On the James Wolfe Indictment: Don’t Forget Carter Page

Last night, DOJ unsealed the indictment of James Wolfe, the former Director of Security for the Senate Intelligence Committee. He is accused of one count of false statements to the FBI. The indictment alleges that he lied about his conversation with four journalists, Ali Watkins and three others.

The NYT has revealed that Watkins, who had a three-plus year relationship with Wolfe, had years of her communications subpoenaed. They obtained years of her subscriber information, and a more narrow period of additional information from her phone. As a reminder, the subscriber information that can be obtained with a d-order is tremendously invasive — in addition to name and financial and other contact information, the government obtains IP and device addresses that allow them to map out all the communications a person uses. This post lays out what the government demands from tech companies. Obtaining it will burn all but the most disciplined operational security and with it, a journalists’ sources.

The indictment also reveals the government obtained Signal and WhatsApp call records and content; it seems to have been Wolfe’s preferred means to communicate “securely.” I suspect they obtained the communications after June 2017, by targeting Wolfe’s phone. It’s possible he voluntarily provided his phone after confronted with his lies, but I suspect they obtained the Signal content via other means, basically compromising his device as an end point. I’ll return to this, but it appears DOJ has made a decision in recent days to expose the ease with which they can obtain Signal and other secure chat apps, at least in national security investigations, perhaps to make people less comfortable using it.

What I’d like to focus on, however, is the role of Carter Page in the indictment.

The government lays out clear proof Wolfe lied about conversations with three reporters. With Watkins and another, they point to stories about Carter Page to do so. The Watkins story is this one, confirming he is the person identified in the Evgeny Buryakov indictment. Another must be one of two stories revealing Page was subpoenaed for testimony by the Senate Intelligence Committee — either this one or this one.

I’m most interested, however, in this reference to a story the FBI raised with Wolfe in its interview, a story for which (unlike the others) the indictment never confirms whether Wolfe is the source.

During the interview, FBI agents showed WOLFE a copy of a news article authored by three reporters, including REPORTER #1, about an individual (referred to herein as “MALE-l), that contained classified information that had been provided to the SSCI by the Executive Branch for official purposes

The story suggests they don’t have content for the communications between Wolfe and Reporter #1, and the call records they’re interested in ended last June (meaning the story must precede it).

For example, between in or around December 2015 and in or around June 2017, WOLFE and REPORTER #1 communicated at least five times using his SSCI email account.

For that reason, I suspect this is the story they asked about — whether Wolfe is a source for the original credible story on Carter Page’s FISA order. The focus on Page generally in the indictment suggests this investigation started as an investigation into who leaked the fact that Page had been targeted under FISA, and continued to look at the stories that revealed classified details about the investigative focus on him (stories which he rightly complained to SSCI about).

I know the focus will be on the impact on Watkins and any other journalists DOJ has subpoenaed, if they have with the others; that impact is very real and we’ll hear more about how DOJ has shifted its treatment of journalists in upcoming days.

But I’d like to consider what it means that this investigation largely stems from leaks about the investigation into Page.

Page is not at all a sympathetic person. He’s nuts, and may well be or have been a willing recruit of Russia. But there are two reasons why the leaks into the investigation into him should be of concern, along with the concern about journalism.

First, whatever the truth about Page, one reason the government treats counterintelligence wiretaps differently than criminal ones is because there are times they need to obtain content from people they don’t have probable cause are criminals. Legitimately obtained wiretaps should never be revealed except in legal proceedings anyway, but that’s all the more true where the government may be using the wiretap to learn whether someone has been recruited. Unlike Paul Manafort, Mike Flynn, and George Papadopoulos, Carter Page has not been charged, yet the leaks about the investigation into him (including of the damned Steele dossier) have branded him as a Russian spy. I’ve reported on too many cases where FISA orders were used against people who weren’t spies (particularly Chinese Americans), and it needs to be said that investigative targets are kept secret, in part, because they’ve not been charged yet.

Then there’s the flip side to the issue. All the leaks about Carter Page may well have poisoned the investigation into him in several ways. Certainly, Page and the Russians were alerted to the scrutiny he was under. If he is or was a Russian spy, the government may never make its case because the stories on Page made it a lot easier for the targets of the investigation to counter it (I actually think several of the less credible leaks about this investigation were designed to do just that).

Indeed, all the leaked stories about him may have made it politically impossible for FBI to continue the investigation. We know the FISA orders against him ceased after all the leaks about his targeting, for example. So if Page is a spy, all the publicity about this may help him get away with it.

The government has wrapped up a tidy indictment where, while they know Wolfe is a source for at least some of the suspect stories about Page, any trial would instead focus on the clear evidence Wolfe lied about things like a multi-year relationship with someone working SSCI and not classified information. Probably, the hope is he’ll plea and identify all the stories for which he has been a source. To get there, the government has used awesome powers against at least one journalist (and in Watkins’ case, it’s not at all clear they needed to do that).

That said, while I don’t defend Page as a person at all, the giddy leaks about him do come with a cost in both due process and investigative terms and it’s worth remembering that as we talk about this case.

The Smoking Craters Where Trump Deal Brokers Used to Be

Amid the news that DOJ is giving the Gang of Eight another chance to look at sensitive case files on the Russia investigation (some of which they failed to look at in the last briefing), two scoops yesterday should provide far more damning proof of where the “SpyGate” is.

One-time Trump broker Sergei Millian offered Papadopoulos $30,000 a month to partner while working for Trump

First, in a piece that finally recognizes the existence of Ivan Timofeev (yet still hides how George Papadopoulos successfully hid his communications with him through two FBI interviews), Chuck Ross confirms what I had guessed: that Sergei Millian is the contact described in the FBI affidvit about whom Papadopoulos asks for feedback from Timofeev.

Mangiante, an Italian national, confirmed to TheDCNF that Millian is the individual Papadopoulos described in a July 22, 2016 Facebook message that is cited in documents the special counsel’s office released in October.

“On or about July 22, 2016, PAPADOPOULOS messages Foreign Contact 2 on Facebook to ask whether Foreign Contact 2 knew a particular individual with extensive ties to Russian-based businesses and persons,” reads an affidavit released along with Papadopoulos’ guilty plea. “PAPADOPOULOS asked Foreign Contact 2 ‘[i]f you know any background of him that is noteworthy before I see him, kindly send my way.’”

Papadopoulos and Millian met days after the July 22, 2016 Facebook message, said Mangiante, who has recently denied that Papadopoulos was engaged in collusion with Russians.

Mangiante also said that Papadopoulos and Millian met multiple times in Chicago and New York City before the election. In one encounter in Chicago, Millian offered Papadopoulos a substantial sum of money as part of an energy-related business deal.

The catch was that Millian said Papadopoulos would have to remain in the Trump administration while carrying out the work.

The business offer has been previously reported by The New York Times and NBC News. However, Mangiante is providing new details, saying that Millian offered Papadopoulos “$30,000 a month to work as a consultant while with Trump.”

“He refused, of course,” Mangiante said of Papadopoulos.

Interjection: This confirmation should end all the speculation from people examining Mangiante’s apparent flip flop in her public statements about Papadopoulos and seeing a Slavic accent to her statements. Mangiante’s actions are best understood, I think, by understanding that she knows little about US law and how she might best help her spouse, which has led her to respond to the cues of a bunch of sleazy people who have used her unfamiliarity to feed their own narratives or help their own clients (I’m thinking specifically of Victoria Toensing’s client Sam Clovis). But if Mangiante were a Russian spy, there’d be little reason for her to provide evidence that Millian is a Russian operative who sought to handle Papadopoulos and through him Trump’s foreign policy.

That said, Mangiante’s claims about her spouse are unsurprisingly misleading. For example, she has Chuck Ross ignoring the most damning parts of Papadopoulos’ lies to the FBI, as well as his deletion of his Facebook account to hide (among other things) precisely the exchange where Papadopoulos asked Timofeev about Millian. Unsurprisingly, she doesn’t mention that Papadopoulos couldn’t take Millian up on his lucrative deal, because Mike Flynn didn’t last in the National Security Advisor job long enough for him to offer Papadopoulos the job that would have been the prerequisite to accept the offer.

Mr. Millian proposed that he and Mr. Papadopoulos form an energy-related business that would be financed by Russian billionaires “who are not under sanctions” and would “open all doors for us” at “any level all the way to the top.”

One billionaire, he said, wanted to explore the idea of opening a Trump-branded hotel in Moscow. “I know the president will distance himself from business, but his children might be interested,” he wrote.

Nothing came of his proposals, partly because Mr. Papadopoulos was hoping that Michael T. Flynn, then Mr. Trump’s pick to be national security adviser, might give him the energy portfolio at the National Security Council.

The pair exchanged New Year’s greetings in the final hours of 2016. “Happy New Year, sir,” Mr. Papadopoulos wrote.

“Thank you and same to you, George. Happy New Year!” Mr. Flynn responded, ahead of a year that seemed to hold great promise.

But 2017 did not unfold that way. Within months, Mr. Flynn was fired, and both men were charged with lying to the F.B.I. And both became important witnesses in the investigation Mr. Papadopoulos had played a critical role in starting.

This is all the more interesting because (as Glenn Simpson explained to Adam Schiff) Millian has served a function for Trump that — like this Trump Tower deal — provided Trump a way to get loans for his business projects, in this case for Project Hollywood.

MR. SCHIFF: And tell me about the Trump Hollywood project. That was an example of the latter or the former? Did they get the financing from what you could tell because they got a bunch of Russians to pre-sale, or did they go to a bank and say these are our investors, or how did they go about that?

MR. SIMPSON: Well, eventually, I mean, they lost the project. It went under. I, can’t – I’m not – I’m sure we did look at who the creditors were, who the lenders were. This is the project that Sergi Millian appears to have been involved in, and there’s a picture of Jorge Perez, Donald Trump, and Sergi Millian.

And he tells a story about meeting Donald Trump at the golf — at a racetrack, drinking a bottle of Crystal with him, seems — he gave him some Crystal. And that was in the early phases of the project. So it was clear that Donald Trump — so the equity partner was the related group. It was clear that this Russian had been brought into this with Trump, and what you can surmise from that is that he’s there to say there are buyers. We can bring you buyers for this property. And that’s what a developer needs to know is that he’s got buyer interest.

MR. SCHIFF: And how does it work? Let’s say Sergi Millian or someone else lines up the Russian buyers. The Russian buyers sign pre-sale agreements. Trump can then get financing for the res! of the project. Do the buyers go through and buy the properties, or is that no longer necessary, once you’ve obtained the bank financing you can actually sell them to real people?

An architecture firm disappears overnight upon learning Mueller is watching

Keep that model — doing the real estate things that help Trump get loans — in mind when you read this, which I genuinely find to be among the most amazing Russian related stories since the election. In April, acting on a tip, CNBC asked an architect who has worked with Trump on some Eurasian and two American projects, John Fotiadis, about that relationship. Within days, his firm folded.

Between 2007 and 2013, Fotiadis designed all or part of six Trump-branded developments: a Trump Tower in Kazakhstan; a Trump-branded seaside resort in the republic of Georgia; a 47-story Trump Tower in Tbilisi, Georgia; hotel rooms at the Trump Tower in Istanbul; a Trump movie studio complex in Florida; and major portions of the Trump Parc Stamford, a condominium tower in Connecticut.

[snip]

The McClatchy news service reported in April that Mueller’s probe was looking more closely at the people involved in Trump’s dealings in three countries, Georgia, Kazakhstan and Russia.

Around this time, CNBC received a tip that Fotiadis had worked on several Trump projects in Eurasia. Curious about his professional relationship with Trump, CNBC reached out to Fotiadis on April 11 for comment about this work.

Fotiadis did not respond to a call or an email. But eight hours later, he announced on Twitter that he was closing his firm, John Fotiadis Architect, or JFA, after 10 years in business. A few days later, Fotiadis closed the Twitter account he had used to announce he was closing down his firm.

By the end of the week, all the content from Fotiadis’ professional website, including his portfolio, had been removed, leaving only a notesaying he planned to join a New Jersey-based engineering company.

Gone was Fotiadis’ impressive portfolio of 30 projects (some of which are pictured below), including villas, schools and office buildings he has designed for clients around the world. Also gone was any reference to the two overseas branches of JFA that he had opened — in Tbilisi and Kiev, Ukraine.

Admittedly, there’s no evidence to explain what happened here. But it sure has the look of either an intelligence front folding, or someone trying to get out of some really uncomfortable relationships quickly (CNBC describes Fotiadis’ new job with a company that does “car dealerships, self-storage facilities and medical labs,” which would seem to support the latter conclusion).

That said, as CNBC notes, the complex projects of the sort that Trump often use the architect as one key ingredient to bring in big creditors.

“The architect is a key part of the Trump sales pitch when he goes into these countries, and he’s convincing the money guys to give him a branding and development deal,” said Jan deRoos, a Cornell University professor of real estate finance. “The architect is the one who translates the Trump brand into actual design and construction standards.”

Update, July 2020: Fotiadis contacted me to explain that he took down his firm’s site at the request of a new employer.

In June of 2018, she published two articles on me on CNBC’s website and tweeted away – touting her “scoop” for all the world to see and marvel at. You see, around the same time she had tried to contact me (in mid-April of 2018), I took down my Architecture firm’s (JFA’s) social media and website when I was asked to do so by my new employers, with whom I had just come to an agreement for employment. The timing of those two completely separate and unrelated events, may have been unfortunate, but far worse, was exploited by Wilkie in a rather pathetic attempt at self-aggrandizement, so as to create a news story where there was none.

In her tweets Wilkie claimed I “disappeared” and went “MIA” simply because I chose not to respond to her and took my company’s social media down around the same time. In other words Wilkie was trying to falsely claim that somehow her inquiry had forced me to “disappear” or at least “lower my profile”.

He also says he was never contacted by any investigators.

The Agalrov perennial Trump dangle

And these two stories come on top of the Agalarov’s perennial Trump dangle, including for a Trump Tower Moscow. I’m still working on the SJC released files (which are really damning), but the family complained that their years of cultivating Trump crumbled after the June 9 Magnitsky dangle was exposed.

These people — or the people who in turn managed them — exerted and probably still exert tremendous influence over Trump. They all seem to lay out a network of compromise far deeper than we imagined when this all started.

Manafort Renewed His Outreach to FBC Group after Mueller’s Early April Revelations

As I noted, last night Mueller’s team moved to revoke Paul Manafort’s bail because — they allege — he has been attempting to suborn perjury from witnesses associated with the FBC Group PR firm. In addition to a declaration laying out the evidence for that claim, Mueller’s team included a list of contacts between Manafort himself and Konstantin Kilimnik with people at FBC Group. Amy Berman Jackson has scheduled a hearing for June 15 to consider the motion.

As the declaration lays out, person D1 (likely Alan Friedman) hadn’t spoken to Manafort since last July, probably before his public raid by the FBI and around the time Friedman started cooperating with the government. He hung up when Manafort called him in February and regarded the outreach as an effort to suborn perjury.

Person D1 told the government that in or around this period, Manafort called Person D1, and that the two had not spoken since July of the previous year. Person D1 stated that after answering the call and after the caller identified himself as Manafort, Manafort stated that he wanted to give Person D1 a heads-up about Hapsburg. Person D1 immediately ended the call because he was concerned about the outreach.

[snip]

Person D1 told the government that Person D1 understood Manafort’s messages to be an effort to “suborn perjury” by influencing Person D1’s potential statements. Person D1 well knew and believed from frequent interactions with its members that the Hapsburg group in fact lobbied in the United States, and that Manafort and Person A knew that fact.

Most of the declaration focuses on a set of communications immediately in the wake of Rick Gates’ plea deal, which made it clear Mueller had expanded Manafort’s prosecution to include actions of the Hapsburg Group — a bunch of European bigwigs Manafort hired to lie about Ukraine publicly and to Congress. I noted the day of Manafort’s first call that Friedman was surely cooperating with Mueller, but apparently I’m smarter than Manafort.

What I’m interested in, however, is that on April 4, Kilimnik tried again, with WhatsApp and Telegram outreach to both D1 and the PR person on the project.

Unlike the Hapsburg specific outreach, the declaration offers no explanation for Kilimnik’s April outreach.

Approximately one month later, Person A reached out to Person D1 directly as well. On April 4, 2018, Person A sent a message to Person D1: “Hi. This is [Person A’s first initial]. My friend P is looking for ways to connect to you to pass you several messages. Can we arrange that.” Person A reached out to Person D2 the same day, and reiterated his need for help in connecting Person D1 with Manafort. Person A added in his text to Person D2: “I tried him [i.e., Person D1] on all numbers.”

This outreach is non-specific. Kilimnik just appears to have an urgent need to reach out to (presumably) Friedman, in Manafort’s name, on April 4.

The timing is particularly interesting to me. The outreach happens in the wake of the Alex Van Der Zwaan sentencing filings, which provided more detail on Skadden Arp’s involvement in the Yulia Tymoshenko whitewash, and as such may have concerned the Hapsburg players. In addition, the prosecution filing for the first time made (and repeated Rick Gates’ indirect) allegations that Kilimnik himself was and might still be a Russian intelligence officer.

Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agents assisting the Special Counsel’s Office assess that Person A has ties to a Russian intelligence service and had such ties in 2016. During his first interview with the Special Counsel’s Office, van der Zwaan admitted that he knew of that connection, stating that Gates told him Person A was a former Russian Intelligence Officer with the GRU.

The outreach also happened in the wake of Mueller’s filing of the Rosenstein Memo, as well as public claims that included Oleg Deripaska in the scope of the investigation.

So it’s likely that Paul Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik regarded those early April filings as impacting in some way on FBC Group, and possibly on Alan Friedman personally.

Of course, Friedman wasn’t playing Manafort’s games by that point, and hadn’t been already for over a month (and probably over 8 or 9 months).

Whatever else Manafort learned with yesterday’s filings, he likely also confirmed that. Whatever added risk those early April filings posed to Manafort, FBC Group is probably part of the risk, not part of his efforts to dodge the risk.

Update: I made an error in this post originally, by saying that it pertains to Mercury (Company A or B in Mueller’s findings). Josh Gerstein correctly IDs the company as FBC Media, which would make D1 Alan Friedman.

The Cat Moves onto Pounce on its Paul Manafort Cat Toy

On November 17, I said this about Manafort’s efforts to make bail.

I feel like Mueller’s prosecutors are playing with these two men as cats play with balls, just patiently batting them around, waiting for the inevitable admission that they can’t make bail because they don’t have assets they can put up because everything they own has been laundered. At which point, after getting the judge rule over and over that they’re flight risks, I suppose the government will move to throw them in the pokey, which will finally get them to consider flipping.

On May 18, Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled that Manafort had show sufficient liquidity that she would move towards granting him bail, pending certain interviews.

After that order, Manafort pledged the last properties he’d need to pledge to make bail (probably the last of his liquid possessions). Then Mueller’s team posted a cryptic filing asking to file something by June 4 — today — in response to Manafort’s last, finally successful!!!!, attempt to post bond.

Here’s that filing. Basically, Mueller’s team says that as soon as Rick Gates made a move to flip, Manafort tried to tamper with witnesses (largely Mercury Group, the Vin Weber lobbying firm) on new criminal evidence raised in the Gates plea — their efforts to use the “Hapsburg Group” to lobby in favor of pro-Russian views. Because Manafort broke the law while out on bail, Mueller argues, the whole process needs to be reevaluated.

Manafort may finally be headed to the pokey. Which may be why Trump was so worried about his poor corrupt campaign manager yesterday.

I’ll have more to say about the filing and the means they used to obtain the WhatsApp and Telegram evidence behind it — suffice it to say there has been parallel construction going on in the casino.

But for now, know that Mueller’s team has been sitting on this evidence since May 4 — probably since February 28.

They’ve just been waiting for Manafort to pledge the last little bits of his liquidity before they move to throw him in prison.

And somehow, it’s almost as if Donald Trump knew the guy he once suggested was his firewall might be in legal peril.

The 58 Second Gap: Did Emin Agalarov Tell Rob Goldstone Putin Talked to His Father about the June 9 Meeting?

Neither of the Agalarov employees — Ike Kaveladze and Rob Goldstone — involved in the June 9 meeting were fully responsive to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Kaveladze, who worked with Aras Agalarov to implement the meeting, at first failed to tell SJC that he got on a plane the day after the meeting and flew to Moscow. Even in a second appearance, he had not looked up whose Russian mobile phones he spoke to the day after the meeting, while he was still in NY, and never explained the timing of his last minute trip to NY and then Moscow.

Goldstone had to do a second appearance to talk through efforts to set up a meeting with Putin in 2013, and also to walk through newly complete versions of the WhatsApp texts he had with Emin as the June 9 story broke last summer. And Goldstone — an independent businessman who surely needs such records for tax purposes — ultimately never provided phone records that would show whom he called when during key periods.

I’d like to look at the circumstances surrounding a piece of evidence newly turned over and discussed in Goldstone’s second interview, which took place on March 29. At issue is a WhatsApp voice message Emin left Goldstone at 9:17 AM on July 10, 2017, in the midst of Goldstone’s panic as he increasingly became the focus of press attention and even (he claims) started to lose business over having set up the June 9 meeting. It takes place shortly after this exchange, in which Goldstone complains about being depicted as “some mysterious link to Putin,” to which Emin (a good Russian) responds, “That should give you mega PR.” (PDF 21)

According to Goldstone’s testimony, after he texted, “Forget it,” he and Emin spoke by phone, and the latter told Goldstone he should be happy because the scandal was making him one of the most famous people in the world.

I think there was a call between us as some point before these [voice mails]. After I said, “Forget it,” I believe we did have a really brief call that I hung up on. And, yes, there was. It was, again, him saying, “I still don’t understand. This is mega” — you know I think at one point he said to me, “This is making you one of the most famous people in the world,” and the reason I remember it is because I said to him, “You know, Jeffrey Dahmer was famous. I don’t think he got a lot of work out of it,” and hung up.

What follows are three WhatsApp voicemails left from 9:17-18 on July 10 (while this is taking place, Emin is in Moscow and Goldstone is in Greece; as this exchange was taking place, Kaveladze was landing in Moscow, having had a call with Don Jr’s lawyers on July 7, the day Putin and Trump talked about adoptions as the Trump camp was struggling to come up with a statement about the June 9 meeting).

In the first call, Emin tried to downplay his own role in things, suggesting Goldstone should work with Kaveladze and his father.

Rob, I understand your frustration and no way I’m trying to downsize what’s happening. But as you know, as the meeting happened through Ike and my Dad, I was not involved, and I was also against all possibilities. The same way right now, any comments should go through them. Just figure out with Ike what the strategy should be. I don’t mind you commenting anything. There’s no problem from my side, as you understand.

Goldstone didn’t provide a very convincing explanation for what Emin meant by “I was also against all possibilities.”

Then Emin calls back again (it’s pretty obvious Goldstone is still angry and ignoring these three calls). He offers to ask his father whether Goldstone should comment.

And if you want, I can speak to my father and ask him directly if he minds or doesn’t mind, wants you to comment, doesn’t want you to comment.

Which brings us to the third voicemail, which WhatsApp shows to be 1:10 long, but which Goldstone’s lawyer, Bernard Ozarowski, says was only 12 seconds long. In addition to that discrepancy (which Ozarowski claims is a WhatsApp error), the first word of even the 12 second voicemail — describing someone contacting Aras — is cut off. (PDF 59-61)

MR. PRIVOR: Before the break, we were discussing one of the voicemail messages that appears to be cut off, and, Counsel, you were going to explain sort of what you had in your files and what has been produced, and we’d invite you to make a statement on the record about that.

MR. OZAROWSKI: Sure. Our best understanding at this point is that all of the audio files that we’ve produced to the Committee are complete. I myself helped get the files off of Rob’s phone, and they are complete files to the best of our knowledge. Our general understanding is that the 1 minute and 10 second time stamp is an error on WhatsApp. It appears maybe to be related to the minute and 10 second voicemail that comes later in the string of texts. This message, as best we can tell, is approximately 12 seconds. And, also, when looking at Rob’s phone more recently and replaying it, the message appears to be 12 seconds long.

MR. PRIVOR: Very well. We appreciate that clarification, and let’s now continue with that particular message.

BY MR. PRIVOR: Q. So as noted — and we understand that the file you have is shorter — it nevertheless appears to be cut off slightly at the beginning. It sounds like Emin is saying someone was in direct contact with him. The “him” I think is a reference to Aras Agalarov. Is that your understanding, Mr. Goldstone?

A. Could I ask that that be played again? Just because there’ s been a little time in between.

MR. PRIVOR: Yes, of course. Again, the file is Bates RG-000253.

[Voicemail message played]

MR. AGALAROV: — is in direct contact with him, but I haven’t spoken on the matter recently to him, but I can. Let me know if you want me to.

MR. GOLDSTONE : I can’t make out what that first word is, but it obviously relates to somebody being in direct contact with him. And as it relates to the previous voice message, I would agree that it’s with his father, Aras.

BY MR. PRIVOR :  Q. Do you recall having any conversation with Emin about who was in direct contact with his father?

A. I do not.

Q. Emin says in that message that he hasn’t “spoken on the matter recently to him, but I can.  Let me know if you want me to.” That, again, sounds like an offer to speak to his father. The “him” is a reference to Aras. Do you agree with that?

A. I agree with that.

Q. Did you ever follow up with Emin to ask him to follow up with his father?

A. No.

Q. And did you yourself directly follow up with Aras?

A. No.

Now, there are likely some non-scandalous explanations for who of interest might have reached out to Aras Agalarov, but the most likely explanations are almost certainly wrong. The most likely reference would be to Kaveladze. He generally dealt directly with Aras, Goldstone dealt directly with Emin, Aras and Emin dealt directly with each other, and Kaveladze and Goldstone dealt with each other.

Except that’s highly unlikely because earlier in this same exchange, Emin and Goldstone had discussed that Kaveladze was in the air on the way to Moscow.

And after Kaveladze lands (I’m still trying to figure out the real time of this text, but it temporally slides into the discussion of statements Goldstone and Emin started, as the larger string of Kaveladze’s texts show), Kaveladze texts Emin and asks to talk. (PDF 31)

The next exchange of texts seems to suggest Emin and Kaveladze meet to talk about a statement. First Goldstone says that Kaveladze has told him he — either Emin alone or with Kaveladze — is drafting a statement.

And Emin responds, “meeting now.”

Emin calls shortly thereafter and tweaks Goldstone’s speech.

So the missing name doesn’t appear to be Kaveladze.

The only other person in the loop on these issues — Emin’s assistant Roman Beniaminov — worked through Emin and Kaveladze, just like Goldstone did.

There are, presumably, other possibilities we wouldn’t know about. For example, Emin could be suggesting that the Agalarovs throw business to Goldstone via some other means.

But the context suggests one possibility. The last thing Goldstone texted before the phone call he hung up on and Emin’s three voice mails was a complaint that he was being perceived as having a link to Putin, with earlier complaints about losing work from it. By Goldstone’s own description, on the call he complained again about losing work, and analogized what he had just raised — a purported link to Putin — with being a serial killer.

In the third of three voicemails that Emin leaves to try to placate Goldstone for suggesting he should be thrilled about a link to Putin rather than horrified by it, Emin starts by saying someone — the missing name — “is in direct contact with” his father, Aras Agalarov. “I haven’t spoken on the matter recently to him,” — Emin doesn’t say what matter, which might either relate to the June 9 meeting or something discussed on the phone call. But he offers to speak to (apparently) his father about this. “but I can. Let me know if you want me to.”

Again, that’s in no way definitive. But in context, it’s possible. It certainly might explain why these texts weren’t fully turned over in the first round, why at least the first word of the voicemail, if not 58 seconds, is missing, and why Goldstone hasn’t, apparently, turned over his phone records (which would show how long this call was).

At the very least, Mueller has Goldstone’s phone records. He may well have a copy of the WhatsApp chats from Facebook. He also surely has the other information Kaveladze didn’t turn over to SJC. So he may well know the answer to this.

The Documents the White House Turned Over

I wanted to pull this information, from the John Dowd’s letter to Robert Mueller, to lay out how the White House has categorized document requests from Mueller. Dowd boast the “Records voluntarily produced to your office by the White House total over 20,000 pages.” Here’s what those records like, arranged by Bates series.

The Flynn documents

The categories start with Flynn, including an astounding 2,572 pages related to Sean Spicer’s comments to the press on Jim Comey from May 3, 2017 (in the press briefing that day Spicer downplayed the threat Russia posed to the US).

  • FBI Interview of Michael Flynn at the White House on January 24, 2017 (SCR001), 9 documents, 66 pages;
  • Communications of DAG Sally Yates, DOJ, FBI, & WH regarding Michael Flynn (SCR002), 28 documents, 64 pages;
  • Communications between White House staff regarding the FBl’s investigation into Russian interference or James Comey (SCR003), 53 documents, 248 pages;
  • The resignation of Michael Flynn (SCR004), 311 documents, 762 pages;
  • Sean Spicer’s May 3, 2017, statements to the press regarding James Comey (SCR005), 445 documents, 2,572 pages;

The George Papadopoulos documents

There’s just one bullet point of communications pertaining to Papadopoulos. This list must reflect the list of those who might be of interest in the Russian inquiry. Note that Jeff Sessions is not included.

  • White House communications concerning campaign and transition communications between Manafort, Gates, Gordon, Kellogg, Page, Papadopoulos, Phares, Clovis and Schmitz (SCR006), 75 documents, 978 pages;

A second tranche of Mike Flynn documents

Then there are two more bullets of Mike Flynn documents, first seeking campaign and transition communications involving Russian Federation officials, and then seeking the 2,990 pages on the May 10, 2017 meeting with Sergei Lavrov. We should expect a ton of prep work in advance of such a meeting, so the number might not be that surprising. But it is the largest set of documents.

  • White House communications regarding campaign and transition communications between Michael Flynn and Sergey Kislyak or other Russian Federation officials (SCR007), 303 documents, 912 pages;
  • May 10, 2017, White House meeting with Russian Federation officials (SCR008), 808 documents, 2,990 pages;

The June 9 meeting documents

Only after those Flynn related comms did Mueller ask for June 9 meeting documents. They asked for three things: Documents pertaining to the June 9 meeting (note, this doesn’t include a request for the follow-up discussions in November). Then, a list of those who were involved in Don Jr’s press statements. Finally, all the comms from those people. The number of these documents is suspiciously small, particularly as compared to the volume turned over to SJC.

  • June 9, 2016, meeting between Donald Trump, Jr., and Natalia Veselnitskaya (SCR009), 117 documents, 1,821 pages;
  • July 8, 2017, Air Force One participants regarding Donald Trump, Jr., press statements concerning Veselnitskaya meeting (SCR010), 1 document, 1 page;
  • Communications of individuals identified in category number 10 (SCR011), 141 documents, 284 pages.

Jim Comey documents

Finally, there are documents pertaining to Jim Comey’s firing. This suggests Mueller didn’t ask for these documents until at least July 2017.

  • Meetings between the President and James Comey (SCR012), 109 documents, 725 pages;
  • The decision to terminate James Comey (SCR013), 442 documents, 1,455 pages;

The Giant Holes in Trump’s Mike Flynn Story Point to “Collusion,” Not Obstruction

I wanted to look more closely at the story the President’s lawyers told Mueller’s team about Flynn’s firing in January, both for what it reveals about the White House’s response to the Sally Yates warning, and for its claims about how it interprets DOJ actions. The letter reveals the following:

  • The White House claims, Sally Yates’ public comments (which they entirely ignore) to the contrary, that they got DOJ permission to release the Mike Flynn intercept; given the timing of the story as laid out, and Trump’s question about FBI leaking, I actually think it possible if not likely that the White House was a source for the February 9 story leaking the intercept. If that’s true, it totally undermines the Trump letter.
  • Don McGahn wrote a memo on the lead-up to Flynn’s firing two days after the firing, and one day after Trump’s “let it go” conversation with Jim Comey. It appears to be inconsistent with Transition materials, particularly an email showing (among other things) that Reince Priebus knew in real time what Flynn told Kislyak on December 29. Firing Comey would have been an effort to prevent FBI from discovering those transition period communications.
  • The Trump letter didn’t address two of the questions asked about Flynn’s firing. In addition to remaining silent about what Trump really knew about what Flynn said to Pence, it doesn’t address Trump’s involvement in the transition period communications with Sergey Kislyak. That’s important because that’s the question that Flynn’s initial interview should have revealed. Contrary to what the letter claims, then, Flynn’s plea and Trump’s silence in the letter about the substance of the plea is proof not that Trump didn’t obstruct, but that Trump continues to refuse to explain why Flynn asked Kislyak to hold off on responding to sanctions, to say nothing of whether Flynn did so on his orders.

The section (less the Comey and McCabe testimony) and associated footnotes follow, with my comments.

Mueller asked for six Flynn related things; Trump only responded to four

Here are the things Mueller asked Trump to explain pertaining to the Flynn firing.He said

  1. Former National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn — information regarding his contacts with Ambassador Kislyak about sanctions during the transition process;
  2. Lt. Gen. Flynn’s communications with Vice President Michael Pence regarding those contacts;
  3. Lt. Gen. Flynn’s interview with the FBI regarding the same;
  4. Then-Acting Attorney General Sally Yates coming to the White House to discuss same;
  5. The President’s meeting on February 14, 2017, with then-Director James Comey;
  6. Any other relevant information regarding former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn;

In our most recent meeting, you mentioned the possibility of obstruction in connection with the case of former National Security Advisor and Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn (Ret.) “Lt. Gen. Flynn”), and that you desired to speak with the President specifically regarding his conversation with then-Director Comey one day after the President fired Lt. Gen. Flynn for lying to the Vice President.

Note, at the outset, how Trump’s lawyers have taken 6 questions about the specifics of communications about Flynn and turned that into a question that focuses on the meaning of the February 14 “Let it go” meeting? So as you’re reading the following, watch how Trump’s lawyers redefine the scope of the questions — I’ll revisit this at the end.

Also as you read this, remember that this response happens in the wake of (and may be the first meeting after) Mike Flynn flipping in part because Jared Kushner hung him out to dry in testimony.

You have already been provided the testimony of White House Counsel and his extensive internal file memo as well as the testimony and notes of the President’s Chief of Staff, Reince Priebus “Mr. Priebus”), and other members of the White House Counsel’s office.

Again, Mueller has asked specifically about Flynn’s comments to Pence. Pence is not included here.

Trump complains that Mueller hasn’t turned over Comey’s memos; the memos seriously undermine some claims made in the letter

According to former Mr. Comey, the following occurred at a February 14, 2017, meeting between him and the President:

The President then returned to the topic of Mike Flynn, saying, “He is a good guy and has been through a lot.” He repeated that Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong on his calls with the Russians, but had misled the Vice President. He then said, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” I replied only that “he is a good guy.” … I did not say I would “let this go.”16

The White House denied and refuted that the President said these words to Mr. Comey.17 We decline to recommend to the President that he be interviewed on this subject for many reasons.

16 We note that you have declined our request on several occasions to share the classified notes of Mr. Comey, which have been leaked to the press and given to members of Congress and publicly disclosed. As Chief Executive Officer, the President has every right to have them. You provided them to While House Counsel. In addition, we note that Mr. Comey has had to correct his testimony on multiple occasions.

17 See infra p. 11 and n. 30.

One of the questions added to Sekulow’s list in March addressed Trump’s tweet suggesting there might be recordings of this meeting, which makes this response all the more interesting. In any case, you’ll see that in January Trump’s lawyers made a number of claims that Comey’s memos solidly refuted.

I’m also confused by the apparent contradiction — both the demand that Mueller turn over Comey’s memos (I’ll return to what Mueller was likely withholding in a bit) followed by the claim that he has given them to Don McGahn.

The sources cited for claims about Flynn don’t support those claims and have since been undermined further

What follows is a non-exhaustive list:

  • First, the President was not under investigation by the FBI;
  • Second, there was no obvious investigation to obstruct since the FBI had concluded on January 24, 2017, that Lt. Gen. Flynn had not lied, but was merely confused.18Director Comey confirmed this in his closed-door Congressional testimony on March 2, 2017.19

18 Evan Perez, Flynn Changed Story to FBI; No Charges Expected, CNN (Feb. 17, 2017)

19 The Editorial Board, The Flynn Information, WALL STREET JOURNAL (Dec. I, 2017) “A Congressional source also tells us that former FBI director James Comey told the House Intelligence Committee on March 2 that his agents had concluded that Mr. Flynn hadn’t lied but had forgotten that had been discussed.”).

I suspect the first of these bullets — that the President was not under investigation — will come back to haunt him. That is, Trump wasn’t investigation yet in part because by firing Flynn he separated the investigation that would soon subsume him, in part because of his own role in the actions Flynn was fired for.

As for the claims about Flynn. First, notice that the first source Trump’s lawyers cite doesn’t support their claims. The story says nothing about Flynn being confused. Rather, it says that, when challenged, Flynn claimed not to remember.

Flynn initially told investigators sanctions were not discussed. But FBI agents challenged him, asking if he was certain that was his answer. He said he didn’t remember.

The FBI interviewers believed Flynn was cooperative and provided truthful answers. Although Flynn didn’t remember all of what he talked about, they don’t believe he was intentionally misleading them, the officials say.

In addition, the CNN story cited notes that the investigation was only done, “barring new information that changes what they know.” A lot would transpire in the weeks after that story, including disclosure of a meeting at which sanctions were raised, that would change how Flynn’s skilled lying looked after the fact.

The second source isn’t any better — it supports the “forgot” claim too. And the GOP HPSCI report makes it clear that even that claim is inaccurate. What Comey said was that the interviewing agents saw no signs of deception.

Director Comey testified to the Committee that “the agents … discerned no physical indications of deception. They didn’t see any change in posture, in tone, in inflection, in eye contact. They saw nothing that indicated to them that he knew he was lying to them.”

From a lifetime intelligence official like Flynn, that’s not that surprising.

Trump’s lawyers get the law on obstruction wrong

Note, in the following section, I’m putting the initial bullet, the argument, and the footnotes all together. The footnotes will appear out of order as a result.

  • Third, as a matter of law, even if there had been an FBI investigation there could have been no actionable obstruction of said investigation under 18 U.S.C. § 1505, since an FBI investigation is not a “proceeding” under that statute. Since there is no cognizable offense, no testimony is required;

To briefly review the relevant law and facts, § 1505 of Title 18, United States Code, as amendedby the Victim and Witness Protection Act of 1982, forbids anyone from corruptly, or by threats of force or by any threatening communication, influencing, obstructing, or impeding any pending proceeding before a department or agency of the United States, or Congress.22Under § 1505, a “pending proceeding” is limited only to agencies with rule-making or adjudicative authority. The investigation of Lt. Gen. Flynn was being conducted by the FBI, which possesses only investigative authority, not adjudicative; it cannot conduct “proceedings” within the cognizance of§ 1505.23No court has ever held than an FBI investigation constitutes a § 1505 proceeding, and the U.S. Attorney’s Manual makes clear that “investigations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are not §1505 proceedings.”24The DOJ has even expressly acknowledged as much to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.25As a matter of law, then, the FBI’s investigation of Lt. Gen. Flynn was not, at the time of the President’s comments as recalled by Mr. Comey, within the scope of § 1505.

22 In 1996, Congress enacted a clarifying amendment to 18 U.S.C. § 1515, which defines the term “corruptly” as used in § 1505 to mean “acting with an improper purpose, personally or by influencing another, including making a false or misleading statement, or withholding, concealing, altering, or destroying a document or other information.” False Statements Accountability Act of 1996, Pub. L. No. I 04-292, §3, I IO Stat. 3459, 3460.

23 Courts have explained it this way.

25 United States v. Adams, 335 Fed. Appx. 338, 342 (4th Cir. 2009) (Government conceded that criminal investigation by FBI or DEA was not pending proceeding within the scope of 18 U.S.C. § I 505, and requested defendant’s conviction on that count be vacated).

As numerous people have noted (including the NYT in an annotation of this), the President’s crack lawyers get which obstruction of justice statute might be at issue wrong.

Trump’s lawyers never address what Sally Yates has stated publicly — which badly undermines the Don McGahn narrative of these issues

The following section is the one I’m most interested in, because it probably added to the evidence that the White House obstructed. Because this argument is so muddled, I’m repeating the “second” point because it’s necessary to make what follows sensible. Having argued that obstructing an FBI investigation is not obstructing justice, Trump’s lawyers are now going to set out to suggest there was no way they could have known that Flynn was under investigation. (Note, for reasons of length, I don’t deal with Comey and McCabe’s testimony; suffice it to say that Comey’s testimony, including him entertaining the investigation of Trump, reportedly led directly to his firing, so the hearing actually proves the opposite of what the White House claims.)

  • Second, there was no obvious investigation to obstruct since the FBI had concluded on January 24, 2017, that Lt. Gen. Flynn had not lied, but was merely confused.18Director Comey confirmed this in his closed-door Congressional testimony on March 2, 2017.19
  • Fourth, both Mr. Comey and Mr. McCabe subsequently testified under oath that there was “no effort to impede” the investigation.20Mr. McCabe’s testimony followed Mr.Comey’s testimony on May 3, 2017, just six days before his termination, that “it would be a big deal to tell the FBI to stop doing something . . . for a political reason. That would be a very big deal. It’s not happened in my experience.”21

The following facts are taken from information voluntarily provided to your office or from information that is publicly available. These facts further demonstrate that the President did not obstruct justice in any manner concerning Lt. Gen. Flynn.

According to Acting Attorney General Sally Yates (“Ms. Yates”), on January 24, 2017, Lt. Gen. Flynn was interviewed by the FBI. According to reports, “The FBI interviewers believed Flynn was cooperative and provided truthful answers. Although Flynn didn’t remember all of what he talked about, they don’t believe he was intentionally misleading them, the officials say.”26

This account of the FBl’s interview and subsequent conclusions was later confirmed by the closed-door congressional testimony of Mr. Comey.27 Mr. Comey also confirmed in his May 3, 2017, Senate Intelligence Committee testimony that he “did participate in conversations about that matter” with Ms. Yates, referring to the FBl’s interview of Lt. Gen. Flynn. before she conveyed the information to the White House in the days that followed.28

27 “A Congressional source also tells us that former FBI director James Comey told the House Intelligence Committee on March 2 that his agents had concluded that Mr. Flynn hadn’t lied, but had forgotten what had been discussed.” The Editorial Board, The Flynn Information, WALL STREET JOURNAL (Dec. 1, 2017).

28 Read the Full Testimony of FBI James Comey in Which He Discusses Clinton Email Investigation, supra n.21.

This repeats what was already said, that the FBI at first came away thinking that Flynn had shown no signs of deception. Trump’s lawyers choose to source these claims to the same CNN and WSJ pieces they had already cited instead of 1) Flynn’s guilty plea 2) Comey’s testimony or 3) what Yates told McGahn. Only after having relied on the press that Trump otherwise demonizes does the letter cite what Yates actually said.

On January 26, 2017, Ms. Yates met with White House Counsel Don McGahn (“Mr. McGahn”). As outlined by Mr. McGahn in his White House Counsel’s Office memo dated February 15, 2017,29“Yates expressed two principal concerns during the meeting: (1) that Flynn may have made false representations to others in the Administration regarding the content of the calls; and (2) that Flynn’s potentially false statements could make him susceptible to foreign influence or blackmail because the Russians would know he had lied.” “Yates further indicated that on January 24, 2017, FBI agents had questioned Flynn about his contacts with Kislyak. Yates claimed that Flynn’s statements to the FBI were similar to those she understood he had made to Spicer and the Vice President.”3029 This confidential and privileged memorandum was provided to your office as part of the White House’s voluntary production, and is identified as SCR002b_SCR002b000000001.30 Recall that Lt. Gen. Flynn had previously been asked questions by other transition team personnel concerning his conversations with Ambassador Kislyak via an email chain of January 12, 2017. See DJTFP00027478. The response provided by Lt. Gen. Flynn was vague, and appears to imply that sanctions were not discussed. DOJ leadership would not advise the White House that transcripts of the calls existed, and of concerns about the content of those transcripts, until January 26, 2017, and even then, when asked by the White House, the DOJ refused to confirm that an investigation was underway.

Three things about this passage. First, whereas elsewhere the letter relies on public testimony (of Comey and McCabe), the letter doesn’t cite Yates’ public testimony. Instead, the White House relies on a narrative that Don McGahn drew up the day after the “let it go” conversation — that is, after such time as Flynn’s firing might be a problem. Here’s what they would have had to include had they actually included Yates’ testimony (which they don’t dispute).

We also told the White House Counsel that General Flynn had been interviewed by the FBI on February 24. Mr. McGahn asked me how he did and I declined to give him an answer to that. And we then walked through with Mr. McGahn essentially why we were telling them about this and the first thing we did was to explain to Mr. McGahn that the underlying conduct that General Flynn had engaged in was problematic in and of itself.

Secondly, we told him we felt like the vice president and others were entitled to know that the information that they were conveying to the American people wasn’t true. And we wanted to make it really clear right out of the gate that we were not accusing Vice President Pence of knowingly providing false information to the American people.

And, in fact, Mr. McGahn responded back to me to let me know that anything that General Flynn would’ve said would have been based — excuse me — anything that Vice President Pence would have said would have been based on what General Flynn had told him.

We told him the third reason was — is because we were concerned that the American people had been misled about the underlying conduct and what General Flynn had done, and additionally, that we weren’t the only ones that knew all of this, that the Russians also knew about what General Flynn had done.

And the Russians also knew that General Flynn had misled the vice president and others, because in the media accounts, it was clear from the vice president and others that they were repeating what General Flynn had told them, and that this was a problem because not only did we believe that the Russians knew this, but that they likely had proof of this information.

And that created a compromise situation, a situation where the national security adviser essentially could be blackmailed by the Russians. Finally, we told them that we were giving them all of this information so that they could take action, the action that they deemed appropriate.

Yates’ public testimony (to which Mary McCord would also be a witness) adds several elements to McGahn’s: she said the sanction discussion itself was wrong (elsewhere HPSCI has claimed she raised Logan Act violations). She talked about concerns about Pence’s credibility (remember–the White House doesn’t address getting Pence’s side of this story at all). And she claims she specifically suggested the White House should take action — that is, fire Flynn.

Finally, note that this passage cites an email chain dated January 12 — what was treated as campaign production with the Bates stamp “DJTJFP.” This is the only time the letter cites that production; they don’t, for example, cite the email chains referenced in Flynn’s plea that make it clear how hard it would have been to forget the Kislyak call because he was basically acting on orders from the President. In any case, the letter remarkably describes nothing about this chain of emails, not even who participated in it. But given the timing, it almost certainly was a response to the January 12 Ignatius story, and therefore was likely a press response chain. It may have also been prep for this all-important Pence appearance.

McGahn’s narrative reveals Trump knew of the Flynn interview before he demanded loyalty from Comey on January 27

Resuming … This is a detail that has gotten far too little attention. After Yates spoke to McGahn, he had a meeting with Trump and Priebus and others.

On January 26, 2017, Mr. McGahn briefed the President concerning the information conveyed by Ms. Yates. Additional advisors were brought in, including White House Chief of Staff Mr. Priebus. It was agreed that additional information would be needed before any action was taken. As recorded by Mr. McGahn, “Part of this concern was a recognition by McGahn that it was unclear from the meeting with Yates whether an action could be taken without jeopardizing an ongoing investigation.” At that time “President Trump asked McGahn to further look into the issue as well as finding out more about the calls.”

Note how important it is that the letter ignore Yates’ public statements? She claims she suggested the White House should take action, meaning they should fire Flynn. The White House claimed (in a piece written after the “let it go” conversation) that they didn’t know whether they could fire Flynn because there might be an ongoing investigation. And Trump used that as an excuse to get more information on the investigation.

McGahn’s narrative claims Yates said DOJ would not mind if the White House publicly revealed the intercept on Kislyak

Which is what leads to the January 27 meeting with Yates and McGahn.

On January 27, 2017, at Mr. McGahn’s request, Ms. Yates and Mr. McGahn had another meeting. Importantly, DOJ leadership declined to confirm to the White House that Lt. Gen. Flynn was under any type of investigation. According to Mr. McGahn’s memo:

During the meeting, McGahn sought clarification regarding Yates’s prior statements regarding Flynn’s contact with Ambassador Kislyak. Among the issues discussed was whether dismissal of Flynn by the President would compromise any ongoing investigations. Yates was unwilling to confirm or deny that there was an ongoing investigation but did indicate that the DOJ would not object to the White House taking action against Flynn. (Emphasis added.)

Further supporting the White House’s understanding that there was no FBI investigation that could conceivably have been impeded, “Yates also indicated that the DOJ would not object to the White House disclosing how the DOJ obtained the information relayed to the White House regarding Flynn’s calls with Ambassador Kislyak.” In other words, the DOJ expressed that the White House could make public that Lt. Gen. Flynn’s calls with Ambassador Kislyak had been surveilled. It seems quite unlikely that if an ongoing DOJ investigation of Lt. Gen. Flynn was underway, the DOJ would approve its key investigation methods and sources being publicized.

Key to the White House argument, then, are two details: first, that Yates didn’t confirm for McGahn that there was an ongoing investigation, but also his claim that, “DOJ would not object to the White House disclosing how the DOJ obtained the information relayed to the White House regarding Flynn’s calls with Ambassador Kislyak” Yates’ testimony portrays that very differently. First of all, she describes talking about the crimes that Flynn might be prosecuted for — surely a tip-off he was being investigated. More interestingly, what McGahn portrayed as DOJ’s assent for releasing news of the FISA wiretap publicly, Yates seems to have taken it to mean DOJ was willing to share the wiretap intercept privately, with the White House; she even implies she meant they could come to DOJ to review the intercept.

WHITEHOUSE: Did you discuss criminal prosecution of Mr. Flynn — General Flynn?

YATES: My recollection is that did not really come up much in the first meeting. It did come up in the second meeting, when Mr. McGahn called me back the next morning and asked the — the morning after — this is the morning of the 27th, now — and asked me if I could come back to his office.

And so I went back with the NSD official, and there were essentially four topics that he wanted to discuss there, and one of those topics was precisely that. He asked about the applicability of certain statutes, certain criminal statutes and, more specifically,

[snip]

And there was a request made by Mr. McGahn, in the second meeting as to whether or not they would be able to look at the underlying evidence that we had that we had described for him of General Flynn’s conduct. And we told him that we were inclined to allow them to look at that underlying evidence, that we wanted to go back to DOJ and be able to make the logistical arrangements for that. This second meeting on the 27th occurred late in the afternoon, this is Friday the 27th. So we told him that we would work with the FBI over the weekend on this issue and get back with him on Monday morning. And I called him first thing Monday morning to let him know that we would allow them to come over and to review the underlying evidence.

That McGahn is spinning this as permission to release the intercept publicly is remarkable, given that it leaked. Want to bet this means FBI determined the leaks about the Flynn wiretap were leaked by the White House?

Trump’s initial loyalty demand from Comey closely followed him learning about Flynn interview

That’s particularly significant given the weird dinner Trump had with Comey that night, which Comey documented at the time. I describe that meeting and its significance as follow-up to the second Yates meeting here. But the key details are that Trump:

  • Invited the FBI to investigate the pee tape to prove it was inaccurate (which I assume was an explicit request for public exoneration)
  • Asked if the FBI leaks (given the White House claim that DOJ said the FISA intercept could be released, the question is all the more interesting)
  • Asked, for the third time, if Comey wanted to keep his job
  • Asked for loyalty
  • Made this remarkable comment suggesting he didn’t trust Flynn that among other things pretended that Trump didn’t know of the impending Putin call

He then went on to explain that he has serious reservations about Mike Flynn’s judgment and illustrated with a story from that day in which the President apparently discovered during his toast to Teresa May that [Vladimir Putin] had called four days ago. Apparently, as the President was toasting PM May, he was explaining that she had been the first to call him after his inauguration and Flynn interrupted to say that [Putin] had called (first, apparently). It was then that the President learned of [Putin’s] call and he confronted Flynn about it (not clear whether that was in the moment or after the lunch with PM May). Flynn said the return call was scheduled for Saturday, which prompted a heated reply from the President that six days was not an appropriate period of time to return a call from the [President] of a country like [Russia]. (“This isn’t [redacted] we are talking about.”) He said that if he called [redacted] and didn’t get a return call for six days he would be very upset. In telling the story, the President pointed his fingers at his head and said “the guy has serious judgment issues.” I did not comment at any point during this topic and there was no mention or acknowledgement of any FBI interest in or contact with General Flynn.

All of which is to say that McGahn’s narrative conflicts in very key ways with the contemporaneous documentation of DOJ.

For some reason (McGahn claims) Reince Priebus grilled Mike Flynn about question he already knew the answer to

Which brings us to the claims that McGahn recorded the day after the conversation but which, in the wake of Flynn’s plea, are remarkable.

Your office is also aware that, in the week leading up to Lt. Gen. Flynn’s termination and the President’s alleged comments to Mr. Comey, Lt. Gen. Flynn had told both White House Counsel and the Chief of Staff at least twice that the FBI agents had told him he would not be charged. The first instance occurred during a discussion at the White House on February 8, 2017, between Mr. McGahn, Mr. Priebus, Mr. John Eisenberg and Lt. Gen. Flynn. “Priebus led the questioning” and “asked Flynn whether Flynn spoke about sanctions on his call with Ambassador Kislyak.” Lt. Gen. Flynn’s “recollection was inconclusive” and he responded that “he either was not sure whether he discussed sanctions, or did not remember doing so.” “Priebus specifically asked Flynn whether he was interviewed by the FBI. Flynn stated that FBI agents met with him to inform him that their investigation was over.” The second occurred on a telephone call on February 10, 2017, wherein Mr. McGahn, Mr. Priebus, and the Vice President confronted Lt. Gen. Flynn concerning his discussions with Ambassador Kislyak. As recorded in Mr. McGahn’s memo, “On the phone, Flynn is asked about the FBI investigation to which he says that the FBI told him they were closing it out.”

On February 10, 2017, upon confirming the true content and nature of Lt. Gen. Flynn’s three telephone calls with Ambassador Kislyak, and in light of his statements to them and the Vice President, White House Counsel Don McGahn and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus advised the President that Lt. Gen. Flynn “had to be let go.” As a result, on February 13, 2017, the President accepted Lt. Gen. Flynn’s resignation.

So the White House counsel says that a memo he wrote on February 15 said that on February 8, he, Reince Priebus, John Eisenberg, and Pence quizzed Flynn about whether he asked Kislyak about sanctions.

That same day, per Jim Comey, Flynn had chummed up to Comey while he was waiting for a meeting with Priebus. And Priebus had asked Comey if there was a FISA order targeting Flynn personally. So already, the White House story doesn’t make sense. They weren’t trying to find out what Flynn had done, but rather how much scrutiny the White House was under as a result.

And it makes far, far less sense however when you consider that Reince Priebus would have learned in real time that Flynn spoke about sanctions with Kislyak. Tom Bossert forwarded the KT McFarland email detailing her (almost certainly relayed from Trump) instructions to Priebus (and Sean Spicer). What this meeting appears to be is not so much an effort to find out what Flynn said to Kislyak, it’s to find out how damning his lies to the FBI were. To which Flynn twice claimed (according to McGahn) that the FBI had dropped the inquiry.

The White House letter (and apparently McGahn’s narrative) are suspiciously silent on the February 9 WaPo story

The White House claims it got notice about what really happened with Flynn on February 10. The WaPo story revealing what those transcripts said came out after 9PM on February 9. Given the White House claim that DOJ had given permission to leak this, I think it quite possible the White House was the source for this story. Whether or not that’s true, the report in the story — in one of the most sensational stories of the Trump presidency — that “the FBI is continuing to examine Flynn’s communications with Kislyak” completely undermines the White House claim that they had no way of knowing that Flynn remained under investigation.

One way or another by Friday, February 10, the White House had gotten the information McGahn requested of Yates on January 27; given the delay and WaPo’s report, that might include the 302, as well as the intercepts. If it included the 302, it would have made it clear that, whatever the FBI agents believed about Flynn’s demeanor, the investigation hadn’t been  concluded.

Which is why Trump fired Flynn. Not because of anything he told Pence (remember: this letter completely blows off the request to learn about Flynn’s communications with Pence). But because keeping Flynn around meant remaining under scrutiny by FBI. Perhaps, too, Flynn had to be fired because retaining him would sustain the focus on precisely why Flynn (almost certainly operating under orders from Trump) intervened with the Russians about sanctions.

Nevertheless, that’s the opposite of what this letter argues. It uses that February 15 memo from McGahn, a memo that appears to be undermined by the Transition period discovery the White House knew to be in Mueller’s possession (not least because it was cited in Flynn’s plea), that claims no one had any way of knowing that Flynn was under investigation.

According to Mr. Comey’s testimony, the next day, on February 14, 2017, the President made comments expressing his “hope” that Mr. Comey “could see [his] way to letting this go” in reference to the situation with Lt. Gen. Flynn. The White House disputed Mr. Comey’s recollection of that conversation. Regardless, the White House Counsel and Chief of Staff, as well as others surrounding the President, had every reason to believe at that time that the FBI was not investigating Lt. Gen. Flynn, especially in light of the fact that Lt. Gen. Flynn was allowed to keep his active security clearance.

Even as Trump tries to claim he facilitated justice by firing Flynn, he continues to hide the same thing Flynn hid by lying

The letter ends with a bunch of claims that are barely supported, if at all.

  • Fifth, the investigation of Lt. Gen. Flynn proceeded unimpeded and actually resulted in a charge and a plea;
  • Sixth, assuming, arguendo, that the President had made a comment to Mr. Comey that Mr. Comey claimed to be a direction, as the chief law enforcement official pursuant to Article II of the United States Constitution, the President had every right to express his view of the case;
  • Seventh, your office already has an ample record upon which to base your findings of no obstruction. As such there is no demonstrated, specific need for the President’s responses; and,
  • Eighth, by firing Lt. Gen. Flynn, the President actually facilitated the pursuit of justice. He removed a senior public official from office within seventeen days, in the absence of any action by the FBI and well before any action taken by your office.

For all intents, purposes, and appearances, the FBI had accepted Flynn’s account; concluded that he was confused but truthful; decided not to investigate him further; and let him retain his clearance. As far as he could tell, the President was the only one who decided to continue gathering and reviewing the facts in order to ascertain whether Lt. Gen. Flynn’s actions necessitated severe and consequential action — removal from office. The President ordered his White House Counsel to continue its review of the situation, which ultimately concluded that Lt. Gen. Flynn had misled the Vice President. The President did not obstruct justice. To the contrary, he facilitated it.

We emphasize these points because even if an FBI investigation constituted a ‘’proceeding” under the statute, which it does not, the statute also requires intent to obstruct. There could not possibly have been intent to obstruct an “investigation” that had been neither confirmed nor denied to White House Counsel, and that they had every reason (based on Lt. Gen. Flynn’s statements and his continued security clearance) to assume was not ongoing. Further, by insisting on and accepting Lt. Gen. Flynn’s public resignation as national security adviser, the President expedited the pursuit of justice while the DOJ and the FBI were apparently taking no action.

So, to reiterate, within seventeen days of first being advised by DOJ leadership concerning Lt. Gen. Flynn, and within just three days of the President’s senior team confirming the requisite facts, the President took decisive action and directed Lt. Gen. Flynn, his highest ranking national security advisor, to resign. The President did so in spite of the fact that the FBI had, apparently, decided not to pursue the case further. The President did so in spite of the great political cost to himself. Far, far, from obstructing justice, the only individual in the entire Flynn story that ensured swift justice was the President. His actions speak louder than any words.

Let’s work backwards from where Trump claims he was helping justice by waiting 17 days, through a number of classified meetings (including the Putin one), before letting someone go that Yates has suggested should have been fired from the start. I suspect the McGahn letter tries to work backwards to spin the delay in better light.

There’s a good reason why Mueller’s team didn’t give Trump Comey’s memo before they wrote this letter. Because his account of the January 27 and February 8 interactions undermine the White House narrative, quite severely in the case of the January 27 dinner. And those earlier interactions can’t be viewed as Trump just commenting on a case.

That brings us to bullet five and seven: Trump’s claim that Mueller charged Flynn in spite of Trump’s efforts to obstruct and that Mueller has enough information without his testimony.

Both bullets obscure the nature of the inquiry. After all, Flynn got a plea because Mueller needed it to understand what was really going on with his communications with Kislyak (and Israel). That is, it took ten months until Mueller finally got at the jist of the issue, which is whether Flynn’s deferral of sanctions, almost certainly on orders from Trump, was part of a quid pro quo.

And in addition to the Pence questions I’ve focused on, this letter does absolutely nothing to address bullet point one: “information regarding his contacts with Ambassador Kislyak about sanctions during the transition process.” Which is to say that in January, Mueller asked Trump to finally come clean about why he was undercutting Obama’s policy on sanctions (and why Flynn lied about it).

That’s the “collusion” question behind the obstruction one. Trump refused to answer it then, and he continued to refuse to answer it when Mueller asked again (and added a slew more “collusion” questions) in March.

Which is to say, the more Trump refuses to answer Mueller’s questions, the bigger the “collusion” questions get.

Update: Subtitles added for clarity.

The Evasion in Trump’s Response on the June 9 Meeting Statement: Did Putin Dictate the Statement?

As early as January 8, Robert Mueller’s team was asking Donald Trump what his role in this statement on the June 9 Trump Tower meeting with Russians offering dirt on Hillary was; Don Jr’s lawyer released the statement  on July 8, 2017.

It was a short introductory meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at that time and there was no follow up. I was asked to attend the meeting by an acquaintance, but was not told the name of the person I would be meeting with beforehand.

The answer Trump’s lawyers gave in January seems to admit Trump dictated the statement.

You have received all of the notes, communications and testimony indicating that the President dictated a short but accurate response to the New York Times article on behalf of his son, Donald Trump, Jr. His son then followed up by making a full public disclosure regarding the meeting, including his public testimony that there was nothing to the meeting and certainly no evidence of collusion.56

This subject is a private matter with the New York Times. The President is not required to answer to the Office of the Special Counsel, or anyone else, for his private affairs with his children. In any event, the President’s son, son-in-law, and White House advisors and staff have made a full disclosure on these events to both your office and the congressional committees.57

Note: the statement is assuredly not accurate. The SJC materials show the Russian participants in the meeting spent weeks in November 2016 trying to follow-up, but the follow-up got deferred (maybe, or maybe not) because of new difficulties in scheduling.

In any case, saying that the notes, communications, and testimony “indicate” that Trump dictated the statement stops short of saying that he did so.

As a reminder, here’s the timeline of events leading up to that statement getting released.

Early July 7: NYT approaches WH officials and lawyers; WH schedules a conference call w/NYT for next morning.

July 7: Trump chats up Putin at dinner. (Note, whenever Melania decides it’s time to get revenge on Trump for treating her like shit, she can go tell Mueller what she overheard of this conversation.)

July 8, morning: Conference call doesn’t happen. NYT submits 14 questions about the meeting to the WH and lawyers of Trump campaign aides who attended the meeting (do these aides include all of Don Jr, Kushner, and Manafort?); Trump and his aides develop a response on Air Force One, with Hicks coordinating with Don Jr and his lawyer Alan Garten, who were both in NY, via text message.

July 8, afternoon: Jamie Gorelick provides a statement describing his revisions to his security clearance forms.

He has since submitted this information, including that during the campaign and transition, he had over 100 calls or meetings with representatives of more than 20 countries, most of which were during transition. Mr. Kushner has submitted additional updates and included, out of an abundance of caution, this meeting with a Russian person, which he briefly attended at the request of his brother-in-law Donald Trump Jr. As Mr. Kushner has consistently stated, he is eager to cooperate and share what he knows.

July 8, evening: Garten issues a statement in Don Jr’s name stating,

It was a short introductory meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at that time and there was no follow up. I was asked to attend the meeting by an acquaintance, but was not told the name of the person I would be meeting with beforehand.

Right in the middle of this heated effort to respond to the NYT, Trump bizarrely spent an hour chatting Vladimir Putin up over dinner at the G-20 (yeah, I wrote that comment about Melania in February!). The question here is not just “why did you release such a partial statement that the documentary record proves is inaccurate?” Nor is it, “why did you emphasize adoptions — Russian code for sanctions — rather than the sanctions that were at the core of the meeting?”

It’s also the unstated question: “Did you dictate that statement? Or did Vladimir Putin?”

Here’s the nutty bit. We don’t actually have to speculate about whether that spin — adoptions rather than sanctions — came up in the chat between Putin and Trump. In an interview not long after news of the June 9 meeting broke, Trump actually told the NYT he and Putin were talking about adoptions.

TRUMP: She was sitting next to Putin and somebody else, and that’s the way it is. So the meal was going, and toward dessert I went down just to say hello to Melania, and while I was there I said hello to Putin. Really, pleasantries more than anything else. It was not a long conversation, but it was, you know, could be 15 minutes. Just talked about — things. Actually, it was very interesting, we talked about adoption.

HABERMAN: You did?

TRUMP: We talked about Russian adoption. Yeah. I always found that interesting. Because, you know, he ended that years ago. And I actually talked about Russian adoption with him, which is interesting because it was a part of the conversation that Don [Jr., Mr. Trump’s son] had in that meeting. As I’ve said — most other people, you know, when they call up and say, “By the way, we have information on your opponent,” I think most politicians — I was just with a lot of people, they said [inaudible], “Who wouldn’t have taken a meeting like that?” They just said——

HABERMAN: The senators downstairs?

TRUMP: A lot of them. They said, “Who wouldn’t have taken a meeting like that?”

By his own admission, Trump went from the July 7 dinner chat about adoptions with Putin and “dictated” a statement that just happened to focus, misleadingly, on adoptions.

So, yeah, the big question in this entire list is the unstated one: did you dictate that statement? Or did Putin?

What Got Added to Sekulow’s List: Further Obstruction (Including Consideration of Firing Mueller), and “Collusion”

As bmaz noted, the NYT just published the most batshit letter, written on January 29 by John Dowd and Jay Sekulow, trying to dodge testimony for Trump. Here’s what, according to Dowd and Sekulow, Mueller had told them on January 8 he wanted to ask about.

  1. Former National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn — information regarding his contacts with Ambassador Kislyak about sanctions during the transition process;
  2. Lt. Gen. Flynn’s communications with Vice President Michael Pence regarding those contacts;
  3. Lt. Gen. Flynn’s interview with the FBI regarding the same;
  4. Then-Acting Attorney General Sally Yates coming to the White House to discuss same;
  5. The President’s meeting on February 14, 2017, with then-Director James Comey;
  6. Any other relevant information regarding former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn;
  7. The President’s awareness of and reaction to investigations by the FBI, the House and the Senate into possible collusion;
  8. The President’s reaction to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal from the Russia investigation;
  9. The President’s reaction to Former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony on March 20, 2017, before the House Intelligence Committee;
  10. Information related to conversations with intelligence officials generally regarding ongoing investigations;
  11. Information regarding who the President had had conversations with concerning Mr. Comey’s performance;
  12. Whether or not Mr. Comey’s May 3, 2017, testimony lead to his termination;
  13. Information regarding communications with Ambassador Kislyak, Minister Lavrov, and Lester Holt;
  14. The President’s reaction to the appointment of Robert Mueller as Special Counsel;
  15. The President’s interaction with Attorney General Sessions as it relates to the appointment of Special Counsel; and,
  16. The statement of July 8, 2017, concerning Donald Trump, Jr.’s meeting in Trump Tower.

On March 5, Trump’s lawyers had a heated meeting with Mueller’s team, where Mueller floated a subpoena. In the wake of that meeting, Mueller provided a new list of topics of interest, which resulted in the Sekulow list leaked a month ago.

In the wake of the testy March 5 meeting, Mueller’s team agreed to provide the president’s lawyers with more specific information about the subjects that prosecutors wished to discuss with the president. With those details in hand, Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow compiled a list of 49 questions that the team believed the president would be asked,

Here’s that list, as presented by the NYT (there are fewer than the 49 described by the NYT because of how they combined questions). I’ve bolded the ones that appear to be entirely new in the later list.

  1.  What did you know about phone calls that Mr. Flynn made with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, in late December 2016?
  2. What was your reaction to news reports on Jan. 12, 2017, and Feb. 8-9, 2017?
  3. What did you know about Sally Yates’s meetings about Mr. Flynn?
  4. How was the decision made to fire Mr. Flynn on Feb. 13, 2017?
  5. After the resignations, what efforts were made to reach out to Mr. Flynn about seeking immunity or possible pardon?
  6. What was your opinion of Mr. Comey during the transition?
  7. What did you think about Mr. Comey’s intelligence briefing on Jan. 6, 2017, about Russian election interference?
  8. What was your reaction to Mr. Comey’s briefing that day about other intelligence matters?
  9. What was the purpose of your Jan. 27, 2017, dinner with Mr. Comey, and what was said?
  10. What was the purpose of your Feb. 14, 2017, meeting with Mr. Comey, and what was said?
  11. What did you know about the F.B.I.’s investigation into Mr. Flynn and Russia in the days leading up to Mr. Comey’s testimony on March 20, 2017?
  12. What did you do in reaction to the March 20 testimony? Describe your contacts with intelligence officials.
  13. What did you think and do in reaction to the news that the special counsel was speaking to Mr. Rogers, Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Coats?
  14. What was the purpose of your calls to Mr. Comey on March 30 and April 11, 2017?
  15. What was the purpose of your April 11, 2017, statement to Maria Bartiromo?
  16. What did you think and do about Mr. Comey’s May 3, 2017, testimony?
  17. Regarding the decision to fire Mr. Comey: When was it made? Why? Who played a role?
  18. What did you mean when you told Russian diplomats on May 10, 2017, that firing Mr. Comey had taken the pressure off?
  19. What did you mean in your interview with Lester Holt about Mr. Comey and Russia?
  20. What was the purpose of your May 12, 2017, tweet?
  21. What did you think about Mr. Comey’s June 8, 2017, testimony regarding Mr. Flynn, and what did you do about it?
  22. What was the purpose of the September and October 2017 statements, including tweets, regarding an investigation of Mr. Comey?
  23. What is the reason for your continued criticism of Mr. Comey and his former deputy, Andrew G. McCabe?
  24. What did you think and do regarding the recusal of Mr. Sessions?
  25. What efforts did you make to try to get him to change his mind?
  26. Did you discuss whether Mr. Sessions would protect you, and reference past attorneys general?
  27. What did you think and what did you do in reaction to the news of the appointment of the special counsel?
  28. Why did you hold Mr. Sessions’s resignation until May 31, 2017, and with whom did you discuss it?
  29. What discussions did you have with Reince Priebus in July 2017 about obtaining the Sessions resignation? With whom did you discuss it?
  30. What discussions did you have regarding terminating the special counsel, and what did you do when that consideration was reported in January 2018?
  31. What was the purpose of your July 2017 criticism of Mr. Sessions?
  32. When did you become aware of the Trump Tower meeting?
  33. What involvement did you have in the communication strategy, including the release of Donald Trump Jr.’s emails?
  34. During a 2013 trip to Russia, what communication and relationships did you have with the Agalarovs and Russian government officials?
  35. What communication did you have with Michael D. Cohen, Felix Sater and others, including foreign nationals, about Russian real estate developments during the campaign?
  36. What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding any meeting with Mr. Putin? Did you discuss it with others?
  37. What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding Russian sanctions?
  38. What involvement did you have concerning platform changes regarding arming Ukraine?
  39. During the campaign, what did you know about Russian hacking, use of social media or other acts aimed at the campaign?
  40. What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign?
  41. What did you know about communication between Roger Stone, his associates, Julian Assange or WikiLeaks?
  42. What did you know during the transition about an attempt to establish back-channel communication to Russia, and Jared Kushner’s efforts?
  43. What do you know about a 2017 meeting in Seychelles involving Erik Prince?
  44. What do you know about a Ukrainian peace proposal provided to Mr. Cohen in 2017?

The additions are instructive. The one new bit on Flynn involves Trump’s offer of a pardon.

The new bits on obstruction pertain to ongoing efforts to obstruct the investigation, including consideration of firing Mueller and ongoing efforts to discredit Jim Comey and Andrew McCabe.

But the most interesting are the 14 or so questions on Trump’s involvement in and awareness of election tampering. Given the timing of Rick Gates’ plea on February 23 and the subsequent focus on Roger Stone and Michael Cohen, I’m particularly interested in the addition of questions involving both of them (as well as the question about Manafort’s efforts to get Russia’s help).

Trump would have been far better off having an interview in January. Because the questions are getting harder — and Mueller’s interest in his involvement in “collusion” is getting more apparent.

How the Mueller Team Thinks of ConFraudUs

I’ve written before how I think Conspiracy to Defraud the United States (ConFraudUs) provides Mueller a way to charge a variety of conduct with conspiracy charges that additional defendants can be dropped into, all of which might form an interlocking series of ConFraudUs indictments that map out the entire election crime. In this post, I observed how the charge worked in the Manafort and Internet Research Agency indictments. In this one, I described how it might work to charge Jared (and everyone else) for pretending to be serving US foreign policy interests while actually making bank.

In response to a challenge from Concord Consulting in the IRA indictment, the Mueller team has laid out how they think of ConFraudUs. The filing hints at how and why they may be using this as a backbone for their pursuit of the 2016 election tampering culprits.

In a blustery motion claiming that Mueller only charged Concord with ConFraudUs because he needed to charge some Russians, any Russians, to justify his appointment, Concord demanded access to the grand jury instructions on the ConFraudUs charge, claiming that the charge requires willfulness. (Click through to read the footnotes here, which include a gratuitous Casablanca reference and complaints about US tampering in elections.)

Now, some twenty years later, the Deputy Attorney General acting for the recused Attorney General has rejected the history and integrity of the DOJ, and instead licensed a Special Counsel who for all practical political purposes cannot be fired, to indict a case that has absolutely nothing to do with any links or coordination between any candidate and the Russian Government.2 The reason is obvious, and is political: to justify his own existence the Special Counsel has to indict a Russian – any Russian. 3 Different from any election case previously brought by the DOJ, the Special Counsel used the catch-all provision of the federal criminal code, the defraud prong of conspiracy, 18 U.S.C. § 371, to allege that a foreign corporate defendant with no presence in the United States and having never entered the United States, engaged in the make-believe crime of conspiring to “interfere” in a United States election. Indictment, Dkt. 1, ¶ 2. Presumably to bolster these allegations (which have a strong odor of hypocrisy) 4 , the Special Counsel has pleaded around the knowledge requirements of all related substantive statutes and regulations by asserting that Concord conspired to obstruct the functions of the United States Departments of Justice (“DOJ”) and State (“DOS”), and the Federal Election Commission (“FEC”).5 But violations of the relevant federal campaign laws and foreign agent registration requirements administered by the DOJ and the FEC require the defendant to have acted “willfully,” a word that does not appear anywhere in Count One of the Indictment. See 52 U.S.C. § 30109(d) and 22 U.S.C. § 618(a).6

Violations of the federal campaign laws and foreign agent registration … require the defendant to have acted “willfully,” say the Russians who trolled our election.

That’s true, Mueller concedes.

Then points out they haven’t charged those underlying crimes. They’ve just charged ConFraudUs. And the standard for ConFraudUs is “intent to defraud the US;” there’s no “willfullness” standard required.

As an initial matter, the government agrees that the plain language of the statutory provisions Concord Management has identified in the Federal Election Campaign Act, 52 U.S.C. § 30109(d), and the Foreign Agent Registration Act 22 U.S.C. § 618(a), set forth a “willfulness” standard with respect to knowledge. The government, however, did not charge Concord Management with substantive violations of FECA, FARA, or for that matter, visa fraud — an offense that requires only a “knowing” standard. See 18 U.S.C. § 1546. Concord Management is alleged to have conspired to defraud the United States, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 371. As described in more detail below, the mens rea for that offense is intent to defraud the United States, not to willfully commit substantive offenses that are not charged in the Indictment

Which brings them to where they lay out precisely what ConFraudUs requires:

The essential elements of a conspiracy to defraud the United States consist of the following: (1) two or more persons formed an agreement to defraud the United States; (2) the 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. See United States v. Treadwell, 760 F.2d 327, 333 (D.C. Cir. 1985); United States v. Coplan, 703 F.3d 46, 61 (2d Cir. 2012), cert. denied, 571 U.S. 819 (2013). The agreement to defraud must be one to obstruct a lawful function of the Government or its agencies by deceitful or dishonest means. Coplan, 703 F.3d at 60–61; see United States v. Davis, 863 F.3d 894, 901 (D.C. Cir. 2017) (explaining that a charge under the defraud clause requires proof that a defendant “knowingly agreed with [the codefendant] (or another person) to defraud the federal government of money or to deceptively interfere with the lawful functions of” a particular government agency). The mens rea is a specific intent to defraud the United States, not willfulness. See United States v. Khalife, 106 F.3d 1300, 1303 (6th Cir. 1997), cert. denied, 522 U.S. 1045 (1998); United States v. Jackson, 33 F.3d 866, 871–72 (7th Cir. 1994), cert. denied, 514 U.S. 1005 (1995). The mens rea requirements of particular substantive crimes, in short, do not carry over to defraud-clause prosecutions. See, e.g., Jackson, 33 F.3d at 870–72 (government need not establish the level of willfulness required to prove a “structuring” offense when it charges the same behavior as a conspiracy to defraud); Khalife, 106 F.3d at 1303 (same).4

So,

(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.

Basically, the Mueller team argues, Concord and all its trolls only have to agree to pull a fast one on the American electoral regulatory apparatus, with at least one overt act like … a trollish tweet. They don’t have to individually willfully violate the underlying law.

We’ll see what Judge Dabney Friedrich has to say about this argument (though as far as I understand it, the Mueller argument is not at all controversial). As a reminder, Rick Gates has already pled guilty to this charge.

However Friedrich rules, however, you can how this would apply to a number of other known actions. Did Don Jr conspire with Aras Agalarov and his surrogates to defraud the fair management of elections when he stated, in the context of receiving dirt on Hillary Clinton, that he would revisit the Magnitsky Act sanctions when his father won the election (several witnesses gave sworn testimony that this happened)? Did Roger Stone conspire with Guccifer 2.0 when they (as reported but not yet substantiated with evidence) discussed how to find Russian hackers who had stolen Hillary’s emails? Did Brad Parscale conspire with Cambridge Analytica, not just to permit foreigners to illegally provide assistance to the Trump campaign, but also to use stolen models to heighten discontent among Democratic voters?

Importantly, Mueller would not have to prove that all participants in all these conspiracies had the mens rea required by the underlying charges. It’s enough that they’re trying to deceitfully thwart the lawful functioning of a government process.

Obviously, Mueller hasn’t yet charged any of these ConFraudUs conspiracies, if indeed they happened. But you can see why he might use ConFraudUs to do so.

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