Be Wary of Jumping on the Changing Veselnitskaya Claims

Boy oh boy, Natalia Vesenitskaya continues to work the press.

Veselnitskaya reverses a previous claim that the June 9, 2016 meeting didn’t mention the election

Bloomberg has a story based on a two and a half hour interview — on an unspecified date — with the Russian lawyer who met with Don Jr, Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016. In it, she adds to the story she has told in the past to claim that Don Jr suggested the US might revisit the Magnitsky sanctions if his dad got elected.

A Russian lawyer who met with President Donald Trump’s oldest son last year says he indicated that a law targeting Russia could be re-examined if his father won the election and asked her for written evidence that illegal proceeds went to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

The lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, said in a two-and-a-half-hour interview in Moscow that she would tell these and other things to the Senate Judiciary Committee on condition that her answers be made public, something it hasn’t agreed to. She has received scores of questions from the committee, which is investigating possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. Veselnitskaya said she’s also ready — if asked — to testify to Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Here’s the line of the story that, if accurate, introduces a damning new aspect of the story.

“Looking ahead, if we come to power, we can return to this issue and think what to do about it,’’ Trump Jr. said of the 2012 law, she recalled. “I understand our side may have messed up, but it’ll take a long time to get to the bottom of it,” he added, according to her.

Perhaps my favorite detail of the story, however, is that she suggests Paul Manafort (the only one known to have taken contemporaneous notes from the meeting) appeared to have been asleep, leaving Don Jr as the only woke witness to what went down.

Kushner left after a few minutes and Manafort appeared to have fallen asleep. “The meeting was a failure; none of us understood what the point of it had been,’’ Veselnitskaya said, adding she had no further contacts with the Trump campaign.

As Bill Browder noted, this marks a change in her story, one which must be contextualized with recent events.

In the days immediately after the story broke, Veselnitskaya released a statement saying nothing about the presidential election came up.

Ms. Veselnitskaya said in a statement on Saturday that “nothing at all about the presidential campaign” was discussed at the Trump Tower meeting. She recalled that after about 10 minutes, either Mr. Kushner or Mr. Manafort left the room.

She said she had “never acted on behalf of the Russian government” and “never discussed any of these matters with any representative of the Russian government.”

Now, she’s claiming different. I’d suggest that this claim, like all that have gone before, should be treated really really skeptically — especially published in the wake of allegations that campaign officials would have walked into that meeting expecting “dirt” to mean emails, not to mention as Veselnitskaya makes another bid to come to the US and Trump prepares to meet directly with Putin.

Veselnitskaya makes this claim as she tries to come to the US and Agalarov attempts to shape the story

Here’s what the recent timeline looks like:

October 4: Burr was asked last month about Veselnitskaya, and suggested SSCI had already reached out.

Q: Is the Russian attorney going to come through, the Russian who met with Donald Trump Jr., she’s offered to come in open committee. Have you reached out to her? Is she one of the 25 on your list?

Burr: How do you know we haven’t already [heard from] her?

October 9: A CNN story produced with involvement of Scott Balber, who is currently representing Aras and Amin Agalarov (who set up the June 9 meeting in the first place), but who has represented Trump in the past, attempts to rebut the public comments and presumed testimony of Rod Goldstone on two points. First, that the meeting was about dealing dirt, and second, that it was about anything but the Magnitsky sanctions.

The documents were provided by Scott Balber, who represents Aras and Emin Agalarov, the billionaire real estate developer and his pop star son who requested the June 2016 meeting.

Balber, who went to Moscow to obtain the documents from Veselnitskaya, said in an interview with CNN that the emails and talking points show she was focused on repealing the Magnitsky Act, not providing damaging information on Clinton.
The message was muddled, Balber said, when it was passed like a game of telephone from Veselnitskaya through the Agalarovs to Goldstone.

Balber also suggested that Goldstone “probably exaggerated and maybe willfully contorted the facts for the purpose of making the meeting interesting to the Trump people.”

Goldstone declined to comment for this story.

“The documents and what she told me are consistent with my client’s understanding of the purpose of the meeting which was from the beginning and at all times thereafter about her efforts to launch a legislative review of the Magnitsky Act,” Balber said.

October 18: Chuck Grassley sends a long list of questions to Veselnitskaya, demanding a response to schedule a transcribed, non-public interview, by October 20. Incidentally, I find this to be the most curious of the questions.

Did Mr. Goldstone or anyone else discuss a proposal regarding Vkontakte (VK) during the June 9, 2016 meeting?

October 19: In remarks in Sochi, amid a complaint about Magnitsky sanctions, Putin tells listeners to look at American sources for details of Ziff political contributions, closely mirroring the talking points now claimed to derived from Veselnitskaya.

What do I think about what you have just said, about Canada joining or wanting to join, or about somebody else wanting to do it? These are all some very unconstructive political games over things, which are in essence not what they look like, to be treated in such a way or to fuss about so much. What lies underneath these events? Underneath are the criminal activities of an entire gang led by one particular man, I believe Browder is his name, who lived in the Russian Federation for ten years as a tourist and conducted activities, which were on the verge of being illegal, by buying Russian company stock without any right to do so, not being a Russian resident, and by moving tens and hundreds of millions of dollars out of the country and hence avoiding any taxes not only here but in the United States as well.

According to open sources, I mean American open sources, please look up Ziff Brothers, the company Mr Browder was connected with, which has been sponsoring the Democratic Party and, substantially less, the Republican Party during recent years. I think the latest transfer, in the open sources I mean, was $1,200,000 for the Democratic Party. This is how they protect themselves.

In Russia, Mr Browder was sentenced in his absence to 9 years in prison for his scam. However, no one is working on it. Our prosecution has already turned to the appropriate US agencies such as the Department of Justice and the Office of the Attorney General for certain information so we can work together on this. However, there is simply no response. This is just used to blow up more anti-Russian hysteria. Nobody wants to look into the matter, into what is actually beneath it. At the bottom of it, as usual, is crime, deception and theft.

October 27: Stories that note Veselnitskaya crafted the talking points on Browder and Ziff, which were then picked up by Russia’s prosecutor general Yuri Chaika, are used to suggest that that means Veselnitskaya got the talking points she wrote from Chaika. In conjunction, several iterations of the talking points are released (but not the ones she originally wrote). Also, Balber again weighs in to distance Agalarov.

Donald Trump Jr. has dismissed Mr. Goldstone’s emails as “goosed-up.” Mr. Balber blamed miscommunication among those arranging the meeting. “Mr. Agalarov unequivocally, absolutely, never spoke to Mr. Chaika or his office about these issues,” he said.

October 30: George Papadopoulos plea makes it clear that that Papadopoulos originally lied to the FBI to hide two things: 1) attempts in the weeks and months after March 31, 2016 to set up meetings with Russians, and 2) knowledge that Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton in the form of thousands of emails. On the same day, Paul Manafort is indicted, raising the possibility he’ll flip on Trump. Also on same day, government informs SDNY that Prevezon has not paid its fine from May settlement, and asks for the case to be reopened.

October 31: Quinn Emanuel, representing Prevezon, asks that Veselnitskaya be given immigration parole for hearing.

November 2: Government objects to Prevezon request for immigration parole for Vesenitskaya, reiterating in the process they had objected to her entry in 2016, but that she got immigration parole in any case, which she used to attend the June 9 meeting.

The Government, however, has previously refused to extend immigration parole to Katsyv and Veselnitskaya during time periods when they were not to be witnesses. In particular, in the spring of 2016, then-counsel for Prevezon asked the Government to consent to parole for Katsyv and Veselnitskaya to prepare for and attend oral arguments in the Second Circuit on Hermitage’s motion to disqualify Prevezon’s counsel. Because there was no testimony to be given at a Second Circuit oral argument, the Government refused to grant parole to Katsyv or Veselnitskaya for that period. See Ex. A (March 9, 2016 letter to John Moscow).1

Subsequently, according to public news reports, Veselnitskaya obtained a visa from the State Department allowing her to enter the United States to attend the oral argument on June 9, 2016, a day on which she also reportedly engaged in a meeting with representatives of the Trump presidential campaign. See Brook Singman, Mystery Solved? Timeline Shows How RussianLawyer Got into U.S. for Trump Jr. Meeting, Fox News (July 14, 2017), available at http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2017/07/14/mystery-solved-timeline-shows-how-russianlawyer-got-into-us-for-trump-jr-meeting.html. This Office had no involvement in the granting of that visa and has no knowledge of whether Veselnitskaya has attempted to obtain another such visa to enter the country for these proceedings.

[snip]

If a testimonial hearing is ultimately required, and if it features Veselnitskaya or Katsyv as witnesses, the Government can revisit its parole determination at that time.2

2 The Government may not, however, again admit Veselnitskaya into the country to assist in witness preparation if she is not herself a witness. Although the Government did so previously, Veselnitskaya’s reported meeting with presidential campaign officials in June of 2016 (of which this Office was not aware prior to its public reporting) or other factors may alter this assessment. In any event, it is premature to reach this issue where no testimonial hearing is currently scheduled, and none is likely ever to be scheduled.

November 3: Judge Pauley denies Prevezon’s bid for immigration parole for Veselnitskaya.

November 6: Bloomberg story for the first time says Don Jr said he might consider lifting Magnitsky sanctions. It also repeats Veselnitskaya’s promise to answer SJC questions if her answers can be made public.

Senator Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, has sent her more than 90 questions concerning the meeting, asking whether she knows Putin, Manafort and Kushner, and requesting information about Russian hacking and interference, she said. “That I definitely don’t have!” the lawyer said. “I made up my mind a long time ago: My testimony must be honest, full and public.”

Taylor Foy, a Grassley spokesman, said, “We are encouraged that she is planning to cooperate and look forward to receiving the information.” He wouldn’t comment on whether the committee would comply with her request to make her answers public.

November 10-11: Trump and Putin will meet in Danang, Vietnam, purportedly to talk about North Korea.

This feels like a limited hangout

All of which is to say that the efforts of the last month feel like a limited hangout — an attempt to avoid potentially more damaging revelations with new admissions about Magnitsky. That’s not to say the Magnitsky discussion didn’t happen. It’s to say the potential admissions — down to Veselnitskaya’s claim that, “I definitely don’t have!” information on Russian hacking and interference — have gotten far more damaging since when, in July, she claimed the election didn’t come up.

At the very least, it seems the players — particularly the Trump sponsor Agalarovs  are concerned about what Rob Goldstone has had to say to whatever investigative body — and are now trying to cement a different more damning one, yet one that still stops short of what they might admit to.

In either case, another thing seems clear: Veselnitskaya attempted to come to the country, using the same method she did when she actually used her presence to pitch Don Jr. After that meeting was denied, Trump went from suggesting he might meet with Putin to confirming that he plans to.

Manafort’s Lawyers Will Challenge the Legitimacy of Prosecuting the Ukrainian Money Laundering

Over the weekend, I did a Twitter thread on the fun stuff in the latest filing from Paul Manafort’s lawyers asking (among other things) that he be let off his GPS monitor. Now that others are reviewing the filing, I’m seeing lots of people miss a key part of what his lawyers are doing.

As I noted, in a footnote, Manafort’s lawyers point out that the crimes he has been charged with all pre-date the election.

Of note, his work on behalf of the Ukrainian clients ended around two years before Mr. Manafort agreed to work as the campaign manager for then-candidate Donald Trump.

It’s a point they’ve made before. But it has been misunderstood as a bogus point.

It’s not. Here’s how the defense has said they’re going to defend against this indictment.

At this time, the defense anticipates that pretrial motions will be filed concerning the legal basis for and sufficiency of the charges, the suppression of evidence improperly obtained by search warrant, subpoena or otherwise (including the application of exceptions to common law privileges), as well as motions in limine based on discovery to be provided by the Government in preparation for trial.

To some degree, this is part of a challenge the defense will make to the charging of FARA crimes generally. As they rightly point out, that simply hasn’t gotten prosecuted.

The Government’s case also concerns whether Mr. Manafort was required to file a report as a foreign agent with the U.S. Department of Justice. The U.S. Department of Justice has only brought six criminal FARA prosecutions since 1966 and it has secured only one conviction during this period. It is far from clear what activity triggers a requirement to file a report as a foreign agent. In order to conceal this weakness in the Indictment, a façade of money laundering has been put forth using a tenuous legal theory. When the money laundering count is peeled back from the Indictment, the forecasted sentencing guidelines are reduced substantially to a fraction of those claimed by the Office of Special Counsel.

What they’re ignoring is that the FARA charges are tied to both the money laundering they want to dismiss (Weekly Standard quotes people saying “it doesn’t make sense” to have spent $1M on rugs in Alexandria) and to false statements charges that (as DOJ keeps pointing out) have already been validated in the process of getting Manafort’s lawyer to waive privilege to explain how she was lied to.

But it also suggests they’re going to go after not only the no-knock warrant from this summer (which obtained information proving that Manafort and Gates keep records longer than the six months they have claimed to DOJ in the past), but also other subpoenas and the legal basis for the changes. That is, it suggests they’re going to challenge Mueller’s authority for investigating these old crimes which, public reporting made clear, long preceded the authorization of the Special Counsel. The legitimacy of the new evidence collection and charges depends on the legitimacy of the exercise of the Special Counsel authority, which is in turn based on,

(i) any links and/or coordination bet ween the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and

(ii) any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation;

(iii) any other matters within the scope of 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(a).

The entire point of noting that the crimes charged here predate the election is to lay the groundwork for legal challenges. Manafort’s lawyers are laying groundwork to claim that these charges 1) don’t pertain to coordination on the election and 2) can’t say to have arisen out of them, because they predated them. Again, that ignores that the 28 CFR §600.4(a) permits Mueller to investigate, “intent to interfere with, the Special Counsel’s investigation, such as perjury, obstruction of justice, destruction of evidence, and intimidation of witnesses,” which Manafort’s false statements about the FARA registration might certainly be construed as.

Now, to be clear, I don’t think such a challenge will succeed (in part because of those false statements charges, which are dated to November 23, 2016 and February 10, 2017; the conspiracy to defraud the US also continues through 2017 and in part because Acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein approved the charges). I also think this Politico piece, which talks about such legal threats, overstates the legal danger of such a challenge (in part because it cites all number of Republican lawyers, including Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow, who are being teed up to bitch about the legitimacy publicly).

But I do think it’s a legitimate tactic, one that will serve Manafort’s defense, even outside the world of the Sukulow spin.

First, the charges as laid out are designed to steer clear of the election related stuff so Mueller can get Manafort to flip and testify on those without laying out what he already knows. They’re also designed to parallel similar charges in NY that can be charged if Trump pardons Manafort. By challenging the legitimacy of the tie between the Ukraine consulting and the election, Manafort may force Mueller to show more of his hand, notably to include why he believes the lies Manafort told last November and in February are part of the election cover-up (I can easily imagine how Mueller would explain it, but imagine he doesn’t want to do so, yet). Alternately, to substantiate the ties, Mueller may choose to issue a superseding indictment, tying the Ukraine work more closely to the election stuff, but I suspect he doesn’t want to do that, yet.

Also, to the extent that the challenge gets litigated now rather than on appeal (when it will definitely get litigated, if this goes to trial), Manafort may test the guidelines for something the President very much wants to test: whether Mueller can prosecute old business corruption (that in the case of both men happens to implicate compromise by the Russians). Manafort will be taking logical steps for his own defense, but also doing the work of the man who ultimately holds Manafort’s ticket to freedom.

Finally, there is the entire point of propaganda. So long as Trump can claim that nothing substantial has been charged against his campaign, both by noting (as he has, repeatedly) that Manafort’s charges are unrelated to the election and George Papadopoulos is some random coffee boy, Republicans and Trump supporters will have more space to support him. Once that changes — and the moment that changes will be one of the most fraught legal moments in this case — things may get a lot harder for Trump.

But for now, Manafort is helping the PR case along, and will continue to to the extent that his lawyers continue to argue that the crimes ended well before the campaign.

Update: As Josh Gerstein notes in his story on the government’s latest filing, Manafort and the government are actually disputing how long his work in Ukraine lasted:

The parties do dispute one minor factual point: Manafort claims that his work in the Ukraine ended in 2014, ECF#32 at 3, while the indictment alleges his continued work through 2015 on behalf of the Opposition Bloc, after the flight to Russia of President Victor Yanukovych. Indictment ¶ 1.

I have a feeling that discrepancy could end up less minor than suggested.

Mueller Has Enough Prosecutors to Continue Walking and Chewing Gum While We’ve Been Watching Manafort

NBC has a clickbait story reporting that Robert Mueller has enough evidence to indict Michael Flynn that — by describing that Mueller is still interviewing witnesses about Flynn’s lobbying — undermines its headline.

Mueller is applying renewed pressure on Flynn following his indictment of Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, three sources familiar with the investigation told NBC News.

The investigators are speaking to multiple witnesses in coming days to gain more information surrounding Flynn’s lobbying work, including whether he laundered money or lied to federal agents about his overseas contacts, according to three sources familiar with the investigation.

Remember: on high profile investigations like this, interested parties sometimes try to force a prosecutor’s hand by leaking stuff like this (we should also expect people to leak to the press to create pressure for pardons), and in this case the leaking is exacerbated because of the multiple congressional investigations.

Moreover, there’s good reason to doubt the notion that Mueller is moving from target to target sequentially, which some have interpreted the description of Mueller “renewing” pressure on Flynn to suggest. Remember: Mueller has 15 prosecutors, every one of whom is capable of leading this kind of investigation themselves. And there’s at least a hint that Mueller has separate teams working on separate parts of the investigation.

Consider this detail from the motion to unseal the Manafort docket. The motion specifically asked for the whole thing to be unsealed except for this redaction at the top of the indictment itself.

[T]he government respectfully moves for an order unsealing the docket, with the exception of the original indictment, which contains, at the top, administrative information relating to the Special Counsel’s Office.

There are a lot of things that the redaction might hide. One of those is some kind of marking that indicates the organization of the investigation, one which would disclose investigative strategy if it were disclosed now, but would be really useful for historians if it were unsealed after whatever happens happens.

Couple that with the fact that there is no overlap between the prosecutors appearing thus far in the Manafort docket, who are:

  • Andrew Weismann
  • Greg Andres
  • Kyle Freeny

Adam Jed, an appellate specialist, has appeared with these lawyers in grand jury appearances.

And the prosecutors appearing in the Papadopoulos docket, who are:

  • Jeannie Rhee
  • Andrew Goldstein
  • Aaron Zelinsky

It would make sense that the teams would be focused on different parts of the investigation. After all, Mueller has drawn on a fair range of expertise, which I laid out here (see this article for Carrie Johnson’s description of where these folks are on loan from); if I were to do this over, I’d add a special category for money laundering:

  1. Mob specialists: Andrew Weissman and [Lisa Page *] are mob prosecutors.
  2. Fraud specialists: Weissman and Rush Atkinson are also fraud prosecutors.
  3. Corporate crime specialists: Weissman also led the Enron Task force. One of Dreeben’s key SCOTUS wins pertained to corporate crime. Jeannie Rhee has also worked on white collar defense. [Kyle Freeny, who was the last attorney to join the team, is a money laundering expert.]
  4. Public corruption specialists: Mueller hired someone with Watergate experience, James Quarles. And Andrew Goldstein got good press in SDNY for prosecuting corrupt politicians (even if Sheldon Silver’s prosecution has since been overturned).
  5. International experts: Zainab Ahmad, who worked terrorism cases in EDNY, which has some of the most expansive precedents for charging foreigners flown into JFK (including Russia’s darling Viktor Bout), knows how to bring foreigners to the US and successfully prosecute them in this country. Aaron Zelinsky has also worked in international law. Elizabeth Prelogar did a Fulbright in Russia and reportedly speaks it fluently. And, as noted, [Greg] Andres has worked on foreign bribery
  6. Cyber and spying lawyers: Brandon Van Grack is the guy who had been leading the investigation into Mike Flynn; he’s got a range of National Security experience. Aaron Zebley, Mueller’s former chief of staff at FBI, also has that kind of NSD experience.
  7. Appellate specialists: With Michael Dreeben, Mueller already has someone on the team who can win any appellate challenges; Adam Jed and Elizabeth Prelogar are also appellate specialists. Mueller’s hires also include former clerks for a number of SCOTUS justices, which always helps out if things get that far.

In other words, the team that has thus far been involved in the Manafort prosecution have experience prosecuting corporate crime and money laundering, as well as flipping people. The team that has thus far handled Papadopoulos includes Goldstein, a top public corruption prosecutor (who curiously would have had visibility into Manafort related prosecutions in SDNY), Zelinsky, who has both mob and international law expertise, and Jeannie Rhee whose relevant experience includes time in Congress, prosecuting national security related conspiracies, and cybersecurity investigations. The experience of the latter team, in particular, suggests where they might be headed, probably including people in or recently in government, but Rhee’s ties to leaks and cybersecurity might suggest the emails are a bigger part of that investigation than most people have noticed.

Notably absent from these two teams is Brandon Van Grack, who started the prosecution of Mike Flynn and presumably has remained focused on that. So there’s no reason to believe Van Grack would have to renew pressure, aside from pointing to the example of Manafort to prove the seriousness of this investigation, because he probably has just kept up the pressure as we’ve been distracted.

Also of note: we’re still not seeing all the mob and international expertise on Mueller’s team.

All of which is to say we’ve only seen the involvement of at most 7 out of the 15 lawyers on Mueller’s team. I’m sure the remaining 8 haven’t been sitting idle while we’ve all been focusing on Manafort and Papadopoulos.

Update: Because it’s related, I’ll remind that in Papadopoulos’ plea deal, Zelinsky said they wanted to sustain the prohibition on FOIA because,

in the process of his ongoing efforts to cooperate, the Government has shared substantial information with the Defendant that has provided a road map of sorts, to information that might be sought on FOIA. And it will chill the Government’s ability to continue to have the Defendant cooperate if the information that’s being provided by the Defendant and the continued efforts to jog his memory are then used to create a road map to the ongoing investigation.

Update: When this post was first posted I accidentally swapped Weissman for Goldstein in one reference. My apologies.

*Update: As Peredonov notes below, Page left the SCO after I wrote the underlying post. I’ve marked it in the quote and adjusted numbers accordingly.

JD Gordon Says Any Investigators He’s Been Speaking with, He’s Been Honest

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On Monday, I noted that the George Papadopoulos plea deal presented a big problem for Jeff Sessions, as Papadopoulos’ description of a March 31, 2016 meeting made it clear Sessions did know of people reaching out to Russia, contrary to what he has repeatedly stated in sworn testimony. As others caught up to that reporting, and as the Senators that Sessions lied to started pressuring him to fix his past stories, Sessions’ surrogates started pushing back.

At first, that came in the form of anonymous claims that Sessions shot down the idea of setting up a meeting with the Russians. As the week progressed (and as I bitched on Twitter that there was no reason to give anonymity to people who were trying to clear up Sessions’ perjury for him), Trump campaign advisor JD Gordon started going on the record saying the very same things that had previously been said anonymously — sometimes in unmarked updates of the very same articles.

“He went into the pitch right away,” said J. D. Gordon, a campaign adviser who attended the meeting. “He said he had a friend in London, the Russian ambassador, who could help set up a meeting with Putin.”

Mr. Trump listened with interest. Mr. Sessions vehemently opposed the idea, Mr. Gordon recalled. “And he said that no one should talk about it,” because Mr. Sessions thought it was a bad idea that he did not want associated with the campaign, he said.

For the purposes of the Russian inquiry, Gordon is the guy who changed the plank of the Republican platform to be less aggressive towards Russia (one part of the scandal that — as I have written — I think Democrats have overblown).

But longterm readers of this blog may remember that JD Gordon is the guy who, as a press officer covering Gitmo, trumped up a sexual harassment claim against Carol Rosenberg out of her tendency to swear, at him. At one point, Gordon claimed that, “I’ve been abused worse than the detainees have been abused;” at another he accused Rosenberg of “use of profanity that would make even Helen Thomas blush.”

In other words, Gordon has a history of ginning up false claims to try to shut down reporting.

Given Gordon’s rush to explain away the implications of the Papadopoulos plea, I’d like to focus closely on what Sky News bills as an Exclusive interview (for some reason placed with an overseas Murdoch outlet rather than one which might attract more attention here in the states) with Gordon explaining the meeting.

In addition to making the now-familiar claim that Sessions (Gordon’s boss on the campaign) shot down Papadopoulos’ offer to broker a meeting with Putin, Gordon makes a number of other remarkable claims. First, he suggests that, rather than severing any relationship with Papadopoulos (presumably because they were so opposed to the idea of chumming up to Russia), the Trump presidential campaign instead decided to appease a 30-year old nobody so he didn’t embarrass the campaign.

Mr Gordon described Mr Papadopoulos as a “peripheral figure” but someone who “they wanted to appease and not upset, at the same time as reining him in so that he doesn’t embarrass the campaign.”

The only reason you’d have to keep Papadopoulos around and appeased is if he had information that could compromise the campaign. You know, the kind of information he spent 2 months secretly sharing with the FBI?

Gordon then claimed that the reported continued conversations between Papadopoulos and campaign officials about meetings with Russia amounted to Papadopoulos going behind his and Sessions’ backs.

Mr Gordon said he was in a paid role and more senior to Mr Papadopoulos, but claims the 30-year-old advisor went behind his back.

He told Sky News: “I was very surprised that we’re still hearing about it today, because I had no idea that George was going around me, and going around Senator Sessions – his actual chain of command – to pitch this idea to others on the campaign who maybe weren’t there that day, or maybe weren’t paying attention to others.”

Gordon knows nothing and neither does Sessions, I guess.

Gordon then claims that he can’t say about Trump what the stories in which an anonymous source who has said all the same things Gordon has on the record in this interview because he has a Non-Disclosure Agreement.

Mr Gordon said he could not discuss what Mr Trump said when the Russian meeting was raised because of a non-disclosure agreement, but added that the President certainly did not say “yes” to the idea.

Next, Gordon claims to have no idea why Papadopoulos would lie about setting up a meeting because that, in and of itself, wouldn’t have been illegal.

“Which is why it’s such a mystery why George Papadopoulos… would lie to the FBI about his meetings with Russians when they weren’t illegal.

“Maybe a bit shady, but they weren’t illegal.”

Curiously, Gordon doesn’t mention that Papadopoulos’ interlocutors have all the markings of Russian handlers. Nor does he mention that Papadopoulos also lied to hide whether and what he told the campaign about the “dirt” that had been floated, in the form of thousands of Hillary emails. Based on this remarkably incomplete representation of the substance of Papadopoulos’ plea, Gordon insists that allegations Trump cozied up to Russians for help getting elected in exchange for the softening of policies against Russia are a great big hoax.

Mr Gordon described the notion of the Trump campaign colluding with Russia in the 2016 US election as “the biggest hoax in history”.

He said: “There is a lot of smoke and mirrors. The smoke you see is people lighting Trump associates on fire, trying to make a story.”

He blames Hope Hicks, who will soon but has not yet testified to the grand jury, for making the campaign’s discussions with “lots” of Russians look nefarious.

He alleged that Mr Trump’s former press secretary and now White House head of communications, Hope Hicks, had made the situation worse by making unequivocal statements suggesting the campaign had not spoken to Russians when they had.

He claimed the campaign spoke to lots of Russians “but there was nothing nefarious.”

In other words, the guy who claimed a woman who swears sexually harassed him in an effort to shut down a super reporter tells a partial story in an attempt to claim there’s no there there, and blames another woman in the process. Fuck. The same guy claims these meetings and conversations were set up behind his back but admits he knows there were lots of them.

Here’s the part I find most interesting about Gordon’s remarkable interview, though. He dodges when asked whether he has testified or cooperated or what, though makes it clear he has been speaking with investigators.

When asked about whether he was co-operating with the FBI or special counsel Robert Mueller, he said: “I can just say that any investigators that I’ve been speaking with, clearly I’ve been truthful… there’s nothing to hide.

As I noted on Monday — in observing Victoria Toensing’s failed efforts to make Sam Clovis’ testimony to the grand jury look innocuous in advance of his now withdrawn confirmation for a USDA position — and described further to On the Media this week, from this point forward, we should expect those who have been interviewed by the FBI or grand jury to use the press to telegraph what they’ve said, so others can coordinate that story (though usually they do so through hack lawyers like Toensing, not directly). It’s a legal way to compare notes.

I’ve also noted that, at least as of October 18, Jeff Sessions was dodging bizarrely about whether he had been formally asked for an interview. Mind you, that was over two weeks ago, so who knows what has transpired since?

Ah well, if Sessions hasn’t testified yet, he now knows what Gordon told the authorities.

Because I do take Gordon’s comments to be confirmation that he has spoken with the authorities.

Which is interesting given this detail from the affidavit the FBI wrote a month ago explaining why they wanted to seal any notice of Papadopoulos’ plea deal.

The investigation is ongoing and includes pursuing leads from information provided by and related to the defendant regarding communications he had, inter alia, with certain other individuals associated with the campaign. The government will very shortly seek, among other investigative steps, to interview certain individuals who may have knowledge of contacts between Russian nationals (or Russia-connected foreign nationals) and the campaign, including the contacts between the defendant and foreign nationals set forth in the Statement of Offense incorporated into the defendants plea agreement.

If it wasn’t already obvious from the Sam Clovis grand jury timing, the Special Counsel hid the plea from those who might have their own stories to tell about “contacts between Russian nationals (or Russia-connected foreign nationals) and the campaign,” which Gordon admits (while pretending such efforts happened behind his and Sessions’ backs) were numerous, because they planned to “very shortly seek” to lock in those claimed stories.

And those who, like Clovis, appear to have told stories that deviated from the one Papadopoulous told may now be in the same kind of legal pickle that Papadopoulos found himself on July 27, when confronted with evidence that he had lied.

The question is whether JD Gordon is finding himself in the same kind of pickle based on post-Papadopoulos testimony that Clovis appears to be, or whether he just wants Jeff Sessions to know what story he told.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Grassley Has Spent the Week Cowering from His Party’s Legal Problems

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Of all the Republicans responding their President’s increasing legal woes, Chuck Grassley — the Chair of the Judiciary Committee — has had the most appalling week.

On Monday (even before news of the George Papadopoulos plea broke), when reporters started asking about Paul Manafort’s indictment, Grassley used some American flags as cover to hide his escape.

On Wednesday, after it became clear that Papadopoulos told the FBI Grassley’s fellow Iowan, Sam Clovis, had prioritized chumming up to Russia on the campaign generally, and encouraged Papadopoulos to set up meetings with the Russians as late as August 2016 (two months after it was public they had hacked the DNC), the Senate Judiciary Committee Chair said the allegations would not be an issue in Clovis’ confirmation to US Department of Agriculture.

Grassley said he has reviewed emails provided by the Trump campaign that include a fuller account of Clovis’ interactions with Papadopoulos. According to those 80-some emails, Grassley said, Clovis does not appear to encourage any travel to meet with Russian officials.

“There’s an entirely different context than what was reported about Clovis and his relationship to this George P.,” Grassley told reporters.

The emails he reviewed cannot be released publicly, Grassley said, although some of them have been referenced in published newspaper accounts and are referred to in the court document from the Papadopoulos case.

When asked if he believes Clovis could face legal consequences over his role in the campaign, Grassley answered that it was “too early for me to say that.”

“But,” he went on, “reading these emails … that’s not an issue.”

Grassley was still prepared to introduce Clovis at his then planned confirmation hearing, even after the allegations.

Even the White House seems to disagree with Grassley’s assessment that these allegations are “not an issue” though, because Clovis has since withdrawn from consideration.

And then later on Wednesday, several days after I first showed that the Papadopoulos plea showed that Jeff Sessions had perjured himself yet again in Senate testimony, Chuck Grassley was still unsure whether he’d even call on the Attorney General to explain his serial lies before his committee.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley said Thursday he was still learning all the details about the Papadopoulos matter.
Asked if Sessions should amend his testimony before his committee, Grassley told CNN: “I’m looking into it.”

I’ve long defended Grassley’s legitimate questions about the investigation — most notably questions about the Steele dossier. But all week the senior Republican overseer of the Justice Department has been cowering from the clear implications of this scandal. Perhaps it’s because Grassley has a duty, here, to ensure the integrity of a department led by a serial perjurer, he has instead been hiding and dodging.

On July 2016 Panel, George Papadopoulos Used Same Cover Organization as Joseph Mifsud

Last night, Scott Dworkin tweeted the photo above, stating “Photo: GOP Senator Bob Corker, GOP Rep Ted Yoho, GOP Rep Tom Marino & speaking on panel with convicted Trump Advisor George Papadopolous”. As a constituent of Yoho, this really stood out to me, so I poked around and found (as, I learned later, did folks responding to Dworkin’s tweet) the source of the photo. It comes from this article in Cleveland Jewish News published on July 21, 2016. The article describes an American Jewish Committee panel discussion held in Cleveland during the Republican National Convention. The panel was held on July 20 and the convention spanned July 18 to July 21. The article describes the Republicans on the panel objecting to the JCPOA under which Iran has reduced its capacity to enrich uranium. It makes no mention of anything that Papapodopolous said.

What is astounding here is how Papadopoulos is described. As captured in the photo caption, he is listed as “director of the Center for International Energy & Natural Resources Law at the London Centre of International Law Practice”.  Three things stand out from this brief description.

1, No Claimed Association With Trump Campaign

Even though Papadopoulos had been named to Trump’s national security advisory board in March, and as multiple outlets have reported, he then made international appearances claiming to be working for the campaign, no association with the campaign is listed, even though he is being given a falsely inflated title and is appearing with a number of Republican politicians on a panel in the host city during the Republican National Convention. There is no evidence that Papadopoulos ever went to law school, so being listed as the director of an organization with law in its title is laughable. Why did he not claim association with the campaign when giving the false cover identity to the person who wrote the article for Cleveland Jewish News?

2. London Centre of International Law Practice Also a Cover Identity for Mifsud

Most of the biographies of Joseph Mifsud, the shadowy “academic” who, in the Papadopoulos plea agreement was the one who offered to provide Russian “dirt” on Hillary Clinton to the Trump campaign, say that his cover identity was with what may be a mythical London Academy of Diplomacy. According to The Guardian, the London Academy of Diplomacy is starting to disappear:

Today, there is no sign of the London Academy of Diplomacy on Middlesex Street in London. Phone numbers for the organisation that can be found online do not work and websites lead to error messages. A receptionist at the address said the organisation left the premises six months ago.

But this Washington Post article has more.  Mifsud has another association in London:

According to a biography on the London Centre of International Law Practice’s website, which was deleted Sunday, Mifsud “served prominently” in Malta’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and worked as an adviser for Malta’s Ministry of Education.

The London Centre of International Law Practice, you will note, is also the claimed umbrella under which the Center for International Energy and Natural Resources Law falls in the Papadopoulos cover used in Cleveland. Isn’t that interesting?

A look at the current version of the website for the center Papadopulos claimed to run is now very nondescript, presumably having been scrubbed when Mifsud was removed from the parent organization.

Here is the landing page as I saw it this morning:


Scrolling down, we see this:

And that leads us to the third point:

3. First Mention of Papadopoulos as “Energy and Oil Consultant” Since Trump in March 2016

This is what really stands out to me. Nothing in Papadopoulos’ history suggests any experience or expertise in energy, either nuclear as discussed on the panel in Cleveland, or oil and gas as listed first for the center he is claiming to direct. But let’s go back to when Trump first introduced us to Papadopoulos. From a more recent Washington Post article:

On March 21, Trump included Papadopoulos among five men he announced were advising him on matters of national security in a meeting with The Washington Post editorial board. “An energy and oil consultant. Excellent guy,” Trump said.

So Trump’s first announcement of Papadopoulos to his team in March of 2016 fits with the entirely false identity that Papapopolous used in July 2016 during the Republican National Convention. And that false identity is under the same organizational umbrella as one of the disappearing associations for Joseph Mifsud.

Update

Okay, it appears that Papadopoulos had at least lied about having energy experience when he applied to the Trump campaign.

Update 2

Commenter David Sanger provides us with a Wayback machine copy of Papadopoulos’ biography from the LCILP website. It is glorious in the description of him and the photo matches. We really have to wonder who created this history for him and how he was able to pull it off.

Update 3

The spelling of Papadopoulos has been corrected throughout.

The Cost of the Lawfare Surrounding the Steele Dossier Will Vastly Outstrip Its Original Cost

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Yesterday, Reuters reported that Fusion GPS has told Congress (presumably as part of the settlement on a bank subpoena reached last week) how much it got paid for the dossier on Donald Trump, and how much of that it paid Christopher Steele for his part in the dossier. Fusion got $1.02 million from Perkins Coie, of which Steele got $168K.

Fusion GPS’ statement said it had told Congress about how $168,000 was paid last year to Orbis Business Intelligence, Steele’s company.

The money paid to Orbis was taken from $1.02 million it received in fees and expenses from the Perkins Coie law firm, the statement said.

There’s some confusion about this number, however, with some claiming that Fusion had a huge markup on Steele’s labor. But that’s not right. We’ve now confirmed what we’ve seen is just part of the total dossier Fusion did on Trump. If the numbering in the dossier is any indication, there were at least 166 reports done, with 79 done between the time  started on the dossier in April and when Steele got involved in June. Of the total, we’ve seen just 17 released reports from Steele, or about 10% of the total (assuming none of his Russian-related reports were withheld). That would put his payment — over 16% of what Fusion got paid — to be a reasonable fraction (of course much of the rest of the dossier is likely domestic and less reliant on paid sources built up over decades).

In any case, as Reuters points out, it’s far less than the $12 million Trump has alleged.

But it’s also far less than what the dossier will cost in the long run. As I’ve been tracking, there are a number of strands of “lawfare” surrounding the dossier — Russian and Republican attempts to use lawsuits to make the dossier toxic. They include:

  • Alexej Gubarev’s lawsuit against Steele and his company in the UK
  • Alexej Gubarev’s lawsuit against BuzzFeed in FL (with related subpoena challenges being litigated in DC)
  • The lawsuit by Alfa Bank executives against BuzzFeed in DC (filed after consulting with top GOP lawyers Viet Dinh and Brian Benczkowski and their firm)
  • Fusion’s efforts to fight testimony and bank subpoenas in DC
  • Carter Page’s lawsuit against HuffPo and Yahoo

In addition, I would be shocked if Marc Elias doesn’t get slapped with a lawsuit or two, now that his role in funding the dossier has become known. With the exception of Page’s suit, each of those involves at least two sets of well paid lawyers to fight things out.

Which is to say that the lawfare surrounding the dossier may well end up costing $12 million, even assuming no one ever has to pay any penalties. Which seems to offer a lesson for sleazy politicos: If you’re going to pay to develop dirt on your opponent, make sure that the blowback from it doesn’t cost more in terms of dollars and damage than the actual dossier itself.

What Does the White House Know about Sam Clovis that Chuck Grassley Claims Not To?

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The other day I noted that Victoria Toensing’s press comments about her client, Sam Clovis’, appearance before the Mueller grand jury suggested there were discrepancies between his testimony and what George Papadopoulos has been telling the FBI for the last three months.

Nevertheless, after the disclosure that Clovis was the supervisor who told Papadopoulos to pursue a meeting with Russia as late as August 2016, Chuck Grassley still backed his fellow Iowan to serve as US Department of Agriculture’s Undersecretary for Research, Education and Economics. Grassley (who on Monday hid in flags to avoid questions about the Manafort indictment) told Iowa journalists that he had seen the context of the emails and he believed they showed no evidence that Clovis encouraged Papadopoulos to meet with Russian officials.

[I]n a conference call with Iowa reporters Wednesday, Grassley said he has reviewed emails provided by the Trump campaign that include a fuller account of Clovis’ interactions with Papadopoulos. According to those 80-some emails, Grassley said, Clovis does not appear to encourage any travel to meet with Russian officials.

“There’s an entirely different context than what was reported about Clovis and his relationship to this George P.,” Grassley told reporters.

The emails he reviewed cannot be released publicly, Grassley said, although some of them have been referenced in published newspaper accounts and are referred to in the court document from the Papadopoulos case.

When asked if he believes Clovis could face legal consequences over his role in the campaign, Grassley answered that it was “too early for me to say that.”

“But,” he went on, “reading these emails … that’s not an issue.”

Clovis has been scheduled to testify before Senate Agriculture Committee on Nov. 9 as part of his nomination as USDA undersecretary. That could be pushed back, Grassley said on Wednesday. In any case, Grassley said he will introduce Clovis when he comes before the committee.

Mind you, Grassley would have good reason to want an Iowan in a top USDA position, and might even relish the thought of having a non-scientist in charge of science there. So he may be biased.

In any case, the White House may now have a different understanding of matters.  CNN reports today that the White House may pull Clovis’ nomination entirely.

A White House source said the nomination of Sam Clovis is in danger and could be pulled soon. A source familiar with the White House’s thinking added that Clovis may have to withdraw, but it is not clear how that will happen, whether he will voluntarily pull out or be forced to do so.

[snip]
A Republican official close to Clovis said he remained loyal to Trump, adding that Clovis would almost certainly not fight the White House in backing away from his USDA nomination if asked.

“There’s no way he would fight this or cause trouble for the White House,” a Republican official and longtime associate of Clovis said.

Meanwhile, Clovis’ lawyer Toensing has gotten a whole lot less chatty about her client’s plight.

The White House did not comment Wednesday night, and messages to Clovis’ attorney were not returned.

Admittedly, it may be that the White House simply wants to avoid having to release the 80-some emails Grassley alluded to publicly, as Democrats would surely push to happen. Or it may be that there are details about Clovis’ actions — such as his description of cozying up to Russia as a key priority of the campaign — that the White House wants to avoid any questions about. Or, it may be that the White House simply doesn’t want to give Democrats any chances to focus attention on the substance of Papadopoulos’ plea.

Whatever it is, though, it does seem that Clovis’ immediate future seems to be less bright than Iowan Chuck Grassley claims it is.

Update: The AP reports that Clovis has withdrawn from consideration.

The False Statements George Papadopoulos Made about “Dirt” Were Designed to Hide Whether He Told the Campaign about the Emails

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Other outlets have now caught up to this post I wrote on Monday showing that a footnote in George Papadopoulos’ plea, describing a May 21, 2016 exchange between Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, probably means Manafort was trying to hide the campaign’s outreach to Russia rather than tamp it down via a low level staffer.

I want to turn now to some other details that become clear when similarly comparing Papadopoulos’ plea with the complaint, written two months earlier. In the plea, Papadopoulos’ false statements are listed as:

  1. PAPADOPOULOS met the professor and learned about Russian “dirt” before he joined the campaign
  2. PAPADOPOULOS’s contacts with the professor were inconsequential
  3. PAPADOPOULOS met the female Russian national before he joined the campaign, and his contacts with her were inconsequential

That is, the plea describes these false statements to pertain to the timing and significance of Papadopoulos’ communications with Professor Joseph Mifsud and the still unnamed woman that Papadopoulos once believed was the niece of Vladimir Putin (this WaPo story has the best descriptions of who is who in the documents). The plea disproves those three false statements by focusing on the timing of his meetings with the two (and his complete silence about Russian International Affairs Council program director Ivan Timofeev) and the sheer volume of his communications with the two. Significantly, the plea focuses on the impact of “omitt[ing] the entire course of conduct with the Professor and [Timofeev] regarding his efforts to establish meetings between the Campaign and Russian government officials.”

As I have noted, the grand jury testimony of at least one other person, Sam Clovis, appears to have downplayed that latter point, the assertiveness with which the campaign tried to set up meetings with the Russians. That and the limited hangout of these details shared with the WaPo in August suggests Trump people, collectively, know that email records show evidence the campaign was trying to set up meetings, and that more than one person has been lying to downplay how assertive they were.

The false statements as laid out in the affidavit supporting the complaint, however, have a significantly different emphasis. False statements 1 and 2 (as I’ve numbered them) were treated as one discussion under the heading “False Statements by PAPADOPOULOS Regarding Foreign Contact 1.” The first three paragraphs of the discussion look like this:

13. During the course of his January 27, 2017 interview with the FBI, GEORGE PAPADOPOULOS, the defendant, acknowledged that he knew a particular professor of diplomacy based in London (“Foreign Contact 1”). Foreign Contact 1 is a citizen of a country in the Mediterranean and an associate of several Russian nationals, as described further below. PAPADOPOULOS stated that Foreign Contact 1 told him that the Russians had “dirt” on Clinton.

a. PAPADOPOULOS told the Agents that, in the early part of 2016, Foreign Contact 1 “actually told me that the Russians had emails of Clinton. That guy told me.” PAPADOPOULOS further stated that Foreign Contact 1 told him that the Russians “have dirt on her,” meaning Clinton, and that “they have thousands of emails.”

b. PAPADOPOULOS, however, claimed to have received this information prior to joining the Campaign. He told Agents: “This isn’t like [Foreign Contact 1 was] messaging me while I’m in April with Trump.”

c. PAPADOPOULOS stated that he did not tell anyone on the Campaign about the “dirt” on Clinton because he “didn’t even know [if] that was real or fake or he was just guessing because I don’t know, because the guy [Foreign Contact 1]  seems like he’s … he’s a nothing.”

Laid out this way, the description of the false statements makes the import of them far more clear (import that the Special Counsel seems to want to obscure for now). Papadopoulos lied about the circumstances of his conversations with Mifsud — the FBI appears to have believed when they arrested him in July — as part of a story to explain why, after having heard about dirt in the form of thousands of emails from Hillary, he didn’t tell anyone else on the campaign about them. Laid out like this, it’s clear Papadopoulos was trying to hide both when he learned about the emails (just three days before the DNC did, as it turns out, not much earlier as he seems to have suggested in January), but also how important he took those emails to be (which in his false story, he tied to to a false story about how credible he found Mifsud to be).

FBI found those lies to be significant enough to arrest him over because they obscured whether he had told anyone on the campaign that the Russians had dirt in the form of Hillary emails.

To be sure, nothing in any of the documents released so far answer the questions that Papadopoulos surely spent two months explaining to the FBI: whether he told the campaign (almost certainly yes, or he wouldn’t have lied in the first place) and when (with the big import being on whether that information trickled up to Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner before they attended a meeting on June 9, 2016 in hopes of obtaining such dirt).

I’m sure that’s intentional. You gotta keep everyone else guessing about what Mueller knows.

But we can be pretty sure what the answers are.

Between the time they arrested Papadopoulos and the time he pled guilty, he became more forthcoming about his extensive efforts to broker a meeting between the campaign and the Russians, something Mifsud made clear was a high priority for the Russians. Mueller is perfectly happy — after securing the testimony of people like Clovis — to let everyone know that.

But Mueller is still hiding the pretty obvious answer to the question about whether Papadopoulos lied about Mifsud specifically to hide that he told people on the campaign that Russians had emails to deal in conjunction with such meetings.

Jeff Sessions Unforgets the Discussions with Russians He Twice Swore He Didn’t Know About

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On Monday at the Intercept and yesterday on Democracy Now, I pointed out that the George Papadopoulos plea showed that Jeff Sessions continues to lie under oath about what he knows about Trump campaign surrogates interacting with Russians.

Sessions has repeatedly testified to the Senate that he knows nothing about any collusion with the Russians. (Though in his most recent appearance, he categorized that narrowly by saying he did not “conspire with Russia or an agent of the Russian government to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.”)

But the Papadopoulos plea shows that Sessions — then acting as Trump’s top foreign policy adviser — was in a March 31, 2016, meeting with Trump, at which Papadopoulos explained “he had connections that could help arrange a meeting between then-candidate Trump and President Putin.”

[snip]

Sessions’s claims about such meetings came in sworn testimony to the Senate. During his confirmation process, Sessions was asked a key question by Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn.: “If there is any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government in the course of this campaign, what will you do?”

“Senator Franken, I’m not aware of any of those activities,” Sessions responded. “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I didn’t have — did not have communications with the Russians, and I’m unable to comment on it.”

The question, however, was about Sessions’s knowledge of such communications, and we now know he was in a meeting in which they were discussed.

More recently, on October 18, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., asked Sessions a series of questions about his knowledge of interactions with Russians, including whether he had discussed emails with Russian officials since the campaign. To that question, Sessions said he “did not recall.”

Franken then asked, in an attempt to clarify the confirmation questions, “You don’t believe that surrogates from the Trump campaign had communications with the Russians?”

“I did not — and I’m not aware of anyone else that did. I don’t believe that it happened,” said the attorney general whose own department had, two weeks earlier, already gotten a guilty plea from a campaign surrogate describing such discussions with Russians.

Now that other media outlets have caught up with the significance of the March 31 meeting, there have been a number of stories that make it clear Jeff Sessions has now unforgotten the outreach to Russia he twice swore he didn’t remember.

In this telling, Sessions was the hero of the moment, insisting that the campaign not pursue a meeting with Putin, while Trump was more ambivalent.

Candidate Donald Trump did not dismiss the idea of arranging a meeting with Russia’s president when it was suggested in a meeting with his campaign foreign policy advisers last year, according to a person in the room.

The idea was raised by George Papadopoulos as he introduced himself at a March 2016 meeting of the Republican candidate’s foreign policy advisers, according to a court filing.
“He didn’t say yes and he didn’t say no,” the official said, declining to be more specific about Trump’s response to Papadopoulos.
But the chairman of Trump’s national security team, then Alabama senator and now attorney general Jeff Sessions, shut down the idea of a Putin meeting at the March 31, 2016, gathering, according to the source. His reaction was confirmed with another source who had discussed Session’s role.

If the first sourcing here — one of the nine men in the room — didn’t indicate these leaks came from Sessions’ orbit, the second one — a source who discussed Sessions’ role — makes it clear.

Let’s pretend for the moment that this telling is accurate, and that then Senator Sessions recognized the legal and political risk of cozying up to Vladimir Putin (and not just another attempt to telegraph what someone has testified or plans to testify to the grand jury).

If that’s correct, that means Sessions has twice lied under oath about knowing about efforts to reach out to the Russians. And he did so knowing that the President was sort of cool with the idea.

That is, it would suggest Sessions’ lies, given under oath, were designed to protect the President.

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