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The Press Gets Utterly Snookered on the White House Rebranding of the Same Old Unrelenting Obstruction of Congressional Prerogatives

Yesterday, the White House sent a letter to Nancy Pelosi and just some of the Committee Chairs conducting parts of an impeachment inquiry into the President, purporting to refuse to participate in that impeachment inquiry. Since then, there has been a lot of shocked coverage about how intemperate the letter is, with particular focus on the fact that White House Counsel, Pat Cipollone, used to be considered a serious lawyer. There has been some attempt to analyze the letter as if it is a legal document and not instead the President’s rants packaged up in Times Roman and signed by one of his employees. A number of outlets have thrown entire reporting teams to do insipid horse race coverage of the letter, as if this is one giant game, maybe with nifty commercials on during halftime.

None I’ve seen have described the letter as what it is: an attempt to rebrand the same old outright obstruction that the White House has pursued since January.

The tell — for those teams of well-compensated journalists treating this as a factual document — might have been the addressees. While the letter got sent to Adam Schiff, Eliot Engel, and Elijah Cummings, it did not get sent to Jerry Nadler, who has been pursuing an impeachment inquiry of sorts since the Mueller Report came out. The White House knows Nadler is also part of the impeachment inquiry, because even as the White House was finalizing the letter, Trump’s DOJ was in DC Chief Judge Beryl Howell’s courtroom fighting a House Judiciary request for materials for the impeachment inquiry. In the hearing, DOJ literally argued that the Supreme Court’s 8-0 US v. Nixon was wrongly decided.

Howell picked up on that point by pressing DOJ to say whether then-U.S. District Court Chief Judge John Sirica was wrong in 1974 to let Congress access a detailed “road map” of the Watergate grand jury materials as it considered President Richard Nixon’s impeachment.

Shapiro argued that if the same Watergate road map arose today, there’d be a “different result” because the law has changed since 1974. She said the judge wouldn’t be able to do the same thing absent changes to the grand jury rules and statutes.

Howell sounded skeptical. “Wow. OK,” she replied.

DOJ also argued that Congress would have to pass a law to enshrine the principle that this binding Supreme Court precedent already made the law of the land.

In the HJC branch of the impeachment inquiry, the few credible claims made in yesterday’s letter — such as that Congress is conducting the inquiry in secret without the ability to cross-examine witnesses or have Executive Branch lawyers present — are proven utterly false. And with the claims made in yesterday’s hearing, the Executive demonstrated that they will obstruct even measured requests and negotiations for testimony.

The Trump White House obstructed normal Congressional oversight by absolutely refusing to cooperate.

The Trump White House obstructed an impeachment inquiry focused on requests and voluntary participation.

The Trump White House obstructed an impeachment inquiry where subpoenas were filed.

The Trump White House obstructed an impeachment inquiry relying on whistleblowers who aren’t parties to the White House omertà.

The Trump White House obstructed what numerous judges have made clear are reasonable requests from a co-equal branch of government.

Nothing in the White House’s conduct changed yesterday. Not a single thing. And any journalist who treats this as a new development should trade in her notebooks or maybe move to covering football where such reporting is appropriate.

It is, however, a rebranding of the same old unrelenting obstruction, an effort to relaunch the same policy of unremitting obstruction under an even more intransigent and extreme marketing pitch.

And that — the need to rebrand the same old obstruction — might be worthy topic of news coverage. Why the White House feels the need to scream louder and pound the table more aggressively is a subject for reporting. But to cover it, you’d go to people like Mitt Romney and Susan Collins, who already seem to be preparing to explain votes against the President. You even go to people like Lindsey Graham, who is doing ridiculous things to sustain Rudy Giuliani’s hoaxes in the Senate Judiciary Committee — but who has condemned the principle of making the country dramatically less safe for whimsical personal benefit in Syria. Or you go to Richard Burr, who quietly released a report making it clear Russia took affirmative efforts to elect Trump in 2016.

This week, Trump looked at the first few Republicans getting weak in the knees and his response was to double down on the same old policies, while rolling out a campaign trying to persuade those weak-kneed members of Congress who are contemplating the import of our Constitution not to do so.

The President’s former lawyer testified earlier this year, under oath, that this has always been a branding opportunity to Donald Trump.

Donald Trump is a man who ran for office to make his brand great, not to make our country great. He had no desire or intention to lead this nation – only to market himself and to build his wealth and power. Mr. Trump would often say, this campaign was going to be the “greatest infomercial in political history.”

His latest attempt to cajole Republican loyalty is no different. It’s just a rebranding of the same intransigence. Treating it as anything but a rebranding is organized forgetting of what has taken place for the last nine months, and journalists should know better.

House Committees’ Deposition: U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker

[NB: Check the byline, thanks!]

If yesterday’s blizzard of disinformation tweets is any kind of measure, the GOP is worried about today’s interview of the former U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine, Kurt Volker, before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Committee on Foreign Affairs, and the Committee on Oversight and Reform. You may recall he resigned from his role as a diplomat last Friday.

In a letter sent to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on September 27, it looked as if the biggest questions for State personnel would arise from what it was Giuliani was doing in and about Ukraine.

… The Department has also acknowledged that Special Representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker played a direct role in arranging meetings between Rudy Giuliani, wo has no official role in the U.S. government, and representatives of President Zelensky.5 In addition, the whistleblower complaint indicate that “multiple U.S. Officials” were “deeply concerned by what they viewed as Mr. Giuliani’s circumvention of national security decisionmaking processes to engage with Ukrainian officials and relay messages back and forth between Kyiv and the President”6 These officials reported that “State Department officials” had spoken with Mr. Giuliani “in an attempt to ‘contain the damage’ to U.S. national security,” as well as to the new Ukrainian administration to help it “understand and respond to “Mr. Giuliani’s backchanneling.7

Whew. When you put it that way one can well understand the frustration of former member of parliament and presidential adviser Serhiy Leschenko when he wrote in a recent op-ed,

… Giuliani and his associates are trying to drag our newly elected president, Volodymyr Zelensky, into a conflict between two foreign political parties, drastically limiting Ukraine’s room for maneuver in respect to the United States, perhaps its most important international partner. …

Today’s deposition is part of what the letter from the committees to Pompeo called “part of the impeachment inquiry.” It’ll be valuable as part of the investigative process determining culpability and to what degree on the part of participants who may have been manipulating U.S. foreign policy for the benefit of Trump’s re-election campaign.

But it will also be valuable for our relationship with Ukraine. They need to see the U.S. living up to its promise as a democracy while identifying where our relationship with Ukraine was hijacked.

The questions may be fairly simple:

— what was the understanding of Volker or other State Department personnel about the nature of Rudy Giuliani’s relationship to the U.S. government?
— did Volker every hear of Giuliani having meetings with Ukrainians prior to the July 25 call? What did the meetings entail and was each meeting debriefed with State?
— did Rudy Giuliani ask Volker or other State Department personnel for assistance in contacting Zelensky or other Ukraine officials?
— did Volker or the State Department ever ask Giuliani to contact Zelensky or other Ukraine officials?
— if anyone from State Department did ask, who was it and under what context did they make this request?
— were Volker and/org other State Department personnel asked by Giuliani or others to disparage former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch or in any way hamper her diplomatic work?
— did Volker and/or other State Department personnel ever see or hear Ukraine officials encouraged to disparage former ambassador Marie Yovanovitch or in any way hamper her diplomatic work?
— what did Volker know about the July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky, ex. attendees at the White House, or participating remotely like from Ukraine?
— did subsequent meetings between Volker and Ukraine officials imply a quid pro quo agreement, aid for a deliverable?
— did the diplomatic office in Ukraine have its own transcript, complete or partial, or a memorandum of telephone conversation for the July 25 call?

I’m sure there’s more to be asked but these are pretty important questions. What about you? What would ask and how if you were in charge of this interview?

There’s a strong chance Pompeo, the Department of Justice, or the White House may interfere and prevent Volker’s deposition. We’ll see.

Timing of the deposition isn’t clear; I haven’t been able to find it anywhere. The deposition doesn’t appear to be open, either, as I see nothing on the calendars I’ve checked. If you find information please share it in comments.

At Time of Trump-Zelensky Call, Mulvaney Was Already Under Notice From Cummings, Engel and Schiff Not to Hide Records

Note the byline.

In perusing the House Oversight Committee website while looking for something else, I ran across this remarkable letter dated February 21, 2019. It is addressed to Mick Mulvaney as Acting White House Chief of Staff and is from Elijah Cummings, Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, Eliot Engel, Chair of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and Adam Schiff, Chair of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. The letter is part of an ongoing effort by Congress to obtain records from meetings between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin that occurred in Hamburg on July 7, 2017 and in Helsinki on July 16, 2018.

The letter reprises press reports of Trump confiscating notes from interpreters and having a general reputation for tearing up documents. Although prompted by their frustration in getting records from these two meetings, the three committee chairmen expand the scope of their direction to Mulvaney to preserve records:

Recall that the Trump-Zelensky phone call took place on July 25, 2019, just over five months after the letter was sent. It seems particularly on point that the letter warned Mulvaney against “relocation” as well as “intentional handling which would foreseeably make such records incomplete or inaccessable”. Certainly, by relocating the Situation Room’s transcript to the code-word level computer system, Mulvaney (or other actor(s) in the White House) did indeed make the record incomplete and essentially inaccessible until the whistleblower complaint forced the publication of a partial transcript.

And how did the White House respond to the letter? The return letter came from White House Counsel Pat Cipollone exactly one month later, blowing off the request for records from the two Trump-Putin meetings in its entirety, citing a claim that the President alone conducts foreign policy. And yet, the letter claimed that the White House fully complies with the Presidential Records Act, under which the three committee chairmen had submitted their request.

I’m wondering if this letter, with its highly specific warning, will increase the legal difficulties for Mulvaney once the impeachment investigation spotlight begins to point his direction.

The Intelligence Issues the House Intelligence Committee Largely Ignored

I watched or listened to most of the House Intelligence Committee hearing with Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire this morning. And because both sides (with the very limited exception of Will Hurd) failed to raise the issues regarding the whistleblower complaint that go to the core of Maguire’s own equities, he was largely able to dodge the difficult issues.

Maguire’s own actions implicate whether IC whistleblowers will believe credible complaints will be treated appropriately. As Democrats noted, his first actions when he received a complaint implicating the President and the Attorney General were to refer to lawyers reporting directly to the President and the Attorney General. Maguire even pretended that Bill Barr’s role in this was not a significant part of the complaint to dismiss the worthlessness of referring this complaint to Bill Barr to investigate.

But there were three other key issues Maguire should not have been able to dodge.

First is the allegation that Trump moved the summary of this call to the covert communications system to hide the improper nature of the call. The whistleblower complaint said that this is not the first time the White House has done so. This is a clear abuse of the legal status of covert operations dictated by the National Security Act, something for which Maguire has direct responsibility. Covert operations must be communicated, by law, to at least the Gang of Eight in Congress. That Trump has politicized and misused this system discredits a core means of accountability for the White House, on Maguire’s job directly oversees. And yet he wasn’t asked how Trump’s actions undermine the legally mandated system of covert communications.

Then there’s the fact that Trump is premising policy decisions not on the best intelligence, but instead on how he can derive personal benefit from them. His doing so is a core abuse of presidential power. But — as I noted this morning — it also robs American citizens of the benefits the entire intelligence system is supposed to ensure. Maguire admittedly cannot force the President to make the right decisions. But the repercussions of premising policy decisions on personal gain for the national security of the US should be a concern of Maguire’s. That wasn’t mentioned either.

Finally, there’s the allegation that someone without clearance and entirely outside of the intelligence community was being asked to share and act on classified information derived from the intelligence community. Maguire at one point claimed that Trump can do whatever he wants with his personal lawyer and that such discussions would be privileged (after, at another point, dodging a question because he’s not a lawyer). That’s the height of absurdity. Rudy’s pursuit of policy actions has nothing to do with his role as Trump’s personal lawyer. And as the DOJ IG complaint against Jim Comey makes clear, sharing even retroactively confidential information with your personal lawyers — as Comey was scolded for doing — is not permissible. Yes, it’s true that as President Trump can declassify anything he wants (though Comey was original classification authority for the information he shared with his own lawyers), but others in the IC cannot share information with an uncleared person without formal declassification, or they risk their own legal troubles.

None of this came up in substantive fashion in today’s hearing by the people who are supposed to oversee the intelligence community.

[Photo: Emily Morter via Unsplash]

ODNI Whistleblower Complaint: The Next ConFraudUS? [UPDATE-4]

[NB: Check the byline. A new Ukraine-oriented timeline appears at the bottom of the text. Updates will be noted in the text or at the bottom of the post. /~Rayne]

In my last post about the whistleblower complaint we were left with unresolved questions, including:

Q1 — What constitutes an “urgent concern” validated by the Intelligence Community Inspector General as credible?
Q2 — What constitutes an unlawful act that would compel a whistleblower to file a complaint if the president can declassify information at will?
Q3 — What kind of unlawful act characterized as an “urgent concern” could occur as a “promise” in communications with a foreign leader?
Q4 — How does the existing timeline frame this “promise”?
Q5 — Who is the “higher authority” who ordered the ADNI not to turn over the whistleblower complaint to the HPSCI, obstructing investigatory oversight?

Since then the Washington Post published another article linking the complaint to a phone call about Ukraine. It only partially answered our questions.

A1 — We have to assume the criteria the IC IG used to determine the concern as credible will eventually be revealed; the House is already asking about the determination. We still do not know what about the complaint constituted an “urgent concern” though the use of our foreign policy to further a presidential re-election campaign is definitely a concern.
A2 — The corrupt acts, based on WaPo’s two articles so far, appear to be

    • conspiracy
    • solicitation of bribery or extortion
    • violation of campaign finance laws (receiving a thing of value from a foreign entity)
    • misappropriation of federal funds for personal campaign use
    • self-dealing (not a crime per se but an abuse of power)

De-classification of information doesn’t appear to be involved so far.

A3 — The “promise,” depending on what it is, could foment increased hostilities against a NATO ally or allies, unless there was another quid pro quo involved intended to offset and tamp down friction. If Trump promised to deliver financial aid to Ukraine only on completion of solicited performance by Ukraine’s president, was there another promise between Trump and Putin that Ukraine would not be punished for receiving the financial aid? Did a second promise make this situation a more “urgent concern,” or was it the risk of hostilities that did so?
A4 — The timeline appears flexible but dependent upon Ukraine both delivering to Trump’s agent, Rudy Giuliani, and within a possible budget and/or campaign deadline.
A5 — Obviously the “higher authority” is Trump or someone who reports directly to Trump, now that we know he’s the one who badgered Zelensky eight times in a single phone call. Authority doesn’t go any higher.

We still have open, unresolved questions. An investigation could answer them (although Trump and his henchman Rudy Giuliani appear intent on dumping it all out in the open on their own).

An impeachment inquiry would work best because it would have the constitutional clout necessary to overcome obstruction this administration has repeatedly demonstrated in response to other subpoenas to non-impeachment related inquiries.

And an impeachment inquiry is wholly appropriate to the overarching criminal behavior we see unfolding in this case: yet another conspiracy to defraud the United States, this time by conspiring with Ukraine’s president to obtain illegal foreign aid for campaign purposes using taxpayer money.

There are no more rational, non-corrupt excuses the House Democratic leadership can offer for failing to move directly to an impeachment inquiry.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Timeline this version includes foreign policy items related to Ukraine in indigo blue font; some may reflect the tensions between Ukraine and Russia. This timeline is subject to additions/revisions.

19-AUG_2016 — Ukrainian journalist and member of parliament Serhiy Leshchenko revealed secret payments outlined in the ‘black ledger of the Party of Regions’ showing payments made by the former pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych to Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

________

10-MAY-2017 — Trump met Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak in the Oval Office.

15-MAY-2017 — Washington Post reported Trump revealed code word level classified information to Lavrov and Kislyak during Oval Office meeting. The information covered ISIL’s bomb-making capabilities and may have exposed allies’ intelligence gathering means and methods.

XX-MAY-2017 — Decision made to exfiltrate key Russian asset. Unclear exactly when decision made or when exfiltration occurred, only that it happened after the Oval Office meeting with Lavrov and Kislyak, and before the G20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany.

7/8-JUL-2017 — Trump meets Putin at G20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany.

11-JUL-2017 — European Union’s 28 member states formally endorsed the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, effective September 1.

30-OCT-2017 — Paul Manafort, former Trump campaign manager, indicted.

________

09-APR-2018 — John Bolton begins as National Security Adviser.

30-APR-2018 — U.S. State Department confirmed that Washington delivered thirty-five Javelin anti-tank launchers to Ukraine.

02-MAY-2018 — Ukraine had ceased cooperation with the Special Counsel investigation, according to NYT; “‘In every possible way, we will avoid irritating the top American officials,’ one Ukrainian lawmaker says. ‘We shouldn’t spoil relations with the administration.'” Ukraine had also halted its money laundering investigation into former President Viktor Yanukovych, who may have used stolen Ukrainian taxpayer funds to pay convicted former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort to aid him in winning in Ukraine.

15-MAY_2018 — Russia’s President Putin opened a new bridge linking southern Russia to Crimea; Ukraine’s president Poroshenko said it was an attempt to legitimize the occupation of Crimea while Ukrainian critics said the bridge project violates international law. The bridge was built following the illegal 2014 annexation of Crimea by Russia.

16-JUL-2018 — U.S.-Russia Summit meeting in Helsinki, Finland; Trump meets with Putin.

XX-JUL-2018 — Coats expressed opinion differing from Trump’s after Helsinki summit. Rumors began about Trump replacing Coats.

09-OCT-2018 — Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley announced her resignation; effective date 31-DEC-2018. [UPDATE-1]

11-OCT-2018 — Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople recognized the independence of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, praised by Ukraine but protested by Russia. The move by the patriarchate heightened tensions between the two nation-states.

25-NOV-2018 — Russia seized three Ukrainian navy ships, injuring six crew after firing on them in the Kerch Straits of the Black Sea near Crimea. The attack violated a 2003 treaty which designated the Kerch Strait and Sea of Azov as shared territorial waters. US representative Nikki Haley called the incident an “outrageous violation of sovereign Ukrainian territory” during an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting.

26-NOV-2018 — Ukraine implemented martial law for 30 days in response to the Kerch Straits event, due to concerns over a Russian invasion.

26-DEC-2018 — Martial law in Ukraine ended, to allow adequate time before the country’s elections.

31-DEC-2018 — Volodymyr Zelensky, a TV producer who starred in a series playing the role of President of Ukraine, announced his candidacy for Ukraine’s presidency.

________

29-JAN-2019 — Coats testified before Senate Intelligence Committee; he said North Korea “is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities,” in contrast to Trump’s claims that Kim Jong-un has committed to denuclearization.

XX-FEB-2019 — Trump discussed replacements for DNI.

05-MAR-2019 — U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch criticized Ukraine’s record on corruption; she noted the country’s high court’s decision weakens Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau.

20-MAR-2019 — The Hill’s John Solomon interviewed Ukraine’s prosecutor general Yuriy Lutsenko; Lutsenko claimed Amb. Yovanovitch gave him a do-not-prosecute list during their first meeting. State Department denied this claim in an email to Radio Free Europe.

~28-MAR-2019 —  In ‘early 2019’, Giuliani met with Ukraine’s prosecutor general Yuriy Lutsenko in New York (exact date TBD).

31-MAR-2019 — Ukraine’s first run-off presidential election narrowed down the field to the incumbent Petro Poroshenko and Volodymyr Zelensky.

21-APR-2019 — Volodymyr Zelensky won Ukraine’s presidential election over Petro Poroshenko, 73.22% to 24.45% of the vote. 12% of the population were unable to vote due to the conflict with Russia in Donbass region.

21-APR-2019 Trump called and congratulated Zelensky; the call was noted in a late evening/early morning tweet by U.S. Special Representative to Ukraine Kurt Volker:

25-APR-2019 — After two years of indecision, former VP Joe Biden formally launched his campaign for POTUS. [UPDATE-4]

07-MAY-2019 — Amb. Yovanovitch was recalledremoved from her position.

09-MAY-2019 — Giuliani said he intended to meet with President-elect Zelensky in Ukraine to push for an investigation into the release of negative information about Paul Manafort as well as former VP Joe Biden’s efforts to remove Ukraine’s general prosecutor. [UPDATE-2 — date and link changed from CNN 10-MAY to NYT 09-MAY (byline: Ken Vogel)]

10-MAY-2019 — Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) made an official request of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations to investigate Giuliani’s influence operation in Ukraine. [UPDATE-2]

11-MAY-2019 — Giuliani reverses his decision and says he won’t go to Ukraine to meet with Zelensky.

20-MAY-2019 — Date Zelensky assumes office of presidency. [UPDATE-2]

21-MAY-2019 — Lawyer and film producer Andriy Yermak appointed aide to Ukraine’s Zelensky.

24-MAY-2019 — Trump issued a directive allowing Attorney General William Barr to declassify any intelligence that sparked the opening of the Russia investigation.

11-JUN-2019 — Ukraine’s president Zelensky signed a motion for Ukraine’s parliament to dismiss prosecutor general Yuriy Lutsenko, an ally of former president Poroshenko. Lutsenko resisted, saying he would step down after the July 21 parlimentary elections.

11-JUN-2019 In an interview released on Thursday, June 13, Trump told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos,

“I think you might want to listen, there isn’t anything wrong with listening,” Trump continued. “If somebody called from a country, Norway, [and said] ‘we have information on your opponent’ — oh, I think I’d want to hear it.”

20-JUN-2019 — In retaliation for downing a U.S. drone, Trump approved strikes on Iran which were abruptly aborted.

~11-JUL-2019 — Date TBD. On or about this time, Giuliani had a phone meeting with Zelensky’s adviser, Andriy Yermak.

22-JUL-2019 — Zelensky’s Servant of the People wins Ukraine’s parliamentary elections.

24-JUL-2019 – Special Counsel Robert Mueller appears before House Judiciary Committee. The same day that GOP Rep. John Ratcliffe (TX-4) used his time to question Mueller to accuse Mueller of breaking DOJ regulations; CNN reported that “Ratcliffe has been under consideration for a job within the Trump administration, sources told CNN, including an intelligence or national security role.”

25-JUL-2019Trump talked with Ukraine’s Zelensky on the phone “to congratulate him on his recent election.” Ukraine’s English-language readout of this call said Trump discussed “investigations into corruption cases that have hampered interaction between Ukraine and the U.S.A.” (This call is the subject of whistleblower complaint.)

28-JUL-2019 — Coats’ departure and John Ratcliffe nominated as replacement announced by Trump via Twitter.

02-AUG-2019 — Ratcliffe withdraws from consideration.

~02-AUG-2019 — Trump administration asked ODNI for a list of all ODNI employees at the federal government’s top pay scale who have worked there for 90 days or more. This was believed to be a search for a new Director of ODNI; others speculated there was an impending personnel shakeup. [UPDATE-2]

08-AUG-2019 — Primary Deputy Director DNI Sue Gordon resigned effective 15-AUG-2019, without additional prior notice, as ordered. Resignation letter without handwritten note.

Copy of former PDDNI’s resignation letter with handwritten cover: ODNI_LTR_08AUG2019

11-AUG-2019 — Giuliani debriefing with two State Department diplomats about his meeting with Ukraine’s Zelensky aide in Madrid, Spain.

12-AUG-2019IC IG received the whistleblower compaint, via Schiff’s 10-SEP letter.

15-AUG-2019 — Coats’ last day as DNI.

22-AUG-2019 — Giuliani said the U.S. State Department helped set up his meeting(s) with Zelensky’s aide Yermak, assisting “his efforts to press the Ukrainian government to probe two prominent Democratic opponents of the president: former Vice President Joe Biden and the Democratic National Committee.”

26-AUG-2019 — IC IG transmitted the whistleblower complaint to the Acting DNI, via Schiff’s 10-SEP letter.

26-AUG-2019 — GOP appointee Matthew Peterson resigned from Federal Election Commission; effective date of resignation 31-AUG-2019. FEC no longer has a quorum with his departure. [UPDATE-1]

27-AUG-2019 — Russia barred a visa for entry to Senators Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Ron Johnson (R-WI) for a trip planned in early September. Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) received clearance and a visa, however. Johnson, Murphy and Lee are all members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee; Johnson is the subcommittee chair for Europe & Regional Security Cooperation. The three senators voted in favor of the Russia sanctions bill. [UPDATE-2]

28-AUG-2019 — John Bolton met with Ukraine’s Zelensky (video). [UPDATE-2 – date revised, video link added.]

28-AUG-2019 — Bolton met his counterpart, Oleksandr Danyliuk, Ukraine’s head of the National Defense and Security Council; Bolton told Danyliuk that the U.S. support for Ukraine against Russian-backed separatists in contested eastern Ukraine would ‘intensify’. [UPDATE-2]

Late AUG-2019 — U.S. suspends $250M military aid for Ukraine – exact date TBD. Reuters’ report on 29-AUG-2019 said ‘may’ suspend’. [UPDATE-2 – remove and replace with following item.]

29-AUG-2019 — Trump stalled the $250M military assistance provided under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative by asking Bolton and Defense Secretary Mark Esper to review the package. Defense Department had already reviewed the aid and supported it. [UPDATE-2]

29-AUG-2019 — Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko submitted his resignation.

30-AUG-2019 — Trump tweeted a high-resolution satellite image of Iran’s failed Safir SLV launch while claiming the U.S. was not involved. The image may have been classified and ‘insta-declassified’ by Trump.

01-SEP-2019 — VP Mike Pence flew to Poland and met with Poland’s president Andrzej Duda and Ukraine’s Zelensky, discussing security and energy issues (remarks issued by White House). Per pool reporter, the meeting included National Security Adviser John Bolton and Energy Secretary Rick Perry; Pence avoided answering media questions whether the Trump administration would still allocate $250M for security aid.

01/02-SEP-2019 — US Special Rep. for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalizad met with Afghan president Ashraf Ghani in Kabul where the Taliban, Afghan government and the U.S. had “reached an agreement in principle” toward an eventual “total and permanent cease-fire.”

02-SEP-2019 — During news conference after the meeting with Duda and Zelensky in response to a question by AP’s Jill Colvin, Pence denied speaking about Joe Biden with Zelensky:

“Well, on the first question [about Biden], the answer is no. But we — with President Zelensky yesterday, we discussed — we discussed America’s support for Ukraine and the upcoming decision the President will make on the latest tranche of financial support in great detail.”

02-SEP-2019 — Deadline for ADNI to forward the complaint to Intelligence committees of Congress passes without a referral, via Schiff’s 10-SEP letter.

03-SEP-2019 — Sen. Murphy and Johnson began a 5-day trip to Serbia, Kosovo, Ukraine, and Germany. [UPDATE-2]

03-SEP-2019 — Russian media outlet Tass reported that Russian Deputy Foreign Minister said the U.S. and Taliban “insist that Russia must be present in one capacity or another at the possible signing of the agreements that the parties are working on now.”

04-SEP-2019 — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo refused to sign the agreement with the Taliban.

07-SEP-2019 — Russia and Ukraine completed a major prisoner swap; some of the prisoners included Ukrainian sailors seized during the Kerch straits incident.

09-SEP-2019 — CNN broke story of a CIA asset extracted from Russia in 2017; followed by NYT on the 9th (and then NBC’s Ken Dilanian appears at the asset’s house…)

09-SEP-2019 — Trump asked for Bolton’s resignation and tweeted about it the next morning.

09-SEP-2019 — Intelligence Community Inspector General (IC IG) sent a letter to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, notifying it of a whistleblower complaint which it had determined to be credible and a matter of “urgent concern.”

10-SEP-2019 — Bolton tells Fox’s Brian Kilmeade by text that he’d quit.

10-SEP-2019 — HPSCI Rep. Adam Schiff requested the full, unredacted complaint, the IC IG’s determination about the complaint, and all documentation of ODNI’s action regarding this complaint, including correspondence with the White House.

11-SEP-2019 — Bloomberg reported Bolton pushed back Monday-Tuesday at Trump over Iran sanctions; Bolton wanted maximum pressure while Trump wanted to encourage a meeting with Iran’s Rouhani later in September.

12-SEP-2019 — Schiff and ADNI “discussed at length” the need to protect the whistleblower from any retaliation, including if the whistleblower subsequently comes forward to the committee with his/her concerns, via Schiff’s 13-SEP letter.

13-SEP-2019 — Zelensky said in a press conference that not only was the U.S. going to send $250M in military aid but an additional $140M.

13-SEP-2019 — ODNI declined the request, claiming the request as “it involves confidentially and potentially privileged communications by persons outside the Intelligence Community.”

13-SEP-2019 — HPSCI subpoenaed acting DNI Joseph Maguire for materials declined by ODNI.

17-SEP-2019 — Deadline, materials responsive to subpoena must be turned over by this date; Maguire failed to do so.

19-SEP-2019 — Date Maguire was compelled to appear before Congress in a public hearing. The Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson appeared before the House Intel Committee in a closed door session.

19-SEP-2019 — Giuliani denied asking Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden moments before admitting that he had done just that.

20-SEP-2019 — Senator Murphy published a press release about the whistleblower complaint, renewing his call for a Senate Foreign Services Committee investigation into Giuliani’s efforts to influence Ukraine. [UPDATE-2]

20-SEP-2019 — Russian armed forces bombarded front along  western edge of contested Donbas territory.

22-SEP-2019 — During an interview on Meet the Press, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin can’t explain where the additional $140M in aid for Ukraine came from.

22-SEP-2019 — In front of press on the White House lawn, Trump said he had spoken with Zelensky about Biden on July 25 in a congratulatory call. Later in the day he indicated he might allow a transcript of the call to be published.

23-SEP-2019 — TK

Future dates:

26-SEP-2019 — Maguire is scheduled to testify before the House Intelligence Committee in a public hearing.

30-SEP-2019 — Federal fiscal year ends on September 30.

Much of the timeline in black font above is the crowdsourced timeline from September 14-15. Note how much of this latest version is Ukraine-Russia, and how little we saw going on as we considered what a whistleblower might have filed a complaint about after July 25.

Is it at all possible there are other influence operations underway at the same time to which we are equally blind, asking for help from other nation-states to shape the outcome of Trump’s 2020 run for re-election?

If you have any relevant events with dates which should be added to this timeline, please share them in comments. I’m especially interested in dates nailing down Giuliani’s meetings with any Ukrainians including former prosecutor general Lutsenko and Zelensky aide Yermak.

The sad part of all the noise generated by Trump (corruption!-corruption!-corruption!) and Giuliani (Biden!-Biden!-Biden!) is that they are actively trying to corrupt an ally’s president who ran on an anti-corruption platform, possibly unwitting collateral damage.

If Zelensky agreed to a quid pro quo knowing that Trump was using him to further his 2020 re-election, Zelensky is compromised.

_____

UPDATE-1 — items added/changed noted in the timeline.

UPDATE-2 — 3:45 p.m. EDT 24-SEP-2019 — items added/changed noted in the timeline.

UPDATE-3 — items added/changed noted in the timeline.

UPDATE-4 — 12:00 a.m. EDT 25-SEP-2019 — item added, noted in timeline.

ODNI Whistleblower Complaint: Shoes Dropping All Over the Place [UPDATE-2]

[NB: Check the byline. Updates are anticipated and will appear within the timeline or at the bottom of the text. /~Rayne]

In an effort to guess at the likely subject of a whistleblower complaint, the emptywheel community started a crowdsourced timeline of events surrounding the complaint received by the Intelligence Community Office of Inspector General on August 12.

As noted in the timeline, the House Intelligence Committee subpoena issued last Friday required the acting Director of National Intelligence (ADNI) Joseph Maguire to report to Congress about the complaint by Tuesday, September 17; failure to comply would require an appearance before Congress on Thursday, September 19. Maguire did not report as expected.

However dates for the ADNI to testify before the House have now been arranged:

. . .

[emphasis mine]

The Washington Post reported more details Wednesday evening about the whistleblower complaint:

Trump’s communications with foreign leader are part of whistleblower complaint that spurred standoff between spy chief and Congress, former officials say

One bit stood out for me in the lede:

The whistleblower complaint that has triggered a tense showdown between the U.S. intelligence community and Congress involves President Trump’s communications with a foreign leader, according to two former U.S. officials familiar with the matter.

Emphasis mine. Two former officials.

Speculation about the whistleblower’s identity is rampant across social media. Some suggest Fiona Hill, former Special Assistant to the President and National Security Council Senior Director for European and Russian Affairs, as the whistleblower; her planned departure in August was announced June 18. Others suggest an as-yet unnamed low-level analyst.

Marcy tweeted earlier,

It’s not outside the realm of possibility. Bolton seems in a mood to burn it all down, ‘shanking’ POTUS during a Trumpists-dense luncheon on Wednesday. But given the “two former U.S. officials” and former DNI Dan Coats interruption of a meeting to ask his deputy Sue Gordon to resign, I wonder if both Coats and Gordon resigned so they would be able to testify before Congress while escaping the appearance of being compromised by unethical or unlawful acts?

Important points for consideration:

  • What constitutes an “urgent concern” validated by the Intelligence Community Inspector General as credible?
  • What constitutes an unlawful act that would compel a whistleblower to file a complaint if the president can declassify information at will?
  • What kind of unlawful act characterized as an “urgent concern” could occur as a “promise” in communications with a foreign leader?
  • How does the existing timeline frame this “promise”?
  • Who is the “higher authority” who ordered the ADNI not to turn over the whistleblower complaint to the HPSCI, obstructing investigatory oversight?

Promising to violate or ignore violation of bipartisan sanctions against Russia would be unlawful, but would this be an “urgent concern”?

Was there instead an unlawful act with regard to the doxxing of the exfiltrated Russian asset?

Or was there a promise related to surveillance of North Korea?

Did the tensions between the U.S. and Iran spawn an unlawful promise?

There are probably dozens more scenarios that might fit. They may be related to items we didn’t add to the crowdsourced timeline, like these items directly related to North Korea:

28-FEB-2019 — Trump cut short the two-day summit with North Korea for no clear reason.

11-JUN-2019 — Trump received a “beautiful letter” from North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.

09-AUG-2019 — Trump received another “very beautiful letter” from Kim.

This one related to Iran:

03-SEP-2019New sanctions were placed on Iran after Trump administration claimed it was developing ballistic missile technology using its communications satellite program as cover.

And these related to Russia:

26-JUN-2019 — Trump told reporters that his anticipated discussion with Vladimir Putin at the G20 summit in Japan was “none of your business.”

31-JUL-2019 — Trump and Putin talked over the phone about Siberian wildfires and trade.

29-AUG-2019 — Trump’s trip to Poland canceled, ostensibly to monitor Hurricane Dorian though he ended up playing golf instead at his N. Virginia course. Was he avoiding conflict over increased Russian troop presence at the administrative border between Russian-occupied South Ossetia and Georgia? (Georgia has been pursuing NATO membership but is not yet a member state.)

Time will tell what other events were needed to pick out the narrative behind the complaint. One more data point may flesh out the nature of the challenge:

Is the complaint about a Trump-Russia issue alone, or does it also include a promise related to one of the other countries in the timeline — like North Korea or Iran?

Share your thoughts in comments with supporting content.

UPDATE — 19-SEP-2019 9:23 A.M. —

The ADNI should be in a closed door session with the House Intelligence Committee at this time.

Important to note that the IC IG is a Trump appointee — Michael Atkinson. He’s responsible for the determination that the unidentified whistleblower’s complaint was credible and an “urgent concern.”

ADNI broke the law as Amee Vanderpool noted here because the complaint was deemed credible:

Very, very odd how CNBC’s website news crawl makes zero mention of this unfolding story even though an NBC story confirmed WaPo’s report last night.

UPDATE — 19-SEP-2019 8:20 P.M. —

This is like a really cheap game of Clue. It wasn’t Professor Plum in the Library with a Lead Pipe.

It was Trump about Ukraine with a phone call to Zelensky, according to the latest report by WaPo.

(Although Trump does look like a crappy version of Colonel Mustard.)

Explains why the suggestions the matter was part of an ongoing investigation; the House was already investigating whether Trump and his lawyer Rudy Giuliani were trying to persuade President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelensky to help dig up dirt on Joe Biden to help Trump’s 2020 campaign.

Now we need to know if the $250M aid to Ukraine was dependent on this matter, as well as a meeting later this month between Trump and Zelensky — and if Vladimir Putin had been involved in this exchange in any way.

Waiting for the next version of  “No Collusion!” tweets from Team Trump.

May explain why Rudy had been radio silent for three days on Twitter though he’s resumed his brand of trash talking in the last hour.

Crowdsource: Build a Timeline on ODNI Whistleblower Complaint [UPDATED-4]

[NB: Updates will appear within the timeline or at the bottom of the text. /~Rayne]

Hey gang, Rayne here.  I have to confess I am completely over my head right now. I have a huge pile of projects and I can’t get through them fast enough to pull a post together. I have family coming to visit, a garden to harvest, laundry to do — the list is a mile long. I could use more hands.

Are you up for crowdsourced investigation into one of the writing projects on my list? Whatever you put in comments I will go through and pull together into a more complete timeline.

The topic: The whistleblower complaint believed to be withheld by acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire to prevent investigation.

Point of origin: Schiff accuses top intel official of illegally withholding ‘urgent’ whistleblower complaint, by Kyle Cheney, POLITICO, published 13-SEP-2019, 8:12 p.m. EDT

Note carefully this piece ended up in the news dump zone — a Friday evening after 5:00 p.m.

What could the whistleblower complaint have been about, assuming there are other related matters in the public eye? A timeline might help us piece together the topic, or it may help us prepare for anticipated hearings.

I want to point out again that one of the five drafted Articles of Impeachment against Richard Nixon was about unauthorized activity disclosed by a whistleblower. We may be looking at yet another impeachable offense (as if there haven’t been enough already).

Here’s what I have so far — help me fill in some blanks you think may be relevant to a possible “urgent concern” in a whistleblower complaint, the Office of Director of National Intelligence, the Intelligence Community, and the House Permanent Subcommittee on Intelligence over the last 33 months.

10-MAY-2017 — Trump met Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak in the Oval Office. [UPDATE-3b]

15-MAY-2017 — Washington Post reported Trump revealed code word level classified information to Lavrov and Kislyak during Oval Office meeting. The information covered ISIL’s bomb-making capabilities and may have exposed allies’ intelligence gathering means and methods. [UPDATE-3b]

XX-MAY-2017 — Decision made to exfiltrate key Russian asset. Unclear exactly when decision made or when exfiltration occurred, only that it happened after the Oval Office meeting with Lavrov and Kislyak, and before the G20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany. [UPDATE-3b]

7/8-JUL-2017 — Trump meets Putin at G20 meeting in Hamburg, Germany.[UPDATE-3b]

________

09-APR-2018 — John Bolton begins as National Security Adviser.

16-JUL-2018 — U.S.-Russia Summit meeting in Helsinki, Finland; Trump meets with Putin.

XX-JUL-2018 — Coats expressed opinion differing from Trump’s after Helsinki summit. Rumors began about Trump replacing Coats.

________

29-JAN-2019 — Coats testified before Senate Intelligence Committee; he said North Korea “is unlikely to completely give up its nuclear weapons and production capabilities,” in contrast to Trump’s claims that Kim Jong-un has committed to denuclearization.

XX-FEB-2019 — Trump discussed replacements for DNI.

24-MAY-2019 — Trump issued a directive allowing Attorney General William Barr to declassify any intelligence that sparked the opening of the Russia investigation. [UPDATE-3c]

20-JUN-2019 — In retaliation for downing a U.S. drone, Trump approved strikes on Iran which were abruptly aborted. [UPDATE-4a]

24-JUL-2019 – The same day that John Ratcliffe used his time to question Robert Mueller before the Judiciary Committee to accuse Mueller of breaking DOJ regulations — CNN reported that “Ratcliffe has been under consideration for a job within the Trump administration, sources told CNN, including an intelligence or national security role.” [UPDATE-2a]

28-JUL-2019 — Coats’ departure and John Ratcliffe nominated as replacement announced by Trump via Twitter.

02-AUG-2019 — Ratcliffe withdraws from consideration. [UPDATE-2b]

08-AUG-2019 — Primary Deputy Director DNI Sue Gordon resigned effective 15-AUG-2019, without additional prior notice, as ordered. Resignation letter without handwritten note.

Copy of former PDDNI’s resignation letter with handwritten cover: ODNI_LTR_08AUG2019

12-AUG-19ICdIG received the whistleblower compaint, via Schiff’s 10-SEP letter [UPDATE-1]

15-AUG-2019 — Coats’ last day as DNI.

26-AUG-19 — IC IG transmitted the whistleblower complaint to the Acting DNI, via Schiff’s 10-SEP letter [UPDATE-1]

30-AUG-2019 — Trump tweeted a high-resolution satellite image of Iran’s failed Safir SLV launch while claiming the U.S. was not involved. The image may have been classified and ‘insta-declassified’ by Trump.

01/02-SEP-2o19 — US Special Rep. for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalizad met with Afghan president Ashraf Ghani in Kabul where the Taliban, Afghan government and the U.S. had “reached an agreement in principle” toward an eventual “total and permanent cease-fire.” [UPDATE-4a]

02-SEP-19 — Deadline for ADNI to forward the complaint to Intelligence committees of Congress passes without a referral, via Schiff’s 10-SEP letter [UPDATE-1]

03-SEP-2019 — Russian media outlet Tass reported that Russian Deputy Foreign Minister said the U.S. and Taliban “insist that Russia must be present in one capacity or another at the possible signing of the agreements that the parties are working on now.” [UPDATE-4a]

04-SEP-2019 — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo refused to sign the agreement with the Taliban. [UPDATE-4b]

09-SEP-2019 — CNN broke story of a CIA asset extracted from Russia in 2017; followed by NYT on the 9th (and then NBC’s Ken Dilanian appears at the asset’s house…) [UPDATE-3a]

09-SEP-2019 — Trump asked for Bolton’s resignation and tweeted about it the next morning.

09-SEP-2019 — Intelligence Community Inspector General (IC IG) sent a letter to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, notifying it of a whistleblower complaint which it had determined to be credible and a matter of “urgent concern.”

10-SEP-2019 — Bolton tells Fox’s Brian Kilmeade by text that he quit.

10-SEP-2019 — HPSCI Rep. Adam Schiff requested the full, unredacted complaint, the IC IG’s determination about the complaint, and all documentation of ODNI’s action regarding this complaint, including correspondence with the White House.

11-SEP-2019 — Bloomberg reported Bolton pushed back Monday-Tuesday at Trump over Iran sanctions; Bolton wanted maximum pressure while Trump wanted to encourage a meeting with Iran’s Rouhani later in September. [UPDATE-4a]

12-SEP-19 — Schiff and ADNI “discussed at length” the need to protect the whistleblower from any retaliation, including if the whistleblower subsequently comes forward to the committee with his/her concerns, via Schiff’s 13-SEP letter [UPDATE-1]

13-SEP-2019 — ODNI declined the request, claiming the request as “it involves confidentially and potentially privileged communications by persons outside the Intelligence Community.”

13-SEP-2019 — HPSCI subpoenaed acting DNI Joseph Maguire for materials declined by ODNI.

_____

Future items:

17- SEP-2019 — Deadline, materials responsive to subpoena must be turned over by this date

19- SEP-2019 — Date when Maguire will be compelled to appear before Congress in a public hearing

What a freaking mess. I have nothing here about Mike Pompeo or any other intelligence personnel or issues. The bit about Coats’ departure and Bolton’s termination stick out as well as that insta-declassified intelligence photo, but what might have been an “urgent concern”?

Knock yourselves out — I’ll check in as time permits. Let’s see if a narrative emerges besides the obvious fact the Trump administration has severely damaged our national security apparatus.

Glenn Greenwald and David Frum Need to Stop Looking to the Mueller Report for FBI’s Counterintelligence Conclusions

There have been several public controversies in recent days that arise from the fact that there was a Russian counterintelligence investigation that no one sees tangible results of.

The most predictable came when Glenn Greenwald claimed Mueller’s purported silence about blackmail proved that any questions about it amounted to conspiracy mongering.

Glenn objects to John Garamendi wondering why Trump continues to push so hard to readmit Russia into the G-7. It’s a question raised by reports of how Trump’s private lobbying to readmit Russia undermined the G-7 even more than his more public lies and intransigence about other topics.

The leaders sat down Saturday evening for their first joint meeting — a dinner of Basque specialties at the foot of the landmark lighthouse of Biarritz. The meal started normally, with a discussion of the fires in the Amazon. It moved on to containing Iran’s nuclear threat. But it went off the rails when Trump blasted leaders for not including Russia.

Trump’s message was that “it doesn’t really make sense to have this discussion without Putin at the table,” according to a European official briefed on the conversation among the leaders.

The official, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the sharp discussions at the summit.

The entire 44-year vision of the G-7 gathering, according to the non-U. S. participants, is to hash out global issues among like-minded democracies. So the discussion quickly turned even more fundamental: Whether the leaders should assign any special weight to being a democracy, officials said.

Most of the other participants forcefully believed the answer was yes. Trump believed the answer was no. The pushback against him was delivered so passionately that the U.S. president’s body language changed as one leader after another dismissed his demand, according to a senior official who watched the exchange. He crossed his arms. His stance became more combative.

[snip]

But having such a forceful advocate for an authoritarian leader inside the room of democracies profoundly shaped the overall tone of the summit, one senior official said.

“The consequence is the same as if one of the participants is a dictator,” the official said. “No community of like-minded leaders who are pulling together.”

There is another possible explanation of course: That Trump is an authoritarian, which would mean that anybody who helped him get elected had a hand in fostering authoritarianism.

That said, Glenn’s argument that Garamendi was engaging in unhinged conspiracy theories by asking the question because after 22 months of investigating, Mueller “didn’t even hint that Putin ‘had something’ over Trump” he might use to blackmail him is an outright error.

First, it assumes that Mueller would have prosecuted someone if Russia’s president had blackmail material over Trump. I’m a bit confused how this would work, even in theory. Does Glenn think Mueller is going to charge the President of Russia with a crime for pressing an advantage over the President of the United States in foreign policy? Even distinguishing blackmail (what Putin would do) from accepting a bribe (what Trump might do in response), did Glenn miss the part where Attorney General Bill Barr, whom Glenn has treated as a credible interlocutor in this matter despite his authoritarian tendencies and his history of covering up Executive abuse, took an especially hard stance against indicting a President?

It is absolutely true that the Mueller Report concluded that the available information did not support a quid pro quo conspiracy, where Russia offered to help get Trump elected in exchange for favorable treatment in the future.

[T]he investigation examined whether these contacts involved or resulted in coordination or a conspiracy with the Trump Campaign and Russia, including with respect to Russia providing assistance to the Campaign in exchange for any sort of favorable treatment in the future. Based on the available information, the investigation did not establish such coordination.

Some information that is known not to have been available to Mueller’s investigation includes an explanation for why Trump’s campaign manager was sharing campaign strategy with an Oleg Deripaska aide at a meeting where they also talked about carving up Ukraine to Russia’s liking — directly related to the event that led to Russia’s G-7 exclusion. Mueller also was unable to get any answers from Trump about discussions of sanctions relief, extending (uniquely even for Trump’s contemptuous responses) even to discussions during the campaign. Mueller also was never able to obtain a definitive answer about whether Mike Flynn asked Sergey Kislyak to hold off on responding to Obama’s sanctions with Trump’s involvement. Mueller also did not get a solid understanding of how the Transition treated Erik Prince’s discussions with Kirill Dmitriev, because both Prince and Steve Bannon deleted their texts that would have explained their inconsistent accounts. In short, Mueller did not establish a quid pro quo. But he also did not have some of the most important information he’d need to assess the question.

More importantly, a quid pro quo amounting to the crime of conspiracy — something Mueller could charge, if it involved people in addition to Trump — is a different thing than blackmail, what Glenn explicitly refers to twice in his tweets. Short of accepting a bribe, that’s a counterintelligence question, not a prosecutorial one. And the Mueller Report explicitly says that all the counterintelligence findings were not in the report, which is by regulation limited to prosecution and declination decisions.

From its inception, the Office recognized that its investigation could identify foreign intelligence and counterintelligence information relevant to the FBI’s broader national security mission. FBI personnel who assisted the Office established procedures to identify and convey such information to the FBI. The FBI’s Counterintelligence Division met with the Office regularly for that purpose for most of the Office’s tenure. For more than the past year, the FBI also embedded personnel at the Office who did not work on the Special Counsel’s investigation, but whose purpose was to review the results of the investigation and to send-in writing-summaries of foreign intelligence and counterintelligence information to FBIHQ and FBI Field Offices. Those communications and other correspondence between the Office and the FBI contain information derived from the investigation, not all of which is contained in this Volume. This Volume is a summary. It contains, in the Office’s judgment, that information necessary to account for the Special Counsel’s prosecution and declination decisions and to describe the investigation’s main factual results. [my emphasis]

If Mueller had found evidence Putin were trying to blackmail Trump, he would have treated it as a counterintelligence concern; it wouldn’t show up in the report, which is why it is so silly that Glenn suggests Mueller’s public statements would discount the possibility of blackmail. Being blackmailed is not a crime. Glenn is — as he has been since he embraced Bill Barr’s summary as a faithful report of what Mueller found — simply misrepresenting (or perhaps ignorant of) the scope of the report, even while relying on Mueller as an authority to dismiss Garamendi’s claim.

Glenn’s claims about Mueller’s silence are all the more inaccurate given Mueller’s testimony before the Intelligence Committee, which itself has a counterintelligence function. Mueller did, explicitly, state that his report does not show Trump to be an agent of Russia.

WENSTRUP: So a member of this Committee said President Trump was a Russian agent after your report was publicly released. That statement is not supported by your report, correct?

MUELLER: That is accurate. Not supported.

But that’s not what Glenn addressed, at all (and it’s also not what the the majority of concerns raised about Trump address). Glenn was making a claim about blackmail, not about being a recruited agent.

In his testimony, Mueller said something very different about blackmail. One of the biggest pieces of news that came out of that day of hearings was Mueller’s statement that the FBI continues to investigate whether Mike Flynn was susceptible to blackmail.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Since it was outside the purview of your investigation your report did not address how Flynn’s false statements could pose a national security risk because the Russians knew the falsity of those statements, right?

MUELLER: I cannot get in to that, mainly because there are many elements of the FBI that are looking at different aspects of that issue.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Currently?

MUELLER: Currently.

That may be consistent with reports from a period when Mueller’s investigation was done that multiple US Attorneys districts had equities in Flynn’s 302s, not to mention the disclosure that Ekim Alptekin was working to influence Trump’s policies in ways that go beyond the Gulen related contact.

As to Trump, in Mueller’s longer colloquy with Raja Krishnamoorthi, he confirmed that two potential sources of potential Trump blackmail were not addressed by the report: Trump’s financial ties with Russia and Russian money laundering using Trump businesses.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Director, since it was outside the purview of your investigation, your report did not reach counterintelligence conclusions regarding the subject matter of your report.

MUELLER: That’s true.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: For instance, since it was outside your purview, your report did not reach counterintelligence conclusions regarding any Trump administration officials who might potentially be vulnerable to compromise of blackmail by Russia, correct?

MUELLER: Those decisions probably were made in the FBI.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: But not in your report, correct?

MUELLER: Not in our report. We avert to the counterintelligence goals of our investigation which were secondary to any criminal wrongdoing that we could find.

Then, in an exchange with Adam Schiff, Mueller agreed hypothetically that acting unethically, particularly if it involves lying about financial issues, could make someone susceptible to blackmail. When Schiff asked explicitly whether a presidential candidate lying about doing business with Russia could expose someone to blackmail, Mueller said he would, “leave that to you.”

SCHIFF: If a presidential candidate was doing business in Russia and saying he wasn’t, Russians could expose that too, could they not?

MUELLER: I leave that to you.

In other words, the most direct thing Mueller has said — after having laid out that if there were counterintelligence concerns stemming from Trump’s lies to hide his willingness to work through a former GRU officer and with sanctioned banks to make an improbably lucrative real estate deal in Moscow relying on the intervention of the Russian government, they wouldn’t be in his report — is that he would leave it to Schiff, or perhaps the House Intelligence Committee tasked with CI, to determine the CI implications of Trump’s lies about the Trump Tower deal. And yet Glenn is complaining about Garamendi raising the question that Mueller himself deferred to Congress.

If Glenn wants to treat Mueller as his authority (he actually wants to treat Bill Barr’s caricature of Mueller as his authority), then he needs to admit that, after acknowledging that the kinds of things Trump and his flunkies did and do may make them susceptible to blackmail, Mueller deferred precisely this issue, as it regards the President, to Congress. He sure as hell didn’t say concerns about them amounted to Alex Jones-worthy conspiracy mongering; he said the opposite.

And while it wasn’t asked in either of the Mueller hearings, the report does not treat two other areas investigators would need to review to determine whether or not Trump was making policy decisions based off a concern that Russia had leverage over him. Probably for very good constitutional reasons, the report doesn’t deal with actions unrelated to the investigation that Trump took as President, such as attempting to overturn the existing sanctions on Russia or slow-walking the further sanctions imposed by Congress. More specifically, however, the Mueller Report doesn’t treat the most alarming incidents between Trump and Russia: Trump’s sharing of highly sensitive Israeli intelligence in the same meeting with Sergei Lavrov where Trump boasted of firing Comey, Trump and Putin’s private conversation about adoptions during the period when Trump was penning a false statement claiming the June 9 meeting was about adoptions, and Trump’s backing of Putin’s claims about the DNC hack in Helsinki, even in the wake of the GRU indictment for the theft. They’re all (especially given precedents about the President’s role in classification decisions and foreign policy) legal, but deeply troubling from a national security perspective. That’s where any counterintelligence analysis of Trump’s compromise by Russia would start, and even though related events are treated in the Mueller Report, these specifically are not.

In short, Glenn’s comment, which would have betrayed ignorance of the scope of the Mueller Report back in March when he started making such claims, is an outright error in light of what Mueller said in Congressional testimony. To the extent anyone in government has made conclusions about Trump’s susceptibility to blackmail (and at least per Mueller’s testimony, FBI is still investigating related issues), that’s not something in the Mueller Report. It’s also not something Mueller deems conspiracy-mongering. Mueller’s report of their criminal charging decisions is by definition silent on that issue.

All that said, Glenn is not alone in this error. He’s joined by many critics of Trump’s coziness with Putin, too. Just this morning, for example, Axis of Evil scribe David Frum made precisely the error Glenn made, suggesting that the silence about counterintelligence issues in Mueller’s Report reflects any conclusion about it. He made it about the same topic, too: Trump’s insistence that Russia should rejoin the G-7.

A simple review of the report would explain that Mueller was primarily tasked to prosecute crimes, and a simple review of Mueller’s testimony — the only time he addressed this question explicitly — would show Mueller stating that, “the counterintelligence goals of our investigation which were secondary to any criminal wrongdoing that we could find.”

All that said, it is equally wrong to assume that Mueller’s team and the FBI counterintelligence agents colocated with it didn’t take particular steps to investigate counterintelligence concerns. Last night, in the wake of confirmation that Deutsche Bank had copies of Trump’s tax returns, there was a sketchy single sourced report on MSNBC (which Trump’s lawyer has just aggressively refuted; now MSNBC has retracted it) that unnmaed Russians had co-signed on some DB loans.

To be clear, there are reasons to suspect Deutsche Bank files on Trump and his son-in-law would show suspect behavior. That’s because an earlier NYT story relying on five sources, one of them named — said DB had flagged certain transactions. That report even said the DB declined to submit Suspicious Activity Reports on the transactions.

In the summer of 2016, Deutsche Bank’s software flagged a series of transactions involving the real estate company of Mr. Kushner, now a senior White House adviser.

Ms. McFadden, a longtime anti-money laundering specialist in Deutsche Bank’s Jacksonville office, said she had reviewed the transactions and found that money had moved from Kushner Companies to Russian individuals. She concluded that the transactions should be reported to the government — in part because federal regulators had ordered Deutsche Bank, which had been caught laundering billions of dollars for Russians, to toughen its scrutiny of potentially illegal transactions.

Ms. McFadden drafted a suspicious activity report and compiled a small bundle of documents to back up her decision.

Typically, such a report would be reviewed by a team of anti-money laundering experts who are independent of the business line in which the transactions originated — in this case, the private-banking division — according to Ms. McFadden and two former Deutsche Bank managers.

That did not happen with this report. It went to managers in New York who were part of the private bank, which caters to the ultrawealthy. They felt Ms. McFadden’s concerns were unfounded and opted not to submit the report to the government, the employees said.

Ms. McFadden and some of her colleagues said they believed the report had been killed to maintain the private-banking division’s strong relationship with Mr. Kushner.

After Mr. Trump became president, transactions involving him and his companies were reviewed by an anti-financial crime team at the bank called the Special Investigations Unit. That team, based in Jacksonville, produced multiple suspicious activity reports involving different entities that Mr. Trump owned or controlled, according to three former Deutsche Bank employees who saw the reports in an internal computer system.

Some of those reports involved Mr. Trump’s limited liability companies. At least one was related to transactions involving the Donald J. Trump Foundation, two employees said.

Deutsche Bank ultimately chose not to file those suspicious activity reports with the Treasury Department, either, according to three former employees.

That said, these sources all seem to have reviewed the actual transactions, and there’s nothing as inflammatory as a Russian co-signer. Lawrence O’Donnell’s source reportedly has not seen the documents.

More importantly, the belief there’ll be some criminal hidden grail in Trump’s finances assumes that Mueller never got any of his finances. In the same Intelligence Committee hearing, Mueller declined to comment on whether he had obtained Trump’s tax returns and other financial documents.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: And of course your office did not obtain the president’s tax returns which could otherwise show foreign financial sources, correct?

MUELLER: I’m not going to speak to that.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: In July 2017 the president said his personal finances were off limits, or outside the purview of your investigation and he drew a “red line,” around his personal finances. Were the president’s personal finances outside the purview of your investigation?

MUELLER: I’m not going to get in to that.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Were you instructed by anyone not to investigate the president’s personal finances?

MUELLER: No.

Mueller did base some of his investigation off of SARs referrals (which, obviously, he wouldn’t haven’t obtained if DB was sitting on them until this got reported several months after Mueller’s investigation shut down); that’s where the investigation of Michael Cohen began. Any investigation into Jared Kushner’s discussions of back channels involving sanctioned Russian banks would surely have subpoenaed bank records. Furthermore, Mueller obtained at least Cohen’s Trump Organization email without asking for it from the company itself (and preserved all of it as soon as he learned about the June 9 meeting).

In other words, there’s a counterpart to those — like Glenn and Frum — erroneously making claims about Mueller’s counterintelligence conclusions based on what is in the report. That’s people assuming that certain kinds of investigation wouldn’t have happened, when we know some form of one did.

Revisiting the First Time President Trump Blabbed Out Classified Information for Political Gain

I’d like to revisit what might be the first time in his presidency that Donald Trump blabbed out highly classified information for political gain. Trump appears to have endangered the investigation into CIA’s stolen hacking tools, all to blame Obama for the leak.

It happened on March 15, 2017, during an interview with Tucker Carlson.

Amid a long exchange where Tucker challenges Trump, asking why he claimed — 11 days earlier — that Obama had “tapped” Trump Tower without offering proof, Trump blurted out that the CIA was hacked during the Obama Administration.

Tucker: On March 4, 6:35 in the morning, you’re down in Florida, and you tweet, the former Administration wiretapped me, surveilled me, at Trump Tower during the last election. Um, how did you find out? You said, I just found out. How did you learn that?

Trump: I’ve been reading about things. I read in, I think it was January 20th, a NYT article, they were talking about wiretapping. There was an article, I think they used that exact term. I read other things. I watched your friend Bret Baier, the day previous, where he was talking about certain very complex sets of things happening, and wiretapping. I said, wait a minute, there’s a lot of wiretapping being talked about. I’ve been seeing a lot of things. Now, for the most part I’m not going to discuss it because we have it before the committee, and we will be submitting things before the committee very soon, that hasn’t been submitted as of yet. But it’s potentially a very serious situation.

Tucker: So 51,000 people retweeted that, so a lot of people thought that was plausible, they believe you, you’re the president. You’re in charge of the agencies, every intelligence agency reports to you. Why not immediately go to them and gather evidence to support that?

Trump: Because I don’t want to do anything that’s going to violate any strength of an agency. You know we have enough problems. And by the way, with the CIA, I just want people to know, the CIA was hacked and a lot of things taken. That was during the Obama years. That was not during, us, that was during the Obama situation. Mike Pompeo is there now, doing a fantastic job. But we will be submitting certain things, and I will be perhaps speaking about this next week. But it’s right now before the Committee, and I think I want to leave it at that. I have a lot of confidence in the committee.

Tucker: Why not wait to tweet about it until you can prove it? Does it devalue your words when you can’t provide evidence?

Trump: Well because the NYT wrote about it. You know, not that I respect the NYT. I call it the failing NYT. They did write on January 20 using the word wiretap. Other people have come out with —

Tucker: Right, but you’re the President. You have the ability to gather all the evidence you want.

Trump: I do, I do. But I think that frankly we have a lot right now and I think if you watch, uh, if you watched the Brett Baier and what he was saying and what he was talking about and how he mentioned the word wiretap, you would feel very confident that you could mention the name. He mentioned it and other people have mentioned it. But if you take a look at some of the things written about wiretapping and eavesdropping, and don’t forget when I say wiretap, those words were in quotes, that really covers, because wiretapping is pretty old fashioned stuff. But that really covers surveillance and many other things. And nobody ever talks about the fact that it was in quotes but that’s a very important thing. But wiretap covers a lot of different things. I think you’re going to find some very interesting items over the next two weeks. [my emphasis]

It was clear even at the time that it was a reference to the Vault 7 files, now alleged to have been leaked to WikiLeaks by Joshua Schulte; the first installment of files were released eight days earlier.

The next day, Adam Schiff, who as the then-Ranking HPSCI member, likely had been briefed on the leak, responded to Trump’s comments and suggested that, while Trump couldn’t have broken the law for revealing classified information, he should nevertheless try to avoid releasing it like this, without any kind of consideration of the impact of it.

Last night, the President stated on Fox News that “I just wanted people to know, the CIA was hacked, and a lot of things taken–that was during the Obama years.” In his effort to once again blame Obama, the President appears to have discussed something that, if true and accurate, would otherwise be considered classified information,

It would be one thing if the President’s statement were the product of intelligence community discussion and a purposeful decision to disclose information to the public, but that is unlikely to be the case. The President has the power to declassify whatever he wants, but this should be done as the product of thoughtful consideration and with intense input from any agency affected. For anyone else to do what the President may have done, would constitute what he deplores as “leaks.”

Trump did reveal information the CIA still considered classified. At the very least, by saying that CIA got hacked, he confirmed the Vault 7 documents were authentic files from the CIA, something the government was not otherwise confirming publicly at that time. (Compare Mike Pompeo’s oblique comments about the leak from a month later.)

His reference to the volume of stolen files may have been based on what the CIA had learned from reviewing the initial dump; court filings make it clear the CIA still did not know precisely what had been stolen.

His reference to a hack, rather than a leak, is an interesting word choice, as the compromise has usually been called a leak. But Schulte’s initial search warrants listed both Espionage and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, meaning the government was treating it as (partly) a hacking investigation. And some of the techniques he allegedly used to steal the files are the same that hackers use to obfuscate their tracks (which is unsurprising, given that Schulte wrote some of the CIA’s obfuscation tools).

Perhaps the most damning part of Trump’s statement, however, was the main one: that the theft had taken place under Obama. WikiLeaks’ initial release was totally noncommittal about when they obtained the files, but said it had been “recent[].” By making it clear that the government knew the theft had taken place in 2016 and not more “recently,” Trump revealed a detail that would have made it more likely Schulte would realize they believed he was the culprit (though he knew from the start he’d be a suspect), given that he’d left the agency just days after Trump was elected.

The most damning part of all of this, though, is the timing. Trump made these comments at an unbelievably sensitive time in the investigation.

Tucker did the interview while accompanying Trump to Detroit on March 15, 2017, which means the interview took place sometime between 10:50 AM and 3:30 PM (Tucker said the interview happened at Willow Run Airport, but this schedule says he flew into DTW). Unless it was given special billing, it would have aired at 9PM on March 15.

That means Trump probably made the comments as the FBI was preparing a search of Schulte’s apartment, the first step the FBI took that would confirm for Schulte that he was the main suspect in the leak. Trump’s comments likely aired during the search, before the moment Schulte left his apartment with two passports while the search was ongoing.

CIA had had a bit of advanced warning about the leak. In the lead-up to the leaks (at least by February 3), a lawyer representing Julian Assange, Adam Waldman, was trying to use the Vault 7 files to make a deal with the US government, at first offering to mitigate the damage of the release for some vaguely defined safe passage for Assange. The next day, WikiLeaks first hyped the release, presumably as part of an attempt to apply pressure on the US. Shortly thereafter, Waldman started pitching Mark Warner (who, with Richard Burr, could have granted Assange immunity in conjunction with SSCI’s investigation). On February 17, Jim Comey told Warner to stop his negotiations, though Waldman would continue to discuss the issue to David Laufman at DOJ even after the initial release. Weeks later, WikiLeaks released the initial dump of files on March 7.

An early WaPo report on the leak (which Schulte googled for its information about what the CIA knew before WikiLeaks published) claimed that CIA’s Internal Security had started conducting its own investigation without alerting FBI to the leak (though obviously Comey knew of it by mid-February). The same report quoted a CIA spox downplaying the impact of a leak it now calls “catastrophic.”

By March 13, the day the FBI got its first warrant on Schulte, the FBI had focused on Schulte as the primary target of the investigation. They based that focus on the following evidence, which appears to incorporate information from the CIA’s own internal investigation, an assessment of the first document dump, and some FBI interviews with his colleagues in the wake of the first release:

  • The FBI believed (and still maintains) that the files were stolen from the onsite backup server
  • Schulte was one of a small group of SysAdmins who had privileges to that server (in the initial warrant they said just three people did but have since revised the number to five)
  • The FBI believed (mistakenly) that the files were copied on March 7, 2016, a time when one of the other two known SysAdmins was offsite
  • Schulte had had a blow-up with a colleague that led to him souring on his bosses
  • During the period the CIA was investigating that blow-up, Schulte had reset his administrative privileges to restore his access to the backup server and one project he was working on
  • As part of his August security clearance renewal, some of Schulte’s colleagues said they thought he could be subject to coercion and was not adhering to rules on removable media
  • Just before he left, Schulte created two documents claiming to have raised concerns about the security of the CIA’s servers that (the government claims) he didn’t actually raise
  • Names identifying the two other SysAdmins who had access to the backup server, but not Schulte’s, were included in the initial release
  • In six days since the initial Vault 7 release, Schulte had contacted colleagues and told them he thought he’d be a suspect but was not the leaker

Having obtained a warrant based off that probable cause, on the afternoon of March 13, FBI agents went to conduct a covert search of Schulte’s apartment. The FBI was trying to conduct the search before a trip to Mexico Schulte was scheduled to take on March 16, which (as the affidavit noted) would have been only his second trip outside the US reflected in DHS records. But when the FBI got to Schulte’s apartment, they found a slew of computer devices (listed at PDF 116), making the covert search impractical. So overnight, they obtained a second warrant for an overt search; the FBI obtained that warrant at 1:36 AM on March 14. During that same overnight trip to the magistrate, the FBI also obtained warrants for Schulte’s Google, Reddit, and GitHub accounts.

There’s a lack of clarity about this detail in the public record: the warrant is dated March 14, but it is described as the “March 15 warrant.” The overt search continued through the night in question, so it could either be March 14-15 or March 15-16. The government’s response to Schulte’s motion to suppress the search says, “The Overt Warrant was signed during the early morning hours of March 14, 2017, and the FBI executed the warrant the same day.” But a May 5, 2017 affidavit (starting at PDF 129) says the overt search of Schulte’s apartment took place on March 15.

Whatever day the search happened, it appears that the search started when the lead agent approached Schulte in the lobby of Bloomberg, perhaps as he was leaving work, and asked if he had a role in the leak, which Schulte denied. (This conversation is one basis for Schulte’s false statements charge; the Bill of Particulars describing the interview says it took place on March 15.) The agent got Schulte to confirm he was traveling to Mexico on March 16, then got Schulte to let them into his apartment (Bloomberg is at 120 Park Avenue; Schulte lived at 200 E 39th Street, five blocks away). The search of Schulte’s apartment went through the night. Sometime between 10 and 11 PM, Schulte left his apartment, telling the FBI Agents he’d return around 11:30 PM. By 12:15 AM he hadn’t returned, so the lead FBI Agent went and found him leaving Bloomberg. They told him they had found classified information in his apartment, and asked for his passports. He went back to his workstation to retrieve them, and voluntarily handed them over. The affidavit describes Schulte being put on leave by Bloomberg on March 16, the last day he reported to work at Bloomberg (which would be consistent with the search taking place on the night of March 15-16).

If the search took place overnight on March 14-15, Trump’s statements might have reflected knowledge the search had occurred (and that FBI had found classified information in Schulte’s apartment that would sustain an arrest on false statements and mishandling classified information charges, if need be). If the search took place overnight on March 15-16 (which seems to be what the record implies), it would mean Trump made the comments before the search and they would have been aired on Fox News during it.

In other words, Trump may well have made the comments at a time when FBI was trying to avoid giving Schulte any advance notice because they were afraid he might destroy evidence.

In addition, Trump undoubtedly made the comments (and Schiff highlighted the significance of them) before Schulte had follow-up interviews on March 20 and 21, at which he denied, among other things, ever making CIA’s servers more vulnerable to compromise. If Schulte had read Trump’s comment he’d be more worried about anything akin to hacking.

The question is, how much of what Trump said reflected real knowledge of the investigation, and to what degree should he have known that blurting this out could be unbelievably damaging to the investigation?

Given Trump’s imprecision in speech, his comments could derive entirely from the Vault 7 release itself, or at least a really high level briefing (with pictures!) of the compromise and CIA’s efforts to mitigate it.

But there are two pieces of evidence that suggest Trump may have been briefed in more detail about Schulte as a target.

Jim Comey testified on June 8, 2017 that, in addition to asking him to, “let this [Flynn thing] go,” Trump had asked him about a classified investigation, but that conversation was entirely professional.

WARNER: Tens of thousands. Did the president ever ask about any other ongoing investigation?

COMEY: No.

WARNER: Did he ever ask about you trying to interfere on any other investigation?

COMEY: No.

WARNER: I think, again, this speaks volumes. This doesn’t even get to the questions around the phone calls about lifting the cloud. I know other members will get to that, but I really appreciate your testimony, and appreciate your service to our nation.

COMEY: Thank you, Senator Warner. I’m sitting here going through my contacts with him. I had one conversation with the president that was classified where he asked about our, an ongoing intelligence investigation, it was brief and entirely professional.

Obviously there were a ton of investigations and this conversation could have taken place after Trump made the public comments. But the Vault 7 investigation would have been one of the most pressing investigations in the months before Comey got fired.

More directly on point, in his Presumption of Innocence blog, Schulte describes the interactions with the FBI during the search — which are consistent with them taking place on March 15 — this way (he has not sought to suppress the statements he made that night, which suggests his claims of coercion aren’t strong enough to impress his attorneys):

The FBI set an artificial and misguided deadline on the night before I was to depart NYC for Cancun to prevent me from leaving the country. Despite my insistence with them that the notion someone would flee the country AFTER the publication literally made no sense—if it were me communicating with WikiLeaks then obviously I would have made damn sure to leave BEFORE it happened—they were persistent in their belief that I was guilty. The FBI literally told me that everyone ”up to the top” knew we were having this conversation and that “they” could not afford to let me leave the country. “They” could not afford another national embarrassment like Snowden. “They” would not, under any circumstances, allow me to leave the country. The FBI were prepared and willing to do anything and everything to prevent me from leaving the country including threaten my immediate arrest arrest unless I surrendered my passport. I did NOT initially consent, but the FBI held me against my will without any arrest warrant and even actively disrupted my attempts to contact an attorney. Intimidated, fearful, and without counsel, I eventually consented. I was immediately suspended from work

Schulte’s an egotist and has told obvious lies, especially in his public statements attempting to claim innocence. But if it’s true that the FBI agents told him everyone “up to the top” knew they were having the conversation with him on March 15, it might reflect knowledge that people at least as senior as Comey or Sessions or Pompeo knew the FBI was going to conduct an overt search with one goal being to prevent Schulte from leaving the country. And given the purported reference to Snowden and the way the entire government pursued him, it is not impossible that Trump had been asked to authorize Schulte’s arrest if he didn’t surrender his passports.

In other words, it is certainly possible that when Trump boasted that the CIA’s hacking tools had been stolen under Obama and not under his Administration (an interesting claim to begin with, given the delay in CIA alerting the FBI that WaPo reported), he had been briefed about Schulte within the last 48 hours or even that morning.

To be clear, I’m not suggesting that this comment was a deliberate attempt to sabotage the FBI investigation. Trump has a habit of mindlessly repeating whatever he has heard most recently, so if Trump were briefed on the investigative steps against Schulte on the 14th or 15th, it’s not surprising he brought it up when sitting with Tucker mid-day on the 15th, particularly given that they were discussing surveillance.

But imagine how this would look to the FBI as Trump started engaging in outright obstruction of the Russian investigation, particularly by firing Comey. There’s nothing in the public record that suggests a tie between Schulte’s leaks and Russia. But Schulte’s leaks (most notably the Marble Framework he authored) not only would have made it easier for Russia to identify CIA’s Russian targets, but they would have forced CIA to rebuild during a period it was trying to figure out what had happened in 2016 (and NSA would be in the same position, post Shadow Brokers). When the FBI was trying to keep their focus on Schulte secret for one more day so they could get to his apartment before he started destroying things, Trump sat before a TV camera and made a comment that might have alerted Schulte the FBI did, indeed, believe he was the culprit.

And Trump did so all to blame Obama for a catastrophic leak rather than himself.

The Ongoing Question of Trump’s (and His Flunkies’) Susceptibility to Compromise by Russia

One of Robert Mueller’s most remarkable lines in his testimony to the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees last week was a follow-up in the latter hearing to a Raja Krishnamoorthi question about how Mike Flynn’s lies exposed him to compromise.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: For example, you successfully charged former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn of lying to federal agents about this conversations with Russian officials, correct?

MUELLER: Correct.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Since it was outside the purview of your investigation your report did not address how Flynn’s false statements could pose a national security risk because the Russians knew the falsity of those statements, right?

MUELLER: I cannot get in to that, mainly because there are many elements of the FBI that are looking at different aspects of that issue.

Two and a half years after Flynn was fired, the FBI is still trying to figure out what kind of damage his venality and lies put America at risk

It should surprise no one following closely that the FBI is still looking into different aspects of how Flynn’s lies — both about Russia and about Turkey — exposed him to compromise. After all, a footnote in the Mueller Report that should describe what happened to the counterintelligence investigations into Flynn remains redacted to protect ongoing investigations.

There’s still a redaction in Flynn’s cooperation addendum that likely pertains to something that went through Mueller but cannot yet be unsealed, which I suspect is a counterintelligence investigation. In March, prosecutors in Bijan Kian’s case said at least one other district had an ongoing investigation into matters relating to Flynn (after correcting himself for saying districts, plural, had such investigations). And just recently, Kian’s lawyers disclosed that prosecutors had told them there was classified evidence showing Ekim Alptekin’s efforts to cultivate Flynn and through him, Trump, outside of his consulting company.

Prosecutors wrote to lawyers for Flynn’s ex-lobbying partner Bijan Kian that the US government was “in possession of multiple, independent pieces of information relating to the Turkish government’s efforts to influence United States policy on Turkey and Fethullah Gulen, including information relating to communications, interactions, and a relationship between Ekim Alptekin and Michael Flynn, and Ekim Alptekin’s engagement of Michael Flynn because of Michael Flynn’s relationship with an ongoing presidential campaign, without any reference to the defendant of FIG.”

Then there are the new materials released by the Oversight Committee showing how willing Flynn was to entertain a corrupt proposal to sell nukes to Saudi Arabia.

(Note, it’s a bit ironic that one of the other National Security Advisors to plead guilty to a crime spoke to Flynn of the Christmas vacation during which he had tried to secretly undermine Barack Obama’s punishment of Russia for its interference in the election spoke to Flynn of his “conviction” in the new year.)

By August 2017, Flynn was being investigated for four things, and it’s not clear we yet know all of them.

Now that Bijan Kian has been convicted, Flynn may be scot free (though the timing on his sentence will be a bit awkward, given that Judge Trenga may still overturn one or both of his convictions in early September, after Flynn’s next status hearing). But, in one of the big disclosures Mueller made last week, he revealed that the FBI is still investigating all the ways the General’s venality put the United States at risk in his short time as Trump’s top national security advisor.

And that’s just one aspect of the most important confirmations of the Mueller hearings.

When the Mueller Report came out (and even more so, when the four page Barr summary came out), denialists proclaimed that the Report (that is, the Barr summary) proved that concerns about Trump being compromised by Russia had been proven false — the substantive concern that led to the Trump investigation in the first place. The damning details of Trump’s interactions with Russia left unmentioned in the Mueller Report, as well as the descriptions of the separate FBI track of the counterintelligence investigation, already suggested that wasn’t true.

But on several different occasions, Mueller made it clear that nothing in his report rules out Trump or Flynn or several other people having been blackmailed by Russia.

To be clear, Mueller makes it clear that Trump is not a “Russian agent,” meaning the report does not present evidence that Trump is willfully doing Russia’s bidding.

WENSTRUP: So a member of this Committee said President Trump was a Russian agent after your report was publicly released. That statement is not supported by your report, correct?

MUELLER: That is accurate. Not supported.

But three other times, Mueller does not dispute and at times agrees that Trump and his flunkies’ actions pose a blackmail threat. He didn’t disagree on this point with Lou Correa:

CORREA: I may begin because of time limits we have gone in depth on only five possible episodes of obstruction. There’s so much more. And I want to focus on another section of obstruction which is the president’s conduct concerning Michael Flynn, the president’s national security advisor.

In early 27, the White House Counsel and the president were informed that Mr. Flynn had lied to government authorities about his communications with the Russian ambassador during the Trump campaign in transition. Is this correct?

MUELLER: Correct.

CORREA: If a hostile nation knows that a U.S. official has lied publicly that can be used to blackmail that government official, correct?

MUELLER: I’m not going to speak to that. I don’t disagree with it necessarily, but I’m not going to speak to — anymore to that issue.

With Adam Schiff, Mueller seemingly agreed that Flynn’s lies could expose him, though he refused to answer Schiff’s question about the President specifically:

SCHIFF: You have, I think we can all see that. And befitting the times, I’m sure your reward will be unending criticism, but we are grateful. The need to act in ethical manner is not just a moral one, but when people act unethically it also exposes them to compromise particularly in dealing with foreign powers, is that true?

MUELLER: True.

SCHIFF: Because when someone acts unethically in connection with a foreign partner, that foreign partner can expose their wrongdoing and extort them.

MUELLER: True.

SCHIFF: And that conduct — that unethical conduct can be of a financial nature if you have a financial motive or elicit business dealing, am I right?

MUELLER: Yes.

SCHIFF: It could also just involve deception. If you are lying about something that can be exposed, then you can be blackmailed.

MUELLER: Also true.

SCHIFF: In the case of Michael Flynn, he was secretly doing business with Turkey, correct?

MUELLER: Yes.

SCHIFF: That could open him up to compromise that financial relationship.

MUELLER: I presume.

SCHIFF: He also lied about his discussions with the Russian ambassador and since the Russians were on the other side of the conversation, they could have exposed that, could they not?

MUELLER: Yes.

SCHIFF: If a presidential candidate was doing business in Russia and saying he wasn’t, Russians could expose that too, could they not?

MUELLER: I leave that to you.

But Krishnamoorthi’s full exchange with Mueller not only gets him to acknowledge that Trump lied about his Trump Tower deal (and continued to lie during the investigation), but establishes that at least some of Trump’s possible vulnerabilities because of his financial ties were not included in Mueller’s investigation.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Director, since it was outside the purview of your investigation, your report did not reach counterintelligence conclusions regarding the subject matter of your report.

MUELLER: That’s true.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: For instance, since it was outside your purview, your report did not reach counterintelligence conclusions regarding any Trump administration officials who might potentially be vulnerable to compromise of blackmail by Russia, correct?

MUELLER: Those decisions probably were made in the FBI.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: But not in your report, correct?

MUELLER: Not in our report. We avert to the counterintelligence goals of our investigation which were secondary to any criminal wrongdoing that we could find.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Let’s talk about one administration official in particularly namely President Donald Trump. Other than Trump Tower Moscow, your report does not address or detail the president’s financial ties or dealings with Russia, correct?

MUELLER: Correct.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Similarly since it was outside your purview your report does not address the question of whether Russian oligarchs engaged in money laundering through any of the president’s businesses, correct?

MUELLER: Correct.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: And of course your office did not obtain the president’s tax returns which could otherwise show foreign financial sources, correct?

MUELLER: I’m not going to speak to that.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: In July 2017 the president said his personal finances were off limits, or outside the purview of your investigation and he drew a “red line,” around his personal finances. Were the president’s personal finances outside the purview of your investigation?

MUELLER: I’m not going to get in to that.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Were you instructed by anyone not to investigate the president’s personal finances?

MUELLER: No.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Mr. Mueller, I’d like to turn your attention to counterintelligence risks associated with lying. Individuals can be subject to blackmail if they lie about their interactions with foreign countries, correct?

MUELLER: True.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: For example, you successfully charged former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn of lying to federal agents about this conversations with Russian officials, correct?

MUELLER: Correct.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Since it was outside the purview of your investigation your report did not address how Flynn’s false statements could pose a national security risk because the Russians knew the falsity of those statements, right?

MUELLER: I cannot get in to that, mainly because there are many elements of the FBI that are looking at different aspects of that issue.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Currently?

MUELLER: Currently.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Thank you. As you noted in Volume two of your report, Donald Trump repeated five times in one press conference, Mr. Mueller in 2016 “I have nothing to do with Russia.”

Of course Michael Cohen said Donald Trump was not being truthful, because at this time Trump was attempting to build Trump Tower Moscow. Your report does not address whether Donald Trump was compromised in any way because of any potential false statements that he made about Trump Tower Moscow, correct?

MUELLER: I think that’s right — I think that’s right.

The FBI continues to assess the damage done by Flynn’s vulnerability to compromise. But Mueller didn’t say whether the FBI continues to assess whether the President’s own lies and entanglements have made him vulnerable to compromise.

That’s not to say they have — as Mueller said, the report does not show Trump to be an agent of Russia.

But the Mueller Report does not say, one way or another, whether Russia has been able to manipulate Trump by getting him to lie to America about his entanglements with Russia.