The Mueller Report, the Short Version

Here’s William Barr’s letter to the Judiciary Committees on the Mueller report. It seems to suggest that Trump may have done impeachment-worthy things, but not prosecution related things.

I say that because:

  • Mueller found that no Trump flunkie took part in either of the two main Russian interference attempts
  • Mueller laid out the case for and against prosecution of Trump for obstruction
  • Barr and Rod Rosenstein, together, decided because Trump did not take part in those two interference attempts, he could be not charged with obstruction

What Barr appears not to have done is review whether Trump was trying to cover up some other crime, like a quid pro quo, which would still merit prosecution.

And that’s precisely what HJC should consider.

Barr has promised to give what’s not covered by grand jury rules to Congress. My guess is that’s not sufficient to get to the underlying potentially criminal intent. In any case, it’s clear that Mueller, Barr, and Rosenstein all at least considered whether Trump should be prosecuted, irrespective of DOJ rules prohibiting prosecuting a sitting president.

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

Rod Rosenstein’s Unfortunate Vocabulary: Defining a Criminal Investigation by “Links” and “Collusion”

Rod Rosenstein is the very unlikely hero of the Mueller investigation. “Rod is a survivor,” Jim Comey said after getting fired. “And you don’t get to survive that long across administrations without making compromises.”

Yet here we are, 22 months after he appointed Robert Mueller to investigate an investigation Trump tried to kill by firing Comey, awaiting the results of that investigation.

At times, I think Rosenstein didn’t imagine (and doesn’t now acknowledge) the damage his bend-don’t-break has done along the way. While based off the very sound precedent that existed until Comey’s declination speech about Hillary, it seems ridiculous for him to claim that the full results of the Mueller investigation can’t be shared with Congress, as he’s now claiming, given how he has provided unprecedented disclosure to Congress about the investigation already, including the first ever unsealed probable cause FISA application.

It will take some years to measure whether Rosenstein chose the best or perhaps only the least worst approach to the last several years.

But there’s one thing he did that really makes me uncomfortable, today, as we all await the results of the Mueller report: his mandate to Mueller.

As has been noted countless times in the last 22 months, Rosenstein asked Mueller to investigate:

    • 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;
    • any other matters with the scope of 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(a).
  • if the Special Counsel believes it is necessary and appropriate, the Special Counsel is authorized to prosecute federal crimes arising from the investigation of these matters.

We actually know the answer to the first bullet, in part: As I laid out here, during five key interactions pertaining to the question of a possible conspiracy between Trump’s associates and Russia, there was direct contact between someone the government has deemed an agent of Russia and the Trump campaign:

  1. January 20, 2016, when Michael Cohen told Dmitry Peskov’s personal assistant that Trump would be willing to work with a GRU-tied broker and (soft and hard) sanctioned banks in pursuit of a $300 million Trump Tower deal in Russia.
  2. June 9, 2016, when Don Jr, knowing that currying favor with Russia could mean $300 million to the family, took a meeting offering dirt on Hillary Clinton as “part of  Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” At the end of the meeting, per the testimony of at least four attendees, Don Jr said they’d revisit Magnitsky sanctions if his dad won.
  3. August 2, 2016, when Paul Manafort and Rick Gates had a clandestine meeting with Konstantin Kilimnik at which Trump’s campaign manager walked Kilimnik through highly detailed poll data and the two discussed a “peace” plan for Ukraine understood to amount to sanctions relief.
  4. December 29, 2016, when (working on instructions relayed by KT McFarland, who was at Mar-a-Lago with Trump) Mike Flynn said something to Sergey Kislyak that led Putin not to respond to Obama’s election-related sanctions.
  5. January 11, 2017, when Erik Prince, acting as a back channel for Trump, met with sanctioned sovereign wealth fund Russian Direct Investment Fund CEO Kirill Dmitriev.

That Peskov’s assistant (and whatever representative from Putin’s office that called Felix Sater the next day), Sergey Kislyak, and Kirill Dmitriev are agents of Russia is clear. With the indictment of Natalia Veselnitskaya in December, the government deemed her to be working as an agent of Russia during the same time period she pitched sanctions relief to Trump’s campaign. And while the government hasn’t proven it beyond quoting Rick Gates acknowledging he knew of Konstantin Kilimnik’s past with the GRU and FBI’s belief that he continues to have ties, the government certainly maintains that Kilimnik does have ties to Russian intelligence.

Those are links. It’d be useful to have an official report on them. But since Mueller hasn’t charged them as a conspiracy, we may only learn what we’ve seen in plea agreements or official testimony to Congress.

Likewise Rosenstein’s invocation of “collusion” in the unredacted parts of his memo describing the scope of the investigation as it existed in August 2017 (it expanded and contracted after that point, so there are like different memos).

Allegations that Paul Manafort:

  • committed a crime or crimes by colluding with Russian government officials with respect to the Russian government’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 election for President of the United States, in violation of United States law;

Here, unlike in the initial mandate, Rosenstein at least noted that Mueller was assessing whether crimes were committed in using that squishy language. But he used the word “collusion,” which started to be politicized by March 2017, when Comey tried to correct it once and for all.

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.

[snip]

Collusion is not a legal term. It is not one I have used today. I said we are investigating to see if there is any coordination between people associated with the campaign– [my emphasis]

Sure, “collusion” might be understood to incorporate a bunch of possible crimes, and so appropriately didn’t limit Mueller to one specific crime as he investigated Manafort (but then, so did the term, “coordination”). But I nevertheless think that using the word has confused the issue of what Rosenstein intended Mueller to be able to reveal, which would instead be conspiracy and a bunch of other crimes covering up evidence of coordination that Mueller has found necessary and appropriate to charge, and not whether there was “collusion.”

All the while, people on both sides of this debate have taken “collusion” to mean whatever minimalist or maximalist interpretation of wrong-doing that best serves their side.

There are two things at issue: whether Trump and his aides coordinated in a way that is criminal, which would be a conspiracy, and whether Trump has coordinated with Russia in a way that would be an abuse of power and/or puts the nation at risk.

Both are legitimate questions. And while Rosenstein says only crimes that are indicted are appropriate to reveal (and he may well be right about that, as a principle), he did ask Mueller to conduct an investigation of that other stuff, and Congress has deferred to Mueller even while that other stuff is squarely within their mandate.

Ideally, this weeks focus on Mueller’s discoveries would be on what the actual evidence showed, which we know to include, at a minimum, the following:

  • Trump pursued a ridiculously lucrative $300 million real estate deal even though the deal would use sanctioned banks, involve a former GRU officer as a broker, and require Putin’s personal involvement at least through July 2016.
  • The Russians chose to alert the campaign that they planned to dump Hillary emails, again packaging it with the promise of a meeting with Putin.
  • After the Russians had offered those emails and at a time when the family was pursuing that $300 million real estate deal, Don Jr took a meeting offering dirt on Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” At the end (per the sworn testimony of four people at the meeting) he said his father would revisit Magnitsky sanctions relief if he won. Contrary to the claim made in a statement authored by Trump, there was some effort to follow up on Jr’s assurances after the election.
  • The campaign asked rat-fucker Roger Stone to optimize the WikiLeaks releases and according to Jerome Corsi he had some success doing so.
  • In what Andrew Weissmann called a win-win (presumably meaning it could help Trump’s campaign or lead to a future business gig for him), Manafort provided Konstantin Kilimnik with polling data that got shared with Ukrainian and Russian oligarchs. At the same meeting, he discussed a “peace” plan for Ukraine that would amount to sanctions relief.
  • Trump undercut Obama’s response to the Russian hacks in December 2016, in part because he believed retaliation for the hacks devalued his victory. Either for that reason, to pay off Russia, and/or to pursue his preferred policy, Trump tried to mitigate any sanctions, an attempt that has (with the notable exception of those targeting Oleg Deripaska) been thwarted by Congress.

Instead, however, we’re still arguing about a word — collusion — that was stripped of all meaning years ago, with the result that Mueller’s presumably very measured assessment of what happened cannot serve as the arbiter of truth we need.

Rosenstein may well be the unlikely hero of preserving some semblance of rule of law in this country. But along the way, his choice of language has unfortunately twice fostered the confusion about where the line between crime and misconduct is.

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

After Mueller: An Off-Ramp on Russia for the Venal Fucks

We don’t know what the Mueller report says, though given William Barr’s promise to brief the Judiciary Committee leaders this weekend and follow it with a public summary, it’s not likely to be that damning to Trump. But I can think of five mutually non-exclusive possibilities for the report:

  • Mueller ultimately found there was little fire behind the considerable amounts of smoke generated by Trump’s paranoia
  • The report will be very damning — showing a great deal of corruption — which nevertheless doesn’t amount to criminal behavior
  • Evidence that Manafort and Stone conspired with Russia to affect the election, but Mueller decided not to prosecute conspiracy itself because they’re both on the hook for the same prison sentence a conspiracy would net anyway, with far less evidentiary exposure
  • There’s evidence that others entered into a conspiracy with Russia to affect the election, but that couldn’t be charged because of evidentiary reasons that include classification concerns and presidential prerogatives over foreign policy, pardons, and firing employees
  • Mueller found strong evidence of a conspiracy with Russia, but Corsi, Manafort, and Stone’s lies (and Trump’s limited cooperation) prevented charging it

As many people have pointed out, this doesn’t mean Trump and his kin are out of jeopardy. This NYT piece summarizes a breathtaking number of known investigations, spanning at least four US Attorneys offices plus New York state, but I believe even it is not comprehensive.

All that said, we can anticipate a great deal of what the Mueller report will say by unpacking the lies Trump’s aides told to hide various ties to Russia: The report will show:

  • Trump pursued a ridiculously lucrative $300 million real estate deal even though the deal would use sanctioned banks, involve a former GRU officer as a broker, and require Putin’s personal involvement at least through July 2016.
  • The Russians chose to alert the campaign that they planned to dump Hillary emails, again packaging it with the promise of a meeting with Putin.
  • After the Russians had offered those emails and at a time when the family was pursuing that $300 million real estate deal, Don Jr took a meeting offering dirt on Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” At the end (per the sworn testimony of four people at the meeting) he said his father would revisit Magnitsky sanctions relief if he won. Contrary to the claim made in a statement authored by Trump, there was some effort to follow up on Jr’s assurances after the election.
  • The campaign asked rat-fucker Roger Stone to optimize the WikiLeaks releases and according to Jerome Corsi he had some success doing so.
  • In what Andrew Weissmann called a win-win (presumably meaning it could help Trump’s campaign or lead to a future business gig for him), Manafort provided Konstantin Kilimnik with polling data that got shared with Ukrainian and Russian oligarchs. At the same meeting, he discussed a “peace” plan for Ukraine that would amount to sanctions relief.
  • Trump undercut Obama’s response to the Russian hacks in December 2016, in part because he believed retaliation for the hacks devalued his victory. Either for that reason, to pay off Russia, and/or to pursue his preferred policy, Trump tried to mitigate any sanctions, an attempt that has (with the notable exception of those targeting Oleg Deripaska) been thwarted by Congress.

We know all of these things — save the Stone optimization detail, which will be litigated at trial unless Trump pardons him first — to be true, either because Trump’s aides and others have already sworn they are true, and/or because we’ve seen documentary evidence proving it.

That’s a great deal of evidence of a quid pro quo — of Trump trading campaign assistance for sanctions relief. All the reasons above may explain why Mueller didn’t charge it, with the added important detail that Trump has long been a fan of Putin. Trump ran openly on sanctions relief and Presidents get broad authority to set their own foreign policy, and that may be why all this coziness didn’t amount to criminal behavior: because a majority of the electoral college voted (with Russia’s involvement) to support those policies.

Whatever reason this didn’t get charged as a crime (it may well have been for several involved, including Trump), several things are clear.

First, consider all this from the perspective of Russia: over and over, they exploited Trump’s epic narcissism and venality. Particularly with regards to the Trump Tower deal, they did so in a way that would be especially damaging, particularly given that even while a former GRU officer was brokering the deal, the GRU was hacking Trump’s opponent. They often did so in ways that would be readily discovered, once the FBI decided to check Kilimnik’s Gmail account. Russia did this in ways that would make it especially difficult for Trump to come clean about it, even if he were an upstanding honest person.

Partly as a result, partly because he’s a narcissist who wanted to deny that he had illicit help to win, and partly because he’s a compulsive liar, Trump and his aides all lied about what they’ve now sworn to be true. Over and over again.

And that raised the stakes of the Russian investigation, which in turn further polarized the country.

As I noted here, that only added to the value of Russia’s intervention. Not only did Trump’s defensiveness make him prefer what Putin told him to what American Russian experts and his intelligence community would tell him, but he set about destroying the FBI in an effort to deny the facts that his aides ultimately swore were true. Sure, Russia hasn’t gotten its sanctions relief, yet. But it has gotten the President himself to attack the American justice system, something Putin loves to do.

We don’t know what the Mueller report will say about Trump’s role in all this, and how that will affect the rest of his presidency. We do know he remains under investigation for his cheating (as an unindicted co-conspirator in the ongoing hush money investigation) and his venality (in the inauguration investigation, at a minimum).

We do know, however, that whatever is in that report is what Mueller wants in it; none of the (Acting) Attorneys General supervising him thwarted his work, though Trump’s refusal to be interviewed may have.

But we also know that Russia succeeded wildly with its attack in 2016 and since.

Democrats and Republicans are going to continue being at each other’s throats over Trump’s policies and judges. Trump will continue to be a venal narcissist who obstructs legitimate oversight into his mismanagement of government.

Both sides, however, would do well to take this report — whatever it says — as the final word on this part of the Russian attack in 2016, and set about protecting the country from the next attack it will launch.

An unbelievable swath of this country — including the denialists who say all those things that Trump’s own aides swore to doesn’t amount to evidence of wrongdoing — have chosen for tribal reasons (and sometimes venal ones) to side with kleptocratic Russians over the protection of America. Now that the report is done, it’s time to focus on protecting the United States again.

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

The Mueller Report Has Been Delivered

The Senate and House Judiciary Committees have officially been notified that the William Barr received the Mueller report. He notified them that neither the Acting Attorney General nor he vetoed any prosecutorial decision.

He told the Chairs and Ranking Members he may be able to inform them of the main jist of the report this weekend. And he will work with Mueller and Rod Rosenstein on how much else can be released.

Update: DOJ is now saying that there are no outstanding indictments, and no more expected.

There’s a Decent Chance Jon Karl’s Source Is Being or Was Investigated for Obstruction

Jonathan Karl, ABC White House correspondent, reported yesterday with a certainty I’m hearing from none of the DOJ beat reporters that Mueller’s report will amount to nothing.

Sources familiar with the investigation believe there are no more indictments coming from the special counsel. If Mueller follows the guidance of the man who appointed him and supervised his investigation, he cannot publicly disparage those who have not been charged with a crime.

From that, he spun out a letter Rod Rosenstein wrote at a time when Republicans were trying to expose some bureau and CIA informants, and ignored the intent of the Mueller Report, to suggest that Mueller can’t say anything bad (in a confidential report to Bill Barr, not to Congress) about Trump.

[W]e don’t need to speculate on the scope – the man who appointed Mueller has already given us a potential road map on what to expect from the special counsel.

The bottom line: Do not expect a harsh condemnation of President Donald Trump or any of his associates if they have not been charged with crimes.

I said yesterday I have no idea what The Mueller Report will bring — or even if The Mueller Report is actually where we’ll learn about Mueller’s findings. I said that, while there’s abundant evidence of a conspiracy between Trump and the Russians, it may never get charged, including for reasons that have to do with DOJ’s treatment of sitting presidents. That remains true.

But what is also likely true is that at least one of Jonathan Karl’s sources saying that they “believe there are no more indictments coming from” Mueller is either currently or already has been investigated for obstruction.

That’s because the chief source of claims like this — particularly in reporting from White House correspondents — is one or another of Trump’s lawyers, especially Right Wing operative Jay Sekulow and TV lawyer Rudy Giuliani. And we now know that both would have at least been scrutinized for obstruction.

In Sekulow’s case, Michael Cohen says the lawyer edited his perjurious statement to Congress. And even in the Sekulow denial — as reported by ABC News — he denies just that he changed the timeline of Cohen’s statement, not that he edited it.

During a closed-door hearing with the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday, Michael Cohen, the former personal attorney and fixer to President Donald Trump, shared documents and emails with committee members showing what he said were edits to the false statement he provided to Congress in 2017, in an effort to bolster his public testimony last week, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

Testifying publicly before the House Oversight Committee last week, Cohen said Trump’s current personal lawyer Jay Sekulow changed the former Trump loyalist’s statement to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees regarding the duration of discussions about the Trump Tower Moscow project before he submitted it to Capitol Hill.

Last week Sekulow denied the claims in a statement to ABC News.

“Today’s testimony by Michael Cohen that attorneys for the President edited or changed his statement to Congress to alter the duration of the Trump Tower Moscow negotiations is completely false.”

Mueller cited Cohen’s description of his communications with the White House in this period — and specifically the circumstances of preparing the statement — among the ways he helped the investigation.

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

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

With regards to Rudy, ABC News was among the outlets that recently provided details of what appears to be a pardon dangle to Cohen after he was raided.

In the weeks following the federal raids on former Michael Cohen’s law office and residences last April, President Donald Trump’s former lawyer and confidant was contacted by two New York attorneys who claimed to be in close contact with Rudy Giuliani, the current personal attorney to Trump, according to sources with direct knowledge of the discussions.

The outreach came just as Cohen, who spent more than a decade advocating for Trump, was wrangling with the most consequential decision of his life; whether to remain in a joint defense agreement with the president and others, or to flip on the man to whom he had pledged immutable loyalty. The sources described the lawyers’ contact with Cohen as an effort to keep him in the tent.

Yet for all the attention paid to what Cohen was willing to say about the president, his reluctance to answer a question about the last communications he had with Trump or someone acting on his behalf made news on its own. Cohen clammed up and claimed that federal prosecutors were actively probing that very issue.

“Unfortunately, this topic is something that’s being investigated right now by the Southern District of New York, and I’ve been asked by them not to discuss and not to talk about these issues,” Cohen said.

The sources familiar with the contacts said the two lawyers first reached out to Cohen late in April of last year and that the discussions continued for about two months. The attorneys, who have no known formal ties to the White House, urged Cohen not to leave the joint defense agreement, the sources told ABC News, and also offered a Plan B. In the event Cohen opted to exit the agreement, they could join his legal team and act as a conduit between Cohen and the president’s lawyers.

At one point in the discussions, one of the attorneys sent Cohen a phone screenshot to prove they were in touch with Giuliani, the sources said.

According to ABC’s sources, this matter is currently under investigation by SDNY.

I mean, it’s certainly possible that someone else is sourcing Karl’s seeming unique certainty about what will come of the Mueller report. It’s certainly possible that ABC’s White House correspondent has better sources at DOJ than all the DOJ reporters who say they don’t know. It’s certainly possible his sources don’t include someone that DOJ had at least reason to believe had participated in obstruction.

But if Karl’s sources are people that his own outlet has reported to be under investigation for obstruction, he ought to at least temper his certainty that they can be believed.

Update: Rudy has gone on the record with exactly the line that Karl regurgitated yesterday.

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

Why My Post Predicting the Mueller End Game Won’t Predict Anything

The DOJ beat reporters are on tenterhooks this week, having been led to believe that The Mueller Report will be delivered today, tomorrow, or soon thereafter. That has intensified the already fever pitch around what will happen next.

Given that there is great confidence the conclusion is imminent, here’s why such speculation is misplaced.

We have no idea, and there are many possible options.

Those options include:

  1. A request for a conspiracy indictment naming Trump as a defendant, which would be denied, therefore triggering a report of that denial to the Judiciary Committees (but which would also presumably result in an indictment of others).
  2. An overarching conspiracy indictment including Don Jr and other players, with Trump named as an unindicted co-conspirator.
  3. A Road Map akin to the Watergate one, sharing grand jury material with the House Judiciary Committee; this would be a strong possibility in case of option 2.
  4. No further indictment, but a report showing a great deal of evidence a conspiracy took place, with The Report explaining why (including Presidential prerogative on foreign policy) it can’t be indicted, with or without an accompanying HJC Road Map.
  5. Some kind of report submitted as a counterintelligence report, in addition to indictments (a possibility some have floated but which I believe to utterly misunderstand the nature of Mueller’s task).
  6. The Report showing much ado about nothing.

I happen to think there’s a great deal of evidence a quid pro quo conspiracy took place, but certainly entertain the possibility that Mueller thinks he wouldn’t have an 85% chance of conviction, which DOJ would likely require before he indicted it. But even if I’m right, it still leaves open most of these options.

And the aftermath of every single one of these options is contingent. Meaning it is way premature to get into debates about what William Barr will include in his report and whether Trump can quash the report by invoking privilege until we know whether the The Report is what the regulations require them to be — with the really important details in either an indictment and/or Road Map, or in fact something more comprehensive.

Which is why I think, given the promise that Mueller’s end game is imminent, doing anything but admitting that we don’t know is a waste of air.

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

The Predictable Result of Asymmetry in Terrorism Policing: Andrew McCabe’s Demise

I recently finished Andrew McCabe’s book.

It is very effective at what I imagine its intended purposes are. It provides some fascinating new details about the genesis of the Russian investigation. It offers a great introduction in how the FBI (at its best) can work. It gives a self-congratulatory version of McCabe’s career, including key events like the Najibullah Zazi and Boston Marathon investigations; even if McCabe had wanted to tell fully honest stories about those investigations, I’m sure the less flattering details wouldn’t have passed FBI’s publication review.

The book also says satisfyingly mean things about Trump, Jeff Sessions, and (more obliquely) Rod Rosenstein. (I think McCabe’s book release significantly explains the rumors reported as fact that Mueller’s report was imminent some weeks ago; that claim served, in part, to once again eliminate any pressure to fire Rosenstein immediately).

The latter of two, of course, implemented McCabe’s firing. McCabe’s excuse for lying to the Inspector General, which led to his firing, is one of the least convincing parts of the book (he admits he can’t say more because of his continued legal jeopardy, but he does raise it). That’s true, in part, because McCabe only deals with one of the conversations in question; there were a number of them. But he also excuses his chief lie because he was frazzled about learning of the Strzok-Page texts in the same conversation. I can understand that, but elsewhere, one of his digs against Rosenstein is how overwhelmed the Deputy Attorney General was in the wake of the Jim Comey firing. McCabe suggests, in that context, that because he had dealt with big stressful issues (like the Boston Marathon attack), he wasn’t similarly rattled. Which is why I find it disingenuous to use being frazzled for not being fully truthful to the Inspector General. Plus, virtually all defendants prosecuted for lying to the FBI (including George Papadopoulos, but not Mike Flynn, who is a very accomplished liar) are frazzled when they tell those lies; it’s a tactic the FBI uses to catch people unguarded.

I was most frustrated, however, by something that has become increasingly important in recent days: McCabe’s utter lack of awareness (at least in the book) of the import of the asymmetric focus on Islamic terrorism across his career.

After moving to counterterrorism in the mid-00s from working organized crime, McCabe became an utterly central player in the war on Islamic terror, founding the High Value Interrogation Group, and then leading the CT and National Security Divisions of FBI. He was a key player in investigations — like Zazi — that the FBI is rightly proud of.

But McCabe normalizes the choices made after 9/11 to pursue Islamic terrorism as a distinct danger. He (of course) whitewashes Jim Comey’s decision to retain the Internet dragnet in 2004 under an indefensible use of the PATRIOT Act. He argues that it is politically impossible to survive a failure to prevent an attack even though he managed the Boston Marathon attack, where FBI and NSA had some warning of Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s danger, but nevertheless got very little criticism as a result. Most remarkably, McCabe talks about Kevin Harpham’s attempted attack on the Martin Luther King Day parade, mentions as an aside that this was (obviously) not an Islamic terror attack, but offers no reflection on how Harpham’s attack undermines much of what he presents, unquestioningly, as a greater risk from Islamic terrorism (here’s a story on how Barack Obama did not get briefed on Harpham, a decision that may well have involved McCabe).

Granted, McCabe’s blind spots (at least in the book) are typical of people who have spent their lives reinforcing this asymmetry. You see it, too, in this utterly nonsensical paragraph in a largely ridiculous piece from Joshua Geltzer, Mary McCord, and Nick Rasmussen — all likewise accomplished players in the War on Just One Kind of Terrorism — at Lawfare.

The phrases “international terrorism” (think of the Islamic State and al-Qaeda) and “domestic terrorism” (think of the Oklahoma City bombing and the October 2018 shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue) have often been a source of confusion to those not steeped in counterterrorism. The Islamic State has its roots internationally, but what makes it such a threat to Americans is, in part, its ability to influence domestic actors like Omar Mateen to kill Americans in domestic locations like Orlando, Florida. The group may be “international,” but its attackers and attacks can be, and have been, domestic—to tragic effect.

This paragraph, in a piece that admits the focus of their career has been wrong (and neglects to mention that Christchurch terrorist Brenton Tarrant named Donald Trump, along with Anders Behring Breivik, as an inspiration), suggests that the reason international terrorism is “such a threat” is because it can inspire domestic actors. The logic inherent to that paragraph is that terrorism carried out by “domestic terrorists,” inspired by a domestic white supremacist ideology is any less dangerous than terrorism carried out by people inspired by what is treated as an international ideology. International terrorism is worse than domestic terrorism, these experts argue, because it can lead to domestic terrorism.

Dead is dead. And given the significant number of white supremacists who have had experience in the military and greater tolerance for their training, white supremacists have the potential of being far more effective, as individuals, at killing than US-based Islamic terrorists.

One thing the Lawfare piece studiously avoids acknowledging is that what it calls “domestic” terrorism (the racist ideology of which they never describe) is an ideology significantly exported by the United States. Even in a piece that rightly calls for an equal focus on both white supremacist terrorism and Islamic terrorism, it ducks labeling the ideology in question. And while this WaPo piece does label the ideology in question, it bizarrely calls an attack in New Zealand carried out by an Australian a “domestic” attack.

The WaPo piece describes one problem with the asymmetric treatment of different kinds of terrorism: that governments don’t share intelligence about international violent racist ideology. In fact, in the US, such intelligence gets treated differently, if the FBI’s failure to track the networks around Frazier Glenn Miller and Eric Rudolph is any indication.

Ironically, that’s one reason that McCabe’s failure to track white supremacist terrorism in the same way he tracked Islamic terrorism led to his demise. While the network behind the election year operation that helped elect Trump involves a lot of Russians, it also clearly involves a lot of white supremacists like Nigel Farage (and David Duke), a network Russia exploited. Additionally, as I have argued (and at least one study backs) white supremacist networks provided the real fire behind the attacks on Clinton; Russia’s information operations had the effect of throwing more fuel on a blazing bonfire.

The other problem with the US government’s asymmetric treatment of terrorism is legitimacy. Labeling Islamic terrorism “foreign” and pursuing material support cases based partly on speech has had the effect of criminalizing some speech that criticizes US foreign policy, even well-deserved criticism about the effect of US killing of Muslims. By contrast, white supremacist speech, even that which  more aggressively advocates violence is treated as speech. Yes, deplatforming has begun to change that.

But we’re still not at a place where those who incite white supremacist violence are held accountable for it.

That’s how it was possible for a man to kick off a campaign by inventing lies about Mexican immigrants and how the entire Republican party, up to and including the new supposedly sane Attorney General, are permitted to pursue counterproductive policies solely so they can appear to demonize brown people.

Irrespective of the merit or not in the finding that Andrew McCabe lacked candor with the IG, he got treated the way he did because a man whose entire political career is based off feeding white resentment needed to appear to be a victim of Andrew McCabe. That act, by itself, was not about Trump’s white supremacist ideology. But it is a structure of power that is white supremacist (exacerbated by Trump’s narcissism).

We have a President Trump in significant part because this country has tolerated and even rewarded white supremacist ideology, institutionally ignoring that it poses as much of a risk as violent Islamic ideology. It would be really useful if people like Andrew McCabe spend some time publicly accounting for that fact.

The white supremacy that brought us the Trump presidency would not be possible if we had treated violent white supremacist terror as terror for the last twenty years.

The More Interesting Michael Cohen Redactions: On Viktor Vekselberg

The materials backing the raid on Michael Cohen released yesterday suggest — give the large swaths of redacted pagers — that the investigation into hush payments continues. But the filings also suggest something about Mueller’s investigation.

One of the earliest warrants, dated February 28, 2018, obtained access to a USB drive holding the contents of Cohen’s Gmail account from June 1, 2015 to November 14, 2017 and a business account handed to SDNY from Mueller. The Agent’s affidavit (starting at PDF 36), describes how Mueller got access to those accounts in support of false bank entries, money laundering, and two foreign agent charges, then substantiates the need to access the same information in support of conspiracy, false bank entires, and bank fraud charges.

SDNY does not cite FARA or 951 among the crimes it was investigating.

Nevertheless, the affiant describes how the government came to be interested in Cohen’s Essential Consulting account, an account at First Republic that he hid when negotiating how to deal with his taxi medallion business. The account must have come to Mueller’s attention because of the FARA/Foreign Agent interest.

Cohen started the account on October 26, 2016. We now know he did so to pay off Stormy Daniels, but even on February 28, 2018, SDNY did not include that among the crimes it was investigating. Cohen told the bank Essential Consulting was a real estate consulting company for which his clients would be domestic individuals, which was one of the false statements he made to his bank. The affidavit notes:

[T]here is probable cause to believe that Cohen’s statements and the intended purpose of the account and source of funds for the account were false. Specifically, the account was not intended to receive–and does not appear to have received–money in connection with real estate consulting work; in addition, the account has received substantial payments from foreign sources.

A redaction about a third of a page long follows.

Then, the affidavit describes how a forensic accountant determined the account was used for other purposes, describing five payments. Those payment amounts and sources were:

  • $583,332,98 from Columbus Nova LLC, which is an investment firm controlled by Viktor Vekselberg’s Renova Group
  • $999,800 from Novartis Instruments
  • $550,000 from AT&T
  • $600,000 from Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI)
  • $150,000 from Kazkommertsbank, a Kazakhstani bank, which was listed on accounts as BTA Bank

Following the description of Columbus Nova, there is a redaction.

The affidavit then describes that emails and interviews with people at AT&T and Novartis show that the payments were associated with political consulting and notes that they may violate FARA, which this affidavit was not intended to investigate.

the aforementioned payments to the Essential Consultants Account and MDC&A ostensibly were for political consulting work, including consulting for international clients on issues pending before the Trump Administration.10

10 Based on my review of public sources, I have learned that Cohen is not registered as a lobbyist or a person acting as an agent of foreign principals, as may have been required by the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

It then describes emails supporting that claim for just four of the five companies:

  • KAI
  • BTA
  • AT&T
  • Novartis

In other words, even in the first affidavit, the SDNY Agent includes Columbus Nova, but then drops that out when he substantiates that the account was used for something other than Cohen had told the bank. One way or another, any FARA exposure related to KAI and BTA were still in DC. But Columbus Nova was treated differently than the other foreign entities.

And the discussion of why remains redacted. That may be because nothing ever came of it — though almost $600K is hard to explain away. Remarkably, Republicans remained silent about this payment during Cohen’s congressional testimony, even while they made a big deal about his payments from KAI and BTA.

The 18 pages of still-redacted discussion of the hush payments is interesting, because it suggests SDNY continues to pursue that prosecution, a prosecution that features a recording of Donald Trump admitting criminal intent.

But the small redactions around the Columbus Nova payment are far more interesting.

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

The (Unsealed Parts of the) Michael Cohen Investigation

As noted, the search warrants leading up to and used in the April 9 search of Michael Cohen have been partly unsealed. In this post, I want to lay out what we know about how the investigation into Cohen developed.

On July 18, 2017, Mueller’s team got a warrant on Michael Cohen’s Google activity from January 1, 2016 to July 18, 2017, for which they would already have obtained the call records showing whom he was emailing when using it and a preservation order. At the time, they were investigating:

  • False statements to a financial institution
  • Money laundering
  • Acting as an unregistered foreign agent
  • FARA violations

On August 8, 2017, Mueller’s team got a warrant for Cohen’s iCloud account.

On November 13, 2017, they got a warrant for activity associated with a business account, MCDPC, which was hosted by 1&1, as well as for Cohen’s Gmail account going back to June 1, 2015. On November 7, 2017 and January 4, 2018, Mueller got pen registers to obtain records of everyone Cohen was talking to in real time.

While sorting through that evidence, they appear to have discovered more of the bank fraud associated with his taxi medallions.

On February 2, 2018, Mueller provided SDNY a subset of content from Cohen’s iCloud. On February 8, 2018, Mueller referred some of the crimes they were investigating to SDNY, including the taxi medallion payments and other money laundering, and handed them a USB drive with the stuff obtained in those earlier email warrants (but not yet the iCloud one). That month, SDNY got some of the emails turned over as hard copies from third parties using a subpoena, and accessed the toll records for the emails. Before accessing the content, on February 16, 2018, SDNY got a d-order for header information for the two accounts handed over by Mueller. They also interviewed and acquired emails from a number of employees at Sterling, from whom Cohen was getting a loan. Then, on February 28, 2018, SDNY submitted affidavits to access the content handed over from Mueller and to obtain everything in the accounts from the interim period (that is, since November 14), as well as another Gmail and AOL account associated with the taxi medallion related bank fraud.

This suggests that while they had found his Essential Consultants bank account and recognized that he was using it for things he hadn’t informed the bank about, they were not yet focusing on hush payments as an illegal campaign donation.

On March 7, 2018, Mueller handed over the iCloud material to SDNY.

In early April, SDNY started a slew of legal process leading up to its search of Cohen’s properties.

According to the letter associated with this release, they got a warrant for out of jurisdiction materials on April 5 (reportedly for stuff held overseas). I’m still trying to find that in the attachments.

Then, on April 7, 2018, it obtained a warrant to search the existing collection for material related to illegal campaign finance.

Also on April 7, SDNY got a warrant for prospective and historical location data associated with Cohen’s AT&T phones for the periods from October 1, 2016 to November 8, 2016 and January 1, 2018 to present. The campaign finance crimes were the only ones specified in this warrant.

On April 8, SDNY got a warrant for Cohen’s condo, office, safe deposit box, and hotel, as well as two iPhones. This covered all the crimes to which Cohen pled guilty in SDNY, as well as his sleazy influence peddling with BTA, KAI, AT&T, and Novartis, but not Columbus Nova (I’ll return to this). They also got a warrant to use a Stingray to figure out which room he was in at the hotel (like the location searches on his phone, this was just for his campaign finance crimes). Then, on April 9, they went back and got another warrant for the specific room at Loews hotel.

In the materials from SDNY, some names are redacted. The biggest redactions (suggesting ongoing investigation) pertain to the campaign finance crimes, meaning Trump and Trump Organization are in trouble. There may also be redacted material associated with Cohen’s sleazy influence peddling.

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

By July 18, 2017, Mueller Had Probable Cause Michael Cohen Was an Unregistered Foreign Agent

SDNY has released the warrants behind his April 9 raid, which are here. They actually include a series of warrants, showing how first Mueller got warrants, then handed parts of the investigation over to SDNY, which then obtained its own warrants tied to the crimes they were investigating. These two affidavits (one, two) are the ones showing that hand-off — basically SDNY asking, on February 28, 2018, for access to email accounts and storage devices that Mueller had already accessed. The second one describes Mueller’s first warrant on Cohen to be dated July 18, 2017.

The same affidavit describes the crimes listed in the earlier warrants. Among those crimes — unsurprisingly — was conspiracy to defraud the US. More surprising, however, are 18 USC §§ 951 (acting as an unregistered foreign agent) and 611 (FARA).

The latter may be tied to Cohen’s work with a Kazakhstan bank (BTA Bank) and Korean airspace company (Korea Aerospace Industries) — which were basically his efforts to monetize his ties to Trump after the election. These were the deals that Republicans made such a big deal about when Cohen testified to the Oversight Committee.

In addition, Cohen was working for Columbus Nova, which was ultimately controlled by Victor Vekselberg. That would be of immediate concern for the question of Russian influence.

The 951 charge, however, is more interesting. It could relate to the same thing (basically arguing that because he was working for instrumentalities of foreign countries, he was their agent — basically a “soft” spy). Or it could relate to his efforts to negotiate a Trump Tower deal for Trump. Note that the November 13 warrant basically extended the first warrant back to June 1, 2015, which would we know would cover the Trump Tower deal (and precede any tie to BTA or KAI).

951 is a charge I always suspected might be used with Paul Manafort (it still might), or even Jared Kushner. But it appears that Mueller’s worries about Trump’s closest associates acting as spies wasn’t limited to Manafort and Flynn, but extended, too, to his personal lawyer. And Mueller already had evidence of that fact by July 18, 2017.

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

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