Judge Ellis Compares Paul Manafort to Domestic and Foreign Terrorists and Spies and Traitors in Pulling his VIP Privileges

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

As I noted in this post, last Friday Paul Manafort requested to continue his VA trial until after the other one and (in a really craptastic argument effectively claiming a jury of Manafort’s influence peddling peers wouldn’t give him a fair trial) to move the trial to Roanoake, VA. In response, Judge TS Ellis (who likes being dicked around even less than your average judge, which is generally not at all) issued an order to have him moved to the Alexandria jail (which is where Judy Miller waited out the aspens turning). Manafort’s lawyers responded to that saying, effectively, “psyche, we’d rather leave him where we’ve just claimed he can’t prepare for trial.”

Have I mentioned how TS Ellis really, really doesn’t appreciate being dicked around? Here’s the order he issued refusing Manafort’s effort to stay in Northern Neck. In the middle of a bunch of language calling bullshit, Ellis strings the bolded words together.

At 5:00 p.m. this evening, however, defense counsel filed a motion opposing defendant’s transfer from Northern Neck to Alexandria, despite having just complained about defendant being housed at Northern Neck.1 In the motion, defense counsel states that “issues of distance and inconvenience must yield to concerns about [defendant’s] safety and, more importantly, the challenges he will face in adjusting to a new place of confinement and the changing circumstances.” [citation omitted] However, defense counsel has not identified any general or specific threat to defendant’s safety at the Alexandria Detention Center. They have not done so, because the professionals at the Alexandria Detention Center are very familiar with housing high-profile defendants including foreign and domestic terrorists, spies and traitors. All these defendants were housed safely in Alexandria pending their respective trials and defendant’s experience at the Alexandria Detention Center will presumably be no different. Moreover, defendant’s access to counsel and his ability to prepare for trial trumps his personal comfort.

1 It is surprising and confusing when counsel identifies a problem and then opposes the most logical solution to that problem. The dissonance between defendant’s motion to continue and motion opposing transfer to Alexandria Detention Center cannot be easily explained or resolved. [my emphasis]

Meanwhile, the government (as I predicted) submitted a really cranky response to the motion to delay the trial. They provided a list of what discovery they gave to Manafort when, proving his wails about getting large dumps of information to be bullshit, noting among other things that, “The vast bulk of [the documents recently provided to Manafort are] documents from a bookkeeping service (NKSFB) that works for Manafort, who has had access to this material long before the government did.” (The device from which Manafort obtained discovery last week was Rick Gates laptop; Manafort received the rest back in June.) They also pointed out, in a number of different ways, that Manafort not only knew the trial was coming, but had brought all this on himself by refusing to waive venue in the EDVA charges, thus creating a second “rocket docket” trial he had to prepare for. They even quote from a Manafort jailhouse conversation a point Josh Gerstein made (which I quoted): that Manafort has always wanted the DC trial to go first.

That other reasons may account for this application is strongly suggested by a prison call in which Manafort discusses going to trial first in the D.C. Case and contends to the listener (who did not believe the D.C. venue was favorable) that the listener should “think about how it’ll play elsewhere….There is a strategy to it, even in failure, but there’s a hope in it.” Phone Call of Manafort (June 20, 2018), at 4:02-4:39.

Mostly, though, they call bullshit on his claims of duress in jail he had been in, citing liberally from his jail phone calls (made from his private phone).

Nor are the conditions of his incarceration since June 15, which he has not challenged, more restrictive than for other inmates (and in various ways less restrictive, as noted below), or unduly interfering with his ability to prepare for trial. It is incorrect that Manafort has “very limited access to his attorneys and the records.” Dkt. 110 at 6. In fact, Manafort has reported, in a taped prison call, that he has reviewed all discovery: Just days before filing his motion for a continuance, Manafort told the person on the call that, “I’ve gone through all the discovery now.” And he has had extensive access to his counsel and materials: On July 4, 2018, Manafort remarked in a taped prison call that he is able to visit with his lawyers every day, and that he has “all my files like I would at home.”

Specifically, contrary to Manafort’s assertions about his jail conditions, Manafort is in a private unit in which he can review materials and prepare for trial.3 Moreover, he is not confined to a cell. Between the hours of 8:30am to 10:00pm, Manafort has access to a separate workroom at the jail to meet with his attorneys and legal team. Visitor logs from the prison indicate that each week Manafort has had multiple visits with his legal team.

Manafort also has a personal telephone in his unit, which he can use over twelve hours a day to speak with his attorneys.4 According to prison telephone logs, in the last three weeks Manafort has had over 100 phone calls with his attorneys, and another 200 calls with other persons. Those telephone logs indicate Manafort has spoken to his attorneys every day, and often multiple times a day. Manafort also possesses a personal laptop that he is permitted to use in his unit to review materials and prepare for trial. The jail has made extra accommodations for Manafort’s use of the laptop, including providing him an extension cord to ensure the laptop can be used in his unit and not just in the separate workroom.5

3 Among the unique privileges Manafort enjoys at the jail are a private, self-contained living unit, which is larger than other inmates’ units, his own bathroom and shower facility, his own personal telephone, and his own workspace to prepare for trial. Manafort is also not required to wear a prison uniform. On the monitored prison phone calls, Manafort has mentioned that he is being treated like a “VIP.”

4 The defense representation that telephonic communication “is restricted to ten (10) minutes per call” is incorrect. Dkt. 110 at 3. Each phone call session is limited to fifteen minutes, but there is no restriction on the number of phone call sessions, meaning that Manafort immediately can reconnect with his attorneys whenever the fifteen minutes expires. For example, according to telephone logs, Manafort has had successive phone call sessions with his attorneys that have lasted over forty minutes. The attorney calls are not monitored.

The government even claims Manafort is still engaging in foldering, with the help of his lawyers.

5 Although the jail does not allow prisoners to send or receive emails, Manafort appears to have developed a workaround. Manafort has revealed on the monitored phone calls that in order to exchange emails, he reads and composes emails on a second laptop that is shuttled in and out of the facility by his team. When the team takes the laptop from the jail, it reconnects to the internet and Manafort’s emails are transmitted

In response, Manafort has written a filing that is not only cranky, but basically devoid of real argument. There’s the boo hoo hoo about the plight of poor white collar criminal defendants who have a phone in their own VIP jail unit (with what I expect we’ll learn is a bogus rebuttal of the claim he continues to folder messages to others).

In its opposition, the Special Counsel goes to great lengths to describe Mr. Manafort’s conditions of confinement and to contend that these have not had an adverse impact upon his preparation for trial. The Special Counsel’s opposition is self-serving and inaccurate. While the opposition does not generally misrepresent the confinement conditions,1 its cavalier dismissal of the challenges of preparing for back-to-back complex white collar criminal trials while the defendant is in custody shows a lack of concern with fairness or due process.

1 In at least one respect, the description of conditions is inaccurate. With regard to alleged email workaround, the Special Counsel is wrong. While it is possible for Mr. Manafort to provide counsel with information he would like communicated, any communication is then sent by counsel in a manner that is consistent with the rules of the detention facility.

There’s the laughable claim — which Manafort’s lawyers absolutely know is rank bullshit — that all jail phone calls are monitored by the private vendor who provides the service, even those to family members.

Moreover, the Special Counsel’s opposition further demonstrates its unlimited resources. Apparently, but unsurprisingly, the Special Counsel has taken the time to assign personnel to listen to all of the non-privileged phone calls Mr. Manafort makes from jail. Armed with personal conversations between Mr. Manafort and his family, the Special Counsel selects snippets to support its version of events. The Special Counsel does not pause to consider the reasons a detained defendant might have to make his situation sound better when speaking with concerned friends and family.

And there’s the sheepishness in being caught in asking for what they wanted from the start anyway.

The Special Counsel complains that Mr. Manafort is seeking a “months-long adjournment” suggesting that such a delay is not warranted by the situation. According to the Special Counsel, if additional time were needed, Mr. Manafort would have sought a delay of both trials. This utterly misreads the situation. The two months between now and the District of Columbia trial date would allow sufficient time to prepare for that case and simultaneously to prepare for the Virginia matter. Such a schedule would allow the District of Columbia trial to proceed as scheduled on September 17 and the Virginia case to follow with only a short period between the two. This would require only a single continuance of the Virginia trial and it would be defendant’s first (and only) such request. The defendant viewed this request as a reasonable accommodation under the circumstances.

After reading this reply, I came to realize that Manafort’s legal team is arguing as trollishly as the lawyers for troll king Yevgeniy Prigozhin, making arguments in bad faith in an attempt to cough up more discovery. Which may suggest the legal strategies are the same: to discredit the Mueller investigation and obtain as much sensitive discovery as possible.

I mean, can you be cited as a lawyer for pretending not to know that all jailhouse conversations are monitored?

Ellis has scheduled a hearing for next Tuesday to address the continuance and location change. But given that he’s thinking of Manafort in the same breath as he thinks of “foreign and domestic terrorists, spies and traitors,” I’m guessing he’s done with Manafort’s bullshit.

It all seems like this is coming to a head even more quickly than Manafort’s upcoming trial date. But given Manafort lawyer Kevin Downing’s insolence, I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

Peter Strzok Is a Sideshow to Information that Directly Implicates the President

On Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee will hold a public shaming of Peter Strzok, in yet another attempt to prove that the Mueller investigation is hopelessly tainted by Strzok’s belief — shared at the time by Republicans Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz — that Donald Trump is “an opportunist” who is “not fit to be President of the United States” and “Donald Trump can’t be trusted with common sense. Why would we trust him in the White House?”

But Strzok and his testimony is, in significant respect, a sideshow to evidence that directly implicates Donald Trump.

I say that based on the following information related to my own interview with the FBI.

  • DOJ probably used a clean team with me to ensure it shared nothing it already knew with me
  • Peter Strzok had no connection to my interview
  • Information I provided would change the importance of evidence otherwise obtained publicly

DOJ probably used a clean team with me

First, as I have suggested, I believe the team that interviewed me was a “clean team,” a prosecutor and FBI agents who weren’t centrally involved in the investigation I provided information on. I say that because the agents came into the interview with almost no information about either me or the person I was discussing.

My interview consisted of three sessions with two breaks. In the first session, the lead agent questioned me aggressively about a detail about the person I was discussing; he didn’t believe I had adequately vetted the detail. By the third session, however, he said something that suggested he had since confirmed the detail he had earlier challenged me on. From that I conclude that the FBI already knew of this person, but the agents who interviewed me did not.

I believe they didn’t know about me because, while the second agent seemed to know I would happily make small talk about cycling in northern Michigan, neither knew how well I know FBI surveillance (for the love of J Edgar Hoover, why would you put agents in a room with me without making that clear?). To be very clear: in the interview, they did not disclose anything I didn’t already know. But I did find myself citing information publicly available in the DIOG about the FBI’s rules on journalists to them. Given that that issue is one I’ve reported on more than virtually anyone else, I conclude they simply were unfamiliar with my work.

Peter Strzok had no connection to my interview

This point has gotten muddled, though I have tried to be very meticulous about it. As far as I understand things, I was not interviewed by Mueller’s team. Rather, I provided information to the FBI about a subject matter that was not part of the Mueller investigation at the time. One of the prosecutors who was in the loop on, but did not participate in, my interview was later incorporated into the Mueller team, and public reports say that one of the subject matters was as well.

Thus, whether my interview happened before or after Strzok was removed from Mueller’s team (remember I’m deliberately not sharing what date it happened), it doesn’t seem possible that he had any upstream or downstream involvement in it. So even if you believe Strzok tainted everything downstream of him, my information was neither up- nor downstream of him. It came into Mueller’s possession via a parallel stream.

Information I provided may have changed the importance of other publicly available information — information that implicates Trump directly

I apologize, but I’m going to be deliberately obscure on this point (and will neither confirm nor deny if I’m asked, as it’s not something I’ve run by the Mueller team). As I have said, I don’t think I was the first person to provide information on the person I went to the FBI about. I’ll add that this person has no discernible tie to Trump or the Republican Party. But I do think I was the first person to provide certain information about him that may have widened the scope of FBI’s understanding of the matter.

Subsequent to my interview with the FBI, I realized certain things about publicly available information. I’ve never shared that realization with the government, but it’s a realization they undoubtedly came to on their own from the same publicly available information.

And that realization I had and the government surely also had would have changed the importance of evidence Mueller received via means unrelated to Peter Strzok.

That evidence likely implicates the President directly.

Let me reiterate: when I went to the FBI, I did not believe this person had a direct tie to Trump or the Republicans at all and I know of none, still. The text about Mike Flynn is the only thing that provably suggested any tie (and that, only in conjunction with the Jared Kushner and Mike Flynn corroboration of it — at the time I received it I thought it was bullshit).  Any suspicions I had about a tie between information I had — and understood — when I went into that interview with the FBI and the Trump team would have been speculative and in any case tangential to the central point of what I went to the FBI about.

I believe that when the government had the same realization I had, the scope of their understanding about the person in question would have eventually expanded, though probably not as far as the information I provided may have. Which is to say the information that implicates the President in no way relies on my information, though my information would have made the import far more obvious. In any case, none of this comes from me. It’s just the evidence that is publicly available.

So tomorrow, as House Judiciary Republicans spend half the day or longer publicly flogging Peter Strzok, know that all that flogging cannot change the fact that key evidence in Mueller’s possession, evidence which I suspect implicates the President directly, has absolutely no tie to Peter Strzok at all. None. Tomorrow will be just one big giant show that in no way can alter the provenance of key, damning evidence in Mueller’s possession.

The Special Counsel’s office declined to comment for this post.

The Text about Flynn Wasn’t the Substantial Role in the Russian Attack — It Just Linked the Grand Bargain to It

Having spoken to a number of journalists about my post revealing I spoke with the FBI about someone on Russia-related matters, I want to clarify something about my deliberately oblique post. The text I received just over 14 hours after polls closed — reporting that Flynn had been tasked to speak with “Team Al-Assad” within 48 hours — was not directly related to the “significant role” this person played in the Russian attack on the US, at least as far as I have been able to understand.

On the contrary, this text is something I’ve puzzled over ever since, because — as the substance of the text came to be corroborated by both Jared Kushner and Mike Flynn — I couldn’t understand how he had learned of it so quickly.

The “significant role” I believe this person had in the Russian attack on the US is at least facially entirely separate from the subject of the text, though I do find it really telling that someone I believed had been and was subsequently involved in the attack on the US was in the loop on the foreign policy payoff so quickly.

All that said, it and some related comments inform why I have argued, since May 2017, that the “Russia” story is actually as much about Jared’s “Peace” “Plan” as it is about payoff to Russia in the form of sanctions relief.

As I explained, I included the text in the oblique post because of reports that seem to confirm we’re closing in on the deal that Trump turned to implementing just hours after the election.

Here’s another example, a follow-up from Adam Entous on an earlier report on Donald Trump’s New World Order. He describes how Mohammed bin Zayed told an American shortly before the election — that is, shortly before this text was sent to me — that Vladimir Putin might be willing to make a deal on Syria in exchange for sanctions relief.

During a private meeting shortly before the November, 2016, election, Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, floated to a longtime American interlocutor what sounded, at the time, like an unlikely grand bargain. The Emirati leader told the American that Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, might be interested in resolving the conflict in Syria in exchange for the lifting of sanctions imposed in response to Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

Current and former U.S. officials said that bin Zayed, known as M.B.Z., was not the only leader in the region who favored rapprochement between the former Cold War adversaries. While America’s closest allies in Europe viewed with a sense of dread Trump’s interest in partnering with Putin, three countries that enjoyed unparallelled influence with the incoming Administration—Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the U.A.E.—privately embraced the goal. Officials from the three countries have repeatedly encouraged their American counterparts to consider ending the Ukraine-related sanctions in return for Putin’s help in removing Iranian forces from Syria.

[snip]

It is unclear whether M.B.Z.’s preëlection proposal came from Putin himself or one of his confidants, or whether the Emirati leader came up with the idea. But the comment suggested that M.B.Z. believed that turning Putin against Iran would require sanctions relief for Moscow, a concession that required the support of the American President.

Entous is asking similar questions as I am about this effort: did my source learn of Flynn’s tasking from the Russians or from someone else? I honestly don’t know.

But Entous and I are seeing the same thing in recent events. That over the next two weeks, Trump looks poised to deliver on his end of the grand bargain.

On June 8th, Trump called for Russia to be readmitted to the Group of Seven industrial nations. (Russia was expelled four years ago, after it annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region.) Then, during a dinner at the G-7 summit in Canada, Trump reportedly said that Crimea was Russian because the people who lived there spoke Russian. Several weeks later, when asked whether reports that he would drop Washington’s long-standing opposition to the annexation of Crimea were true, Trump responded, “We’re going to have to see.”

What I hoped to add to this story by revealing that text is the evidence that the grand bargain tied closely, in the person that I discussed with the FBI, with the election attack.

The President’s Lawyer Had Better Review His Conspiracy Theory

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

There’s one more part of Rudy Giuliani’s hat trick yesterday that deserves closer attention. On both NBC and ABC and NBC, Rudy addressed the June 9 Trump Tower meeting. On NBC, Chuck Todd emphasized how often the story has changed about the meeting — both Trump’s own story, and the three versions of the story put out exactly a year ago. As such, Todd doesn’t talk about what crime the meeting might pertain to.

CHUCK TODD:

–Mr. Mayor, in the public record– and you and I have actually had a discussion about one of these, in the public record, we have the president admitting that he misled the New York Times on the Donald Trump Jr. statement when it came to his role in the infamous Trump Tower meeting of June of 2016. You said there’s nothing — this is a public record of the president contradicting, and I know it is not a crime for the president to lie to us in the media. However, how is that not itself probable cause for Mr. Mueller to want to question the president?

RUDY GIULIANI:

Well, because the fact is that also in the public record is the conclusion of that meeting. And that is that nothing was done about it. That the person came in under the guise of having information about, about Clinton but also to talk about adoptions. All she did was talk about adoptions —

CHUCK TODD:

Wait a minute.

RUDY GIULIANI:

— and sanctions.

CHUCK TODD:

First of all, we don’t know that. That has not been fully–

RUDY GIULIANI:

Well, we do know that because–

CHUCK TODD:

–established. The story changed three times, Mr. Mayor. So if the story changed, how are we–

RUDY GIULIANI:

No, no, no, no.

CHUCK TODD:

–so sure? Look, your own legal partner here in the president’s team, Jay Sekulow, misled me. Now, you had said he didn’t intentionally do that. I take your word.

RUDY GIULIANI:

He didn’t.

CHUCK TODD:

I take your word at that. But somebody misled him then. Your client may have misled him.

RUDY GIULIANI:

They already have all these facts. They can do with them what they want. They don’t need – I, I can tell them that the president’s testimony will be exactly the same as he said about this.

CHUCK TODD:

Which part? What he said in the public record or when he– we don’t know what he said–

RUDY GIULIANI:

What he has said–

CHUCK TODD:

–privately.

In the very last line of the exchange, however, Rudy gives away the game. He says “there was no discussion with [Trump] about this and there were no” and right here, he corrects himself and says, instead of whatever he almost said, “that nothing happened from it.”

RUDY GIULIANI:

He has had an opportunity to think about it, to refresh his recollection. He’s given a statement about it. And it’s clear that there was no discussion with him about this and there were no – that nothing happened from it.

That is, Rudy isn’t talking about what Todd might be — obstruction. Rather, he’s talking about whether anything came of the meeting, at which dirt was promised and sanctions relief was requested.

Rudy reveals even more to Stephanopoulos over on ABC. In addition to claiming that he, Rudy, doesn’t believe Trump knew about the meeting, he twice says the meeting amounts to different recollections (and attributes those recollections to the campaign that four of the participants weren’t contesting).

STEPHANOPOULOS: There was another question that came up in my interview with Michael Cohen and it had to do with the Trump Tower meeting, that famous (inaudible) Trump Tower meeting, Don Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort all met with these Russians who had indicated they had some dirt on Hillary Clinton.

When I asked Michael Cohen did the president know about that meeting ahead of time, again he refused to answer in advice of counsel. What is the answer to that question?

GIULIANI: Don’t believe he did know about it, don’t believe he knew about it afterwards, I think that you could have very, very different recollections on that because it was right — right in the heat of the campaign.

And I — I was probably there that day. I don’t — I don’t remember it. Did somebody say something to me? I don’t know, it goes off in your — you know what a campaign is like, it’s complete helter skelter.

Again, it doesn’t mean anything because it resulted in nothing. That went nowhere, she tried to get back in, she didn’t, they never did anything with it (ph).

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well what it could mean is that — that the president, as Tina (ph) said, he didn’t know about in advance. If it turns out that he did, then at least he hadn’t been telling the truth —

(CROSS TALK)

GIULIANI: Well I think — I think — I think you end up there with at most differing recollection. Since nothing happened with it, there’d be no reason to hide it. I mean he could have said yes, they did tell me about it, and what happened? Nothing.

Given the context, it’s pretty clear what recollections Rudy might have in mind: whether Don Jr said his father would revisit sanctions if he won the election. But on that front, among the six people who submitted testimony to SJC on the topic (Jared would have left before this), there’s not actually much disagreement.

Natalia Veselnitskaya said Don Jr said they’d revisit the topic.

Mr. Trump, Jr. politely wound up the meeting with meaningless phrases about somewhat as follows: can do nothing about it, “if’ or “when” we come to power, we may return to this strange and confusing story.

Ike Kaveladze said that Don Jr said they might revisit the issue if his father won.

There was no request, but as I said, it was a suggestion that if Trump campaign ins, they might get back to the Magnitsky Act topic in the future.

Rinat Akhmetshin said that Don Jr said they would revisit Magnitsky when they won.

A. I don’t remember exact words which were said, but I remember at the end, Donald, Jr., said, you know, “Come back see us again when we win.” Not “if we win,” but “when we win.” And I kind of thought to myself like, “Yeah, right.” But it happened, so — but that’s something, see, he’s very kind of positive about, “When we win, come back and see us again.” Something to that effect, I guess.

Anatoli Samochornov, Veselnitskaya’s translator, who is the most independent witness and the only one who didn’t compare his story with others, said that Don Jr said they would revisit the issue if Trump won.

A. Like I described, I remember, not verbatim, the closing that Mr. Donald Trump, Jr., provided, but that’s all that I recall being said from the other side.

MR. PRIVOR: That closing being that Donald Trump, Jr., suggested —

MR. SAMOCHORNOV: If or when yes, and I do not remember if or when, but if or when my father becomes President, we will revisit this issue.

Just two people remember it differently. In an answer that, in some respects, exactly tracks statements that were massaged elsewhere by Trump’s lawyers, Rob Goldstone said Don Jr told Veselnitskaya to raise it with Obama.

And he stopped this in its tracks and said, with respect, I suggest that you address your — what seemed very valid concerns but to the Obama administration because they actually are in power. My father is a private citizen and, as such, it has no validity, of what you’re saying. Thank you very much for coming. I appreciate all your time. You know, we have a very busy schedule, and thank you.

And Don Jr himself remembers he ended the meeting by saying his father, a private citizen, couldn’t do anything about this.

I proceeded to quickly and politely end the meeting by telling Ms. Veselnitskaya that because my father was a private citizen there did not seem to be any point for having this discussion.

Which is to say everyone whose statement wasn’t massaged by Don Jr’s lawyer says he did suggest Trump would revisit the issue after the election, which is surely why half of the people at the meeting worked on setting up such a meeting.

Now, Rudy suggests that’s all good because nothing actually came of it. There are several problems with that. 52 U.S.C. §§ 30121 makes it a crime to solicit or offer support from a foreign national, which is one of the crimes that NSD has already said might be charged in this case. Arguably, that’s what the meeting did. All the more so if the emails that got dumped a 6 days later were tied to Don Jr’s agreement to revisit sanctions.

But Rudy doesn’t consider whether Mueller could charge a conspiracy to do same. There, it doesn’t so much matter whether the conspiracy was successful (and there’s abundant evidence showing both sides continued to try to deliver on this detail). It matters whether two or more people made an agreement to conspire to violate US regulatory functions.

(1) two or more persons formed an agreement to defraud the United States;

(2) [each] defendant knowingly participated in the conspiracy with the intent to defraud the United States; and

(3) at least one overt act was committed in furtherance of the common scheme.

Rudy has already admitted to the substance of a ConFraudUs case.

Trump Is Willing to Pay for Joint Defense for Hope Hicks, But Not for France

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

I keep coming back to this exchange between Dana Bash and Rudy Giuliani over the weekend.

BASH:  But let’s just focus on one of the things that you said…

GIULIANI: Go.

BASH: … that there is no evidence — you say that the special counsel hasn’t produced evidence.

But they haven’t said that they have no evidence. They have — you say that there have been leaks. They have been remarkably tight-lipped, aside from what they have had to do with indictments and such.

GIULIANI: No, they haven’t. They leaked reports. They leaked reports. They leaked meetings. They’re leaking on Manafort right now. They leaked Cohen before it happened.

BASH: But this is an ongoing investigation. We don’t really know what they have and what they don’t have. That’s fair, right?

GIULIANI: Well, I have a pretty good idea because I have seen all the documents that they have. We have debriefed all their witnesses. And we have pressed them numerous times.

BASH: You have debriefed all of their witnesses?

GIULIANI: Well, I think so, I mean, the ones that were — the ones that were involved in the joint defense agreement, which constitutes all the critical ones.

They have nothing, Dana. They wouldn’t be pressing for this interview if they had anything. [my emphasis]

Rudy asserts that every critical witness is a member of a Joint Defense Agreement involving Trump.

That’s a big Joint Defense Agreement. It also suggests that if Mueller can learn who is in it, he’s got a map of everyone that Trump himself thinks was involved in the conspiracy with Russia.

Some people will be obvious — not least, because they share lawyers. Witnesses with shared lawyers include:

Erik Prince, Sam Clovis, Mark Corallo (represented by Victoria Toensing)

Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon, Don McGahn (represented by William Burck)

Don Jr, Rhona Graff (represented by Trump Organization lawyer Alan Futerfas)

Almost certainly, it includes the key witnesses who’ve been moved onto various parts of the Reelection campaign, including 2020 convention security head Keith Schiller (represented by Stuart Sears) and Brad Parscale (defense attorney unknown).

Others are obvious because we know they’re centrally involved — people like Jared Kushner (represented by Abbe Lowell) and Hope Hicks (represented by Robert Trout). Indeed, Hicks may also fall into the category of shared lawyers — at least from the same firm — as Trout Cacheris & Janis got paid $451,779 by the RNC in April for representing Hope and two other witnesses.

One implication from this (which would be unbelievable, if true) is that Paul Manafort remains a part of the Joint Defense Agreement. But that is the only way that Trump can assess his vulnerability — as he has in the past, and appears to have shared with the Russians — to go exclusively through Manafort.

There are other implications of claiming that every critical witness is part of the Joint Defense Agreement — including that the Attorney General (represented by Iran-Contra escape artist lawyer Charles Cooper) must be part of it too. So, too, must Stephen Miller (defense attorney unknown).

But here’s the really telling thing. A key part of Trump’s foreign policy — one he’ll be focusing on relentlessly in advance of next week’s NATO summit — is that other members of the United States’ alliances are freeloaders. He’s demanding that NATO members all start paying their own way for our mutual defense.

But Trump is willing to make sure that those protecting him get paid (even if he’s not willing to pay himself). (I stole this observation from an interlocutor on Twitter.)

Which is saying something about what Trump is willing to do when he, himself, is at risk.

The State of Trump’s Anti-Mueller Strategy

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

I thought it’d be useful to summarize Trump’s many-fronted attack on the Mueller investigation today.

Forthcoming Peter Strzok testimony

As part of the GOP obstruction efforts, the House Judiciary Committee will have Peter Strzok for a public hearing Thursday, without (at least thus far) providing him with a transcript of his 11-hour testimony before the committee two weeks ago.

In his increasingly frequent rants about the Witch Hunt, Trump continues to focus on Strzok’s role.

Incidentally, I made some initial outreach to do an informal briefing with some Republican members of Congress about what I know about the election year tampering, but learned the committees were too busy with Strzok and related issues to hear from me.

Leak of two anti-Comey letters

Yesterday, a Saturday, the AP published two anti-Comey letters sent by the Trump team:

  • A June 27, 2017 screed from Marc Kasowitz delivered by hand to Robert Mueller, spinning Jim Comey’s descriptions of his own actions as inaccurate and Machiavellian
  • A September 1, 2017 letter from John Dowd to Rod Rosenstein complaining that there was no grand jury investigation into Comey’s behavior, the closure of the Hillary email investigation, and (vaguely) the Clinton Foundation

The AP claims that,

The 13-page document provides a window into the formation of a legal strategy that remains in use today by Trump’s lawyers — to discredit Comey’s value as a witness. It could have new relevance in the aftermath of a Justice Department inspector general report that criticized Comey for departing from protocol in the Clinton investigation.

The AP did not include Rudy Giuliani (among others, including Trump himself) in the list of those it reached out to for comment.

Lawyers for Comey declined to comment Saturday, as did Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller. Kasowitz and Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow did not return messages, and former Trump attorney John Dowd declined to comment.

The NYT’s continued parroting of Trump’s shitty legal team’s understanding of the case

Meanwhile, the Mike and Maggie team at NYT continues its practice of writing stories that claim to track a grand new Trump legal strategy, but along the way mostly maps out either Trump spin emphasizing obstruction or just outright misunderstanding of the case against the President. In the most recent installment, Mike and Maggie claim the obviously consistent half year strategy of inventing excuses not to do an interview is a new one.

President Trump’s lawyers set new conditions on Friday on an interview with the special counsel and said that the chances that the president would be voluntarily questioned were growing increasingly unlikely.

The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, needs to prove before Mr. Trump would agree to an interview that he has evidence that Mr. Trump committed a crime and that his testimony is essential to completing the investigation, said Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s lead lawyer in the case.

At one point, they even claim that the raid against Michael Cohen — as opposed to the mounting evidence that Mueller was examining Trump’s role in “collusion,” not just obstruction — that led Trump to take a more aggressive stance.

But in April, Mr. Trump concluded that Mr. Mueller and Justice Department officials were determined to find wrongdoing after federal investigators in New York, acting on a referral from the special counsel, raided the office, hotel room and home of Mr. Trump’s longtime personal lawyer Michael D. Cohen.

The most curious aspect of the story is Rudy’s claim that if Mueller — who as early as March was asking around 13 questions about “collusion” — could show real evidence, then Trump would be willing to sit for an interview.

“If they can come to us and show us the basis and that it’s legitimate and that they have uncovered something, we can go from there and assess their objectivity,” Mr. Giuliani said in an interview. He urged the special counsel to wrap up his inquiry and write an investigative report. He said Mr. Trump’s lawyers planned to write their own summary of the case.

This is an area where NYT could have laid out the evidence that implicates Trump personally, to show how silly this line is.

After that article, Schmidt weighed in twice more on Twitter, asserting that because Mueller told Trump’s team he needed to question the President for obstruction earlier this year, that remains true.

Mueller told Trump’s lawyers earlier this year that he needed to question the president to know whether he had criminal intent on obstruction issues. Hard to believe Mueller doesn’t try and do everything in his power to get Trump to answer those questions.

Schmidt also posted Dowd’s self-congratulation for his own strategy cooperating long enough to support the defense team’s current position that Mueller would have to show strong evidence of a crime to be able to subpoena the president to testify.

Giuliani’s hat trick of Sunday shows

In what must be the result of aggressive White House outreach, Rudy Giuliani appeared on several outlets this morning, following up on the NYT piece. On ABC, he nuanced his claim about whether Trump would sit for an interview, saying not that Mueller would have to show evidence of a crime, but that he’d have to show “a factual basis” for an investigation into Trump.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let’s talk about Robert Mueller. The New York Times reported that President Trump won’t agree to an interview with Robert Mueller unless Mueller first proves he has evidence that President Trump committed a crime.

That was based on an interview with you. Is that the current condition?

GIULIANI: Yes, but I have to modify that a bit, look at my quote. My quote is not evidence of a crime, it’s a factual basis for the investigation. We’ve been through everything on collusion and obstruction.

We can’t find an incriminating anything, and we need a basis for this investigation, particularly since we now know it was started from (ph) biased — by biased —

STEPHANOPOULOS: We have James Comey’s testimony.

GIULIANI: Well Comey’s testimony is hardly worth anything. And — nor — nor did he ever — James Comey had — never found any evidence of collusion. And rules out obstruction by saying the president had a right to fire me. So all the rest of it is just politics. I mean, the — the — the reality is Comey, in some ways, ends up being a good witness for us.

Unless you assume they’re trying to get him into a perjury trap by (ph) he tells his version, somebody else has a different version.

Rudy went a bit further on CNN, claiming to be certain there’s no reason for the investigation because his team has debriefed all of Mueller’s witnesses (who, according to Rudy, are all part of the joint defense agreement).

BASH: Thank you.

And these new terms, particularly that Robert Mueller must show proof of Trump wrongdoing to agree to an interview, you actually have said that you don’t think that Mueller would even agree to it. So why do this dance? Why not just tell the special counsel, sorry, no interview?

GIULIANI: Well, we’d like to know if there is any factual basis for the investigation originally or they have developed one, because we can’t find one, nor can anyone else, nor have they, with all the leaking they have done, even leaked one, which I think would have happened immediately, because they want to justify themselves.

The fact is, I should correct it. I didn’t say they have to prove a crime.

BASH: Right.

GIULIANI: What I said was, they have to give us a factual basis, meaning some suspicion of a crime.

For example, I can’t initiate an investigation of my neighbor just because I don’t like him or just he’s politically different from me.

[snip]

BASH: … that there is no evidence — you say that the special counsel hasn’t produced evidence.

But they haven’t said that they have no evidence. They have — you say that there have been leaks. They have been remarkably tight- lipped, aside from what they have had to do with indictments and such.

GIULIANI: No, they haven’t. They leaked reports. They leaked reports. They leaked meetings. They’re leaking on Manafort right now. They leaked Cohen before it happened.

BASH: But this is an ongoing investigation. We don’t really know what they have and what they don’t have. That’s fair, right?

GIULIANI: Well, I have a pretty good idea because I have seen all the documents that they have. We have debriefed all their witnesses. And we have pressed them numerous times.

BASH: You have debriefed all of their witnesses?

GIULIANI: Well, I think so, I mean, the ones that were — the ones that were involved in the joint defense agreement, which constitutes all the critical ones.

Rudy said much the same on NBC — the most interesting part of that interview is Chuck Todd’s questions about why Trump would meet with Putin while being under investigation for colluding with him.

Central to all three of these interviews is the notion that because Michael Horowitz found that Jim Comey acted improperly in the Hillary investigation, Trump can’t be investigated for anything to do with him — the same story told implausibly in those two leaked letters.

The Trump team went to great lengths to spend their limited Sunday Morning political capital on rolling this out as a purportedly new Mueller strategy.

Some Issues of Timing Revealed by Manafort’s Filings

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

On Tuesday, Mueller’s team gave Paul Manafort the contents of Rick Gates’ electronic devices for the first time. Yesterday, after receiving another large dump of evidence, Manafort moved to delay his July 25 trial, a motion the Mueller team objected to.

Those are just a few of the details revealed by a slew of filings submitted in Manafort’s EDVA case yesterday. Those filings include:

  1. The government’s opposition to a motion Manafort submitted in June trying to keep all mention of the Trump campaign, the DC case against him, and the fact he got thrown in jail in the DC case from being introduced in his EDVA trial
  2. A motion to move his trial from Alexandria to Roanoke based on some crazy claims but ultimately boiling down to Manafort’s belief that if he is tried by a jury of his sleazy political influence peddling peers, he’s more likely to go to prison
  3. A supplement to Manafort’s bid to get a hearing on leaks, which includes January and February discovery request letters and two electronic communications describing a meeting between the FBI and the AP from April 2017; all of those exhibits are worth reading but I won’t deal with them here
  4. A motion to delay his trial until sometime after the DC one

It’s the first and the fourth items that I’m interested in here.

emptywheel’s Continuing Obsession with Paul Manafort’s 404(b) Notice

Folks seem to pretty much understand my continuing obsession with Paul Manafort’s iPod habit (or rather, his efforts to deem the seizure of his eight iPods improper). Perhaps less obviously interesting is my continuing obsession with the 404(b) notices in his two cases, which are the way lawyers fight over whether evidence of related crimes can be admitted in trial. In Manafort’s case, I think this fight may reveal something about how Mueller sees the various pieces of the puzzle fitting together.

As I previously noted, the government fought to delay disclosure of 404(b) in the DC case until June 15. When they did submit the 404(b) notice in that case, the government said they want to include evidence of three other crimes, two of which happen to be New York State crimes (the apartment in question is a Trump Tower one) that might be charged in the state.

Here’s the 404(b) motion. Mueller wants to introduce three things:

  • Evidence that one reason that Manafort and others arranged for [Skadden Arps] to be retained for the de minimis sum of approximately $12,000—even though they knew at the time that Law Firm A proposed a budget of at least $4 million—was to avoid certain limitations imposed by Ukrainian public procurement law.
  • Evidence that Manafort was treating a NYC apartment as a business property with the IRS but as a personal dwelling with a lender.
  • Evidence that Manafort structured intra-Cypriot funds to hide income.

The first of those two, of course, involve crimes in NY state.

In the EDVA case, I had suspected that the government asked TS Ellis to issue a discovery order to make it clear they wouldn’t provide 404(b) notice in this case until a week before trial — I got the date wrong but I think it’d be July 18 — but can move to avoid any pretrial notice.

So maybe that’s what Mueller’s trying to get Manafort to agree to. The EDVA standard order he’s trying to get him to use would require 404(b) notice by July 17, but permits the government to request avoiding such pretrial notice.

It is further ORDERED that, no later than seven calendar days before trial, the government shall provide notice to the defendant, in accordance with FED. R. EVID. 404(b), of the general nature of any evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts of defendant which it intends to introduce at trial, except that, upon motion of the government and for good cause shown, the court may excuse such pretrial notice.

Yesterday’s opposition to Manafort’s bid to limit what it can say about the Trump campaign and the DC case confirms I was (at least partly) correct — the government wanted a discovery order so they can avoid telling Manafort what they want to raise at trial.

The defendant’s request to preclude evidence relating to the District of Columbia case is a premature effort to preclude evidence under Rule 404(b). See Doc. 93 at 5 n.1 (“[T]his motion is being filed in the event that the Special Counsel seeks at trial to introduce evidence or advance arguments concerning ‘other act’ evidence.”). The standard practice in the Eastern District of Virginia, as referenced in the Government’s proposed discovery order (Doc. 83 at 7), is that the government provide notice of Rule 404(b) evidence it intends to introduce at trial seven days before trial. Although the defendant has not responded to the Government’s Motion for Entry of Discovery Order, the government intends to follow the District’s standard practice with respect to Rule 404(b) notice. It nevertheless bears noting that contrary to the defendant’s characterization, there is substantial overlap between the evidence in District of Columbia case and the one before this Court. The Superseding Indictment in the District of Columbia alleges tax fraud that overlaps with the substantive tax charges in the Eastern District of Virginia.

In other words, in a filing arguing that the government should be able to bring in details about both the Trump campaign (because some of the loans he’s being tried for he only obtained by getting the banker a position on the Trump campaign) and about Gates’ guilty plea in DC (but not about the crimes that Manafort allegedly committed while on bail that got him thrown in prison), Mueller’s team makes it clear they intend to wait to tell Manafort what other crimes they might mention at the EDVA trial until July 18.

In any case, this opposition motion would seem to limit how much Mueller can mention about the collusion case in chief to a description of that loan. So it’s probably just that Mueller has some other activity, akin to the NY based crime they plan to introduce in the DC case, perhaps some criminal activity that can be charged in VA, that they plan to introduce at trial. In any case, they’re not going to release it for another 10 days or so.

The big discovery dump

Sometime after 6:28 yesterday, Manafort submitted his motion to delay his trial to sometime after his other one. Now, as Josh Gerstein noted in response to my pestering him to review Manafort’s “rocket docket” strategy of splitting this trial from his DC one, Manafort lawyer Kevin Downing always wanted to do the DC one first.

Manafort attorney Kevin Downing requested the Virginia case be set for sometime in November, after the Washington trial. Downing told Ellis the defense needs time to assemble legal motions in both cases and to prepare for the back-to-back trials.

“This is a massive indictment,” the defense attorney said. “We were envisioning a trial in this case in November, following the case in D.C.”

So effectively, what Manafort did was wait until the very last minute, and then ask for what they wanted in the first place, this trial to go second. To justify the delay, his lawyers are citing the difficulties posed by him being in jail (which is a fair reason, but one most similarly situated defendants don’t get concessions for).

But I’m interested in the depiction of the latest discovery received that they also use to make the request.

Indeed, in terms of discovery, defense counsel has continued to receive voluminous amounts from the Special Counsel up-to-the-moment. Thus far, there have been twenty-three (23) discovery productions, the most recent of which was produced to the defense at 6:28 p.m. today, July 6, 2018 (i.e., the same date that this motion for a continuance is being filed)—a mere 19 days before the scheduled trial in this case. The Special Counsel’s production today appears to contain approximately 50,000 pages of new documents. Indeed, this is despite the Special Counsel’s representations earlier this year that discovery was complete, or nearly complete.4 In fact, since May the defense has received seven discovery productions which include at least 140,000 pages of material. The Special Counsel’s next most-recent disclosure—coming on July 3, 2018 (a mere 22 days prior to the scheduled trial)—includes data obtained from the primary cooperating witness’s personal electronic devices and will require extensive review and analysis. (This is the same witness who resolved his case in the District of Columbia in February of this year.) Moreover, defense counsel’s review of the discovery produced to date has been unusually timeconsuming because discovery relevant to this case has often been co-mingled with discovery that appears relevant solely to the D.C. Case. As the Court observed at the recent motions hearing, this is primarily a documents case, and defense counsel require additional time to thoroughly review and analyze with their client the voluminous documents produced by the Special Counsel. It is critically important for the defense to have sufficient time to review the discovery with Mr. Manafort because he understands many of the relevant documents (and their context) better than anyone else.

4 See, e.g., Doc. 20 (filed Feb. 28, 2018) at 7 (“[W]e believe that almost all of the relevant discovery in this matter in our possession has already been produced in the course of the District of Columbia prosecution.”); see also D.C. Case, Doc. 146 (filed Jan. 12, 2018) at 1 (“As of the date of this filing, the government has completed a substantial portion of the discovery in this case.”).

Now, I await Mueller’s response to this, as I suspect Manafort is obscuring that, to the extent it pertains to this trial, this recent discovery has more to do with Mueller’s obligations to give Manafort discovery on incriminating evidence against people who will be witnesses at the trial. He’s also obscuring how discovery happened in this case, which started coming 20 days after he was indicted in DC in October and for which the most pertinent materials were identified as “hot.” The full context of the document he cites in that footnote reads,

In addition, we believe that almost all of the relevant discovery in this matter in our possession has already been produced in the course of the District of Columbia prosecution. The government made its first production on November 17, 2017, which included: (1) foreign bank account records for the accounts in Cyprus and Saint Vincent & the Grenadines; (2) domestic financial records; and (3) documents from Manafort’s tax preparer that were identified by the government as particularly relevant. In ensuing ten productions, the government has produced a range of emails, financial documents and other records, as well as materials obtained from a number of different devices and media. 4 As of February 28, 2018, the government had made eleven separate discovery productions to the defendant. In addition, the government also has produced for the defendant documents that it identified as “hot.”

So Manafort had 7 months to review the most important discovery in this case working from home confinement. Manafort is also, surely, obscuring how much of this discovery pertains to the DC case (which is still two months away), not this EDVA one.

These motions were due on Friday in any case, and as Gerstein pointed out, Downing always wanted to do this trial after the DC one, so it’s unlikely this request for a continuance is a response to the discovery he got last week. And the late filing might be best explained by a late edit to incorporate yesterday’s production in the motion. The motion for a continuance is far, far better drafted than the goofy venue change one.

But I do find it interesting that Mueller is just now showing Manafort what he found in Rick Gates’ electronic devices. I wonder if, in doing so, he expected Manafort to rethink his willingness to run interference for Donald Trump? If so, then the request for a continuance would be rather interesting.

The Tea Leaves on Mueller’s Hand Off

As part of writing this post, I confirmed for the first time that the prosecutor I spoke with regarding the Russian attack is not and never has been part of the Mueller team (among other things, I think that means Peter Strzok never got within a mile of my testimony, which is why I asked). But a prosecutor who was involved in discussions setting up my interview is, and the Special Counsel’s Office certainly seemed to recognize my interview as part of the investigation when I alerted them I was going to publish that text. Given that the FBI agents I spoke with didn’t know what topics I cover for a living (and seemed to get wiser about the person we were discussing over two breaks), my guess is that DOJ assigned a team segmented off from the investigation to ensure that no one accidentally dropped hints about the investigation. That’s all just a wildarseguess, though. DOJ has gone to great lengths to ensure I don’t learn anything from the process, as is proper.

Having that tiny glimpse into how DOJ used a prosecutor uninvolved in the case in chief to talk to me about what may have become part of the case in chief is background to explain why I doubt some of the conclusions made in this piece, reporting that Mueller has divvied up tasks to career prosecutors from elsewhere in DOJ.

As Mueller pursues his probe, he’s making more use of career prosecutors from the offices of U.S. attorneys and from Justice Department headquarters, as well as FBI agents — a sign that he may be laying the groundwork to hand off parts of his investigation eventually, several current and former U.S. officials said.

Mueller and his team of 17 federal prosecutors are coping with a higher-then-expected volume of court challenges that has added complexity in recent months, but there’s no political appetite at this time to increase the size of his staff, the officials said.

[snip]

Investigators in New York; Alexandria, Virginia; Pittsburgh and elsewhere have been tapped to supplement the work of Mueller’s team, the officials said. Mueller has already handed off one major investigation — into Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen — to the Southern District of New York.

The only thing that is clearly new in this paragraph is that Mueller has involved prosecutors in Pittsburgh. As the paragraph itself notes, [part of] the investigation into Michael Cohen got handed off to SDNY. But that’s because it involves conduct — a hush money payment that Cohen arranged from Manhattan and taxi medallion fraud — that don’t clearly relate to Russian election interference. Other reports suggest that conduct more closely tied to the election, such as Cohen’s involvement in inauguration graft, remains in Mueller’s hands.

Similarly, we know of at least one EDVA prosecutor involved in Mueller’s investigation. Uzo Asonye got moved onto the team to placate TS Ellis. He will presumably present a good part of the trial that starts later this month, freeing up another member of that team to focus on the DC side of Manafort’s corruption. But that move was driven, in significant part, from Ellis’ direction.

With Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort, there’s plenty of corruption to spread across multiple districts! Heck, Manafort’s former son-in-law is cooperating against him based off a case in LA, and Dmitri Firtash, who is under indictment in Chicago, is one of four oligarchs explicitly named in Manafort’s search warrant.

And, frankly, I’m offended by this passage.

Mueller indicted 13 Russian individuals and three entities in February on charges of violating criminal laws with the intent to interfere with the U.S. election through the manipulation of social media.

None of the targets are in the U.S., but one of them, the Internet Research Agency, has forced Mueller into another legal fight in federal court. The two sides have been sparring most recently over how to protect sensitive investigative materials from disclosure. Mueller has enlisted prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s office in Washington to handle the case.

I’m offended not just because the passage is factually false: the entity mounting a defense is Concord Management, not Internet Research Agency. But because one should never label a defendant mounting a defense as “forc[ing the prosecutor] into another legal fight.” Yes, Concord’s defense is trollish lawfare aiming to discover intelligence. But that is the risk of using indictments to lay out nation-state information operations.

Also, as I suggested in this post and this post, commentators have made far too much of the technical requirements of the Concord case. The government will use no classified data in the trial, if the trial ever really happens. Which suggests the case will be a glorified call records case, showing that the people running certain accounts were operating from certain IP addresses. That’s not to minimize the import of call records in proving crimes. But it’s just not the most technically difficult case to prove.

Which brings us back to Pittsburgh. In fact, Pittsburgh has already been involved in this case — back when the investigation of the hack of the DNC lived there, as many nation-state hacking cases do. Now, it is definitely true that the hack investigation had, at some point, been moved under Mueller; I know of a witness to the hack who was interviewed at Mueller’s office. But if Mueller’s team of 17 were focused more closely on the “collusion” case, I could imagine them moving the hack case back to where it started.

If that’s actually what happened, it would amount to a hand off, of sorts. But it may not be all that momentous a development. Rather, it might reflect Mueller’s (and Rod Rosenstein’s) continued efforts to keep the matters he will prosecute (as distinct from investigate) closely related to the “collusion” case. That seems like a sound decision both form a resourcing perspective, but it’s a good way to rebut claims that he’s a runaway prosecutor.

There Are No Heroes in This Story

I want to thank those who said kind things and even donated money to this post laying out how I ended up going to the FBI on the Russian election attack. I expected far more criticism, so I’m profoundly grateful for the support. The support has really validated my decision to come forward.

All that said, I want to emphasize that I’m no hero.

I say that for two reasons. First, leading up to the time I went to the FBI, I’m certain I did stupid things (one thing, well before my understanding of what was going on had changed, has long weighed on my mind). Further, while I still think I made the decisions that made sense at the time, had I made different choices, I might have prevented a whole lot of damage. So I want to be clear that when the full story is told I may take some hits.

The other reason is that when you decide to go the FBI, you don’t decide just for yourself. You decide for everyone downstream and upstream of you who will also undergo scrutiny by the FBI, people who may not share your beliefs or knowledge about the matter and who — more importantly — didn’t have the opportunity to plan to deal with authorities. I tried to limit such impact as much as I could while still providing the FBI the information they couldn’t get elsewhere, without doing their job for them. But ultimately the FBI is still the FBI. I absolutely stand by my decision, but I’m also acutely aware that my decision had real consequences for other people who did not have the luxury of knowing what and why I had decided and likely didn’t and still don’t agree with it. I get that some people question my decision and I absolutely respect that.

Also remember: I’m surely not the only or even first witness involved. Others were probably far more important than I was. Others might not have some privileges I do or the deference granted a journalist (to a vanishing degree). Others did something far more risky by coming forward. Just because I went public doesn’t mean I’m some great key to the Mueller investigation, so please don’t look to me as such!

The stories of Jim Comey and Andrew McCabe should warn us against investing too much hope in anyone as a hero. We’re all just humans, some of us trying to do the right thing and making very human mistakes along the way. In any case, we do far better looking to local organizers these days (to the extent I’ve got real heroes these days, they’re women of color really invigorating organizing), or talking (as I thankfully spent part of the afternoon yesterday doing) to someone with whom we disagree but also share common values, than to anyone within the immediate vicinity of the Mueller investigation.

Happy Fourth of July. We’re all in this together.

Putting a Face (Mine) to the Risks Posed by GOP Games on Mueller Investigation

I’d like to put a human face — my own — to the risk posed by GOP gamesmanship on the Mueller investigation.

Sometime last year, I went to the FBI and provided information on a person whom I had come to believe had played a significant role in the Russian election attack on the US. Since that time, a number of public events have made it clear I was correct.

I never in my life imagined I would share information with the FBI, especially not on someone I had a journalistic relationship with. I did so for many reasons. Some, but not all, of the reasons are:

  • I believed he was doing serious harm to innocent people
  • I believed (others agreed) that reporting the story at that time would risk doing far more harm than good
  • I had concrete evidence he was lying to me and others, including but not limited to other journalists
  • I had reason to believe he was testing ways to tamper with my website
  • I believed that if the FBI otherwise came to understand what kind of information I had, their likely investigative steps would pose a risk to the privacy of my readers

To protect the investigation, I will not disclose this person’s true identity or the identity and/or role I believe he played in the attack. Nor will I disclose when I went to the FBI. I did so on my own, without subpoena; I did that in an effort to protect people who have spoken to me in confidence and other journalists. Largely because this effort involved a number of last minute trips to other cities, I spent around $6K of my own money traveling to meet with lawyers and for the meeting with the FBI.

I always planned to disclose this when this person’s role was publicly revealed. But I’m doing so now for two reasons. First, I think the public deserves to see the text he sent me at 3:15 PM on November 9, 2016.

The substance of the text — that the Trump team started focusing on Syria right after the election — has been corroborated and tied to their discussions with Russia at least twice since then. Most importantly, in his statement to Congress, Jared Kushner explained his request for a back channel with the Russians by describing an effort to cooperate on Syria.

The Ambassador [Sergei Kislyak] expressed similar sentiments about relations, and then said he especially wanted to address U.S. policy in Syria, and that he wanted to convey information from what he called his “generals.” He said he wanted to provide information that would help inform the new administration. He said the generals could not easily come to the U.S. to convey this information and he asked if there was a secure line in the transition office to conduct a conversation. General Flynn or I explained that there were no such lines. I believed developing a thoughtful approach on Syria was a very high priority given the ongoing humanitarian crisis, and I asked if they had an existing communications channel at his embassy we could use where they would be comfortable transmitting the information they wanted to relay to General Flynn.

Less credibly, in the days after Mike Flynn pled guilty, an inflammatory Brian Ross report was corrected to reveal that “shortly after the election” Trump asked Flynn personally to work with Russia on Syria (Ross left ABC yesterday but as far as I understand the corrected story stands).

Retired Lt. Gen Michael Flynn has promised “full cooperation” in the special counsel’s Russia investigation and, according to a confidant, is prepared to testify that Donald Trump directed him to make contact with the Russians, initially as a way to work together to fight ISIS in Syria.

[snip]

The source said Trump phoned Flynn shortly after the election to explicitly ask him to “serve as point person on Russia,” and to reach out personally to Russian officials to develop strategies to jointly combat ISIS.

The text sent to me matches both those reports — indeed, it makes it clear that “shortly after the election” means just over 14 hours after polls closed. But the text doesn’t come from anyone, like Kushner or Flynn, inside the Trump team. It comes from someone who, I believe, had already done real damage to the United States as part of the Russian attack. That person understood the cooperation with Syria in terms of the US backing Bashar al-Assad, not in terms of fighting ISIS.

I’m making this public now because a David Ignatius report Thursday maps out an imminent deal with Russia and Israel that sounds like what was described to me within hours of the election. This deal appears to be the culmination of an effort that those involved in the Russian attack worked to implement within hours after the election.

The other reason I’m disclosing this now is to put a human face to the danger in which the House Republicans are putting other people who, like me, provided information about the Russian attack on the US to the government.

Several times since I first considered sharing information with the FBI, I’ve asked my attorney to contact the FBI to tell them of what I perceived to be a real threat that arose from sharing that information. One of those times, I let law enforcement officers enter my house without a warrant, without me being present.

My risk isn’t going to go away — indeed, going public like this will surely exacerbate it. That’s to be expected, given the players involved.

But I’m a public figure. If something happens to me — if someone releases stolen information about me or knocks me off tomorrow — everyone will now know why and who likely did it. That affords me a small bit of protection. There are undoubtedly numerous other witnesses who have taken similar risks to share information with the government who aren’t public figures. The Republicans’ ceaseless effort to find out more details about people who’ve shared information with the government puts those people in serious jeopardy.

I’m speaking out because they can’t — and shouldn’t have to.

It infuriates me to observe (and cover) a months-long charade by the House GOP to demand more and more details about those who have shared information with the government, at least some of whom were only trying to prevent real damage to innocent people, all in an attempt to discredit the Mueller investigation. As someone who has worked to rein in dragnets for over a decade, I’m all the more disgusted to see so many lifelong cheerleaders of surveillance pretend to care now.

I only came to be convinced slowly about Russia’s role in the attack and I have been skeptical of the Steele dossier from the day it was published. That said, I obviously do not like Donald Trump — though I’m no Hillary fan, either. But my decision to share information with the FBI had nothing to do with my dislike for Donald Trump. It had to do with the serious damage that someone else I believed to be involved in the Russian attack — someone I had been friendly with — was doing to innocent people, almost all of those people totally uninvolved in American politics.

This investigation is not, primarily, an investigation into Donald Trump. It’s an investigation into people who attacked the United States. It’s time Republicans started acting like that matters.

On Thursday night, I reached out to the Special Counsel’s Office to inquire whether I could post this without damaging the investigation. After sharing the specific language from the passages I felt might pose the biggest concern, last night at 10:15, I was informed they, “take no position” on my posting it.

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