he should do is let Sullivan sentence him while he was thinking of treason. When he came back, the first thing Sullivan did was correct that Flynn was not acting as a foreign agent while serving as National Security Advisor and explain that he did not think Flynn had committed treason, but wanted to know what Mueller’s thinking on uncharged crimes was.

THE COURT: All right. I just want to ask a couple of questions. This is directed to either government counsel or defense counsel. I made a statement about Mr. Flynn acting as a foreign agent while serving in the White House. I may have misspoken. Does that need to be corrected?

MR. VAN GRACK: Yes, Your Honor, that would be correct, which is that the conduct ended, I believe, in mid-November 2016.

THE COURT: All right. That’s what I thought, and I felt terrible about that. I just want the record clear on that. You agree with that, Counsel?

MR. KELNER: Yes, Your Honor.

THE COURT: All right. I also asked about — and this is very important — I also asked about the Special Counsel’s Office. I also asked questions about the Special Counsel and the — and other potential offenses for the purpose of understanding the benefit, if any, that Mr. Flynn has received in the plea deal. I wasn’t suggesting he’s committed treason. I wasn’t suggesting he committed violations. I was just curious as to whether or not he could have been charged, and I gave a few examples.

[snip]

THE COURT: And I said early on, Don’t read too much into the questions I ask. But I’m not suggesting he committed treason. I just asked a legitimate question.

MR. VAN GRACK: Yes, Your Honor. And that affords us an opportunity to clarify something on our end which is, with respect to treason, I said I wanted to make sure I had the statute in front of me. The government has no reason to believe that the defendant committed treason; not just at the time, but having proffered with the defendant and spoken with him through 19 interviews, no concerns with respect to the issue of treason. [my emphasis]

Now, I will be honest with you: I was screaming at Sullivan when I read this being tweeted out in real time, in part because I spend so much time arguing that Trump and his flunkies won’t be charged with treason because we’re not at war. I do think, in an effort to convey to Flynn just how reprehensible he believes his actions were, Sullivan got out over his skis. But I think his comments are far more defensible — and telling — than much of the commentary appreciates.

Here’s why.

First, even the docket makes it clear that there are a bunch of sealed documents that Sullivan has gotten, including an ex parte version of the government’s addendum describing Flynn’s cooperation. Sullivan started the hearing yesterday emphasizing that point, then returned to it after he had gotten Flynn to plead guilty again under oath.

There’s a great deal of nonpublic information in this case, and I’ll just leave it at that.

If any of my questions require a party to disclose nonpublic information, or if I begin to discuss something nonpublic, don’t be shy in telling me. My clerks over the years have learned to do this (indicating) if I get off of script or if I get into areas where — I won’t get offended if you do it. I may not see you, so stand up and raise your hands or say something, please. I don’t want to unintentionally say something that should not be revealed on the public docket.

There’s a new document that was filed at 10:19 this morning. The government filed a sealed motion alerting the Court that it inadvertently omitted one document from the government’s in-camera production.

[snip]

Having carefully read all the materials provided to the Court in this case, including those materials reviewed under seal and in-camera, I conclude that there was and remains to be a factual basis for Mr. Flynn’s plea of guilty. [my emphasis]

By yesterday morning, Emmet Sullivan probably became one of the few people outside Mueller’s team and his DOJ supervisors that understands the activities that Trump and his associates, including Flynn, engaged in from 2015 to 2017. He understands not just the significance of Flynn’s lies, but also how those lies tied to graft and conspiracy with foreign countries — countries including, but not limited to, Russia.

It should gravely worry the Trump people that Sullivan’s comments about whether Flynn’s behavior was treasonous came from someone who just read about what the Mueller investigation has discovered.

Now consider that, as part of his effort to understand how much benefit Flynn got from pleading guilty to one charge of false statements for his multiple lies, Sullivan and Van Grack had this exchange.

MR. VAN GRACK: [W]e’d like to bring to the Court’s attention that we just had an indictment unsealed in the Eastern District of Virginia charging Bijan Rafiekian and Ekim Alptekin with various violations, and the defendant provided substantial assistance to the attorneys in the Eastern District of Virginia in obtaining that charging document.

THE COURT: All right. Could the defendant have been indicted in that indictment? Could he have been charged in that indictment?

MR. VAN GRACK: And, Your Honor, the answer is yes, and the reason for that is that in the Statement of Offense in this case, the defendant refers to false statements in that FARA filing that are part of the indictment filed in the Eastern District of Virginia.

[snip]

THE COURT: And that would have been — what’s the exposure in that indictment if someone is found guilty?

MR. VAN GRACK: Your Honor, I believe, if you’ll give me a moment, I believe it was a conspiracy, 18 U.S.C. 371, which I believe is a five-year offense. It was a violation of 18 U.S.C. 951, which is either a five- or ten-year offense, and false statements — under those false statements, now that I think about it, Your Honor, pertain to Ekim Alptekin, and I don’t believe the defendant had exposure to the false statements of that individual.

THE COURT: Could the sentences have been run consecutive to one another?

MR. VAN GRACK: I believe so.

THE COURT: So the exposure would have been grave, then, would have been — it would have been — exposure to Mr. Flynn would have been significant had he been indicted? [my emphasis]

Van Grack not only says that Flynn could have been charged in that conspiracy to act as an unregistered foreign agent indictment, but that the lies he told were part of the indictment.

And in fact, this language in Flynn’s statement of the offense (which Sullivan read yesterday in court):

On March 7, 2017, FLYNN filed multiple documents with the Department of Justice pursuant to the Foreign Agents Registration Act (“FARA”) pertaining to a project performed by him and his company, the Flynn Intel Group, Inc. (“FIG”), for the principal benefit of the Republic of Turkey (“Turkey project”). In the FARA filings, FLYNN made materially false statements and omissions, including by falsely stating that (a) FIG did not know whether or the extent to which the Republic of Turkey was involved in the Turkey project, (b) the Turkey project was focused on improving U.S. business organizations’ confidence regarding doing business in Turkey, and (c) an op-ed by FLYNN published in The Hill on November 8, 2016, was written at his own initiative; and by omitting that officials from the Republic of Turkey provided supervision and direction over the Turkey project.

Became this language in the Bijan Kian and Ekim Alptekin indictment:

From approximately January 2017 through approximately March 2017, outside attorneys for Company A gathered information to determine whether Company A or any of its employees had an obligation to register under FARA based upon Company A’s work on “Operation Confidence.” During this process, RAFIEK.IAN and ALPTEKIN knowingly provided false information to Company A’s attorneys in an effort to hide from the attorneys – and ultimately from the FARA Unit – the involvement of Turkish government officials in the project.

Among other things, RAFIEKIAN falsely told Company A’s attorneys that:

a. The meeting on or about September 19, 2016 in New York City had nothing to do with Project Confidence, and instead was in furtherance of an abandoned “Project Truth” that was distinct from Project Confidence;

b. There were no other contacts with Turkish government officials regarding the project;

c. The op-ed was Person A’s own idea, and he wrote it on his own behalf, and unrelated to the project;

[snip]

Attorneys for Company A also solicited information from ALPTEKIN for use in the FARA filings. Through his own attorneys, ALPTEKIN falsely told Company A’s attorneys that:

a. ALPTEKIN had not been consulted on the op-ed, and that he would have opposed it if he had been consulted;

[snip]

On or about March 7, 2017, RAFIEKIAN and ALPTEKIN caused to be made the following false statements of material fact in documents filed with and furnished to the Attorney General under the provisions of FARA, and omitted the following material facts necessary to make the statements therein not misleading. RAFIEKIAN reviewed the filings and provided comments to Company A’s attorneys before the filings were submitted, but did not request that any of these false statements be changed.

[snip]

Exhibit A to Company A’s FARA Registration Statement falsely stated that “[Company A] does not know whether or the extent to which the Republic of Turkey was involved with its retention by [Company B] for the three-month project.”

[snip]

Paragraph 13: “In addition to the above described activities, if any, have you engaged in activity on your own behalf which b~nefits your foreign principal?”

Response: “Because of its expertise, [Company A J -officials write, speak, and give interviews relating to national security. Although not undertaken at the direction or control of a foreign principal, it is possible that such activities may have an indirect benefit to a principal. On his own initiative, [Person A J published an op-ed in The Hill on November 8, 2016, that related to the same subject matters as [Company A] work for [Company BJ. Neither [Company BJ, nor any other person requested or directed publication of the op-ed.”

The Attachment to Company A’s FARA Supplemental Statement falsely stated that “[Company A] understood the engagement to be focused on improving U.S. business organizations’ confidence regarding doing business in Turkey, particularly with respect to the stability of Turkey and its suitability as a venue for investment and commercial activity.”

While there are other false statements alleged (presumably the ones Van Grack said Flynn was not implicated in), the EDVA indictment actually charges four counts of false statements, and one of those directly maps to the lie Flynn himself pled guilty to.

Side note: it’s worth mentioning that Rob Kelner — who is still Flynn’s lawyer — is the guy who submitted those false FARA statements, which means he may be the lawyer that will take the stand in the EDVA trial to attest to the lies on those forms. It’s Kelner who still has some cooperation with prosecutors to do, at least as much as Flynn.

Significantly, as I noted the other day, both the conspiracy and the foreign agents charges in the EDVA indictment say the conduct continued through March 2017, the date Flynn Intelligence Group filed false FARA filings, hiding the fact that they knew Turkey was behind the Fethullah Gulen project.

COUNT ONE Conspiracy – 18 U.S. C. § 3 71 THE GRAND JURY FURTHER CHARGES THAT: 1. The allegations contained in the General Allegations of this Indictment are incorporated here by reference. 2. From at least July 2016, through at least March 2017, in the Eastern District of Virginia and elsewhere, the defendants,

[snip]

COUNT TWO Acting as an Unregistered Agent of a Foreign Government – 18 U.S. C. § 9 51 THE GRAND JURY FURTHER CHARGES THAT: 1. The allegations contained in the General Allegations of this Indictment are incorporated here by reference. 2. From approximately July 2016 through approximately March 2017, in the Eastern District of Virginia and elsewhere, the defendants, [my emphasis]

There’s a reason it gets charged that way, which is even more important for Flynn than for his co-conspirators (a reason that also played out in Paul Manafort’s case, in which he was charged for hiding his ties to Ukraine at a time when they would have impacted the Trump campaign).

The point of these registration crimes is that so long as you withhold full disclosure about your actions, you continue to lie to the federal government and the public about the significance of your actions. By filing a registration in March 2017 specifically denying what all the co-conspirators knew — that Flynn Intelligence Group was actually working for Turkey, not Ekim Alptekin’s cut-out Inovo — it prevented the public and the government from assessing the import of Flynn’s actions in trying to force DOJ to deem Gulen a terrorist who could be extradited to Turkey. And frankly, so long as Flynn continued to hide that detail, it made him susceptible to pressure if not blackmail from Turkey.

There’s a grammatical difference between Sullivan’s two comments. He first said that Flynn was “an unregistered agent of a foreign country, while serving as the National Security Advisor.” That was, technically, true. For the entirety of the time Flynn served as National Security Advisor, FIG had not admitted that it had actually been working directly for Turkey. Indeed, FIG continued to lie (and so remained unregistered) about that fact until December 1, 2017, when Flynn pled guilty.

As I’ll show in a follow-up post, it is critically important that Flynn continued to lie about whether he had been working directly for Turkey when he met with the FBI on January 24, 2017.

Sullivan’s follow-up used different grammar. Then, he said “Flynn [was not] acting as a foreign agent while serving in the White House.” That is also true. He was no longer secretly being paid by the government of Turkey to do things like slap his name on op-eds written by other people.

Still, even though he was no longer being paid to take specific actions requested by the government of Turkey, for the entire time he worked at the White House (and for more than eight months afterwards), his past work as an agent of a foreign government — as opposed to a foreign company cut-out — remained unregistered, undisclosed to the public.

With that in mind, I want to return to the specific exchange that Sullivan had. In response to his question about whether Flynn’s behavior amounted not to treason, but to treasonous activity, Van Grack at first says they did not consider treason, but then corrected himself.

COURT: All right. I really don’t know the answer to this question, but given the fact that the then-President of the United States imposed sanctions against Russia for interfering with federal elections in this country, is there an opinion about the conduct of the defendant the following days that rises to the level of treasonous activity on his part?

MR. VAN GRACK: The government did not consider — I shouldn’t say — I shouldn’t say did not consider, but in terms of the evidence that the government had at the time, that was not something that we were considering in terms of charging the defendant. [my emphasis]

All of this seems to be consistent with Mueller reviewing Flynn’s actions, reviewing statute, finding that Flynn’s behavior did rise to the standards described in 18 USC 951 (with which Van Grack said he could have been charged), but did not rise to treason (as it clearly did not). Van Grack explained that “in terms of other offenses, they were not sort of in consideration in our interfacing with the defendant,” which seems to admit that Flynn could have been charged with other crimes, but was not, because he cooperated.

This walkback, I’m convinced, is as much for the benefit of the prosecutors, who gave Flynn an unbelievable sweetheart deal, as it was for the sake of judicial restraint. Mueller is forgiving Flynn working in the White House while continuing to hide that he had, during the campaign, secretly and knowingly worked for a foreign government, in consideration of his cooperation unveiling other activities.

But legal standards aside, Sullivan — one of the only people who has read a summary of what Flynn provided in his cooperation — still could not hide his disgust about the conduct he knows far more about than we do.

This crime is very serious. As I stated, it involves false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation agents on the premises of the White House, in the White House in the West Wing by a high ranking security officer with, up to that point, had an unblemished career of service to his country. That’s a very serious offense.

You know, I’m going to take into consideration the 33 years of military service and sacrifice, and I’m going to take into consideration the substantial assistance of several ongoing — several ongoing investigations, but I’m going to also take into consideration the aggravating circumstances, and the aggravating circumstances are serious. Not only did you lie to the FBI, but you lied to senior officials in the Trump Transition Team and Administration. Those lies caused the then-Vice President-Elect, incoming Chief of Staff, and then-Press Secretary to lie to the American people. Moreover, you lied to the FBI about three different topics, and you made those false statements while you were serving as the National Security Advisor, the President of the United States’ most senior national security aid. I can’t minimize that.

Two months later you again made false statements in multiple documents filed pursuant to the Foreign Agents Registration Act. So, all along you were an unregistered agent of a foreign country, while serving as the National Security Advisor to the President of the United States.

I mean, arguably, that undermines everything this flag over here stands for (indicating). Arguably, you sold your country out. The Court’s going to consider all of that. I cannot assure you that if you proceed today you will not receive a sentence of incarceration. But I have to also tell you that at some point, if and when the government says you’ve concluded with your cooperation, you could be incarcerated.

It could be that any sentence of incarceration imposed after your further cooperation is completed would be for less time than a sentence may be today. I can’t make any guarantees, but I’m not hiding my disgust, my disdain for this criminal offense. [my emphasis]

I remain frustrated that Sullivan raised treason at all yesterday, as I spend a great deal of time tamping down discussion of treason; none of the Trump flunkies’ actions that have been thus far revealed reach treason.

But I think I’m beginning to understand what a big deal it was for Flynn to continue to lie about his service for Turkey, even aside from the disgust I share with Sullivan that anyone would engage in such sleazy influence peddling while serving as a key foreign policy advisor for a guy running for President.

Flynn did a lot of really sleazy things. There was no discussion yesterday, for example, about how he gleefully worked on cashing in with nuclear deals even while Trump was being inaugurated. The public lacks both a full accounting of his sleazy actions and full understanding of their import for national security.

Mueller’s team thinks Flynn’s cooperation has been so valuable that it should wipe away most punishment for those sleazy actions. Emmet Sullivan, having read a great deal of secret information, is not so sure.

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. 

The Flynn Sentencing: What Comes Next?

As Zoe Tillman describes, the Mike Flynn sentencing hearing today was even more unpredictable than I imagined (and I anticipated it would bring some surprises). Judge Emmet Sullivan (after apparently putting Flynn under oath so these questions, too, could be charged for perjury) asked him several times whether — given the sentencing memorandum he submitted suggesting extenuating circumstances for his lies to the FBI (but not to DOJ’s FARA team) — he believed he had lied, whether he knew that was a crime, whether he wanted to plead guilty.

Throughout the proceedings, US District Judge Emmet Sullivan repeatedly asked Flynn if he wanted to go ahead with sentencing, given his lawyers’ comments questioning the conduct of the FBI officials and agents who handled his questioning in January 2017, and the fact that Flynn might not be finished cooperating.

Having established that — and offered Flynn several opportunities to delay sentencing, he laid into him, even going so far as to ask prosecutor Brandon Van Grack if Mueller had considered charing Flynn with treason.

“Arguably, that undermines everything this flag over here stands for,” Sullivan said, gesturing to an American flag displayed behind his chair. “Arguably you sold your country out.”

Sullivan continued: “I’m not hiding my disgust, my disdain for this criminal offense.”

Flynn at that point took up the judge’s offer of additional time to consult with his lawyers. Before the judge took a break, however, he asked special counsel prosecutor Brandon Van Grack if Flynn could have been charged with treason for his conversations with now-former Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December 2016, after then-president Barack Obama had entered sanctions against Russia for interfering in the election.

That’s when Flynn asked Sullivan for a break. When he and his lawyers returned, they took Sullivan up on his offer for a delay, and suggested a status hearing in March.

But it’s not entirely clear how that will help — aside from giving Sullivan time to set aside the visceral disgust he showed for Flynn today.

Here’s are some possible scenarios:

Flynn Finds Something Else to Cooperate On

This is the ostensible reason to delay the sentencing, so that Flynn can cooperate some more, in an attempt to convince Sullivan he should avoid prison time.

When Sullivan asked Van Grack whether Flynn was done cooperating, and the prosecutor replied that it remained a possibility. That stops short of even promising that Flynn will be called to testify in the trial against his former partner, Bijan Kian. As I noted yesterday, the indictment seemed to be built to avoid that, and as an unindicted co-conspirator there may be problems if Flynn does testify, to say nothing of his limited credibility as a sworn liar. Moreover, Flynn’s substantial cooperation in getting prosecutors to this point was already baked into today’s sentencing. It’s hard to imagine what Flynn could do to improve on that.

Which leaves the possibility that Flynn knows of something — some other crime, whether by Trump and his circle, or some of his other pals — that he can offer to federal prosecutors. It is possible that, seeing an angry judge talking about treason and imagining prison, Flynn unforgot somethings he knows, so took his lawyer aside and said there was another area he might be willing to share with prosecutors.

Trump Risks Clemency

A more likely motivation, for Flynn, is the hope that Trump will decide to give Flynn the pardon he floated over a year ago. If Flynn delays long enough, Trump might get into a place where it’ll be politically feasible for him to commute any sentence Flynn makes.

Maybe he, like the nutters who occupy the same bubble he does, that after a series of false hoaxes over the last year, someone will finally discover something that will provide the excuse Trump needs.

Or maybe he’s just delaying in hopes that one of the long shot challenges to Mueller’s authority — or perhaps his firing — will get him off his charges.

All of these, of course, would amount to a play for time, in the hopes that his fortune will improve.

Kelner Falls on His Sword

After they came back from the break, Robert Kelner said something suggesting that Sullivan shouldn’t penalize Flynn in his sentencing for something his attorney (that is, he, Kelner) had written in a sentencing memo.

It’s unclear to me whether Kelner was referencing the stunt suggesting there were extenuating circumstances explaining why Flynn lied or a reference he made to David Petraeus (Sullivan explicitly suggested he thought Petraeus got an easy deal). It’s equally unclear to me how much of Sullivan’s tirade today stemmed from Flynn’s actual conduct (and the sweet deal he himself got) or the stunt.

Particularly if it’s the former, then it’s possible to win some favor from Sullivan by having Kelner even more publicly fall on his sword, claiming (the claim would almost certainly be utter bullshit) that it was his idea to try that stunt. That might provide Flynn an opportunity to present a new, chastened sentencing memo in March, such that Sullivan would be more amicable to giving him probation.

There’s a tension underlying this: One reason Flynn wanted to get sentenced early was so he could return to sleazy influence peddling so he could pay his legal bills. Now he’s looking at still more legal bills for a stunt that he probably demanded.

The Unfolding Turkish and Russian Stories Change the Context

Judge Sullivan (or his clerks) have read, at a minimum, the following:

  • An unredacted copy of Flynn’s 302
  • An unredacted copy of the McCabe memo
  • A partly unredacted copy of the Strzok 302 (some parts of it are not relevant to this case, so may not have been shared)
  • An unredacted copy of Flynn’s cooperation addendum
  • An ex parte version of the Flynn cooperation addendum including details Flynn doesn’t know
  • Information, in some form, on the Kian indictment

And there are still some sealed items in Flynn’s docket.

So Sullivan should have a pretty complete idea of what cooperation Flynn has given.

That said, it’s not impossible that as both the Kian prosecution (I suspect he’ll plead) and the Russian investigation proceeds, additional information will become known — or at least public — to change the context of Flynn’s actions. Maybe, if the crimes of his business partner end up far worse than we know, Flynn’s treatment for the foreign agent charge won’t appear as easy. Maybe, if people next to Trump get charged with serious crimes, the value of Flynn’s cooperation will make him look less like a sell-out.

But the opposite could happen, as well. As his co-conspirators attempt to save themselves, they may be able to present credible evidence about stuff Flynn has thus far suppressed (if not from Mueller, from the public).

And what if Trump ultimately quits in disgrace? Sure, he could pardon his co-conspirators on the way out (though I doubt he’d do that if there weren’t a benefit to him). But if Trump leaves in disgrace, Flynn’s continued good relations with Trump may only make him look like more of a sell-out.

The point is, short of finding other criminals to flip on or finding a way to remove Mueller’s authority, it’s not clear how Flynn’s fortune can improve over the next three months, and there are definitely ways his fortune could go south.

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. 

The Dossier Is Not the Measure of the Trump-Russia Conspiracy

It seems like the whole world has decided to measure Trump’s conspiracy with Russia not from the available evidence, but based on whether the Steele dossier correctly predicted all the incriminating evidence we now have before us.

The trend started with NPR. According to them (or, at least, NPR’s Phillip Ewing doing a summary without first getting command of the facts), if Michael Cohen didn’t coordinate a Tower-for-sanctions-relief deal from Prague, then such a deal didn’t happen. That’s the logic of a column dismissing the implications of the recent Cohen allocution showing that when Don Jr took a meeting offering dirt on Hillary as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” he knew his family stood to make hundreds of millions if they stayed on Vladimir Putin’s good side.

Item: Cohen ostensibly played a key role in the version of events told by the infamous, partly unverified Russia dossier. He denied that strongly to Congress. He also has admitted lying to Congress and submitted an important new version of other events.

But that new story didn’t include a trip to Prague, as described in the dossier. Nor did Cohen discuss that in his interview on Friday on ABC News. Could the trip, or a trip, still be substantiated? Yes, maybe — but if it happened, would a man go to prison for three years without anyone having mentioned it?

As I noted, Mueller laid out the following in the unredacted summary of Cohen’s cooperation.

Consider this passage in the Mueller Cohen sentencing memo.

The defendant’s false statements obscured the fact that the Moscow Project was a lucrative business opportunity that sought, and likely required, the assistance of the Russian government. If the project was completed, the Company could have received hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources in licensing fees and other revenues. The fact that Cohen continued to work on the project and discuss it with Individual 1 well into the campaign was material to the ongoing congressional and SCO investigations, particularly because it occurred at a time of sustained efforts by the Russian government to interfere with the U.S. presidential election. Similarly, it was material that Cohen, during the campaign, had a substantive telephone call about the project with an assistant to the press secretary for the President of Russia.

Cohen’s lies, aside from attempting to short circuit the parallel Russian investigations, hid the following facts:

  • Trump Organization stood to earn “hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources” if the Trump Tower deal went through.
  • Cohen’s work on the deal continued “well into the campaign” even as the Russian government made “sustained efforts … to interfere in the U.S. presidential election.”
  • The project “likely required[] the assistance of the Russian government.”
  • “Cohen [during May 2016] had a substantive telephone call about the project with an assistant to the press secretary for the President of Russia [Dmitri Peskov].”

But because the new Cohen details (along with the fact that he booked tickets for St. Petersburg the day of the June 9 meeting, only to cancel after the Russian hack of the DNC became public) didn’t happen in Prague, it’s proof, according to NPR, that there is no collusion. [Note, NPR has revised this lead and added an editors note labeling this piece as analysis, not news.]

Political and legal danger for President Trump may be sharpening by the day, but the case that his campaign might have conspired with the Russian attack on the 2016 election looks weaker than ever.

There are other errors in the piece. It claims “Manafort’s lawyers say he gave the government valuable information,” but they actually claimed he didn’t lie (and it doesn’t note that the two sides may have gone back to the drawing board after that public claim). Moreover, the column seems to entirely misunderstand that Manafort’s plea (would have) excused him from the crimes in chief, which is why they weren’t charged. Nor does it acknowledge the details from prosecutors list of lies that implicate alleged GRU associate Konstantin Kilimnik in an ongoing role throughout Trump’s campaign.

Then there’s the NPR complaint that Mike Flynn, after a year of cooperation, is likely to get no prison time. It uses that to debunk a straw man that Flynn was a Russian foreign agent.

Does that sound like the attitude they would take with someone who had been serving as a Russian factotum and who had been serving as a foreign agent from inside the White House as national security adviser, steps away from the Oval Office?

That’s never been the claim (though the Russians sure seemed like they were cultivating it). Rather, the claim was that Flynn hid details of Trump’s plans to ease sanctions, an easing of sanctions Russians had asked Don Jr to do six months earlier in a meeting when they offered him dirt. The 302 from his FBI interview released last night makes it clear that indeed he did.

Finally, NPR is sad that Carter Page hasn’t been charged.

Will the feds ever charge Trump’s sometime foreign policy adviser, Carter Page, whom they called a Russian agent in the partly declassified application they made to surveil him?

This is not a checklist, where Trump will be implicated in a conspiracy only if the hapless Page is indicted (any case against whom has likely been spoiled anyway given all the leaking). The question, instead, is whether Trump and his spawn and campaign manager and longtime political advisor (the piece names neither Don Jr nor Roger Stone, both of whom have been saying they’ll be indicted) entered into a conspiracy with Russians.

In short, this piece aims to measure whether there was “collusion” not by looking at the evidence, but by looking instead at the Steele dossier to see if it’s a mirror of the known facts.

But NPR isn’t the only outlet measuring reality by how it matches up to the Steele dossier. This piece describes that Michael Isikoff thinks, “All the signs to me are, Mueller is reaching his end game, and we may see less than what many people want him to find,” in part because of the same three points made in the NPR piece (Cohen didn’t go to Prague, no pee tape has been released, and Flynn will get no prison time), but also because Maria Butina — whose investigation was not tied to the Trump one, but whom Isikoff himself had claimed might be — will mostly implicate her former boyfriend, Paul Erickson. In the interview, Isikoff notes that because the dossier has not been corroborated, calling it a “mixed record, at best … most of the specific allegations have not been borne out” and notes his own past predictions have not been fulfilled.  Perhaps Isikoff’s reliance on the dossier arises from his own central role in it, but Isikoff misstates some of what has come out in legal filings to back his claim that less will come of the Mueller investigation than he thought.

Then there is Chuck Ross. Like Isikoff, Ross has invested much of his investigative focus into the dossier, and thus is no better able than Isikoff to see a reality but for the false mirror of the dossier. His tweet linking a story laying out more evidence that Michael Cohen did not go to Prague claims that that news is “a huge blow for the collusion narrative.”

Even when Ross wrote a post pretending to assess whether the Michael Cohen plea allocution shows “collusion,” Ross ultimately fell back on assessing whether the documents instead proved the dossier was true.

Notably absent from the Mueller filing is any indication that Cohen provided information that matches the allegations laid out in the Steele dossier, the infamous document that Democrats tout as the roadmap to collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian government.

The most prominent allegation against Cohen in the 35-page report is that he traveled to Prague in August 2016 to meet with Kremlin insiders to discuss paying off hackers who stole Democrats’ emails.

The Isikoff comments appear to have traveled via Ross to Trump’s Twitter thumbs, all without assessing the evidence in plain sight.

Meanwhile, Lawfare is erring in a parallel direction, checking on the dossier to see “whether information made public as a result of the Mueller investigation—and the passage of two years—has tended to buttress or diminish the crux of Steele’s original reporting.”

Such an exercise is worthwhile, if conducted as a measure of whether Christopher Steele obtained accurate intelligence before it otherwise got reported by credible, public sources. But much of what Lawfare does does the opposite — assessing reports (it even gets the number of reports wrong, saying there are 16, not 17, which might be excusable if precisely that issue hadn’t been the subject of litigation) out of context of when they were published. Even still, aside from Steele’s reports on stuff that was already public (Carter Page’s trip to Moscow, Viktor Yanukovych’s close ties to Paul Manafort), the post reaches one after another conclusion that the dossier actually hasn’t been confirmed.

There’s the 8-year conspiracy of cooperation, including Trump providing Russia intelligence. [my emphasis throughout here]

Most significantly, the dossier reports a “well-developed conspiracy of co-operation between [Trump and his associates] and the Russian leadership,” including an “intelligence exchange [that] had been running between them for at least 8 years.” There has been significant investigative reporting about long-standing connections between Trump, his associates and Kremlin-affiliated individuals, and Trump himself acknowledged that the purpose of a June 2016 meeting between his son, Donald Trump Jr. and a Kremlin-connected lawyer was to obtain “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. But there is, at present, no evidence in the official record that confirms other direct ties or their relevance to the 2016 presidential campaign.

There’s the knowing support for the hack-and-leak among Trump and his top lackeys.

It does not, however, corroborate the statement in the dossier that the Russian intelligence “operation had been conducted with the full knowledge and support of Trump and senior members of his campaign team.”

There’s Cohen’s Trump Tower deal.

These documents relate to Cohen’s false statements to Congress regarding attempted Trump Organization business dealings in Russia. The details buttress Steele’s reporting to some extent, but mostly run parallel, neither corroborating nor disproving information in the dossier.

There’s Cohen’s role in the hack-and-leak, including his trip to Prague.

Even with the additional detail from the Cohen documents, certain core allegations in the dossier related to Cohen—which, if true, would be of utmost relevance to Mueller’s investigation—remain largely unconfirmed, at least from the unredacted material. Specifically, the dossier reports that there was well-established, continuing cooperation between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin; that Cohen played a central role in the coordination of joint efforts; and that he traveled to Prague to meet with Russian officials and cut-outs.

There’s Papadopoulos, who (as Lawfare admits) doesn’t show up in the dossier; here they argue he could have, without asking why Steele missed him running around London talking to people who traveled in Steele’s circles.

We revisit his case because it resonates with one of the themes of the dossier, which is the extensive Russian outreach effort to an array of individuals connected to the Trump campaign. Steele’s sources reported on alleged interactions between Carter Page and Russian officials, but Papadopoulos’s conduct would have fit right in.

Again, except for the stuff that was publicly known, Lawfare assesses one after another claim from the dossier and finds that Mueller’s investigation has not corroborated the specific claims, even while Mueller has provided ample evidence of something else going on. But that doesn’t stop Lawfare from claiming that Mueller has “confirm[ed] pieces of the dossier.”

The Mueller investigation has clearly produced public records that confirm pieces of the dossier. And even where the details are not exact, the general thrust of Steele’s reporting seems credible in light of what we now know about extensive contacts between numerous individuals associated with the Trump campaign and Russian government officials.

However, there is also a good deal in the dossier that has not been corroborated in the official record and perhaps never will be—whether because it’s untrue, unimportant or too sensitive. As a raw intelligence document, the Steele dossier, we believe, holds up well so far. But surely there is more to come from Mueller’s team. We will return to it as the public record develops.

In the end, I actually think Mueller may show that Trump, Stone, and Manafort did abet the hack-and-leak campaign, certainly the later parts of it, and that the Trump Tower deal was a key part of the quid pro quo. That’s aside from anything that Trump did with analytics data made available, if it was. But Mueller has just shown the outlines of where a case in chief might fit thus far. And where has has, those outlines raise one after another question of why Steele missed evidence (like the June 9 meeting) that was literally sitting in front of him. No one is answering those questions in these retrospectives.

One reason this effort, coming from Lawfare, is particularly unfortunate is because of a detail recently disclosed in Comey’s recent testimony to Congress. As you read, remember that this exchange involves Mark Meadows, who is the source of many of the most misleading allegations pertaining to the Russian investigation. In Comey’s first appearance this month (given Comey’s comments after testifying yesterday, I expect we’ll see more of the same today when his transcript is released), Meadows seemed to make much of the fact that Michael Sussman, who works with Marc Elias at Perkins Coie, provided information directly to Lawfare contributor James Baker.

Mr. Meadows. So are you saying that James Baker, your general counsel, who received direct information from Perkins Coie, did so and conveyed that to your team without your knowledge?

Mr. Comey. I don’t know.

Mr. Meadows. What do you mean you don’t know? I mean, did he tell you or not?

Mr. Comey. Oh, I — well —

Mr. Meadows. James Baker, we have testimony that would indicate that he received information directly from Perkins Coie; he had knowledge that they were representing the Democrat National Committee and, indeed, collected that information and conveyed it to the investigative team. Did he tell you that he received that information from them? And I can give you a name if you want to know who he received it from.

Mr. Comey. I don’t remember the name Perkins Coie at all.

Mr. Meadows. What about Michael Sussmann?

Mr. Comey. I think I’ve read that name since then. I don’t remember learning that name when I was FBI Director. I was going to ask you a followup, though. When you say “that information,” what do you mean?

Mr. Meadows. Well, it was cyber information as it relates to the investigation.

Mr. Comey. Yeah, I have some recollection of Baker interacting with — you said the DNC, which sparked my recollection — with the DNC about our effort to get information about the Russian hack of them —

Mr. Meadows. Yeah, that’s — that’s not — that’s not what I’m referring to.

Mr. Comey. — but I don’t — I don’t remember anything beyond that.

Mr. Meadows. And so I can give you something so that you — your counsel can look at it and refresh your memory, perhaps, as we look at that, but I guess my concern is your earlier testimony acted like this was news to you that Perkins Coie represented the Democratic National Committee, and yet your general counsel not only knew that but received information from them that was transmitted to other people in the investigative team. [my emphasis]

I have long wondered how the Perkins Coie meeting with the FBI on the hack timed up with the hiring, by Fusion GPS working for Perkins Coie, of Christopher Steele lined up, and that appears to be where Meadows is going to make his final, desperate stand. An earlier version of this hoax revealed that it pertained to materials on hacking, but did not specify that Steele had anything to do with it (indeed, Steele was always behind public reporting on the hack-and-leak).

Still, it would be of more public utility for Lawfare to clarify this detail than engage in yet another exercise in rehabilitating the dossier.

Instead, they — just like everyone else choosing not to look for evidence (or lack thereof) in the actual evidence before us — instead look back to see whether Steele’s dossier was a mirror of reality or something else entirely. If it’s the latter — and it increasingly looks like it is — then it’s time to figure out how and what it is.

Update: Cheryl Rofer did a line by line assessment of Steele’s dossier which is worthwhile. I would dispute a number of her claims (and insist that Steele’s reporting on the hacks be read in the temporal context in which he always lagged public reporting) and wish she’d note where the public record shows facts that actually conflict with the dosser. But it is a decent read.

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. 

Mike Flynn’s Flip: You Don’t Need Your Cooperator to Testify If the Conspiracy Was All Conducted over Email

Perhaps the most remarkable language in the Bijan Kian indictment appears in both the conspiracy 18 USC 371 and the 18 USC 951 foreign agent counts. In both, the indictment alleges that Kian (referred to by his legal name Rafiekian here) and Kamil Ekim Alptekin both acted, themselves, and caused others to act as unregistered foreign agents.

To knowingly act and cause others to act in the United States as an agent of a foreign government without prior notification to the Attorney General, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 951;

[snip]

From approximately July 2016 through approximately March 2017, in the Eastern District of Virginia and elsewhere, the defendants, BIJAN RAFIEKIAN, a/k/a “Bijan Kian” and KAMIL EK.IM ALPTEKIN, knowingly acted and caused others to act in the United States as an agent of a foreign government, that is, the Government of Turkey, without prior notification to the Attorney General, as required by law. [my emphasis]

While not explicitly stated, the reference to Mike Flynn throughout the indictment as Person A — the only unindicted co-conspirator so identified — makes it clear that the government believes that’s what Flynn was doing, acting as an agent of Turkey. And the timeline for the conspiracy goes up to March 2017.

One of Trump’s top foreign policy advisors and, for almost a month, his National Security Advisor, was an agent of Turkey.

That fact, and the indictment as a whole, raises further questions about why Flynn got off so easy: a false statements charge for which he’ll do no time, unlike the 15 years his business partner is facing (though he won’t get that). And that outcome has raised still other questions about how Flynn could be useful to prosecutors, having admitted he’s a liar, yet having escaped all consequences for his actions. How can Flynn testify, commentators wonder, given that he was not charged for his role in the conspiracy?

Aside from quipping “flip early and often,” I think the Kian indictment provides clues — clues that I’ve long suspected have parallels in the Mueller investigation.

The indictment focuses just on the op-ed purportedly authored by Flynn that appeared in The Hill on election day, though we know Flynn’s company did more than that for Turkey. By focusing on the op-ed, DOJ can trace what happened with language Kian used to describe Fethullah Gulen. It was used in early August, before the conspirators started hiding the role of Turkey in the project.

On or about August 4, 2016, RAFIEKIAN sent an email with the subject “Truth” to ALPTEKIN and Person A stressing the need to begin work on the Truth Campaign. Referring to Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, RAFIEKIAN said:

Let me give you a real life experience: 1978: A soft spoken cleric sitting under an apple tree in Neauphle-le-Chateau in France looked so harmless. Spoke of equality and spirituality, declared that if he were to gain power, he would go to a religious shrine and will not get into politics and governance. Sound familiar? Well, the world neglected to take the layers off the ink blot in 1978. One year later, from the place under the apple tree, The soft spoken spiritual man led the Islamic Revolution in Iran ….

The indictment then shows how the apple language appears in talking points for a key September meeting with Turkish officials.

On or about September 18, 2016, in preparation for the meeting with the Turkish officials, RAFIEKIAN sent ALPTEKIN a document entitled “Background and Talking Points,” which contained approximately twenty talking points for the meeting, all of which concerned the Turkish citizen, the Turkish citizen’s movement, or the Turkish citizen’s charter schools in the United States.

RAFIEKIAN’s “Background and Talking Points” contained the same “apple tree” comparison of Khomeini and the Turkish citizen that RAFIEKIAN had used in his email to ALPTEKIN (paragraph 13) when the project was still called the “Truth campaign” and in the “playbook” (paragraph 23) when RAFIEKIAN referred to the Turkish citizen as “X.”

And then the same language shows up in both a draft of the op-ed Kian wrote for Flynn to slap his name onto, and in the op-ed as it appeared in The Hill.

The apple language serves as the marker showing the continuity between the project originally explicitly backed by Turkey, at the time ironically named “Truth,” and the project after it got renamed “Confidence” as part of an effort to hide Turkey’s role by using Alptekin’s company as a cut-out.

And virtually every step of that process was conducted over email or other communication methods that the FBI could easily collect.

Flynn’s genius co-conspirators — at least in this particular foreign agent conspiracy — even sent emails that noted that they were hiding details in other written documents.

ALPTEK.IN further told RAFIEK.IAN, ”Needles [sic] to tell you but he asked me not to read in anyone else for the time being and keep this confidential.”

[snip]

RAFIEKIAN promised to send ALPTEKIN a contract, but noted that it “will not entail operational details for obvious reasons.”

DEAR FBI, they might as well have written, LOOK HERE FOR THE SEKRITZ.

At least as laid out, virtually all the evidence needed to convict the co-conspirators is written down. As noted, much of this was in emails (the word appears 33 times in the indictment). There were two conversations via Skype, a Section 702 provider, as well as one text sent via Skype. Flynn sent one text memorializing a meeting with Alptekin referencing one of the Turkish Ministers who were their real clients. There were multiple financial wires.

The only overt acts described in the indictment that could not have been captured by the FBI or collected after the fact were one meeting, some lobbying activities, and some weekly phone calls.

On or about the evening of September 19, 2016, Person A, RAFIEKIAN, ALPTEKIN, and other members of the project met in New York City with Turkish Minister #1 and Turkish Minister #2. The conversation centered on the Turkish citizen and the Turkish government’s efforts to convince the U.S. government to extradite the Turkish citizen to Turkey.

[snip]

In or about September and October 2016, RAFIEK.IAN and others involved in the project visited with and lobbied a member of Congress, a Congressional staffer, and a state government official in an attempt to depict the Turkish citizen as a threat who should be returned to Turkey and to persuade them to hold Congressional hearings concerning the Turkish citizen.

[snip]

On approximately a weekly basis during the project, RAFIEKIAN, Person A, and other Company A team members had telephone conference calls with ALPTEKIN to update ALPTEKIN on the progress of the project. [my emphasis]

All of those, however, also included other team members, members who didn’t lie to the government and aren’t being charged as co-conspirators.

That leaves one other key piece of evidence the government might have needed help to collect: communications with the lawyers who filed the false FARA filings.

From approximately January 2017 through approximately March 2017, outside attorneys for Company A gathered information to determine whether Company A or any of its employees had an obligation to register under FARA based upon Company A’s work on “Operation Confidence.” During this process, RAFIEK.IAN and ALPTEKIN knowingly provided false information to Company A’s attorneys in an effort to hide from the attorneys – and ultimately from the FARA Unit – the involvement of Turkish government officials in the project.

While Mueller was able to get a crime-fraud exception to get communications from the lawyer who did Paul Manafort’s false FARA filings, once Flynn flipped he could have voluntarily waived privilege to make those documents available to the government. Indeed, I wonder if that’s what’s hidden in a key redaction in Flynn’s cooperation addendum.

In other words, there is a non-liar witness (or document) for every overt act in this indictment. They don’t need Flynn to sit on the witness stand and describe the conspiracy, as laid out. They can just have his service providers provide authentication of all the communications and have his former colleagues testify, along with his lawyers, now freed of any privilege obligation.

Critically, for a national security investigation like this one (and, I assume, for the Russian one as well), I’m sure Flynn described at more length everything else that went on. But the government doesn’t need that information to prosecute these crimes (except insofar as his cooperation would have made it very easy to get warrants for the information Flynn didn’t hand over himself — and his own sentencing memo makes it clear he did hand over much of it). It needs that information for counterintelligence purposes.

And that’s why they were able to move towards sentencing without his testimony in court: because he may not need to give testimony in court. The government has secured other, more reliable witnesses for that testimony.

As I said, I’ve long suspected this was true of Flynn’s cooperation on the Mueller investigation, as well. When the government, in describing his cooperation, said his decision to flip “likely affected the decisions of related firsthand witnesses to be forthcoming with the SCO and cooperate” (which is followed by the last, entirely redacted, sentence in the memo), they are probably describing how by pleading guilty to lying himself, he led to their ability to get better, more reliable witnesses for much of the relevant testimony.

Update: Took out a reference to NSA; Alptekin may be a green card holder; if he is, he couldn’t be a legal 702 target.

That Peter Strzok 302 Probably Comes from the Obstruction Case File

I’d like to provide a plausible explanation for questions about an FBI 302 released yesterday as part of the Mike Flynn sentencing.

As a reminder, after Flynn pled guilty, his case ultimately got assigned to Emmet Sullivan, who is laudably insistent on making sure defendants get any possible exonerating evidence, even if they’ve already pled guilty. On his orders, the government would have provided him everything early in 2018.

In Flynn’s sentencing memo submitted earlier this week, his lawyers quoted from an Andrew McCabe memo written the day of his interview and a 302 that they described to be dated August 22, 2017, a full 7 months after his interview. In predictable response, Sullivan instructed the government to provide that McCabe memo and the 302 cited by Flynn’s lawyers.

When the government submitted those two documents yesterday, they raised still more questions, because it became clear the 302 (which is what FBI calls their interview reports) in question was of an interview of Strzok conducted on July 19, 2017, drafted on July 20, and finalized on August 22. The 302 described that Strzok was the lead interviewer in Flynn’s interview, whereas his interviewing partner wrote up the 302.

This has raised questions about why we only got the Strzok 302, and not the original one cited by Strzok.

While I don’t have a full explanation, certain things are missing from the discussion.

Folks are misunderstanding what the 302 represents. It is not the 302 reporting the Flynn interview. Rather, it is a 302 “collect[ing] certain information regarding Strzok’s involvement in various aspects of what has become the Special Counsel’s investigation,” which he described to one Senior Assistant Special Counsel and an FBI Supervisory Special Agent, presumably one assigned to SCO. The 302 notes that Strzok wasn’t just involved in the investigation of Mike Flynn. While it redacts the names, it also lists the other parts of the investigation he oversaw.

We know he was involved in the Papadopoulos investigation, and it appears likely he was involved in the Page investigation, as well. Both this passage and the next one describes the people at DOJ that Strzok interacted with in these investigations, which is further evidence the purpose of this 302 is not to capture the interview, but instead to capture details about internal workings surrounding the investigation itself.

The part of this 302 that is unredacted makes up maybe a third of the substance of the 302, and it appears between almost full page redactions before and after the part describing the Flynn interview. Again, the other stuff must be as pertinent to the purpose of this 302 as the Flynn interview itself.

had thought the interview might be an effort by SCO to capture Strzok’s institutional knowledge in the wake of the discovery of his texts with Lisa Page as a way to prepare some other FBI Agent to be able to testify at trial. But the timing appears wrong. DOJ’s IG first informed Mueller about the texts on July 27, and he was removed from the team the next day (though not processed out of that clearance, according to this report, until August 11).

Strzok was assigned to lead the Russia investigation in late July 2016. 197 Page also worked on the Russia investigation, and told us that she served the same liaison function as she did in the Midyear investigation. Both Page and Strzok accepted invitations to work on the Special Counsel staff in 2017. Page told the OIG that she accepted a 45-day temporary duty assignment but returned to work in the Deputy Director’s office at the FBI on or around July 15, 2017. Strzok was removed from the Special Counsel’s investigation on approximately July 28, 2017, and returned to the FBI in another position, after the OIG informed the DAG and Special Counsel of the text messages discussed in this report on July 27, 2017. [my emphasis]

But the interview does line up temporally with other known events: Around the time Strzok was interviewed, both Rod Rosenstein and Sally Yates were interviewed in the obstruction case, interviews that would also result in 302s summarizing the interview. Jim Comey had already turned over his memos on meetings with Trump by that point; eventually he would be interviewed by Mueller as well, though it’s not clear when that interview (and correlating 302) was.

Yates and Comey are both among the people the 302 explicitly describes Strzok interacting with.

In other words, it seems likely that this 302 was designed to capture what Strzok knew about the internal workings of DOJ and FBI surrounding the Mike Flynn interview, and likely was focused on explaining the significance of Flynn’s lies and subsequent firing to the obstruction case. That is, this would have served to turn what Strzok learned as investigator into information Strzok had to offer as a witness, in the same way that Mueller would have had to turn what Comey and Rosenstein knew as supervisors into information relevant to their role as witnesses. It probably had the unintended benefit of capturing what Strzok knew about key parts of the investigation before he was indelibly tainted by the discovery of his text messages.

If this is the explanation, it raises questions about why we only got this 302, and not the original one.

There’s a very likely answer to that: that original 302 presumably didn’t include this detail, at least not in the easily quotable form that would serve Flynn’s political purposes.

Flynn has, as far as we know, gotten everything. His lawyers chose which of those documents to quote. And Judge Sullivan only ordered the government to produce these two (though invited them to submit anything else they wanted to, an invitation they did not take up).

But there’s another piece of evidence that there’s far less to this 302 than some are suggesting: because Republicans in Congress chased down this detail over the last year, and in their most recent incarnation of drumming up conspiracies about Flynn, in questioning Jim Comey just a week ago, Trey Gowdy did not focus on the question of the 302s produced, but instead tried to suggest that Flynn didn’t mean to lie.

Note that, contrary to what right wingers have suggested, Comey did not say anything inconsistent with the Strzok interview 302; rather, he said he wasn’t sure where his knowledge came from.

Mr. Gowdy. Who is Christopher Steele? Well, before I go to that, let me ask you this.

At any — who interviewed General Flynn, which FBI agents?

Mr. Comey. My recollection is two agents, one of whom was Pete Strzok and the other of whom is a career line agent, not a supervisor.

Mr. Gowdy. Did either of those agents, or both, ever tell you that they did not adduce an intent to deceive from their interview with General Flynn?

Mr. Comey. No.

Mr. Gowdy. Have you ever testified differently?

Mr. Comey. No.

Mr. Gowdy. Do you recall being asked that question in a HPSCI hearing?

Mr. Comey. No. I recall — I don’t remember what question I was asked. I recall saying the agents observed no indicia of deception, physical manifestations, shiftiness, that sort of thing.

Mr. Gowdy. Who would you have gotten that from if you were not present for the interview?

Mr. Comey. From someone at the FBI, who either spoke to — I don’t think I spoke to the interviewing agents but got the report from the interviewing agents.

Mr. Gowdy. All right. So you would have, what, read the 302 or had a conversation with someone who read the 302?

Mr. Comey. I don’t remember for sure. I think I may have done both, that is, read the 302 and then spoke to people who had spoken to the investigators themselves. It’s possible I spoke to the investigators directly. I just don’t remember that.

Mr. Gowdy. And, again, what was communicated on the issue of an intent to deceive? What’s your recollection on what those agents relayed back?

Mr. Comey. My recollection was he was — the conclusion of the investigators was he was obviously lying, but they saw none of the normal common indicia of deception: that is, hesitancy to answer, shifting in seat, sweating, all the things that you might associate with someone who is conscious and manifesting that they are being — they’re telling falsehoods. There’s no doubt he was lying, but that those indicators weren’t there.

Mr. Gowdy. When you say “lying,” I generally think of an intent to deceive as opposed to someone just uttering a false statement.

Mr. Comey. Sure.

Mr. Gowdy. Is it possible to utter a false statement without it being lying?

Mr. Comey. I can’t answer — that’s a philosophical question I can’t answer.

Mr. Gowdy. No, I mean, if I said, “Hey, look, I hope you had a great day yesterday on Tuesday,” that’s demonstrably false.

Mr. Comey. That’s an expression of opinion.

Mr. Gowdy. No, it’s a fact that yesterday was —

Mr. Comey. You hope I have a great day —

Mr. Gowdy. No, no, no, yesterday was not Tuesday.

Mr. Gowdy. And, again — because I’m afraid I may have interrupted you, which I didn’t mean to do — your agents, it was relayed to you that your agents’ perspective on that interview with General Flynn was what? Because where I stopped you was, you said: He was lying. They knew he was lying, but he didn’t have the indicia of lying.

Mr. Comey. Correct. All I was doing was answering your question, which I understood to be your question, about whether I had previously testified that he — the agents did not believe he was lying. I was trying to clarify. I think that reporting that you’ve seen is the product of a garble. What I recall telling the House Intelligence Committee is that the agents observed none of the common indicia of lying — physical manifestations, changes in tone, changes in pace — that would indicate the person I’m interviewing knows they’re telling me stuff that ain’t true. They didn’t see that here. It was a natural conversation, answered fully their questions, didn’t avoid. That notwithstanding, they concluded he was lying.

Mr. Gowdy. Would that be considered Brady material and hypothetically a subsequent prosecution for false statement?

Mr. Comey. That’s too hypothetical for me. I mean, interesting law school question: Is the absence of incriminating evidence exculpatory evidence? But I can’t answer that question. [my emphasis]

What may best explains this exchange is that, when it happened, Comey had never seen the Strzok 302, he had just seen the original one, but Gowdy had seen both. That would be consistent with Andrew McCabe’s testimony to HPSCI, which acknowledged that the Agents didn’t detect deception but knew Flynn’s statements did not match the FISA transcript.

McCabe confirmed the interviewing agent’s initial impression and stated that the “conundrum that we faced on their return from the interview is that although [the agents] didn’t detect deception in the statements that he made in the interview … the statements were inconsistent with our understanding of the conversation that he had actually had with the ambassador.”

Gowdy may be suggesting that the original 302 was unfair because it did not admit how well Flynn snookered the FBI’s top Counterintelligence Agent. But that detail may not be something Comey is even aware  of, because it only got written down after he had been fired. That would explain why Flynn wouldn’t want that original one disclosed, because it might make clear that the FBI immediately recognized his claims to be false, even if they didn’t know (before doing the requisite follow-up) why he lied.

One thing we do know: there are two (related) criminal investigations that have come out of Mike Flynn’s interview. The first, into his lies, and the second, into Trump’s efforts to keep him on in spite of his lies by firing the FBI Director.

While we can’t say for sure (and Mueller’s office would not comment in response to my questions when I asked if something like this explained the 302), one possible explanation for why we’re seeing just this 302 is it’s the only one that makes Flynn look good.

Update: As JL notes, the Mueller filing makes it clear that the 302 is neither from the Flynn investigation nor from an investigation into Strzok’s conduct.

Strzok was interviewed on July 19, 2017, in relation to other matters, not as part of the investigation of the defendant or any investigation of Strzok’s conduct.

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. 

Cohen’s Cooperation Seems to Focus on Obstruction

Both sentencing memoranda for Michael Cohen are out: SDNY’s memo is fairly damning (for both Cohen and Trump), whereas Mueller’s is more moderate. Here’s the Manafort breach filing; the government also submitted a sealed version.  

I’m going to focus on the Mueller Cohen one here. It describes the substance of his cooperation in four paragraphs. The first two relate to outreach from Russia. 

The defendant’s assistance has been useful in four significant respects. First, the defendant provided information about his own contacts with Russian interests during the campaign and discussions with others in the course of making those contacts. For example, and as described above, the defendant provided a detailed account of his involvement and the involvement of others in the Moscow Project, and also corrected the record concerning his outreach to the Russian government during the week of the United Nations General Assembly. The defendant also provided information about attempts by other Russian nationals to reach the campaign. For example, in or around November 2015, Cohen received the contact information for, and spoke with, a Russian national who claimed to be a “trusted person” in the Russian Federation who could offer the campaign “political synergy” and “synergy on a government level.” The defendant recalled that this person repeatedly proposed a meeting between Individual 1 and the President of Russia. The person told Cohen that such a meeting could have a “phenomenal” impact “not only in political but in a business dimension as well,” referring to the Moscow Project, because there is “no bigger warranty in any project than consent of [the President of Russia].” Cohen, however, did not follow up on this invitation.3

Second, Cohen provided the SCO with useful information concerning certain discrete Russia-related matters core to its investigation that he obtained by virtue of his regular contact with Company executives during the campaign. 

Those are pretty vague, but this footnote makes it clear that even before Russians started dialing up the candidate’s fixer, Trump had okayed Cohen’s efforts to reach out. 

The defendant, without prompting by the SCO, also corrected other false and misleading statements that he had made concerning his outreach to and contacts with Russian officials during the course of the campaign. For example, in a radio interview in September 2015, the defendant suggested that Individual 1 meet with the President of Russia in New York City during his visit for the United Nations General Assembly. When asked previously about these events, the defendant claimed his public comments had been spontaneous and had not been discussed within the campaign or the Company. During his proffer sessions, the defendant admitted that this account was false and that he had in fact conferred with Individual 1 about contacting the Russian government before reaching out to gauge Russia’s interest in such a meeting. The meeting ultimately did not take place.

That, plus the early focus on Trump Tower deals, makes it clear where Trump’s focus at that point was: real estate. 

The very short third and fourth paragraphs are even more oblique. 

Third, Cohen provided relevant and useful information concerning his contacts with persons connected to the White House during the 2017–2018 time period.

Fourth, Cohen described the circumstances of preparing and circulating his response to the congressional inquiries, while continuing to accept responsibility for the false statements contained within it.

These seem to point to obstruction more than the conspiracy with Russia (contrary to what I’ve seen elsewhere). Indeed, the language in the fourth paragraph talking about how Cohen “described the circumstances of preparing and circulating his response to the congressional inquiries, while continuing to accept responsibility for the false statements contained within it” seems to address a point I raised in this post: he could not have crafted that lie alone; it had to have been coordinated with Trump Org and Felix Sater, at a minimum. So while he admits that he’s responsible for his own lies, he appears to have explained how everyone made sure they were on the same page with those lies. 

And the reference to his communications with the White House in 2018 probably pertains, in significant part, to pardons.

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. 

Michael Cohen and Felix Sater’s Evolving Cooperation against Trump

Among the things I remain most amazed by, in the Russian investigation, is that even while Trump and the GOP are trying to discredit the Mueller investigation by claiming, without evidence, that the Deep State had a bunch of informants infiltrate Trump’s campaign, no one has ever alleged that Felix Sater had been sent by the Deep State, even though he had a known background of being an informant for the Deep State before this whole thing began. And while Trump has attacked Michael Cohen viciously since he discovered (after his personal lawyer got raided by the Feds), that Cohen had recordings that exposed Trump personally, it still seems that Cohen and Sater may be shading their coordinated testimony to protect Trump from the worst implications of the Trump Tower deal. I’ve even heard chatter that Cohen remained in touch with Trump as recently as September.

I argued back in August 2017 that Mueller had seemed to form a prosecutorial team with the lessons his FBI learned via Felix Sater. That was before BuzzFeed reported in March that Sater actually had ties to six of Mueller’s prosecutors, starting with Andrew Weissmann.

Today, as he is being questioned about Trump’s business deals and ties to Russia, he has built relationships with at least six members of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, some going back more than 10 years.

[snip]

Signing Sater’s cooperation agreement for the Department of Justice was Andrew Weissmann, then an assistant US attorney and now a key member of the special counsel’s team. Mueller himself would be the FBI director for most of the time Sater served as a source.

Even given the extensive background Mueller’s team has with Sater, they seem to have delayed interviewing him until fairly late in the process: December 2017. And it looks like Sater was no more forthright when he first met with Congress (and therefore possibly even Mueller’s team) than Cohen was.

In anticipation of today’s sentencing filings, I’d like to track the evolving stories on the Trump Tower deal, because I’m genuinely curious whether Cohen has now been more forthcoming than Sater.

May 31, 2017: Cohen and his lawfirm subpoenaed by HPSCI. Facing the problems with the Trump Tower story would have come up within weeks of Jim Comey’s firing, when the House Intelligence Committee — which was still conducting a marginally credible investigation — first asked and then subpoenaed him for documents. Ironically, they were likely after documents pertaining to the Steele dossier allegations, which may have been why Devin Nunes so readily assented to a subpoena. Those allegations have amounted to nothing, thus far.

July 8, 2017: First report on June 9 meeting creates a rush for testimony on that topic.

July 19, 2017: SJC requests documents from Trump organization. The request was written targeted specifically to the influence campaign, not ties with Russia generally, though it should have at least obligated Trump Organization to preserve the company’s contacts with Russian government officials.

If this has not yet been done, we ask that you immediately take steps to preserve all relevant documents in the possession, custody, or control of the Trump Organization related to Russian interference in the 2016 election, including documents related to the Trump Organization’s or Trump campaign’s3 contacts with: Russian government officials, associates, or representatives; any individuals who purported to act or whom were believed to be acting on behalf of Russian government officials, associates, or representatives; anyone who might have been involved in or in receipt of information obtained as a result of Russia’s influence campaign

But Sater was not among those it included in the communication list.

all communications to, from, or copied to the Trump Organization relating to Rob Goldstone, Emin Agalarov, Aras Agalarov, Natalia Veselnitskaya, Rinat Akhmetshin, Anatoli Samochornov, Irakly (Ike) Kaveladze, Christopher Steele, Aleksej Gubarev, Webzilla B.V., XBT Holdings S.A., Alfa Group, Dmitry Peskov, Vladimir Putin, the Ritz Carlton Moscow Hotel, Paul Manafort, Carter Page, Igor Sechin, Sergei Ivanov, Igor Divyekin, Sergei Millian, Dmitry Medvedev, Michael Flynn, Jill Stein, Michael Cohen, Konstantin Kosachev, Viktor Yanukovych, Corey Lewandowski, Sergei Kislyak, Yuri Ushakov, Anton Vaino, Mikhail Kalugin, Andrei Bondarev, Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven, German Khan, Oleg Govorun, Sergey Lavrov, Rosneft, Sergei Kiriyenko, Oleg Solodukhin. This shall include any documents referring to any of the aforementioned using alternate spellings, pseudonyms, nicknames, abbreviations, or codes;

The very same day SJC submitted a document request that would not cover Trump’s business ties to Russia, the NYT published the interview in which it obediently set a “red line” on Trump’s businesses that Mueller should not cross.

August 27-28, 2017: Probably because of the way the June 9 meeting was disclosed, Congress more aggressively pursued testimony on it than on other issues. As a result, Don Jr got a request — and an early hearing date — for testimony from the Senate Judiciary Committee. In the lead-up to that (and to his own SSCI interview), Michael Cohen conducted a preemptive limited hangout on the Trump Tower story. It started with a WaPo scoop that cited several people familiar with the proposal when telling Cohen’s partial version, one of whom must be Cohen.

Trump never went to Moscow as Sater proposed. And although investors and Trump’s company signed a letter of intent, they lacked the land and permits to proceed and the project was abandoned at the end of January 2016, just before the presidential primaries began, several people familiar with the proposal said.

The next day, the Trump Organization turned over [some, but obviously not all of the] emails on the deal to Congress, leading to more reporting on it. At the same time, Cohen turned over a statement on the projected project, the following parts of which got quoted in his statement of the offense.

The proposal was under consideration at the [Company] from September 2015 until the end of January 2016 . By the end of January 2016 , I determined that the proposal was not feasible for a variety of business reasons and should not be pursued further . Based on my business determinations, the [Company] abandoned the [Moscow Project] proposal . To the best of my knowledge , [Individual l] was never in contact with anyone about this proposal other than me on three occasions . I did not ask or brief [Individual l] , or any of his family , before I made the decision to terminate further work on the proposal.

I primarily communicated with the Moscow- based development company . through a U. S . citizen third- party intermediary , [Individual 2] . [ Individual 2] constantly asked me to travel to Moscow as part of his efforts to push forward the discussion of the proposal . I ultimately determined that the proposal was not feasible and never agreed to make a trip to Russia . Despite overtures by [Individual 2] , I never considered asking [Individual l] to travel to Russia in connection with this proposal .

In mid- January 2016 , [Individual 2] suggested that I send an email to [Russian Official l] , the Press Secretary for the President of Russia , since the proposal would require approvals within the Russian government that had not been issued . Those permissions were never provided . I decided to abandon the proposal less than two weeks later for business reasons and do not recall any response to my email , nor any other contacts by me with [Russian Official l] or other Russian government officials about the proposal

Also that day, WSJ reported another part of the cover story: that Cohen had talked to Trump about it, but just three times. Later that day, WSJ published an interview with Cohen who described, in helpful detail for anyone trying to coordinate stories, the three contacts with Trump about it he admitted to.

In 2015, Mr. Cohen said, he informed the then-candidate that he was working on a licensing deal for a Trump Tower in Moscow. He subsequently asked for and received Mr. Trump’s signature on a nonbinding letter of intent for the project in October 2015. And in January 2016, he said, he informed the then-candidate that he had killed the proposal. Mr. Cohen said each conversation was brief.

NYT, too, picked up the story, even republishing fragments of emails sent during 2015. It did repeat Felix Sater’s boast that by building a Trump Tower it could get Trump elected. However, it quotes Sater seemingly backing the shortened (September 2015 through January 2016) timeline of the deal.

“During the course of our communications over several months, I routinely expressed my enthusiasm regarding what a tremendous opportunity this was for the Trump Organization,” Mr. Sater said.

By August 28, all media outlets had focused on the January 2016 Cohen email to the general press line for Dmitri Peskov, which was attention getting (because it involved Putin’s close aide) but could also be pitched to show (because Cohen used the general press line rather than a more direct line to Peskov) how few contacts with Russia Cohen purportedly had. Trump Organization provided a statement that mirrored Cohen’s lie that the deal had died in January 2016. It is clear that Cohen and Trump Organization coordinated this roll-out. Yet Cohen has not yet publicly disclosed that coordination.

August 30, 2017: On August 30, Dmitri Peskov substantially backed Cohen’s story. Notably, he denied knowing either Cohen or Sater and said that Vladimir Putin had never known about the deal. It’s possible — likely, even — that Peskov was just taking cues from Cohen’s public leaks of his cover story, though it would awfully damning if this coordination went further.

August 31, 2017: Then, Cohen released the letter his attorney had sent — two weeks earlier — along with two earlier tranches of documents for Congress. Having done his limited hangout of the Moscow deal, releasing the letter that focused entirely on his denials with respect to the Steele dossier shifted the focus back on that.

September 7, 2017: SJC interviews Don Jr. While he didn’t tell huge lies, he nevertheless claimed to know “very little” about the 2015-2016 Trump Tower Moscow deal, being only “peripherally aware” of the negotiations. Perhaps his most specific lie was that he did not know of Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s outreach to the Kremlin seeking President Vladimir Putin’s help on the deal until that news had been reported by the press just weeks earlier.

September 19, 2017: Cohen attempts to preempt an interview with SSCI by releasing a partial statement before testifying, only to have SSCI balk and reschedule the interview. The statement alluded to, but did not incorporate, the statement on the Trump Tower deal he had released on August 28, though even his allusion to it included lies.

I assume we will discuss the rejected proposal to build a Trump property in Moscow that was terminated in January of 2016; which occurred before the Iowa caucus and months before the very first primary. This was solely a real estate deal and nothing more. I was doing my job. I would ask that the two-page statement about the Moscow proposal that I sent to the Committee in August be incorporated into and attached to this transcript.

October 24, 2017: HPSCI interviews Cohen. The timing of the interviews of the three players in the Trump Tower deal is rather curious, especially given Richard Burr’s recent suggestions the committee is working closely with Mueller. SSCI got Cohen and Don Jr on the record during the same period HPSCI was getting all three on the record. But SSCI doesn’t yet get Sater on the record, and it’s not until that same time period (presumably after the HPSCI interview) until Mueller gets Sater, even with his long relationship with six of Mueller’s team members, on the record. As the HPSCI report makes clear, however, as late as December 14, Sater was still telling a story that conflicts with the story both he and Cohen are currently telling.

October 25, 2017: SSCI interviews Cohen.

December 6, 2017: HPSCI interviews Don Jr. Of the three men, Don Jr gets closest to the truth in his interview with HPSCI, but in ways that conflict with his September SJC testimony.

December 13, 2017: SSCI staff interviews Don Jr.

December 14, 2017: HPSCI interviews Felix Sater in his lawyers’ NYC office.

December 2017: Mueller interviews Sater.

March 5, 2018: Mueller adds questions about the Trump Tower deal to those he wants Trump to answer. Note, this comes in the wake of Rick Gates’ cooperation deal; we still do not know what senior campaign official knew of Cohen’s attempts to travel to Russia as part of the Trump Tower deal but it’s possible Gates was in the loop on it.

March 12, 2018: BuzzFeed’s first long piece relying on Felix Sater focuses (like his statement to HPSCI) on his time as an informant, not the Trump Tower deal. It does, however, provide an unsatisfying explanation for why he thought building a Trump Tower would help Trump get elected.

Did he think the Trump Moscow deal could get Trump elected?

Even Trump “is fucking surprised he became the president.”

Then why send that email?

“If a deal can get done and I could make money and he could look like a statesman, what the fuck is the downside, right?”

It also includes details on the Ukrainian deal, and ends with Sater’s insistence (among comments explaining why he won’t say mean things about Trump) that once Trump leaves office he intends to build Trump Tower.

“First thing I plan to do when Trump leaves office, whether it’s next week, in 2020 or four years later, is march right into his office and say, ‘Let’s build Trump Moscow.’

“I’m serious.”

It also shows that the statement Sater gave to HPSCI doesn’t address his involvement with Trump at all, but instead focuses on his service as an informant. Which may explain the gratuitous statement on those activities in HPSCI’s report.

March 15, 2018: NYT reports that Mueller has subpoenaed Trump Org for documents relating to Russia, which it uses to suggest Mueller is inching closer to the false red line the NYT so obediently set in August 2017. Keep in mind: by this point the known witnesses on Trump Tower had claimed there was no follow-up on the Peskov email, which suggests they had reason to believe the discovery shared with Congress (which is what Mueller got in the first round) did not tell the complete story. If Gates was in the loop on the Cohen negotiations, Mueller would have known by that point that Trump Organization had withheld responsive documents.

March 22, 2018: HPSCI releases Russia Report. It shows that both Sater and Cohen were telling the same cover story when they met with the committee in October and December 2017, respectively, Don Jr’s December testimony was closer to the truth (and as such probably in conflict with his September testimony to SJC). But as the bolded passages make clear, HPSCI had a pretty good idea they were being lied to.

In approximately September 2015, he received a separate proposal for Trump Tower Moscow from a businessman named [Sater] According to Cohen, the concept of the project was that “[t]he Trump Organization would lend its name and management skills, but It was not going to borrow any money and it would not have any resulting debt for the purchase of the land and the building of the facility.”;~ Cohen worked on this idea with [Sater] and his company, the Bayrock Group, a real estate consultancy that had previously worked with the Trump Organization.

[gratuitous paragraph on what a colorful fellow Sater is — see note on statement, above]

(U) After signing a letter of intent with a local developer in October 2015,36 Cohen and [Sater] exchanged a number of emails and text messages in late 2015 detailing their attempts to move the project forward. For instance, in December 2015, [Sater] tried to get Cohen and candidate Trump to travel to Russia to work on the project.

(U) Several of [Sater’s] communications with Cohen involved an attempt to broker a meeting or other ties between candidate Trump and President Putin, and purported to convey Russian government interest in the project. Perhaps most notably, [Sater] told Cohen in a November 3, 2015, email, “[b]uddy our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer it.” 39 [Sater] continued that if “Putin gets on stage with Donald for a ribbon cutting for Trump Moscow, . .. Donald owns the republican nomination.” 10 This assertion apparently arose from [Sater’s] rather grandiose theory that cementing a deal with a hostile U.S. adversary would increase candidate Trump’s foreign policy bona fides.41

(U) Sater testified that his communications with Cohen regarding President Putin were ”mere puffery,” designed to elicit a response from the · Trump Organization to move the project along.42 [Sater] explained that “[u]ntil the bank writes the check, it’s all salesmanship and promotion to try to get many, many, many parties towards the center to try to get the deal done.” 43 Cohen similarly characterized [Sater] as “a salesman” who “uses very colorful language.”44

(U) When the project started proceeding too slowly for the Trump Organization,45 Cohen and [Sater] began to exchange acrimonious text messages. 46 As part of those text messages [Sater] told Cohen that President Putin’s people were backing the deal, including “this is thru Putins [sic] administration, and nothing gets done there without approval from the top,” as well as meetings in Russia with “Ministers” and “Putins [sic] top administration people.”] [Sater] also mentioned Dmitry Peskov (President Putin’s spokesman) would “most likely” be included. 48

(U) Cohen thus attempted to reach out to members of the Russian government in an attempt to make the project proceed, but apparently did not have any direct points of contact. for example, Cohen sent an email to a general press mailbox at the Kremlin in an effort to reach Peskov.49 Cohen’s message notes that he has been working with a local partner to build a Trump Tower in Moscow and that communications have stalled with the local partner.50 The email further seeks contact with Peskov so they may ” discuss the specifics as well as arrang[e] meetings with the appropriate individuals.”51 Based on the documents produced to the Committee, it does not appear Cohen ever received a response from anyone affiliated with the Russian government.

(U) [Sater’s] testimony likewise made clear that neither President Putin nor any element of the Russian government was actually directly involved in the project. For instance, in one exchange, [Sater] testified he was offering the Trump Organization access to one of his acquaintances. This acquaintance was an acquaintance of someone else who is “partners on a real estate development with a friend of Putin’s.” 52

[Sater] testified that he was unaware of “any direct meetings with any [Russian] government officials” in connection with the Trump Tower Moscow project.53 In addition, neither candidate Trump nor Cohen traveled to Russia in support of the deal.54

[U] It appears the Trump Tower Moscow project failed in January 2016.57 Trump Jr. testified that, as of early June 2016, he believed the Trump Tower Moscow project was dormant.53 The project failed because “[t]he due diligence did not come through” and the Trump Organization’s representative “lost confidence in the licensee, and [he] abandoned the project.”59 In fact, the Trump Organization did not have a confirmed site, so the deal never reached the point where the company was discussing financing arrangements for the project.60 The Committee determined that the Trump Tower Moscow project did not progress beyond an early developmental phase, and that this potential licensing deal was not related to the Trump campaign.61

So by March 22, at least some of the people with influence over the HPSCI report (it’s unclear whether Democrats had any influence on the final product at this point at all) had doubts about whether Cohen got a response from the Kremlin, used hedged language about whether either candidate Trump or Cohen planned on traveling to Russia (a particularly important hedge, as Cohen appears to have made plans to do so specifically in response to the June 9 meeting), and didn’t entirely believe the deal failed in January. Indeed, Don Jr’s language suggested it continued afterwards.

April 4, 2018: SSCI interviews Felix Sater. Given that Sater almost certainly lied in his Mueller interview — given its proximity to the interview with HPSCI where he told the cover story — this may have been an attempt to see what the interim story would be. Note that it immediately precedes the Cohen raid. The BuzzFeed story published the following month, which noted discrepancies between Sater’s then currently operative story and Cohen’s, suggests that Sater did provide more of the truth to SSCI, noting, for example, that Trump got regular updates.

Last month, Senate Intelligence Committee staffers peppered Sater for hours with questions about the Trump Moscow project. Sater testified that Cohen acted as the “intermediary” for Trump Moscow and was eager to see the deal through because he wanted to “score points with Trump.”

Sater also testified that Trump would regularly receive “short updates about the process of the deal.”

And it revealed the plans went on into “at least” June.

[N]ew records show he was still working on it with Sater at least into June. In May, six weeks before the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Sater asked Cohen when he and Trump would go to Moscow. In a text message, Cohen replied: “MY trip before Cleveland. Trump once he becomes the nominee after the convention.”

April 9, 2018: Cohen raided by SDNY, based on a subpoena that names “many” people. In litigation that follows, SDNY made several claims about Cohen’s cooperation to this point, including fact-checking whether or not he has been fully cooperative with Mueller’s inquiry. Key to that was Cohen’s efforts to limit what Trump Organization turned over.

Cohen also states that the SCO “had requested that the Trump Organization produce all of Mr. Cohen’s communications that were within the Trump Organization’s custody, possession, or control,” and that Cohen objected “on the grounds that [the request] called for production of privileged communications, among other things.” (Br. 8-9). Although in the ordinary course, the USAO-SDNY would not comment on investigative requests or demands made to third parties, particularly those from a separate office undertaking its own, independent investigation, in light of the representations made by Cohen’s counsel, USAO-SDNY contacted the SCO about these representations and understands they are not accurate. In particular, the SCO did not request that the Trump Organization produce “all communications” by Cohen in the Trump Organization’s possession or control irrespective of subject matter or privilege. Indeed, the request made by the SCO was considerably narrower, and specifically omitted, among other things, any documents that were protected by privilege or of a purely personal nature. Cohen nonetheless objected to that request for documents and, after discussions between Cohen’s counsel and the SCO, the SCO decided not to seek production at that time. That Cohen sought to preclude the Trump Organization from producing these third party communications belies both (i) his general assertion of cooperation, and (ii) his stated principal interest in protecting attorney-client communications. Indeed, a careful review of Cohen’s motion papers reveals that he does not purport to have personally produced any documents to the SCO.

The SDNY statement also included a redacted passage suggesting that Cohen (or perhaps Trump Organization?) may have already destroyed evidence.

Elsewhere, the filing notes that “USAO-SDNY has already obtained search warrants – covert until this point – on multiple different email accounts maintained by Cohen,” which may by why they knew he might delete things.

For its part, Trump Organization tried to demand every single thing written between Cohen and the Trump Organization to be treated as privileged.

We consider each and every communication by, between or amongst Mr. Cohen and the Trump Organization and each of its officers, directors and employees, to be subject to and protected by the attorney- client privilege and/or the work-product privilege.

May 17, 2018: BuzzFeed presents what it calls the definitive story on Trump Tower deal, relying on “emails, text messages, congressional testimony, architectural renderings, and other documents.” As noted above, in the guise of telling BuzzFeed what his April testimony had been to SSCI, Sater admitted that Trump had gotten regular updates and that the deal went on into at least June.

But there were details that, the story made clear, Sater was still hiding. That includes the name of someone Sater and the developer, Andrey Rozov, met in early November 2015, in the Bahamas.

About a week after Trump signed the document, Sater and Rozov, the developer, went on vacation to the Bahamas. Rozov rented Little Whale Cay, a private island, for $175,000, and the two men went diving and spearfishing. In an email, Sater told Cohen that another, unidentified friend was flying in to join them. This mystery individual, who is not named in the documents and whom Sater would not identify, knew two of the richest and most powerful men in Russia, the Rotenberg brothers.

And there are differences between what Sater said publicly and what Cohen said. Sater focuses on this follow-up in the wake of Cohen’s attempt to reach Peksov.

Four days later, Cohen received a letter from Andrey Ryabinskiy, a Russian mortgage tycoon and boxing promoter. “In furtherance of our previous conversations regarding the development of the Trump Tower Moscow project,” Ryabinskiy wrote, “we would like to respectfully invite you to Moscow for a working visit.” The meeting would be to tour plots of land for the potential tower, to have “round table discussions,” and to coordinate a follow-up visit by Trump himself. Ryabinskiy did not return a message left with his attorney.

It is not clear how Cohen responded, but Sater asked Cohen for travel dates for both Cohen and Trump the same afternoon Ryabinskiy sent the letter. “Will do,” Cohen wrote.

Sater’s story doesn’t reflect the discussion with Peskov’s assistant that Cohen’s current story does.

Perhaps most remarkably, Sater seems to telegraph to Cohen a story about messages from between January and May being lost.

Sater has told investigators that during the first months of 2016, he and Cohen were using Dust, at Cohen’s suggestion, to communicate secretly about the Moscow project. Those messages, which were encrypted and are deleted automatically, have disappeared forever, Sater told BuzzFeed News. But on May 3, the day Trump won the Indiana primary and his top opponent Ted Cruz suspended his campaign, Sater sent Cohen an ordinary text message: “Should I dial you now?”

The claim that Sater and Cohen shifted to Dust and then shifted back to iMessage to plan travel in May doesn’t make any sense, and suggests something else is going on.

Finally, Sater’s story makes no mention of what Sater was doing in Trump Tower on July 21, ending instead with a dubious story about seeing a July 26 Trump tweet denying any business deals in Russia and realizing the deal was over. Anyone who knows Trump as well as Sater must, has to know that a public statement from Trump as often as not means the opposite of what he says. As I’ve suggested, it seems that the deal didn’t die, it just moved under a Sergei Millian and George Papadopoulos carried rock.

June 20, 2018: Cohen steps down from RNC position.

July 27, 2018: Sources claim Cohen is willing to testify he was present, with others, when Trump approved of the June 9 meeting with the Russians.

August 7, 2018: First Cohen proffer to Mueller.

August 21, 2018: Cohen pleads guilty to SDNY charges. Warner and Burr publicly note that Cohen’s claim to know about the June 9 meeting ahead of time conflicts with his testimony to the committee.

September 12, 2018: Second proffer.

September 18, 2018: Third proffer.

October 8, 2018: Fourth proffer.

October 17, 2018: Fifth proffer.

November 12, 2018: Sixth proffer.

November 20, 2018: Seventh proffer.

November 29, 2018: Cohen pleads guilty to false statements charge. In his statement to the court, he does not say that Trump (or anyone else at Trump Organization) ordered him to lie. Rather, he said that he did so to be consistent with Trump’s messaging.

I made these statements to be consistent with Individual-1’s political messaging and out of loyalty to Individual-1,

In his official statement, Rudy claims that Trump Organization turned over the documents underlying Cohen’s plea, which is almost certainly a lie.

It is important to understand that documents that the Special Counsel’s Office is using to show that Cohen lied to Congress were voluntarily disclosed by the Trump Organization because there was nothing to hide.

After the plea, Rudy gives an unbelievably hedged statement about whether the Trump Tower deal ever really died.

“The president, as far as he knows, he remembers there was such a proposal for a hotel,” Giuliani said. “He talked it over with Cohen as Cohen said. There was a nonbinding letter of intent that was sent. As far as he knows it never came to fruition. That was kind of the end of it.”

The day of Cohen’s plea, Sater provided BuzzFeed with materials and describes that he suggested giving Vladimir Putin a penthouse to make Trump Tower more lucrative. But he describes that as a marketing gimmick, not a FCPA-prohibited bribe that would further compromise Trump in his relationship with Putin.

Sater told BuzzFeed News today that he and Cohen thought giving the Trump Tower’s most luxurious apartment, a $50 million penthouse, to Putin would entice other wealthy buyers to purchase their own. “In Russia, the oligarchs would bend over backwards to live in the same building as Vladimir Putin,” Sater told BuzzFeed News. “My idea was to give a $50 million penthouse to Putin and charge $250 million more for the rest of the units. All the oligarchs would line up to live in the same building as Putin.” A second source confirmed the plan.

Given that BuzzFeed says this involved a Peskov representative, Sater may have been trying to hide this detail when he provided a different emphasis on the negotiations in the interviews leading up to the May story than Cohen did in his false statements admission (that is, Sater may have responded to seeing Cohen admit that detail by calling up BuzzFeed to provide a new limited hangout).

December 5, 2018: In his sentencing memorandum, Cohen repeats his line, from the oral statement he gave during his guilty plea, that he lied of his own accord.

Michael’s false statements to Congress likewise sprung regrettably from Michael’s effort, as a loyal ally and then-champion of Client-1, to support and advance Client-1’s political messaging. At the time that he was requested to appear before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Michael was serving as personal attorney to the President, and followed daily the political messages that both Client-1 and his staff and supporters repeatedly and forcefully broadcast. Furthermore, in the weeks during which his then counsel prepared his written response to the Congressional Committees, Michael remained in close and regular contact with White House-based staff and legal counsel to Client-1.

As such, he was (a) fully aware of Client-1’s repeated disavowals of commercial and political ties between himself and Russia, as well as the strongly voiced mantra of Client-1 that investigations of such ties were politically motivated and without evidentiary support, and (b) specifically knew, consistent with Client-1’s aim to dismiss and minimize the merit of the SCO investigation, that Client-1 and his public spokespersons were seeking to portray contact with Russian representatives in any form by Client-1, the Campaign or the Trump Organization as having effectively terminated before the Iowa caucuses of February 1, 2016.

Seeking to stay in line with this message, Michael told Congress that his communications and efforts to finalize a building project in Moscow on behalf of the Trump Organization, which he began pursuing in 2015, had come to an end in January 2016, when a general inquiry he made to the Kremlin went unanswered. He also stated that his communications with Client-1 and others in the Trump Organization regarding the project were minimal and ceased at or about the same time. In fact, Michael had a lengthy substantive conversation with the personal assistant to a Kremlin official following his outreach in January 2016, engaged in additional communications concerning the project as late as June 2016, and kept Client-1 apprised of these communications. He and Client-1 also discussed possible travel to Russia in the summer of 2016, and Michael took steps to clear dates for such travel.

In the heated political environment of the moment and understanding the public message that Client-1 wished to propagate, Michael, in his written statement to Congress, foreshortened the chronology of events and his communications with Client-1 to characterize both as having terminated before the Iowa caucuses. At the time, Michael justified his false summary of the matter on the ground that the Moscow project ultimately did not go forward. He recognizes that his judgment was fundamentally wrong, and wishes both to apologize and set the record straight.

Of course, this statement depends on the truth of the claim that the deal did not go forward — something about which Trump’s lawyer seems unconvinced and about which there is some evidence to the contrary. That is, this seems to be an effort to shift the date of the agreement to June or maybe July, when the deal was still active in January 2017 when Papadopoulos lied to try to keep his hand in that deal or even still active (as Sater said for the May story) for when Trump leaves office.

But the other problem with it is that Cohen’s explanation that he made up this cover story on his own, as a kind of mirror of Trump’s concerns rather than specifically conspiring to do so, only makes sense if he was the only person to tell this lie. But, at a minimum, Sater did, and Don Jr appears to have told a version of it. Now, it’s certainly possible that Cohen and Sater coordinated their story by leaking to the press; that’s the purpose the BuzzFeed stories seem to serve.

But if, as seems virtually certain, Trump Organization didn’t turn over any communications that would conflict with that cover story, then Cohen must have coordinated with Trump Organization, at a minimum. And given how Cohen stops short of attributing this move to Trump’s orders, whereas on the Stormy payoff he does attribute it to Trump, it seems to shy away from implicating Trump as much as must have happened.

Far more importantly, Russia seemed to know the outlines of the cover story, with Peskov matching what Cohen was saying (and Peskov has now matched Cohen’s currently operative story).

Given their past clear efforts to craft a joint limited hangout, and given a lot of other details about this story that don’t make sense, it seems that Cohen and Sater may still be working Mueller’s prosecutors (whom Sater knows as well as anyone).

That’s one thing we may get a sense of from the sentencing memo due by 5PM today. In any case, Cohen won’t get a 5K letter like Mike Flynn did. He still has some cooperating to do before Mueller will give him that. So if I’m right, he may still be caught in a dangerous game.

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. 

No, Mike Pence Is Not Going to Be Indicted

For a long time, I’ve pissed off the frothy anti-Trumpers because I insist there is nothing in the public record that suggests Mike Pence will be indicted as part of the Mueller investigation. Yes, it is true that Paul Manafort — who may yet get indicted six more times at the rate he’s going — installed him, but on top of being a Russian-backed sleaze, he’s also an expert on getting Republicans elected, and he was right that Trump needed someone with real Evangelical credentials and close ties to the Koch network to get elected. Yes, it is true that he got warnings that Flynn was an unregistered foreign agent, but as Vice President, he’s not the guy who decided Flynn would make a swell National Security Advisor. And as I’ve long argued, the fact that Mike Pence knowingly lied — if that’s what he did do — to hide that Mike Flynn had discussed sanctions with Sergei Kislyak is not an indictable offense, not even close to one.

Besides, Robert Mueller seems to believe he didn’t knowingly lie.

That’s what this passage from the Addendum laying out Flynn’s cooperation means.

Pence is, of course, the most obvious person who repeated the false story that Flynn had not discussed sanctions with Kislyak. But we don’t even have to know that to focus on Pence. That’s because the sentencing memo itself lays out how the progression from the David Ignatius column to Pence’s appearance on Face the Nation led up to Flynn’s FBI interview, according that progression and Pence’s role in it particular emphasis.

Days prior to the FBI’s interview of the defendant, the Washington Post had published a story alleging that he had spoken with Russia’s ambassador to the United States on December 29, 2016, the day the United States announced sanctions and other measures against Russia in response to that government’s actions intended to interfere with the 2016 election (collectively, “sanctions”). See David Ignatius, Why did Obama Dawdle on Russia’s hacking?, WASH. POST (Jan. 12, 2017). The Post story queried whether the defendant’s actions violated the Logan Act, which prohibits U.S. citizens from corresponding with a foreign government with the intent to influence the conduct of that foreign government regarding disputes with the United States. See 18 U.S.C. § 953. Subsequent to the publication of the Post article and prior to the defendant’s FBI interview, members of President-Elect Trump’s transition team publicly stated that they had spoken to the defendant, and that he denied speaking to the Russian ambassador about the sanctions. See, e.g., Face the Nation transcript January 15, 2017: Pence, Manchin, Gingrich, CBS NEWS (Jan. 15, 2017).

So the sentencing memo tells us that the progression from Ignatius to Pence was important, and one of the unredacted bits describing Flynn’s cooperation states that Flynn conveyed false information to several senior members of the transition team, which they publicly repeated.

And then the passage describing Flynn’s cooperation regarding transition events ends with three redacted lines.

I have, in the past, doubted that Flynn told Pence and Sean Spicer that sanctions didn’t come up. But Mueller seems to have no doubt.

So when Pence claimed on the teevee that Flynn did not talk sanctions with Kislyak, he believed — because that’s what Flynn told him — that Flynn did not talk sanctions with Kislyak.

Where things (especially those three redacted lines) get interesting is when you look at the story Trump’s lawyers told Mueller in the wake of Flynn’s plea deal in January in an attempt to spin a story McGahn wrote days after Flynn got fired into something that would still hold up almost a year later. Effectively, the original McGahn narrative invented reasons (which are inconsistent with Sally Yates’ version of events) why Trump didn’t fire Flynn right away on January 26, but instead — in a series of conversations memorialized by the then FBI Director — tried to convince Jim Comey to drop things. The original McGahn narrative further invented reasons why Flynn’s lies to Pence mattered on February 13 (when they were used as an excuse to fire Flynn in an attempt to kill the investigation) when they hadn’t mattered on January 26.

As I’ve laid out here, things got still worse when, on January 29, 2o18, they had to try to make that story fit Don McGahn’s testimony from fall 2017, Transition documents seized during the summer that Trump witnesses only belatedly realized Mueller had, and Flynn’s decision to cooperate in November. The most interesting of the glaring problems with the story, however, is this one:

The Trump letter didn’t address two of the questions asked about Flynn’s firing. In addition to remaining silent about what Trump really knew about what Flynn said to Pence, it doesn’t address Trump’s involvement in the transition period communications with Sergey Kislyak. That’s important because that’s the question that Flynn’s initial interview should have revealed. Contrary to what the letter claims, then, Flynn’s plea and Trump’s silence in the letter about the substance of the plea is proof not that Trump didn’t obstruct, but that Trump continues to refuse to explain why Flynn asked Kislyak to hold off on responding to sanctions, to say nothing of whether Flynn did so on his orders.

Remember: according to public reports, Trump refused to answer any questions pertaining to the transition period. Since January 8, 2018, Mueller’s team has been trying to get him to address his knowledge and involvement in (among other things):

  1. Former National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn — information regarding his contacts with Ambassador Kislyak about sanctions during the transition process;
  2. Lt. Gen. Flynn’s communications with Vice President Michael Pence regarding those contacts;

These, then, would be two of the questions Trump refused to answer by asserting Executive Privilege over issues from a period when he was not yet the Executive.

But then, Mueller probably doesn’t need Trump to answer questions to which the answer is almost certainly, “I ordered them.” As Flynn’s addendum on cooperation lays out, “the defendant’s decision to plead guilty and cooperate likely affected the decisions of related firsthand witnesses to be forthcoming with the SCO and cooperate,” which is (like the comment on Flynn’s lies to Pence) followed by several redacted lines, the last of the addendum. We know, for example, that one of the people that belatedly decided to unforget details she was a party to firsthand after Flynn flipped was KT McFarland, who would have conveyed Trump’s orders to Flynn.

In other words, with all the people who’ve followed Flynn’s lead and belatedly unforgotten what really happened, Mueller likely has abundant evidence both that Trump ordered both of these actions, and that his team kept inventing stories to try to explain away the aftermath.

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. 

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