Frothy Republicans Confuse Oleg Deripaska and Donald Trump

A letter from Elijah Cummings and Jerrold Nadler to Trey Gowdy and Bob Goodlatte answers two questions I’ve had since John Solomon and the rest of the propaganda mill started reporting on Christopher Steele’s communications with Bruce Ohr.

First, the communications that frothy right propagandists all seem to have, have not been officially released. Indeed, Cummings and Nadler complain that in the questioning of Ohr last week, Democrats weren’t even shown the communications that all the frothy right seems to have.

These documents were not included in the 800,000 pages of documents the Justice Department produced to our Committee during this investigation. During Mr. Ohr’s interview, the Republican Members never introduced these documents into the official record, never marked them as exhibits, never explained how they obtained them, and never provided copies to Democratic staff participating in the interview.

More hilariously, the letter reveals that Republicans read a reference Steele made to “our favorite business tycoon” and assumed — premised on the notion that everything Steele was doing at the time had to have been a conspiracy against Trump — that that must be a reference to Trump.

First, by cherry-picking portions of these documents out of context–and withholding the full set of documents–Republican Members are creating a highly misleading narrative with factually inaccurate interpretations and conjecture. For example, Republican Members read aloud a portion of one email in which Mr. Steele wrote to Mr. Ohr, “There is something I wanted to discuss with you informally and separately. It concerns our favorite business tycoon.” When Republican Members accused Mr. Ohr of discussing President Donald Trump with Mr. Steele, Mr. Orh explained that the Republican interpretation was false–and that the “business tycoon ” they were referring to was actually Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.

Cummings and Nadler point out that that interpretation has leaked to frothy right propagandists.

[S]elect portions of some of these same documents have no been leaked to the press to create similarly false and misleading narratives. For example, on August 7, 2018, John Solomon wrote in The Hill that he was given some of “Ohr’s own notes, emails and text messages.” In his piece, Mr. Solomon quoted the same email in which Mr. Ohr and Mr. Steele discussed “our favorite business tycoon.” Then, like the Republican Members, Mr. Solomon asserted inaccurately that this statement was “an apparent reference to Trump.”

Here’s how Solomon spun it.

Some of the more tantalizing Ohr contacts occurred in the days when Steele made his first contacts with the FBI in summer 2016 about the Russia matter.

“There is something separate I wanted to discuss with you informally and separately. It concerns our favourite business tycoon!” Steele wrote Ohr on July 1, 2016, in an apparent reference to Trump.

That overture came just four days before Steele walked into the FBI office in Rome with still-unproven allegations that Trump had an improper relationship with Russia, including possible efforts to hijack the presidential election.

And how Byron York repeated that “reasonable” supposition.

On March 17, Steele wrote a brief note asking if Ohr had any update on plans to visit Europe “in the near term where we could meet up.” Ohr said he did not and asked if Steele would like to set up a call. It is not clear whether a call took place.

There are no emails for more than three months after March 17. Then, on July 1, came the first apparent reference to Donald Trump, then preparing to accept the Republican nomination for president. “I am seeing [redacted] in London next week to discuss ongoing business,” Steele wrote to Ohr, “but there is something separate I wanted to discuss with you informally and separately. It concerns our favourite business tycoon!” Steele said he had planned to come to the U.S. soon, but now it looked like it would not be until August. He needed to talk in the next few days, he said, and suggested getting together by Skype before he left on holiday. Ohr suggested talking on July 7. Steele agreed.

Ohr’s phone log for July 7 notes, “Call with Chris Steele” from 8:00 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. eastern time.

(A caution here: It is possible the “favourite business tycoon” could be Deripaska, or perhaps even someone else, and not Trump. But no one referred to Deripaska in that way anywhere else in the communications. Also, Steele made it clear the “tycoon” subject was separate from other business. And July 1 was just before Steele met with the FBI with the first installment of the Trump dossier. So it appears reasonable, given Steele’s well-known obsession with Trump, and unless information emerges otherwise, to see the “favourite business tycoon” as Trump.)

Followed, marginally more critically, by Chuck Ross.

On July 1, 2016, Steele reached out to Ohr in hopes of discussing “our favourite business tycoon!” It is unclear if Steele was referring to Deripaska or Donald Trump. Steele met with Ohr and his wife, a Russia expert named Nellie Ohr, on July 30, 2016, at a Washington, D.C., hotel.

When I wrote this up, I noted the problematic assumption.

But in their effort to make everything an expert on Russian organized crime touched into a conspiracy against Donald Trump, the frothy right has just confused Trump and a mobbed up Russian oligarch.

I mean, there’s a clear difference. Deripaska really is as rich as he claims.

Spy Versus Spy: The Two Alleged Agents of Foreign Powers Sitting in the Alexandria Jail, Part One (Paulie)

The Alexandria jail houses two alleged criminal agents of foreign influence: Paul Manafort and Mariia Butina. In the coming days, both may present interesting questions about the boundaries the US uses to define — and criminalize — foreign influence peddling. Legal questions in their prosecutions will address two questions:

  • What does it take to criminalize a failure to register as an Agent of a Foreign Principal?
  • What are the boundaries between Agent of Foreign Principals and Foreign Governments?

At issue are two laws: the Foreign Agents Registration Act, 22 USC 611 et seq., which requires certain people engaging in politics and propaganda for non-commercial foreign entities to register as their agents and to disclose the propaganda they disseminate. Mostly, FARA is a documentary requirement, but lying in the registration process can carry a five year sentence. That’s what Paul Manafort has been charged with. Butina has been charged with violating 18 USC 951, which basically criminalizes people who don’t register with DOJ (as, for example, diplomats would) when they spy for a foreign power; it carries a ten year sentence.

The problems with FARA … and distinguishing it from spying

As a DOJ Inspector General Audit completed in September 2016 laid out, people stopped complying with FARA in the 1990s, as any commercial lobbyists could register under the Lobbyist Disclosure Act more easily and FARA wasn’t rigorously enforced. The IG Report cited a bunch of reasons why FARA is not better enforced, such as that they aren’t staffed to be effective, nor do they have the investigative authorities DOJ thinks they need to figure out who’s not complying.

During our audit the FARA Unit was comprised of one Unit Chief, who is also an attorney; two staff attorneys; one Supervisory Program Manager; one Intelligence Research Specialist; one Program Specialist; and two Case Management Specialists.5 NSD staff emphasized that this is a limited staff, which is responsible for a considerable range of activities. The unit is responsible for processing and monitoring new and existing FARA registrations on an ongoing basis. This includes receiving, reviewing and processing documentation and payments, and addressing late or inaccurate submissions. The unit also performs periodic formal inspections to assess the adequacy of registrant reporting and disclosure, and conducts open source searches to identify individuals that may be obligated to register.

One of these two staff attorneys joined the FARA Unit during our audit. At the conclusion of our audit we were informed that the FARA Unit was back to one staff attorney, however the unit planned to hire a replacement.

[snip]

NSD officials stated that a major difficulty is a lack of authority to compel the production of information from persons who may be agents. As a result, NSD is currently pursuing civil investigative demand (CID) authority from Congress in order to enhance its ability to assess the need for potential agents to register.

Ultimately, however, DOJ almost never uses the teeth in the provision — prosecution — to ensure compliance.

Between 1966 and 2015 the Department only brought seven criminal FARA cases – one resulted in a conviction at trial for conspiracy to violate FARA and other statutes, two pleaded guilty to violating FARA, two others pleaded guilty to non-FARA charges, and the remaining two cases were dismissed. We were also told by NSD that the Department has not sought civil injunctive relief under FARA since 1991.

The IG Report cites two reasons why there aren’t more prosecutions. First, as the National Security Division explained, because it is so hard to get evidence of 1) willfulness, 2) that the agent is working under the “direction and control” of a foreign principal and 3) that the influence-peddling isn’t for some other (exempted) reason.

FARA contains a criminal penalty provision, and NSD approves criminal prosecution as an enforcement mechanism if there is sufficient admissible evidence of a willful violation of FARA, and the standards applicable to all federal criminal prosecutions set forth in the U.S. Attorney’s Manual are otherwise satisfied. The high burden of proving willfulness, difficulties in proving “direction and control” by a foreign principal, and exemptions available under the statute make criminal prosecution for FARA violations challenging. These challenges are compounded by the government’s current inability to compel the production of records from potential and current registrants, a situation NSD is working to remedy by proposing legislation for consideration by the Department of Justice (Department). Despite these challenges, the Department has brought four F ARA criminal cases since 2007, all of which resulted in convictions (one conviction at trial for conspiracy to violate F ARA and other statutes; two guilty pleas for violating FARA; and one guilty plea to related non-FARA charges).

The other reason why there aren’t more FARA prosecutions, per the IG Report, is because FBI agents confuse FARA (what Manafort is charged with) with 18 USC 951 (what Butin is charged with). Indeed, Agents mix the codes for the two crimes up in their filing system.

[W]hen we discussed FARA with FBI personnel, we found that they considered a “FARA case” to be a case investigated pursuant to either the FARA, 22 U.S.C. § 611, et seq., or 18 U.S.C. § 951 (Section 951), which is the federal statute that provides criminal penalties for certain agents of foreign governments who act in the United States without first notifying the Attorney General.12 Unlike Section 951, FARA requires agents of foreign principals engaged in legal political or quasi-political activities such as lobbying, government and public relations, tourism promotion, and foreign economic development activities in the United States to register and make detailed disclosures of their activities in the United States conducted on behalf of their foreign principals.13

By contrast, Section 951 was described to us by the NSD as “espionage lite” because a Section 951 case generally involves espionage-like or clandestine behavior or an otherwise provable connection to an intelligence service, or information gathering or procurement-type activity on behalf of a foreign government. Although FARA registration can serve as the required notification to the Attorney General under Section 951, NSD officials told us FARA and Section 951 involve different sets of elements and different types of issues. According to NSD officials, only 22 U.S.C. 611 et seq. constitutes a FARA case. Nevertheless, NSD officials acknowledged the differing views on what constitutes a FARA charge and are currently engaged in an ongoing effort to better educate field investigators and prosecutors on the difference.

12 According to NSD, notification under Section 951 may be made by registration under FARA in circumstances where the activity requiring notice is disclosed on the FARA registration form.

13 Political activities are defined by the statute as “any activity that the person engaging in believes will, or that the person intends to, in any way influence any agency or official of the Government of the United States or any section of the public within the United States with reference to formulating, adopting, or changing the domestic or foreign policies of the United States or with reference to the political or public interests, policies, or relations of a government of a foreign country or a foreign political party.”

Here’s how NSD described the difference.

Although OIG’s report reflects some criticism of aspects of NSD’s review of F ARA cases, NSD notes at the outset, as OlG acknowledged in the Report, that personnel interviewed in preparation of the Report frequently confused FARA (22 U.S.c. § 611 el seq) with 18 U.S.C. § 951 (“Section 951 “), a criminal statute entitled “Agents of foreign governments.” Although the two statutes have similar terms, they address different types of conduct. The typical conduct to which Section 951 applies consists of espionage-like behavior, information gathering, and procurement of technology, on behalf of foreign governments or officials. FARA, on the other hand, is designed to provide transparency regarding efforts by foreign principals (a term defined more broadly than foreign governments or officials) to influence the U.S. government or public through public speech, political activities, and lobbying. Accordingly, Section 95 1 is codified in Title 18 of the U.S. Code (designated for “Crimes and Criminal Procedure”), while FARA is codified in Title 22 (designated for “Foreign Relations”). Section 951 is aimed exclusively at criminally punishing individuals who violate its terms, and lacks a formal administrative registration regime. FARA in contrast, is predominantly a disclosure statute, under which there is an administrative registration regime, and while the Act authorizes criminal penalties for willful violations, the primary means of achieving FARA’s main purpose of transparency is through voluntary disclosure in compliance with the Act. The mistaken conflation of the two statutes can lead to undue weight being given to criminal prosecution as the measure of F ARA enforcement and insufficient recognition of the significance of administrative enforcement efforts relating to the FARA registration regime. It is therefore essential to understand the distinctions between FARA and Section 951 for purposes of this audit, the scope of which is expressly limited to the enforcement and administration of FARA.

Mueller’s two FARA pleas

Mueller actually already shifted the balance on FARA enforcement since that 2016 IG Report. Among the false statements Flynn pled guilty to is filing a false FARA filing.

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.

And one of two conspiracy schemes (what I call ConFraudUS) to which Gates pled guilty is violating FARA.

GATES understood that it was illegal to engage in certain activities in the United States as an agent of a foreign pricipal without registering with the United States Government. Specifically, a person who engages in lobbying or public relations work in the United States (hereafter collectively referred to as lobbying) for a foreign principal such as the Government of Ukraine or the Party of Regions is required to register. Manafort, together with GATES’ assistance, engaged in a scheme to avoid this registration requirement for DMI, Manafort, and others.

These efforts — and Manafort’s prosecution — have already led to a significant increase in how many people are registering as foreign influence peddlers.

You can lose your profits if you don’t register

Particularly because Manafort’s case is so high profile, Mueller’s bid to prosecute him for FARA violations comes with high stakes and potentially high payoff — though DC District interpretations of the law. That said, the government has actually backstopped itself by charging Manafort’s sleazy influence peddling under multiple different crimes; the indictment actually uses seven different counts to hold Manafort accountable for hiding that he was an agent of a Russian-backed Ukrainian party, the Party of Regions (and its successor).

  1. ConFraudUs: Claiming Manafort prevented DOJ and Treasury from tracking his foreign influence peddling
  2. Conspiracy to Launder Money: Claiming Manafort and Gates laundered the proceeds of their Ukrainian influence-peddling
  3. FARA Violation: Claiming Manafort hid both his own lobbying for the Party of Regions and that he paid other influence peddlers to engage in
  4. Submitting a False FARA Statement: Claiming Manafort submitted a claim falsely claiming he didn’t need to register as a foreign agent
  5. False statements: Claiming he lied in his FARA filings
  6. Obstruction of justice: Claiming he tampered with witnesses associated with the Hapsburg group in an attempt to get them to lie about his failure to register as a foreign agent
  7. Conspiracy to obstruct justice: Claiming he conspired with former GRU officer Konstantin Kilimnik to tamper with witnesses

Manafort already tried and failed to narrow the application of FARA in two ways: first, by objecting to tying money laundering to FARA (and thereby tying a forfeiture to it). Second, Manafort tried to get either the false FARA statement (count 4) or the false statements (count 5) thrown as as multiplicitous. Amy Berman Jackson ruled against him on both attempts (forfeiture, multiplicitous), though the latter order basically just punted the issue until after trial.

The former is more interesting, in any case, because in her ruling ABJ took Manafort’s bid to distinguish FARA from 18 USC 951 and instead described how similar they are.

Section 951 of Title 18 states that “[w]hoever, other than a diplomatic or consular officer or attaché, acts in the United States as an agent of a foreign government without prior notification to the Attorney General” shall be fined or imprisoned for up to ten years, or both. 18 U.S.C. § 951(a). According to defendant, this statute criminalizes acting as a foreign agent, whereas FARA is merely a “regulatory scheme for foreign agent registration” that criminalizes only the willful failure to register. Def.’s Mot. at 5, quoting United States v. McGoff, 831 F.2d 1071, 1075 (D.C. Cir. 1987).

But the reference to section 951 does not support defendant’s position, since defendant acknowledges that section 951 plainly governs acting as an agent of a foreign government, and the language of the two provisions is quite similar. See Def.’s Mot. at 4–5; compare 18 U.S.C. § 951(a) (“Whoever . . . acts in the United States as an agent of a foreign government without prior notification to the Attorney General . . . shall be fined under this title or imprisoned . . . .”) with 22 U.S.C. § 612(a) (“No person shall act as an agent of a foreign principal unless he has filed with the Attorney General a true and complete registration statement . . . .”) and id. § 618(a) (imposing criminal penalties on any person who “willfully violates any provision of this subchapter or any regulation thereunder” or “willfully makes a false statement of a material fact or willfully omits any material fact” in a FARA statement). These laws are not just about paperwork; their object is to ensure that no person acts to advance the interests of a foreign government or principal within the United States unless the public has been properly notified of his or her allegiance. So both statutes expressly prohibit “acting” as a representative of a foreign entity without submitting the required notification to the Attorney General. For these reasons, the alleged international banking transactions could “promote,” and Manafort could realize “proceeds” from, a FARA violation.3

3 Defendant argues that section 951 does not bear on the issue presented here since it requires an “additional element” that FARA does not, and applies to “activities . . . under the control of a foreign government.” Def.’s Mot. at 4–5. But FARA also applies to agents of foreign governments. 22 U.S.C. § 611(b) (defining “foreign principal” to include “the government of a foreign country”). So the difference between the two provisions is that section 951 covers a narrower subset of foreign agents.

In addition to treating sleazy influence peddlers as akin to spies (albeit less serious ones) if they hide that influence peddling, ABJ’s order means that in DC, where all the sleazy influence peddlers work, a sleazy influence peddler can forfeit the money he makes off sleazy influence peddling if he doesn’t properly register to peddle influence.

Ouch.

The crime-fraud exception in FARA registration

Which brings us to one of the reasons why FARA is so hard to prosecute: the difficulty of proving willfulness. One way Mueller is getting around that is to rely on the testimony of the lawyer Manafort used to file his delayed FARA registration.

After Manafort’s influence-peddling for Ukraine became the focus of attention in 2016, the chief of the FARA unit wrote to Manafort and asked him if maybe he should have registered. Manafort hired Melissa Laurenza. She submitted three filings on Manafort’s behalf, on November 23, 2016, February 10, 2017, and June 27, 2017, all based on the representations made by Gates and Manafort (including that they had no record of communications with Tony Podesta and Vin Webber’s firms, but that they only retained email for 30 days). In the earlier filings, Laurenza claimed Manafort’s Ukrainian consulting didn’t include any outreach to US government officials or media outlets.

Last August, Mueller asked for and obtained Chief Judge Beryl Howell’s permission to compel Laurenza to testify under the crime-fraud exception to attorney-client privilege. Based off five lies for which Mueller provided evidence, Howell authorized Mueller’s team to ask seven questions of Laurenza about preparation of the FARA filings.

Then, earlier this month, a Taint Team lawyer asked for permission to have the taint Team turn over the emails that Laurenza used to write up her FARA filings. Manafort responded by claiming, in part, that he had never even seen the entirety of the litigation before Judge Howell. The Taint Team lawyer then produced the evidence that she had provided that information to Manafort in April.

If this thing goes to trial, we’re going to see a whole slew of evidence that Manafort was working directly for Viktor Yanukovych’s party, even while he hid that fact as he had Tony Podesta and Vin Weber lobby on Yanukovych’s behalf. That will get Mueller to the “direction and control” prong of the statute. By showing the efforts to which Gates and Manafort made to lie to their lawyer when they were finally forced to submit a FARA filing, Mueller will show that Gates and Manafort twice made sure that the FARA filing lied about what they had really been doing for Yanukovych.

One question I’m left with, particularly when we compare Manafort’s actions with Butina’s (which I’ll do in my next post), is why Mueller didn’t just charge Manafort with spying for Yanukovych, rather than just lobbying for him?

Update: Sam Patten, who also worked with Konstantin Kilimnik pitching Yanukovych’s party, is pleading guilty to FARA violations this morning.

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

Don McGahn’s Bullshit Report Covering Up the Flynn Firing

Murray Waas, who writes about one and only one subject on the Russian investigation, has for the second time written a story claiming that a report Don McGahn wrote on February 15, 2017 — and not Trump’s serial offers to pardon people who are serving as his firewall —  is “the strongest evidence to date implicating the president of the United States in an obstruction of justice” and “the most compelling evidence we yet know of that Donald Trump may have obstructed justice.” Murray then goes on to parrot Rudy Giuliani’s preferred narrative about what would happen next.

Several people who have reviewed a portion of this evidence say that, based on what they know, they believe it is now all but inevitable that the special counsel will complete a confidential report presenting evidence that President Trump violated the law. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversees the special counsel’s work, would then decide on turning over that report to Congress for the House of Representatives to consider whether to instigate impeachment proceedings.

Because even people covering the story closely mistake the Flynn firing for an obstruction crime instead evidence of the conspiracy, I’d like to lay out why this story is silly. This will lay out things implicit in this post, which shows that in fact the White House narrative about Flynn is all an effort to treat his firing as obstruction and not “collusion.”

Neither story about Don McGahn’s exoneration of Trump should be credited

Murray claims that because Trump knew that Mike Flynn was under investigation when he asked Jim Comey to let the investigation into Flynn go, it will undercut an explanation offered in January that Trump thought Flynn had been cleared by the FBI.

In arguing in their January 29 letter that Trump did not obstruct justice, the president’s attorneys Dowd and Sekulow quoted selectively from this same memo, relying only on a few small portions of it. They also asserted that even if Trump knew there had been an FBI investigation of Flynn, Trump believed that Flynn had been cleared. Full review of the memo flatly contradicts this story.

The memo’s own statement that Trump was indeed told that Flynn was under FBI investigation was, in turn, based in part on contemporaneous notes written by Reince Priebus after discussing the matter with the president, as well as McGahn’s recollections to his staff about what he personally had told Trump, according to other records I was able to review. Moreover, people familiar with the matter have told me that both Priebus and McGahn have confirmed in separate interviews with the special counsel that they had told Trump that Flynn was under investigation by the FBI before he met with Comey.

Murray repeats a suspect McGahn timeline describing himself, along with Reince Priebus and White House lawyer John Eisenberg, “confronting” Flynn about intercepts showing that he had raised sanctions with Kislyak, contrary to what (they were claiming) he had told them.

On February 8, 2017, The Washington Post contacted the White House to say that it was about to publish a story citing no less than nine sources that Flynn had indeed spoken to Kislyak about sanctions. In attempting to formulate a response, Priebus, McGahn, and Eisenberg questioned Flynn. Confronted with the information that there were intercepts showing exactly what was said between him and Kislyak, Flynn’s story broke down. Instead of denying that he had spoken to Kislyak about sanctions, the timeline said, Flynn’s “recollection was inconclusive.” Flynn “either was not sure whether he discussed sanctions, or did not remember doing so,” the McGahn timeline says.

Priebus then “specifically asked Flynn whether he was interviewed by the FBI,” the timeline says. In response, “Flynn stated that FBI agents met with him to inform him that their investigation was over.” That claim, of course, was a lie. The FBI never told Flynn their investigation of him was over. Shortly thereafter, Vice President Pence, Priebus, and McGahn recommended that Flynn be fired.

According to the story Murray got snookered into repeating, because those three never informed Trump about this confrontation, his understanding of the investigation would remain what Priebus and McGahn had already briefed him — that Flynn was under investigation — and so by asking Comey to back off, he was obstructing justice.

In arguing that the president did nothing wrong, Trump defense attorneys John Dowd and Jay Sekulow, in both informal conversations and later in formal correspondence with the special counsel, relied on the false statements of Flynn to Priebus, McGahn, and Eisenberg that the FBI had closed out their investigation of him. In the attorneys’ reasoning, if Trump had no reason to think that Flynn was under criminal investigation when he allegedly pressured Comey to go easy on Flynn, the president did not obstruct justice. More broadly, Sekulow and Dowd argued in correspondence with the special counsel that the “White House’s understanding” was that “there was no FBI investigation that could conceivably have been impeded” at the time of Trump’s White House meeting with Comey.

But Sekulow and Dowd’s account of these conversations is partial and misleading. In fact, there is no information or evidence that Flynn’s false assertions were ever relayed to the president.

Murray doesn’t ask an obvious question: why, if Priebus and McGahn had already briefed Trump that Flynn was under investigation, they would have to confront Flynn about it. Nor does he mention a lot of other relevant details.

Two narratives

Before I get into the most relevant details, consider what we’re looking at: what Murray claims is his scoop, which provides more details on the original McGahn report, written the day after Trump tried to get Comey to end an investigation into why Mike Flynn lied about his conversation about sanctions on December 29, 2016. As always seemed the case and still appears to be true based on Murray’s claims about the report, the McGahn report misrepresented what Sally Yates said and a bunch of other things, but  in so doing laid out a narrative whereby the firing of Mike Flynn would serve as punishment for something Flynn did wrong.

Murray contrasts that with the letter Trump’s lawyers sent at the end of January but leaked in June in part to feed a narrative — one that had already been debunked — that Mueller was primarily investigating Trump for obstruction. The letter was Jay Sekulow and John Dowd’s attempt, in the wake of Mike Flynn’s cooperation agreement, to use the McGahn narrative to spin the firing of Flynn. In the January 29, 2018 telling, Flynn is not at fault, he’s just confused. And so, in the January letter, is the president. It portrays a story where no one really knew what Flynn said to Kislyak and everything that followed was just a big game of confused telephone for which the participants can’t be held legally liable. If Flynn were confused, of course, then his purported lies to Mike Pence would need to be excused, which is probably why Sekulow and Dowd didn’t address that part of the story.

When this whole process started — before Trump fired Jim Comey and in the process extended the investigation and got Robert Mueller looking into the stories being told — McGahn and Priebus and everyone else probably presumed that firing Flynn would shut everything down. That was the intent, anyway. Fire Flynn, end of investigation about why he lied to the FBI about discussing sanctions with Sergei Kislyak. And if you end the investigation, there would be no further scrutiny into what everyone else knew at the time, nor would anyone ask Comey and Yates their side of the story.

Of course, Trump fucked that all up, and fired Comey, which led to Mueller’s appointment, which led to his convening of a grand jury, which led to all that falling apart.

Bill Burck’s other clients already knew that Flynn had discussed sanctions

Which brings us to the most important of the missing details.

As noted, Trump couldn’t leave well enough alone and so fired Comey which led to Mueller which led to an actual investigation which led, in August, to Mueller obtaining the transition communications of 13 key members of the transition team, unmediated by Trump lawyers, who at the time were just responding to wholly inadequate document requests from Congress and sharing with Mueller.

Specifically, on August 23, 2017, the FBI sent a letter (i.e., not a subpoena) to career GSA staff requesting copies of the emails, laptops, cell phones, and other materials associated with nine PTT members responsible for national security and policy matters. On August 30, 2017, the FBI sent a letter (again, not a subpoena) to career GSA staff requesting such materials for four additional senior PTT members.

Among others, Mueller would have obtained emails that would have revealed that contrary to the story the White House had told in early January 2017 (which Murray repeats in his story), numerous Transition officials were aware of the emails regarding sanctions. Indeed, Reince Priebus, along with Flynn, Steve Bannon, Sean Spicer, and two other people (Kushner’s inclusion is implied elsewhere in the story), got forwarded an email KT McFarland sent Tom Bossert the day that Mike Flynn made his calls with Kislyak, talking about Flynn’s upcoming call with Kislyak and the need to avoid public comment defending Russia. McFarland also relayed what Obama’s Homeland Security Czar, Lisa Monaco, expected from the call, and the expectation Kislyak would respond with threats.

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

[snip]

McFarland wrote, Mr. Flynn would be speaking with the Russian ambassador, Mr. Kislyak, hours after Mr. Obama’s sanctions were announced.

“Key will be Russia’s response over the next few days,” Ms. McFarland wrote in an email to another transition official, Thomas P. Bossert, now the president’s homeland security adviser.

[snip]

Bossert forwarded Ms. McFarland’s Dec. 29 email exchange about the sanctions to six other Trump advisers, including Mr. Flynn; Reince Priebus, who had been named as chief of staff; Stephen K. Bannon, the senior strategist; and Sean Spicer, who would become the press secretary.

[snip]

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

Mr. Bossert replied by urging all the top advisers to “defend election legitimacy now.”

[snip]

Obama administration officials were expecting a “bellicose” response to the expulsions and sanctions, according to the email exchange between Ms. McFarland and Mr. Bossert. Lisa Monaco, Mr. Obama’s homeland security adviser, had told Mr. Bossert that “the Russians have already responded with strong threats, promising to retaliate,” according to the emails.

Flynn took orders on and relayed his results to McFarland, who was in Mar-a-Lago with Trump. And the transition team, when it complained that Mueller obtained these emails, suggested that they would have — perhaps did, in their compliance with congressional requests — treat this one as privileged. The day after Flynn’s calls, Trump hailed the outcome his National Security Advisor appointee had accomplished on the calls the day before.

In other words, a great deal of evidence suggests that Trump not only knew what went on in those calls, but directed Flynn through McFarland to placate the Russians.

Within days after the call, Flynn briefed other members of the transition team on the call. It is highly unlikely that he lied to people who had been informed in advance of his call that he would be discussing sanctions.

FBI may have believed, in January 2017 and even February 2017, when McGahn wrote his memo, that Flynn lied on his own, to hide the contents of his calls from others in the Administration. But by November 2017, they knew that the most important people in the transition — including Bill Burck’s other clients, Steve Bannon and Reince Priebus — knew well what had transpired in the calls with Kislyak.

None of this, of course, shows up in the tale White House sources are telling Murray. As a result, he tells a story that presents the McGahn narrative as more closely matching the “truth” than the later Sekulow and Dowd letter.

The problems with the McGahn narrative

But neither are true, and so while it’s nifty for Murray to claim this is the biggest yet proof of obstruction (it’s not, compared to the pardons promised), that’s not actually what happened, and Mueller would know that.

For example, the entire story about Flynn lying to Pence — which is something Sekulow and Dowd simply ignored in their January letter — is probably not true; and if it is, key White House staffers, including at least two of Burck’s clients, were lying to the nominal Transition head and were parties to Flynn’s lie.

On January 12, 2017, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius disclosed that US intelligence agencies had intercepted the phone calls, although Ignatius’s sources did not disclose the specifics of what either Flynn or Kislyak said. Vice President Mike Pence was immediately enlisted to defend Flynn. Flynn assured Pence that he never spoke to Kislyak about sanctions, whereupon Pence repeated those denials on Fox News and CBS’s Face the Nation. Flynn was then also questioned by the FBI about the phone calls, but once again denied that he had ever spoken to Kislyak about sanctions.

Similarly, the notion that Priebus would have to ask Flynn what he said to Kislyak on February 8 (when he had known it would include sanctions before Flynn made the call) is nonsense.

 On February 8, 2017, The Washington Post contacted the White House to say that it was about to publish a story citing no less than nine sources that Flynn had indeed spoken to Kislyak about sanctions. In attempting to formulate a response, Priebus, McGahn, and Eisenberg questioned Flynn. Confronted with the information that there were intercepts showing exactly what was said between him and Kislyak, Flynn’s story broke down. Instead of denying that he had spoken to Kislyak about sanctions, the timeline said, Flynn’s “recollection was inconclusive.” Flynn “either was not sure whether he discussed sanctions, or did not remember doing so,” the McGahn timeline says.

Both Priebus and Flynn would know better. It’s possible Flynn and Priebus were putting on a show for the lawyers (but if so, that show would likely be just for John Eisenberg, because otherwise Burck would have a major conflict). It’s more likely the McGahn narrative was an attempt to make the internal story consistent with the public claims that only Flynn knew of the content of the calls.

One of the other key pieces of bullshit in the McGahn narrative is the claim that there was any doubt whether Flynn could be fired when Yates first presented her concerns to McGahn.

The McGahn timeline recounts: “Part of [our] concern was a recognition by McGahn that it was unclear from the meeting with Yates whether or not an action could be taken without jeopardizing an ongoing investigation.”

She clearly suggested (and would be backed by Mary McCord) that’s what they should do.

Finally, there’s something else missing from this narrative: that Flynn had spent the weekend between this alleged grilling from Priebus and McGahn in Mar-a-Lago with the President, sitting in on yet more sensitive meetings (in that case, with Shinzo Abe).

McGahn’s narrative may offer an explanation for why Trump fired Flynn, even if it doesn’t accord with known facts. But the entire narrative fails to explain why, if all the players knew and did what they said, Trump didn’t fire Flynn as soon as Yates suggested he should, or after they reviewed the intercepts (showing what they knew the conversation entailed), or after Priebus and McGahn grilled Flynn.

Which is not to say that McGahn’s letter isn’t proof of obstruction (albeit far less damning than Trump’s offers of pardons). It’s just an entirely different model of obstruction, and Murray’s story may be yet more PR from Don McGahn to make sure he’s on the right side of any obstruction charges.

If Mueller Shows Trump and Stone Cheated to Win the Primary, Will Republicans Turn on Trump?

Before you answer, “no,” hear me out.

I’ve been obsessing about what else — besides repeatedly entertaining offers of help from Russians and changing his opinion about whether Russia hacked the DNC on a dime and thereafter magnifying propaganda that helped Russia’s plausible deniability, even while claiming some knowledge of it — Mueller is investigating Roger Stone. The subpoena challenge of his sometime assistant, Andrew Miller, makes it clear that at least part of the investigation focuses on Stone’s dodgy 527 and PACs. I’ve shown how the second (general election) incarnation of Stone’s Stop the Steal 527 engaged in voter suppression that paralleled the efforts Russia was making.

But we know from the reports of witnesses, including Michael Caputo, that Mueller’s interest in Stone’s activities go back before the general election. For example, he’s interested (in the wake of Rick Gates signing a cooperation agreement) in meetings Stone had with Gates. According to Stone, the only meeting he had with Gates during the election happened shortly after April 19, 2016; Gates was there because Manafort had to cancel at the last minute.

“I only have a record of one dinner with Rick Gates,” he said, adding that the guest list included two other political operatives: Michael Caputo, a former Trump campaign aide who was recently interviewed by Mr. Mueller’s investigators, and Paul Manafort, who soon after took over as chairman of Mr. Trump’s campaign. But Mr. Manafort canceled at the last minute, and Mr. Gates, his deputy, attended in his place.

Mr. Stone said the conversation during the dinner, which fell soon after the New York primary in April 2016, was about the New York State delegate selection for the Republican National Convention. The operatives expressed concern about whether delegates, at a time of deep division among Republicans, would be loyal to Mr. Trump’s vision for the party, Mr. Stone said.

The suggestion, then, is that Mueller’s star witness, Rick Gates, told the special counsel about Stone and Manafort getting the old gang back together. Which would have started in March, as Manafort was wooing Stone’s longtime associate Donald Trump. During the same month, Stone-style rat-fucking was putting the finishing touches to Ted Cruz’ presidential ambitions. That was precisely the period when former Young Republican John Powers Middleton was loading up Stone’s Committee to Restore American Greatness (from which Stop the Steal would get its initial cash infusion). Stone was tweeting out his Stop the Steal campaign, even if he had not yet registered it with the IRS. And not long afterwards, Russian hackers would still be searching Democratic servers for dirt on Cruz, even after he had been mathematically eliminated.

[O]n or about April 15, 2016, the Conspirators searched one hacked DCCC computer for terms that included “hillary,” “cruz,” and “trump.”

The possibility that Mueller’s interest in Stone (and Manafort) extends back to the primary is all the more interesting given how centrally some of Stone’s core skill-sets played out in the lead-up to the Convention. There were veiled threats of violence (and in the home of his dark money, actual violence), a smear story projecting on Cruz the infidelity more typical of Trump, and lots of money sloshing around.

It’s not entirely clear what crime that would implicate — besides potential campaign finance violations (particularly, given Trump’s repeated disavowals of any coordination between Stone and his old buddy Manafort).

And, given how rabidly Republican base voters support Trump, I could see why Republicans would let bygones be bygones. It’s not like the Republican party has ever before shown distaste for Stone’s rat-fucking. Plus, no one likes Ted Cruz, and he may not even survive his race against Beto O’Rourke. So, no, Republicans won’t be any more disposed against Stone if he is shown to have helped Trump cheat in the primary.

All that said, if Mueller indicts Stone in other crimes that Republicans would like to distance themselves from, any allegations about the primary may provide cover.

So, no, whatever dark money slush Mueller is looking at implicates Trump’s victory over the mainstream party won’t, by itself, turn Republicans against Trump. But down the road it may provide cover for the moment Republicans would like to turn on him.

Timeline

September 2, 2011: Pamela Jensen registers Should Trump Run 527 with Michael D Cohen listed as President

October 1, 2015: Pamela Jensen registers STOP RAPE PAC by loaning it enough money to pay for a mailbox

November 10, 2015: Jensen & Associates loans $2,398.87 to CRAG

November 10, 2015: CRAG pays Entkesis 2373.87

December 17, 2015: Corey Lewandowski disavows CRAG

December 24, 2015: CRAG pays Newsmax 10803.55

December 31, 2015: CRAG pays Newsmax 1585.76

February 1, 2016: Pamela Jensen sends out fundraising letter to World Net Daily pushing Kathleen Wiley’s mortgage fundraiser

February 4, 2016: Jensen & Associates loans $2,610 to CRAG

February 10, 2016: Loans from Jensen & Associates repaid

February 19, 2016: Roger Stone tells Alex Jones that Donald Trump has donated to the Kathleen Willey fundraiser, even though it had raised less than $4,000 at that time

February 29, 2016: Paul Manafort pitches Trump on managing his convention

March 1, 2016: John Powers Middleton Company donates $150,000 to CRAG

March 6, 2016: First tweet in spring Stop the Steal campaign

March 9, 2016: John Powers Middleton donates $50,000 to CRAG

March 11, 2016: John Powers Middleton donates $25,000 to CRAG

March 14, 2016: John Powers Middleton donates $25,000 to CRAG

March 23, 2016: National Enquirer publishes story, quoting Stone, claiming multiple Ted Cruz affairs

March 28, 2016: On recommendation of Tom Barrack and Roger Stone, Trump hires Manafort as convention manager, thereby bringing in “traditional” methods Stone resigned over in 2015

April 5, 2016: Stone threatens to send Trump supporters to disloyal delegates hotel rooms, also claims voter fraud in primaries Cruz won

April 6, 2016: Stone (Sarah Rollins) establishes Stop the Steal in same UPS post box as CRAG

April 6, 2016: CRAG gives $50,000 to Stop the Steal

April 6, 2016: CRAG pays Jensen & Associates $11,000

April 6, 2016: CRAG pays Jensen & Associates $9,000

April 6, 2016: Stone tweets Stop the Steal toll free line to “report voter fraud in Wisconsin” primary

April 8, 2016: Stone accused of menacing after threat of Day of Rage

April 12, 2016: John Powers Middleton donates $60,000 to CRAG

April 13, 2016: Stop the Steal pays Sarah Rollins $386.72

April 14, 2016: CRAG pays Tim Yale $9,000

April 14, 2016: Stop the Steal pays Jim Baker $1,500 in “expense reimbursements for rally”

April 15, 2016: GRU hackers search “one hacked DCCC computer for terms that included “hillary,” “cruz,” and “trump”

April 15, 2016: Stop the Steal pays Sarah Rollins $500

April 15, 2016: John Powers Middleton donates $15,000 to CRAG

April 15, 2016: John Powers Middleton donates $2,000 to CRAG

April 15, 2016: $1,000 refunded to John Powers Middleton

April 18, 2016: John Powers Middleton donates $1,000 to CRAG

April 18, 2016: CRAG pays Citroen Associates $40,000

April 19, 2016: CNN writes profile on “the Return of Roger Stone”

Shortly after April 19, 2016: Stone and Rick Gates meet in NY.

April 25, 2016: CRAG pays Paul Nagy $2,500

April 25, 2016: CRAG pays Sarah Rollins $500 plus $41.66 in expenses

April 28, 2016: Protest outside of Donald Trump rally in Costa Mesa turns violent

April 29, 2016: John Powers Middleton donates $50,000 to CRAG

May 1, 2016: Last Stone tweet in spring Stop the Steal campaign

May 2, 2016: CRAG pays Sarah Rollins $800

May 2, 2016: Stop the Steal fundraises and calls for march on Convention, even as Trump disavows any tie to it or other PACs/527s

May 4, 2016: CRAG pays Jensen & Associates $5,000

May 13, 2016: CRAG pays Sarah Rollins 93.50

May 15, 2016: Stop the Steal pays Sarah Rollins $500

May 16, CRAG pays Andrew Miller $2,000

May 16, 2016: CRAG pays Citroen Associates $10,000

May 16, 2016: CRAG pays Sarah Rollins $400

May 16, 2016: CRAG pays Kathy Shelton $2,500

May 24, 2016: Stone PAC RAPE PAC, aka Women v Hillary, announced

June 2, 2016: Pamela Jensen sets up Women v Hillary PAC out of a different mailboxes location in Costa Mesa (again, this only ever showed enough money to pay for the mailbox used as its address)

June 7, 2016: FEC informs CRAG it must submit filings by July 12, 2016

June 7, 2016: CRAG pays Jensen & Associates $4,790

June 8, 2016: Stop the Steal pays Paul Nagy $800 in “expense reimbursements for rally”

June 17, 2016: CRAG pays Andrew Miller $3,000

July 5, 2016: CRAG pays Jensen & Associates $14,500

July 6, 2016: CRAG pays Michelle Selaty $10,000

July 6, 2016: CRAG pays Drake Ventures $12,000

July 11, 2016: CRAG pays Cheryl Smith $4,900

July 12, 2016: Stop the Steal gives $63,000 to CRAG

July 12, 2016: CRAG pays Jensen & Associates $7,200

July 15, 2016: CRAG pays Jason Sullivan $1,500

July 18, 2016: CRAG pays Jensen & Associates $7,500

July 20, 2016: CRAG pays Jensen & Associates $3,000

July 29, 2016: CRAG pays Jensen & Associates $6,000

August 1, 2016: CRAG pays Andrew Miller $4,000; Stone flies from JFK to LAX

August 2, 2016: Stone dines with Middleton at Dan Tanas in West Hollywood

August 3, 2016: CRAG pays Jensen & Associates $9,500

August 3, 2016: CRAG pays Josi & Company $2,500

August 3-4, 2016: Stone takes a red-eye from LAX to Miami

August 4, 2016: Stone flip-flops on whether the Russians or a 400 pound hacker are behind the DNC hack and also tells Sam Nunberg he dined with Julian Assange; first tweet in the fall StopTheSteal campaign

August 5, 2016: Stone column in Breitbart claiming Guccifer 2.0 is individual hacker

August 9, 2016: CRAG pays Jason Sullivan $1,500

August 15, 2016: CRAG pays Jensen & Associates $19,500

August 29, 2016: CRAG pays Law Offices of Michael Becker $3,500

August 31, 2016: Robert Shillman gives $8,000 to CRAG

September 12, 2016: CRAG gives $8,000 to Donald Trump

September 14, 2016: CRAG pays $3,000 to Citroen Associates

September 21, 2016: Robert Shillman gives $8,000 to CRAG

September 22, 2016: CRAG gives $8,000 to Donald Trump

October 13, 2016: Stop the Steal pays Andrew Miller $5,000

October 23, 2016: Stone tweets out message saying Clinton supporters can “VOTE the NEW way on Tues. Nov 8th by texting HILLARY to 8888”

October 28, 2016: GRU officer Anatoliy Kovalev and co-conspirators visit websites of counties in GA, IA, and FL to identify vulnerabilities

October 30, 2016: Ohio Democratic Party sues Ohio Republican Party to prevent Stop the Steal voter suppression; Democrats also sue in NV, AZ, and PA

November 3, 2016: Filings in ODP lawsuit describing Stop the Steal (declarationexhibits)

November 4, 2016: Judge James Gwyn issues Temporary Restraining Order against Trump, Stone, and Stop the Steal

November 4, 2016: Guccifer 2.0 post claiming Democrats may rig the elections

November 7, 2016: Sixth Circuit issues a stay in OH TRO

December 14, 2016: Women versus Hillary gives $158.97 to CRAG

December 19, 2016: Stop the Steal pays $5,000 to Alejandro Vidal for “fundraising expenses”

December 19, 2016: Stop the Steal pays $3,500 to C Josi and Co.

December 21, 2016: Stop the Steal pays $1,500 to The Townsend Group

December 27, 2016: Stop the Steal pays $3,500 to Kristen [sic] Davis

December 28, 2016: Stop the Steal gives $94 to CRAG

December 29, 2016: Stop the Steal pays Jerry Steven Gray $4,000 for “fundraising expenses”

December 30, 2016: Stop the Steal pays 2,692 total to unnamed recipients

January 19, 2017: Stop the Steal pays $5,000 for fundraising expenses to Alejandro Vidal

February 8, 2017: Stop the Steal pays Kristen [sic] Davis $3,500 for “fundraising expenses”

February 15, 2017: Stop Steal pays Brad Boeck $862 for sales consultant consulting fee

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 Trump Team Strategic Errors: Rockets Instead Bursting In Air

During the winter, when the government was threatening and then did charge Paul Manafort with a bunch of tax fraud charges, he chose not to waive venue, forcing himself into two trials, one in EDVA and one in DC. (Raising the perennial question, who is paying for his legal representation?)

At the time, Josh Gerstein suggested might be seeking to avail himself of EDVA’s famed “rocket docket” which pushes trials through quickly. The thought was perhaps Manafort would have a better result with EDVA’s more conservative jury pool before his DC trial started, which in turn might be a way to discredit the Mueller investigation (something that has always seemed key to any strategy pursuing a pardon).

Manafort’s attorneys’ decision to effectively force some — but not all — of special counsel Robert Mueller’s case against him to northern Virginia baffled many lawyers, since it puts Manafort at risk of two separate trials rather than one. To some, it’s akin to choosing to play Russian Roulette with two bullets in the gun instead of one.

However, because the Alexandria-based federal court’s “rocket docket” is known for providing quick trials, there’s a possibility that Manafort could get to trial on bank and tax fraud charges in Virginia before the Sept. 17 trial date set Wednesday by Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington in the original case, now scaled back to focus on money laundering and failure to register as a foreign agent.

That means Manafort has a chance of getting his case before a northern Virginia jury first — a panel more likely to include Trump supporters who may be skeptical of Mueller’s enterprise. Such jurors are likely to be a rarity in Washington.

[snip]

If Manafort could pull off an acquittal in Alexandria or even a hung jury, it could fuel President Donald Trump’s view of the Mueller probe as a prolonged “witch hunt” that is more persecution than prosecution. That would seem certain to lead to calls for Mueller to abandon the D.C. case and might prompt a pardon from Trump or some action to shut down the special counsel’s office altogether.

Even if nothing so dramatic happened, a stumble for Mueller’s team in Virginia and in its first contested trial could raise pressure for prosecutors to be more flexible in negotiating a plea deal.

Not long after at Manafort’s EDVA arraignment before the cantankerous TS Ellis, however, his attorney Kevin Downing admitted that they would prefer either everything move to EDVA, or the EDVA trial go second, after the DC trial still scheduled to start on September 17.

MR. DOWNING: We’re actually thinking trying to get the conspiracy to come here. We’re happy to be here.

[snip]

MR. DOWNING: In this perfect world where I have my rosy glasses on, we were envisioning that we would be trying this case in November following the case in D.C.

THE COURT: You need to go back to the optometrist, because that isn’t going to happen.

MR. DOWNING: Okay.

THE COURT: You’ve got a trial date in September in the District? Mr. Weissmann, this case seems — maybe I’m not familiar with the indictment in D.C., but this case seems less complex than the one in D.C.

MR. WEISSMANN: That’s our view as well. The tax charges, as we mentioned, do largely overlap. But unlike the D.C. case, there are no Foreign Agents Registration Act charges before this Court. And those involve quite an extensive array of evidence and different theories of liability. Here we have what I think are five bank frauds and they are discrete over a two-year period and the discovery has been produced.

THE COURT: All right. Mr. Downing, I’m going to set this matter in July. Now, if in the course of your preparation something comes up that suggests to you that you now have a more persuasive basis for me to consider on a later trial date, I’ll consider it. But for now, 12th of — or not 12th — 10th of July at 10 a.m. with a jury. Also having that earlier deadline is an important — it will focus your minds, everyone’s minds on it and get this matter done.

In July, Manafort used his jailing by Amy Berman Jackson as an excuse to ask for a delay in the EDVA trial.

In a response, the government demonstrated to Ellis that Manafort was still trying to have his desired outcome, to have the DC trial go first.

Manafort can hardly now complain about the order of the trials: he was on notice from the Honorable Amy Berman Jackson, when he elected last winter not to have the proposed tax and bank fraud charges all brought in the D.C. Case, that his decision would likely result in his going to trial in Virginia first. D.C. Case Status Hr’g Tr. (Jan. 16, 2018). That other reasons may account for this application is strongly suggested by a prison call in which Manafort discusses going to trial first in the D.C. Case and contends to the listener (who did not believe the D.C. venue was favorable) that the listener should “think about how it’ll play elsewhere….There is a strategy to it, even in failure, but there’s a hope in it.” Phone Call of Manafort (June 20, 2018), at 4:02-4:39.

The trial went off in July as scheduled, meaning Manafort faced the more traditional of charges first.

Still, getting one trial in EDVA almost worked, with a holdout juror that hung the jury on 10 of 18 charges (though that won’t have that big an effect on sentencing) and lots of good press stemming from Ellis beating up the prosecution, both during Manafort’s challenge to Mueller’s authority and during the trial in general.

Add in the fact that Manafort (again, with his seemingly endless supply of funds to pay defense attorneys) got two bites at key challenges to Mueller’s case in chief — his authority generally, and the search of Manafort’s condo for things including evidence about the June 9 meeting — and the dual trial strategy probably wasn’t a total flop (unless, of course, it means Manafort is running out of money). Along the way, he also got full discovery on what Rick Gates has provided Mueller, presumably including the real goods Gates gave Mueller on the conspiracy with Russia.

But Manafort’s still facing another trial in a less friendly venue before a no-nonsense judge, a trial he seems to have done nothing to prepare for. (WSJ reports the two sides did consider a plea on the DC charges while waiting for the EDVA verdict, to no avail.) And all of Rudy’s squealing about how indictments or even further investigation during the campaign season might be a distraction, Manafort’s trial (one that’s sexier than the EDVA one) will remain a constant focus in the last six weeks before the election.

To be fair, it’s hard to measure how Manafort’s strategy is playing, as it’s not clear what — besides a full pardon — his goals are. Plus, he’s got a shitty hand, no matter how you look at it (except for the seemingly endless supply of defense fund dollars).

But Manafort’s bid for a second trial seems like an even worse strategic decision than Michael Cohen’s bid for a Special Master (which I now admit at least gave Trump and his company an opportunity to undercut any Cohen bid for a plea deal) not least because he’ll be a felon in his DC trial which will in turn make sentencing worse if he is found guilty there.

At least the defense bar is making money.

The Mueller Investigation: What Happens on September 7?

I hesitate to write this post, partly because I think it’s a good idea to dismiss every single thing that Rudy Giuliani says, and partly because we’ve all learned that it is sheer folly to pretend anyone can anticipate what Mueller will do, much less when.

Nevertheless, I wanted to address questions about what might happen in the next two weeks, as we approach the 60-day mark before midterm elections.

Rudy G is wrong about everything

The aforementioned Rudy G, who has been saying that Mueller has to shut down his entire investigation (or even finish up and go home) on September 1 on account of DOJ’s policy against overt investigative action close to an election.

As I said, the policy only prohibits overt acts, and only 60 days before the election. Mueller might argue that it’s entirely irrelevant, given that none of his known targets (save, perhaps, Dana Rohrabacher) are on the ballot. But enough credible journalists have suggested that DOJ is taking this deadline seriously with respect to Trump’s associates (including Michael Cohen in SDNY, where DOJ actually leaks), that it’s probably correct he’ll avoid overt acts in the 60 days before the November 6 election.

But that timeline starts on September 7, not September 1.

Paul Manafort’s stall

One thing we know will dominate the press in that pre-election period is Manafort’s DC trial, scheduled to start on September 17.

Unless he flips.

While I still don’t think he will flip, he is stalling in both his trials. In EDVA, he asked for and got a 30-day deadline to move for an acquittal or mistrial. He may have done so to provide extra time to consider the complaints raised by one juror that others were deliberating before they should have, which Manafort had asked for a mistrial over. If that’s right, juror Paula Duncan’s comments, describing the one holdout and explaining that even she, a Trump supporter, found the case a slam dunk, may persuade Manafort that challenging this trial won’t bring about any other result and may mean he gets convicted on the remaining 10 counts.

In any case, however, by getting 30 days to decide, Manafort moved the deadline from (by my math) September 3 to September 21, when he’s scheduled to be deep into the DC case (and therefore too busy to submit such a motion). It did, however, move the decision date past that September 7 date.

Speaking of the DC case, after getting an extension on the pre-trial statement in that case, Manafort basically punted on many of the substantive issues, effectively saying he’ll provide the required input later.

He may not be flipping, but he’s not prepared to start this trial.

Is it Roger Stone’s time in the barrel?

The big question, for me, is whether Mueller has finished his six month effort to put together a Roger Stone indictment.

Tantalizingly, back on August 10, Mueller scheduled Randy Credico to explain to the grand jury how Stone threatened him about his testimony. That appearance is for September 7. Given how far out Mueller scheduled this, I wondered at the time whether Credico was being slated to put the finishing touches on a Stone indictment.

What might prevent Mueller from finalizing Stone’s indictment, however, is Stone associate Andrew Miller, from whom Mueller has been trying to get testimony since May 9. Miller is challenging his grand jury subpoena; he’s due to submit his opening brief in his appeal on September 7. That might mean that Mueller has to wait. But two filings (District, Circuit), the docket in his subpoena challenge, and this CNN report may suggest they can move forward without first getting Miller’s testimony.

Both the Circuit document and CNN provide more details about a May 9 interview with two FBI Agents, with no attorney present (no offense to Miller, but what the fuck kind of self-described libertarian, much less one in Roger Stone’s immediate orbit, agrees to an FBI interview without a lawyer present)?

Mr. Miller was first interviewed by two agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation who visited him unannounced on or about May 9, 2018, in Saint Louis, MO, where he resides. He was cooperative, answering all their questions for approximately two hours, and at the conclusion of the interview, was handed a subpoena to produce documents and testify as a witness before the grand jury.

CNN describes that’s what poses a perjury concern for Miller with regards to his testimony before the grand jury because of that original interview.

Miller’s case is complicated by the fact that he initially cooperated with the special counsel’s investigation. When FBI agents first approached him in May, he spoke with them at his home in St. Louis for two hours without an attorney.

[snip]

Dearn said in an interview that she was just being “carefully paranoid” and protecting her client from accidentally committing perjury if he testifies and contradicts something he told investigators back in May without a lawyer present.

As the District filing seems to suggest, Miller got not one but two subpoenas (???), just one of which called for document production:

Mr. Miller was served with two subpoenas dated June 5, 2018, both requiring his appearance before the Grand Jury on June 8, but only one of which required that he search and bring with him the documents described in the Attachment to one of the subpoenas. See Exhibits 1 and 2. After a filing a motion to quash on grounds not raised herein, this Court issued a Minute Order on June 18 requiring Mr. Miller’s appearance before the Grand Jury on June 29 and to produce the documents requested as limited by agreement of the parties by June 25.

Miller turned over 100MB of documents on June 25, but shortly thereafter, Mueller prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky asked for more.

Mr. Miller has since complied with that part of the order producing voluminous documents in a file that is 100MB in size to government counsel on Monday, June 25. In her cover email to government counsel, Aaron Zelinsky, Miller’s counsel stated in pertinent part: “Mr. Miller does not waive and hereby preserves all rights he has to object to the subpoena requiring his appearance before the Grand Jury this Friday…and from any continuing duty or obligation to supply additional documents subject to the subpoena.” See Exhibit 6. Nevertheless, Mr. Zelinsky recently informed counsel that he is not satisfied with this production and is unreasonably requesting additional documents from Mr. Miller.

CNN reported that those documents pertained to WikiLeaks and Guccifer 2.0.

After a protracted back and forth between Dearn and Mueller’s team, Miller handed over a tranche of documents. In turn, the government had agreed to limit its search to certain terms such as Stone, WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, Guccifer 2.0, DCLeaks and the Democratic National Committee, according to court filings and interview with attorneys.

So at the very least, Mueller has 100MB of documents that relate to Wikileaks and Guccifer 2.0 (which raises real questions about how Miller can say he knows nothing about the topic), and 2 hours of testimony that Miller may not want to tell the grand jury now that he has lawyers who might help him avoid doing so.

Meanwhile, there are some filings from the end of his District Court docket.

The Circuit document mostly explains what filings 33, 34, 35, and 37 are (though doesn’t explain why Mueller refused to stipulate that Miller be held in contempt): they’re the process by which he was held in contempt and therefore legally positioned to appeal.

6. Because Mr. Miller desired to appeal the order denying his motion, ensuing discussions with Special Counsel to stipulate that Mr. Miller be held in contempt for not appearing on the upcoming appearance before the grand jury on August 10, 2018, and to stay the contempt pending appeal did not succeed.

7. Consequently, two days before his appearance, on the evening of August 8, 2018, counsel emailed government counsel and Judge Howell’s clerk (and on the following morning of August 9, hand-filed with the clerk’s office), a Motion By Witness Andrew Miller To Be Held In Civil Contempt For Refusing To Testify Before The Grand Jury And To Stay Such Order To Permit Him To Appeal It To The U.S. Court Of Appeals For The District Of Columbia Circuit and citing authorities for granting a stay of contempt. ECF No. 33. The government served and a response on the evening of August 9 ( ECF. No. 35) and Mr. Miller served a reply early morning on August 10. ECF No. 37.

8. On August 10, undersigned counsel for Mr. Miller met government counsel at 9:00 a.m. as previously agreed to at the entrance to the grand jury offices, and was advised by government counsel that a motion to show cause was filed shortly before 9:00 a.m. ECF No. 34.

9. Approximately two hours later, the court held the show cause hearing, with the Mr. Miller and local counsel appearing telephonically from Saint Louis, MO.

10. The court granted Mr. Miller’s and the government’s request that he be held in contempt and stayed the order if the notice of appeal were filed by 9:00 a.m. August 14, 2018. ECF No. 36.

That doesn’t explain what Document 38 is, to which Miller didn’t respond, and in response to which Beryl Howell issued an order.

CNN’s description of Miller’s attorney’s concern seems to split his testimony into two topics: Guccifer and Wikileaks, and Stone’s PACs. Miller’s only worried about legal jeopardy in the latter of those two. (For some details on what the legal exposure might pertain to, see this post.)

[Alicia] Dearn was adamant that Miller not be forced to testify to the grand jury about one topic in specific: Stone. She asked that her client be granted immunity, “otherwise he’s going to have to take the Fifth Amendment,” she said in a court hearing in June.

Aaron Zelinsky, one of Mueller’s prosecutors, noted Miller’s lawyer was making two seemingly contradictory arguments: “On the one hand, that the witness knows nothing, has nothing to hide, and has participated in no illegal activity. On the other hand, that there is a Fifth Amendment concern there.”

In the hearing, Dearn said she was concerned Miller would be asked about his finances and transactions related to political action committees he worked on with Stone.

Miller “had absolutely no communication with anybody from Russia or with Guccifer or WikiLeaks,” Dearn said in an interview.

By process of elimination, the only thing she believes her client could get caught up on are questions about his financial entanglements with Stone and his super PAC.

The Circuit document concedes that Miller may be the subject — but not target — of this grand jury investigation.

12. Lest there be any misunderstanding, Mr. Miller was not a “target of grand jury subpoenas” (Concord Mot. at 1), but rather a fact witness or at most a subject of the grand jury; nor was he a “recalcitrant witness.” Id. at 13. As the foregoing background demonstrates, Mr. Miller has been a cooperative witness in this proceeding.

It would be really weird if Miller really did get two subpoenas, and that’s not consistent with the Circuit document. So it may be there were two topics or crimes described in the subpoena: conspiring with Russia, and running a corrupt PAC. And if Miller’s only personally legally exposed in the latter of those, then it’s possible Mueller would treat these differently.

So it’s possible Mueller got what they need to move forward on the main conspiracy case against Stone, while it has to wait on Miller’s own involvement in Stone’s corrupt PACs until after the DC Circuit reviews things.

Other September deadlines

The September 7 timing is interesting for two other reasons. First, that’s also the day that George Papadopoulos — whose plea deal covers his lies and obstuction but not any conspiracy case — is due to be sentenced.

Just 10 days later Mike Flynn (whose plea deal was also limited to his lies) has a status report due, just a 24-day extension off his previous one. That timing suggests he’s about done with his cooperation. Perhaps that shortened time frame is only due to his team’s push to get him back earning money to pay for his lawyers again. Perhaps there’s some other explanation.

Timeline

August 24: Revised deadline for Manafort pre-trial statement — Manafort punted on many issues.

August 28: Hearing in DC Manafort case.

September 3: Current deadline for motions in EDVA Manafort trial

September 4: Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings scheduled to begin (projected to last 3-4 days)

September 7: Randy Credico scheduled to testify before grand jury; George Papadopoulos scheduled for sentencing; Andrew Miller brief due before DC Circuit; 60 days before November 6 mid-terms

September 17: DC Manafort trial starts, status report due in Mike Flynn case

September 21: Requested deadline for motions in EDVA Manafort trial

September 28: Government brief due in DC Circuit appeal of Andrew Miller subpoena

October 9: Miller reply due in DC Circuit

November 6: Mid-term election

November 10: Status report due in Rick Gates case

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. 

Andy McCarthy’s Misconception

I was struck, in reading Andy McCarthy’s review of the Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort guilty outcomes last week (in which he measures Trump via a vastly different standard than he once measured Bill Clinton), by this erroneous claim:

The Trump camp continues to stress that Manafort’s case had nothing to do with the original rationale for Mueller’s investigation, “collusion with Russia.” But as we’ve pointed out any number of times, Mueller took over a counterintelligence investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Possible Trump-campaign collusion with Russia was just one thread in the larger probe.

The claim that the Trump-campaign “collusion” was just one thread of what Mueller originally took over is false, but utterly critical for McCarthy’s sustained belief that Mueller has not found evidence of a conspiracy between Trump and Russia. While it is true that when Comey confirmed the investigation, he did not specify the structure of the investigation,
I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts. As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.
When Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller, he described Mueller’s scope to include,
  • any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and
  • any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation; and
  • any other matters within the scope of 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(a)

Why McCarthy made this error is clear: he uses the existence of and Mueller’s indictments in a broader counterintelligence investigation to sustain his belief that Mueller doesn’t have a “collusion” case against Trump or his associates.

At this point, it does not appear that Mueller has a collusion case against Trump associates. His indictments involving Russian hacking and troll farms do not suggest complicity by the Trump campaign. I also find it hard to believe Mueller sees Manafort as the key to making a case on Trump when Mueller has had Gates — Manafort’s partner — as a cooperator for six months. You have to figure Gates knows whatever Manafort knows about collusion. Yet, since Gates began cooperating with the special counsel, Mueller has filed the charges against Russians that do not implicate Trump, and has transferred those cases to other Justice Department components.

When it comes to the president, I believe the special counsel’s focus is obstruction, not collusion. When it comes to Manafort, I believe the special counsel’s focus is Russia — specifically, Manafort’s longtime connections to Kremlin-connected operatives. Mueller may well be interested in what Manafort can add to his inquiry into the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting (arranged by Donald Trump Jr. in futile hopes of obtaining campaign dirt from Russia on Hillary Clinton). That, however, is not the more serious “collusion” allegation that triggered the Trump thread of the investigation — cyberespionage conspiracy (i.e., Russian hacking of Democratic party emails).

That is, because Mueller indicted trolls and GRU hackers and then spun those prosecutions off to other teams (in the GRU case, back to one of the teams that originally investigated it), it is proof, in McCarthy’s mind, that Mueller isn’t targeting Trump and his associates for conspiring with Russia.

The actual background of the Mueller investigation suggests precisely the opposite. As I noted when Lawfare made precisely the same error in a post on the GRU indictment,

Friday’s indictment is, rather, the result of investigations conducted primarily in San Francisco and Pittsburgh. At the time Comey confirmed the counterintelligence investigation into Trump’s camp and at the time Comey got fired for not shutting the Trump counterintelligence investigation down, those San Francisco and Pittsburgh investigations were totally separate. Those two investigations almost certainly had little if any involvement from Peter Strzok (indeed, they involved a bunch of FBI cyber agents, a division of FBI that Strzok never tired of mocking in his texts to Lisa Page). The DOJ press release from Friday states that explicitly.

This case was investigated with the help of the FBI’s cyber teams in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and San Francisco and the National Security Division.

Those two investigations (plus the separate one noted in Philadelphia that started later, as I understand it from what a lawyer who represented a witness in that investigation described to me) got moved under the Mueller umbrella sometime in or just before November, and now the GRU officer part of the investigation will be moved back to Pittsburgh where it started, to languish forever like some other nation-state hacker indictments investigated by Western District of Pennsylvania.

Given that both public reporting (starting in February 2017 and extending into November 2017) and Mueller team changes (not to mention my own reporting about the Philadelphia grand jury’s activity in the second half of May 2017 and my own knowledge about where I interviewed and where my interview materials subsequently got moved to) support this narrative, McCarthy (and the Lawfare crowd) might ask why Mueller decided to integrate the cybersecurity parts of the investigation, only to spin the Russian defendants back to other teams once they were indicted?

We can begin to get an answer from the two indictments that — Andy wants to believe — are themselves evidence that Mueller doesn’t have evidence on Trump’s associates but actually are. The Internet Research Agency indictment actually describes three Florida-based Trump campaign officials inconclusively, as if they were either still under investigation or at some legal risk.

On approximately the same day, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the email address of a false U.S. persona, [email protected], to send an email to Campaign Official 1 at that donaldtrump.com email account, which read in part:

Hello [Campaign Official 1], [w]e are organizing a state-wide event in Florida on August, 20 to support Mr. Trump. Let us introduce ourselves first. “Being Patriotic” is a grassroots conservative online movement trying to unite people offline. . . . [W]e gained a huge lot of followers and decided to somehow help Mr. Trump get elected. You know, simple yelling on the Internet is not enough. There should be real action. We organized rallies in New York before. Now we’re focusing on purple states such as Florida.

The email also identified thirteen “confirmed locations” in Florida for the rallies and requested the campaign provide “assistance in each location.”

[snip]

Defendants and their co-conspirators used the false U.S. persona [email protected] account to send an email to Campaign Official 2 at that donaldtrump.com email account.

[snip]

On or about August 20, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the “Matt Skiber” Facebook account to contact Campaign Official 3.

And while the GRU indictment (on top of key clauses being misread by virtually everyone who has read it) doesn’t use the same convention to describe Roger Stone’s communications with Guccifer 2.0…

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

It pointed to Russia’s response to Donald Trump’s request that they hack Hillary without referring to him one way or another.

For example, on or about July 27, 2016, the Conspirators attempted after hours to spearphish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a thirdparty provider and used by Clinton’s personal office. At or around the same time, they also targeted seventy-six email addresses at the domain for the Clinton Campaign.

What Mueller has done with both of the counterintelligence indictments that McCarthy takes solace in is lay out the Russian side of a conspiracy (and both are charged as conspiracies) with very clear spots into which American co-conspirators may be dropped when Mueller is prepared to do so. (I laid this out at more length in this post.)

Importantly, the fact that some of this investigation started out in other parts of DOJ but then got moved under Mueller make it clear that something came up in the investigation that Mueller and Rosenstein believed required they be moved under Special Counsel when they weren’t there, originally.

Let’s put it this way: Mueller didn’t subsume investigations located elsewhere at DOJ because the Special Counsel needed to be the one to indict a bunch of Russians. He did it to set up the conspiracies that would — that will — later be occupied by Russians and Americans.

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. 

On Use Immunity, Predictions of Doom for the Presidency, and the Voluntary Waiver of Privilege on the Hush Payment Tape

Don’t get me wrong. I think Trump is in a whole heap of trouble (though remember that, wielded in the hands of a competent man or similarly competent advisors, the power of the presidency is an awesome force). I think the SDNY’s investigation of Trump Organization’s involvement in illegal hush payments and NYS’s investigation of the Trump Foundation pose the additional risk that the Trump business empire will collapse as people scrutinize both its legal shenanigans and its debt. And I think that risk will bring Trump to fear US law enforcement as much as he fears Russia (which I suspect could also bankrupt Trump Org if a few key oligarchs put their mind to it).

But I think people are getting slightly ahead of the story when they predict that “The significance of [what they call Weisselberg’s] flip, paired with Cohen’s recent plea deal, cannot be overstated.” That’s true, in part, because Weisselberg got only limited immunity tied to grand jury testimony implicating Michael Cohen.

The person briefed on the deal said that it was narrow in scope, protecting Mr. Weisselberg from self-incrimination in sharing information with prosecutors about Mr. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer, who pleaded guilty on Tuesday to tax and campaign finance charges. The latter charges stemmed from payments during the campaign to two women who said they had affairs with Mr. Trump. It was not, the person said, a blanket immunity extending beyond the information he shared, and Mr. Weisselberg remains in his job at the Trump Organization.

While his testimony will be damaging to the Trump Org and, probably even more directly, Don Jr, Weisselberg in no way “flipped” on Trump. Indeed, there’s good reason to believe his cooperation may be an attempt to limit the fallout of the investigation of Cohen.

At the risk of proving my most recent post (in which I argued that the push for a Special Master didn’t gain the Trump camp very much) wrong, consider this detail. On July 23, Special Master Barbara Jones informed Judge Kimba Wood that “the parties” had withdrawn their privileged designation for 12 audio files, which she then released to the government.

On July 20, 2018, the parties withdrew their designations of “privileged” as to 12 audio items that were under consideration by the Special Master. Based upon those de-designations, the Special Master released the 12 items to the Government that day.

Those tapes are understood to include the tapes Cohen made in which he discussed the hush payments with Trump.

Two days later after that notice, Michael Cohen released a truncated version of the tape of him telling Trump he had spoken to Weisselberg about buying the rights of the Karen McDougal story, which unsurprisingly immediately preceded the news that prosecutors wanted to speak with Weisselberg.

Now, it may be that Cohen and Trump voluntarily waived privilege on those tapes to provide something to the press to get the titillated by the sex story and distracted from real financial graft. Or it may be that someone has a different plan of hanging out Cohen on the hush payments, limiting damage to Trump Jr and the organization, all in a bid to undercut Cohen’s value in a larger cooperation deal.

Or there may be some other explanation.

That being said, as of right now, the Trump camp is, as far as we know, dealing with three still separate investigations: SDNY, NYS, and Mueller. Don Jr is implicated directly in all of them and they have the possibility to collapse into one (with the added benefit of limiting the value of a Trump pardon of his son). Indeed, according to Vanity Fair, Mueller is very actively putting the squeeze on Junior in the more dangerous of those investigations.

Another theory for what’s motivating Trump’s increasingly unhinged tweets is that Mueller may be closing in on his son Don Jr. “A lot of what Trump is doing is based on the fact [that] Mueller is going after Don Jr.,” a person close to the Trump family told me. “They’re squeezing Don Jr. right now.”

Don Jr.’s lawyer said, “I’m not going to comment.” Another person briefed on the investigation disputed the term “squeeze,” but said the Mueller team continues to ask for documents.

Mueller may not wait for Junior to implicate Dad before he indicts the spawn (certainly, Senior and Rudy G have been laying the groundwork to exonerate Junior for his conspiring with Russians for at least three weeks, so they clearly expect that possibility). And to the extent that Don Jr gets in real legal trouble — something beyond a tax problem they can restate and a campaign finance violation that might be manageable — then Dad might be in real trouble.

But it’s quite possible Weisselberg and the Trump Org found a way to limit the damage of the Cohen investigation, for now, to things that don’t affect the core corruption of the Trump Organization business model, or the conspiracy with Russia to win the election, and along the way limited the damage to Don Jr.

The thing about Trump is there are so many bodies, it may actually take three or four people who know where the different kinds of bodies are buried — Weisselberg plus several others — to bring him down. And thus far, Weisselberg is not telling about most of those bodies.

Update: I’d like to add a point I meant to include before I went to yoga. One thing that’s going on with the hush payment story — one I’ve even seen reporters admit — is that it pertains to issues that reporters can understand. Sex! Scandal! Tax cheats!

Add in the fact that sources are talking here, whereas all the Mueller investigation sources, save those associated with Roger Stone and his band of rat-fuckers, have gone silent (and they were all defense witness sources anyway, and so unlikely to provide the full picture).

There’s nothing wrong with the possibility that reporters will make more of a story that they have sources for and can understand and sell to readers easily. For that reason, too, it may have more immediate impact on Congress, even while I highly doubt Republicans are going to ditch Trump for some hush payments (at least not until he becomes significantly more wounded). But it’s worth noting that some of that may be going on.

And if the focus on these hush payments buys Mueller some times — shifts Trump’s ire from Mueller to Sessions — that’s probably a benefit too.

Trump’s Pecker and His Rat-Fucker’s “Pervy Ted”

According to Michael Cohen’s criminal information, he and David Pecker started conspiring to protect Trump from scandals pertaining to his extramarital affairs and alleged sexual assault starting in August 2015.

In or about August 2015, the Chairman and Chief Executive of Corporation-1 ( “Chairman-1”), in coordination with MICHAEL COHEN, the defendant, and one or more members of the campaign, offered to help deal with negative stories about Individual-l’s relationships with women by, among other things, assisting the campaign in identifying such stories so they could be purchased and their publication avoided. Chairman-1 agreed to keep COHEN apprised of any such negative stories.

That means Cohen and Pecker were conspiring to help Trump’s electoral chances when Trump’s rat-fucker, Roger Stone, planted a story in Pecker’s pages on March 23, 2016, accusing Ted Cruz, who was running on his Evangelical brand, of having affairs with five different women. (h/t Allen Smith for remembering this incident)

The National Enquirer published an article Wednesday alleging that the Texas senator had five secret mistresses. While it did not identify the alleged mistresses by name, the article included headshots of five women that were pixelated with black bars over their eyes.

The article also quoted Roger Stone, a former Trump adviser who is still close to the real-estate mogul. “These stories have been swirling about Cruz for some time,” Stone said in the National Enquirer. “I believe where there is smoke there is fire. I have to believe this will hurt him with his evangelical Christian supporters.”

Cruz unsurprisingly accused Trump of planting the story. To which Trump claimed he does not surround himself with political hacks … then pretend total innocence.

“And I would note that Mr. Stone is a man who has 50 years of dirty tricks behind him. He’s a man whom a term was coined for copulating with a rodent. Well let me be clear, Donald Trump may be a rat but I have no desire to copulate with him. And this garbage does not belong in politics,” Cruz said.

Trump issued a statement Friday afternoon denying any involvement with the National Enquirer.

“I have no idea whether or not the cover story about Ted Cruz in this week’s issue of the National Enquirer is true or not, but I had absolutely nothing to do with it, did not know about it, and have not, as yet, read it,” Trump said.

“I have nothing to do with the National Enquirer and unlike Lyin’ Ted Cruz I do not surround myself with political hacks and henchman (sic) and then pretend total innocence. Ted Cruz’s problem with the National Enquirer is his and his alone, and while they were right about O.J. Simpson, John Edwards, and many others, I certainly hope they are not right about Lyin’ Ted Cruz,” he added.

The timing of all this is quite interesting for several reasons. First, because Mueller has asked witnesses against Stone about meetings they had with Stone and Rick Gates in the spring, meaning we know the scope of his investigation into Stone extends back into the primary timeframe. The story came out just before Trump formally announced the hiring of Paul Manafort to manage his convention.

More interesting, still, the story came out even as Stone and his ally Pamela Jensen were ramping up attacks on Hillary for Bill’s philandering — the same kind of projection this Enquirer story entailed. The story came weeks after Stone first tweeted out his Stop the Steal campaign. Not long after, Stone started to shift money from his PAC, Committee to Restore America’s Greatness (CRAG in the timeline below), to his 527, Stop the Steal.

February 1, 2016: Pamela Jensen sends out fundraising letter to World Net Daily pushing Kathleen Wiley’s mortgage fundraiser

February 4, 2016: Jensen & Associates loans $2,610 to CRAG

February 10, 2016: Loans from Jensen & Associates repaid

February 19, 2016: Roger Stone tells Alex Jones that Donald Trump has donated to the Kathleen Willey fundraiser, even though it had raised less than $4,000 at that time

March 1, 2016: John Powers Middleton Company donates $150,000 to CRAG

March 6, 2016: First tweet in spring Stop the Steal campaign

March 9, 2016: John Powers Middleton donates $50,000 to CRAG

March 11, 2016: John Powers Middleton donates $25,000 to CRAG

March 14, 2016: John Powers Middleton donates $25,000 to CRAG

March 23, 2016: Ted Cruz National Enquirer smear

March 29, 2016: Trump announces hiring of Paul Manafort

April 6, 2016: Stone (Sarah Rollins) establishes Stop the Steal in same UPS post box as CRAG

April 6, 2016: CRAG gives $50,000 to Stop the Steal

So there’s good reason to believe that Mueller is reviewing Stone’s actions from this time period.

As numerous outlets have reported, prosecutors have given Pecker immunity to testify (at least) about the Cohen matter. The NYT reported that the Enquirer’s Chief Content Officer, Dylan Howard, also keeps a recording device in his office.

Though several people familiar with American Media’s operations have said that the company keeps a strict records policy that ensures that emails are deleted regularly, it is not clear the same held for encrypted communications or recordings; Dylan Howard, the company’s chief content officer, who is also said to be cooperating, was known to have a recording device in his office, according to people familiar with his operations. American Media would not comment.

In court documents filed on Tuesday federal prosecutors cited “encrypted” communications among Mr. Pecker, Mr. Howard and Mr. Cohen regarding the payoff to Stephanie Clifford, the pornographic actress known as Stormy Daniels, who claimed to have had a brief affair with Mr. Trump.

Perhaps the Pecker participation in this conspiracy goes beyond just hush payments?

The Problems with Richard Burr’s Claim that SSCI Has No Evidence of Collusion

Fresh off a really testy statement suggesting that he is one of just two acceptable gatekeepers on the question of whether Trump conspired with Russia, Richard Burr made some comments to the AP over the weekend suggesting his committee had not received any evidence of a conspiracy between Trump and Russia.

Burr said there is “no factual evidence today that we’ve received” on collusion or conspiracy between Russia and President Donald Trump’s campaign.

It’s a squishy statement that seems designed — particularly given Burr’s newfound lassitude about ending the inquiry and his stated worries of being accused of missing something in the future — to permit him to sustain a claim he hasn’t seen any conspiracy, at least through the election, without aggressively investigating for one.

“Nothing in this town stays classified or secret forever,” Burr said. “And at some point somebody’s going to go back and do a review. And I’d love not to be the one that chaired the committee when somebody says, ‘well, boy, you missed this.’ So we’ve tried to be pretty thorough in how we’ve done it.”

[snip]

Still, he says he doesn’t think the committee should rush to wrap up the work, saying “the worst thing we can do is to prematurely try to end” the probe.

Indeed, the rest of this article lays out plenty of evidence that Burr is not looking for evidence of a conspiracy. First, there’s the description of what his committee has been working on most recently:

For now, Burr says, the committee is preparing to put out two reports by the end of September: one on the Obama administration’s response to Russia’s election interference, and a second on Russia’s election meddling on social media. The committee is also expected to hold a hearing with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in the first week of September.

Along with prior work and that laid out in that prior work, then, the Burr interview reveals that SSCI has been focused on:

  • A review of the January 2017 Intelligence Community Assessment
  • A report on election security vulnerability that barely mentions election vendor security
  • The planned report on Obama’s response to the Russian attack
  • The planned (and laudable) report on disinformation on social media
  • Per a bullet in the ICA report, “the contents of the [Steele dossier and its] handling by the United States Government “

These are all worthwhile topics (if you ignore the absence of a focus on vendors in the election security report). They’re just tangential to any question of conspiracy between Trump and Russia.

And on the one area where Burr does mention that conspiracy, he makes it clear he’s not going to work too hard to find out the truth.

“If the intent is to have a show trial, I’m not a participant,” Burr says on public hearings. He says “I don’t see a reason today” to bring back Donald Trump Jr., the president’s son, who participated in a meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower during the election.

At least at the House Intelligence Committee interview Don Jr had in December, the President’s son professed to not recall whether a call to a blocked number looped in his father on discussions about the June 9 meeting. And Mark Warner has made it clear that the committee did not ask Don Jr about a later meeting where  he proved willing to accept election assistance from foreign entities. Don Jr’s SJC testimony on that point is, by all appearances, a false statement to Congress. So the public record, at least, suggests that no committee has worked through the holes in Don Jr’s story — even ignoring some of the other questions remaining in the public record. Yet Burr likens chasing down those details to “a show trial.”

So, even with what’s in the public record, there’s significant reason to question whether Burr’s claim that “no factual evidence today that we’ve received” shows a conspiracy between Trump and Russia reflects any real effort to find out if there was one.

Plus, the article makes it clear that Burr doesn’t just demand that witnesses to the committee, but even other Senators, remain utterly silent about what the committee has been doing.

Sen. Jim Lankford of Oklahoma, who sits on the intelligence panel and is close to Burr, says Burr started every meeting at the beginning of the probe by asking senators not to talk to the media “until we get additional facts and we put things out together.”

While I greatly appreciate the need to keep the substance of some things the committee is doing a secret (indeed, I find that the committee doesn’t leak like a sieve refreshing), Burr’s public refusal to chase down the Don Jr story and his unwillingness to allow any public comment about what the committee is doing raise real questions about whether the committee would chase down evidence that would support a conspiracy case — even formerly public information still accessible to Congress, much less records requiring more of an effort to obtain — that might prove the same. Burr might worry just as much about someone, in the future, pointing to proof the committee chose not to chase down leads about a Trump-Russian conspiracy as his stated concern about someone pointing to something the committee missed.

“I know that from a committee’s integrity standpoint we’ve got to prove what we find. And if you can’t prove it then we can’t make the claim,” Burr said in the interview. But if his committee is not trying to prove that a conspiracy with Russia exists, then he should stop claiming that the committee has received no factual evidence that such a conspiracy exists. He would simply be unqualified to make the claim one way or another, and so should stop suggesting he would know if there were a conspiracy.

This is why I complained — before Burr made these comments — about his problematic epistemology, his insistence that he is one of just two gate-keepers on a claim about whether or not there has been collusion. Even the public record suggests no one in the committee can make such a claim.

As I disclosed last month, 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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