Incidental Collection Under Section 702 Has Probably Contributed to Trump’s Downfall, Too

As you’ve no doubt heard, the House passed the bad reauthorization to Section 702 yesterday. The Senate will vote on cloture on Tuesday — though both Rand Paul and Ron Wyden have threatened to filibuster it — and will almost certainly be voted into law after that.

I’ll have comment later on the rising costs, for politicians, for mindlessly reauthorizing these bills in a follow-up post.

Paul Ryan told President Trump Section 702 hasn’t affected his people

But for the moment, I want to comment on the debate that took place in response to Trump’s two tweets. The first tweet, which was clearly a response to a Judge Napolitano piece on Fox News yesterday morning, complaining about FISA.

Then, after a half hour lesson from Paul Ryan on the different FISA regimes (note, for some reason Devin Nunes was conspicuously absent from much of this process yesterday, both the coddling of the President and managing debate on the bill), a follow-up tweet hailing Section 702’s utility for “foreign surveillance of foreign bad guys on foreign land.”

In response to those tweets, many commenters stated, as a matter of fact, that Trump hasn’t been impacted by Section 702, that only traditional FISA intercepts drove key developments in the Russian investigation.

That’s unlikely to be true, and I suspect we already have evidence that that’s not the case.

It is true that incidental collection on a Title I got Mike Flynn in trouble

To defend the case that incidental collection off a traditional FISA order has impacted Trump’s administration, people point to the December 29, 2016 intercepts of communications between Sergey Kislyak and Mike Flynn which were cited in Flynn’s guilty plea. It is true that those intercepts were done under a traditional FISA order. Admiral Mike Rogers as much as confirmed that last March in his efforts to explain basic FISA law to the House Intelligence Committee Republicans who are supposed to oversee it.

Rogers: FISA collection on targets in the United States has nothing to do with 702, I just want to make sure we’re not confusing the two things here. 702 is collection overseas against non US persons.

And Speaker Ryan, fresh off his efforts to teach the President basic surveillance law, yesterday clarified — inaccurately — that,

Title 1 of the FISA law is what you see in the news that applies to U.S. citizens. That’s not what we’re talking about here. This is Title 7, Section 702. This is about foreign terrorists on foreign soil.

Whatever the facts about FISA orders targeting Carter Page and Paul Manafort, the intercepts that have done the most known damage to the Trump Administration so far targeted a foreigner on US soil, Sergey Kislyak, and Flynn just got picked up incidentally.

Papadopoulos’ affidavit and statement of offense make different claims about his false claims and obstruction

But as I said, I suspect it is highly likely the Trump Administration has also been brought down by an American being caught up incidentally in a Section 702 tasking. That’s because of several details pertaining to the George Papadopoulos plea which I nodded to here; they strongly suggest that Papadopoulos’ Facebook communications with Joseph Mifsud were first obtained by the FBI via Section 702, and only subsequently parallel constructed using a warrant. It’s further likely that the FBI obtained a preservation order on Papadopoulos’ Facebook account before he deleted it because of what they saw via Section 702. [Update: KC has alerted me that they may not have gotten a preservation order, but instead were able to access the Facebook account because that content doesn’t all go away when you deactivate an account, which is what the October 5 document describes as happening.]

Compare the two descriptions of how Papadopoulos obstructed justice. The July 28, 2017 affidavit supporting Papadopoulos’ arrest describes Papadopoulos destroying his Facebook account to hide conversations he had with Timofeev.

The next day, on or about February 17, 2017, however, GEORGE PAPADOPOULOS, the defendant, shut down his Facebook account, which he had maintained since approximately August 2005. Shortly after he shut down his account, PAPADOPOULOS created a new Facebook account.

The Facebook account that PAPADOPOULOS shut down the day after his interview with the FBI contained information about communications he had with Russian nationals and other foreign contacts during the Campaign, including communications that contradicted his statements to the FBI. More specifically, the following communications, among others, were contained in that Facebook account, which the FBI obtained through a judicially authorized search warrant.

The affidavit makes it clear that Papadopoulos attempted to hide “his interactions during the Campaign with foreign contacts, including Russian nationals.” The descriptions of the communications that Papadopoulos attempted to hide are described as “a Facebook account identified with Foreign Contact 2,” Timofeev.

The FBI recorded both interviews, suggesting they already by January 27 they had reason to worry that Papadopoulos might not tell the truth.

The October 5 statement of the offense describes one of Papadopoulos’ false statements this way:

PAPADOPOULOS failed to inform investigators that the Professor had introduced him to the Russian MFA Connection [Timofeev], despite being asked if he had met with Russian nationals or “[a]nyone with a Russian accent” during the Campaign. Indeed, while defendant PAPADOPOULOS told the FBI that he was involved in meetings and did “shuttle diplomacy” with officials from several other countries during the Campaign, he omitted the entire course of conduct with the Professor and the Russian MFA Connection regarding his efforts to establish meetings between the Campaign and Russian government officials.

And it describes his obstruction this way:

The next day, on or about February 17, 2017, defendant PAPADOPOULOS deactivated his Facebook account, which he had maintained since approximately August 2005 and which contained information about communications he had with the Professor and the Russian MFA Connection. Shortly after he deactivated his account, PAPADOPOULOS created a new Facebook account that did not contain the communications with the Professor and the Russian MFA Connection.

On or about February 23, 2017, defendant PAPADOPOULOS ceased using his cell phone number and began using a new number.

In neither document does FBI mention having the content of Papadopoulos’ April 2016 Skype calls with Timofeev and neither one cites data — such as texts — that might have been on his cell phone.

What FBI (probably) learned when

While we can’t be sure — after all, the government may simply be withholding more information from other suspects — the differences between the two legal filings and other public information suggest the following evolution in what the government knew of Papadopoulous’ communications with his interlocutors when. Most importantly, the FBI had learned of Papadopoulos’ communications with Joseph Mifsud and Olga Vinogradova before his two interviews, but they had not learned of his communications with Ivan Timofeev.

Late July 2016

In a drunken conversation in May 2016, Papadopoulos told the Australian Ambassador Alexander Downer that he had been told (by Joseph Mifsud, but it’s not clear Papadopoulos would have revealed that) the Russians had dirt on Hillary in the form of emails.

Before January 27, 2017

  • Papadopoulos might lie and so should be recorded
  • Papadopoulos had interesting communications with Joseph Mifsud and Olga Vinogradova
  • Since Timofeev did not come up in the interview, FBI appears not to have learned of those conversations yet

Before February 16, 2017

  • Papadopoulos’ Facebook was interesting enough to sustain a preservation request but (because FBI still didn’t know about Timofeev) FBI had not yet accessed its content via Papadopoulos [Though see update above]
  • FBI had not yet accessed Skype, which would have shown call records between Timofeev and Papadopoulos
  • FBI did not have a warrant on Papadopoulos’ phone and never obtained one before February 23

By July 28, 2017

  • FBI had obtained a warrant for Papadopoulos’ email
  • FBI had read the Facebook content Papadopoulos tried to delete, discovering the communications (and the relationship) with Timofeev
  • FBI had identified the Skype conversations that had taken place, but not in time to collect them using 702

By October 5, 2017

  • FBI had obtained far more email from the campaign side
  • FBI had discovered that, in addition to destroying his Facebook account, Papadopoulos had also gotten a new phone number (and, I suspect, a new phone), thereby destroying any stored texts on the phone

FBI probably tracked Papadopoulos’ Facebook communications with Mifsud before February 16

Again, this is just a guess, but given the evolution of FBI’s understanding about Papadopoulos laid out above, it seems highly likely that FBI had obtained some (but not all) of Mifsud’s communications before February 16, had submitted preservation requests to Papadopoulos’ providers, but had not yet obtained any legal process for content via Papadopoulos. Given that Papadopoulos’ Facebook content was preserved even in spite of his effort to destroy it, it seems clear the government had reason to know its content was of interest, but it did not yet know about his Facebook communications with Timofeev. This is how FBI routinely launders Section 702 information through criminal process, by getting a warrant for the very same content available at PRISM providers that they already obtained via PRISM. They key detail is that they appear to have known about the content of some but not all of Papadopoulos’ Facebook messages in time to preserve the account before February 16.

This strongly suggests the FBI had obtained Mifsud’s Facebook content, but not Papadopoulos’.

Once FBI opened a full investigation into the Russian ties — which we know they did in late July, in part because of that Papadopoulos conversation about the Mifsud comments — it could task and obtain a raw feed of any known PRISM account for any foreigner overseas associated with that investigation. Once it identified Mifsud as Papadopoulos’ interlocutor — and they would have been able to identify their common relationship from their common front organization, the London Centre of International Law Practice — they would have tasked Mifsud on any identifier they could collect.

And collecting on Facebook would be child’s play — just ask nicely. So it would be shocking if they hadn’t done it as soon as they identified that Mifsud was Papadopoulos’ interlocutor and that he had a Facebook account.

Incidental collection under 702 may have led to the preservation of evidence about the Timofeev relationship Papadopoulos tried to destroy

If all this is right — and it is admittedly just a string of well-educated guesses — then it means FBI’s ability to incidentally collect on Papapdopoulos by targeting Mifsud may have been what led them to take action to preserve Papadopoulos’ Facebook content, and with it evidence of ongoing communications with Timofeev that he had tried to hide.

And the fact that he did try to hide it is what led to Mueller flipping his first cooperating witness.

So if all this is right, then incidental collection on Papadopoulos under Section 702 may be every bit as central to Trump’s legal jeopardy right now as the incidental collection on Flynn under Title I. They’re both critical pieces in proving any hypothetical case that Trump traded policy considerations for the release of Hillary emails.

This is how Section 702 is supposed to work, and could be done under USA Rights

Let me be clear: I’m not saying the discovery of Papadopoulos’ Facebook communications with Mifsud and through them his Facebook communications with Timofeev is an abuse. On the contrary, this is how 702 is supposed to work.

If we’re going to have this program, it should be used to target suspect agents of a foreign power located overseas, as Mifsud clearly was. If he was targeted under 702, he was targeted appropriately.

But there is no reason to believe doing so required any of the more abusive uses of 702 that USA Rights would limit. Unless Mifsud was already tasked at FBI when they opened the investigation in July 2016, there’s no reason to believe this account could have been found off of a back door search at FBI. Mifsud may have been tasked at NSA or even CIA, but if he was, searching on Papadopoulos because the government suspected he was being recruited by a foreign power would fall under known justifications for back door searches at those foreign intelligence agencies (especially at CIA).

USA Rights would permit the use of this 702 information to support the criminal case against Papadopoulos, because it’s clearly a case of foreign government spying.

And no use of the Tor exception would be implicated with this search.

In other words, Section 702 as Ron Wyden and Rand Paul and Justin Amash and Zoe Lofgren would have it would still permit the use of Section 702 as a tool to — ultimately — lead FBI to figure out that Papadopoulos was hiding his contacts with Ivan Timofeev.

As it turns out, the kinds of people Trump’s foreign policy advisor George Papadopoulos was chatting up on Facebook — Joseph Mifsud and Ivan Timofeev — are precisely the kind of people the FBI considers “foreign bad guys on foreign land” for the purposes of Section 702, meaning the Bureau could get their Facebook account quite easily.

And the incidental collection of Americans of such conversations can be — may well have been — as dangerous to Donald Trump as the incidental collection of Americans under Title I.

Stephen Miller Claims that Trump’s Russian Investigation Line Was a Disclaimer

In this post, I noted that Trump (in his interview with the WSJ) appears to believe asking for and getting a letter from Rod Rosenstein justifying Jim Comey’s firing is proof that his firing of Comey wasn’t obstruction of justice. I suggested that that argument may have been planned from the start — and noted the proximity of that argument to the claim, which we know Jared Kushner provided, that Democrats would be thrilled by Comey’s firing.

Having suggested that there was more of a plan behind the orchestrated firing of Comey than we might imagine, I want to return to the Jake Tapper interview with Stephen Miller on Sunday.

Tapper asked Miller about his role in writing the initial draft of the letter that fired Comey, which NYT reported on this way:

Mr. McGahn successfully blocked the president from sending the letter — which Mr. Trump had composed with Stephen Miller, one of the president’s top political advisers — to Mr. Comey. But a copy was given to the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, who then drafted his own letter. Mr. Rosenstein’s letter was ultimately used as the Trump administration’s public rationale for Mr. Comey’s firing, which was that Mr. Comey had mishandled the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private email server.

Mr. Rosenstein is overseeing Mr. Mueller’s investigation into Russian efforts to disrupt last year’s presidential election, as well as whether Mr. Trump obstructed justice.

Mr. McGahn’s concerns about Mr. Trump’s letter show how much he realized that the president’s rationale for firing Mr. Comey might not hold up to scrutiny, and how he and other administration officials sought to build a more defensible public case for his ouster.

[snip]

Mr. Trump ordered Mr. Miller to draft a letter, and dictated his unfettered thoughts. Several people who saw Mr. Miller’s multi-page draft described it as a “screed.”

Mr. Trump was back in Washington on Monday, May 8, when copies of the letter were handed out in the Oval Office to senior officials, including Mr. McGahn and Vice President Mike Pence. Mr. Trump announced that he had decided to fire Mr. Comey, and read aloud from Mr. Miller’s memo.

Some present at the meeting, including Mr. McGahn, were alarmed that the president had decided to fire the F.B.I. director after consulting only Ms. Trump, Mr. Kushner and Mr. Miller. Mr. McGahn began an effort to stop the letter or at least pare it back.

[snip]

Rosenstein was given a copy of the original letter and agreed to write a separate memo for Mr. Trump about why Mr. Comey should be fired.

In the interview with Tapper, Miller claimed that the key claim the NYT said got removed — about Comey thrice telling Trump he wasn’t personally under investigation — was actually in the final letter.

Tapper: According to the New York Times, Special Counsel Robert Mueller has, in his possession, an early draft of a letter that you helped write, in May 2017, detailing reasons to fire FBI Director James Comey. According to the newspaper, the first line of the letter mentions the Russia investigation. Did you write a letter outlining the reasons to fire Comey and list the Russia investigation. Is that true?

Miller: Here’s the problem with what you’re saying: the final draft of the letter the one that was made —

Tapper: I’m not talking about that one, I’m talking about the one that Comey [sic] has that mentions Russia —

Miller: If you want to have an answer to your question and not to get hysterical, then I’ll answer it. The final draft of the letter has the same line about the fact that there is a Trump-Russia investigation that this has nothing to do with.

Tapper: So it was just moved from the top to the bottom.

Miller: No. No! Look at the letter. It’s at the beginning. The investigation is referenced at the beginning of the final letter that was released to point out about the fact that notwithstanding, having been informed that there’s no investigation, that the um, the move that is happening is completely unrelated to that. So it was a disclaimer. It appeared in the final version of the letter that was made public.

Here’s the letter Trump sent to fire Comey. The passage Miller must be talking about reads,

While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.

That’s the passage that was so confounding when we all read that in real time.

And while I’m not prepared to believe Miller that that is the totality of the reference to Russia in the original letter — after all, this doesn’t even mention Russia — what I do think Miller provided proof for on national TV is that the connotation of that sentence changed from first to second draft, and in a way that he, Kushner, and Don McGahn all surely recognize.

In the first letter, according to McGahn and others, the “screed” listed the Russia investigation as a reason to fire Comey. Here, according to the guy who drafted it, it is meant to serve as a disclaimer, a denial that this firing was about the Russia investigation.

And that’s what Miller surely told Mueller’s investigators.

No wonder he kept ranting and had to be escorted off Tapper’s set. He just revealed, for everyone, how this second letter was designed to be misleading.

In the last week, Miller and Trump have told CNN and WSJ, respectively, about their cover-up.

Update: I forgot to reference this language from the NYT’s latest. The line originally said that the investigation was“fabricated and politically motivated.” If that reporting is correct then they also changed the wording of the reference to the investigation.

Trump’s Obstruction Defense: Rod Rosenstein Wrote a Letter

The WSJ has posted a transcript of their interview with Trump.

I think it shows how he plans (and may have planned, from the start) to defend against obstruction charges: by noting that Rod Rosenstein, in his letter supporting Comey’s firing, said stronger things against Comey than Trump did.

He returned to this idea three times in the interview. First, after WSJ first noted that Mueller may be looking at obstruction charges.

TRUMP: There has never been, in the history — in the history of an administration anybody that was more open than we were. You understand that?

WSJ: Yes.

TRUMP: We gave them everything. We didn’t go to court and say, “You can’t have this document, you can’t have” — and what we gave them showed — I never got a phone call from Russia. I didn’t have a tweet. I didn’t have a — I had nothing. I didn’t have an email. I didn’t have a meeting. I didn’t have — did I have one meeting with — about Russia? And…

WSJ: Well, Mueller’s also looking at some other areas, right? Like obstruction of justice…

TRUMP: Well allow — let me — (inaudible). So, they make up a crime, and the crime doesn’t exist. And then they say obstruction. And how could there be obstruction on firing Comey? When the man who’s in charge of it wrote a letter that was far stronger than anything I would have written. He was in charge — Deputy Rosenstein. He wrote a letter that’s far stronger than even what I say.

Again, after ranting a bit about how badly the Democrats once wanted Comey fired.

All you have to do is take a look, seriously – take a look at all these people, they all wanted him fired. And the FBI was a mess. When he announced the Hillary Clinton fiasco where she was guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty and then where they did the interview with no tape recorder, with no swearing in, with no this, with no that – you know the story.

But take a look at all of these people that became critics of my firing (ph), they all wanted him fired. And they wanted him fired until I said, “he’s fired.” But the deputy, Rosenstein, who is in charge, he wrote a letter that was possibly or probably stronger than anything I would have written or did write.

Then he returns to it just as WSJ tries to get him to shift to talking about infrastructure.

WSJ: (Inaudible) infrastructure (inaudible).

TRUMP: But just so you understand…

WSJ: Oh, sorry.

TRUMP: …The Deputy Attorney General, who’s in charge of the case, wanted – all you have to do is read his letter. So that’s – there’s no obstruction there.

But Rosenstein!!! He seems to be saying.

I’m interested in this, in general. But I’m also interested in how closely tied the notion that Democrats would celebrate a Comey firing is with the claim that because Rosenstein said meaner things about Comey, there couldn’t be obstruction.

I wonder whether this was the plan all along. And I wonder whether these two whackjob ideas came from the same person: Jared.

Mark Corallo’s Obstruction Concerns: “The President…did not attend the meeting.”

Mark Corallo reportedly told Michael Wolff that he quit working for Donald Trump as Marc Kasowitz’ spokesperson because he believed the Air Force One response to the June  9 meeting to be a cover-up.

An aggrieved, unyielding, and threatening president dominated the discussion, pushing into line his daughter and her husband, Hicks, and Raffel. Kasowitz—the lawyer whose specific job was to keep Trump at arm’s length from Russian-related matters—was kept on hold on the phone for an hour and then not put through. The president insisted that the meeting in Trump Tower was purely and simply about Russian adoption policy. That’s what was discussed, period. Period. Even though it was likely, if not certain, that the Times had the incriminating email chain—in fact, it was quite possible that Jared and Ivanka and the lawyers knew the Times had this email chain—the president ordered that no one should let on to the more problematic discussion about Hillary Clinton.

[snip]

In Washington, Kasowitz and the legal team’s spokesperson, Mark Corallo, weren’t informed of either the Times article or the plan for how to respond to it until Don Jr.’s initial statement went out just before the story broke that Saturday.

[snip]

Mark Corallo was instructed not to speak to the press, indeed not to even answer his phone. Later that week, Corallo, seeing no good outcome—and privately confiding that he believed the meeting on Air Force One represented a likely obstruction of justice—quit.

Though as the book makes clear, Trump’s handling (which came just after spending an hour speaking with Vladimir Putin with no minders) of the June 9 meeting story is also what led Kasowitz to leave — both parts of a legal firewall that Steve Bannon had personally put in place.

Given my increasing suspicion that there was a second part of the meeting that has not yet been made public and Bannon’s claim — one Stephen Miller spent 12 minutes not denying over the weekend — that there was no chance that Trump wasn’t part of the meeting, I want to look more closely at the things Corallo said before he was silenced, before the former DOJ spox left out of concerns real obstruction of justice had just occurred.

Here’s some of what appeared in the first NYT story on the June 9 meeting, including a Mark Corallo statement that got repeated elsewhere.

In his statement, Donald Trump Jr. said: “It was a short introductory meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up.”

He added: “I was asked to attend the meeting by an acquaintance, but was not told the name of the person I would be meeting with beforehand.”

Late Saturday, Mark Corallo, a spokesman for the president’s lawyer, issued a statement implying that the meeting was a setup. Ms. Veselnitskaya and the translator who accompanied her to the meeting “misrepresented who they were,” it said.

In an interview, Mr. Corallo explained that Ms. Veselnitskaya, in her anti-Magnitsky campaign, employs a private investigator whose firm, Fusion GPS, produced an intelligence dossier that contained unproven allegations against the president. In a statement, the firm said, “Fusion GPS learned about this meeting from news reports and had no prior knowledge of it. Any claim that Fusion GPS arranged or facilitated this meeting in any way is false.”

That’s interesting enough, because it piggy backs on the larger efforts to treat the dossier as the sole basis for the Russian investigation, and more importantly because it focuses on Natalia Veselitskaya and Rinat Akhmetshin, and not Ike Kaveladze and Rob Goldstone — whom I increasingly suspect stuck around for a second part of the meeting.

If there were two parts to this meeting, then Corallo’s statement and NYT interview addressed just one part of it.

But that’s not the last thing Corallo did that week, before leaving.

He also released this statement to the AP and others.

Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Trump’s legal team, said only, “The President was not aware of and did not attend the meeting.”

The guy who left the White House out of concern about obstruction of justice that very same week, the guy whom Steve Bannon (he who was sure that Trump did meet the meeting attendees) as a firewall in the Russia investigation, denied that Trump had been at the meeting.

The last words Corallo said before leaving out of concerns about obstruction of justice were that Trump did not attend the meeting.

The Misrepresentations of the Simpson-Veselnitskaya Meetings

Whew. I’ve finally finished doing an initial pass on the transcript of Glenn Simpson’s interview with the Senate Judiciary Committee. I did three threads on Twitter on it:

I guess I’ll have a series of posts on what’s in the dossier, hopefully with a ton more nuance than coming from those who claim it totally justifies the dossier project. It doesn’t.

But before I get into questions that Simpson’s testimony should raise about the dossier, I want to focus on a narrow issue arising out of one the prior leaks of Simpson’s testimony. Back in November, Fox News reported that Simpson had met with Natalia Veselnitskaya at a court hearing before and “after” the Trump Tower meeting; the report appeared based on the

But hours before the Trump Tower meeting on June 9, 2016, Fusion co-founder and ex-Wall Street Journal reporter Glenn Simpson was with Veselnitskaya in a Manhattan federal courtroom, a confidential source told Fox News. Court records reviewed by Fox News, email correspondence and published reports corroborate the pair’s presence together. The source told Fox News they also were together after the Trump Tower meeting.

Simpson’s presence with Veselnitskaya during this critical week in June — together with revelations about Fusion’s simultaneous financial ties to the DNC, Clinton campaign and Russian interests — raise new questions about the company’s role in the 2016 election.

Veselnitskaya rejected the report in her answers to SJC.

Last week Fox News 38 referring to a confidential source reported that I met with Glenn Simpson before and after the meeting with Trump’s son, and that “but hours before the Trump Tower meeting on June 9, 2016, Fusion co-founder and ex-Wall Street Journal reporter Glenn Simpson was with Veselnitskaya in a Manhattan federal courtroom, in a hearing on the DOJ’s claim against Prevezon Holdings, a Cyprus company owned by a Russian businessman Denis Katsyv.” This statement does not reflect the reality.

Given the questions I raised about whether Veselnitskaya left the June 9 meeting with Ike Kaveladze — with whom she had arrived — I found the question of what Veselnitskaya had done before and after of interest.

Here’s what the transcript actually shows about those meetings.

Q. Were any [meetings with Veselnitskaya] in June 2016?

A. Yes. Two.

Q. Were those in New York or in D.C.?

A. I believe that one was in New York and one was in D.C.

Q. Do you recall the specific date of either?

A. I didn’t until we tried to piece these things together, but June 8th I think was the dinner in New York and I think the 10th was the dinner in D.C., something like that.

Q. And what were the purposes of these dinners?

A. Well, the first one was just an obligatory client dinner which, you know, when you work on a legal case you get invited to dinner with the clients. The one in D.C. was more of a social thing. It wasn’t — she was at it, but it wasn’t really about the case. It was just a bunch of Mark Cymrot’s friends. You know, the editor of the Washington Post book section was there and his wife who’s a well-known author were also there.

Q. You mentioned you had dinner with Ms. Veselnitskaya on June 8th and 10th of 2016. Were you generally aware of her trip to the United States in June?

[snip]

Simpson: I can tell you what I knew. I knew she was coming in I guess on the 8th. I don’t have a clear recollection of the dinner, but I know — I believe we had a dinner. The problem is I had more than one. So I don’t have a clear recollection of it. Anyway, I saw her the next day in court at this hearing and I’m sure we exchanged greetings, but, as I say, she speaks Russian and I speak English. I think she was with Anatoli and she left afterwards. I know she didn’t tell me any other plans she had.

Q. So you had dinner the 8th, saw her in court on the 9th; is that correct?

A. Yes.

Q. And dinner again on the 10th?

A. In D.C.

[snip]

Q. It has widely been reported Ms. Veselnitskaya and Mr. Akhmetshin and others met with Donald Trump, Junior, Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner on June 9th, 2016. Were you aware of this meeting beforehand?

A. No.

Q. It didn’t come up at the dinner the night before?

A. No.

Q. When did you first become aware of the meeting?

A. Around the time it broke in the New York Times. I was stunned.

Q. Is it correct that that means it wasn’t discussed at the dinner on the 10th?

A. No, but, again, you know, the dinner on the 10th was I was at one end of the table talking to a woman about her biography on Simon Bolivar and she was at the other end with Rinat and she doesn’t really speak much English.

Basically, while it supports that Simpson saw Veselnitskaya at the court hearing (meaning Veselnitskaya is wrong on that point), it doesn’t support that she came from or returned to a meeting with Simpson directly before and after the Trump Tower meeting. Instead, it seems to support the case that Veselnitskaya and Simpson saw each other three days in succession because the Prevezon hearing was the stated purpose of her visit to the US. And Simpson’s claim that linguistic barriers prevented them from chatting that much seems credible.

Which raises questions about why the claim that Veselnitskaya had met with Simpson got leaked to Fox.

Most likely, it was leaked as part of GOP efforts to suggest that Fusion is suspect and the dossier as a whole might be Russian disinformation. But given my new questions about when and with whom Veselnitskaya left the meeting, I wonder whether the discussion of a meeting afterwards wasn’t meant to distract from details about Kaveladze’s departure.

In any case, these three reports all conflict. My guess is Simpson’s is most accurate (because this is probably what the Fox report is based off, because he’s fluent in English, and because his report has so much more detail, not at all because I find his testimony above question).

Why Did Ivanka Run into Just Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin at the Trump Tower Elevator?

In this post, I argued that Natalia Veselnitskaya’s story about her June 9 Trump Tower meeting with Don Jr, Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner seemed designed (with help from one time Trump and current Agalarov lawyer Scott Balber) to downplay the role of Agalarov employee Ike Kaveladze.

It’s that even with all of Scott Balber’s efforts, there’s still no explanation for why Kaveladze attended this meeting. Given Balber’s significant efforts to minimize Agalarov’s role in the meeting — and his denials that Agalarov might have ties directly to Putin — I find the failure to explain that notable.

The LAT story convinces me I’m right. The basic story is that Mueller has called at least one of the attendees at that meeting back for a second interview; for a number of reasons, it is highly likely that person is Rinat Akhmetshin. The self-interested defense lawyers who are the source of the story suggest that this must be because Mueller is pursuing an obstruction case, not a collusion case.

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has recalled for questioning at least one participant in a controversial meeting with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in June 2016, and is looking into President Trump’s misleading claim that the discussion focused on adoption, rather than an offer to provide damaging information about Hillary Clinton.

Some defense lawyers involved in the case view Mueller’s latest push as a sign that investigators are focusing on possible obstruction of justice by Trump and several of his closest advisors for their statements about the politically sensitive meeting, rather than for collusion with the Russians.

But the far more interesting part of the story is that Mueller wants details about Ivanka’s actions that day, because, the story explains, she ran into Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin by the Trump Tower elevator.

Investigators also are exploring the involvement of the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, who did not attend the half-hour sit-down on June 9, 2016, but briefly spoke with two of the participants, a Russian lawyer and a Russian-born Washington lobbyist. Details of the encounter were not previously known.

From that, Twitter conspiracists and Newsweek (which lately has been close to the same thing) are suggesting that Ivanka might be in trouble.

That’s not the point of this line of questioning, in my opinion.

LAT makes it clear (presumably based on Akhmetshin’s story) that the Ivanka exchange happened on their way out of the meeting with Jr and the others.

It occurred at the Trump Tower elevator as the Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, and the lobbyist, Rinat Akhmetshin, were leaving the building and consisted of pleasantries, a person familiar with the episode said.

According to Veselnitskaya, she arrived with Akhmetshin, Kaveladze, and her translator; Jr and Manafort were in the board room when she arrived.

I came to the meeting with Anatoly Samochornov, a translator, Irakly Kaveladze, a lawyer of my client who helped to arrange for the meeting, Rinat Akhmetshin, my colleague who was working with me on the Prevezon case. We were met by a big, stout man who introduced himself as Rob and escorted us on the elevator to the boardroom. I saw two men in the boardroom – one of them introduced himself as Donald Trump Jr., while the other did not introduce himself.

She says she met with Kaveladze before the meeting.

I met him personally first on June 9 shortly before the meeting.

We had a phone call and met at a café, I do not remember where and at what café.

Though, admittedly, every single thing she says about Kaveladze is sketchy.

Finally, Veselnitskaya denies that she met with Glenn Simpson before and after the meeting, a story Fox News reported that “a confidential source” told it.

Last week Fox News 38 referring to a confidential source reported that I met with Glenn Simpson before and after the meeting with Trump’s son, and that “but hours before the Trump Tower meeting on June 9, 2016, Fusion co-founder and ex-Wall Street Journal reporter Glenn Simpson was with Veselnitskaya in a Manhattan federal courtroom, in a hearing on the DOJ’s claim against Prevezon Holdings, a Cyprus company owned by a Russian businessman Denis Katsyv.” This statement does not reflect the reality.

Nowhere in Veselnitskaya’s story addresses how or in whose company she left the meeting.

But the LAT report suggests she left with Akhmetshin. The report mentions nothing about the presence of Goldstone or Kaveladze, waiting at the elevator, chatting up Ivanka.

So did the two Agalarov employees stay later, which would leave them in a room alone with Don Jr and Paul Manafort?

Update: I’ve corrected this to reflect that Veselnitskaya said she did arrive with Kaveladze.

Won’t Doubling Down on Paul Manafort Being a Traitor Make Him More Likely To Flip?

Here is the full substance of what Steve Bannon said about the June 9, 2016 meeting between Don Jr, Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort.

“The chance that Don Jr. did not walk these jumos up to his father’s office on the twenty-sixth floor is zero,” said an astonished and derisive Bannon, not long after the meeting was revealed.

“The three senior guys in the campaign,” an incredulous Bannon went on, “thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the twenty-fifth floor—with no lawyers. They didn’t have any lawyers. Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad shit, and I happen to think it’s all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately. Even if you didn’t think to do that, and you’re totally amoral, and you wanted that information, you do it in a Holiday Inn in Manchester, New Hampshire, with your lawyers who meet with these people and go through everything and then they verbally come and tell another lawyer in a cut-out, and if you’ve got something, then you figure out how to dump it down to Breitbart or something like that, or maybe some other more legitimate publication. You never see it, you never know it, because you don’t need to. . . . But that’s the brain trust that they had.”

I’ll return, at some point, to this formulation, which complains more about how Don Jr took this meeting with Russian figures than that they didn’t involve cut-outs to maintain plausible deniability.

But for the moment, I want to look at the substance of Bannon’s non-apology apology.

Threatened with being cut off from the Mercer family wingnut welfare, Bannon has offered this peace offering (you can click through to see how he boasts of his own importance in his obsequious comments on Trump):

  • “Donald Trump, Jr. is both a patriot and a good man. He has been relentless in his advocacy for his father and the agenda that has helped turn our country around.”

[snip]

  • “My comments about the meeting with Russian nationals came from my life experiences as a Naval officer stationed aboard a destroyer whose main mission was to hunt Soviet submarines to my time at the Pentagon during the Reagan years when our focus was the defeat of ‘the evil empire’ and to making films about Reagan’s war against the Soviets and Hillary Clinton’s involvement in selling uranium to them.”
  • “My comments were aimed at Paul Manafort, a seasoned campaign professional with experience and knowledge of how the Russians operate. He should have known they are duplicitous, cunning and not our friends. To reiterate, those comments were not aimed at Don Jr.”
  • “Everything I have to say about the ridiculous nature of the Russian ‘collusion’ investigation I said on my 60 Minutes interview. There was no collusion and the investigation is a witch hunt.”
  • “I regret that my delay in responding to the inaccurate reporting regarding Don Jr has diverted attention from the president’s historical accomplishments in the first year of his presidency.”

The statement is notable for the utter silence on Jared Kushner, a rivalry with whom is the chief source of animus for Bannon. Bannon appears willing only to suck up to Trump Senior and Junior, not the “globalist” son-in-law.

Bannon pretends that the reporting about his comments on Jr were inaccurate. Lordy, that sounds like an invitation to Michael Wolff to release the tapes he claims he has of his Bannon interviews.

Bannon nods to his 60 Minutes interview, which he did in fact say was a waste of time. But he also allegedly said firing Comey was the stupidest decision in modern politics, because it led to the Mueller investigation, with its expanded scope. That suggests he thinks Mueller will find things, which is consistent with the other Bannon statements reported by Wolff, that he believes Mueller will find evidence of money laundering, that the path to Trump “goes through Deutsche Bank and all the Kushner stuff.”

Bannon invokes his Navy experience as a way, I guess, to explain why he used the word treasonous — to suggest he was speaking like a jingoist rather than someone with awareness of what a treason charge requires.

Which leaves us with his comments about Manafort. Given his walk-back of his comments about Jr and his stubborn silence on Kushner, Bannon suggests that Manafort should have known better. While, here, Bannon suggests Manafort should have told the neophyte global businessmen who also attended the meeting how duplicitous the Russians are (which is curious, because the Trump and Russian participants in the meeting keep pretending they’re all telling the same true story about the meeting, evidence that this is a cover story notwithstanding).

Savvy Paul Manafort, who got hired to work for the campaign for free and who took that position, apparently, to pay off a favor if not $19 million to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, Paul Manafort whose reputation of working with such thuggish types goes back years, Steven Bannon blames Manafort (who didn’t set up the meeting) for not carrying out the meeting with more plausible deniability.

It doesn’t make sense.

It doesn’t make sense, given the known events surrounding the meeting.

But it also doesn’t make sense, if Bannon’s goal is to fix the damage his comments have done. Because, by issuing a statement that you believe will be acceptable to Trump that effectively calls Manafort a traitor — those other young men aren’t traitors but that savvy businessman we had working for free is — you make it more likely he’ll flip on Trump. You make it more likely that Manafort does precisely the thing that will bring down the whole scheme.

Maybe that’s actually Bannon’s intent?

Stephen Miller Spends 12 Minutes Refusing to Answer Whether Trump Met with Russians Offering Dirt

36 seconds into his 12:34 minute interview with Stephen Miller, Jake Tapper asked Miller, “Did President Trump meet with any of the so-called ‘jumos’ who were in that Trump Tower meeting?”

Miller spent the remaining 12 minutes of the meeting repeating the talking points, “grotesque work of fiction” and “political genius” over and over: Grotesque work of fiction political genius grotesque work of fiction political genius grotesque work of fiction political genius grotesque work of fiction political genius grotesque work of fiction political genius grotesque work of fiction political genius.

Tapper asked whether Trump had met the Russians again, “Can you just settle that for us?”

Miller responded, “I have no knowledge of anything to do with that meeting.” His response actually answers a different question, not whether Trump ever met with the Russians in it.

As a reminder, on April 25, 2016, 45 days before the Trump Tower meeting, George Papadopoulos told Miller “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 tend to speak a bit more openly in ‘neutral’ cities.” Two days later, the day after Papadopoulos learned the Russians had political dirt in the form of thousands of Hillary emails, Papadopoulos emailed Miller again. “Have some interesting messages coming in from Moscow about a trip when the time is right.

Miller may have no knowledge of the June 9 meeting itself. But it is almost certainly the case that he knows about negotiations regarding dirt in the form of emails, because he appears to have been the first person on the campaign that Papadopoulos spoke to after learning of them.

And yet, in the 12 minutes of this interview, Miller never managed a denial that Trump had met with the Russians involved in the Trump Tower meeting.

Did The Most Senior White House Official Lie to the NYT about the Content of the Comey Firing Letter?

One week after conducting a “surprise” interview set up by Trump ally Christopher Ruddy (for which he was widely criticized), Mike Schmidt has a widely hailed story describing the evidence supporting an obstruction charges against Donald Trump.

Or maybe against Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Most interestingly, it suggests that several days after Trump attacked Jeff Sessions while watching Jim Comey’s May 3 testimony to Congress, Sessions sent an aide to Congress to try to gin up a series of damning stories about Comey.

White House aides gave updates to Mr. Trump throughout, informing him of Mr. Comey’s refusal to publicly clear him. Mr. Trump unloaded on Mr. Sessions, who was at the White House that day. He criticized him for recusing himself from the Russia investigation, questioned his loyalty, and said he wanted to get rid of Mr. Comey.

[snip]

Two days after Mr. Comey’s testimony, an aide to Mr. Sessions approached a Capitol Hill staff member asking whether the staffer had any derogatory information about the F.B.I. director. The attorney general wanted one negative article a day in the news media about Mr. Comey, according to a person with knowledge of the meeting.

A Justice Department spokeswoman said the incident did not occur. “This did not happen and would not happen,” said the spokeswoman, Sarah Isgur Flores. “Plain and simple.”

Hmmm. I don’t think Sessions has honored his recusal.

He may have also ordered up Rod Rosenstein to suggest Comey needed firing.

Earlier that day, Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, had pulled one of Mr. McGahn’s deputies aside after a meeting at the Justice Department. Mr. Rosenstein told the aide that top White House and Justice Department lawyers needed to discuss Mr. Comey’s future. It is unclear whether this conversation was related to the effort to dig up dirt on Mr. Comey.

The following weekend, Trump went to Bedminster to have Stephen Miller write up a letter firing Comey. It’s this detail I’m most interested in.

In interviews with The Times, White House officials have said the letter contained no references to Russia or the F.B.I.’s investigation. According to two people who have read it, however, the letter’s first sentence said the Russia investigation had been “fabricated and politically motivated.” [my emphasis]

Remember, Schmidt has just had a rather celebrated interview with one particular White House official. Er, The White House Official. Half of the off-the-record comments omitted from the NYT transcript of the interview clearly pertain to the Russian investigation.

TRUMP: Everybody knows the answer already. There was no collusion. None whatsoever.

_________

TRUMP: Maybe I’ll just say a little bit of a [inaudible]. I’ve always found Paul Manafort to be a very nice man. And I found him to be an honorable person. Paul only worked for me for a few months. Paul worked for Ronald Reagan. His firm worked for John McCain, worked for Bob Dole, worked for many Republicans for far longer than he worked for me. And you’re talking about what Paul was many years ago before I ever heard of him. He worked for me for — what was it, three and a half months?

[snip]

TRUMP: What I’ve done is, I have absolute right to do what I want to do with the Justice Department. But for purposes of hopefully thinking I’m going to be treated fairly, I’ve stayed uninvolved with this particular matter.

_________

TRUMP: For purposes of the Justice Department, I watched Alan Dershowitz the other day, who by the way, says I, says this is a ridiculous —

SCHMIDT: He’s been very good to you.

TRUMP: He’s been amazing. And he’s a liberal Democrat. I don’t know him. He’s a liberal Democrat. I watched Alan Dershowitz the other day, he said, No. 1, there is no collusion, No. 2, collusion is not a crime, but even if it was a crime, there was no collusion. And he said that very strongly. He said there was no collusion. And he has studied this thing very closely. I’ve seen him a number of times. There is no collusion, and even if there was, it’s not a crime. But there’s no collusion. I don’t even say [inaudible]. I don’t even go that far.

_________

TRUMP: So for the purposes of what’s going on with this phony Russian deal, which, by the way, you’ve heard me say it, is only an excuse for losing an election that they should have won, because it’s very hard for a Republican to win the Electoral College. O.K.?

This last break in the transcript picks up right where the information these White House officials lying to the NYT leave off: with the claim that this is a “fabricated and politically motivated” investigation.

Particularly given that Schmidt has been working this aspect of the story for months, what are the chances that the most senior White House official lied to Schmidt about what he had written to justify firing Jim Comey?

Paul Manafort Has Conducted His Oleg Deripaska Dalliance on PRISM Provider Google’s Servers

The government just docketed this declaration pertaining to its accusation that Paul Manafort contributed to an op-ed defending his actions in violation of the judge’s prohibition on trying his case in public.

The substance of the declaration (and another copy of the op-ed showing track changes) is interesting enough. But I’m most interested in this:

While Manafort is using a company email (DMP International, LLC), his interlocutor, Konstantin Kilimnik, the guy through whom Manafort was offering to provide private briefings on the Trump campaign to Russian oligarch (and former Manafort client to whom he still owed millions) Oleg Deripaska, is using GMail.

Particularly once the government developed counterintelligence concerns about Paul Manafort (but probably his ties to powerful Russians are sufficient in any case), Kilimnik is easily targetable under Section 702. While I’m sure they’ve got Deripaska wired up in a slew of other ways, NSA can collect this email just by asking Google nicely. And once it opened a full investigation into Manafort, the FBI has been able to get whatever NSA gets in raw form.

That means, among other things, that Kilimnik (and, I assume, Deripaska) want this to be discovered. Perhaps that’s arrogance, a belief that somehow Manafort will remain untouchable by Mueller for the more substantive coordination between him and Russia. Or perhaps Deripaska is just happy to let Manafort be exposed for what he is.

Whatever it is, when obvious Russian targets use PRISM providers, they’re just inviting easy scrutiny.

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