Trump Team’s Extortion Demands To Ukraine Started Before The April 21 Call To Zelensky

Jim here.

As we prepare for the release of the “transcript” of Donald Trump’s first phone call to Volodymyr Zelensky, it is important to put the call into perspective with events surrounding it in the overall timeline of the Ukraine events at the center of the impeachment inquiry.

Pressure on Poroshenko Administration: January-February 2019

First, it is extremely important to note that Rudy Giuliani, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman began their campaign to force Ukraine to re-open their investigation into Burisma and to expand it into an investigation of Joe and Hunter Biden, along with an “investigation” of Ukraine meddling in the 2016 US election, before Zelensky was elected. On Friday, the Washington Post filled us in on more details of that effort:

Two associates of Rudolph W. Giuliani pressed the then-president of Ukraine in February to announce investigations into former vice president Joe Biden’s son and purported Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election in exchange for a state visit, and a lawyer for one of the associates said Friday that they were doing so because Giuliani — acting on President Trump’s behalf — asked them to.

The Giuliani associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, met with then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Kyiv, said Edward B. MacMahon Jr., a lawyer for Parnas. He said they were working on behalf of Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, who was operating on orders from Trump.

“There isn’t anything that Parnas did in the Ukraine relative to the Bidens or the 2016 election that he wasn’t asked to do by Giuliani, who was acting on the direction of the president,” MacMahon said.

The article goes on to note that Ukrainian prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko was also at this meeting, and that there had even been a meeting of Giuliani, Parnas and Fruman with Lutsenko in January.

As a result of this pressure, Lutsenko announced in March that he would investigate the Bidens. This opened the door for the infamous Ken Vogel hatchet job on the Bidens, published in the New York Times on May 1. Buried deep into the article, Vogel did at least grudgingly admit the previous investigation by Ukraine found nothing and that re-opening the investigation was in response to “pressure”:

The decision to reopen the investigation into Burisma was made in March by the current Ukrainian prosecutor general, who had cleared Hunter Biden’s employer more than two years ago. The announcement came in the midst of Ukraine’s contentious presidential election, and was seen in some quarters as an effort by the prosecutor general, Yuriy Lutsenko, to curry favor from the Trump administration for his boss and ally, the incumbent president, Petro O. Poroshenko.

We now know, as described above, that the pressure was applied primarily through Giuliani, Parnas and Fruman rather that through official channels. Returning to the Post article, here is how those efforts worked out:

At the time of the February meeting, Poroshenko was seeking reelection and wanting an official visit to Washington. He ultimately lost and never announced the investigations that Parnas and Fruman asked about, nor did he get the Washington visit he wanted.

The February meeting was also attended by Ukrainian general prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko, MacMahon said. Lutsenko said in March he was investigating the Bidens, only to reverse course months later.

So, although Lutsenko announced an investigation, Poroshenko never did. Clearly, to the Trump team, the announcement had to come from the top in order to win the prize of the state visit that, at least in the opinion of the Trump team, would have tipped the election to Poroshenko. However, the Lutsenko announcement apparently was sufficient for Vogel and the Times.

Zelensky Elected April 21, 2019

The election in Ukraine took place on April 21 (although there was a preliminary round with no clear winner on March 31), with Zelensky winning in a landslide, 74% to 24% for Poroshenko. Trump’s call to Zelensky took place on April 21, shortly after Zelensky was declared the winner. Kurt Volker noted the call:


So, on the surface, one would expect a transcript of the call only to reflect congratulations on being elected. Volker didn’t specifically state anything else was covered in the call, but did note the US supports Ukraine’s territorial integrity and “counter [Russian] aggression”, sentiments Trump certainly would not have put into the call or Volker’s statement about it.

Of course, since it’s Donald Trump we’re talking about here, all bets are off on what will be in whatever Trump releases, if he does release something. Recall that Trump has called for Republicans to release their own “transcripts” of committee depositions in a very thinly veiled request for doctored transcripts:


Since Trump often operates via projection, we can’t help wondering whether he plans to do some editing on this “transcript” if it is released.

Pressure on Zelensky Administration Begins in May 2019, Before Inauguration

We must also keep in mind that the pressure on Zelensky’s Administration to investigate the Bidens began well before the July 25 phone call and that the first enticement offered in this extortion was Mike Pence attending the inauguration. From the New York Times:

Not long before the Ukrainian president was inaugurated in May, an associate of Rudolph W. Giuliani’s journeyed to Kiev to deliver a warning to the country’s new leadership, a lawyer for the associate said.

The associate, Lev Parnas, told a representative of the incoming government that it had to announce an investigation into Mr. Trump’s political rival, Joseph R. Biden Jr., and his son, or else Vice President Mike Pence would not attend the swearing-in of the new president, and the United States would freeze aid, the lawyer said.

/snip/

The meeting in Kiev in May occurred after Mr. Giuliani, with Mr. Parnas’s help, had planned a trip there to urge Mr. Zelensky to pursue the investigations. Mr. Giuliani canceled his trip at the last minute, claiming he was being “set up.”

Only three people were present at the meeting: Mr. Parnas, Mr. Fruman and Serhiy Shefir, a member of the inner circle of Mr. Zelensky, then the Ukrainian president-elect. The sit-down took place at an outdoor cafe in the days before Mr. Zelensky’s May 20 inauguration, according to a person familiar with the events. The men sipped coffee and spoke in Russian, which is widely spoken in Ukraine, the person said.

Mr. Parnas’s lawyer, Joseph A. Bondy, said the message to the Ukrainians was given at the direction of Mr. Giuliani, whom Mr. Parnas believed was acting under Mr. Trump’s instruction. Mr. Giuliani said he “never authorized such a conversation.”

Note Rudy’s non-denial: he says he never authorized such a conversation, but doesn’t dispute that it took place. Also note that Zelensky did not announce an investigation and Pence did not attend the inauguration.

Although it isn’t mentioned in this article, Rudy’s sudden decision not to attend the May meeting most likely was because he suddenly feared Igor Kolomoisky. From Buzzfeed:

The 56-year-old billionaire was not just a major supporter of Zelensky’s. He owned the television channel that had broadcast the comedy shows in which the newcomer had once played the part of the president of Ukraine, which had made him a household name.

Parnas and Fruman jetted to Israel in late April to meet Kolomoisky, who was living in self-exile after the previous administration took over a bank he founded amid accusations of fraudulent loans and money laundering. (Kolomoisky has vehemently denied the allegations.)

The meeting went badly.

In an interview, Kolomoisky said he was led to believe Parnas and Fruman wanted to talk about their new export business. Instead, he said, they pushed to meet with Zelensky. “I told them I am not going to be a middleman in anybody’s meetings with Zelensky,” he said to reporters for BuzzFeed News and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. “I am not going to organize any meetings. Not for them, not for anybody else. They tried to say something like, ‘Hey, we are serious people here. Giuliani. Trump.’ They started throwing names at me.”

Kolomoisky called Parnas and Fruman “fraudsters” in an interview shortly after the meeting. Soon after, a lawyer for the two men filed a claim for damages and told police in Kiev that the oligarch had threatened their lives.

“It was a threat that we took seriously,” said Parnas.

Giuliani jumped into the dispute, denouncing Kolomoisky in tweets as a “notorious oligarch” who “must be held accountable for threats.”

So Rudy stayed behind on the May trip, sending Parnas and Fruman on their own.

Bottom Line

Even if a “transcript” from the April 21 call from Trump to Zelensky is released and contains no extortion demand from Trump for Zelensky to investigate the Bidens, such a demand was indeed delivered to a Zelensky associate less that a month later by Parnas and Fruman. The threat was then carried out when Pence did not attend Zelensky’s inauguration since no investigation was announced.

 

Why Won’t Sean Hannity Defend Trump against Impeachment Under Oath?

Yesterday, the Republicans released their list of requested witnesses for the public impeachment hearings this week. The list includes:

  • Devon Archer, Hunter Biden’s business partner
  • Hunter Biden
  • Alexandrea Chalupa, the DNC consultant who conducted oppo research on Manafort [corrected] via non-official sources
  • Undersecretary of State David Hale, who gave a private deposition the details of which have not yet leaked
  • Tim Morrison, the NSC staffer who was on the Trump call but has said (in part because saying anything else would implicate him criminally) nothing he heard was a problem
  • Nellie Ohr, whom Nunes falsely accuses of assisting with the Steele dossier, but who collected oppo research on Trump based off leads which were in turn based off open source research
  • Kurt Volker
  • The whistleblower
  • The whistleblower’s sources

I’m amuses me they think Volker will help them, as it reflects their inability to process information as it has come in. In his testimony, Volker made a concerted effort to spin what happened in the least damaging way for Trump. He based much of that defense on the then-operative understanding that Trump had never mentioned Burisma in his conversation with Volodymyr Zelensky, thereby suggesting that that improper request never got beyond Rudy Giuliani to the President. But we now know that Trump did explicitly invoke Burisma in the call, but that it got redacted out by John Eisenberg and others. That is, precisely the detail that Volker used to exonerate the President has now been overtaken by events. Volker will likely spend part of his public testimony backtracking off the stances Republicans believe help the President.

While I assume Schiff will accept the request to call witnesses he himself has asked for depositions, Schiff has already ruled out calling Hunter Biden or the whistleblower.

Still, the most telling part of this list is that the most loyal defender of the President, Sean Hannity, is not on it.

It is now clear that Hannity is a key player in this information operation (unsurprisingly, given what we know about his efforts to coordinate Paul Manafort’s defense). Unlike John Solomon, Hannity’s personal implication in the slimy nest of legal conflicts that the President calls legal representation seem to have ended when Michael Cohen got busted. Unlike Rudy, Hannity’s status as a journalist should protect him from legal liability.

So there’s no reason — besides the fact he’d be under oath — why he shouldn’t be willing to testify about the several key events he played a part in.

For example, Marie Yovanovitch testified that she understands during a period when Hannity was attacking her personally, someone close to Mike Pompeo called Hannity and asked him to either substantiate the charges or stop.

THE CHAIRMAN: And did you ever find out when, you know, the allegations were being made or the attacks were being made by Donald Trump, )r., or Rudy Giuliani, did you ever find out what the Secretary of State’s position, whether the Secretary of State was going to defend you or not, apart from the refusal by the Secretary to issue a statement in your defense?

MS. YOVANOVITCH: What I was told by Phil Reeker was that the Secretary or perhaps somebody around hjm was going to place a call to Mr. Hannity on FOX News to say, you know, what is going on? I mean, do you have proof of these kinds of allegations or not? And if you have proof, you know, telI me, and if not, stop. And I understand that that call was made. I don’t know whether it was the Secretary or somebody else in his inner circle. And for a time, you know, things kind of simmered down.

THE CHAIRMAN: I mean, does that seem extraordinary to you that the Secretary of State or some other high-ranking official would call a talk show host to figure out whether you should be retained as ambassador?

MS . YOVANOVITCH: Wet 1 , I ‘m not sure that’ s exactly what was being asked.

THE CHAIRMAN: Well , they were aski ng i f what basi s they was Hannity one of the people criticizing you?

MS. Y0VANOVITCH: Yes. THE CHAIRMAN: 5o some top administration official was going to him to find out what the basis of this FOX host was attacking you tor?

YOVANOVITCH: Uh- huh.

THE CHAIRMAN: And did you ever get any readout on what the result of that conversation was?

MS. YOVANOVITCH: No, I didn’t, although I was told that it did take place.

Then later in the same deposition, Yovanovitch described how, in an appearance on Hannity’s show, the President pivoted from a question about Russia to focus on Ukraine, which the Ambassador thought might also be targeted at her.

[Dan Goldman] Are you also aware that on the night of April 25th that President Trump went on Sean Hannity’s show and discussed Ukraine?

A Yes. He was asked a question about Russia and he answered by responding about Ukraine.

Q And what was your reaction to that?

A Well, you know, I mean, I was concerned about what this would all mean.

Q In what way?

A Well, obviously, for me personally, not to make it all about me, but for me personally. But also, what does this mean for our policy? Where are we going?

In response, Hannity issued two angry denials on Twitter, not under oath, then linked to a (!!!) now debunked John Solomon piece, as if that did anything but confirm he was part of an information operation.

If Hannity wants to clear his name, surely he’s willing to do so under oath? While there, he can also explain why he keeps bringing Solomon, Joe DiGenova, and Victoria Toensing on his show, and why he doesn’t disclose that the latter two are working for mobbed up Ukrainian oligarch Dmitry Firtash.

Hannity has repeatedly hosted Joseph diGenova and Victoria Toensing, lawyers for Ukrainian oligarch Dmitry Firtash.

According to a Media Matters database, diGenova has appeared on Hannity’s show at least 37 times in 2018 and 2019. His partner Toensing has appeared on Hannity’s show at least 20 times during the same period.

Additionally, Hannity has hosted conservative writer John Solomon over 100 times in 2018 and 2019. Solomon, now a Fox News contributor, is also a client of Toensing and diGenova, and he coordinated with personal Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani to inject his Ukraine disinformation into the media.

More importantly, when testifying under oath before the impeachment inquiry, Hannity can explain why Rudy’s Ukrainian grifters, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, were setting up an interview between him and Ukrainian prosecutor Viktor Shokin in Vienna, where Firtash has been bankrolling this entire influence operation.

While questions in Washington swirl around Shokin’s role in this controversy, Giuliani, Parnas, Fruman had specific plans for the former Ukrainian official up until the day of their arrest. According to those four sources, they told others they were headed to Vienna to help with a planned interview the next day: Shokin, they said, was scheduled to do an interview from the Austrian capital with Sean Hannity.

Through a spokesperson, Hannity said that “we never reveal our sources, potential sources, or persons they may or may not request to interview. Sean Hannity takes the first amendment seriously.”

He might even be able to explain whether, in Attorney General Barr’s visit to Rupert Murdoch’s home the night the grifters got arrested trying to flee the country (and so the night before Hannity was supposed to interview Shokin), he tipped off Hannity not to get on any planes?

Sean Hannity is a far more central fact witness on events associated with the impeachment than Biden, Archer, Chalupa, or Ohr. He’s one of Trump’s most loyal fans, so if there’s a defense of the President to be made, surely he’s willing to make it … under oath.

And yet, either Republicans aren’t willing to risk Hannity’s reputation, or Hannity is unwilling to repeat his claims denying involvement under oath.

Why Did Gucciardo Pay Giuliani Partners For His “Loan” To Fraud Guarantee?

Jim here.

I’ve been troubled by the New York Times’ description of the funds provided by Charles Gucciardo that were used by Lev Parnas to pay Rudy Giuliani for his “consultation” for Fraud Guarantee. The most troubling bit is this:

Mr. Gucciardo, 62, a plaintiff’s lawyer, has not been implicated in any wrongdoing, and there is no evidence that he was involved in the Ukrainian pressure campaign.

That may well be, but there are a number of issues that simply don’t add up here. First, although Gucciardo is not accused at this time of any wrongdoing, it is clear that he engaged deeply with the same set of characters who are at the center of the Ukraine activities driving the ongoing impeachment action in the House of Representatives.

Gucciardo also had made a large donation to America First Action around the same time as the $325,000 donation from Parnas and Fruman. From the Times article, continuing about Gucciardo:

In 2018, he made his biggest donation on record to date — $50,000 to the pro-Trump super PAC America First Action — and attended an event for major donors at the Trump hotel featuring appearances by the president and Donald Trump Jr.

It was there that he met Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman, who had recently co-founded a company called Global Energy Producers that donated $325,000 to the PAC.

The next month, Mr. Parnas, Mr. Fruman and Mr. Gucciardo all went on a group trip to Israel, according to people who traveled with them.

There are even pictures from the trip, reproduced here by the Daily News. Note that in the lower of the paired photos (which is also the featured image of this post), we have from left to right, Joseph Frager, Anthony Scaramucci, Charles Gucciardo (see his profile photo at his website for comaprison) and then Parnas.

First, we are told the funds were a loan that could be converted into a stake in Fraud Guarantee. Continuing from the Times story:

Mr. Gucciardo’s lawyer, Randy Zelin, said Mr. Gucciardo invested in the company because of Mr. Giuliani’s involvement.

“He understood that he was investing in a reputable company that Rudolph Giuliani was going to be the spokesman and the face of,” Mr. Zelin said, comparing Mr. Giuliani’s role to the one he had played for the personal data-security company LifeLock, which ran commercials featuring Mr. Giuliani. “When you think of cybersecurity, you think of Rudolph Giuliani,” Mr. Zelin said.

The company being promoted by Mr. Parnas, Fraud Guarantee, was billed as a way for investors to get insurance against the risk of being defrauded. Mr. Gucciardo’s money was a loan that could be converted into a stake in the company, according to people familiar with the deal.

But, the money didn’t go to Fraud Guarantee:

In an interview, Mr. Giuliani called the arrangement a “perfectly legitimate payment” for which Mr. Gucciardo received “promissory notes that were convertible into a percentage of the company.”

Mr. Giuliani said he “verified the stock agreement” and “felt comfortable getting it from somebody as reputable as him,” adding that, after the payments, “I’ve gotten to know Charles very well. He’s a very honorable man, a very good man.”

Mr. Zelin said Mr. Gucciardo did not pay Mr. Giuliani personally, but rather made his investment by paying one of Mr. Giuliani’s consulting firms, Giuliani Partners. Mr. Gucciardo was “simply one of numerous other investors in the company and is nothing more than a passive investor,” Mr. Zelin said.

Wait. What? Why would Gucciardo have paid Giuliani directly anyway? For a loan convertible to a stake in Fraud Guarantee, the money went to Giuliani Partners instead of Fraud Guarantee?

Why?

Well, that’s where I no longer can buy into Gucciardo being an innocent swept up in the awesomeness of Parnas, Fruman and Giuliani. As has been pointed out many times, Fraud Guarantee mostly never existed. Certainly, by the time these funds changed hands in September and October of 2018, someone investing a half million dollars, and especially if that someone is a high-powered attorney, would be expected to do just a bit of due diligence. For example, here’s Roll Call giving dates for events related to Fraud Guarantee:

In the search for Fraud Guarantee, three names that all appear to have links to Parnas emerged: fraudguarantee.com, Strategic Global Assets LLC and Fraud Guarantee LLC.

Florida Department of State records show that Strategic Global Assets LLC registered fraudguarantee.com as a fictitious name in March 2013. Strategic Global Assets’ corporate filings list Parnas and Florida businessman David Correia as managers. Correia was also among the defendants in the indictment unsealed last week. He was arrested in New York on Monday.

The Florida Department of State dissolved Strategic Global Assets in September 2016 after it failed to file an annual report, records show.

/snip/

lawsuit was filed against Strategic Global Assets for failure to pay rent in Palm Beach County, Fla., in January 2015, and a default judgment in the landlord’s favor came down in July of the same year.

Strategic Global Assets’ official address on state records was changed in September 2015 to that of Correia’s apartment at the time. Correia was listed as the registered agent for Strategic Global Assets in that same filing. He is identified as Fraud Guarantee’s co-founder and chief operating officer on that company’s website.

Florida records show that another company called Fraud Guarantee LLC was dissolved in September 2014 for failing to file an annual report. It’s not clear whether that company was associated with Parnas or Correia, but it shared the same street address that appears for Strategic Global Assets and fraudguarantee.com on Florida court records and an archived copy of the company’s website.

All of that bad info should have made anyone getting ready to invest so much money run away screaming. But in putting the funds into Rudy’s consulting business, they were essentially being hidden from multiple creditors owed funds by Giuliani, Parnas and Fruman.

First, as even the Times article above notes, Giuliani is in the midst of an ugly divorce, and so funds going directly to him would be contested in that ongoing proceeding.

Further, the Parnas and Fruman donation to America First Action was almost immediately the subject of a public complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission. This filing in July was public by the first investment in September of 2018. Further, although the Campaign Legal Center did not bring further attention to it  until 2019, an attorney of Gucciardo’s caliber should have been able to find the ongoing saga of the Pues lawsuit. Here’s a description from USAToday:

A thornier case lingers from a federal judgment that Parnas owes for a movie that never got made.

The Pues Family Trust IRA filed a federal lawsuit in 2011 in New York City seeking repayment of a $350,000 loan to Parnas. The trust’s executor, Michael Pues, described the money in court documents as a bridge loan for a movie with the working title “Anatomy of an Assassin,” while Parnas found more investors.

Parnas denied in a court filing that the money was a loan. Parnas said the movie, which he said was going to be called “Memory of a Killer,” fell apart because of financing problems, including Pues not contributing $1 million as promised.

A judgment in the federal case in March 2016 ordered Parnas to pay the Pues Family Trust $510,435 for the loan and 9% annual interest.

So, Parnas had to be careful about funds flowing through entities he controlled, because the Pues Family attorneys were watching carefully (and in fact pounced on the news of the America First Action donation) and Rudy had to be careful about not having the money go directly to him or his ex-wife would seek the funds. Shouldn’t Gucciardo have asked why the money didn’t just go to Fraud Guarantee? Shouldn’t he have asked why he had to divert funds to Rudy’s consultancy? This just doesn’t add up. Given his deep involvement with these same players, it seems much more likely Gucciardo understood the winks and nudges involved in getting funds to Giuliani in return for his “pro bono” representation of Donald Trump.

After Engaging in Multiple Overt Acts Benefitting a Conspiracy, Bill Barr Had Kerri Kupec Commit the Most Overt Act

Before I get into how gullible DOJ reporters continue to be in this WaPo story relaying how Bill Barr refused to publicly announce that the President broke no law in his July 25 phone call with Volodymyr Zelensky, let me review a series of overt acts that might fairly be deemed part of what DOJ has already charged as a conspiracy.

DOJ fails to do the most basic “connect-the-dots” assessment implemented after 9/11

First, after John Demers went to the White House and discovered that his boss was implicated in a phone call that a whistleblower had complained about, when the Intelligence Community Inspector General sent a more formalized complaint to DOJ, DOJ limited the scope of their review of the complaint to one small part of it, just the TELCON, not the full complaint. This had the effect of preventing anyone from doing what the entire surveillance apparatus of FBI has been designed to do since 9/11, which is to search in their databases for all the people mentioned in a lead to find out if that lead connects to other known criminals. Here’s some of what DOJ knew when on the Ukraine investigation.

Had anyone followed the standard connect-the-dot rules in reviewing the whistleblower complaint, they would have searched on all the names in the references in the complaint, including those in this OCCRP piece, which was mentioned multiple times in the complaint.

That piece is a profile of Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas.

So if any person reviewing the whistleblower complaint had followed the approach put into place to protect the nation after 9/11, that person would have discovered:

  • Fruman and Parnas were making big donations to Republicans tied to certain policy outcomes and paying for those donations through a shell company
  • Parnas was also involved in propaganda sent, on White House stationery, to State in support of the same policy outcomes
  • The money for the shell company came from a lawyer who specializes in laundering money through real estate for foreigners
  • One policy issue Fruman and Parnas were pushing with their donations was one of the policy outcomes described in the Trump-Zelensky call, the withdrawal of Marie Yovanovitch

In short, there is no way a competent investigator would have done a connect-the-dots assessment on the whistleblower complaint and not realized it was closely related to a Full Investigation bearing down on an indictment in SDNY.

Instead of doing that marginally competent assessment, DOJ instead gave the whistleblower complaint the all-clear, in part by severing the transcript (which was damning enough) from the backup (which described OMB withholding funds, which is a separate crime, but also included the reference to the profile on suspects against whom SDNY had a fully predicated investigation into related actions). The decision to consider only the transcript affirmatively prevented DOJ from doing the kind of dot-connecting everything since 9/11 has claimed to support.

Whoever made that decision — whether willfully or unknowingly — prevented DOJ from formally realizing that the President’s call was closely tied to behavior that DOJ would indict less than two months later.

DOJ fails to share the whistleblower complaint with the FEC

At that point in late August, having decided that no crimes were committed, DOJ should have shared the whistleblower complaint — which even DOJ acknowledged raised possible election related crimes — with the Federal Election Commission under the terms of a Memorandum of Understanding they have. As of October 18, according to a letter from Ellen Weintraub responding to questions from Amy Klobuchar, DOJ had not done so.

This is the second time that you, as Ranking Member of the Senate Rules Committee with jurisdiction over federal elections, have written to commissioners of the Federal Election Commission to get a simple Yes or No answer to the question: Did the Department of Justice (DOJ) notify the FEC about or refer to the FEC a campaign finance complaint regarding potential violations of the foreign national political-spending ban by the President? Your October 2 letter specifically referenced a New York Times op-ed referring to a complaint reportedly originating with the Office of the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community.1 As noted in the Commission’s October 8 response, the FEC does not generally confirm or deny the agency’s receipt of notice or a referral from DOJ.2 However, you have asked me an important question in the exercise of your oversight authority, and commissioners should be responsive if it is legal for us to do so. It is.

For these reasons, I am answering your question: No. The FEC has not received a notification or referral from DOJ regarding the complaint you reference.

While DOJ is empowered to make any decisions about whether the call involved a crime, FEC is empowered to make decisions about whether it merits a civil penalty. And FEC might have connected the dots DOJ failed to. They would have seen that the phone call related to a campaign finance complaint plus follow-up it had already received on Parnas and Fruman, so it would have known almost as much as DOJ, had DOJ tried to connect the dots.

It turns out, it is a crime to prevent the FEC from learning information it needs to do its job. It’s not only the crime DOJ is about to charge the Russian Internet Research Agency trolls with a superseding indictment for, but it’s the crime that SDNY charged Parnas and Fruman with even before Weintraub sent her letter.

DOJ might have decided that they didn’t need to forward the complaint because Republican Matthew Petersen resigned from the FEC on the suspiciously timed August 26 and so ensured FEC couldn’t conduct any official business. But as the timing of the Parnas and Fruman indictment — which Bill Barr knew about — makes clear, DOJ still believes it can charge people for withholding information from FEC.

DOJ delays notifying Congress and hides Bill Barr’s involvement by overclassifying their OLC memo

Then, having prevented FEC from receiving information that would alert them that the President had a dodgy call that related to an existing campaign finance complaint, OLC tried to prevent Congress from learning of this — as required by whistleblower laws — by writing an OLC memo saying that this complaint did not amount to an official action.

OLC head Steve Engel wrote that memo on September 3, by which day DOJ should have alerted the Intelligence Committees of the complaint. That memo was used as an excuse to delay informing Congress. That delay included over a week during which the Administration continued to illegally withhold duly authorized security funding from Ukraine without explaining to Congress why it was doing so, a delay that Bill Taylor said (in his testimony to Congress) did real harm to Ukraine. All told, the OLC memo succeeded in delaying sharing the complaint with Congress for 23 days, something that DOJ’s own Inspector General noted (in a letter written on behalf of 70 Inspectors General) was a clear violation of the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act.

As Congress has done in every other whistleblower law passed since 1978, it entrusted IGs to play a central role in the evaluation of the information provided. Specifically, the ICWPA requires an IG to make within 14 days a factual determination as to whether an alleged urgent concern provided to the IG “appears credible.” If the IG determines that the allegation appears credible, which necessarily includes a determination by the IG that it involves an “urgent concern,” the IG is required to forward the allegation to the head of the agency and the agency head “shall” forward it to Congress within 7 days “with any comments.” The ICWPA’s use of the word “shall” makes it clear that the statute does not authorize the agency head, or any other party for that matter, to review or second-guess an IG’s good faith determination that a complaint meets the ICWPA’s statutory language.

Worse still, DOJ tried to delay informing Congress that Bill Barr was personally implicated by this call by overclassifying the OLC memo — in part by treating Barr’s implication in it, which the White House had deemed Secret, as Top Secret — and having done so, sharing a water-downed version of its own OLC memo with Congress on September 24 that hid Barr’s role and other key details.

Bill Barr continues to engage in overt acts in a conspiracy to provide John Durham propaganda to support an investigation into those who investigated Trump

And all this while — in the period while DOJ was scoping its own investigation to avoid connecting the dots and while DOJ was preventing FEC from learning of the whistleblower complaint and while DOJ was preventing Congress from receiving the complaint (the latter two acts in contravention of the law) — Bill Barr continued to engage in overt acts in the broader conspiracy to collect and provide to John Durham corroboration (no matter how sketchy or obviously coerced) that the investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia was ginned up by the Deep State.

Mind you, Barr may have already committed an overt act in the Ukrainian side of this conspiracy. By September 25, according to a DOJ statement, individual Ukrainians had already “volunteered” information to Durham.

A Department of Justice team led by U.S. Attorney John Durham is separately exploring the extent to which a number of countries, including Ukraine, played a role in the counterintelligence investigation directed at the Trump campaign during the 2016 election,” DOJ spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said Wednesday. “While the Attorney General has yet to contact Ukraine in connection with this investigation, certain Ukrainians who are not members of the government have volunteered information to Mr. Durham, which he is evaluating.”

Barr is micromanaging Durham’s investigation, so there’s little chance that these “volunteers” got from Rudy Giuliani to Durham without Barr’s own involvement.

In addition, Barr took a meeting with Victoria Toensing and Joe DiGenova to talk about their client, the mobbed up Dmitry Firtash, which was something valuable the lawyers could offer to the Firtash in exchange for him funding the Parnas and Fruman influence operation. To be sure, the Supreme Court has determined that taking a meeting does not amount to a thing of value amounting to bribery. But their ability to get such a meeting was nevertheless one of the reasons Firtash replaced Lanny Davis with Toensing and DiGenova and, in exchange, helped them feed propaganda to the Durham investigation.

The head of the Criminal Division, Brian Benczkowski, also took a meeting with Rudy in this time period (it’s unclear which client Rudy was pitching), but he claims to be unaware of the investigation into Rudy that was ongoing at SDNY, which may well be true but if so is tantamount to a confession that Benczkowski did not attempt to connect any dots on the whistleblower complaint.

But as to Barr, even as this story was breaking, Barr was in Italy pretending to be a Line FBI Agent, watching movies created by the Russian linked lawyer for Joseph Mifsud, in hopes of getting Italy to tell him and Durham that Mifsud was actually a Western intelligence asset and not the Russian one that Mueller (and abundant public evidence) suggested him to be.

In other words, by September 25, someone had already shared “evidence” with the Barr-micromanaged Durham investigation from the Ukrainian side of this information operation, and Barr was in Italy looking for more propaganda, to say nothing of how his meeting with Dmitry Firtash’s lawyers helped fund the information operation.

Barr did not publicly exonerate Trump personally — he had Kerri Kupec do it for him

I apologize for being long-winded. But all that is the necessary context that DOJ beat reporters should bring to a story on what Barr did in response to a request from Trump to make a public statement exonerating the President. Here’s the news in the WaPo piece, amid a bunch of Barr’s past PR and absent most of the details I’ve laid out above.

President Trump wanted Attorney General William P. Barr to hold a news conference declaring that the commander in chief had broken no laws during a phone call in which he pressed his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate a political rival, though Barr ultimately declined to do so, people familiar with the matter said.

The request from Trump traveled from the president to other White House officials and eventually to the Justice Department. The president has mentioned Barr’s declination to associates in recent weeks, saying he wished Barr would have held the news conference, Trump advisers say.

[snip]

The request for the news conference came sometime around Sept. 25, when the administration released a rough transcript of the president’s July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

[snip]

As the rough transcript was released, a Justice Department spokeswoman said officials had evaluated it and the whistleblower complaint to see whether campaign finance laws had been broken, determined that none had been and decided “no further action was warranted.”

It was not immediately clear why Barr would not go beyond that statement with a televised assertion that the president broke no laws, nor was it clear how forcefully the president’s desire was communicated. A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment. A senior administration official said, “The DOJ did in fact release a statement about the call, and the claim that it resulted in tension because it wasn’t a news conference is completely false.”

So, at a time after someone had already shared Ukrainian information with the Barr-micromanaged Durham investigation, after Barr had met with lawyers who were trading that access for propaganda to feed Durham, after Barr’s DOJ had scoped the whistleblower complaint to ensure it would not tie the complaint to the fully predicated criminal investigation in SDNY, after DOJ failed to turn over the complaint to FEC as required by a memorandum of understanding, after DOJ created an excuse to delay sharing the whistleblower complaint with Congress as mandated by law, after DOJ tried to hide Barr’s own involvement from Congress by overclassifying that fact … after all those overt acts that, depending on Barr’s understanding of what he got briefed way back in February and learned in multiple different ways since then, might amount to overt acts in the conspiracy SDNY has already charged Parnas and Fruman in, Barr declined to go out before cameras and comment on an ongoing investigation (which is, remember, what Jim Comey was ostensibly fired for) by publicly exonerating the President.

Instead, he had DOJ’s spox Kerri Kupec do so, in a statement that offered up excuses for why DOJ failed to connect the dots on a complaint that tied to a fully predicated investigation being conducted by SDNY.

Had Barr made that public comment, with his knowledge that the subject of the complaint connected to an ongoing investigation in SDNY into the underlying information operation that led up to the President’s call, his involvement in the Durham investigation that had already been fed by that information operation, and his meeting with lawyers that helped to provide a payoff for some of that information operation, it would have been an overt act that even Barr, with his abundant flair for PR (as witnessed by this WaPo article), could not deny was an overt act in a conspiracy being investigated by his subordinates.

So instead, he had a different subordinate (there is no evidence Kupec had any knowledge of these other acts) do that.

But that is not — as portrayed by the WaPo — evidence of distance between Barr and the White House. Rather, it’s evidence that Barr recognizes his own risk of becoming an active member of the conspiracy his DOJ went to great lengths to avoid investigating.

And all that’s before Barr slinked into a meeting with Rupert Murdoch as Sean Hannity was about to become part of the conspiracy.

When Your Joint Defense Agreement with the Russian Mob Blows Up in Your Face

Last month, I argued that the John Dowd letter mapping out what amounted to a Joint Defense Agreement between the President, Rudy Giuliani, Lev Parnas, Igor Fruman, and Dmitry Firtash (with Victoria Toensing, Joe DiGenova, and Dowd himself as the glue holding this orgy of corruption together) would one day go in a museum to memorialize how crazy things are. Right alongside that — I think after reading this NYT story — will go Trump’s written waiver of privilege as obtained by Jay Sekulow.

Mr. Parnas initially remained in Mr. Trump’s camp after House Democrats on Sept. 30 requested documents and testimony from him and Mr. Fruman. The men hired John Dowd, a lawyer who had earlier represented the president at one stage of the investigation by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Mr. Trump signed off on the hiring of Mr. Dowd, according to an Oct. 2 email reviewed by The New York Times.

“I have discussed the issue of representation with the president. The president consents to allowing your representation of Mr. Parnas and Mr. Furman,” Jay Sekulow, another lawyer for Mr. Trump, wrote to Mr. Dowd, misspelling Mr. Fruman’s surname.

Dowd claims, his batshit letter notwithstanding, there was no tie between his representation of Trump and the magical selection of a bunch of grifters involved in Trump’s efforts to coerce electoral advantage from foreign countries.

Mr. Dowd said in an interview that Mr. Trump’s approval was sought “simply as a courtesy to the president,” because of the lawyer’s previous work for him. Mr. Dowd said he still represents Mr. Fruman.

A person close to Mr. Trump said that the email did not demonstrate that the president knew Mr. Parnas or Mr. Fruman personally but rather knew of them from media reports.

But now Parnas has decided to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry because Trump pretended not to know Parnas.

“We are willing to comply with the subpoena to the extent that it does not violate any appropriate privilege that Mr. Parnas may properly invoke,” said Joseph A. Bondy, who along with Edward B. MacMahon, Jr. now represents Mr. Parnas.

Mr. Bondy said that given the federal criminal charges, his client may invoke his right under the Fifth Amendment not to incriminate himself.

The turnabout occurred after Mr. Trump denied knowing Mr. Parnas when he was arrested.

“Mr. Parnas was very upset by President Trump’s plainly false statement that he did not know him,” said Mr. Bondy, whose client has maintained that he has had extensive dealings with the president.

This move comes after Parnas’ (alleged) partner in crime, Igor Fruman, met spectacular failure at getting his bail conditions changed, after the prosecutor provided compelling evidence he tried to flee the country as soon as Congress subpoenaed him.

“What is clear is he was subpoenaed by Congress on October 7th, on the 8th he booked a one-way flight to Vienna, and on the 9th he was arrested on the jetway,” Roos said. “What was his reason to leave on such short notice? … Why such a rush to leave the country?”

Roos went on to detail Fruman’s many financial and political connections to Europe, attempting to demonstrate that Fruman could live a very pleasant life abroad if he were able to flee.

“He operates a bar called Buddha Bar” abroad, Roos said. He held up a printout of a glossy hotel brochure for the court to see, saying it listed Fruman as the president and CEO of a “luxury group” that owns a hotel, “restaurants, a beach club, and retail stores,” Roos told the court.

So maybe Parnas decided that “cooperating” (and I mean those scare quotes to be enormous) with Congress might be a quicker path to freedom.

Most other times that someone has protected Trump by demanding a pardon, Trump still held the leverage (in part, because they were dealing with DOJ, not an impeachment inquiry).

But at this point, I suspect, Parnas holds the upper hand, in part because SDNY is not that far into its investigation of the larger point of Parnas’ funding of the Republican Party (meaning, he has a pretty good idea of how bad things could get if the investigation is allowed to proceed unimpeded), and in part because the impeachment inquiry makes Parnas’ knowledge a far greater risk to Trump. He may be a grifter, but he put the pieces into place to  ensure he could take others down with him. And his marks were very easy marks. Plus, given he can claim both attorney-client and Fifth Amendment privileges, he may be able to neatly tailor what information he wants to release.

People Who Illegally Withheld Duly Appropriated Funding Refuse to Explain to Congress Why

CNN reported this morning that all four witnesses who were called to testify today blew off the request under both Executive Privilege claims (for John Eisenberg) and other complaints that the Administration won’t be able to have a lawyer present.

All four White House officials who are scheduled to give depositions on Monday during the House’s impeachment inquiry won’t show up, as a source with knowledge of the situation tells CNN that National Security Council lawyers John Eisenberg and Michael Ellis will not testify.

The two officials will join Robert Blair, assistant to the President and senior adviser to the acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, and Brian McCormack, associate director for natural resources, energy & science at the Office of Management and Budget, in not testifying on Monday, CNN reported earlier. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who was scheduled to appear Wednesday, will not participate in a closed door deposition, an Energy Department spokesperson said Friday.
An administration official says Eisenberg isn’t showing up due to executive privilege while Blair, Ellis and McCormack aren’t going to appear because they won’t be able to have an administration lawyer present.

This is being treated like other refusals to show up, but I think it’s not.

First, if Eisenberg is claiming only Executive Privilege, those claims will quickly expose the President to evidence of guilt that Senators are busy trying to explain away. That’s because he should only have Executive Privilege for stuff that actually involves the President. And given that he wasn’t on the call with Volodymyr Zelensky, he shouldn’t have it, at all, here, unless the President wants to claim that before Eisenberg engaged in a cover-up of Trump’s extortion, he asked the President for guidance first.

In fact, if Eisenberg showed up, he’d likely have to invoke the Fifth Amendment rather than Executive Privilege. And once someone does that, it’s usually child’s play to force that person to resign from government service.

As for the others, Robert Blair and Brian McCormack were being called to explain how the funds duly appropriated by Congress got withheld.  Withholding those funds is a crime, as Mick Mulvaney helpfully admitted (in public discussions that likely void any Executive Privilege claims over the decision to withhold the funds). But it’s also a crime not to explain to Congress why you withheld funds they told you to spend.

In other words, for at least three of these men, the excuses for not testifying probably amount to crimes in and of themselves, either for the President (if he really were to claim Executive Privilege over Eisenberg’s efforts to cover-up his crime) or for the men themselves.

So while this seems like the same old obstruction, I think it may be a new kind of criminally problematic obstruction.

Which may be why Adam Schiff says the first public witnesses are going to be those who illegally withheld this funding.

The Mueller Report Was Neither about Collusion Nor about Completed Investigation(s)

In the days since BuzzFeed released a bunch of backup files to the Mueller Report, multiple people have asserted these 302s are proof that Robert Mueller did an inadequate investigation, either by suggesting that the information we’re now seeing is incredibly damaging and so must have merited criminal charges or by claiming we’re seeing entirely new evidence.

I’ve had my own tactical complaints about the Mueller investigation (most notably, about how he managed Mike Flynn’s cooperation, but that might be remedied depending on how Emmet Sullivan treats Sidney Powell’s theatrics).  But I have yet to see a complaint that persuades me.

You never know what you can find in the Mueller Report if you read it

Let’s start with claims about how the release revealed details we didn’t previously know. Virtually all of these instead show that people haven’t read the Mueller Report attentively (though some don’t understand that two of the six interview reports we’ve got record someone lying to Mueller, and all are interviews of human beings with imperfect memories). Take this Will Bunch column, which claims that Rick Gates’ claims made in a muddled April 10, 2018 interview reveal information — that Trump ordered his subordinates to go find Hillary emails — we didn’t know.

Rick Gates, the veteran high-level political operative who served as Donald Trump’s deputy campaign manager in 2016, told investigators he remembers exactly where he was — aboard Trump’s campaign jet — when he heard the candidate’s desires and frustrations over a scheme to defeat Hillary Clinton with hacked, stolen emails boil over. And he also remembered the future president’s exact words that day in summer 2016.

Gates’ disclosure to investigators was a key insight into the state of mind of a campaign that was willing and eager to work with electronic thieves — even with powerful foreign adversaries like Russia, if need be — to win a presidential election. Yet that critical information wasn’t revealed in Mueller’s 440-page report that was supposed to tell the American public everything we needed to know about what the president knew and when he knew it, regarding Russia’s election hacking.

The passage in question comes from an interview where a redacted section reflecting questions about what Gates knew in May 2016 leads into a section on “Campaign Response to Hacked Emails.” What follows clearly reflects a confusion in Gates’ mind — and/or perhaps a conflation on the part of the campaign — between the emails Hillary deleted from her server and the emails stolen by Russia. The passage wanders between these topics:

  • People on the campaign embracing the Seth Rich conspiracy
  • Don Jr asking about the emails in “family meetings
  • The campaign looking for Clinton Foundation emails
  • Interest in the emails in April and May, before (per public reports) anyone but George Papadopoulos knew of the stolen emails
  • The June 9 meeting
  • Trump exhibiting “healthy skepticism” about some emails
  • The anticipation about emails after Assange said they’d be coming on June 12
  • The fact that the campaign first started coordinating with the RNC because they had details of upcoming dates
  • RNC’s media campaigns after the emails started coming out
  • Trump’s order to “Get the emails” and Flynn’s efforts to do so
  • Details of who had ties to Russia and the Konstantin Kilimnik claim that Ukraine might be behind the hack
  • China, Israel, Kyrgyzstan
  • Gates never heard about emails from Papadopoulos
  • Sean Hannity

This seems to be more Gates’ stream of consciousness about emails, generally, then a directed interview. But Gates’ claim that 1) he didn’t know about emails from Papadopoulos but nevertheless 2) was party to discussions about emails in April and May is only consistent with some of these comments pertaining to Hillary’s deleted emails.

Once you realize that, then you know where to look for the “Get the emails” evidence in the Mueller Report: in the description of Mike Flynn making extensive efforts to get emails — albeit those Hillary deleted.

After candidate Trump stated on July 27, 2016, that he hoped Russia would “find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Trump asked individuals affiliated with his Campaign to find the deleted Clinton emails.264 Michael Flynn-who would later serve as National Security Advisor in the Trump Administration- recalled that Trump made this request repeatedly, and Flynn subsequently contacted multiple people in an effort to obtain the emails.265

264 Flynn 4/25/18 302, at 5-6; Flynn 5/1/18 302, at 1-3.

265 Flynn 5/1/18 302, at l-3.

The footnotes make it clear that in the weeks after Mueller’s team heard from Gates that Flynn used his contacts to search for emails, they interviewed Flynn several times about that effort, only to learn that that incredibly damning effort to find emails involved potentially working with Russian hackers to find the deleted emails. And to be clear: Bunch is not the only one confused about this detail–several straight news reports have not been clear about what that April 10 interview was, as well.

A November 5, 2016 email from Manafort — which the newly released documents show Bannon wanting to hide that Manafort remained a campaign advisor — is another thing that actually does show up in the Mueller Report, contrary to claims.

Later, in a November 5, 2016 email to Kushner entitled “Securing the Victory,” Manafort stated that he was “really feeling good about our prospects on Tuesday and focusing on preserving the victory,” and that he was concerned the Clinton Campaign would respond to a loss by “mov[ing] immediately to discredit the [Trump] victory and claim voter fraud and cyber-fraud, including the claim that the Russians have hacked into the voting machines and tampered with the results.”937

In other words, there is little to no evidence that the most damning claims (save, perhaps, the one that RNC knew of email release dates, though that may not be reliable) didn’t make the Report.

The Mueller Report is an incredibly dense description of the details Mueller could corroborate

The FOIAed documents are perhaps more useful for giving us a sense of how dense the Mueller Report is. They show how several pages of notes might end up in just a few paragraphs of the Mueller Report. The entirety of the three Gates’ interviews released Saturday, for example, show up in just four paragraphs in the Mueller Report: two in Volume I describing how the campaign made a media campaign around the leaks and how Trump once told him on the way to the airport that more emails were coming.

And two paragraphs in Volume II repeating the same information.

Worse still, because the government has released just six of the 302s that will be aired at the Roger Stone trial starting this week, much of what is in those interviews (undoubtedly referring to how Manafort and Gates coordinated with Stone) remains redacted under Stone’s gag order, in both the 302 reports and the Mueller Report itself.

Shocked — shocked!! — to find collusion at a Trump casino

Then there are people who read the 302s and were shocked that Mueller didn’t describe what the interviews show to be “collusion” as collusion, the mirror image of an error the denialists make (up to and including Bill Barr) in claiming that the Mueller Report did not find any collusion.

As I’ve pointed out since March 2017, this investigation was never about collusion. Mueller was tasked to report on what crimes he decided to charge or not, so there was never a possibility he was going to get into whether something was or was not collusion, because that would fall outside his mandate (and the law).

Worse still, in his summary of the investigation, Barr played a neat game where he measured “collusion” exclusively in terms of coordination by the campaign itself with Russia. It was clear from that moment — even before the redacted report came out — that he was understating how damning Mueller’s results would be, because Roger Stone’s indictment (and communications of his that got reported via various channels) made it crystal clear that he at least attempted to optimize the releases, but that involved coordination — deemed legal in part out of solid First Amendment concerns — with WikiLeaks, not Russia, and so therefore wouldn’t be covered by Barr’s narrow definition of “collusion.”

Of late, I’ve found it useful to use the definition of “collusion” Mark Meadows used in a George Papadopoulos hearing in 2018. In an exchange designed to show that in an interview where George Papadopoulos lied about his ongoing efforts to cozy up to Russia his denial that Papadopoulos, the coffee boy, knew about efforts to benefit from Hillary Clinton’s stolen emails, Meadows called that — optimizing the Clinton releases — “collusion.”

Mr. Papadopoulos. And after he was throwing these allegations at me, I —

Mr. Meadows. And by allegations, allegations that the Trump campaign was benefiting from Hillary Clinton emails?

Mr. Papadopoulos. Something along those lines, sir. And I think I pushed back and I told him, I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. What you’re talking about is something along the lines of treason. I’m not involved. I don’t know anyone in the campaign who’s involved. And, you know, I really have nothing to do with Russia. That’s — something along those lines is how I think I responded to this person.

Mr. Meadows. So essentially at this point, he was suggesting that there was collusion and you pushed back very firmly is what it sounds like. [my emphasis]

One of the President’s biggest apologists has stated that if the campaign did make efforts to optimize the releases, then they did, in fact, collude.

The Roger Stone trial, which starts Tuesday, will more than meet that measure. It astounds me how significantly the previews of Stone’s trials misunderstand how damning this trial will be. WaPo measures that Mueller failed to find anything in Roger Stone’s actions, which is not what even the indictment shows, much less the Mueller Report or filings submitted in the last six months.

The Stone indictment suggests that what prosecutors found instead was a failed conspiracy among conspiracy theorists, bookended by investigative dead ends and unanswered questions for the team of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

And MoJo hilariously suggests we might only now, in the trial, establish rock solid proof that Trump lied to Mueller, and doesn’t even account for how some of its own past reporting will be aired at the trial in ways that are far more damning than it imagines.

Here’s why I’m certain these outlets are underestimating how damning this trial will be.

Along with stipulating the phone and email addresses of Erik Prince and Steve Bannon (meaning communications with them could be entered into evidence even without their testimony, though Bannon has said he expects to testify), the government plans to present evidence pertaining to four direct lines to Trump and three to his gatekeepers.

One way prosecutors will use this is to show that, when Trump told Rick Gates that more emails were coming after getting off a call he got on the way to Laguardia, he did so after speaking directly to Roger Stone. They’ll also date exactly when a call that Michael Cohen witnessed happened, after which Trump said the DNC emails would be released in upcoming days got put through Rhona Graff.

It’s not so much that we’ll get proof that Trump lied to Mueller (and not just about what he said to Stone), though we will absolutely get that, but we’ll get proof that Trump was personally involved in what Mark Meadows considers “collusion.”

The Mueller Report and the ongoing criminal investigations

Both Mueller critics and denialists are also forgetting (and, in some cases, obstinately ignorant) about what the Mueller Report actually represented.

We don’t know why Mueller submitted his report when he did — though there is evidence, albeit not yet conclusive, that Barr assumed the position of Attorney General planning to shut the investigation down (indeed, he even has argued that once Mueller decided he could not indict Trump — which was true from the start, given the OLC memo prohibiting it — he should have shut the investigation down).

A lot has been made of the investigative referrals in the Mueller Report, of which just 2 (Cohen and Greg Craig) were unredacted. We’ve seen just one more of those thus far, the prosecution of George Nader for child porn, a prosecution that may lead Nader to grow more cooperative about other issues. Some of the (IMO) most revealing details in the weekend’s dump were b7ABC FOIA exemptions for materials relating to Alexander Nix and Michael Caputo. Normally, that redaction is used for upcoming criminal prosecutions, so it could be that Nix and Caputo will have a larger role in Stone’s trial than we know. But it also may mean that there is an ongoing investigation into one or both of them.

In addition, investigations of some sort into at least three of Trump’s aides appear to be ongoing.

It is a fact, for example, that DOJ refused to release the details of Paul Manafort’s lies — covering the kickback system via which he got paid, his efforts to implement the Ukraine plan pitched in his August 2, 2016 meeting, and efforts by another Trump flunkie to save the election in the weeks before he resigned — because those investigations remained ongoing in March. There’s abundant reason to think that the investigation into Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman and Rudy Giuliani, whether it was a referral from Mueller or not, is the continuation of the investigation into Manafort’s efforts to help Russia carve up Ukraine to its liking (indeed, the NYT has a piece on how Manafort played in Petro Poroshenko’s efforts to cultivate Trump today).

It is a fact that the investigation that we know of as the Mystery Appellant started in the DC US Attorney’s office and got moved back there (and as such might not even be counted as a referral). What we know of the challenge suggests a foreign country (not Russia) was using one of its corporations to pay off bribes of someone.

It is a fact that Robert Mueller testified under oath that the counterintelligence investigation into Mike Flynn was ongoing.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Since it was outside the purview of your investigation your report did not address how Flynn’s false statements could pose a national security risk because the Russians knew the falsity of those statements, right?

MUELLER: I cannot get in to that, mainly because there are many elements of the FBI that are looking at different aspects of that issue.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Currently?

MUELLER: Currently.

That’s consistent with redaction decisions made both in the Mueller Report itself and as recently as last week.

It is a fact that when Roger Stone aide Andrew Miller testified, he did so before a non-Mueller grand jury. When Miller’s lawyer complained, Chief Judge Beryl Howell reviewed the subpoena and agreed that the government needed Miller’s testimony for either investigative subjects besides Stone or charges beyond those in his indictment. Indeed, one of the most interesting aspects of Mueller’s statement closing his investigation is the way it happened as Miller was finally agreeing to testify, effectively ensuring that it would happen under DC, not Muller.

Again, these are all facts. No matter how badly Glenn Greenwald desperately wants to — needs to — spin knowing actual facts about ongoing investigations as denial, it is instead basic familiarity with the public record (the kind of familiarity he has never bothered to acquire). At least as of earlier this year — or last week! — there has been reason to believe there are ongoing investigations into three of Trump’s closest advisors and several others who helped him get elected.

At least two of those investigations continue under grand juries, impaneled in March 2019, that Chief Judge Beryl Howell can extend beyond January 20, 2021.

Why Mueller closed up shop

Nevertheless, it is indeed the case that Mueller closed his investigation after producing a report that showed abundant obstruction by the President, but stated that his investigation “did not establish” that the Trump campaign engaged in coordination or conspiracy with Russia, including regarding a quid pro quo.

In particular, the investigation examined whether these contacts involved or resulted in coordination or a conspiracy with the Trump Campaign and Russia, including with respect to Russia providing assistance to the Campaign in exchange for any sort of favorable treatment in the future. Based on the available information, the investigation did not establish such coordination.

I’d like to end this post with speculation, one not often considered by those bitching about or claiming finality of the Mueller investigation.

In his closing press conference, Mueller emphasized two things: he saw his job as including “preserving evidence” against the President, and he noted that under existing DOJ guidelines, the President cannot be charged until after he has been impeached.

First, the opinion explicitly permits the investigation of a sitting President because it is important to preserve evidence while memories are fresh and documents are available. Among other things, that evidence could be used if there were co-conspirators who could now be charged.

And second, the opinion says that the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting President of wrongdoing.

In Mueller’s explanation of why he didn’t hold out for an interview with Trump, he said that he weighed the cost of fighting for years to get that interview versus the benefit of releasing a report  with “substantial quantity of information [allowing people] to draw relevant factual conclusions on intent and credibility” when he did.

Beginning in December 2017, this Office sought for more than a year to interview the President on topics relevant to both Russian-election interference and obstruction-of-justice. We advised counsel that the President was a ” subject” of the investigation under the definition of the Justice Manual-“a person whose conduct is within the scope of the grand jury’s investigation.” Justice Manual § 9-11.151 (2018). We also advised counsel that”[ a]n interview with the President is vital to our investigation” and that this Office had ” carefully considered the constitutional and other arguments raised by . .. counsel, and they d[id] not provide us with reason to forgo seeking an interview.” 1 We additionally stated that “it is in the interest of the Presidency and the public for an interview to take place” and offered “numerous accommodations to aid the President’s preparation and avoid surprise.”2 After extensive discussions with the Department of Justice about the Special Counsel’s objective of securing the President’s testimony, these accommodations included the submissions of written questions to the President on certain Russia-related topics. 3

[snip]

Recognizing that the President would not be interviewed voluntarily, we considered whether to issue a subpoena for his testimony. We viewed the written answers to be inadequate. But at that point, our investigation had made significant progress and had produced substantial evidence for our report. We thus weighed the costs of potentially lengthy constitutional litigation, with resulting delay in finishing our investigation, against the anticipated benefits for our investigation and report. As explained in Volume II, Section H.B., we determined that the substantial quantity of information we had obtained from other sources allowed us to draw relevant factual conclusions on intent and credibility, which are often inferred from circumstantial evidence and assessed without direct testimony from the subject of the investigation.

I take that to mean that Mueller decided to end the investigation to prevent Trump’s refusals to testify to delay the release of the report for two years.

In his testimony, Mueller agreed, after some very specific questioning from former cop Val Demings, that Trump was not truthful in his answers to Mueller.

DEMINGS: Director Mueller, isn’t it fair to say that the president’s written answers were not only inadequate and incomplete because he didn’t answer many of your questions, but where he did his answers show that he wasn’t always being truthful.

MUELLER: There — I would say generally.

She laid out what I have — that Trump refused to correct his lies about Trump Tower Moscow, as well as that he obviously lied about his coordination on WikiLeaks. So lies are one of the things the Mueller Report documents for anyone who reads it attentively.

But Trump’s obstruction extends beyond his lies. His obstruction, as described in the Report, included attempts to bribe several different witnesses with pardons, including at minimum Manafort, Flynn, Cohen, and Stone (those aren’t the only witnesses and co-conspirators the evidence shows Mueller believes Trump bribed with promises of pardons, but I’ll leave it there for now).

So here’s what I think Mueller did. I suspect he ended his investigation when he did because he was unable to get any further so long as Trump continued to obstruct the investigation with promises of pardons. So long as Trump remains President, key details about what are egregious efforts to cheat to win will remain hidden. The ongoing investigations — into Manafort and Stone, at a minimum, but possibly into others up to and including the President’s son — cannot go further so long as any prosecutorial effort can be reversed with a pardon.

That said, some of those details will be revealed for the first time starting this week, in the Stone trial. And, if the Parnas and Fruman influence operation is, indeed, related to Manafort’s own, then Trump’s personal criminal involvement in that influence operation is being revealed as part of a parallel impeachment inquiry.

Which is to say that I suspect Mueller got out of the way to allow investigations that cannot be fully prosecuted so long as Trump remains President to continue, even as Congress starts to do its job under the Constitution. And Congress has finally started doing so.

Attorney General Bill Barr Has a Higher Opinion of George Papadopoulos’ Dirt than Steve Bannon Does

I’m working my way through the Mueller 302s that Jason Leopold liberated. But given current events, I thought it worthwhile to elevate this passage from a February 14, 2018 interview Mueller’s office had with Steve Bannon.

Bannon never worked with Papadopoulos on setting up the meetings despite Papadopoulos’s offers through email. Bannon would generally blow off Papadopoulos and thought to himself “I don’t need this guy.” Flynn would be on the hook for the meetings Papadopoulos was suggesting, and Bannon did not need Papadopoulos. Papadopoulos never told Bannon about the Russians having dirt on Clinton, and Bannon never heard Papadopoulos tell anyone else in the campaign, such as Sam Clovis, that the Russians had dirt on Clinton. Bannon had all the dirt he needed from Clinton Cash and Uranium One, he didn’t need any more dirt. Bannon didn’t need any more dirt from “clowns” like Papadopoulos and Clovis. (PDF 125)

Bannon, who remembered virtually nothing about his extensive interactions with Erik Prince (whom he admitted to respecting), remembered distinctly that he blew off all George Papadopoulos’ offers to help set up a meeting with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, even though he admitted knowing he had to find a way to make Trump look credible as a Commander in Chief.

After stating (months after Papadopoulos’ plea deal was announced) that he didn’t remember hearing anything about Papadopoulos offering dirt, Bannon then said he didn’t need dirt from Papadopoulos, as if it had been offered.

Anyway, Steven Bannon, who hangs out with some pretty dodgy types, calls Papadopoulos and his investigative leads a “Clown.”

That would mean that the Attorney General of the United States, who has been traveling the world on a wild goose chase for something — anything!! — that might corroborate Papadopoulos’ conspiracy theories, has a higher estimation of Papadopoulos’ dirt than Steve Bannon.

Three Things: Double, Double, Toil and Rubble

[NB: Check the byline, thanks!]

Happy Halloween to all our ghouls and goblins. We have plenty of tricks and not too many treats before us today.

~ 3 ~

The House is currently debating H.Res. 660,

Directing certain committees to continue their ongoing investigations as part of the existing House of Representatives inquiry into whether sufficient grounds exist for the House of Representatives to exercise its Constitutional power to impeach Donald John Trump, President of the United States of America, and for other purposes.

Note the word “continue,” as in this resolution acknowledges the House committees have already been working on an impeachment inquiry. The bill went through mark-up last night and is now the subject of banshee-like wailing from GOP House members like Jim Jordan.

Can you imagine being so stupid and unethical that you’d willingly allow yourself to be recorded in Congressional record as a whiner on behalf of a shakedown artist like Donald Trump? Nevertheless, the GOP persists in being ridiculous and on record.

The vote was initially expected at noon but GOP whining may push it later.

~ 2 ~

We’ve also got two hearings today, the outcome of which may shape the House committees’ work on impeachment:

We’re drifting ever closer to revisiting United States v. Nixon (1974).

~ 1 ~

Tim Morrison, who replaced Fiona Hill at the end of August when she left her position as National Security Council Senior Director for European and Russian Affairs, has arrived at the House to give testimony today related to the Ukraine aid-for-Trump campaign scandal. Morrison’s background is in nuclear non-proliferation and pre-Trump GOP policy; he’s been characterized as a Bolton hawk.

Morrison resigned yesterday; his testimony today will be offered as a former federal employee.

Not certain what more Morrison will be able to add since he assumed Hill’s role more than a month after the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky. He’d been in his latest job less than two months.

But it would be nice to know if he is still seeing push back about the aid budgeted and approved by Congress for Ukraine. I haven’t seen anything indicating the aid has been released yet and it’s already past the end of the federal fiscal year. Office of Management and Budget’s associate director of national security programs and political appointee Michael Duffey had been given authority to hold the aid earlier this month. Duffey needs to be asked by the House if he still has orders to hold the aid, subrogating Congress’s authority in the process.

~ 0 ~

Watch out for trick-or-treaters as we approach evening. And look out for a tangerine troll tweeting madly as the day progresses.

This is an open thread. Bring your goodie bags here for inspection.

The Republican Closing Argument against Impeachment Is Personally Implicated in the Scandal

I’m waiting on the procedural votes to authorize the House impeachment inquiry. There were some nice speeches, with Speaker Pelosi lecturing the Republicans about American history, Republicans repeating the same quote from Alexander Hamilton over and over, Steve Scalise posing next to an image of the Kremlin [Correction: This is St. Basil’s Cathedral], and Eric Swalwell accusing the President of using taxpayer dollars to lead an “an extortion shakedown scheme.”

But perhaps the most telling aspect of the debate is that the Republican closing argument — yet another recital of that same Hamilton quote — came from Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

Kevin McCarthy is implicated in the scandal he doesn’t want investigated.

McCarthy received money both personally and in the guise of his Protect the House PAC from Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas, the grifters at the core of the influence operation that led to Trump’s quid pro quo conversation with Volodymyr Zelensky. He also keynoted an event with the grifters. While he has said he’d donate the money to charity (though has not yet, as far as I know, shown that he did that), there is no way to unring the bell of their support. He became Majority Leader with the support of men who have since been indicted for that support.

That is the face that is leading opposition to impeachment.

Update: Here’s the roll call.

  • Impeachment curious Republicans Will Hurd and Francis Rooney both voted against the inquiry
  • Democrats Collin Peterson and Jeff Van Drew also voted against
  • Justin Amash voted for the inquiry
  • Republicans Jody Hice, John Rose, and William Timmons, and Democrat Donald McEachin did not vote

So 98.5% of the Republican caucus voted to do nothing after another branch of government usurped Congress’ power of the purse.

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