Was Trump’s Birthday Present a Painting? Or Stolen Emails?

Donald Trump was born on June 14, 1946.

According to the Minority HPSCI Russian Report, the day after Trump’s spawn, spawn’s husband, and campaign manager met with a bunch of Russian envoys (including Aras Agalarov’s representative Ike Kaveladze), Agalarov sent the presidential candidate an expensive painting.

[O]n June 10, 2016, Aras Agalarov delivered to candidate Trump an expensive painting for the candidate’s birthday.

An email from Rob Goldstone identified it as a birthday gift.

Email from Rob Goldstone to Rhona Graff, Subject: Birthday gift for Mr. Trump, June 10, 2016

On June 14, 2016 — Donald Trump’s birthday — the Washington Post revealed that Hillary had been hacked by Russia.

According to Nakashima, she was first contacted about this story, “About a week before the story published online.”

On June 15, in what has always been presumed to be a rushed response to the WaPo story, Russian cut-out Guccifer 2.0 published a bunch of stolen documents, including Hillary’s (dated) oppo research on Trump.

On June 17, a Trump staffer sent an Agalarov staffer a Trump thank you note, one that did not (at least in the bit quoted in the Minority HPSCI report) describe what the gift in question was.

“There are few things better than receiving a sensational gift from someone you admire – and that’s what I’ve received from you. You made my birthday a truly special event by your thoughtfulness – not to mention your remarkable talent. I’m rarely at a loss for words, but right now I can only say how much I appreciate your friendship and to thank you for this fantastic gift. This is one birthday that I will always remember.”

Was the gift a painting? Or stolen emails?

The Holes in Ike Kaveladze’s Trump Tower Meeting Story

One of the things the HPSCI narrative about the Trump Tower makes clear is that the story of Ike Kaveladze, the Agalarov representative whose presence at the meeting is unexplained (indeed, the majority HPSCI report makes no effort to explain it, while the minority explicitly says he was representing the Agalarovs), doesn’t make sense.

The narrative starts by explaining that Kaveladze knew the meeting was about the Magnitsky Act going in, but for some inexplicable reason thought it would be weird to lobby politicians about a desired policy, and so only after learning that it was about the Magnitsky Act, also learned it was about dealing “dirt” on Hillary to the campaign.

The Committee discovered that the participants.of the June 9 meeting did not all have the same understanding as to the reasons for the meeting, with [Kaveladze] testifying that he thought it was odd that all three senior Trump campaign officials would be taking a meeting on the Magnitsky Act, a U.S. human rights law that imposes certain sanctions on Russian interests. Accordingly, [Kaveladze] called [Roman Beniaminov], a close associate of Emin Agalarov based in the United States, to inquire about the purpose

Based on this discussion, the lunch attendees believed the Trump Tower meeting was about the Magnitsky Act. of the meeting. [Beniaminov] explained that he believed the scheduled meeting at Trump Tower was about providing negative information on candidate Clinton to the Trump campaign.

While HPSCI doesn’t acknowledge it, this means Kaveladze (and, by association, Rob Goldstone) knew both sides of a quid pro quo before the meeting: dirt on Hillary in exchange for Magnitsky relief.

But then, having made the effort to learn the meeting was about dealing dirt, Kaveladze somehow became convinced again it was (only) about the Magnitsky Act during lunch right before the meeting (note, the report doesn’t address some oddities about the communication between Veselnitskaya and Kaveladze that I mention here).

Based on this discussion, the lunch attendees believed the Trump Tower meeting was about the Magnitsky Act.

After the meeting Kaveladze spoke to Aras Agalarov twice (once immediately after the meeting, per the minority report); HPSCI’s understanding of those calls, in which he claims the meeting was a waste of time, came from Kaveladze’s interview. Kaveladze claims that the “dirt” on Hillary Clinton did not come up in the discussion with Agalarov.

Kaveladze testified that he received two calls from Aras Agalarov after the meeting. During the second call, Kaveladze explained that the meeting was a “complete loss of time and about nothing.” Aras Agalarov and Kaveladze did not discuss the “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.

Except the “dirt” on Hillary is the only thing that came up in an email to his daughter about the meeting sent (curiously) on June 14.

Kaveladze also sent an email to his daughter after the meeting indicating that the “meeting was boring. The Russians did not have any bad info [o]n Hillary.” — a reference back to his conversation with Beniaminov, which he had apparently relayed to his daughter.

All of which is to say that a US-based witness HPSCI refused to call (Beniaminov) and the contemporary documentary evidence show that Kaveladze believed the meeting was about dealing dirt. But in Kaveladze’s testimony — at least according to the HPSCI retelling — he somehow got dissuaded the meeting was about dirt by a lunch meeting right beforehand, but then reconvinced it was about dirt in an email sent to his daughter on the day the Washington Post reported that Russia had hacked the DNC.

Yes, it’s true that his contemporaneous account also makes it clear the dirt was not spelled out.

The date of the email, June 14, is particularly interesting though.

As the minority report reminds, on that same day, Goldstone (the other guy who knew the meeting was about dirt and Magnitsky) sent Kaveladze an email connecting the emails with the meeting.

When news broke five days after this meeting that Russians were behind the hacked DNC emails, Rob Goldstone sent a news article to Emin Agalarov and Ike Kaveladze, “Top story right now – seems eerily weird based on our Trump meeting last week with the Russian lawyers etc”.

It’s unclear which email came first, the Goldstone one tying the Russian hack to the Trump Tower meeting offering dirt, or the Kaveladze one telling his daughter the Russians didn’t have any bad info on Hillary. The Goldstone one bears the Bates stamp HIC-KAV-00001 to 00002 while the one to Kaveladze’s daughter is Bates stamped HIC-KAV-00020, suggesting it may be later in the day (though that is in no way definitive). Given that he appears not to have been asked about this, I’m also interested in the date Kaveladze provided these emails to the committee. The story about Goldstone’s email leaked on December 7, over a month after Kaveladze’s interview, so it may be he avoided answering questions about it by providing it after the fact.

Ultimately, though, it appears that both Goldstone and Kaveladze knew the meeting involved both dirt and Magnitsky sanctions.

The majority report avoids dealing with the possibility that the dirt might be the Guccifer 2.0 emails in two ways.  First, it makes no mention of Trump’s tweet, released almost immediately after the meeting, calling for Hillary’s emails and mentioning an “in the ball park” accurate number for Hillary’s staff. And in treating the silence in the meeting about email as dirt (which, remember, had already been floated to the campaign a month and a half earlier), it oddly doesn’t mention the most obvious possibility, that non-Podesta emails came up.

The Committee received no testimony or documentary evidence indicating that the purpose of the meeting was to discuss Wikileaks, Julian Assange, the hacking of the DNC servers, and/or the John Podesta emails.

Given that this claim is sourced to Goldstone’s interview, and given that his interview definitely post-dated the time the committee received the Goldstone to Kaveladze email tying the meeting to the hack of the DNC, it seems an explicit dodge of the fact that Goldstone himself made the connection almost immediately after learning of the DNC hack.

The Hole in the HPSCI Exoneration: Trump’s Hiring of Mike Flynn

I’ll have a lot to say about HPSCI’s attempt to exonerate Trump in their Russia report released today. But for now I want to point to a big hole in it.

After laying out the four members of HPSCI complains (for the most part, fairly) that DOJ didn’t warn Trump about the four members of his staff who were viewed as a CI problem.

The Committee found that the Trump campaign was not notified that members of the campaign were potential
counterintelligence concerns. This lack of notification meant that the campaign was unable to address the problems with each campaign member and was ignorant about the potential national security concerns. AG Lynch recalled that, during her first meeting with Director Comey and McCabe about Page, “one of the possibilities the three of us discussed was whether or not to provide what is called a defensive briefing to the
campaign, wherein there would be a meeting with a senior person with the Trump campaign to alert them to the fact
that … there may be efforts to compromise
someone with their campaign.” 102

The suggestion is that, had someone only warned Trump that people suspected of being recruited by Russians were infiltrating his campaign, they wouldn’t have been there.

Except just before this passage, the report makes clear that the Flynn investigation pre-dated his hiring as National Security Adviser, included an examination of a meeting between him, his spawn, and Sergey Kislyak as well as the better publicized RT event in Moscow.

Trump can’t complain that he wasn’t warned about Flynn before hiring him, because Obama did warn him, and not just because of Obama’s problems with Flynn at DNI, but also because of concerns about his ties with Russia.

Obama warned Trump about Flynn during their Oval Office meeting on November 10, days after Trump was elected president.

“Given the importance of the job, the President through there were better people for it, and that Flynn wasn’t up for the job,” a former senior Obama administration official told CNN Monday.

[snip]

But at least one former Obama official disputed that, saying Obama’s concerns were not related to the firing of Flynn from the Defense Intelligence Agency but rather in the course of the investigation into Russian interference into the 2016 election.

“Flynn’s name kept popping up,” according to a senior Obama administration source.

In other words, in the one case where we know Trump knew of a tie between a top aide and Russia, he hired the person anyway. And then ordered him to reach out to the Russians to undercut Obama’s policies.

Mueller’s Entirely Redacted Three Bullets and a Theory of the Case

In this post, I showed how the list of crimes for which Paul Manafort was being investigated mushroomed between the time FBI searched an Alexandria storage locker on May 27, 2017 and the time they searched his home using a no-knock warrant on July 27, 2017.

As a threshold matter, between May and July 2017, the scope of crimes being investigated mushroomed, to include both the fraudulent loans obtained during the election and afterwards, as well as foreign national contributions to an election, with a broad conspiracy charge built in.

Compare the list of crimes in the storage unit affidavit:

  • 31 USC 5314, 5322 (failure to file a report of foreign bank and financial amounts)
  • 22 USC 618 (Violation of FARA)
  • 26 USC 7206(a) (filing a false tax return)

With the list in the residence affidavit:

  • 31 USC 5314, 5322
  • 22 USC 611 et seq (a broader invocation of FARA)
  • 26 USC 7206
  • 18 USC 1014 (fraud in connection with the extension of credit)
  • 18 USC 1341, 1343, 1349 (mail fraud and conspiracy to commit mail fraud)
  • 18 USC 1956 and 1957 (money laundering)
  • 52 USC 30121 (foreign national contributions to an election)
  • 18 USC 371 and 372 (conspiracy to defraud the US, aiding and abetting, and attempt to commit such offenses)

So this motion to suppress would suppress both evidence used to prosecute Manafort in the EDVA case, as well as the eventual hack-and-leak conspiracy.

And in addition to records on Manafort, Gates’, and (another addition from the storage unit warrant), the warrant permits the seizure of records tied to the June 9 meeting and Manafort’s state of mind during all the enumerated crimes (but that bullet appears right after the June 9 meeting one).

It also includes an authorization to take anything relating to Manafort’s work for the foreign governments, including but not limited to the Ukrainians that have already been charged, which would seem to be a catchall that would cover any broader conspiracies with Russia.

This makes sense. The June 9 story broke in July 2017 based off documents that Jared Kushner and Manafort had provided to Congress in June — though I do wonder whether there were any records relating to the meeting in the storage unit.

I also noted that Manafort seemed particularly worried about several things in the later search — such as that the government took stuff pertaining to his state of mind, that the FBI seized his iPods, and that they hadn’t given anything back.

In this post, I noted that Rod Rosenstein appeared to have included a third bullet in his description of the crimes that Robert Mueller could investigate Manafort for in his August 2, 2017 memo, written just after the later search.

Now consider this detail: the second bullet describing the extent of the investigation into Manafort has a semi-colon, not a period.

It’s possible Mueller used semi-colons after all these bullets (of which Manafort’s is the second or third entry). But that, plus the resumption of the redaction without a double space suggests there may be another bulleted allegation in the Manafort allegation.

There are two other (known) things that might merit a special bullet. First, while it would seem to fall under the general election collusion bullet, Rosenstein may have included a bullet describing collusion with Aras Agalarov and friends in the wake of learning about the June 9 Trump Tower meeting with his employees. More likely, Rosenstein may have included a bullet specifically authorizing an investigation of Manafort’s ties with Oleg Deripaska and Konstantin Kilimnik.

The Mueller memo actually includes a specific reference to that, which as I’ve noted I will return to.

Open-source reporting also has described business arrangements between Manafort and “a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin.”

The latter might be of particular import, given that we know a bunch of fall 2017 interviews focused on Manafort’s ties to Deripaska and the ongoing cover-up with Kilimnik regarding the Skadden Arps report on the Yulia Tymoshenko prosecution.

At a recent court hearing, Manafort’s team confirmed there is a third bullet (which is unredacted to them), and the government seemed to confirm (with their insistent refusal to share) that there are other documents laying out Rosenstein’s authorizations for the investigation.

Last night, the government responded to the Manafort challenges (response to Bill of Particulars, response to search of storage locker, response to search of condo).

Aside from a bunch of subtle details showing that Mueller continues to work closely with FBI Agents on appropriate task forces and US Attorneys officers, it includes these three redacted bullets laying out the evidence supporting probable cause for the crimes for which FBI is investigating Manafort.

Now, there’s not necessarily a correlation between those three bullets and the three bullets we now know are in Rosenstein’s memo. I say that, most of all, because the first of Rosenstein’s bullets pertains to the general “collusion” investigation.

  • Committed a crime or crimes by colluding with Russian government officials with respect to the Russian government’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 election for President of the United States, in violation of United States law;
  • Committed a crime or crimes arising out of payments he received from the Ukrainian government before and during the tenure of President Viktor Yanukovych.

As I noted in my post speculating what the third might be, it might include either more details on the then-recently disclosed June 9 meeting, or it might provide more evidence of the way that Manafort worked with Oleg Deripaska, the former of which especially might fit under the election bullet. A likely third bullet is also the more recent money laundering Manafort allegedly conducted, as he tried to use mortgages to stave off financial ruin, which gets included in the expanded list of crimes for which Manafort was being investigated.

In any case, the affidavit (and therefore these three paragraphs) presumably lay out probable cause to support all three of Rosenstein’s bullets:

  • The Ukraine-based money laundering at issue in the existing DC indictment — showing a long-term hidden relationship with Russian-backed entities
  • Manafort’s recent attempts to remain liquid as reflected in the EDVA indictment — showing he had an incentive to do crazy things to make money
  • Efforts to “collude” with Russia, as reflected in the Trump Tower meeting

This is as much as what Amy Berman Jackson suggested in the most recent hearing (the one where Manafort confirmed there was a third bullet).

So perhaps, those three redacted bullets lay out the theory of the case: Paul Manafort had long-standing ties to Russian oligarchs and an urgent need to continue receiving their money when four Russians walked into Trump’s campaign proposing dirt on Hillary in exchange for sanctions relief.

Counterintelligence versus Criminal: George Papadopoulos

While I was playing in an undisclosed location in Europe, Chuck Ross wrote two stories based off access to people in the immediate vicinity of George Papadopoulos.

The first purports to answer whether Papadopoulos [thinks he] colluded with Russia. The second reports that someone with close ties to CIA and MI6 reached out to Papadopoulos after the US government learned of Papadopoulos’ comments to Alexander Downer about Hillary emails.

There’s a funny movement between the two. In the first, Ross feigns concern about how long it took the FBI to reach out to Papadopoulos after learning of his email conversation.

Papadopoulos was not interviewed by FBI agents until Jan. 27, 2017, nearly six months after the start of the investigation. That six month delay is puzzling to both congressional investigators and to Papadopoulos. He has wondered to associates why, if he was actually suspected of conspiring with the Russian government, the bureau would have waited so long to contact him.

He doesn’t mention, of course, that the FBI reached out to Papadopoulos just one week after the presidential transition period — which Papadopoulos played a role in — ended. That is, there was virtually no delay between the time Papadopoulos separated from Trump’s retinue and the FBI investigated. That doesn’t feed the poutrage about FBI’s investigation of politics, however, and so goes unmentioned.

Meanwhile, the second piece expresses shock that someone tied into Anglo-American intelligence reached out to Papadopoulos, Page, and one other Trump aide during the election.

Two months before the 2016 election, George Papadopoulos received a strange request for a meeting in London, one of several the young Trump adviser would be offered — and he would accept — during the presidential campaign.

The meeting request, which has not been reported until now, came from Stefan Halper, a foreign policy expert and Cambridge professor with connections to the CIA and its British counterpart, MI6.

Halper’s September 2016 outreach to Papadopoulos wasn’t his only contact with Trump campaign members. The 73-year-old professor, a veteran of three Republican administrations, met with two other campaign advisers, The Daily Caller News Foundation learned.

Papadopoulos questioned Halper’s motivation for contacting him, according to a source familiar with Papadopoulos’ thinking. That’s not just because of the randomness of the initial inquiry but because of questions Halper is said to have asked during their face-to-face meetings in London.

According to a source with knowledge of the meeting, Halper asked Papadopoulos: “George, you know about hacking the emails from Russia, right?”

While Ross focuses on the FBI investigation, which started as a counterintelligence investigation, he doesn’t mention the separate Task Force run out of CIA (or, for that matter, the Steele dossier, though given how shitty the dossier is on the hack-and-leak, I question whether that’s what this was).

In any case, there were several investigations, even within the US, and while law enforcement has certain squeamishness about engaging in politics, our foreign allies do not.

All that said, Ross provides details about Papadopoulos’ reported timeline and beliefs which are useful to understanding the events of 2016. Chief among those, he dates the meeting between Papadopoulos and Downer to May 10.

On around May 10, 2016, two weeks after the Mifsud meeting, Papadopoulos met with Downer at Kensington Gardens in London.

Ross also relays Papadopoulos’ reported belief that the emails floated by Joseph Mifsud were the deleted Clinton Foundation emails.

Papadopoulos has also said he believes that the emails in question were the 30,000-plus emails that Clinton deleted in Dec. 2014 before turning her State Department emails over to the agency. Clinton’s deleted records were a hot topic of debate during the 2016 presidential campaign, well before WikiLeaks began releasing emails that were stolen from the DNC and Clinton campaign.

This is entirely unsurprising (and useful for Papadopoulos to have out there). It means Papadopoulos doesn’t claim to have had more advance details about the stolen Hillary emails, and instead just assumed Mifsud (and his sources) were responding to the burning issue of the day, the Hillary investigation.

The confirmation that the Republicans had early likely been fed an expectation they might have gotten those emails provides important insight on the later Peter Smith effort to get those emails, the reported outreach by people associated with the campaign to Guccifer 2.0 to get those emails, and Guccifer 2.0’s false claims to be leaking them. Papadopoulos likely confirmed to Mifsud that that’s what the Republicans thought of as valuable oppo research, and multiple later efforts focused on making Trump aides believe they would get them.

To understand just how much Ross’ sources were feeding an exonerating narrative, however, consider that he or they refused to say whether Papadopoulos passed on news of the emails to other campaign people.

Miller did not respond to the email, but it is unclear whether Papadopoulos told Miller, who currently works in the White House, or anyone else on the campaign about Mifsud’s comments about emails. TheDCNF’s sources did not say whether Papadopoulos told the campaign of Mifsud’s remarks.

Instead of the answer to the critical issue (to which we have good reason to suspect the answer, even if it hasn’t been confirmed), Ross instead passes on a non-denial denial of something Papadopoulos has never been accused of.

[S]ources familiar with Papadopoulos’ thinking say he has told associates he did not see, handle or disseminate Clinton emails.

Further, Ross claims there’s no evidence that meetings between Russia and the Trump campaign took place, in spite of the fact that Don Jr, Jared, and Trump’s campaign manager took a meeting 6 weeks after the emails-as-dirt got floated based on a promise they’d get dirt on Hillary.

There is no evidence that those meetings took place.

To back this no collusion claim, you’d have to prove both that none of the participants in the Trump Tower meeting had heard about Papadopoulos promise of emails (in spite of Don Jr’s reference to “if it’s what I think it is”), and you’d have to prove that the Russians didn’t consider a meeting with the campaign manager a high level meeting.

George Papadopoulos does not, by himself, prove “collusion.” But neither does this transparent attempt to deny collusion by issuing a non-denial denial disprove it. Moreover, it was never going to be the case that one person — not even Paul Manafort, not even Michael Cohen, possibly not even Trump himself — would offer the Rosetta stone on what happened in 2016.

On the Comey Memos

As you read this thread, remember that whoever leaked the Comey memos is also likely to be one of the people who is calling for Andrew McCabe to be prosecuted for leaking to the media.

January 6, 2017: Trump doesn’t deny the golden showers, just that they were prostitutes

Here’s the operative passage on Trump’s response to being informed about the pee tape.

I think the exchange has been distorted by Comey, who is a prig that would judge anything that reeks of kink.

Trump doesn’t actually deny he engaged in some kind of golden showers event. Rather, he denies there were prostitutes. He’s only denying he paid for sex. Given the way Trump’s associative brain raised what we now know to be hush payments for actual behavior, this seems closer to a confirmation than a denial.

His reference to 2013, while it might be deceit, might also be amazement that the Russians were digging up old dirt.

I’m particularly interested in the redaction, which must say something about the dossier (and possibly Steele’s identity, though Comey didn’t share it). We don’t know who leaked that Trump got briefed on the memo, and I don’t rule out CIA leaking it. But Comey tells Trump that he wants to keep two things secret — that FBI has the dossier and something about the circumstances of the dossier. Those details very quickly leaked. I think it possible — likely even — that Trump leaked these details precisely because Comey said he wanted them kept secret.

January 27, 2017: Trump asks for loyalty, then asks for investigation

While Comey admits that he’s not sure he got the order of the private dinner between him and Trump correct, as he lays it out, Trump raises loyalty (to which Comey doesn’t respond), then asks Comey to investigation the pee tape to prove it wrong, then asks for loyalty again.

I’ve joked that no one should complain now that an investigation arose out of the dossier since Trump asked for just that, but in context, I think the exchange is even more important. Trump asked for an investigation from a loyal person. He expected an investigation that would exonerate him and he tied that to loyalty.

And all that took place against the background of Sally Yates warning Don McGahn about what Mike Flynn had said with Sergei Kislyak. In the conversation, Trump introduced a claim that he doubted Flynn’s judgment, because he hadn’t immediately told Trump that Putin was the first to congratulate Trump on his inauguration (he was among the first to call after the election as well).

I’ve always wondered why Flynn’s firing is treated as part of the obstruction investigation, and not part of the conspiracy. I think the explanation lies, at least partly, in this exchange. It’s clearly spin. It’s not just that Trump was complaining that Flynn wasn’t passing on his messages quickly enough, but it’s that he’s creating the suggestion that Flynn was running Russia response independently, which he wasn’t.

That is, Trump’s first exchange with Comey after learning Flynn was under investigation was to put some distance between the two of them.

February 8, 2017: At a meet-and-greet with Priebus, Comey meets Flynn and Trump

Comey goes for what he calls a meet-and-greet with Reince Priebus, whom he has said he should primarily work with. But before that happens, Flynn sits down with him for five minutes (remember they would have worked together in 2013-2014), without mentioning the FBI interview.

During the Priebus interview, after an extended discussion about the dossier (remember, Paul Manafort had contacted Priebus weeks earlier to discuss the dossier, and possibly to lay out a rebuttal plan to it), he asks whether there’s a FISA order on Flynn.

Here’s analysis suggesting Comey’s answer was yes, here’s one suggesting it was no. The analysis is made more difficult because Comey uses double spaces after a period.

Contextually, the answer was probably no because:

  • Otherwise Comey wouldn’t have made an exception to the normal reporting channels
  • Ordinarily, it takes a while to get a FISC order; the concern about Flynn intensified on January 5, but in the January 24 interview, FBI Agents generally thought he was being honest
  • At this point, FBI was delaying the normal briefing of the counterintelligence investigation because of sensitivity concerns

In any case, though the meeting was supposed to be with Priebus, the Chief of Staff brought Comey into meet with Trump (this feels sort of like another job interview). During it, Trump first raised this remarkably (for him) awkward Putin attempt to protect Trump from the prostitute allegation in the dossier — though like Trump, he’s denying that the women were prostitutes, not that he was with women; Trump claims that Putin said this directly to him, which given Putin’s awkwardness could well be the case. Trump then raised Russian pique with Bill O’Reilly for a question about Putin; Comey judges Trump took offense to his distinction between Russian and US killings (though I’m not even sure that’s right).

February 14, 2017: Trump emphasizes the Flynn didn’t do anything wrong

There are actually three parts to the Flynn content in the famous oval office meeting: a first exchange where Trump defended what Flynn did repeatedly, a second one where Trump complained (rightly) about the leak of the FISA wiretap, and the third exchange about “letting this go.”

Given the context of the Priebus question about the wiretap less than a week earlier, I actually think that’s what the point was. The White House had to get rid of Flynn as an effort to squelch the investigation into actions Trump himself had ordered. But that was only going to work if the FBI did drop the Flynn investigation.

March 1, 2017: Trump calls to check in (and invite Comey to the White House)

This call, which Comey memorialized in an email to Jim Rybicki, seemed designed to get Comey to come of his own accord to the White House. More importantly, the day before Jeff Sessions’ recusal, Trump wanted to get cozy with Comey.

March 30, 2017: Trump asks the cloud be removed

The released memos raise two new details about the “cloud hanging over” phone conversation on March 30. Amid his other comments designed to convince Comey he was innocent, Trump also said he was going to sue Christopher Steele.

This would have been between the Webzilla and the Alfa Bank suits, and long before Michael Cohen launched his ill-advised (and now dropped) suit. While Trump is a litigious fuck and we can’t conclude anything by his threatened suit, it a detail that suggests coordinated lawfare was part of the plan.

In addition, Trump made a reference that made Comey think his “satellite” comment pertained to Sergei Millian. That’s interesting given that 1) George Papadopoulos was also under active investigation at this time and 2) Millian had pitched Papadopoulos to pick up the Trump Tower pursuit when Michael Cohen had dropped it in June.

April 11, 2017: Trump reminds Comey we had that thing

Given the way Trump always coupled his requests for loyalty with comments about Andrew McCabe, I wonder whether, when Trump said “we had that thing,” he doesn’t believe he made a deal with Comey, where Comey could keep McCabe on so long as Comey remained loyal.

Whatever it was, Comey had no inkling.

The Andrew McCabe Referral Is Unsurprising — and Probably Justified

I’ve been traveling a shit-ton in recent weeks (and still am, in a lovely gorgeous undisclosed location). So it wasn’t until a flight today that I read the DOJ IG Report on Andrew McCabe’s lack of candor about confirming an investigation into the Clinton Foundation. Having finally read it, though, I’m thoroughly unsurprised that DOJ made a criminal referral. Indeed, given the standards FBI holds subjects of investigation to, I think the referral was necessary to avoid the perception that the top FBI brass could get away with behavior that results in criminal charges (for people including George Papadopoulos and Mike Flynn) all the time.

Because boy did Deputy and Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe use a lot of the tricks that defendants (try, usually unsuccessfully) to use to get out of lying.

Andrew McCabe was investigated for screwing Hillary over

Before I get into the report, let’s make it clear what McCabe is accused of (because the right wing gets this wrong seemingly every time). As part of an investigation into several leaks, McCabe was interviewed repeatedly about this article by Devlin Barrett, specifically this passage.

According to a person familiar with the probes, on Aug. 12, a senior Justice Department official called Mr. McCabe to voice his displeasure at finding that New York FBI agents were still openly pursuing the Clinton Foundation probe during the election season. Mr. McCabe said agents still had the authority to pursue the issue as long as they didn’t use overt methods requiring Justice Department approvals.

The Justice Department official was “very pissed off,” according to one person close to Mr. McCabe, and pressed him to explain why the FBI was still chasing a matter the department considered dormant. Others said the Justice Department was simply trying to make sure FBI agents were following longstanding policy not to make overt investigative moves that could be seen as trying to influence an election. Those rules discourage investigators from making any such moves before a primary or general election, and, at a minimum, checking with anticorruption prosecutors before doing so.

“Are you telling me that I need to shut down a validly predicated investigation?” Mr. McCabe asked, according to people familiar with the conversation. After a pause, the official replied, “Of course not,” these people said.

The passage, coming in a story on the reopening of the investigation into Hillary’s emails, effectively confirmed the separate investigation into the Clinton Foundation.

After denying it in two interviews, he admitted in a third and fourth (though continued to lie about his transparency about the fact) that he had authorized Lisa Page to provide the background and the quote to Barrett.

Effectively, then, McCabe admitted to confirming 10 days before the election that there was a second investigation into Hillary Clinton. DOJ IG (and the FBI witnesses they consulted) concluded that McCabe did so to protect his own reputation, not to reassure the public that Hillary wasn’t above scrutiny. And they dismissed the notion it was a sanctioned confirmation, both because it was not discussed beforehand and carefully messaged, as such confirmations always are, and because it was anonymous.

So for all that Republicans, starting with Donald Trump, want to make this into a real scandal hurting Republicans, it’s the opposite. McCabe is accused of screwing over Hillary to protect his own reputation.

Signs the report was rushed

I find the report itself very credible; it makes a very damning case against McCabe.

But there are a few details of it that deserve mention, because they demonstrate that this report is just part of the larger report that will be released next month.

First, there is no methodology or request for comment from the bureau (though it includes rebuttals from McCabe), which are both standard features on IG Reports. The methodology would be really useful to see because it would provide a few more dates about when a draft was finalized, that might provide more information on how this came to be released early.

Then there’s a redaction in this passage.

Both public reporting and redaction matching suggests it has to be DAD — that is, Peter Strzok. Other references to him are not redacted. For some reason, and I suspect it’s an investigative one, the FBI didn’t want it known that he was party to the decision of forcing McCabe off the email investigation in late October, just days before the WSJ story in question.

That (and one other detail I get to below) suggests the FBI is protecting the details on Strzok and Page that will show up in the larger report.

So this report was, as public reporting has suggested, pulled out of the larger one and packaged up for February release.

That said, I’m not as convinced that served the nefarious purpose of serving up Andrew McCabe to Donald Trump’s voracious firing appetite. Rather, I suspect that’s when they reached the conclusion that McCabe’s behavior reached a level requiring criminal referral. And while I agree the circumstances surrounding McCabe’s firing still stink to high hell, if they had already made the decision to refer McCabe for criminal investigation, the timing, and the necessity of firing him, do make more sense.

This case really is about lying to FBI Agents

In the same way the Republican claim McCabe hurt Trump is bullshit, another public claim — one favored by some Democrats — is that this is simply a he-said he-said between McCabe and Comey.

While one conversation between them — an October 31, 2016 conversation where leaks came up and McCabe did not offer up that he was behind the WSJ passage — is included in the allegations, the other three, far more compelling, allegations include sworn conversations (the latter two taped) with FBI Inspection Division and Inspector General Agents.

And as I said, this is not — as McCabe has spun it — about an authorized confirmation of an investigation. It is true he gave permission for these conversations. But he did not go through the normal process before confirming an investigation (which wouldn’t have been approved but if it had would have resulted in an on-the-record comment). It’s likely McCabe, out of fury, just fucked up. But he did authorize the anonymous leak of stuff that shouldn’t have been released.

I won’t get into the evidence laid out (other than to say that it is convincing). But the report suggests McCabe didn’t come clean to Comey in October, and then in two subsequent interviews tried to create a cover story, only to discover that the investigation into Page and Strzok would reveal his deceit, at which point he tried to clean up his story in a way that wouldn’t put him in legal jeopardy.

Un-fucking-believably, as McCabe tried to get out of the problems he created he used three dodges often used by criminal defendants when complaining about FBI investigative tactics.

McCabe “can’t recall” diversion one

Along the way, McCabe  created two diversions to deflect blame (the IG Report doesn’t focus on this, but I find these actions to be among McCabe’s most reprehensible for the way they exposed others to disciplinary and legal jeopardy).

First, in the wake of the Barrett story that he was a second-hand anonymous source for, McCabe called the heads of the NY and DC office to bitch them out for leaking.

According to NY-ADIC’s contemporaneous October 30 calendar notes and testimony to the OIG, McCabe called NY-ADIC on Sunday, October 30, at 5:11 p.m., to express concerns over leaks from the FBI’s New York Field Office in the October 30 WSJ article. NY-ADIC told the OIG that McCabe was “ticked about leaks” in the article on the CF Investigation, but NY-ADIC “pushed back” a little to note that New York agents were not privy to some of the information in the article.

Also according to NY-ADIC’s calendar notes, as well as his testimony to the OIG, NY-ADIC spoke to EAD and other FBI managers after his call with McCabe to voice concerns “about getting yelled at about this stuff” when he was supposed to be dealing with EAD on Clinton Foundation issues because of his understanding that McCabe had recused himself from the matter.

W-ADIC told the OIG that he received a call from McCabe regarding the October 30 WSJ article and that McCabe admonished him regarding leaks in the article. According to W-ADIC, McCabe told him to “get his house in order.”

McCabe told us that he did not recall calling either NY-ADIC or W-ADIC to reprimand them for leaks in the October 30 WSJ article.

He did so with the NY-ADIC (probably justifiably) after a second Barrett story.

I believe the first of these scoldings served the purpose of creating a paper trail making it look like other offices were responsible for the Barrett leak.

With regards to both of these hypocritical conversations, in which McCabe pulled rank to yell at people for doing what he had himself done, he claimed afterwards not to recall the conversations in question (and bizarrely for a lifetime FBI Agent, didn’t take the notes that his counterparties did).

I think the first one is of particular concern, as by blaming the field offices, McCabe was deflecting from his own role. And like a long line of high level officials before him, he got away with it by claiming he didn’t recall these conversations.

McCabe blames diversion two on the perennial two-Agent, no recording complaint

McCabe also created a diversion in his first interview, with the Inspection Division (which, because of rank, he knew could not investigate him personally). He told them, falsely, that he had told a bunch of other people about the conversation described in the WSJ, leading INSD to believe there could be any number of suspects.

INSD-SSA1 further told the OIG that McCabe stated during the interview that he had related the account of the August 12 call to others numerous times, leaving INSD-SSA1 with the impression that INSD-SSA1 would “not get anywhere by asking” McCabe how many people could have known about what appeared to be a private conversation between him and PADAG. INSD-SSA1 told us that he didn’t need to take many notes during the interview because, at that point, he viewed McCabe as “the victim” of the leak and McCabe had told the INSD agents that he did not know how this happened. INSD-SSA1 also told us that the whole interaction was short, maybe 5 to 7 minutes, and flowing because McCabe was seemingly the victim and claimed he did not know who did it. INSD-SSA1 said that McCabe’s information could be summarized in one paragraph in his draft statement.

This led them to give up their investigation, for a period. When they sent him their version of the statements he had made to get him to sign and swear to them, he just blew off the request (he was Acting Director at this point, so he admittedly had tons of other things to do, but also real reason to believe his seniority would help him avoid any trouble for his actions).

When McCabe ultimately came clean about his role in this affair, he tried to suggest that the INSD version of what happened was not accurate (as defendants sometimes do, often for good reason, when an FBI 302 leaves out key details). Remarkably though, this guy who must have seen this ploy hundreds of times in his life and knew that FBI Agents always move in twos, suggested that the specific discussion involved just one of the Agents present.

McCabe also asserted that the May 9 meeting concerned an unrelated leak matter and that the discussion about the October 30 article occurred near the end of the meeting when “one of the people on that team pulled me aside and asked me a question about the Wall Street Journal article.” He elaborated by stating that as the INSD agents were “walking out of my office into the hallway, and [INSD Section Chief] kind of grabbed me by the arm and said, hey, let me ask you about something else.” McCabe said that he and INSD-Section Chief were still in his office, he thought standing, during the conversation but that the other two INSD agents (McCabe recalled there being three INSD agents present that day, not two) were outside his office. He said INSD-Section Chief showed him the October 30 WSJ article at that time and asked him “a question or two about it. And that was it. It was a very quick exchange.”

If it had indeed happened this way, it would have made the conversation other than investigative, and might have gotten him off the hook for lying.

Except that SSA-1 took notes, so was obviously present, and INSD made McCabe initial the WSJ article confirming he had read it.

Nevertheless, this is, ultimately, the same complaint criminal defendants make all the time about the FBI’s approach to interviews.

McCabe mounts a Miranda defense

Perhaps most un-fucking-believably, McCabe mounted a Miranda defense to excuse the fact that he lied when he was first asked about the Page-Strzok texts. Effectively, he said that he had an explicit agreement that OIG would not ask him any questions that might put him in legal jeopardy.

In response to review a draft of this report, counsel for McCabe argued that, in asking McCabe about the October 27-30 texts between Special Counsel and DAD regarding the WSJ article, the OIG engaged in improper and unethical conduct, and violated an allegedly explicit agreement with McCabe that when he was interviewed by the OIG on July 28 he would not be questioned outside the presence of counsel with respect to matters for which he was being investigated. McCabe provides no evidence in support of his claim, and based on the OIG’s review of the available evidence, including the transcript of McCabe’s recorded OIG interview on July 28 and the OIG’s contemporaneous notes, as described below, McCabe’s claim is contradicted by the investigative record.

As an initial matter, at the time of the July 28 interview, McCabe was not a subject of an OIG investigation of disclosures in the October 30 WSJ article, nor did the OIG suspect him of having been the source of an unauthorized disclosure of non-public information related to that article. The OIG did not open its investigation of McCabe concerning the WSJ article until August 31, after being informed by INSD that McCabe had provided INSD agents with information on August 18, 2017, that contradicted the information that he had provided to INSD agents on May 9.

Second, the OIG has no record that McCabe stated in advance of the July 28 interview that he was represented by counsel. Moreover, the recording of the July 28 interview shows that at no time did McCabe give any indication that he was represented by counsel. The transcript of the interview shows that the OIG informed McCabe, who has a law degree, that the interview was about “issues raised by the text messages” between Special Counsel and DAD, and that the OIG would not be asking McCabe questions about “other issues related to your recusal in the McAulliffe investigation . . . or any issues related to that.” McCabe responded “Okay” and did not articulate or request any further limitations on the questions he would answer. The OIG added that “This is a voluntary interview. What that means is that if you don’t want to answer a question, that’s fully within your rights.” That “will not be held against you . . . .” The recording of McCabe’s interview further demonstrates that the OIG was entirely solicitous of McCabe’s requests not to respond to certain questions. Towards the end of the interview, before beginning an area of questioning unrelated to Special Counsel/DAD texts or the WSJ article, the OIG prefaced his question to McCabe by stating “if you feel this is connected to the things that are making you uncomfortable, will you let me know?” McCabe responded, “Yes. Yeah, you can ask, I’ll let you . . . If I don’t feel comfortable going forward, I’ll let you know.” At a later point in the interview, after answering a number of questions unrelated to Special Counsel/DAD texts, McCabe expressed a preference for not answering further questions, and the OIG did not ask further questions on the topic. [my emphasis]

I mean, sure, OIG blew that excuse out of the water (and the rebuttal continued with further evidence this claim was bullshit). But when I was reading it I kept thinking “how many fucking times have you been the Agent giving the uneducated interviewee even less opportunity to invoke Miranda! Yet you fucked this up!?!?!”

Did McCabe coordinate his story with Page?

As noted, McCabe’s true undoing came when, in the course of the investigation into the treatment of Hillary, OIG discovered the Page-Strzok texts. McCabe was asked about them in the context of the Page-Strzok contacts, and realized (but lied in a sworn, recorded interview) that the texts disproved all his stories. That led him to correct his testimony to INSD, which then referred it to OIG so someone of the rank that could investigate McCabe could interview him.

Along the way, though, McCabe and Page had a conversation — one she subsequently copped to, but he did not.

McCabe denied that being shown the text messages on July 28 that indicated Special Counsel had spoken to Barrett caused him to change his account in order to protect Special Counsel. McCabe told the OIG that this “thinking process” was done “on my own” without talking to any FBI employees or reviewing past e-mails or text messages. He stated that he did not discuss the Devlin texts with Special Counsel after the July 28 interview. While Special Counsel told the OIG that following McCabe’s July 28 OIG interview, she and McCabe discussed her text messages, she said that McCabe did not discuss his OIG testimony about the WSJ article, or the WSJ article itself, at that time. Special Counsel stated that she and McCabe did not discuss “getting their stories straight” with respect to the WSJ article. Special Counsel told the OIG that the last time she spoke with McCabe about the WSJ article was in approximately October 2016 (when the article was published).

This was not included among the key lack of candor charges, but I suspect the prosecutor will test the veracity of this current operative story.

I get that the way McCabe was fired stinks. I get that McCabe may well be serving as cover for the Mueller interview.

But neither of those observations changes the fact that one of the most senior FBI executives tried all the tricks a lifetime of pursuing criminals would have familiarized him with, and he still blew it.

And because the FBI relies on false statements charges to conduct its interviews, I think the criminal referral is necessary.

The Fire Rosenstein Squad among Trump’s Buddies

WSJ has a fascinating story about the advice that former prosecutor and Trump lawyer Jay Goldberg gave the president last week after the Michael Cohen raid. Rather than keeping the advice confidential or even anonymous, Goldberg instead sat down for two hours to tell the WSJ precisely what he told the president in a 15 minute conversation last week.

The newsy bit is that Goldberg told Trump that Cohen would flip on him if he were charged, and might even agree to wear a wire.

One of President Donald Trump’s longtime legal advisers said he warned the president in a phone call Friday that Michael Cohen, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer and close friend, would turn against the president and cooperate with federal prosecutors if faced with criminal charges.

Mr. Trump made the call seeking advicel [sic] from Jay Goldberg, who represented Mr. Trump in the 1990s and early 2000s. Mr. Goldberg said he cautioned the president not to trust Mr. Cohen. On a scale of 100 to 1, where 100 is fully protecting the president, Mr. Cohen “isn’t even a 1,” he said he told Mr. Trump.

[snip]

[H]e stressed to thje [sic] president that Mr. Cohen could even agree to wear a wire and try to record conversations with Mr. Trump. “You have to be alert,” Mr. Goldberg said he told the president. “I don’t care what Michael says.”

The more troubling revelation is that Goldberg told Trump straight out he should fire Rod Rosenstein.

Prompted by the president for his advice, he also said he recommended Mr. Trump fire Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general who appointed Mr. Mueller.

But here’s the other detail of interest. Goldberg told the WSJ that the Cohen raid puts him at more risk than the Mueller investigation.

Goldberg said the volume of correspondence taken and the potential pressure the government can bring to bear on Mr. Cohen to testify puts the president in more potential peril from the Cohen matter than from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Mr. Mueller is examining whether members of Mr. Trump’s campaign team colluded with Russians to affect the 2016 election. Russia officials have denied meddling in the election, and Mr. Trump has denied any collusion took place.

And he said that even while asserting that he doesn’t believe Trump broke the law (in context, I presume this means with Russia, though I’m not certain).

Goldberg recalled the conversation in a two-hour interview in his apartment on New York’s Upper East Side Wednesday, emphasizing that he didn’t believe Mr. Trump had broken the law.

Here’s why I find this so fascinating.

First, clearly Goldberg wants this out, even the details (like that he thinks Cohen might wear a wire) designed to make Trump go nuts. This, then, is presumably another example of a Trump associate trying to speak to him through the press (though why Goldberg chose WSJ instead of Fox, I don’t know — maybe this is an attempt to get booked on Fox, where Trump will see it). Perhaps, too, Goldberg is trying to put pressure on Trump’s legal team, especially Ty Cobb, to let the president fire Rosenstein.

That said, the story will make the legal risk of firing Rosenstein still greater, because it will make the context of all this clear: that firing Rosenstein would be an attempt to prevent Cohen from being charged, which would have the effect of exposing Trump to legal risk. (That analysis seems problematic in any case, because — at least according to my understanding of things — while Rosenstein has to approve any charges Mueller makes, that may not be true of any charges Robert Khuzami would make as acting US Attorney for SDNY, though it’s possible DOJ would demand further approvals because of the political significance of this.)

But the entire premise, if Goldberg is to be believed (and if I’m understanding the context of his comment about Trump not having broken the law), is that Trump is not at legal risk from Mueller but he is at risk for … everything else that Cohen might implicate him in.

Of course, that sentiment was reported last Friday by NYT, in the lead of this story, attributed to “Trump’s advisers” and “people close to Trump” (both descriptions could clearly include Goldberg).

President Trump’s advisers have concluded that a wide-ranging corruption investigation into his personal lawyer poses a greater and more imminent threat to the president than even the Special Counsel’s investigation, according to several people close to Mr. Trump.

In other words, it’s highly likely that we’re seeing Goldberg say on the record to the WSJ what he said anonymously to the NYT last week. But in the process, we’re seeing why: Goldberg doesn’t think Trump broke the law in anything he did with regards to Russia. How much does Goldberg really know what Trump did, I wonder? Either he knows all the details, in which case his judgment may be valid, or he has no clue, in which case we shouldn’t necessarily take the opinion as all that reasonable.

Side note: if I’m Mueller, I’ve already drafted the subpoena for Goldberg, who presumably won’t be able to claim the substance of this conversation with Trump, which he shared with WSJ, is privileged.

All of which leads me to the most shocking part of Friday’s story: that Trump called Cohen that day to “check in.”

Trump called Mr. Cohen on Friday to “check in,” according to two people briefed on the call. Depending on what else was discussed, the call could be problematic, as lawyers typically advise their clients against discussing investigations.

WSJ seems to suggest that, in addition to speaking with Trump, Goldberg also spoke to Cohen, which may be where he got the detailed description of the raid he shared with WSJ.

Mr. Cohen was “shocked,” according to Mr. Goldberg, who also spoke with Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Ty Cobb, in recent days.

So what this looks like by reading the two stories together is that, probably before he spoke to Trump on Friday, Goldberg spoke to Cohen. Maybe that’s part of where he derived his opinion that Cohen would flip on Trump. And then Goldberg called Trump to tell him Cohen wouldn’t remain loyal.

Was that before or after Trump called Cohen to “check in”?

Goldberg may be trying to help Trump by pushing him to fire Rosenstein. But I can think of about five ways that this story really fucks Trump, and that’s assuming that Mueller doesn’t give Goldberg a call to invite him in for a chat.

The Trump Organization Really Doesn’t Want FBI to Have the Michael Cohen Files

In this post yesterday, I noted how hard the Trump Organization has tried to withhold (or claw back documents) from both the Mueller team and SDNY (here’s the government filing these quotes come from).

SDNY fact checks the Cohen claim, backed by his lawyer’s sworn declaration, that he hadn’t fully cooperated with Mueller’s investigation because Mueller asked for everything.

Cohen also states that the SCO “had requested that the Trump Organization produce all of Mr. Cohen’s communications that were within the Trump Organization’s custody, possession, or control,” and that Cohen objected “on the grounds that [the request] called for production of privileged communications, among other things.” (Br. 8-9). Although in the ordinary course, the USAO-SDNY would not comment on investigative requests or demands made to third parties, particularly those from a separate office undertaking its own, independent investigation, in light of the representations made by Cohen’s counsel, USAO-SDNY contacted the SCO about these representations and understands they are not accurate. In particular, the SCO did not request that the Trump Organization produce “all communications” by Cohen in the Trump Organization’s possession or control irrespective of subject matter or privilege. Indeed, the request made by the SCO was considerably narrower, and specifically omitted, among other things, any documents that were protected by privilege or of a purely personal nature. Cohen nonetheless objected to that request for documents and, after discussions between Cohen’s counsel and the SCO, the SCO decided not to seek production at that time. That Cohen sought to preclude the Trump Organization from producing these third party communications belies both (i) his general assertion of cooperation, and (ii) his stated principal interest in protecting attorney-client communications. Indeed, a careful review of Cohen’s motion papers reveals that he does not purport to have personally produced any documents to the SCO.

The intransigence pertaining to Cohen’s documents involving the Trump Organization continued over to last week’s response. While the Trump Organization (which I suspect is really who hired Hendon) did not request to be party to this fight, they did send SDNY a letter last week demanding that it return every document involving Cohen and the Trump Organization.

USAO-SDNY has already received correspondence from counsel for the Trump Organization (Cohen’s former employer), which referenced the searches conducted of Cohen’s premises and claimed:

We consider each and every communication by, between or amongst Mr. Cohen and the Trump Organization and each of its officers, directors and employees, to be subject to and protected by the attorney-client privilege and/or the work-product privilege.

As a reminder: in March, Mueller subpoenaed the Trump Organization for documents, including but not limited to Russia. That’s one reason, I suspect, that Cohen believes this raid is partly about supporting Mueller’s investigation (I wonder whether Trump Org is the entity that has started destroyed documents?).

I also pointed to this passage that suggested someone had started destroying documents.

While we have no way of knowing who or what this redacted passage refers to, we do know that the Trump Organization has recently been destroying documents — in its Panama property, in advance of the majority owner kicking them out.

Two people familiar with Fintiklis’s account said that, after his arrival, hotel employees barricaded office doors with furniture, and they added that documents were shredded. The two people said Trump Organization employees — including an executive who flew down from New York City — also blocked access to a control room that houses servers and surveillance-camera monitors.

It turns out that Trump Organization had a lawyer at yesterday’s hearing.

Early in the hearing, prosecutor Thomas McCay noted that Cohen had not (in briefs, anyway) addressed any materials seized from the Trump Organization.

McKay: Cohen “does not state whether he has retained any material from the Trump Organization when he left over one year ago.” “The silence from the Trump Organization is telling,” he adds later.

Later, Cohen’s lawyer Stephen Ryan mentioned documents pertaining to the Trump Organization — but it seems like he’s more concerned about matters involving Trump personally.

With all due respect, all of use started on Monday with a completely different matter. I want to say, there are five paragraphs in that attachment A that deal directly with seeking the papers of the President of the United States in possession of my client. It is not what the government has represented is about my client’s personal life. There are five paragraphs there. This case is that. And we spent the weekend, frankly, narrowing the issues, taking issues off the table.

Here is what I can tell you. I know that materials for TO, for the Trump Organization, are in the materials that have been seized, so there are some materials for the Trump Organization. But the key here is a priority. The Court can order a prioritization of where a special master is needed and it’s needed with respect to the papers that may contain privileged information about the President of the United States.

It seems like Judge Kimba Wood might appoint a special master for some of the seized files — perhaps those involving Trump personally — but let the taint team proceed with the rest. It’s unclear whether Trump Organization would be included or excluded if Wood gave special master treatment to Trump materials.

One other note. While I don’t think it’d be among the five paragraphs pertaining to Trump in the SDNY seizure (because the SDNY is supposed to be attenuated from the Mueller investigation), Buzzfeed reported that Michael Cohen actually continued to pursue the Trump Tower Moscow deal far later into 2016 than previously revealed, in part working with a former GRU colonel, only canceling a trip to St. Petersburg, which was held from June 16-18, 2016, at the last minute.

Sater hoped to push the deal forward by attending the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum with Cohen in June 2016. Considered the most important economic gathering in Russia, the forum is regularly attended by business executives and top politicians, including President Vladimir Putin. The former Russian intelligence officer helped arrange an invitation to the conference for both Sater and Cohen, the sources said.

But neither Cohen nor Sater attended. Sources said Cohen canceled at the last minute and put the Moscow deal on hold until after the Republican National Convention. After Trump won the presidential election, the Trump Organization announced it would no longer be working on international deals, and Sater stopped working on the project.

Last year, after Sater, Cohen, and the Trump Organization turned over emails and documents to congressional and special counsel investigators, details leaked about the Trump Moscow deal and the attempt to get VTB to finance it.

Buzzfeed notes that Sater’s emails include details of these later negotiations. And SDNY has already obtained Cohen’s emails.

(Side note: if Cohen really was planning on going to St. Petersburg on anything but a 3-day cruise vacation, but canceled at the last minute, he would have had to have gone through the effort of getting a visa, which would be in …a  passport. And yet no visa for Russia was in the passport Cohen shared with Buzzfeed last year.)

In my piece yesterday, I noted that Cohen and Trump seem very concerned about policing responsiveness, keeping the SDNY review within the scope of the warrants with which the material got seized (and frankly, that’s an issue that even the most ardent Trump hater ought to support, some efforts to prevent a fishing expedition). But now that SDNY has secured the materials and prevented them from being destroyed like Trump Organization’s Panama documents were, Mueller could certainly obtain his own warrant for some of the seized materials.

Update: According to Axios, not even the Trump Organization knows what Cohen might have done on behalf of the Trump Organization.

  • Cohen knows more about some elements of Trump’s life than anyone else — because some stuff, Ivanka doesn’t want to know.

[snip]

People at the Trump Organization don’t even really know everything he does. It’s all side deals and off-the-books stuff. Trump doesn’t even fully know; he knows some but not everything.”

It’s Not Hannity’s Pee Tape that Matters

Late afternoon on Sunday, Margaret Sullivan wrote a column arguing that Donald Trump might survive his own Saturday Night Massacre of firing Rod Rosenstein or Robert Mueller. The reason Trump might survive where Nixon didn’t, she argues, is Sean Hannity.

Nixon didn’t have Fox News in his corner.

President Trump does — and that might make all the difference if he were to fire Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein or even special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

The pro-Trump media, led by Fox, would give cover, and huge swaths of Americans would be encouraged to believe that the action was not only justified but absolutely necessary.

You can see it coming.

Night after night — for many months — Trump’s sycophant-in-chief, Sean Hannity, has been softening the ground. And his message is sinking in.

In a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, three of four Republicans said they believed the Justice Department and the FBI are actively working to undermine Trump.

“Hannity has been poisoning the well for Mueller’s ‘deeply corrupt’ investigation and laying the groundwork to support the president if he seeks an authoritarian recourse,” wrote Matthew Gertz, of the progressive watchdog group Media Matters for America. That was back in October.

Six months, five convictions and more than a dozen indictments later, that poison has done its job.

Less than 24 hours later, Michael Cohen’s lawyer revealed the name of the third client to whom Cohen claimed to have provided legal advice he wanted to protect under attorney-client privilege, a person who — Cohen had claimed in a brief Sunday, hadn’t wanted his name disclosed. “The client’s name that is involved is Sean Hannity.

In response to the ensuing uproar over learning he was the hidden Client 3, Hannity offered a series of contradictory statements, presumably designed to tamp down any speculation that Cohen had negotiated a hush payment for the star, but which only served to make Cohen’s legal claims more specious.

Michael Cohen has never represented me in any matter. I never retained him, received an invoice, or paid legal fees. I have occasionally had brief discussions with him about legal questions about which I wanted his input and perspective.

I assumed those conversations were confidential, but to be absolutely clear they never involved any matter between me and a third-party.

In response to some wild speculation, let me make clear that I did not ask Michael Cohen to bring this proceeding on my behalf, I have no personal interest in this proceeding, and, in fact, asked that my de minimis discussions with Michael Cohen, which dealt almost exclusively about real estate, not be made a part of this proceeding.

As I joked, Hannity said he had eight lawyers. I wonder which three different lawyers wrote these statements, and whether one of them was the other lawyer he shares with Donald Trump, Jay Sekulow.

So Cohen advised Hannity “almost exclusively about real estate,” which in this crowd sometimes means money laundering, and not about buying off Playboy bunnies.

But what are the other conversations about?

Hannity has played even more of a role in protecting Trump than Sullivan makes out. It’s not just that he fed the uproar over Trump’s lawyer being raided. But he did an interview with Julian Assange in January 2017 that helped seed the narrative that Russia didn’t hand the DNC files to Wikileaks. More grotesquely, Hannity fed the conspiracy theories about Seth Rich (I hope the multiple entities that are suing Hannity over that will demand discovery on any claimed privileged conversations about the topic with Trump’s lawyer).

Sure, the matters on which Cohen purportedly gave legal advice to Hannity might be about buying a condo.

But given the effort Cohen made to protect those conversations from the eyes of the FBI, they also might involve coordination on some of the more insidious pushback on the Russian story.

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