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Two Factors that May Change the Impeachment Calculus, Part One: To Enforce a GOP Subpoena Covering a Trump Lie to Mueller

Since Justin Amash started laying out the necessity of impeachment and even more after yesterday’s Mueller press conference, the question of whether or not to start an impeachment proceeding against the President has picked up steam.

In my opinion, Democrats have to start that process, in part to have a ready response as Trump’s increasingly authoritarian approach to governing violates more and more foundational norms.

But I also wanted to point to two fairly recent developments that may change that calculus. This post will describe how Trump Organization did not comply with a GOP-issued Congressional subpoena that sustained a lie that Trump has since reiterated, under oath, to Mueller.

New evidence that Trump lied to Mueller and Trump Organization defied a (GOP-issued) subpoena

As I noted the other day, Michael Cohen’s testimony to the House Intelligence Committee revealed several things:

  • Trump replicated Cohen’s lies — that is, a cover story his defense attorney helped to write — in his sworn answers to Mueller
  • Trump Organization (probably Alan Garten) withheld emails from Cohen and HPSCI that would have made it clear Cohen was lying about the Trump Tower Moscow deal

Trump’s statement, submitted under oath, to Mueller included the following assertions:

  • Trump and Cohen only had a few (three) conversations about the deal rather than ten or more
  • Trump did not know of any travel plans to Russia
  • Trump didn’t discuss the project with anyone else at Trump Org, including Ivanka and Don Jr
  • Cohen’s attempt to contact Dmitry Peskov in January 2016 was via a public email address and proved unsuccessful

Compare those lies with the three main lies Cohen pled guilty to.

  • The Moscow Project ended in January 201 6 and was not discussed extensively with others in the Company.
  • COHEN never agreed to travel to Russia in connection with the Moscow Project and “never considered” asking Individual 1 to travel for the project.
  • COHEN did not recall any Russian government response or contact about the Moscow Project.

That is, in spite of rumblings that Cohen was cooperating with Mueller, Trump still told the story his lawyer had helped Cohen write. And Mueller gave Trump an opportunity to fix his testimony, but he refused. In spite of the more-than-a-year long effort to avoid telling lies to the Special Counsel, Trump still managed to do so.

Perhaps that’s why the FBI (though possibly NY-based agents tied to the investigation into Bob Costello’s pardon dangle) interviewed Cohen again on March 19, 2019, which is the latest interview noted in the Mueller Report (this section must be one of the last things Mueller’s team finished as footnotes 1057-9 and 1071 all post-date the discussion of Trump’s non-responsive answers in Appendix C).  Along with more details about the various pardon dangles offered to Cohen, that interview elicited this testimony:

During the summer of 2016, Cohen recalled that candidate Trump publicly claimed that he had nothing to do with Russia and then shortly afterwards privately checked with Cohen about the status of the Trump Tower Moscow project, which Cohen found “interesting.”940 At some point that summer, Cohen recalled having a brief conversation with Trump in which Cohen said the Trump Tower Moscow project was going nowhere because the Russian development company had not secured a piece of property for the project.941 Trump said that was ” too bad,” and Cohen did not recall talking with Trump about the project after that.942 Cohen said that at no time during the campaign did Trump tell him not to pursue the project or that the project should be abandoned. 943

[snip]

Cohen recalled explaining to the President’s personal counsel the “whole story” of the attempt to set up a meeting between Trump and Putin and Trump’s role in it.981 Cohen recalled that he and the President’s personal counsel talked about keeping Trump out of the narrative, and the President’s personal counsel told Cohen the story was not relevant and should not be included in his statement to Congress.982

[snip]

941 Cohen could not recall the precise timing of this conversation, but said he thought it occurred in June or July 2016. Cohen recalled that the conversation happened at some point after candidate Trump was publicly stating that he had nothing to do with Russia.

That Trump adhered to this lie even after Cohen showed signs of flipping makes the apparent fact that Trump Organization withheld emails that would make it clear Cohen lied to the House Intelligence all that more damning. This is one of three emails that would have made it clear to HPSCI in real time that Cohen was lying that apparently did not get turned over.

Remember: Cohen was almost alone among Trump flunkies in having been subpoenaed by any committee in Congress. And the subpoena that Trump Organization defied was signed not by Adam Schiff, but by Devin Nunes [Update: this may have been Mike Conaway].

Even with all the efforts Republicans in Congress have made to help Trump avoid legal jeopardy, he — or rather, his eponymous company — still managed to break the law in complying with GOP requests!

Congress can obtain withheld Trump Organization emails more easily than thought

And while normally proving that Trump Organization violated the law to protect the President would be especially hard for Congress to prove (because they’ll fight subpoenas even more aggressively than Trump’s accountants or creditors), the opposite may be the case in this instance.

That’s because since June 21, 2017, Microsoft — which provides Trump Organization’s email service for the company — has been preserving Michael Cohen’s Trump Organization emails and since July 14, 2017, Microsoft has been preserving all Trump Organization emails.

54. On or about July 14,2017, the Federal Bureau of Investigation sent a request, pursuant to l8 U.S.C. $ 2703(f), to Microsoft, requesting that Microsoft preserve all content for all email accounts associated with the domain “trumporg.com,” which included the Target Account.

[snip]

62. On or about June 21, 2017, the Federal Bureau of Investigation sent a request, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. $ 2703(f), to Microsoft, requesting that Microsoft preserve all content associated with the Target Account.

So rather than going to Trump Organization to obtain proof that their Attorney Alan Garten withheld documents that were clearly responsive to a Congressional subpoena, HPSCI can go to Microsoft itself.

Michael Cohen is the a demonstrable example of someone who was willing to lie only so long as a pardon offer was on the table

One more detail about Cohen makes his case a particularly apt case to impeach the President.

The sworn evidence in the case makes it very clear Cohen was willing to — and did — lie to Congress so long as he believed he’d be pardoned for those lies.

But as soon as it became clear that he could not expect a pardon, Cohen decided to start telling the truth.

(I’ll revisit and reconfirm this, but the record shows that a pardon was withdrawn (and Trump stopped paying Cohen’s legal bills) around the same time 1) Trump got to see all the paperwork and recording that might back Cohen’s claims against him 2) He saw that Cohen had recorded him agreeing to the Karen McDougal hush payment).

He told the truth about something implicating “Individual-1” as a co-conspirator.

And he told the truth about lying to Congress.

In other words, with Cohen, it will be very easy to show that Trump’s pardon offers led to a witness providing false testimony in response to a Congressional subpoena (false testimony made possibly only through parallel obstruction on the part of Trump’s business).

In other words, Cohen is a fairly strong case proving Trump successfully suborned perjury.

So with Cohen, there is all new evidence of Trump-related crimes: Trump’s sworn lies about Trump Tower Moscow to Mueller mirrored by Trump Organization’s defiance of a Republican issued Congressional subpoena on precisely that topic.

And Congress should be able to get proof of it.

This provides an opportunity to pitch impeachment in terms of GOP equities. That will surely not make a difference for Republicans, at first, but for any that want to find an excuse to come around to supporting impeachment, it may be useful down the road.

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

Why Trump Believed He Could Withhold the June 9 Email: Because He Succeeded in Withholding Moscow Trump Tower Ones

In this post, I showed that I was correct when I wrote, back in January, that the Trump Organization did not turn over all the documents requested in the House Intelligence Committee subpoena to Michael Cohen. Trump Organization withheld — from HPSCI and from Cohen — the email that shows Dmitry Peskov’s office did respond to Cohen’s request for help (as well as emails showing that he kept trying to reach Peskov’s office).

On January 20, 2016, Cohen received an email from Elena Poliakova, Peskov’s personal assistant. Writing from her personal email account, Poliakova stated that she had been trying to reach Cohen and asked that he call her on the personal number that she provided.350 Shortly after receiving Poliakova’s email, Cohen called and spoke to her for 20 minutes.

I also showed that Trump’s sworn response to a Mueller question about all this replicates the lies that Cohen told in his false statement to Congress.

I had few conversations with Mr. Cohen on this subject. As I recall, they were brief, and they were not memorable. I was not enthused about the proposal, and I do not recall any discussion of travel to Russia in connection with it. I do not remember discussing it with anyone else at the Trump Organization, although it is possible. I do not recall being aware at the time of any communications between Mr. Cohen or Felix Sater and any Russian government official regarding the Letter of Intent. In the course of preparing to respond to your questions, I have become aware that Mr. Cohen sent an email regarding the Letter of Intent to “Mr. Peskov” at a general, public email account, which should show there was no meaningful relationship with people in power in Russia. I understand those documents already have been provided to you.

[snip]

With that in mind, consider the substance of that middle paragraph. It repeats the key lies that Cohen pled guilty to in December:

  • Trump and Cohen only have a few (three) conversations about the deal rather than ten or more
  • Trump did not know of any travel plans to Russia
  • Trump didn’t discuss the project with anyone else at Trump Org, including Ivanka and Don Jr
  • Cohen’s attempt to contact Dmitry Peskov in January 2016 was via a public email address and proved unsuccessful

Compare those lies with the three main lies Cohen pled guilty to.

  • The Moscow Project ended in January 201 6 and was not discussed extensively with others in the Company.
  • COHEN never agreed to travel to Russia in connection with the Moscow Project and “never considered” asking Individual 1 to travel for the project.
  • COHEN did not recall any Russian government response or contact about the Moscow Project.

Not knowing (or caring) that his former fixer was already cooperating with Mueller, Trump repeated precisely the same lies Cohen is now in prison for, did so under oath, and refused to fix those responses when given an opportunity to.

All that’s important background for something explained in the Mueller Report: that it was Trump — not Hope Hicks (as Mark Corallo feared) — who planned to withhold the thread of emails setting up the June 9 meeting to hide that Don Jr had accepted dirt from the Russian government. In the weeks before the NYT learned of the emails, Trump repeatedly tried to insulate himself from being shown the emails and said that “just one lawyer should deal with the matter” to prevent them from leaking.

According to Hicks, Kushner said that he wanted to fill the President in on something that had been discovered in the documents he was to provide to the congressional committees involving a meeting with him, Manafort, and Trump Jr.678 Kushner brought a folder of documents to the meeting and tried to show them to the President, but the President stopped Kushner and said he did not want to know about it, shutting the conversation down.679

On June 28, 2017, Hicks viewed the emails at Kushner’s attorney’s office.680 She recalled being shocked by the emails because they looked “really bad.”681 The next day, Hicks spoke privately with the President to mention her concern about the emails, which she understood were soon going to be shared with Congress.682 The President seemed upset because too many people knew about the emails and he told Hicks that just one lawyer should deal with the matter.683 The President indicated that he did not think the emails would leak, but said they would leak if everyone had access to them.684

Later that day, Hicks, Kushner, and Ivanka Trump went together to talk to the President.685 Hicks recalled that Kushner told the President the June 9 meeting was not a big deal and was about Russian adoption, but that emails existed setting up the meeting.686 Hicks said she wanted to get in front of the story and have Trump Jr. release the emails as part of an interview with “softball questions.”687 The President said he did not want to know about it and they should not go to the press.688 Hicks warned the President that the emails were “really bad” and the story would be “massive” when it broke, but the President was insistent that he did not want to talk about it and said he did not want details.689 Hicks recalled that the President asked Kushner when his document production was due. 690 Kushner responded that it would be a couple of weeks and the President said, “then leave it alone.”691 Hicks also recalled that the President said Kushner’s attorney should give the emails to whomever he needed to give them to, but the President did not think they would be leaked to the press.692 Raffel later heard from Hicks that the President had directed the group not to be proactive in disclosing the emails because the President believed they would not leak.693

When the NYT reached out to the White House for the story, Trump uncharacteristically told Hicks not to comment for the story.

On July 7, 2017, while the President was overseas, Hicks and Raffel learned that the New York Times was working on a story about the June 9 meeting.695 The next day, Hicks told the President about the story and he directed her not to comment.696 Hicks thought the President’s reaction was odd because he usually considered not responding to the press to be the ultimate sin.697

Then, when Trump, who was with Hicks, was chewing Mark Corallo out for the counter-statement he released, Hicks, “channel[ed] the President” by saying that the email would never get out.

The next day, July 9, 2017, Hicks and the President called Corallo together and the President criticized Corallo for the statement he had released.721 Corallo told the President the statement had been authorized and further observed that Trump Jr. ‘s statement was inaccurate and that a document existed that would contradict it.722 Corallo said that he purposely used the term “document” to refer to the emails setting up the June 9 meeting because he did not know what the President knew about the emails.723 Corallo recalled that when he referred to the “document” on the call with the President, Hicks responded that only a few people had access to it and said “it will never get out.”724 Corallo took contemporaneous notes of the call that say: “Also mention existence of doc. Hope says ‘ only a few people have it. It will never get out.”‘725 Hicks later told investigators that she had no memory of making that comment and had always believed the emails would eventually be leaked, but she might have been channeling the President on the phone call because it was clear to her throughout her conversations with the President that he did not think the emails would leak.726

In the period when the Joint Defense Agreement was trying to respond to Congressional requests for documents on Trump’s ties to Russia, the President’s response was to argue that “just one lawyer should deal with the matter” to ensure that the emails did not get out.

That lawyer is Alan Garten.

We know that because in Cohen’s March 6 testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, he described that Alan Garten and Alan Futerfas were in charge of document collection for the Trump Organization.

THE CHAIRMAN: A number of those emails were never turned over to our committee in the document production. Do you know who was responsible for the document production and who would have withheld those documents from this committee?

MR. COHEN: Alan Futerfas and Alan Garten.

More specifically, Cohen’s February 28 testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, he described a meeting he had with Garten on document production. He was telling the story to explain that at the meeting, Garten told Cohen enough for him to figure out that Trump was the one who drafted the false statement on the June 9 meeting.

THE CHAIRMAN: You mentioned a meeting also with Alan Garten?

MR. COHEN: Yes, sir.

THE CHAIRMAN: And can you tell us who that is?

MR. COHEN: Alan Garten is now general counsel at The Trump Organization, And prior to that, he was assistant general counsel.

THE CHAIRMAN: You referenced that in the context of this also raised your suspicion of collusion. What in particular were you referring to?

MR. COHEN: My conversation with Alan Garten was in regard to, I believe, this committee’s subpoena where they wanted all of my contacts from the Trump Org server. And in order to limit the amount, because there were about 10,000, he brought to me a stack of pages and wanted me to go through each one of those email addresses to the best of my ability to mark off which ones were family, which ones were friends, which ones related to Trump Org business, which ones were just solicitations, Google alerts, et cetera. We started to engage in conversation, because at the time the news cycle was all over the allegation that the conversation going back and forth was about adoption. And I said, well, what’s going on? Tell me what happened. So he told me that he was with Don Jr. and that they were communicating back and forth with Air Force One. And he goes, you know how it gets, back and forth and back and forth. He goes, it was such a process. That was the conversation with Alan Garten.

THE CHAIRMAN: And tell me what raised your suspicion about that conversation.

MR. COHEN: lt was about how to describe the meeting, the Trump Tower meeting, as to whether it was about obtaining dirt on Hillary Clinton or it was about adoption. And what he expressed to me is that, you know, Mr. Trump drafted the first round, and it came to Don and him, and then they sent it back, and back and forth.

THE CHAIRMAN: So what he described to you was Mr. Trump’s participation in the creation of a false statement about what took place in that meeting?

MR. COHEN: Yes, that’s how he described it. Well, that’s how I understood it.

But the point of the meeting was to begin the document response process from Trump Organization that resulted in the most damning emails — emails that would prove false the story Cohen and the Trump family lawyers planned to tell about the Trump Tower Moscow deal — being withheld.

In the March 6 one, Adam Schiff got Cohen to repeat that the reason he and Garten were having this conversation in the first place is because Garten was pulling documents to reply to Congressional requests.

Q Well, let me ask it a different way. What was the purpose of him showing you your contacts and other documents?

A The Trump Organization received a subpoena in order to turn over documents, and since I had no documents, everything being in their custody and control, they wanted the contacts to be limited to, I suspect, non-business-related, you know, removal, family removal emails that are not pertaining to the investigation.

Q So the purpose of the meeting was to discuss a document production that The Trump Organization needed to provide?

A Correct.

Q And was it to provide to this committee?

A I don’t know which committee, but I suspect it was all the committees.

Q All right. And do you recall that the false statement that Don Jr. issued about the Trump Tower meeting that was discussed on Air Force One, do you recall that happened in approximately June of 2017?

A I believe so.

Garten was with Don Jr in person as they worked back and forth with Hope Hicks and Donald Trump on Air Force One to draft the June 9 meeting that Trump wanted to lie about by making sure the email didn’t leak.

There were no lawyers on Air Force One. This is the conversation that, in his appearances before Congress, Don Jr successfully avoided discussing because he was with his lawyer. But no privilege should have attached to that conversation because Garten did not represent Trump personally (Trump was supposed to be walled off from Trump Organization matters), much less Hope Hicks.

In June 2017, when Donald Trump was trying to sustain a false story about the June 9 meeting by suggesting that if just one lawyer dealt with the matter, the email disproving that story would not be “leaked,” Alan Garten was ensuring that the email disproving Michael Cohen’s false story did not get turned over to Congress.

That’s why Trump thought he’d get away with the lie. Because he almost got away with it on the Trump Tower Moscow story.

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

Michael Cohen’s HPSCI Testimony Proves Trump Lied in his Answers to Mueller

Yesterday, the House Intelligence Committee released transcripts of Michael Cohen’s February 28 and March 6 testimony before the committee. Together they’re utterly damning for a bunch of reasons:

  • GOPers (with former US Attorney John Ratcliffe incompetently replacing Trey Gowdy as their designated “adult”) thought they could prove that Cohen hadn’t been offered a pardon, but proved the opposite; on top of looking like blithering idiots, it basically put them in the position of laying out proof of — then shrugging away — crime after Trump crime
  • As I anticipated at the time, Cohen makes clear that any Joint Defense Agreement involving him lasted only so long as Trump believed Cohen could hurt him
  • On top of providing details about the editing of his false statement, Cohen lays out how in conversations before the first draft, Jay Sekulow got him to shorten the timeframe of the Moscow Trump Tower deal
  • Cohen confirmed that — as I laid out in January — there was a gap in the documents shared with HPSCI necessary to sustain the false story

Perhaps most surprising, though, Cohen’s testimony establishes that Trump lied to Robert Mueller in his sworn answers.

Trump’s responses on Trump Tower questions were the least responsive of his many non-responsive answers

Far too little attention has been focused on Trump’s downright contemptuous responses to Mueller’s questions, many of which conflict with the testimony of numerous loyal Trump people. Worst of all were Trump’s response to seven questions on the Trump Tower deal.

a. In October 2015, a “Letter of Intent,” a copy of which is attached as Exhibit B, was signed for a proposed Trump Organization project in Moscow (the “Trump Moscow project”).

i. When were you first informed of discussions about the Trump Moscow project? By whom? What were you told about the project?

ii. Did you sign the letter of intent?

b. In a statement provided to Congress, attached as Exhibit C, Michael Cohen stated: “To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Trump was never in contact with anyone about this proposal other than me on three occasions, including signing a non-binding letter of intent in 2015.” Describe all discussions you had with Mr. Cohen, or anyone else associated with the Trump Organization, about the Trump Moscow project, including who you spoke with, when, and the substance of the discussion(s).

c. Did you learn of any communications between Michael Cohen or Felix Sater and any Russian government officials, including officials in the office of Dmitry Peskov, regarding the Trump Moscow project? If so, identify who provided this info1mation to you, when, and the substance of what you learned.

d. Did you have any discussions between June 2015 and June 2016 regarding a potential trip to Russia by you and/or Michael Cohen for reasons related to the Trump Moscow project? If yes, describe who you spoke with, when, and the substance of the discussion(s).

e. Did you at any time direct or suggest that discussions about the Trump Moscow project should cease, or were you informed at any time that the project had been abandoned? If yes, describe who you spoke with, when, the substance of the discussion(s), and why that decision was made.

f. Did you have any discussions regarding what information would be provided publicly or in response to investigative inquiries about potential or actual investments or business deals the Trump Organization had in Russia, including the Trump Moscow project? If yes, describe who you spoke with, when, and the substance of the discussion(s).

g. Aside from the Trump Moscow project, did you or the Trump Organization have any other prospective or actual business interests, investments, or arrangements with Russia or any Russian interest or Russian individual during the campaign? If yes, describe the business interests, investments, or arrangements.

In response, Trump wrote three paragraphs.

Response to Question III, Parts (a) through (g)

Sometime in 2015, Michael Cohen suggested to me the possibility of a Trump Organization project in Moscow. As I recall, Mr. Cohen described this as a proposed project of a general type we have done in the past in a variety of locations. I signed the non-binding Letter of Intent attached to your questions as Exhibit B which required no equity or expenditure on our end and was consistent with our ongoing efforts to expand into significant markets around the world.

I had few conversations with Mr. Cohen on this subject. As I recall, they were brief, and they were not memorable. I was not enthused about the proposal, and I do not recall any discussion of travel to Russia in connection with it. I do not remember discussing it with anyone else at the Trump Organization, although it is possible. I do not recall being aware at the time of any communications between Mr. Cohen or Felix Sater and any Russian government official regarding the Letter of Intent. In the course of preparing to respond to your questions, I have become aware that Mr. Cohen sent an email regarding the Letter of Intent to “Mr. Peskov” at a general, public email account, which should show there was no meaningful relationship with people in power in Russia. I understand those documents already have been provided to you.

I vaguely remember press inquiries and media reporting during the campaign about whether the Trump Organization had business dealings in Russia. I may have spoken with campaign staff or Trump Organization employees regarding responses to requests for information, but I have no current recollection of any particular conversation, with whom I may have spoken, when, or the substance of any conversation. As I recall, neither I nor the Trump Organization had any projects or proposed projects in Russia during the campaign other than the Letter of Intent.

The first paragraph is factually accurate. The last paragraph is correct (as far as we know) with respect to having no other proposed projects, but is utterly non-responsive to a question about the response to investigative questions (including these ones) regarding the project, in part because Trump only agreed to answer questions pertaining to the campaign period.

The middle paragraph, however, is inconsistent with the documentary record, but consistent with the false statement that Cohen is now sitting in prison for.

After Cohen pled guilty, Mueller offered Trump a chance to correct his testimony, but he refused

Because I get into why that is, consider that, in the wake of Cohen’s plea, Trump admitted to remembering that the deal may have gone through the end of the campaign (the LOI was only withdrawn after the election) and Rudy ran his mouth admitting that the project went through November. In response, Mueller asked follow-up questions.

In light of the President’s public statements following Cohen’s guilty plea that he “decided not to do the project,” this Office again sought information from the President about whether he participated in any discussions about the project being abandoned or no longer pursued, including when he “decided not to do the project,” who he spoke to about that decision, and what motivated the decision. 1057 The Office also again asked for the timing of the President’s discussions with Cohen about Trump Tower Moscow and asked him to specify “what period of the campaign” he was involved in discussions concerning the project. 1058 In response, the President’s personal counsel declined to provide additional information from the President and stated that “the President has fully answered the questions at issue.” 1059

1057 1/23/19 Letter, Special Counsel’s Office to President’s Personal Counsel.

1058 1/23/ 19 Letter, Special Counsel’s Office to President’s Personal Counsel.

1059 2/6/ l 9 Letter, President’s Personal Counsel to Special Counsel’s Office.

On this matter, then, Trump made comments to the public after submitting his responses to Mueller that made it clear his claims to not recall these matters were false. When Mueller gave him the opportunity to fix his testimony, he refused.

Part of Trump’s response exactly replicates the lies Cohen told, in a statement prepared with the input of Jay Sekulow, to Congress

With that in mind, consider the substance of that middle paragraph. It repeats the key lies that Cohen pled guilty to in December:

  • Trump and Cohen only have a few (three) conversations about the deal rather than ten or more
  • Trump did not know of any travel plans to Russia
  • Trump didn’t discuss the project with anyone else at Trump Org, including Ivanka and Don Jr
  • Cohen’s attempt to contact Dmitry Peskov in January 2016 was via a public email address and proved unsuccessful

Compare those lies with the three main lies Cohen pled guilty to.

  • The Moscow Project ended in January 201 6 and was not discussed extensively with others in the Company.
  • COHEN never agreed to travel to Russia in connection with the Moscow Project and “never considered” asking Individual 1 to travel for the project.
  • COHEN did not recall any Russian government response or contact about the Moscow Project.

Not knowing (or caring) that his former fixer was already cooperating with Mueller, Trump repeated precisely the same lies Cohen is now in prison for, did so under oath, and refused to fix those responses when given an opportunity to.

Cohen’s testimony, however, makes these lies even more damning.

The Trump Organization withheld the documents that would have made it clear Cohen was lying from the Committees

Again, as I noted back in January, there is no way that the lies Cohen told SSCI and HPSCI would have been sustainable if the committees had gotten all the documents they asked for. Specifically, three emails referenced in Cohen’s statement of the offense could not have been turned over to the committees without them figuring out he was lying.

On or about January 14, 2016 , COHEN emailed Russian Official 1’s office asking for assistance in connection with the Moscow Project.

On or about January 16, 2016, COHEN emailed Russian Official 1’s office again , said he was trying to reach another high- level Russian official, and asked for someone who spoke English to contact him.

On or about January 20, 2016, COHEN received an email from the personal assistant to Russian Official 1 (“Assistant 1”) , stating that she had been trying to reach COHEN and requesting that he call her using a Moscow-based phone number she provided.

Cohen’s story (and the one Trump submitted as his sworn testimony) is that he tried emailing Dmitry Peskov’s office just once, and that via a public email address. But as Mueller describes it — citing three emails from Cohen and one response from Peskov’s assistant Elena Poliakova — he wrote one email in which he fat-fingered the address for Peskov’s email, one to the general press line, and a second to Peskov’s email. In response, Poliakova wrote back, stating, “I can’t get through to both your phones. Pls, call me.”

On January 11, 2016, Cohen emailed the office of Dmitry Peskov, the Russian government’s press secretary, indicating that he desired contact with Sergei Ivanov, Putin’s chief of staff. Cohen erroneously used the email address “[email protected]” instead of “Pr [email protected] .ru,” so the email apparently did not go through.346 On January 14, 2016, Cohen emailed a different address ([email protected]) with the following message:

Dear Mr. Peskov, Over the past few months, I have been working with a company based in Russia regarding the development of a Trump Tower-Moscow project in Moscow City. Without getting into lengthy specifics, the communication between our two sides has stalled. As this project is too important, I am hereby requesting your assistance. I respectfully request someone, preferably you; contact me so that I might discuss the specifics as well as arranging meetings with the appropriate individuals. I thank you in advance for your assistance and look forward to hearing from you soon.347

Two days later, Cohen sent an email to [email protected], repeating his request to speak with Sergei Ivanov.348 Cohen testified to Congress, and initially told the Office, that he did not recall receiving a response to this email inquiry and that he decided to terminate any further work on the Trump Moscow project as of January 2016. Cohen later admitted that these statements were false. In fact, Cohen had received (and recalled receiving) a response to his inquiry, and he continued to work on and update candidate Trump on the project through as late as June 2016.349

On January 20, 2016, Cohen received an email from Elena Poliakova, Peskov’s personal assistant. Writing from her personal email account, Poliakova stated that she had been trying to reach Cohen and asked that he call her on the personal number that she provided.350 Shortly after receiving Poliakova’s email, Cohen called and spoke to her for 20 minutes.351

346 1/11/16 Email, Cohen to [email protected] (9: 12 a.m.).

347 1/14/16 Email, Cohen to [email protected] (9:21 a.m.).

348 1/16/16 Email, Cohen to [email protected] (10:28 a.m.).

349 Cohen Information ,i,i 4, 7. Cohen’s interactions with President Trump and the President’s lawyers when preparing his congressional testimony are discussed further in Volume II. See Vol. II, Section 11.K.3, infra.

350 1/20/1 6 Email, Poliakova to Cohen (5 :57 a.m.) (“Mr. Cohen[,] I can’t get through to both your phones. Pis, call me.”).

351 Telephone records show a 20-minute call on January 20, 2016 between Cohen and the number Poliakova provided in her email. Call Records of Michael Cohen After the call, Cohen saved Poliakova’s contact information in his Trump Organization Outlook contact list. 1/20/16 Cohen Microsoft Outlook Entry (6:22 a.m.).

The Poliakova email, by itself, would prove all the claims that Cohen got no response to be false.

As Cohen explained it, since he was no longer at Trump Organization anymore, he had to rely on Trump Org lawyers (probably Alan Garten) to comply with discovery requests. That probably means Garten is responsible for withholding the emails — particularly the Poliakova one — not just from Congress, but from Cohen.

Q Now, in your February 28th interview before this committee you mentioned that Alan Futerfas and Alan Garten, the two lawyers who were tied to The Trump Organization, were responsible for the document production that you produced to the committee in response to this committee’s May of 2017 subpoena. ls that accurate?

A That’s accurate.

[snip]

Q Do you have any information about why The Trump Organization would have withheld from this committee production of the January 141h, 2016, email from you to Peskov’s office?

A I do not.

Q Same question as to the January 161h, 2016, email from you to Peskov’s office regarding Sergei lvanov?

A I also do not.

Q Same question with regards to the January 20th,2016, email from Elena Poliyakova (ph)?

A I do not

THE CHAIRMAN: Mr. Cohen, what Mr. Mitchell is asking about is you’ve testified that the members of the joint defense agreement were aware that the written testimony that you were going to give to this committee was false. Documents that would have contradicted that timeline, namely, the three that Mr. Mitchell just referenced, were not produced to this committee. ls there any insight you can shed as to who might have been involved in withholding documentary evidence that would have contradicted your written false testimony?

MR. COHEN: Again, it would be other members of the joint defense team, but specifically at The Trump Organization level.

For reasons I’ll return to, Cohen was one of the only Trump people who got subpoenaed and therefore whose document compliance would be legally binding. But that means that Trump Org failed to comply with a subpoena issued not by Adam Schiff, but by Devin Nunes.

Cohen didn’t talk about these emails with Joint Defense Agreement lawyers, but he talked about the Poliakova one (and the follow-up call) with Trump

All that’s damning enough, especially since Trump claimed to Mueller that the documents turned over to his office would match his story (this is not the only sworn response where Trump falsely claimed the documentary record matches his testimony).

All the more so, though, because Trump is the one person that Cohen spoke to at Trump Org about receiving this Poliakova email (in addition to Felix Sater, who wrote the next day to say Putin’s office had contacted him, seemingly in response).

Indeed, immediately after his call with Poliakova, Cohen talked to Trump about how well versed she was on issues that mattered for their deal.

Q At what time did you speak to anyone at The Trump Organization about this email?

A About this specific email? I did not

Q Never?

A No. Well, actually, I apologize, that’s not true, I spoke to Mr. Trump about it.

Q When was that?

A That was after I had spoken to Ms. Poliyakova (ph).

[snip]

THE CHAIRMAN: And did I hear you to say that you spoke to Mr. Trump about your conversation with Mr. Peskov’s office?

MR. COHEN: Yes, with Ms. Poliyakova (ph).

THE CHAIRMAN: And was the conversation you had with Mr. Trump about that conversation with Ms. Poliyakova (ph) in person or by phone?

MR. COHEN: lt was in person.

THE CHAIRMAN: And how soon after your conversation with her on the phone did that take place?

MR. COHEN: Right afterwards.

THE CHAIRMAN: Can you tell us about the conversation you had with Ms Poliyakova (ph)?

MR. COHEN: I just found that she was very professional and her questions regarding the project were insightful. As an assistant, I was impressed, and I just made mention to him that I had spoken to an assistant for Peskov, and I was, again, incredibly impressed with her line of questioning regarding the project. And I made mention how nice it would be to have an assistant who asked such pertinent questions.

[snip]

THE CHAIRMAN: And by the detailed nature of her questions, you could tell that they knew a great deal about the project?

MR. COHEN: Yes.

THE CHAIRMAN: And what kind of questions did she have for you about the project?

MR. COHEN: The areas that obviously we would want to be building in. I don’t want to try to recollect the specific questions, but there were just very profess — they were very professional, talking about like the size of the project, the scope, length of time, where the construction crews were going to come from. I mean, it was a pretty insightful conversation.

Even if you buy that Trump forgot this conversation and the other seven he claims to have forgotten about a deal he very much wanted, you still need to explain why his responses, which allegedly account for the documentary evidence, nevertheless repeat the story that Cohen told based on a documentary record that Trump lawyers ensured was incomplete.

Given the great lengths Trump went to to not answer any of Mueller’s questions, it would take some doing for him to tell a demonstrable lie.

But he did just that with regards to the Trump Tower meeting — and refused to fix his testimony after he made it clear, publicly, that he had lied.

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

The House Intelligence Committee Can and Should Subpoena the 18-Minute Gap on the Trump Tower Deal

Over the last few days the following happened:

  • Buzzfeed published a story stating what the evidence already shows: Trump suborned perjury
  • Mueller’s spox Peter Carr issued an unprecedented rebuttal to a specific story
  • WaPo, in a story presenting DOJ’s side of events, revealed that someone from Rod Rosenstein’s office (probably Ed O’Callaghan, who has managed most interactions with Mueller’s office) called to ask them if they were going to issue such a statement

I am not certain whether the call from Rosenstein’s office violated Special Counsel regulations protecting the Special Counsel from day-to-day interference in the office, but it certainly is something Jerry Nadler’s committee should inquire about.

And while I think Mueller’s office can make a very good case they needed to respond to Buzzfeed’s story for prosecutorial reasons, Rosenstein’s involvement seems far more suspect, particularly since he’s the guy who set the new DOJ standard that even warning a journalist off a story, as former FBI General Counsel Jim Baker did, may get you disciplined or referred for prosecution. By all appearances, Peter Carr was playing by Rosenstein’s rules in his interactions with Buzzfeed, so Rosenstein is the last person who should weigh in if he doesn’t like the outcome.

But — in addition to House Judiciary Committee (HJC) asking DOJ about contacts between Rosenstein’s office and Mueller’s, as well as contacts between Big Dick Toilet Salesman Matt Whitaker and Rosenstein and contacts between the White House and either one — Congress has a means of pursuing this question that should not harm Mueller’s investigation: Subpoena the information that Cohen, Felix Sater, the Trump Organization, and the campaign withheld from the House Intelligence Committee so as to sustain Cohen’s false testimony through March 22, 2018.

I’ve put the section of the House Intelligence Report that deals with the Trump Tower deal below, with the claims we now know to be false underlined. In addition to a caveat that the findings in the section are based on the documents turned over to the committee, the section includes the following claims we now know to be false given Cohen’s statement of the offense and/or Buzzfeeed’s extensive report on the deal:

  • The report claims the deal died in January but communications (which may or may not be limited to text messages) between Sater and Cohen show that it continued (at least) through June and Buzzfeed suggests the communications extended into July. Rudy Giuliani today stated publicly it may have gone through November.
  • The report claims Cohen was working with Sater’s company, which may or may not be true. But Buzzfeed makes it clear there should be an October 2015 email between Sater and Cohen — sent weeks before Trump signed the Letter of Intent — showing that VTB, a sanctioned bank, would provide financing. A December 19, 2015 communication (it’s unclear whether email or text) would have showed VTB would host Cohen. On December 31, 2015, Sater sent an image showing another sanctioned bank, GenBank, would instead provide financing. There would also be a letter dated late January from Andrey Ryabinskiy, a Russian mortgage tycoon.
  • The report claims Cohen never received a response from anyone associated with the Russian government. But Cohen received a January 20, 2016 email from Dmitry Peskov’s personal assistant, and his call records would reflect a 20 minute call to the number she provided him to call her on.
  • Sater claimed to HPSCI that his claims about Putin’s involvement was “mere puffery” and that “neither President Putin nor any element of the Russian government was actually directly involved in the project.” Yet on January 21, Sater wrote Cohen, “It’s about [Putin] they called today,” which would show still more response to Cohen from the Russian government. And a May 5 text message from Sater to Cohen conveyed Dmitry Peskov’s invitation to attend the St. Petersburg Forum, at which Cohen could discuss the deal with Peskov and he might meet Putin personally.
  • The report says the deal failed because the due diligence failed and  Trump Organization’s representative (it’s unclear whether this would be Cohen, Sater, or someone else) lost confidence in the licensee. That’s almost certainly not consistent with whatever reason Cohen gave Sater on June 14, three hours after WaPo reported that Russia had hacked the DNC, to say he would not be traveling to St. Petersburg after all. There may well be discussion of the WaPo report in the four texts Sater sent Cohen. There also may be communication reflecting Cohen’s assurances that “We’ll go after Cleveland.”
  • The report says the potential licensing deal was not related to the campaign but Cohen, “asked a senior campaign official about potential business travel to Russia.” It’s unclear whether there’s a paper trail of that or not. But there are communications reflecting Cohen’s consideration of other campaign events — definitely the Convention and probably the WaPo report on the DNC hack. And there should be communications showing it go through November, only to be halted — or rather, moved under Segei Millian and George Papadopoulos — once Trump got elected.

While it’s possible the House Intelligence Committee (HPSCI) received the 2015 communications indicating that Trump contemplated working with sanctioned banks during the time he was running for President (in which case it would be scandalous that the Republicans suppressed that detail, and the one that a former GRU officer was involved), much of the rest of these communications could not have been turned over to HPSCI when they requested documents in 2017. While some of the communications are limited to texts between Sater and Cohen, at least some of this paper trail (including Cohen’s meetings with Trump and Don Jr about it) would either reside at the campaign or Trump Organization (or both).

Remember, when SDNY got a warrant — one naming “many” thus far uncharged people — to raid Michael Cohen a month after subpoenaing Trump Organization, they explained there was a concern that documents would get destroyed.

One of the filings on Cohen (I’m still trying to chase down this reference) suggests Mueller had to get his communications on this matter from someone else. It seems likely Mueller had to get the text messages from Sater’s phone (or perhaps even from forensics on Cohen’s own phone).

Nevertheless, the public record identifies an abundant paper trail that should have been turned over to HPSCI, Senate Intelligence Committee (SSCI), and Senate Judiciary Committee (SJC), but could not have been, given what HPSCI reported last March. Additionally, Don Jr’s testimony to HPSCI is necessarily inconsistent with his SJC, yet still appears to include false claims about the Trump Tower deal (though some got cleaned up between his September testimony to SJC and his December testimony to HPSCI).

While Cohen was initially formally subpoenaed (though possibly only for Steele dossier documents), Trump Organization, Felix Sater, and the campaign were not.

Adam Schiff’s committee can make an important first step to clear up questions about the degree to which Trump only tacitly permitted Cohen, Sater, and his spawn to lie to Congress, or whether — as was the case with the June 9 response — his lawyers worked directly with witnesses to craft a false message to the public and Congress. If the June 9 response is any indication, there should be communications directly between Alan Futerfas or Garten with Cohen as he crafted his false story, which would go a long way to showing that their ultimate client suborned perjury.

Rosenstein’s intervention with Mueller’s office regarding Friday’s statement suggests that he, the Big Dick Toilet Salesman, or their boss, may be trying to tamp down discussions about Trump participating in Cohen’s lies. But because the discovery to HPSCI was so obviously incomplete, that committee has an available significant first step that could answer that question themselves, with little opportunity for DOJ to prevent that (and, given that the documents have already been identified in Buzzfeed’s story already, probably little risk of damaging the Mueller investigation in the way that further Cohen testimony might).

It may not be the kind of showboat witness testimony Schiff seems most interested in right now. But he has the ability to demand all the documents that show what details Cohen, Sater, and the President’s company and campaign knew to withhold to sustain Cohen’s lies. That — and a request for any communications about this matter, both in 2017 and in the wake of last year’s raid on Cohen — would go a long way towards answering a question that only Congress can deal with anyway: the degree to which Donald Trump orchestrated his lawyers’ lies about his ongoing business negotiations with Russia while Russia was helping him get elected.

House Intelligence Report

In approximately September 2015, he received a separate proposal for Trump Tower Moscow from a businessman named [Sater] According to Cohen, the concept of the project was that “[t]he Trump Organization would lend its name and management skills, but It was not going to borrow any money and it would not have any resulting debt for the purchase of the land and the building of the facility.”;~ Cohen worked on this idea with [Sater] and his company, the Bayrock Group, a real estate consultancy that had previously worked with the Trump Organization.

[gratuitous paragraph on what a colorful fellow Sater is]

(U) After signing a letter of intent with a local developer in October 2015,36 Cohen and [Sater] exchanged a number of emails and text messages in late 2015 detailing their attempts to move the project forward. For instance, in December 2015, [Sater] tried to get Cohen and candidate Trump to travel to Russia to work on the project.

(U) Several of [Sater’s] communications with Cohen involved an attempt to broker a meeting or other ties between candidate Trump and President Putin, and purported to convey Russian government interest in the project. Perhaps most notably, [Sater] told Cohen in a November 3, 2015, email, “[b]uddy our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer it.” 39 [Sater] continued that if “Putin gets on stage with Donald for a ribbon cutting for Trump Moscow, . .. Donald owns the republican nomination.” 10 This assertion apparently arose from [Sater’s] rather grandiose theory that cementing a deal with a hostile U.S. adversary would increase candidate Trump’s foreign policy bona fides.41

(U) Sater testified that his communications with Cohen regarding President Putin were ”mere puffery,” designed to elicit a response from the · Trump Organization to move the project along.42 [Sater] explained that “[u]ntil the bank writes the check, it’s all salesmanship and promotion to try to get many, many, many parties towards the center to try to get the deal done.” 43 Cohen similarly characterized [Sater] as “a salesman” who “uses very colorful language.”44

(U) When the project started proceeding too slowly for the Trump Organization,45 Cohen and [Sater] began to exchange acrimonious text messages. 46 As part of those text messages [Sater] told Cohen that President Putin’s people were backing the deal, including “this is thru Putins [sic] administration, and nothing gets done there without approval from the top,” as well as meetings in Russia with “Ministers” and “Putins [sic] top administration people.”] [Sater] also mentioned Dmitry Peskov (President Putin’s spokesman) would “most likely” be included. 48

(U) Cohen thus attempted to reach out to members of the Russian government in an attempt to make the project proceed, but apparently did not have any direct points of contact. for example, Cohen sent an email to a general press mailbox at the Kremlin in an effort to reach Peskov.49 Cohen’s message notes that he has been working with a local partner to build a Trump Tower in Moscow and that communications have stalled with the local partner.50 The email further seeks contact with Peskov so they may ” discuss the specifics as well as arrang[e] meetings with the appropriate individuals.”51 Based on the documents produced to the Committee, it does not appear Cohen ever received a response from anyone affiliated with the Russian government.

(U) [Sater’s] testimony likewise made clear that neither President Putin nor any element of the Russian government was actually directly involved in the project. For instance, in one exchange, [Sater] testified he was offering the Trump Organization access to one of his acquaintances. This acquaintance was an acquaintance of someone else who is “partners on a real estate development with a friend of Putin’s.” 52

[Sater] testified that he was unaware of “any direct meetings with any [Russian] government officials” in connection with the Trump Tower Moscow project.53 In addition, neither candidate Trump nor Cohen traveled to Russia in support of the deal.54

[U] It appears the Trump Tower Moscow project failed in January 2016.57 Trump Jr. testified that, as of early June 2016, he believed the Trump Tower Moscow project was dormant.53 The project failed because “[t]he due diligence did not come through” and the Trump Organization’s representative “lost confidence in the licensee, and [he] abandoned the project.”59 In fact, the Trump Organization did not have a confirmed site, so the deal never reached the point where the company was discussing financing arrangements for the project.60 The Committee determined that the Trump Tower Moscow project did not progress beyond an early developmental phase, and that this potential licensing deal was not related to the Trump campaign.61

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

Robert Mueller Finally Found a Way to Get Paul Manafort to Keep a Secret

Update: Or not. Manafort’s lawyers did submit a filing, with all their redactions easily reversed, showing that Manafort lied about his cooperation with his Russian handler Konstantin Kilimnik. I’ll do another post on that filing.

On one of the last days of last year, Rudy Giuliani repeated a refrain he made in August, dick-wagging Mueller to “put up or shut up” and release the report that Rudy has spun fables about. That taunt happened ten days after the House Intelligence Committee voted to release Roger Stone’s testimony transcript to Mueller. It happened eight days before Paul Manafort failed to submit a filing (at least in unsealed form) explaining whether it contests the government’s claims that he lied while purportedly cooperating with the Special Counsel. In between, Sam Patten submitted a status report in his own cooperation agreement — cooperation that would surely have covered some of the same questions about his Russian partner Konstantin Kilimnik that Manafort lied about — under seal.

I raise all these together because — while it’s a safe bet that something happened at some point with Manafort that remains under seal — any explanation about what that might be may have as much to do with Mueller’s request for Stone’s transcripts as it does Manafort’s own actions. After all, Adam Schiff has already committed to releasing all the HPSCI transcripts to Mueller; it’ll be only a matter of days until he constitutes the committee and has the new Democratic majority on it vote that through. So something has to explain why Mueller couldn’t wait — why Mueller needed Stone’s transcript on December 20 and not January 10.

Back when he was pretending to cooperate, Manafort did get questions about his lifelong buddy Roger Stone. Mueller put Manafort before the grand jury twice after that, possibly locking in the lies he had told. Notably, however, lies about Stone were not among those Mueller publicly aired (in heavily redacted form) last month. For that matter, neither were any responses Manafort made about Trump’s foreknowledge of the June 9 meeting, which we also know came up between Manafort and Mueller.

If I’m right that this is all connected, that still leaves several possibilities. Perhaps Mueller — as Andrew Weissmann suggested they might — charged Manafort for these additional lies or perhaps charged him in the conspiracy-in-chief, finally. Perhaps Manafort made yet another deal with prosecutors, proffering answers to the questions about Stone and Trump they really need him to answer for them, in an attempt to limit his own punishment for that conspiracy in chief.

Whatever it is, it has produced unusual silence from Manafort’s camp.

Whatever it is, we may find out in the next month. Sam Patten’s status report was extended for just one month. Perhaps we’re waiting on SCOTUS’ response to the Mystery Appellant’s plea. Perhaps we’re waiting on the DC Circuit’s response to Andrew Miller’s challenge.

Until then … silence.

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

Someone Has Already Been Charged for Most of the Actions the Steele Dossier Attributes to Michael Cohen

Because of a McClatchy story claiming two new details corroborating a Steele dossier claim that Michael Cohen had a meeting with people serving the interests of Putin’s Administration, people have gotten themselves into a tizzy again about what a smoking gun it would be if the allegations in the Steele dossier were proven true.

It’s an utterly bizarre tizzy, both because the allegations in the Steele dossier not only don’t match some more damning allegations Cohen has already pled guilty to, but because Mueller has already charged other people for some of the allegations about Cohen made in the dossier. In other words, the McClatchy story has people excited about the wrong allegations, rather than focusing on the damning things Cohen (and others) have already been charged with.

Indeed, most functional allegations made in the Steele dossier have already been publicly explained in either court filings or sworn testimony. That doesn’t rule out that Cohen had a role in some of them, however. Indeed, one detail from Cohen’s SDNY plea — that among the things Trump Organization reimbursed Cohen for in January 2017 was a $50,000 payment to a tech services company — actually could confirm a detail made in the dossier. But generally, Mueller and other entities have already explained away many of the allegations made against Cohen in the dossier.

I’ve put the substantive claims the Steele dossier made about Cohen below. I’ll take each and show public reporting that explains who did something attributed to Cohen in the dossier.

Cohen met with Russian Presidential Administration Legal Department officials

The central allegation involving Cohen is that he met with people from Putin’s Presidential Administration’s legal department or, in a later version, someone acting on their behalf.

By the time that allegedly happened in August or maybe September, however, Cohen had already established a paper trail with someone more central than some anonymous lawyers. Cohen’s Mueller plea describes Cohen receiving an email on January 20, 2016 from Dmitry Peskov’s personal assistant and shortly thereafter calling her. Somehow Mueller knows that the assistant “asked detailed questions and took notes.” The day after Cohen spoke with the personal assistant, someone from Putin’s office called Felix Sater.

Given that Cohen made reservations to travel to St. Petersburg (for a possible meeting directly with Putin) on June 9, then canceled those reservations on June 14 (after Russia’s role in the DNC hack was made public), those communications about a Trump Tower deal surely tie to the hack-and-leak operation.

It’s certainly possible that, later in the summer (or in the fall, during Cohen’s known trips to London), Cohen would attempt to reschedule that meeting, though the purpose was originally and probably would remain more central to a quid pro quo trading a Trump Tower and election assistance for sanctions relief and policy considerations. But having already exchanged easily collectable communications directly with Peskov’s office (whom the dossier calls “the main protagonist” in the operation), it’s not clear how helpful using Rossotrudnichestvo would be to hide the Trump role. Furthermore, there are other known cut-outs for related matters, including Steele dossier source Sergei Millian and the Agalrovs.

Cohen aimed to contain the Paul Manafort scandal

The three Cohen reports in October all claim that Cohen got involved to tamp down scandals connecting Trump to Russia. That’s not, at all, far-fetched. After all, Cohen was Trump’s fixer and he told a bunch of lies to Congress in an effort to hide Trump’s Moscow Project.

That said, a filing explaining why Mueller might have to mention the Trump campaign in Manafort’s aborted DC trial and a filing in Alex Van der Zwaan’s prosecution show that Manafort and Rick Gates themselves — with the direct involvement of Oleg Deripaska associate Konstantin Kilimnik — worked to contain this scandal.

As Mueller laid out in numerous ways, the Manafort-Gates-Kilimnik team went on a crime spree in the fall trying to cover up their past activities with Russian-backed oligarchs.

Indeed, that a claim that Cohen managed this pushback (and its timing) appeared in the dossier is particularly tantalizing for two reasons. First, one of the things Manafort reportedly lied about after agreeing to cooperate with Mueller pertained a boat trip he took with Tom Barrack; Mueller seems to know that Kilimnik joined the two men. If that happened, then it would show that someone did indeed hold a meeting in August to contain the damage of Manafort’s burgeoning scandals, but that meeting would have been between a key Trump funder, Manafort himself, and someone suspected of ongoing ties with GRU, the agency that conducted the DNC hack.

More intriguing still, as I noted above, Kilimnik was Manafort’s go-between with Oleg Deripaska. That’s interesting because in 2016, Christopher Steele was attempting to convince DOJ’s Bruce Ohr that Deripaska could be a useful source on Russian organized crime. If Steele thought Deripaska would be a useful source for DOJ, he may well have been relying on Deripaska himself. If so, the report that Cohen (who in fact did have communications with Peskov!) was containing the damage of Manafort’s ties to Russian oligarchs might be an attempt to distract from the way that a Russian oligarch was actually working through his handler, Kilimnik, to minimize that damage himself.

Cohen aimed to contain the Carter Page scandal

It likewise seems unlikely that Cohen was the one to try to contain the Carter Page scandal. While he shouldn’t be relied on for anything, several claims in Page’s testimony to HPSCI provide an alternate explanation about who was containing the scandal tied to him.

Page denied ever speaking to Cohen.

But he did describe Keith Kellogg discussing the allegations with him. And he did describe Steve Bannon, both by himself and with the assistance of Trump’s election lawfirm, Jones Day, trying to minimize the Page scandal.

That’s consistent with a number of on-the-record claims from the campaign in the days following Page’s resignation in September. Which is to say, minimizing the Page scandal fell to the campaign itself.

The people who carried out the information operation had been paid by Russia and Trump

The three initial reports on Cohen came, in suspiciously quick succession, in October, after the number of reporters briefed on the Steele dossier started to expand.

The one other report implicating Cohen was the December 13 report, based on intelligence Steele claimed he obtained for “free.”

The report is most notable for the legal battle it caused. The allegations most clearly resemble what Adrian Chen had identified and attributed to the Internet Research Agency year earlier and there had been extensive reporting on it all through the campaign. But instead of blaming Internet Research Agency, the report blames all that on Webzilla. And Webzilla’s owner, Aleksei Gubarev was sufficiently comfortable facing the prospect of discovery to sue BuzzFeed right away (though he lost his lawsuit a few weeks back).

There’s another reference in the report to a long debunked claim made by the Russians — that a Romanian hacker was involved, presumably an allusion to Guccifer 2.0’s half-hearted claim to be Romanian.

Still, much of that last report instead presented the most inflammatory claim in the entire dossier: that Trump’s campaign had helped pay for the information operation targeting Hillary.

On its face, that claim makes zero sense. The scenario as a whole assumes that the hack was done by independent hackers coerced to work for the FSB — perhaps people like Yevgeniy Nikulin, who had already been arrested in Prague by this point. As far as Mueller has shown publicly, however, the information operation was instead done by two entities: Russians in the employ of Putin crony Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s Internet Research Agency and officers in the employ of Russia’s military intelligence agency, GRU. In indictments of both conspirators, Mueller provided details about how the money was handled.

So we’ve already got explanations for how the information operation was funded: by Prigozhin and the Russian state, using a range of money laundering techniques to hide Russia’s role. We even have evidence that — contrary to the claim about information warriors’ loyalty to Sergei Ivanov — Prighozhin’s employees even sucked up to him in one of their dry runs getting Americans to perform IRL actions.

Cohen arranged deniable cash payments to hackers working in Europe against the Clinton campaign

As noted, the December report involving Cohen made the most incendiary claim of all: that the Trump organization planned to pay for some of the hackers that targeted Hillary.

In spite of the fact that Mueller has already explained how the two main groups of participants in the information operation got funded, this allegation gets more interesting given details laid out in Cohen’s SDNY plea. Several of his SDNY crimes, after all, involving making deniable payments, in that case to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal.

That shows Cohen’s modus operandi for paying off Trump’s illicit debts. Mind you, it shows that he didn’t use cash. He laundered the funds using more sophisticated money laundering. But it does show that Cohen was the guy who did that kind of thing.

Which makes this detail included — but not explained — in the same plea document intriguing.

Cohen paid some tech company $50,000 in connection with the campaign.

That’s not a whole lot of money, in any case. And if it went to pay off part of the information operation, it would have to have involved some part of the operation not yet publicly identified. Even the one known instance of Trump supporters reaching out to hackers in Europe — Peter Smith’s reported consultation of Weev — is known to have been paid for by other means (in that case, Smith’s own fundraising).

Still, it’s certainly possible that that $50,000 went to some still unidentified entity that played a role in the information operation that, for some reason, didn’t get paid for by Putin’s cronies or the Russian state.

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


18 October

Speaking separately to the same compatriot in mid-October 2016, a Kremlin insider with direct access to the leadership confirmed that a key role in the secret TRUMP campaign/Kremlin was being played by the Republican candidates personal lawyer Michael COHEN. [redacted line]

19 October

1. Speaking in confidence to a longstanding compatriot friend in mid-October 2016, a Kremlin insider highlighted the importance of Republican presidential candidate Donald TRUMP’s lawyer, Michael COHEN, in the ongoing secret liaison relationship between the New York tycoon’s campaign and the Russian leadership. COHEN’s role had grown following the departure of Paul MANNAFORT as campaign manager in August 2016. Prior to that MANNAFORT had led for the TRUMP side.

2. According to the Kremlin insider, COHEN now was heavily engaged in a cover up and damage limitation operation in the attempt to prevent the full details of relationship with Russia being exposed. In pursuit of this aim, COHEN had met secretly with several Russian Presidential Administration (PA) Legal Department officials in an EU country in August 2016. The immediate issues had been to contain further scandals involving MANNAFORT’s commercial and political role in Russia/Ukraine and to limit the damage arising from exposure of former TRUMP foreign policy advisor, Carter PAGE’s secret meetings with Russian leadership figures in Moscow the previous month. The overall objective had been to “to sweep it all under the carpet and make sure no connections could be fully established or proven”

3. Things had become even “hotter” since August on the TRUMP-Russia track. According to the Kremlin insider, this had meant that direct contact between the TRUMP team and Russia had been farmed out by the Kremlin to trusted agents of influence working in pro-government policy institutes like that of Law and Comparative Jurisprudence. COHEN however continued to lead for the TRUMP team.

[snip]

The Kremlin insider was unsure of the identities of the PA officials with whom COHEN met secretly in August, or the exact date/s and locations of the meeting/s. There were significant internal security barriers being erected in the PA as the TRUMP issue became more controversial and damaging. However s/he continued to try to obtain these.

20 October

1. Speaking to a compatriot and friend on 19 October 2016, a Kremlin insider provided further details of reported clandestine meeting/s between Republican presidential candidate, Donald lawyer Michael COHEN and Kremlin representatives in August 2016. Although the communication between them had to be cryptic for security reasons, the Kremlin insider clearly indicated to his/her friend that the reported contact/s took place in Prague, Czech Republic.

2. Continuing on this theme, the Kremlin insider highlighted the importance of the Russian parastatal organisation, Rossotrudnichestvo, in this contact between TRUMP campaign representative/3 and Kremlin officials. Rossotrudnichestvo was being used as cover for this relationship and its office in Prague may well have been used to host the COHEN Russian Presidential Administration (PA) meeting/s. It was considered a “plausibly deniable” vehicle for this, whilst remaining entirely under Kremlin control.

3. The Kremlin insider went on to identify leading pro-PUTIN Duma figure, Konstantin KOSACHEV (Head of the Foreign Relations Committee) as an important figure in the TRUMP campaign-Kremlin liaison operation. KOSACHEV, also “plausibly deniable” being part of the Russian legislature rather than executive, had facilitated the contact in Prague and by implication, may have attended the meeting/s with COHEN there in August.

Company Comment

We reported previously, in our Company Intelligence Report 2016/135 of 19 October 2016 from the same source, that COHEN met officials from the PA Legal Department clandestinely in an EU country in August 2016. This was in order to clean up the mess left behind by western media revelations of TRUMP ex-campaign manager corrupt relationship with the former pro-Russian YANUKOVYCH regime in Ukraine and TRUMP foreign policy advisor, Carter secret meetings in Moscow with senior regime figures in July 2016. According to the Kremlin advisor, these meeting/s were originally scheduled for COHEN in Moscow but shifted to what was considered an operationally “soft” EU country when it was judged too compromising for him to travel to the Russian capital.

13 December

1. We reported previously (2016/135 and /136) on secret meeting/s held in Prague, Czech Republic in August 2016 between then Republican presidential candidate Donald TRUMP’s representative, Michael COHEN and his interlocutors from the Kremlin working under cover of Russian ‘NGO’ Rossotrudnichestvo.

2. [two lines redacted] provided further details of these meeting/s and associated anti- CLINTON/Democratic Party operations. COHEN had been accompanied to Prague by 3 colleagues and the timing of the visit was either in the last week of August or the first week of September. One of their main Russian interlocutors was Oleg SOLODUKHIN operating under Rossotrudnichestvo cover. According to [redacted] the agenda comprised questions on how deniable cash payments were to be made to hackers who had worked in Europe under Kremlin direction against the CLINTON campaign and various contingencies for covering up these operations and Moscow’s secret liaison with the TRUMP team more generally.

3. [redacted] reported that over the period March-September 2016 a company called XBT/Webzilla and its affiliates had been using botnets and porn traffic to transmit viruses, plant bugs, steal data and conduct “altering operations” against the Democratic Party leadership. Entities linked to one Aleksei GUBAROV were involved and he and another hacking expert, both recruited under duress by the FSB, Seva KAPSUGOVICH, were significant players in this operation. In Prague, COHEN agreed contingency plans for various scenarios to protect the Operation, but in particular what was to be done in the event that Hillary CLINTON won the presidency. It was important in this event that all cash payments owed were made quickly and discreetly and that cyber and other operators were stood down/able to go effectively to ground to cover their traces. (We reported earlier that the involvement of political operatives Paul MANAFORT and Carter PAGE in the secret TRUMP-Kremlin liaison had been exposed in the media in the run-up to Prague and that damage limitation of these also was discussed by COHEN with the Kremlin representatives).

In terms of practical measures to be taken, it was agreed by the two sides in Prague to stand down various “Romanian hackers” (presumably based in their homeland or neighboring eastern Europe) and that other operatives should head for a bolt-hole in Plovdiv, Bulgaria where they should “lay low”. On payments, IVANOV’s associate said that the operatives involved had been paid by both TRUMP’s team and the Kremlin, though their orders and ultimately loyalty lay with IVANOV, as Head of the PA and thus ultimately responsible for the operation, and his designator successor/s after he was dismissed by president PUTIN in connection with the anti-CLINTON operation in mid August.

Trump Risks that Every Action Matt Whitaker Takes as Attorney General Can Be Legally Challenged

George Conway (Kellyanne’s spouse, whom Trump considered to be Solicitor General) continues his habit of criticizing Trump from a conservative legal stance. This time, he joins Neal Katyal, author of the Special Counsel regulations under which Mueller operates, to argue that Trump’s appointment of Matt Whitaker is unconstitutional because Trump can’t name someone who hasn’t been Senate confirmed when a Senate confirmed candidate is available. The whole op-ed — which relies on a recent Clarence Thomas concurrence — is worth reading, but my favorite line is where they call Whitaker a constitutional nobody.

We cannot tolerate such an evasion of the Constitution’s very explicit, textually precise design. Senate confirmation exists for a simple, and good, reason. Constitutionally, Matthew Whitaker is a nobody. His job as Mr. Sessions’s chief of staff did not require Senate confirmation. (Yes, he was confirmed as a federal prosecutor in Iowa, in 2004, but President Trump can’t cut and paste that old, lapsed confirmation to today.) For the president to install Mr. Whitaker as our chief law enforcement officer is to betray the entire structure of our charter document.

I’m just as interested in what three rising Democratic House Chairs (House Judiciary Committee’s Jerrold Nadler, HPSCI’s Adam Schiff, and Oversight and Government Reform’s Elijah Commings) did, along with Dianne Feinstein. In the wake of Jeff Sessions’ resignation, they sent letters to every relevant department warning them to preserve all records on the Mueller investigation and Sessions’ departure. In their press release, they referred to Sessions departure not as a resignation, but as a firing.

Last night, House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D-CA), Oversight and Government Reform Committee Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-MD), and Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein sent letters to top Administration officials demanding the preservation of all documents and materials relevant to the work of the Office of the Special Counsel or the firing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

In their letters, the Members wrote:  “Committees of the United States Congress are conducting investigations parallel to those of the Special Counsel’s office, and preservation of records is critical to ensure that we are able to do our work without interference or delay. Committees will also be investigating Attorney General Sessions’ departure. We therefore ask that you immediately provide us with all orders, notices, and guidance regarding preservation of information related to these matters and investigations.”

Letters were sent to the White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, FBI Director Chris Wray, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, CIA Director Gina Haspel, Deputy U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Robert Khuzami, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, NSA Director Paul Nakasone, IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig, and Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker. [my emphasis]

Even the letters themselves, while they don’t use the word “firing,” emphasize the involuntary nature of Sessions’ ouster.

Our understanding is that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been removed at the request of the President. We ask that you confirm that the Justice Department has preserved all materials of related to any investigations by the Special Counsel’s office, including any related investigations conducted by any component of the Justice Department. We also ask that you preserve all the materials related to the departure of Attorney General Sessions.

While it’s not clear whether they more basis to believe this was a firing rather than a resignation, they’re proceeding as if it was, legally, a firing. That’s crucial because the only way that Whitaker’s appointment, as someone who is not Senate confirmed, would be legal under the Vacancies Reform Act is if Sessions legally resigned. The Democrats seem to suspect they can argue he did not.

And that’s important because (as Katyal and Conway argue) if his appointment is not legal, than nothing he does as Attorney General is valid.

President Trump’s installation of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general of the United States after forcing the resignation of Jeff Sessions is unconstitutional. It’s illegal. And it means that anything Mr. Whitaker does, or tries to do, in that position is invalid.

Plus, by demanding preservation of the records and framing this in terms that suggest Whitaker’s appointment was not legal (I’m not sure I agree, but encourage HJC to ask Katyal and Conway to argue the case for them), HJC lays out a basis to claim standing to challenge this, particularly if and when Whitaker makes a decision (such as preventing HJC from obtaining any report Mueller writes) that will cause them injury as an independent branch of government.

Again, I’m not sure I agree with the Katyal/Conway legal argument, though if HJC can prove that Sessions was fired then it’s clear Whitaker was not legally appointed. But these two challenges pose a real risk for Trump. It risks not just decisions pertaining to the Mueller investigation, but even things like surveillance approvals, can be challenged by anyone harmed by them (who gets notice of it). That’s an unbelievable risk for a position as important as Attorney General.

Back when a guy named Robert Mueller had his FBI tenure extended two years in 2011, Tom Coburn worried that even that action, done with Senate approval, would make the approvals Mueller made under Section 215 (this was before we knew the scope of the phone dragnet) legally suspect.

Could you envision colorable challenge to use of 215 authority during your 2 year extension of power?

While I have no problem with you staying on for two more years, I do have concerns we could get mired in court battles [over 215] that would make you ineffective in your job.

Coburn was worried about one (or a few) surveillance programs. The Attorney General touches far more than the FBI Director, and Trump’s DOJ could spend just as much time in court trying to defend the actions of his hatchetman.

And it looks like both the author of the statute governing Mueller’s appointment and the people who will oversee DOJ in a few months have real questions about the legality of Whitaker’s appointment.

On Corey Lewandowski’s Big Legal Bills and Mueller’s Deadline from Rosenstein

Quarterly political spending reports are out and they provide some hints about which current or former Trump aides have been spending a lot of time with Mueller’s investigators. The NYT reported the other day that the Trump campaign has paid $173,000 in the past quarter to the law firm representing Corey Lewandowski.

The campaign also paid $173,000 to Mintz Levin, a law firm that has helped Mr. Trump’s first campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, handle inquiries related to the Russia investigations.

The suggestion that Lewandowski has spent quality time with Mueller’s team of late is particularly interesting, for several reasons. First, Lewandowski had a number of key interactions with George Papadopoulos regarding the outreach from Russia, including drafting Trump’s first foreign policy speech, which Papadopoulos reportedly told Ivan Timofeev was a sign that the campaign was interested in pursuing a Trump-Putin meeting.

April 27: Papadopoulos to Corey Lewandowski

“to discuss Russia’s interest in hosting Mr. Trump. Have been receiving a lot of calls over the last month about Putin wanting to host him and the team when the time is right.”

April 27: Papadopoulos authored speech that he tells Timofeev is “the signal to meet”

[snip]

May 4, Papadopoulos to Lewandowski (forwarding Timofeev email):

“What do you think? Is this something we want to move forward with?”

May 14, Papadopoulos to Lewandowski:

“Russian govemment[] ha[s] also relayed to me that they are interested in hostingMr. Trump.”

[snip]

June 19: Papadopoulos to Lewandowski

“New message from Russia”: “The Russian ministry of foreign affairs messaged and said that if Mr. Trump is unable to make it to Russia, if campaign rep (me or someone else) can make it for meetings? I am willing to make the trip off the record if it’s in the interest of Mr. Trump and the campaign to meet specific people.”

Lewandowski was also the person that the House Intelligence Committee treated most curiously. HPSCI originally interviewed him in January, during the phase when HPSCI seemed to be interviewing key witnesses to be able to pass on to Trump how they would testify. At that point, Mueller had not yet contacted Lewandowski.

Even though Lewandowski never worked in the Administration, in that first appearance with HPSCI, he invoked privilege over parts of his testimony. On March 8, HPSCI brought him back, the very last witness in their so-called investigation. After his three hour appearance, Adam Schiff discussed subpoenaing Lewnadowski to compel him to answer questions he had still refused to answer (Schiff had also demanded HPSCI compel full testimony from Hope Hicks). In the same discussion of compelling Lewandowski to answer questions,  Schiff suggested the committee should subpoena Stephen Miller.

After Lewandowski’s testimony had wrapped, Schiff raised a new name he wanted to speak to: White House aide Stephen Miller.

Which is curious because WSJ reports that the legal defense fund supporting specific former campaign staffers paid Akin Gump $115,000.

The fund directed most of its third-quarter spending to legal consulting, paying nearly $115,000 to the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP and another $8,500 to Schertler & Onorato LLP. The latter firm has represented Keith Schiller, Mr. Trump’s longtime bodyguard who was interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee as part of its Russia investigation.

It’s not publicly known which former campaign staffer Akin Gump represents, but two of the few key Trump people whose lawyers have not been publicly identified are Brad Parscale (though the campaign would probably pay for his legal defense at this point) and Miller.

Miller is the person whom Papadopoulos has said he would have told about the Russian offer of emails had he actually connected by phone the day he learned of it.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports (possibly based on Congressional sources) that Mueller is preparing to offer “reports” on his investigation.

Mueller is close to rendering judgment on two of the most explosive aspects of his inquiry: whether there were clear incidents of collusion between Russia and Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, and whether the president took any actions that constitute obstruction of justice, according to one of the officials, who asked not to be identified speaking about the investigation.

[snip]

Rosenstein has made it clear that he wants Mueller to wrap up the investigation as expeditiously as possible, another U.S. official said.

This is actually not at all surprising. Trump is going to start firing people after the election, so Mueller’s ability to work unimpeded may be dramatically curtailed shortly after that. If he’s going to bring a big indictment, he has to do so in that time frame. Plus, after securing Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen’s cooperation, he has cooperating witnesses on all the elements of a conspiracy Mueller had identified by last March, not to mention slam dunk obstruction charges tied to floated pardons. Everyone is scheduled to start being sentenced after the election, too. With the hints he has gotten extensive Lewandowski testimony (and reports that he had obtained far more documentation pertaining to Don Jr’s actions), it would suggest that Mueller has at least tracked the game of telephone between Russians offering emails to the candidate anxious to accept that offer.

So this tells us what we might expect: the denouement of the Mueller investigation will happen, unless Trump works to undercut it, just after the election.

Update: In their plan for further investigation released in March, HPSCI Dems described that in his second committee appearance Lewandowski refused, “to answer questions regarding his communication with President Trump regarding former FBI Director Comey, Special Counsel Mueller, and Attorney General Sessions, as well as his communications with certain administration officials pertaining to the June 9, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower.” So it sounds like he’s also got evidence pertaining to the June 9 meeting.

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

If You Have Rick Gates (and Omarosa) You Don’t Need George Papadopoulos

The Trumpian bubble — likely led by right wing legal talking head Victoria Toensing — may be about to lead a young couple to do something insanely stupid.

Yesterday, Simona Mangiante Papadopoulos, George’s wife, tweeted out a request for a pro bono lawyer for her spouse.

A few hours later, she tweeted out notice that she would follow up with those who have specific expertise.

Simona Papadopoulos wants to ditch George’s plea deal at the stupidest possible moment

As she explained to Chuck Ross, who reports from deep within that Trumpian bubble, she and George are thinking of backing out of his plea deal (at the stupidest imaginable time), and instead suing the government and taking their chances with the evidence the government had in hand when Papadopoulos pled guilty to charges that undercharged his conduct, as well as the evidence the government obtained over the course of a year of Papadopoulos pitching for and then engaging in a plea deal.

“George should drop off his plea agreement, in my opinion,” Mangiante Papadopoulos told The Daily Caller News Foundation when contacted after her tweet.

“The idea is to find a lawyer to drop off his plea agreement and sue the government,” she added, noting that she and her husband plan to wait until after a court hearing on Friday to make a final decision.

[snip]

Papadopoulos faces sentencing in the case on Sept. 7. The special counsel’s office will submit its recommendations for sentencing this Friday. While lying to the FBI carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, defendants in similar cases often receive six months or less in jail.

Remember: one reason Papadopoulos, relying on the advice of some of the more competent attorneys in this matter, pled guilty is because the FBI had evidence he had accepted payment from an Israeli asking for covert assistance. That’s on top of the lies to the FBI he already pled guilty to, not to mention the clear obstruction of deleting his Facebook account, and a key early role in setting up a conspiracy with Russia. When Stefan Halper (working for the FBI and therefore likely recording conversations) discussed these matters with Papadopoulos in September 2016, Papadopoulos admitted that being involved in them would amount to treason (it’s not treason, but his opinion that it might be makes his later actions far more damning).

This is what the Papadopouloses are reportedly entertaining, due no doubt to an entirely mistaken understanding of their status, one obtained by listening to people like Victoria Toensing and Chuck Ross.

Several things seem to have happened to get us to this point.

Mueller almost certainly has several other witnesses who can attest to knowledge Russians were offering emails

Consider: along with whatever else Rick Gates gave Mueller’s team in February when he became state’s evidence, he also probably described what Paul Manafort (and possibly, Don Jr) understood about the dirt Russians were offering to the Trump campaign when both attended the June 9 Trump Tower meeting. Indeed, one of the details included in Papadopoulos’ plea deal is that Gates and Manafort discussed how to respond to Russian (and Greek) offers for a meeting.

On or about May 21, 2016, defendant PAPADOPOULOS emailed another highranking Campaign official, with the subject line “Request from Russia to meet Mr. Trump.” The email included the May 4 MFA Email and added: “Russia has been eager to meet Mr. Trump for quite sometime and have been reaching out to me to discuss.”2

2 The government notes that the official forwarded defendant PAPADOPOULOS’s email to another Campaign official (without including defendant PAPADOPOULOS) and stated: “Let[‘]s discuss. We need someone to communicate that OT is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal.”

We’ve also just learned that Omarosa also provided evidence to Mueller’s team in February, including her claim that Don Sr knew the Russians were offering emails before WikiLeaks released them.

That detail — that the campaign knew Russians were offering emails as dirt to help Trump — was one of the things that might have helped Papadopoulos avoid a prison sentence. But since he pled, others have almost certainly provided substantially the same information, based both on what Papadopoulos told them, and on what they in turn told their superiors on the campaign or what their superiors told them.

That is, Papadopoulos has served his purpose, and there are now better placed or more credible witnesses for any conspiracy trial.

Victoria Toensing likely recruited the Papadopouloses for her propaganda mission

Then there’s the most likely explanation for how the Papadopouloses got themselves in this position, considering ditching a plea deal and instead taking their chances with the evidence George participated in the case in chief.

Back in March, Chuck Ross started a series of articles — for which one or both of the Papadopouloses, Sam Clovis, and probably Clovis’ (and briefly, Trump’s) lawyer Toensing, were sources — naming lifetime GOP operative Stefan Halper as an informant (presenting evidence he sought to find out what Papadopoulos knew about the emails, possibly cultivated Carter Page, and got a meeting with Clovis to get an introduction to Papadopoulos). If you didn’t look too closely (as Ross did not) the stories served the Devin Nunes effort to suggest the investigation into Trump’s conspiracy with the Russians was based on a rocky foundation. If you looked closely, however, Ross’ series was actually quite damning. It confirmed Adam Schiff’s revelation that the Russians had specified that they intended to leak the dirt they were dealing to help Trump and that Papadopoulos believed, at the time he lied to the FBI about his interactions with Joseph Mifsud, that if he were involved in “hacking” emails it would amount to treason.

To those trying to rescue Trump from his own conspiracy exposure, the Papadopouloses were an easy mark. Perhaps offering a promise of a pardon, they got the two to break one of the requirements of George’s plea: that he not communicate with any of a list of co-conspirators, directly or indirectly. Surely Sam Clovis was on that list, not to mention the President.

That may explain why, as Nunes and his cronies started demanding every record pertaining to Halper, the government moved towards sentencing Papadopoulos, without waiting for him to testify in any trial.

There have been signs before yesterday that the government was not going to agree that Papadopoulos fulfilled his end of the plea deal. But yesterday is a pretty good sign that George doesn’t expect to get the sweet deal he might once have gotten, probably no prison time, had Papadopoulos not bought into conspiracy theories offered by people representing other clients.

The misleading mirror Papadopoulos would see in the Trumpian bubble

Much of this seems to be driven by Simona. I don’t have any reason to credit the rampant speculation she’s actually part of Russia’s influence operation. Rather, I just think she’s naive, working in a foreign country, and vastly underestimating the legal jeopardy the life she married into is in, in part because she is consuming shitty reporting from people within the Trumpian bubble.

Of which the Chuck Ross article reporting all this is a splendid example.

On top of omitting the fact that Papadopoulos obstructed the Russian investigation by deleting his Facebook and cell phone, and omitting Papadopoulos’ very damning comment about treason, Ross spins everything so as to totally misinform the frothy right, much to Simona’s misfortune.

For example, Ross offers Simona’s explanation up, as if it helps the legal case.

Mangiante Papadopoulos told TheDCNF that Papadopoulos believed Mifsud was referring to emails Clinton deleted from her private email server.

While this line has managed to confuse the frothy right about whether, in accepting dirt leading into the June 9 meeting, it would still amount to accepting a thing of value from a foreigner, it doesn’t much matter what Papadopoulos believed, either on April 26, 2016 or on January 27, 2017 (and repeated again a month later). What matters is after having learned the Russians wanted to release some emails that would help the Trump campaign, the campaign took overt actions accordingly.

Then Ross suggests that because some late summer meetings didn’t take place, it absolves Papadopoulos of initiating an effort that led to other meetings taking place.

Papadopoulos also attempted to set up meetings between campaign officials and Russian government officials, but according to the statement of offense submitted by the special counsel’s office, the meetings never took place.

Nope! George still took overt actions as part of a conspiracy, to say nothing of agreeing to join the conspiracy over and over.

Ross then suggests that because Papadopoulos didn’t have a lawyer at the first of two meetings at which he lied to the FBI, it means he didn’t commit a crime.

Prosecutors claim that during a Jan. 26, 2017 [sic], interview, Papadopoulos, who did not have a lawyer present, falsely claimed he met Mifsud prior to joining the campaign in March 2016. But Papadopulos first met Mifsud about a week after learning he would join the Trump team.

Remember, Papadopoulos not only repeated this lie a month later, with the benefit of counsel, but also swore that it was a lie when he pled guilty.

Ross then repeats a canard he has repeated earlier, that by offering up Mifsud’s name (but hiding Ivan Timofeev, the Russian he was engaging in call and response with) it’s exonerating for George.

As evidence that Papadopoulos did not intend to deceive the FBI, Mangiante Papadopoulos claims Papadopoulos volunteered Mifsud’s name to the agents who interviewed him.

Ross pretends that Mueller has questions, regarding Alexander Downer’s testimony, that only a bunch of frothy congressmen have questions about.

Details remain vague, but Downer allegedly claimed Papadopoulos mentioned Russia had derogatory information about Clinton.

Republican lawmakers have also questioned the premise of the FBI investigation and Downer’s role in the matter. One question has been why the information from Downer took over two months to reach the FBI.

Ross then repeats a whole bunch of baseless conspiracies about Stefan Halper — the very conspiracies that contributing to likely got the Papadopouloses in trouble — as if they were true because Devin Nunes said they were.

She also believes that government officials attempted to set up her husband with a series of approaches by government informants, including former Cambridge professor Stefan Halper.

[snip]

Halper, a veteran of four Republican presidential administrations, also made contact with Trump campaign advisers Carter Page and Sam Clovis.

The FBI may use informants at an assessment level. By the time Halper approached Papadopoulos, the investigation into the Trump campaign was a predicated full investigation. Ergo, it doesn’t help Papadopoulos’ case that the FBI used an informant, because that’s what the FBI does, with the long-time explicit knowledge of Devin Nunes and everyone else who oversees the FBI.

And finally, Ross indulges Simona’s fantasy of spinning the approach from Sergei Millian (pretending this approach was out of the blue, rather than something discussed with Ivan Timofeev in one of the Facebook communications Papadopoulos tried to hide) as a second use of an informant rather than a pretty obvious part of Russia’s outreach to Trump and his surrogates, dangling a Trump Tower deal.

Millian contacted Papadopoulos out of the clear blue on LinkedIn on July 22, 2016. The pair became fast friends, meeting several times during the course of the campaign. Mangiante Papadopoulos says George claimed Millian offered him $30,000 a month to work on Russian energy issues from inside the Trump administration.

I get that Chuck Ross’ job is to feed the frothy right, to present conspiracies in isolation from the public information that would pop those conspiracies.

But it seems like these two are feeding each other, Simona giving Ross the latest scoop on his serial conspiracy theory, and Ross feeding her insane plan to ditch a plea deal and face what are likely to be foreign agent and conspiracy charges instead of whatever sentence Mueller pitches tomorrow.

I mean, George is a self-important little shit who showed willingness to sell out his country (to at least two other countries) for a bit of fast money.

But he’s being used, badly, here.

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

Three Data Points on George Papadopoulos

The frothy right has grabbed ahold of this Chuck Ross story, thinking it helps their case, without realizing that the main finding in it actually confirms something Adam Schiff noted in February (which Ross struggled to understand at the time). So I’d like to point out what Papadpoulos said when.

May 10: “Russians might use material that they have on Hillary Clinton in the lead-up to the election, which may be damaging”

Per Ross’ quotes from Alexander Downer’s April 28 interview, here’s what Papadopoulos told Downer on May 10, 2016.

“During that conversation, [Papadopoulos] mentioned the Russians might use material that they have on Hillary Clinton in the lead-up to the election, which may be damaging,” Downer told The Australian.

Downer said he felt the information “seemed quite interesting” and “was worth reporting.”

That’s mostly consistent with a redacted passage of the Schiff memo, which as I noted at the time must say something to the effect of Russia said it had materials that that it would release to help Trump, though given the public record I suspect there’s a dispute about whether hurting Hillary in a two-person race amounts to helping Trump.

George Papadopoulos revealed [redacted] that individuals linked to Russia, who took interest in Papadopoulos as a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, informed him in late April 2016 that Russia [two lines redacted]. Papadopoulos’s disclosure, moreover, occurred against the backdrop  of Russia’s aggressive covert campaign to influence our elections, which the FBI was already monitoring.

That Papadopoulos had not told Downer in May they were emails was made clear by the next line in the Schiff memo, which made it clear HPSCI (but not the US government) only learned Russians had said the damaging material was email (which, if Papadopoulos can be trusted, he took to be the 30,000 emails that Hillary deleted, which the Russians would only have had if they had previously hacked her) when Papadopoulos’ plea was released.

We would later learn in Papadopoulos’s plea that the information the Russians could assist by anonymously releasing were thousands of Hillary Clinton emails.

In any case, Downer’s public statements, as summarized by Ross, confirm what Schiff claimed back in February: Papadopoulos told a virtual stranger in May 2016 that someone had recently approached him, a newly-minuted Trump advisor, and told him Russia had damaging material on Hillary that they were thinking of releasing closer to the election.

Downer makes it clear he reported the Papadopoulos within 48 hours because it “seemed quite interesting” and “was worth reporting.” The Australians didn’t tell the US, however, until July, after the DNC release made it look like Papadopoulos had predicted that event several months earlier. In response, the FBI opened a CI investigation, and Peter Strzok  got on a plane and interviewed Downer. It’s possible he checked in with Stefan Halper, who had been chatting up Carter Page, about whom the FBI had had enough concern to interview him back in March, for a few weeks. It’s also possible Strzok asked the Brits what they knew about Joseph Mifsud (or it’s possible NSA started targeting Mifsud and captured his communications with the Russians). It’s also possible that the anonymous “Trump campaign policy adviser [who] testified [to SJC] that Mr. Papadopoulos informed him that he had information on Hillary Clinton from the Russians,” went to the FBI in the wake of the DNC release, so before the FBI (presumably) asked Halper to ask Papadopoulos more questions.

Whatever happened, in September, Halper met with Sam Clovis and from that basically created a reason to invite Papadopoulos to London to do research.

Mid-September: “Hacking emails would be treason”

In mid-September, after his assistant Azra Turk had already broached the subject (I’m not aware that Ross has ever revealed how Papadopoulos responded to her) Halper asked Papadopoulos whether he was involved in the release of the emails. According to one version among several, Ross reports that Papadopoulos said that “hacking” the emails would be treason.

Sources familiar with Papadopoulos’ version of events say that during one conversation, Halper asked Papadopoulos whether he was involved in the release of DNC emails. Papadopoulos denied it, telling Halper that hacking emails would be treason.

Of course, that answer is nonsensical. Hacking emails is a CFAA violation, among other things. Absent knowing cooperation with Russian spies, it’s not treason. Moreover, as Ross depicts the question, Halper asked if he “was involved in the release of DNC emails,” which is different than hacking them. Did Papadopoulos instead suggest that being “involved in the release of DNC emails” hacked by Russia would be treason?

It’s a good question because, in spite of that answer and his subsequent lies to FBI, Papadopoulos doesn’t believe he “colluded” with Russia because he, “did not see, handle or disseminate Clinton emails, according to the source with information on the Downer meeting.” Note, he’s pointedly not denying that he told the campaign about the damaging material in the context of efforts to set up increasingly senior-level  meetings with the Russians.

January 27, 2017: Mifsud “actually told [Papadopoulos] that the Russians had emails of Clinton. That guy told me [the Russians] have dirt on her [and that] they have thousands of emails.”

When the FBI interviewed Papadopoulos on January 27, 2017, he provided a detail he hadn’t to Downer (but which FBI may have already confirmed elsewhere): that Mifsud had specified, even before the Democrats knew about it, that the Russians had thousands of emails.

Now, at least according to the public record, up until this point (and even later), the FBI hadn’t done one of the most basic things they do in investigations, which they can do on a relevance standard (meaning the person in question need not be suspected of any wrong-doing). They had not yet obtained Papadopoulos’ call records, nor had they searched already collected Section 702 data to see if Papadopoulos had had communications with any foreigner already under a full FBI investigation. The latter would have definitely alerted the FBI to something that Papadopoulos hid in his interviews with the FBI (and tried to hide by deleting his Facebook account, something Ross always leaves out of his efforts to spin Papadopoulos’ honesty): in addition to Mifsud and the fake Putin niece, he had been communicating with (and passing communications onto the campaign) Ivan Timofeev, someone Papadopoulos believed to be employed by the Russian government.

DOJ’s public Papadopoulos documents are curiously silent about whether he admitted that Mifsud had told him the Russians planned on releasing the emails to hurt Hillary (though I guarantee you his case file makes it clear).

Amid the squeals of surveillance, that point is worth noting. Again, at least according to the public record, it was some time after Papadopoulos had told Downer that the Russians had damaging material they might release closer to the election to hurt Hillary and after Papadopoulos had told the FBI that the damaging material in question was “thousands of emails” before the FBI took one of the most basic investigative steps, figuring out whom Papadopoulos had been talking to during that period. Though FBI put a preservation order on his campaign cell phone in March, it’s even possible, given Papadopoulos’ arrest in the wake of the disclosure of the June 9 meeting earlier in July 2017, that FBI didn’t take that step until after the later Russian offer of dirt on Hillary became known.

Trump may well think this amounts to spying. But given the year of concern about Russian meddling, it looks even more like an effort to bend over backwards to avoid touching materials that might impact campaign issues.

Update: Thanks to Mark S for this link to the Downer piece. Ross did not include this stronger language that the material definitely would be damaging to Clinton. Note the bolded stronger language.

Of the conversation at the upmarket Kensington Wine Bar, Downer recalls: “We had a drink and he (Papadopoulos) talked about what Trump’s foreign policy would be like if Trump won the election.

“He (Trump) hadn’t got the nomination at that stage. During that conversation he (Papadopoulos) mentioned the Russians might use material that they have on Hillary Clinton in the lead-up to the election, which may be damaging.’’

Did Downer think, “Oh boy, this is intriguing?”

“Well, it was worth reporting,’’ he said. “It wasn’t the only thing we reported. We reported (back to Australia) the following day or a day or two after … it seemed quite interesting.’’

Did you realise you were one of the first people to have known about this dirt?

Downer doesn’t hesitate: “He didn’t say dirt, he said material that could be damaging to her. No, he said it would be damaging. He didn’t say what it was.’’

[snip]

“For us we were more interested in what Trump would do in Asia. By the way, nothing he (Papadopoulos) said in that conversation indicated Trump himself had been conspiring with the Russians to collect information on Hillary Clinton. It was just that this guy (Papadopoulos) clearly knew that the Russians did have material on Hillary Clinton — but whether Trump knew or not? He didn’t say Trump knew or that Trump was in any way involved in this. He said it was about Russians and Hillary Clinton; it wasn’t about Trump.”

[my emphasis]