Would Rod Rosenstein Object to a Mueller Action before Brett Kavanaugh Is Confirmed?

There’s a lot of discussion about whether or not DOJ’s traditional prohibition on major prosecutorial actions limits Robert Mueller. As I have explained, I personally think the terms of it don’t apply, with the possible exception of Dana Rohrabacher, because no other conceivable subject of Mueller’s investigation is conceivably on the ballot. Quinta Jurecic has a good piece explaining that it is a general practice, not a rule.

Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz spelled out exactly why it’s wrong in three short pages of his recent report on the FBI’s conduct in the Clinton email investigation.

Two years ago, Jane Chong dove deep into the supposed 60-day rule in a Lawfare post on FBI Director James Comey’s October 2016 letter on new developments in the Clinton investigation. As she wrote then, there is no formal rule barring Justice Department action in the days immediately before an election. Rather, the “rule” is more of a soft norm based on what former Attorney General Eric Holder himself described as “long-standing Justice Department policies and tradition.” In a guidanceHolder issued in 2012, the attorney general wrote that, “Law enforcement officers and prosecutors may never select the timing of investigative steps or criminal charges for the purpose of affecting any election, or for the purpose of giving an advantage or disadvantage to any candidate or political party”—which, Chong noted, leaves a wide loophole for actions taken near an election without the purpose of affecting that election. In 2016, Attorney General Loretta Lynch issued a similar memorandum with the same language, as the inspector general report lays out.

Chong’s post was, in fact, cited by the inspector general report in the office’s own analysis of whether Comey had violated the supposed 60-day rule. “The 60-Day Rule is not written or described in any Department policy or regulation,” the report says. Investigators canvassed a range of “high-ranking [Justice] Department and FBI officials” on their own understandings of the guideline, which the report describes as “a general practice that informs Department decisions.”

This short section of the 500-plus-page report shows broad agreement among the current and former Justice Department officials interviewed that there is some kind of principle against taking action in such a way as to potentially influence an election, though the interviewees do not precisely agree on the contours of that principle. Former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara stated, investigators write, that “there is generalized, unwritten guidance that prosecutors do not indict political candidates or use overt investigative methods in the weeks before an election.” Former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates located the cutoff more precisely at the 90-day instead of the 60-day mark.

The inspector general’s office also interviewed Ray Hulser, the former deputy assistant attorney general for the Public Integrity Section of the Justice Department, who was involved in the drafting of Lynch’s 2016 election integrity. Interestingly, Hulser told investigators that the Public Integrity Section had actually considered codifying the 60-day rule in the Lynch memo, but had decided not to because such a policy would be “unworkable.”

Yet, even though I don’t believe the 60-day “rule” does apply, my expectation is that Rod Rosenstein — who after is the one who will make any decisions about major Mueller actions — would nevertheless abide by it.

Still, that leaves three more days of this week, before the actual 60-day cut-off.

Which leaves me with another question: Would Rosenstein balk at a major action this week, before Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed to the Supreme Court?

After all, Rosenstein is close to Kavanaugh from when both served on a real witch hunt, the Ken Starr investigation into Bill Clinton’s blowjob (indeed, Kavanaugh seemed to have gotten off on the most scandalous details about that blowjob). Rosenstein has gone to great lengths to make DOJ resources available in support of his confirmation. Rosenstein showed up for the start of today’s hearing.

For Rosenstein, Kavanaugh’s confirmation is personal.

Would he do anything this week to stave off new Mueller revelations, to ensure the Kavanaugh bullet train races forward?

Spy versus Spy: The Two Alleged Agents of Foreign Powers Sitting in the Alexandria Jail, Part Two (Mariia)

In this post, I laid out the difference between two laws criminalizing foreign agents of influence, 22 USC 611 et seq. (FARA) and 18 USC 951. Paul Manafort is charged with the former; Rick Gates, Mike Flynn, and Sam Patten have also all pled guilty to FARA related crimes; Mariia Butina is accused of the latter.

I think, particularly as Mueller’s investigation begins to put real teeth in FARA (and as nation-state spying hides under new kinds of cover and funding arrangements), the border between the two crimes will become increasingly tenuous. A comparison of Butina and Manafort shows some of the ways that’s clear.

Butina’s lawyer pitches her actions as lobbying

In response to her charges, her attorney Robert Driscoll has repeatedly denied she’s an agent of Russia, not by denying she did what Aleksandr Torshin instructed her to, but by claiming that hers is just a regulatory filing case.

“This is not an espionage case, this is not a spy case, this is a regulatory filing case,” in which Butina didn’t file the correct paperwork with the Justice Department, Driscoll told Robnson in arguing why she should be freed pending trial.

“She’s not an agent of the Russian Federation,” Driscoll told reporters after the hearing.

In a bid to overturn Magistrate Deborah Robinson’s decision to deny Butina bail, Driscoll minimizes the Russian’s activities as “going to dinners among intellectuals and foreign policy wonks to discuss U.S.-Russia relations, attending two National Prayer Breakfasts, and booking hotel rooms at the Washington Hilton, if true, is anything but an ‘obvious’ danger to the public.” He argues, “the allegations do not involve spying, tradecraft, classified information, or any other hallmarks of an espionage case.” To rebut any claim of covert operation, Driscoll points to the fact that one of the actions in her indictment — a dinner hosted by her unindicted co-conspirator, George O’Neill, just after the National Prayer Breakfast — was hosted by O’Neill and written up in the press (one of two stories he cited was written by O’Neill).

She is accused of arranging dinners to promote better relations between Russia and the United States although the very dinner that is listed as a predicate act for her alleged crimes was written about in Time Magazine and the American Conservative—hardly covert activity—and, in actuality, was initiated, organized, and directed by an American citizen, not the Russian government.3

He argues that the government charged Butina with section 951 as a tactical move, to make it easier to prosecute political activity (I’m not a lawyer, but I’m virtually certain he mis-states what the materials say about exempting political activity, not least because, per other materials, section 611 can be a subset of a section 951 violation).

To distract from the frailty of its charges, the government reprises that Ms. Butina is charged under section 951 and not FARA. However, that charging decision alone contradicts the Justice Department’s own policies, and perhaps was made as an attempt to aggrandize her conduct and mischaracterize her innocent political interest as nefarious.

That is, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) Criminal Resource Manual makes a distinction between section 951 and a FARA violation. It describes FARA under section 611 et seq. as requiring an agent of a foreign principal engaged in political activities to register. See U.S. Dep’t of Justice, United States Attorneys’ Manual 9-90.700 and 9-90.701; and see Criminal Resource Manual at 2062. It also discusses other federal statutes like section 951, which is “aimed at persons loosely called foreign agents” but specifically exempts section 951 from applying to “foreign agents engaged in political activities.” Id. In plain English, DOJ further notes among frequently asked questions that section 951 is only “aimed at foreign government controlled agents engaged in non-political activities.”5

The government’s April, 2018 search warrant sought evidence of a potential violation under FARA.

[snip]

[A]lthough such allegations are unfounded and untrue, and although the government’s searches revealed no hidden transmitters, wads of cash, counterfeit passports, and plane tickets back to Moscow, the government still decided to paper a case against Ms. Butina under section 951. This decision shows that the government desired to overcharge and inflate her conduct for tactical advantages versus act with restraint or, at a minimum, be consistent with the DOJ and National Security Division’s own publicized understanding of appropriate charges.

And Driscoll doesn’t even concede she violated FARA.

[F]or reasons only it is aware, the government has charged Ms. Butina under 18 U.S.C. § 951 rather than the Foreign Agent Registration Act (“FARA”), 22 U.S.C. § 611 et seq., which generally carries civil penalties and much less severe criminal penalties (for circumstances far more egregious than the facts alleged here). Much like a FARA case, the government does not allege that Ms. Butina undertook any independently illegal activities in the United States. The only thing that made her alleged conduct illegal, if true, is that she did not notify the Attorney General prior to undertaking it.

[snip]

At bottom, the government’s case appears to be a novel attempt to stretch 18 U.S.C. § 951 to cover the activities of a foreign national student under the theory that her communications (about non-classified public source material) with contacts in her home country made her an “agent” of that country. The serious charges against her should be viewed in that context, which makes this case distinctly different from a typical section 951, “espionage-like or clandestine behavior” case.4

The lobbying included in Butina’s alleged crimes

To some extent, Driscoll is right: the government’s description of the allegations against Butina does focus closely on activity that might fall under FARA’s political activities (though, as noted, he cites a DOJ statement that suggests sections 611 and 951 are mutually exclusive, when by my understanding sections 611 can be a part of 951).

Many of the activities Butina is alleged to have done involve things that might be classified as lobbying. In her arrest affidavit, DOJ describes how Butina, with help from Paul Erickson, identified a network of influential Americans, including the NRA, to whom she could pitch closer relations with Russia. George O’Neill helped Butina set up a series of “friendship and dialogue” dinners. A number of her activities, such a publishing an article in The National Interest, are precisely the kinds of things FARA attempts to provide transparency on. This is where Driscoll gets his claim that Butina only “arrang[ed] dinners to promote better relations between Russia and the United States.”

Butina was directed by Aleksandr Torshin

A number of the allegations would support either a FARA or 951 violation.

The affidavit makes it clear she was following the directions of Aleksandr Torshin, the Deputy Governor of Russia’s Central Bank and as such an official representative of the government.

On the night of the election, for example, she asked for orders from Torshin, “I’m going to sleep. It’s 3 am here. I am ready for further orders.” The two moved to WhatsApp out of Torshin’s concern “all our phones are being listened to.” It’s clear, too, she and Torshin were hiding the role of the Russian government behind her actions. When she sent a report on a conference to establish a dialogue with US politicians, she said it “must be presented as a private initiative, not a government undertaking.”

The government even presented proof that Butina’s actions were approved by people close to Putin himself.

On March 14, 2016, Butina wrote O’Neill that what DOJ calls a  “representative of the Russian Presidential administration” had expressed approval “for building this communication channel,” suggesting she and Torshin had direct approval from Putin. “All we needed is <<yes>> from Putin’s side,” Butina explained to O’Neill.

With one exception, Driscoll largely offers bullshit in response to the government’s evidence she operated as a Russian government agent (indeed, his recognition that Butin advertised being Torshin’s special assistant on one of her business cards confirms that she continued to work for Torshin). He includes a letter of grad school recommendation for Butina for Columbia as proof of … it’s not clear what, particularly since Torshin includes his government affiliation on the letter.

Still: Paul Manafort was operating on behalf of a foreign government while Viktor Yanukovych remained in power, yet DOJ charged him with FARA, not section 951. The bar to meet foreignness under FARA is broader than it is under section 951, but lobbying for a foreign government can be sufficient to it. Yet Butina got charged under section 951, not FARA.

Paid by an oligarch

The exception to my claim that Driscoll offers little to rebut (in court filings — his statements to the press are another issue) that Butina was directed by the Russian government is the issue of her funding, which the government notes comes from an oligarch that Butina identified to the Senate Intelligence Committee as Konstantin Nikolaev.

Her Twitter messages, chat logs, and emails refer to a known Russian businessman with deep ties to the Russian Presidential Administration. This person often travels to the United States and has also been referred to as her “funder” throughout her correspondence; he was listed in Forbes as having a real-time net worth of $1.2 billion as of 2018. Immediately prior to her first trip to the United States in late 2014, Butina engaged in a series of text messages with a different wealthy Russian businessman regarding budgets for her trip to the United States and meetings with the aforementioned “funder.”

Driscoll points to this to disclaim a tie between her and the Russian state.

[T]he Russian Federation did not pay for her travel to the United States, her tuition, her living expenses, or make any payments to her at all.

This is actually an interesting point, because while FARA requires only that a person be working as an agent of a foreign principal (which might include, for example, an oligarch), section 951 requires that the agent be working on behalf of a foreign government. Butina no doubt still qualifies, given her tie to Torshin.

But particularly when comparing Manafort and Butina, both of whom worked at the border between laundered oligarch cash and government officials, the detail is of particular interest. If Russia outsources its intelligence operations to oligarchs (the Internet Research Agency’s Yevgeniy Prigozhin is another example), will that intelligence still qualify as spying under section 951?

In any case, thus far, the allegations against Butina and Manafort are fairly similar: both were hiding the fact that their political activities were backed by, and done in the interest of, Russian or Russian-backed entities.

The evidence for covert action

One area where Butina may go further than Manafort (at least for his pre-election work) is in the means by which she was trying to hide her work.

In spite of the great deal of publicity Butina made of her own actions — with all the pictures of her and powerful Republican men — the government affidavit also described Butina trying to set up (in her words) a “back channel” of communication with influential Americans.  On October 4, 2016, Erickson emailed a friend admitting he had “been involved in security a VERY private line of communication between the Kremlin and key [Republican] leaders through, of all conduits, the [NRA]. The affidavit describes Butina telling Torshin that her Russia-USA friendship society” is “currently ‘underground’ both here and there.” When discussing the list of delegates to the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast with Erickson in late November, she said the attendees were seeking to establish a “back channel of communication.”

Manafort was trying to hide that the lobbying he paid for was done for Yanukovych’s benefit, but there’s no allegation his pre-election work aimed to set up a secret channel of communication between Yanukovych and Congress.

Of particular interest, given the parallel efforts on voter suppression from Roger Stone and the Russians, Butina floated serving as an election observer. Torshin argued that “the risk of provocation is too high and the ‘media hype’ which comes after it.” But Butina argued she’d only do it incognito.

The honey pot claim

Then there’s the specific government insinuation that Butina was engaged in a honey pot operation. It substantiates this two ways — first, by suggesting she’s not that into Erickson.

Further, in papers seized by the FBI, Butina complained about living with U.S. Person 1 and expressed disdain for continuing to cohabitate with U.S. Person 1.

It also alleges she offered sex for favors.

For example, on at least one occasion, Butina offered an individual other than U.S. Person 1 sex in exchange for a position within a special interest organization.

Driscoll pretty convincingly argues the government misinterpreted this last bit.

The only evidence the government relied on for its explosive claim was an excerpt from an innocuous three-year-old text exchange (attached as Exhibit 3) sent in Russia between Ms. Butina and DK, her longtime friend, assistant, and public relations man for The Right to Bear Arms gun rights group that she founded.

DK, who often drove Ms. Butina’s car and thus was listed on the insurance, took the car for its annual government-required inspection and insurance renewal, and upon completion, texted (according to government translators), “I don’t know what you owe me for this insurance they put me through the wringer.” Ms. Butina jokingly replied, “Sex. Thank you so much. I have nothing else at all. Not a nickel to my name.” DK responded: “Ugh . . . ( ”—that is, with a sad face emoticon.

Aside from the fact that Maria is friends with DK’s wife and child and treats DK like a brother, the reference to sex is clearly a joke.

We still haven’t seen the government response to this, but what Driscoll presents does support his claim this is a “sexist smear.”

But Driscoll’s dismissal of the other claim — that Butina disdained living with Erickson — is far less convincing.

[I]n response to her girlfriend’s own complaints about her boyfriend’s failure to call in three weeks (accompanied by an angry face emoji) that Maria responds that her own boyfriend (Mr. Erickson) has been “bugging the sh*t out of me with his mom” and that she has “a feeling that I am residing in a nursing home.” “Send a link to the dating app[,]”

Driscoll spins this as an attack on Erickson’s now late mother, but doesn’t address the central allegation that she likened living with her much older boyfriend to living in a nursing home. Nor that she started the exchange by saying “let’s go have some fun with guys!!!” because she was “Bored. So there.” Furthermore, Butina seemed concerned that her use of Tinder would become public because she logged in using Facebook.

Though he has been sharing schmaltzy videos of Butina and Erickson with ABC, Driscoll also doesn’t address the fact that as early as May, Butina was proffering to flip on Erickson in fraud charges in South Dakota, which would have the effect of putting her in a position to negotiate permanent visa status independent of him, while limiting her own legal exposure.

A student visa or tourist one?

One key distinction between Manafort and Butina stems from the fact that she’s not a citizen.

The government’s detention motion also notes that Butina “use[d] deceit in a visa application.” They describe her attendance at American University as her cover, one she chose after rejecting carrying out the operation on tourist visas.

Butina chose a student visa from a range of options for her ultimate application, but not before a lengthy discussion of the risks associated with traveling to the United States repeatedly on a tourist visa. The FBI has discovered text messages and emails between U.S. Person 1 and Butina in which Butina would routinely ask U.S. Person 1 to help complete her academic assignments, by editing papers and answering exam questions. In other words, although she attended classes and completed coursework with outside help, attending American University was Butina’s cover while she continued to work on behalf of the Russian Official.

The government also notes that Butina claimed she was no longer employed by Torshin on her visa application. It points to her visa fraud as additional support that she did not intend to register as required by the law.

Butina entered the United States with the express purpose of working as part of a covert Russian influence campaign and did not disclose that fact—not on her visa application and not to the Attorney General.

Driscoll offers a narrow (and to my mind, unconvincing) defense, arguing the government hasn’t shown proof she lied on her form, when the claim is, instead, that intercepts show she applied for a student visa over a tourist visa because of the immigration advantages it offers.

[T]he government has also failed to provide any evidence to support its claim that Maria affirmatively lied on her application for a student visa should give this Court pause.

To be clear: this doesn’t mean Americans can’t be charged under section 951. In June, for example, DOJ charged Ron Rockwell Hansen under section 951 for spying for China.

But because Butina had to find a way to get and stay in the US, she had to game out the best way to do so, and that adds to the evidence that her entire purpose for being in the US is to push Russian policies. That is, it may be easier to charge a foreigner under section 951 because it often involves lying on visa forms.

Ongoing ties with Russian intelligence

Finally, there are ties with spooks.

The government alleges that Butina had ongoing ties with the Russian intelligence agencies, including a private meal with a suspected Russian intelligence operator, Oleg Zhiganov (whom Driscoll identified, to the government’s displeasure, to Politico).

FBI surveillance observed Butina in the company of a Russian diplomat in the weeks leading up to that official’s departure from the United States in March 2018. That Russian diplomat, with whom Butina was sharing a private meal, was suspected by the United States Government of being a Russian intelligence officer.

The government also cites from pointed to a conversation where Torshin likened Butina to Anna Chapman (see below) and argued that showed that Torshin treated her a covert spy. The government further points to a document suggesting she considered a job with FSB (though remains murky about other evidence that supports the claim).

Another document uncovered during the execution of a search warrant contained a hand-written note, entitled “Maria’s ‘Russian Patriots In-Waiting’ Organization,” and asking “How to respond to FSB offer of employment?” Based on this and other evidence, the FBI believes that the defendant was likely in contact with the FSB throughout her stay in the United States.

That said, the government also alleges that Manafort has had ongoing ties with Russian intelligence, in the form of Konstantin Kiliminik. So it’s not like ties to intelligence officers by itself merits a section 951 charge.

Recruiting assets

I suspect a key feature that may distinguish Butina from Manafort is that she had two Americans, Erickson and O’Neill, working with her. There’s even the allegation that she was seeking out time with JD Gordon in the lead-up to the election, suggesting she may have been recruiting assets within the new administration, an action akin to a formal spook. That is, she seems to have been recruiting agents.

That’s different from Manafort, employing a bunch of lobbyists (even while hiding some aspects of those engagements), because Manafort was hiring established professionals (or former European government officials).

I guess one question I have is whether the awareness of the recruitment targets is different.

Flight risk

While it matters little for the distinction between FARA and section 951, Driscoll suggests the fact that Butina hasn’t fled yet — notably did not in response to a report on her work — is proof she’s not an agent.

First, in February, 2017, the Daily Beast published an article about Maria, her connection to Aleksandr Torshin, her love of guns, and her activities in the United States, essentially alleging that her purpose in the United States might be to “infiltrate” American conservative political groups.13 If the government’s fanciful theory were correct, almost 18 month ago, Maria Butina was exposed, her handler identified, and her purpose in the United States published on the internet. She did not flee, visit the Russian Embassy, or make any effort to change her status as a student.

Curiously, he doesn’t address an intercept excerpted in the government’s detention motion, suggesting that in March 2017 there was an order against arresting her.

Specifically, in March 2017, after a series of media articles were published about Butina, the following conversation ensued:

Russian Official: Good morning! How are you faring there in the rays of the new fame?[] Are your admirers asking for your autographs yet? You have upstaged Anna Chapman. She poses with toy pistols, while you are being published with real ones. There are a hell of a lot of rumors circulating here about me too! Very funny!

[snip]

Butina: It’s the other thing that is important: evidently, there is an Order not to touch us. I believe it is a good sign.

Russian Official: For now – yes, but should things shift, then we are guaranteed a spot on the list of ‘agents of influence.” . . .

But as I noted, Butina’s flight risk would remain the same regardless of whether she had been charged with FARA or section 951.

Why Maria and not Manafort (yet)?

All of which raises a series of questions about what might distinguish Butina from Manafort:

  • How important is citizenship in this? And would dual citizenship — dual Russian Federation and US — change that? The government’s reliance on Butina’s alleged visa fraud would (and in other 951 cases has) have important repercussions for any subjects of the investigation who lied but have since obtained US citizenship.
  • Does who is paying for a person’s defense matter? Driscoll won’t say who is paying his bills, but neither do we know who is funding Manafort’s (thus far) much more expensive defense. In similar cases (such as Evgeny Buryakov, one of the spies who recruited Carter Page), the government filed for a Curcio hearing to make sure a person’s lawyer wasn’t representing the interests of the people paying his bills rather than the defendant, but in so doing proved that Buryakov was not a government agent. If a close Putin ally is paying for Manafort’s defense, does that change the calculus of who he’s working for?
  • At what point would obtaining useful information on political process in the US count as collecting intelligence? Manafort knows US politics better than almost anyone — he doesn’t need to recruit a source to learn that. Butina did. Does recruiting Erickson to learn about US politics amount to collecting intelligence?
  • Is beefed up FARA enforcement the proper tool to combat foreign influence operations, or is section 951, absent more covert operations, the way to go after foreign nationals engaging in influence operations?
  • Given how these two crimes might bleed into each other, are prosecutors threatening charges under section 951 to get pleas under FARA?
  • All this analysis is based off stuff Manafort did years ago, going back over a decade. It doesn’t address the stuff he is suspected of doing in during the 2016. For example, if Manafort was reporting back on an active Presidential campaign to Oleg Deripaska via suspected Russian intelligence agent Konstantin Kilimnik, is that a FARA violation, or a section 951 one? He got charged under FARA for his historic work. But I’m not sure his election-related work doesn’t pass the bar for a section 951 charge.

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. 

Those Sexy Details in the Papadopoulos Sentencing Memo Aren’t Intended for Your Consumption

In this post, I argued that George Papadopoulos’ sentencing memo was written to make a case to Donald Trump for a pardon, not to judge Randolph Moss for no prison time (even though that’s what he asks for).

It would follow logically, then, that the details of his testimony Papapdopoulos chose to highlight in a claim that “George provided investigators with critical information” — details that have attracted much of the press coverage of this memo — also aren’t intended for our benefit, but for Trump and other co-conspirators.

Jeff Sessions lies as much as “young George” Papadopoulos

Consider the one that has attracted the most attention, revealing that (according to Papadopoulos), he told the government that Trump approved of his plan to pursue a meeting with Putin and — even more importantly — Jeff “Sessions … appeared to like the idea.”

On March 31, 2016, he joined Mr. Trump, Senator Jeff Sessions, and other campaign officials for a “National Security Meeting” at the Trump Hotel. George’s photograph at this meeting flashed around the world via Twitter. Eager to show his value to the campaign, George announced at the meeting that he had connections that could facilitate a foreign policy meeting between Mr. Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. While some in the room rebuffed George’s offer, Mr. Trump nodded with approval and deferred to Mr. Sessions who appeared to like the idea and stated that the campaign should look into it.

At a minimum, after 11 months of being prevented from sharing this detail, including it here tells all the other co-conspirators what Papadopoulos said. The allegation is not new; at least two other participants in the meeting offered a similar version to Reuters in March (and presumably to the FBI before that). Still, Papadopoulos provides the detail in such a way and at such a time that it’s sure to generate pressure on Sessions, just as Trump is trying to convince Republican members of Congress he should fire the Attorney General. Not to mention that Papadopoulos raises an example of a person who has thus far avoided all consequences for lying in official settings.

The offer of emails came during a discussion finalizing a meeting

An even more delicious mention is the specific description Papadopoulos gives of the meeting at which Joseph Mifsud told him the Russians had Hillary emails they planned to release to help Trump.

George strived to organize a meeting with the Russian government and help the Trump campaign promote its foreign policy objective: improve U.S. and Russian relations. He believed that such a meeting would be a boon for the campaign as Mr. Trump had not yet hosted any major foreign policy events with officials from other countries.

George joined Professor Mifsud for breakfast in London on April 26, 2016, with the intention of finalizing plans for the foreign policy meeting. It was during this breakfast meeting, however, that Professor Mifsud told George that individuals in Moscow possessed “dirt” on candidate Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.” Not knowing what to make of this comment, George continued his efforts to make the Trump – Russia meeting a reality. [my emphasis]

Papadopoulos’ statement of the offense had made it clear that Mifsud mentioned the emails in the context of Papadopoulos’ efforts to set up a meeting.

On or about April 25, 2016, defendant PAPADOPOULOS emailed [Stephen Miller — see this story confirming Miller as the “Senior Policy Advisor” in the document]: “The Russian government has an open invitation by Putin for Mr. Trump to meet him when he is ready []. The advantage of being in London is that these governments tends to speak more openly in “neutral” cities.

On or about April 26, 2016, defendant PAPADOPOULOS met the Professor for breakfast at a London hotel. During this meeting, the Professor told defendant PAPADOPOULOS that he had just returned from a trip to Moscow where he had met with high-level Russian government officials. The Professor told defendant PAPADOPOULOS that on that trip he (the Professor) learned that the  Russians had obtained “dirt” on then-candidate Clinton. The Professor told defendant PAPADOPOULOS, as defendant PAPADOPOULOS later described to the FBI, that “They [the Russians] have dirt on her”; “the Russians had emails of Clinton”; “they have thousands of emails.”

[snip]

[T]he day after his meeting at the hotel with the Professor, on or about April 27, 2016, defendant PAPADOPOULOS emailed [Miller]: “Have some interesting messages coming in from Moscow about a trip when the time is right.”

Also on or about April 27, 2016, defendant PAPADOPOULOS emailed a [Corey Lewandowski] “to discuss Russia’s interest in hosting Mr. Trump. Have been receiving a lot of calls over the last month about Putin wanting to host him and the team when the time is right.”

The Schiff memo and Alexander Downer have subsequently added the detail that Mifsud specifically told Papadopoulos that, “the Russians might use material that they have on Hillary Clinton in the lead-up to the election, which may be damaging,” to assist Trump’s campaign.

Remember, Papadopoulos worked with Lewandowski to draft Trump’s first foreign policy speech, delivered on April 27, which Papadopoulos reportedly told Ivan Timofeev (whose entire existence Papadopoulos’ lies had managed to hide from the FBI at first) was a signal to meet. That speech included these lines:

I believe an easing of tensions, and improved relations with Russia from a position of strength only is possible, absolutely possible. Common sense says this cycle, this horrible cycle of hostility must end and ideally will end soon. Good for both countries.

Some say the Russians won’t be reasonable. I intend to find out. If we can’t make a deal under my administration, a deal that’s great — not good, great — for America, but also good for Russia, then we will quickly walk from the table. It’s as simple as that. We’re going to find out.

Obviously, the tie between Russia releasing stolen emails and foreign policy meetings was always implicit. But Papadopoulos has just revealed that Mifsud said Russia might release emails in the context of setting up a meeting, after having floated such a meeting with Miller the day before.

The breakfast meeting ties the release of the stolen emails to help the Trump campaign and foreign policy meetings together directly. And having just sat through such a meeting, Papadopoulos worked with Stephen Miller and Corey Lewandowski to send a message to Russian that Trump was willing to meet — and would pursue improved relations with Russia.

Papadopoulos tells the Greeks of the dirt offer just in time to pass Putin a message

I’m most interested, however, in the inclusion of Papadopoulos’ admission he told the Greek Foreign Minister about the Russian offer of dirt just before Putin came to town on May 27, 2016.

George provided investigators with critical information. George told investigators about his interactions and meetings with other members of the campaign. He detailed a meeting in late May 2016 where he revealed to the Greek Foreign Minister that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. He explained that this meeting took place days before President Vladimir Putin traveled to Greece to meet with Greek officials.

Remember, Natalia Veselnitskaya dates the idea for the June 9 meeting to a conversation she had with Aras Agalarov at “the end of May” 2016.

Around the end of May 2016, during a conversation with a good acquaintance of mine, being my client, Aras Agalarov on a topic that was not related to the United States, I shared the story faced when defending another client, Denis Katsyv, about how terribly misled the US Congress had been by the tax defrauder William Browder, convicted in Russia, who, through his lobbyists and his close-minded rank-and-file Congress staffers, succeeded in adopting the Act in the name of a person whom Browder practically hardly ever knew. I considered it my duty to inform the Congress people about it and asked Mr. Agalarov if there was any possibility of helping me or my colleagues to do this. I do not remember who of us was struck by the idea that maybe his son could talk about this with Donald Trump, Jr., who, although a businessman, was sure to have some acquaintances among Congress people.

But it’s not just the tantalizing possibility that Papadopoulos left some kind of message for Putin just before Aras Agalarov started setting up the June 9 meeting.

Papadopoulos’ statement of the offense describes him emailing Paul Manafort about Russia’s desire to set up a meeting, which Manafort forwarded to the government’s most important now cooperating witness, Rick Gates, telling him that the candidate wasn’t going to do such meetings himself — someone else in the campaign would.

On or about May 21, 2016, defendant PAPADOPOULOS emailed another high-ranking Campaign official, with the subject line “Request from Russia to meet Mr. Trump.” The email included the May 4 MFA Email and added: “Russia has been eager to meet Mr. Trump for quite sometime and have been reaching out to me to discuss.”2

2 The government notes that the official forwarded defendant PAPADOPOULOS’s email to another Campaign official (without including defendant PAPADOPOULOS) and stated:

“Let[‘]s discuss. We need someone to communicate that DT is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal.”

The House Intelligence Majority Report, however, reveals that that Papadopolous sent that email from Greece.

(U) While on a trip to Athens, Greece in May 2016, Papadopoulos sent an email to Manafort stating that he expected to soon receive “an official invitation for Mr. Trump to visit Greece sometime this summer should his schedule allow.”183 In the same email to Manafort, Papadopoulos also forwarded a meeting Invitation from Ivan Timofeev, Director or [sic] Programs for the Russian International Affairs Council, and claimed that “Russia has been eager to meet Mr. Trump for quite sometime and have been reaching out to me to discuss. thought it would be prudent to send to you.”184

(U) As of May 2016, Manafort had not yet been elevated to campaign chairman, but had a long track record of work abroad. Manafort forwarded Papadopoulos’ email to his business and campaign deputy [Rick Gates] noting that we need someone to communicate that D[onald] T[rump] is not doing these trips.” 185 Manafort and [Gates] agreed to assign a response of a “general letter” to “our correspondence coordinator.” the person responsible for “responding to all mail of non-importance.”186

While it’s clear nothing in that email could have reflected a discussion of passing a message to Putin via Papadopoulos’ Greek contacts, it does show that Papadopoulos used the opportunity of a verbal offer from Greece to raise a Russian meeting with Manafort directly. Manafort responded by saying other campaign aides would do such meetings. Papadopoulos then somehow saw reason to tell Greece’s Foreign Minister that the Russians were offering dirt to help Trump just before Putin arrived. And that’s precisely the timeframe when the June 9 meeting setting up a Russian meeting with Trump’s senior-most campaign officials, including Manafort, got born.

Maybe it’s all a big fat coinkydink, but Papadopoulos seems to believe it important enough to tell all his co-conspirators (even while it makes his repeated claims not to have told the campaign itself laughable), possibly because he knows the FBI has evidence from the Greeks as well.

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. 

“Young George” Papadopoulos Wants “Mercy and Compassion” (from Trump) for Something He Believes Is Treason

George Papadopoulos submitted his sentencing memo last night. Rather than writing an honest sentencing memo, he’s still working with co-conspirators, in this case, in hopes of getting a pardon from Trump. Reading it, I’d be shocked if the government doesn’t charge him as a knowing participant whenever they drop the conspiracy indictment.

Papadopoulos claims he told two other countries Russia was dealing stolen emails, but not his bosses

The most important sentences in the sentencing memo — which have no purpose in an actual sentencing memo — are his revelations that he kept denying that he had told the campaign that Russia was planning on releasing emails stolen from Hillary.

He told the agents he was unaware of anyone in the campaign knowing of the stolen Hillary Clinton emails prior to the emails being publicly released.

[snip]

If investigators wished to know what George did with the information from Professor Mifsud, they could have asked George during his interview. Indeed, they did ask if George provided the information to the campaign and George denied ever doing so. In his later proffer sessions, George reiterated that he does not recall ever passing the information along to the campaign.

The introduction to the second of these mentions in fact serves no other purpose than to provide an excuse to repeat, again, in case Trump missed it the first time, that Papadopoulos lied and continued to lie about telling the campaign about the emails.

Rick Gates (among others) has surely told the FBI this is a lie, but Papadopolous repeats the lies for Trump’s benefit.

And Papadopoulos makes this claim in spite of the fact that he casually told Alexander Downer about Russia dealing stolen emails and, in the memo, he admits he also told the Greek Foreign Minister.

He detailed a meeting in late May 2016 where he revealed to the Greek Foreign Minister that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. He explained that this meeting took place days before President Vladimir Putin traveled to Greece to meet with Greek officials.

So for the entire month of May, Papadopoulos was telling complete strangers about Russia dealing stolen Hillary emails. And yet, even though he professes to have “unbridled loyalty” to the Trump campaign, at a time he was thrilled that “his career [was] skyrocketing to unimaginable heights” and “gidd[y] over Mr. Trump’s recognition,” he didn’t tell any of those people on the campaign with whom he was currying favor.

Again, the notice that he always denied telling the campaign about Russia’s offer of stolen emails has no purpose in a sentencing memo designed as a sentencing memo. The FBI knows he continued to claim he didn’t tell the campaign. The judge — the one legally entrusted to sentence Papadopolous, anyway — has no need to know it. Trump, on the other hand, surely wants to know it.

Ten pages, of which three are drivel

And Trump is presumably the only audience Papadopolous cares about with this memo, or he would have spent more time talking about the case (indeed, he would have made an effort to be honest) and less time spouting drivel. Much of the first three pages, for example, lead up to a request for probation served with platitudes like this:

It is essential that a court’s sentencing decision be informed and guided by the fundamental doctrines of mercy and compassion. See United States v. Blarek, 7 F.Supp.2d 192, 210 (E.D.N.Y. 1998). While these principles are not specifically delineated as rationales for sentencing, they are evidenced by the federal sentencing statute’s mandate that the court impose the lowest possible punishment to accomplish the goals of sentencing.

Papadopoulos does this without making an honest case about his conduct, but I guess it makes sense to start pitching Trump with a request for mercy.

Even Papadopoulos’ narrative about Sergei Millian is (necessarily) bogus

A key part of Papadopoulos’ bogus narrative is that he lied about Mifsud, in part, because FBI Agents started his interview by telling him they wanted to ask him some questions about Sergei Millian (even while making it clear that the FBI correctly linked his relationship with Millian with his earlier interactions with Mifsud).

The agents asked George to accompany them to their office to answer a “couple questions” regarding “a guy in New York that you might know[,] [t]hat has recently been in the news.” George thought the agents wanted to ask him about Russian businessman Sergei Millian. Wanting clarification, he asked the agents, “…just so I understand, I’m going there to answer questions about this person who I think you’re talking about.” The agents assured George that the topic of discussion was Mr. Millian who had been trending in the national media.

[snip]

The FBI agent confirmed that the Sergei Millian inquiry was just a ruse to get him in a room when he told George that:

… the reason we wanted to pull you in today and have that conversation because we wanted to know to the extent of your knowledge being an insider inside that small group of people that were policy advisors who, if anybody, has that connection with Russia and what, what sort of connections there were.

For the next two hours, George answered questions about Professor Mifsud, Olga, Carter Page, Sergei Millian and the “Trump Dossier,” and George’s interactions with other people working on the campaign.

He claims — impossibly — that he answered their questions about Millian honestly.

Seemingly as promised, the agents began their questioning about George’s relationship with Sergei Millian. George knew Mr. Millian only as a businessman pitching an opportunity to George in his personal capacity. The agents asked how they first met, what they discussed, how often they talked or met in person, if George knew whether Mr. Millian was connected to Russia or a foreign intelligence service, and who else on Mr. Trump’s campaign may have been in contact with Mr. Millian. George answered their questions honestly.

I can say with confidence that he didn’t answer them truthfully, first of all, because Millian’s business pitch was not limited to “his personal capacity.” As Simona blabbed to the press, Millian had already tied financial offers to Papadopoulos’ access to Trump.

According to Simona Mangiante, whose husband George Papadopoulos briefly served on the Trump campaign as a foreign policy advisor, Millian offered Papadopoulos a $30,000 monthly retainer on the condition he remain attached to the campaign. Papadopoulos declined, she said.

Millian wanted to pay Papadopoulos money as one entree into the Trump Administration.

More importantly, Papadopoulos couldn’t have answered truthfully because, in both his interviews with the FBI, Papadopoulos hid the conversation he had on Facebook with Ivan Timofeev about Millian, something the FBI noted on his arrest affidavit.

“If you know any background of him that is noteworthy before I see him, kindly send my way.”

Indeed, after his second interview, Papadopoulos deleted his Facebook account, in an apparent attempt to hide his relationship with Timofeev entirely, something he doesn’t mention at all in the sentencing memo.

The somersaults about Papadopoulos’ motive

The sentencing memo is perhaps most interesting in its presentation of Papadopoulos’ motive, in which he continues the line Simona has been feeding to the press that he didn’t have corrupt motive in lying to the FBI. Remember that one of the few things he told Stefan Halper in September 2016 is that he believed being involved in the hack targeting Hillary amounted to treason (I don’t agree). If that’s remotely true, when the FBI first revealed they knew he had been told about the emails, he would have been worried about going to prison for a very long time (something he may yet manage).

Instead of admitting that, Papadopoulos describes telling the lies about Mifsud because he was trying to “distance” those activities from Trump.

George found himself personally conflicted during the interrogation as he felt obligated to assist the FBI but also wanted to distance himself and his work on the Trump campaign from that investigation.

[snip]

In his answers, George falsely distanced his interactions with these players from his campaign work.

The problem with this claim is that both before and after they asked about Mifsud, he told the FBI he was concerned about how talking to them would jeopardize his chances of getting a job with Trump.

En route to the FBI office, George voiced concern about the repercussions of his cooperation ever becoming public because the Wall Street Journal had just reported that Sergei Millian was a key source in the “Trump Dossier” controversy. George explained that he was in discussions with senior Trump administration officials about a position and the last thing he wanted was “something like this” casting the administration in a bad light.

[snip]

At one point, George told the agents that he did not want to “get too in-depth” because he did not know what it would mean for his professional future. He told the agents he was “trying to help the country and you guys, but I don’t want to jeopardize my career.”

In the motive section of the memo, Papadopolous pitches this as the “personal reason” of getting a job. But in the intro, Papadopoulos is more honest, including that detail but also admitting he lied because of “loyalty to his master.”

The Government’s claim, however, that Mr. Papadopoulos intended that his false statements harm the investigation is speculative and contrary to the evidence. His motives for lying to the FBI were wrongheaded indeed but far from the sinister spin the Government suggests. Caught off-guard by an impromptu interrogation, Mr. Papadopoulos misled investigators to save his professional aspirations and preserve a perhaps misguided loyalty to his master. [my emphasis]

The phrase suggests to Trump that he feels his lies have not been rewarded (yet), even while making it clear that (contrary to the way he spins it in this memo) he was doing it to protect Trump.

There are, as I’ll note in a follow-up, several interesting details (presumably offered to tell his co-conspirators what damaging information he did provide to the government) that only make it clearer that Papadopoulos was, and knows he was, a participant in the conspiracy.

But the overall purpose of this sentencing memo is to communicate to Trump that he’s still a loyal member of the conspiracy.

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. 

Among Other Things, Sam Patten Plea Signals that Mueller Referrals Will Include False Congressional Testimony

As I noted in an update to this post, another sleazy influence peddler, Sam Patten, just pled guilty to a FARA violation. As his criminal information lays out, he pled to serving as an agent of Konstantin Kilimnik and Serhiy Lyovochkin without registering under FARA. His plea agreement (which notes he first made a proffer to Mueller’s team on May 22, meaning this is another investigation that has been going on months that is being finalized in the last days of August) included a cooperation agreement.

More interesting details, however, are the descriptions of the other crimes he is being excused from, which appear in the statement of the offense.

First, there’s a description of how he served as a straw purchaser for Lyovochkin for inauguration tickets.

To circumvent the foreign donation restriction, PATTEN, with the knowledge of Foreigner A, solicited a United States citizen to act as a “straw” purchaser so that he could conceal from the [Presidential Inauguration Committee] that the tickets for the inauguration were being paid for from a foreign source. The straw purchaser paid $50,000 for four inauguration tickets. The straw purchaser paid that sum one day after receiving from [Begemot Ventures] a check signed by PATTEN in the sum of $50,000. In turn, [Lyovochkin] had paid [Begemot] for the tickets though a Cypriot account. [Kilimnik and Lyovochkin] another Ukrainian, and PATTEN were allocated the four inauguration tickets. Thereafter, PATTEN attended a PIC even in Washington, D.C. with Foreigner B.

I suspect we’ll see a lot more straw purchasers funneling money from foreigners who backed his campaign into Donald Trump’s pocket before this investigation is done.

Less sexy, but procedurally more important, is the revelation that Patten also lied to SSCI.

In or about January 2018, the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) sought PATTEN’s voluntary testimony on various topics. In advance of that testimony, the SSCI sought various pertinent documents from PATTEN.

In or about January 2018, PATTEN testified before the SSCI. Both before and during his testimony, PATTEN misled the SSCI in that he intentionally did not provide SSCI certain documents that could lead to revelation of him causing and concealing the foreign purchase of the PIC tickets, described about, and gave false and misleading testimony to avoid disclosing that he had caused and concealed foreign money to be paid to the PIC. In addition, PATTEN provided misleading testimony about his representation of foreign principals in the United States, so as to conceal his violation of the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Finally, after the interview, PATTEN deleted documents pertinent to his relationships with the above-described foreign principals.

As noted, this is one of the additional crimes that Patten will avoid being charged for by pleading to the FARA charge. Reportedly, SSCI made its own criminal referral, based off different comments.

All of this might concern people like Don Jr, who pretty clearly lied to multiple committees. Because it shows Mueller will use such crimes for leverage.

But Mueller probably has bigger things planned for Don Jr.

Update: This is speculation. But SSCI has released a statement making it clear that they referred Patten, but for statements other than what made it into his plea.

We can confirm that Mr. Patten produced documents to the Committee and was interviewed by Committee staff. Due to concerns about certain statements made by Mr. Patten, the Committee made a criminal referral to the Department of Justice. While the charge, and resultant plea, do not appear to directly involve our referral, we appreciate their review of this matter. We will have no further comments on this case at this time.

One thing SSCI has investigated closely is Cambridge Analytica. One thing this plea is utterly silent about is Patten’s work for CA in 2014.

Which would make the topic an even more interesting thing for Patten to cooperate on (without protection against prosecution) than just straw donors.

Update: On Twitter, Christopher Wylie said,

BREAKING: Ex-Cambridge Analytica contractor Sam Patten just charged by FBI after Mueller referral. This guy was responsible for CA operations in the US that involved covertly testing US voter attitudes on Putin’s leadership… I know there’s more to come…

In his testimony to SJC, he said,

Other CA contractors have worked on pro-Russian political operations in Eastern Europe, including work in Ukraine with suspected Russian intelligence agents. This may have influenced some of CA’s research in the USA. During its research projects in 2014, CA also set up focus groups, message testing and polling on Americans’ views on the leadership of Vladimir Putin and Russian expansionism in Eastern Europe. Of note, Vladimir Putin was the only foreign leader tested by CA.

He also told SJC he was cooperating with FBI, so he presumably made this same claim to FBI under threat of false statements charges.

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.

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