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Follow the Money, Break the Attorney-Client Wall of Obstruction

The other day I noted that there were at least 25 lawyers who were key witnesses or subjects of the Trump investigations investigating his parallel attempts to steal classified documents and the 2020 election. I was right to say, “at least.” I forgot Christina Bobb in my count, a key witness for both investigations (though she has always been candid that she did not play the role of a lawyer in the stolen document case).

For all the TV lawyers who spend all their time talking about these investigations, none have really articulated the difficulties this created for this investigation. It created 26 walls of privilege around many of the key events under investigation. There are numerous cases where we know an event or document exists, for example, but actually getting to that evidence or witness testimony involves jumping through extra hoops.

Robert Mueller is not known to have attempted to breach the privilege of Jay Sekulow (who, at least according to Michael Cohen’s testimony, dangled pardons and participated in writing Michael Cohen’s false testimony) or others; Jack Smith doesn’t have that luxury.

Keep that detail in mind as you consider all the reports of subpoenas sent out in the last two months, asking for far more details of the disposition of Trump’s various PAC funds.

CNN was the first to report that Rudy had received a subpoena, asking for information about finances.

Special counsel Jack Smith’s team has subpoenaed Donald Trump’s former attorney Rudy Giuliani, asking him to turn over records to a federal grand jury as part of an investigation into the former president’s fundraising following the 2020 election, according to a person familiar with the subpoena.

The subpoena, which was sent more than a month ago and has not been previously reported, requests documents from Giuliani about payments he received around the 2020 election, when Giuliani filed numerous lawsuits on Trump’s behalf contesting the election results, the person said.

Prosecutors have also subpoenaed other witnesses who are close to Trump, asking specifically for documents related to disbursements from the Save America PAC, Trump’s primary fundraising operation set up shortly after the 2020 election, according to other sources with insight into the probe.

The Guardian, which dates the subpoena to late November, described that it was looking for Rudy’s retainer agreements.

The source said the subpoena sought, among other things, copies of any retainer agreements between Trump and Giuliani, or the Trump campaign and Giuliani, and records of payments and who made those payments.

The WaPo followed with a report describing a subpoena seeking — in addition to documents on Smartmatic and Dominion voting machines — a slew of other financial information.

One part of the four-page legal document asks recipients to reveal if anyone other than themselves are paying for legal representation — and if so, to provide a copy of the retention agreement for that legal work. At least one other former campaign official also received the subpoena, according to that person’s lawyer, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity to avoid drawing attention to his client.

[snip]

The subpoena shows the Justice Department is interested in other Trump entities besides the Save America PAC — which The Post and others reported earlier this year was a subject of inquiry by investigators. It seeks “all documents and communications” related to a panoply of other Trump-affiliated groups, including the Make America Great Again PAC, the Save America Joint Fundraising Committee and the Trump Make America Great Again Committee.

Recipients are asked to produce documents related to the “formation, funding and/or use of money” of the groups and to show all employment contracts or correspondence with the groups or officials affiliated with them.

Recipients were also asked for documents related to the genesis of an “Election Defense Fund,” an entity that Trump officials created to raise money from grass-roots donors after the election. Officials later testified to the House committee investigating the events of Jan. 6, 2021, that such a fund never technically existed but was a mechanism to generate funds from people who believed and were outraged by Trump’s false election-fraud claims.

This is likely not just (as the WaPo correctly notes) a follow-up on Cassidy Hutchinson’s cooperation with the investigation. By the time this subpoena was sent, DOJ would have known of several other scams associated with legal representation — and had been investigating Sidney Powell’s own scam (possibly including her payment of Oath Keeper defense attorneys) for 15 months. For example, I showed how Alex Cannon (who has been a key source to these journalists elsewhere), who would necessarily be a witness in the stolen documents case, was implicated in any alleged attempt to silence Hutchinson. He himself was represented, pro bono, by Marc Kasowitz’s firm. The same piece described how the evolving story from Ken Klukowski, who is the lawyer that sent out detailed instructions for the fake electors plot, including observations about how they were exposed legally, was being represented by Big Dick Toilet Salesman Matt Whitaker’s legal firm, perhaps paid for by alleged groper Matt Schlapp.

I recommend you bookmark this Politico piece, which catalogs who was represented by whom for their appearances before the January 6 Committee (a number of people have gotten new lawyers since), because it gives a sense of what kind of witnesses were represented by what kind of lawyers.

Add to the fact that even key participants refused to claim that at least two key players — Jenna Ellis and Boris Epshteyn (the latter of whom had his phone seized in September and who got access to Trump during the period the former President refused to return stolen classified documents by arranging his legal representation) — were playing a legal rather than a PR or logistical role. Plus, a number of key lawyers had up to three different roles in the short post-election time period, which would limit which days they could claim to be working for Trump rather than (in the case of Klukowski) purportedly working for US taxpayers.

The important point, however (and at least one story covering these late subpoenas got this detail wrong), details about your retention of someone, as opposed to the advice offered as part of it, is not privileged. Indeed, Donald Trump and all his frothers cheered wildly when Perkins Coie had to provide billing records to John Durham and Marc Elias had to testify about the ties between Perkins Coie and the Hillary campaign. Durham tried it, successfully with Fusion GPS, as a means to breach privilege. But what he found on at least two occasions was that his conspiracy theories about what Democrats were hiding behind claims of privilege were wrong. Jack Smith already has a lot of documentation documenting real conspiracies to prevent the peaceful transfer of power, such as those notes from Klukowski detailing the laws that might present particular legal risk for Nevada’s fake electors; what he needs now are cooperating witnesses, including, necessarily, some lawyers.

And collecting the records of how false claims about voter fraud paid for efforts to obstruct the subsequent investigation — how Trump duped his followers to ensure that he would be safe while all of them would face jail time — will be one way to map the structure of this larger massive effort. It may also be a way to chip away at the large number of Trump witnesses who — at least before the January 6 Committee — were still telling wildly improbable stories to hide details of Trump’s actions.

How the January 6 Committee Investigation Maps onto DOJ’s Known Investigation

I’m going to attempt to do a live post mapping what we’re learning from the January 6 Committee investigation onto what we know about the multi-prong DOJ investigations. Before I do so, however, I want to point out several ways this matters, by showing how the multiple investigations intersect and how testimony to J6C may be useful for DOJ.

Ken Klukowski’s two interviews

I raised one example in this thread on Ken Klukowski, the lawyer who wrote the memo associated with John Eastman and Jeffrey Clark meant to justify a late-December DOJ intervention in Georgia. Klukowski is one of four people (and three lawyers) involved in a grand jury proceeding partially unsealed in December. By May 2022, DOJ had shown probable cause that one of his email accounts would include evidence of a crime, but DOJ also spent much of last summer working through the dicey privilege problems posed by an investigation involving a bunch of lawyers.

We now know the grand jury matters were unsealed after such time as DOJ first got some of the J6C transcripts, per this filing in the Proud Boys case, which shows DOJ passed on 16 Proud Boy transcripts before December 8.

Klukowski sat for two interviews with J6C — one on February 15, 2022, when he came off as a cooperative witness, and one on June 10, when the committee asked him about a bunch of documents involving John Eastman that Judge David Carter had released, some under a crime-fraud exception. At least during the interviews, Klukowski was represented by lawyers from Matt “Big Dick Toilet Salesman” Whitaker’s firm; see this exchange from Justin Caporale’s interview about how Matt Schlapp arranged for the defense of some Trump flunkies via the firm, and this reference to funding going to Schlapp from the J6C Report. In Klukowski’s second interview, the one discussing documents that had been liberated in part under a crime-fraud exception, one of Klukowski’s lawyers objected to the possibility that Klukowski might have to reassert privilege claims under oath. Whether these transcripts are part of why DOJ unsealed the grand jury materials or not, the two transcripts show how liberating the Eastman communications undercut much of what Klukowski had originally said about his involvement. And because he had already testified, this second interview provided useful backtracking on his earlier interview. The two transcripts may serve as useful tools in further breaching the privilege claims of these three lawyers, if not obtaining cooperation from one or several of them.

Alex Cannon’s two interviews

Alex Cannon is another example. Trump whisperers Josh Dawsey and Maggie Haberman have given him good press for his role in the stolen documents case. In February 2022, they tell us, Cannon refused to certify that Trump had turned over the the documents the President took from the White House.

Shortly after turning over 15 boxes of government material to the National Archives in January, former President Donald J. Trump directed a lawyer working for him to tell the archives that he had returned all the documents he had taken from the White House at the end of his presidency, according to two people familiar with the discussion.

The lawyer, Alex Cannon, had become a point of contact for officials with the National Archives, who had tried for months to get Mr. Trump to return presidential records that he failed to turn over upon leaving office. Mr. Cannon declined to convey Mr. Trump’s message to the archives because he was not sure if it was true, the people said.

[snip]

The conversation between Mr. Trump and Mr. Cannon took place after officials at the archives began asking Mr. Cannon, following the return of the 15 boxes, whether additional classified material was at Mar-a-Lago. It was when Mr. Cannon raised this with Mr. Trump that Mr. Trump told him to tell the archives he had given everything back, the people familiar with the discussion said.

At the time, the various investigations related to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by Mr. Trump’s supporters were ramping up, with a number of requests for documents, the people familiar with the discussion said. Mr. Cannon told people that he was concerned that if Mr. Trump was found to be withholding material related to Jan. 6, he would be in a worse situation, according to people familiar with the discussions.

But Cannon’s two transcripts (April 13 and August 18, 2022) put that seeming scrupulousness in different light. Much of the first one establishes how, because of the jobs he was given as a campaign lawyer, he was in a position to understand that the claims made in fundraising emails sent after the election conflicted with the evidence showing no significant vote fraud. At the very end of that first interview, though, investigators asked Cannon why he was claiming privilege over discussions with Jared Kushner about forming a PAC when he was working with a campaign that should not legally coordinate with such a PAC (to say nothing of Cannon’s admitted inexperience on campaign finance law).

In that first interview, Cannon agreed that money raised after the election would have to be spent on recounts or debt retirement. His second interview (which took place ten days after the Mar-a-Lago search) focused more closely on how money raised in the guise of fighting vote fraud was actually spent. In it, Cannon bristled when investigators suggested campaign money could only be spent on debt retirement or recounts.

Then in Cassidy Hutchinson’s September interviews (September 14 and 15) — the two focused on attempts to obstruct her testimony — she described how Cannon first helped set her up with Trump lawyer Stephen Passantino, and then tried to get her several jobs. Hutchinson also described how Passantino claimed that Cannon (as well as Eric Herschmann, another person heroically portrayed in Maggie stories) was involved in the manipulation of stories with Maggie Haberman.

When J6C made its referrals, it made clear that DOJ was already aware of efforts to tamper with Hutchinson’s testimony. Hutchinson started cooperating with DOJ shortly after her solo J6C testimony, in July. So even before the raid on Mar-a-Lago, then, DOJ likely understood that Cannon’s role was more complex than you might understand from reading a Maggie Haberman story. Importantly, Cannon’s role in allegedly tampering with Hutchinson’s J6C testimony would span the time when (per Maggie’s reporting) he heroically refused to certify Trump’s February 2022 production and the time in May 2022 when Trump’s team tried to find ways to stave off further investigation. These strands overlap temporally.

That puts Cannon’s role as a witness in much different light, because it would give him different visibility — and criminal exposure — on several different things: Trump’s document theft, Trump’s lies about vote fraud, Trump’s efforts to tamper with witnesses, and Trump’s spending of money raised to combat vote fraud.

And that’s important background when you consider CNN’s reporting about the financial side of DOJ’s investigation, which described that “in recent months” an existing year-long investigation into the financing of the attack has shifted (like the J6C focus has) to how money raised purported in support of election integrity actually got spent.

Another top prosecutor, JP Cooney, the former head of public corruption in the DC US Attorney’s Office, is overseeing a significant financial probe that Smith will take on. The probe includes examining the possible misuse of political contributions, according to some of the sources. The DC US Attorney’s Office, before the special counsel’s arrival, had examined potential financial crimes related to the January 6 riot, including possible money laundering and the support of rioters’ hotel stays and bus trips to Washington ahead of January 6.

In recent months, however, the financial investigation has sought information about Trump’s post-election Save America PAC and other funding of people who assisted Trump, according to subpoenas viewed by CNN. The financial investigation picked up steam as DOJ investigators enlisted cooperators months after the 2021 riot, one of the sources said.

When Cannon refused to certify Trump’s production in February 2022, he had personal exposure in January 6. Refusing to certify documents because withholding some might amount to obstruction is far less heroic than the Trump whisperers have made out. But in ensuing months, as the complexity of Cannon’s role has become clear, it would provide DOJ many angles for DOJ to persuade Cannon to cooperate.

Other privilege claims

The grand jury release last month made me realize just how complex it is to investigate suspected crimes in which at least 12 lawyers were involved. But the transcripts should help DOJ pierce other privilege claims as well. For example, multiple witnesses were asked and mocked the idea that their own conversations with Jenna Ellis — who is a lawyer whose name was on many of the subpoenas DOJ has sent out but was often described as playing a spokesperson role — might be privileged. The same is true of lawyer Boris Epshteyn, described as playing a logistics, not legal role.

So in the same way that DOJ seemed to focus on emails involving Scott Perry with the Eastman, Jeffrey Clark, and Klukowski seizures, the J6C testimony will provide many more levers to use to chip away at attorney-client privilege claims (on top of what seems to be a slew of subpoenas that will partly serve the same purpose).

At some point in recent weeks, Jack Smith returned to the US to oversee the investigation he has been leading since November. The belated sharing of J6C transcripts will likely provide a big boost to that investigation.

The Money Trail Stuck in an Appendix of the January 6 Report

Several weeks before the January 6 Committee released its report, CNN published a somewhat overlooked report describing the investigation that Jack Smith has inherited. Among other things, it revealed that (as Merrick Garland had promised) DOJ was following the money.

Another top prosecutor, JP Cooney, the former head of public corruption in the DC US Attorney’s Office, is overseeing a significant financial probe that Smith will take on. The probe includes examining the possible misuse of political contributions, according to some of the sources. The DC US Attorney’s Office, before the special counsel’s arrival, had examined potential financial crimes related to the January 6 riot, including possible money laundering and the support of rioters’ hotel stays and bus trips to Washington ahead of January 6.

In recent months, however, the financial investigation has sought information about Trump’s post-election Save America PAC and other funding of people who assisted Trump, according to subpoenas viewed by CNN. The financial investigation picked up steam as DOJ investigators enlisted cooperators months after the 2021 riot, one of the sources said.

Given the report that DOJ already has a robust investigation into the money trail, was a bit surprised that the January 6 Committee not only didn’t refer Trump for financial crimes — an easier way to look smart than referring him for inciting insurrection when DOJ has charged no one with insurrection — but relegated the financial part of the report to an appendix. I thought that choice was especially odd given that the false claims Trump made about the Big Lie were repurposed in campaign ads. But among other things, because Alex Cannon (he of the good Maggie Haberman press on the stolen document case) happened to be assigned both to debunking claims of voter fraud generally and he was part of the ad approval process (but as someone who had been doing vendor relations for Trump golf courses until shortly before he moved to the campaign,  he was totally unprepared to deal with campaign finance law), you have a witness otherwise exposed in DOJ investigations who recognized the fundraising claims could not be substantiated.

Q Okay. Did you have discussions with anyone within the campaign about the inflammatory tone of the post-election emails?

A Yeah. mean, I did mention it to Justin Clark.

Q What did you say to him?

A That, you know, I just didn’t love the messaging, something along those lines.

Q What was the issue you had with the messaging?

A I think it’s just some of it seemed a little over the top to me.

Q Because you had just spent weeks researching and looking and trying to figure out what was verifiable and what wasn’t right?

A Yes, maam.

Q You had had face-to-face conversations with Mark Meadows, with Peter Navarro, with the Vice President. You’d been told to your face you’d been accused of) being an agent of the deep state in response to telling people the truth about what you were seeing in terms of election fraud that was verifiable or would be admissible in court, hadn’t you?

A Yes

Q And, in response to all of the truth that you were propounding to people, you watched for weeks as the ton of these email got stronger and more inflammatory, raising millions — hundreds of million dollars off of theories that you had spent weeks debunking and denying because you had found that they were not verifiable, right?

A I can see how you would draw that conclusion.

As one of the J6C hearings had noted — and as the appendix lays out in more depth — Trump continued to fundraise until the riot kicked off on January 6.

Within the campaign, there was a really junior staffer who got fired, seemingly because he refused to make false claims in ads.

In that meeting, as Coby addressed the staff and expressed that the digital team would continue to work, Ethan Katz, an RNC staffer in his early twenties, rose to ask a question: 130 How were staffers supposed to tell voters that the Trump Campaign wanted to keep countingvotes in Arizona but stop counting votes in other States (like Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Michigan)? 131

Katz said that Coby provided an answer without substance, which caused Katz to reiterate his question. His question made clear that the Campaign’s position was wildly inconsistent.132 Allred and Boedigheimer corroborated that Katz confronted leadership.133

Katz also recalled that, shortly after the election, Allred directed him to write an email declaring that President Trump had won the State of Pennsylvania before anyone had called Pennsylvania for either party.134 Katz believed the Trump Campaign wanted to send this email out to preempt apotential call that was likely to be in former Vice President Biden’s favor.135 He refused to write the email. Allred was stunned, and instead assigned it toanother copywriter.136 Allred confirmed that Katz expressed discomfort at writing such an email and that she relied on another copywriter.137 On November 4, 2020, the Trump Campaign sent out an email preemptively and falsely declaring that President Trump won Pennsylvania.138 Katz was fired approximately three weeks after the election.139 In aninterview with the Select Committee, when Allred was asked why Katz, her direct report, was fired, she explained that she was not sure why because TMAGAC was raising more money than ever after the election, but that the decision was not hers to make.140

The RNC simply stopped echoing all the claims Trump was making.

Allred and Katz both received direction from the RNC’s lawyers shortly after the election to not say “steal the election” and instead were told to use “try to steal the election.”94 Allred also recalled that, at some point, theRNC legal team directed the copywriters not to use the term “rigged.”95

After the media called the election for former Vice President Joe Biden on Saturday, November 7, 2020, the RNC began to quietly pull back from definitive language about President Trump having won the election and instead used language of insinuation. For example, on November 10, 2020, Justin Reimer, RNC’s then-chief counsel, revised a fundraising email sent to the Approvals Group to remove the sentence that “Joe Biden should not wrongfully claim the office of the President.”96 Instead, Reimer indicated the email should read, “Joe Biden does not get to decide when this election ends. Only LEGAL ballots must be counted and verified.”97 Both Alex Cannon and Zach Parkinson signed off on Reimer’s edits.98

On November 11, 2020, Reimer again revised a fundraising email sent to the Approvals Group. This time, he revised a claim that “President Trump won this election by a lot” to instead state that “President Trump got 71 MILLION LEGAL votes.”99 Once again Cannon and Parkinson signed off on Reimer’s edits.100 Also on November 11, 2020, Jenna Kirsch, associate counsel at the RNC, revised a fundraising email sent to the Approvals Group to, among other things, remove the request “to step up and contribute to our critical Election Defense Fund so that we can DEFEND the Election and secure FOUR MORE YEARS.”101 Instead of “secure FOUR MORE YEARS,” Kirsch’s revised version stated a contribution would “finish the fight.”102 Once again Cannon and Parkinson signed off on these edits for the Trump Campaign.103 Regarding the change to finish the fight, Zambrano conceded, “I would say this a substantive change from the legal department.”104 Kirsch made numerous edits like this, in which she removed assertions about “four more years.”105 Such edits continued into late November 2020.

Even so, the fundraising emails from both the campaign and the RNC got more and more incendiary in the weeks after the election, so much so that the direct mail services for both, Iterable and Salesforce, rejected some ads for Terms of Service violations, and actually shut down RNC ads for a brief period after the attack.

The Select Committee interviewed an individual (“J. Doe”) who worked at Salesforce during the post-election period during which TMAGAC was sending out the fundraising emails concerning false election fraud claims.147 Doe worked for Salesforce’s privacy and abuse management team, colloquially known as the abuse desk.148 An abuse desk is responsible for preventing fraud and abuse emanating from the provider’s user or subscriber network.

Doe indicated to the Select Committee that, as soon as early 2020, they recalled issues arising with the RNC’s use of Salesforce’s services and that a“deluge of abuse would’ve started in June-ish.”149 Doe noted that Salesforce received a high number of complaints regarding the RNC’s actions, which would have been primarily the fundraising efforts of TMAGAC.150 In the latter half of 2020, Doe noticed that the emails coming from the RNC’s account included more and more violent and inflammatory rhetoric in violation of Salesforce’s Master Service Agreement (“MSA”) with the RNC, which prohibited the use of violent content.151 Doe stated that, near the time of the election, they contacted senior individuals at Salesforce to highlight the “increasingly concerning” emails coming from the RNC’s account.152 Doe explained that senior individuals at Salesforce effectively ignored their emails about TMAGAC’s inflammatory emails 153 and Salesforce ignored the terms of the MSA and permitted the RNC to continue touse its account in this problematic manner.154 Doe said, “Salesforce very obviously didn’t care about anti-abuse.”155

[snip]

Further, J. Doe, the Salesforce employee interviewed by the Select Committee, provided insight into the action that Salesforce took after the attack. Doe explained that after they became aware of the ongoing attack, they (Doe) took unilateral action to block the RNC’s ability to send emails through Salesforce’s platform.227 Doe noted that the shutdown lasted until January 11, 2021, when senior Salesforce leadership directed Doe to remove the block from RNC’s Salesforce account.228 Doe stated that Salesforce leadership told Doe that Salesforce would now begin reviewing RNC’s email campaigns to “make sure this doesn’t happen again.”229

Remember: The RNC successfully fought a subpoena from the J6C, which kept Salesforce information out of the hands of the Committee. They would have no such opportunity with a d-order from DOJ, though, and those records would show the same kind of awareness at Salesforce as Twitter and Facebook had that permitting Trump’s team to abuse the platform contributed to the violence.

After raising all this money, Trump reportedly then used it for purposes not permitted under campaign finance laws.

There was even a hilarious exchange from a Cannon deposition about how, as a lawyer working for the campaign, he could claim privilege over a discussion with Jared Kushner about setting up a PAC that could not coordinate with the campaign.

The appendix in the report has more details about where the funds eventually ended up — for example, in Dan Scavino’s pocket, or that of Melania’s dress-maker, or legal defense in investigations of these very crimes.

For example, from July 2021 to the present, Save America has been paying approximately $9,700 per month to Dan Scavino,171 a political adviser who served in the Trump administration as White House Deputy Chief of Staff.172 Save America was also paying $20,000 per month to an entity called Hudson Digital LLC. Hudson Digital LLC was registered in Delaware twenty days after the attack on the Capitol, on January 26, 2021,173 and began receiving payments from Save America on the day it was registered.174 Hudson Digital LLC has received payments totaling over $420,000, all described as “Digital consulting.”175 No website or any other information or mention of Hudson Digital LLC could be found online.176 Though Hudson Digital LLC is registered as a Delaware company, the FEC ScheduleB listing traces back to an address belonging to Dan and Catherine Scavino.177

[snip]

Through October 2022, Save America has paid nearly $100,000 in “strategy consulting” payments to Herve Pierre Braillard,195 a fashion designer who has been dressing Melania Trump for years.196

[snip]

From January 2021 to June 2022, Save America has also reported over $2.1 million in “legal consulting.” Many firms perform different kinds of practice, but more than 67% of those funds went to law firms that are representing witnesses involved in the Select Committee’s investigation whowere subpoenaed or invited to testify.

CNN’s report notes that on the financial side of the investigation, DOJ has acquired some cooperating witnesses (the Report hints at who those might include — and Cannon seems to have exposure on the obstruction side of the investigation even while getting good press for refusing to certify Trump’s production to NARA on the stolen document side).

On top of being an entirely different kind of crime, the financial trail may be one area where it is easier to show pushback on Trump’s false claims.

But J6C didn’t include that in its referrals, perhaps in part because Trump relied on the advice of one of the main GOP campaign finance firms, Jones Day, for some of the later financial decisions.

In any case, it turns out (as with many parts of the investigation) DOJ has quietly been investigating this for some time. Which may make the financial side of the Trump’s claims a key part of proof available about his campaign’s awareness that he was lying.

Imagine If Maggie Had Reported that Vladimir Putin Dictated Trump’s June 9 Meeting Cover Story?

Imagine how much differently things might have worked out if, on July 19, 2017 Maggie Haberman had reported that Vladimir Putin had dictated the statement Trump had his failson release, excusing the meeting Don Jr had to collect Russian dirt in exchange for lifting the Magnitsky sanctions?

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

I was asked to attend the meeting by an acquaintance, but was not told the name of the person I would be meeting with beforehand.

As you contemplate that, consider how Trump’s various means of withholding the documents he stole serve as a metaphor for how he covers up his own criminal exposure.

At first, Trump stonewalled, refusing to cooperate at all. Then, he got some of his aides to privately tell lies on his behalf. But then, when that looked like it wouldn’t work any more, he  packed boxes himself, personally curating the first limited hangout for the Archives. In January, Trump delivered 15 boxes — nine fewer than NARA knew he had taken, but three more (Maggie is the only one who cares about this) than he had told NARA he’d deliver. When NARA opened the boxes that Trump had curated personally, they found some, but not all, of what they were expecting. Hidden amidst, “newspapers, magazines, printed news articles,” they also found “a lot of classified records.” This expert liar believed he could fool professional archivists by hiding the evidence of his crime behind a curtain of press clippings.

At this point, Trump started lying publicly, both by releasing statements designed to go viral on social media falsely claiming to have cooperated, and in the public claims that Kash Patel made that were broader than the set of Russian documents Trump did or attempted to steal, but which were primarily about that story.

Trump had to find new people to lie for him, which he did in the form of a far less qualified legal team. Trump had that less qualified legal team try to bully DOJ legally, claiming that he couldn’t be charged with the single crime he wanted applied to his criminal behavior. When all that failed to stave off DOJ, Trump curated another story, having boxes removed from the storage room, having one of the new, less-qualified lawyers search through what was left and discover another limited hangout of documents to return, and getting another of the less-qualified lawyers to certify that’s the end of the story, all without letting investigators actually check what actually lay behind that search.

This time it was DOJ that knew better than to believe the series of cover stories the reality TV show star kept telling, and so they quietly put together a search of the beach resort, seizing another 27 boxes of government records, yielding 18 more boxes than NARA even knew about. It’s not clear Trump would have revealed the search, at all, if Peter Schorsch — not one of the national journalists paid handsomely as a full time Trump-whisperer, but instead a local reporter — hadn’t revealed it. (There’s no evidence Trump ever told the Trump-whisperers about this investigation before the search, and most have not credited Schorsch’s role in the process, perhaps to obscure that there was news about Trump accessible without Trump offering it up.) Then, via a statement, via preferential leaks to journalists, via misleading legal filings, Trump repeated the process again, claiming different laws applied and distracting with details — like the fucking lock he claimed DOJ told him to put on his storage closet — largely irrelevant to the crimes actually at issue.

When Trump gets in trouble, the showman curates stories to distract from his real legal woes, obscuring the real legal jeopardy he faces, while distracting the crowd with a blizzard of stories serially revealing tidbits that are distractions from the real story.

That’s how it happens that, five months after Kash Patel publicly used the Russian investigation documents Trump tried to release in the last hours of his Administration as an alibi for stealing other documents, Maggie and Mike have gotten the chattering classes worked up over something related to that cover story that Trump did not do: offer the government to return documents unrelated to Russia if the government would let him burn more sources and methods relating to Russia.

Late last year, as the National Archives ratcheted up the pressure on former President Donald J. Trump to return boxes of records he had taken from the White House to his Mar-a-Lago club, he came up with an idea to resolve the looming showdown: cut a deal.

Mr. Trump, still determined to show he had been wronged by the F.B.I. investigation into his 2016 campaign’s ties to Russia, was angry with the National Archives and Records Administration for its unwillingness to hand over a batch of sensitive documents that he thought proved his claims.

[snip]

It was around that same time that Mr. Trump floated the idea of offering the deal to return the boxes in exchange for documents he believed would expose the Russia investigation as a “hoax” cooked up by the F.B.I. Mr. Trump did not appear to know specifically what he thought the archives had — only that there were items he wanted.

Mr. Trump’s aides — recognizing that such a swap would be a non-starter since the government had a clear right to the material Mr. Trump had taken from the White House and the Russia-related documents held by the archives remained marked as classified — never acted on the idea.

Maggie and Mike published this story one day after ABC published a story describing the very specific set of documents Trump had spent his last days in office trying to publicly release. Even the ABC story, which reveals, “White House staffers produced multiple copies of documents from the binder,” misses key parts of the story — including why a document John Solomon claims to have obtained in June has a September 2021 creation date. But it nevertheless makes clear that the Russian documents are more central to the stolen document story than either of the two versions Maggie has told admit.

And yet that misleading Russia tidbit distracted from more important details. Buried in the story was the detail that Alex Cannon, a lawyer who negotiated with the Archives late last year, was worried that Trump was withholding documents responsive to subpoenas from the January 6 Committee. This was a detail Paul Sperry publicly floated on August 16. It comes in the wake of the filter inventory accidentally docketed that shows the FBI seized at least three items pertinent to the known January 6 investigations. In a piece reporting, possibly for the first time, that Trump may have withheld documents to obstruct other investigations, Maggie and Mike (purveyors of the false claim that Mueller primarily investigated Trump for obstruction) describe DOJ’s investigation into violations of the Espionage Act and obstruction this way, as if poor Donald Trump and those paid to lie for him were just innocent bystanders in all this.

In the process, some of his lawyers have increased their own legal exposure and had to hire lawyers themselves. Mr. Trump has ended up in the middle of an investigation into his handling of the documents that has led the Justice Department to seek evidence of obstruction.

The more important point is that rather than focusing on Cannon’s concerns that Trump was obstructing the January 6 investigation (or even that he suspected Trump was hoarding classified records but didn’t tell NARA that), Maggie and Mike focus on the deal that Trump never formally pitched, trading one set of classified documents for the classified documents describing sources and methods Trump wanted to burn.

This detail, in a story describing the lies Trump has told to cover up his stolen documents, is pure distraction, a side-show to the evidence of criminal behavior that matters. But nevertheless, the sheer audacity of it has gone viral, distracting from the real evidence of criminal intent or even the ABC report that at least substantiates the real ties between the Russian documents and the documents Trump was hoarding.

As noted in the ABC report, this is actually the second limited hangout about the Russian documents that Maggie spread. The first — part of her book campaign — is that Trump was sitting on copies of the Strzok and Page texts.

(In one of our earlier interviews, I had asked him separately about some of the texts between the FBI agent and the FBI official working on the Robert Mueller investigation whose affair prompted the agent’s removal from the case; we had learned the night before Biden’s inauguration that Trump was planning to make the texts public. He ultimately didn’t, but he told me that Meadows had the material in his possession and offered to connect me with him.)

This is the basis on which many people have claimed that Maggie withheld the story that Trump had stolen documents. But it’s actually not. It’s a limited hangout suggesting (John Solomon’s public statements that Trump would release everything notwithstanding) that Trump had only taken home the Strzok-Page texts, and not also a bunch of documents describing sensitive human sources and SIGINT collection points. Maggie has also claimed that Trump’s DOJ advised against releasing the texts because it would constitute another violation of the Privacy Act, without explaining why, then, Trump’s DOJ itself had done just that in September 2020.

Once again, it’s another less damning story rather than the more damning one for which there is just as much evidence. If Trump (or Mark Meadows) stole a copy of the Strzok and Page texts, it would be a violation of the Presidential Records Act and the Privacy Act, but not a violation of the Espionage Act or (if they stole a copy of the unredacted Carter Page application) FISA.

With Saturday’s story, which purports to share with readers how Trump “exhibited a pattern of dissembling,” Maggie and Mike either don’t understand this this story is just another press clipping that Trump is hiding the real criminal evidence behind, or are having a great big laugh at how stupid their readers are, making this non-story about something Trump didn’t do go viral whereas more factual details go unnoticed.

Which makes it very much like the story Maggie and Mike published, along with Peter Baker, on July 19, 2017. The story was based on an interview all three did that same day, one day after other journalists disclosed a second meeting between Putin and Trump, without a US translator, which lasted as long as an hour. The interview happened on the same day — the Mueller Report notes —  that Trump renewed his request to Corey Lewnadowski to order the Attorney General to limit the Russian investigation to prospective election tampering.

On July 19, 2017, the President again met with Lewandowski alone in the Oval Office.621 In the preceding days, as described in Volume II, Section II.G, infra, emails and other information about the June 9, 2016 meeting between several Russians and Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort had been publicly disclosed. In the July 19 meeting with Lewandowski, the President raised his previous request and asked if Lewandowski had talked to Sessions.622 Lewandowski told the President that the message would be delivered soon.623 Lewandowski recalled that the President told him that if Sessions did not meet with him, Lewandowski should tell Sessions he was fired.624

[snip]

Within hours of the President’s meeting with Lewandowski on July 19, 2017, the President gave an unplanned interview to the New York Times in which he criticized Sessions’s decision to recuse from the Russia investigation.630 The President said that “Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job, and I would have picked somebody else.”631 Sessions’s recusal, the President said, was “very unfair to the president. How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I can’t, you know, I’m not going to take you.’ It’s extremely unfair, and that’s a mild word, to the president.”632 Hicks, who was present for the interview, recalled trying to “throw [herself] between the reporters and [the President]” to stop parts of the interview, but the President “loved the interview.”633

Later that day, Lewandowski met with Hicks and they discussed the President’s New York Times interview.634 Lewandowski recalled telling Hicks about the President’s request that he meet with Sessions and joking with her about the idea of firing Sessions as a private citizen if Sessions would not meet with him.635 As Hicks remembered the conversation, Lewandowski told her the President had recently asked him to meet with Sessions and deliver a message that he needed to do the “right thing” and resign.636 While Hicks and Lewandowski were together, the President called Hicks and told her he was happy with how coverage of his New York Times interview criticizing Sessions was playing out.637

The NYT article that resulted from the interview with Trump reported the following, in order:

  • Trump’s claim he never would have hired Jeff Sessions if he knew he would recuse from an investigation Trump didn’t know about yet
  • Trump’s complaint that Sessions’ recusal led to Mueller’s hiring
  • Details about the interview
  • Trump’s false claims that Mueller had conflicts
  • The “red line” comment that Maggie and Mike would henceforward use to say Mueller could not investigate Trump’s finances
  • Trump’s claim that he was not under investigation even though there were public reports he was being investigated for obstruction
  • A description of Trump’s claim only to have spoken with Putin for 15 minutes, mostly about “pleasantries, but also “about adoption” [without explaining that “adoption” is code for Magnitsky sanctions]
  • Trump’s description that “his son, Donald Trump Jr., said that was the topic of a meeting he had” on June 9, 2016 (days earlier, Maggie and Peter had reported Trump had been involved in that statement)
  • Trump’s claim that he didn’t need the dirt on Hillary because he had other dirt
  • More discussion about the interview again
  • Descriptions of Trump’s “amiable side,” including his story of holding hands with Macron and — this was described as amiable! — his hopes for a military parade in DC
  • A description of Trump’s interactions with his then 6-year old grand-daughter
  • More about how angry he was with Sessions
  • Quotes from Trump attacking Sessions for recusing
  • Attacks on Sessions’ confirmation testimony about Sergey Kislyak
  • A no-comment from Sessions
  • A claim that Jim Comey had briefed the Steele dossier in an attempt to keep his job
  • Trump’s claim he dismissed the claims in the dossier
  • A no-comment from Comey
  • An explanation of why Trump’s briefers had briefed the dossier
  • Trump’s claim that Comey’s sworn testimony about the February 14 meeting was false
  • Trump’s boasts that he did the right thing by firing Comey
  • A return to his claims that Mueller had conflicts
  • Trump’s claim that he didn’t know that Deputy Attorney General he himself had appointed was from Baltimore
  • A claim Rosenstein had a conflict of interest with Mueller
  • A citation to a Fox interview where Rosenstein said Mueller could avoid conflicts
  • Trump’s claims that Andrew McCabe had conflicts because of the donation Terry McAuliffe gave to McCabe’s spouse
  • A return to the discussion with Putin, including quoting his comment about adoption
  • Trump’s claim that he did not know of the June 9 meeting in real time
  • Trump’s false claim he didn’t need (much less seek out) more dirt on Hillary because he had everything he could need

Most journalists would have taken that detail — that Trump and Putin had used an unmonitored face-to-face meeting to talk about the subject of a burgeoning scandal at the center of the investigation of Russian interference in the election — and dedicated an entire story to it. They likely would have included an explanation that “adoptions” was code for sanctions relief. They probably would have noted how Trump’s claims about the conversation differed from the public reports about it, particularly with regards the claimed length.

Journalists who — as Maggie and Baker had — reported, just days earlier, that Trump had “signed off on the statement,” might cycle back to sources for that story and lay out the possibility — confirmed by Mueller years later — that after Trump discussed adoptions with the President of Russia, he in fact dictated a misleading story about the things he had just discussed with Putin, over his son’s and Hope Hick’s wishes to get the entire story out.

Imagine how that story, that after discussing the topic with Putin, Trump dictated a misleading story, would have changed the direction of the Russian investigation.

But that’s not the story that Maggie and Mike and Peter told. On the contrary, they buried their lede — the smoking gun that Trump had “colluded” with the President of Russia on a cover story — and instead focused the story where Trump wanted it: on pressuring Jeff Sessions and Rod Rosenstein for allowing the appointment of a Special Counsel, on ending the investigation in which they had just revealed a smoking gun. As Mueller explained,  Trump “was happy with how coverage of his New York Times interview criticizing Sessions was playing out.” It buried really damning half-admissions inside an article that primarily served his obstructive purpose (and disseminated a number of lies with limited push-back).

When Trump wanted to obstruct the Russian investigation on July 19, 2017, Maggie proved a more reliable partner than Corey Lewandowski.

That continued throughout the investigation, in which Maggie consistently misled her credulous readers that Mueller only investigated Trump for obstruction, neutralized one of the most damning revelations of the investigation providing Paul Manafort’s provided campaign strategy to Oleg Deripaska, ignored all the most damning details of her old friend Roger Stone, as well as the investigation into a suspected bribe via an Egyptian bank that kept Trump’s campaign afloat in September 2016.

A vast majority of the country believes that Mueller only investigated Trump for obstruction, and Maggie is a big reason why that’s true. And that mistaken belief is one of the reasons the aftermath of the Mueller investigation — with Bill Barr’s sabotage of multiple ongoing criminal investigation and the pardons for four of the five Trump aides who lied to cover up their ties with Russia — proceeded without bigger outcry.

And yet still, five years later, people don’t understand that Maggie successfully led them to believe a false, far less damning story of Trump’s exposure in the Russian investigation, that he was only investigated for the obstruction she was a part of, and not for doing things that led him to directly coordinate cover stories with Vladimir Putin before he dictated the story Putin wanted told.

The problem with Maggie’s memoir of her access to Donald Trump is not that she withheld details Trump told her as she pursued the least legally problematic part of the Russian document cover story for Trump’s stolen documents. It’s that people still think all of this is news, rather than a distraction from the real criminal exposure that — history proves — Trump’s transactional relationship with Maggie serves to cover-up.

When Trump attempts to cover up his crimes, he literally buries the evidence under stacks of press clippings. And those press clippings are, often as not, distractions he has fed (directly or indirectly) to Maggie to tell.

January 6 Committee Details The Big Fraud Monetizing The Big Lie

The second hearing from the January 6 Committee was just as well choreographed as the first one, with an even greater reliance on Republican voices to make the case against Trump, including:

  • Bill Barr
  • Bill Stepien
  • Al Schmidt
  • Alex Cannon
  • Ivanka
  • Rudy Giuliani
  • Sidney Powell
  • Chris Stirewalt
  • Jason Miller
  • Ben Ginsberg

Here’s my live tweet of the hearing.

The presentation started by describing how Trump was told on election night that the news looked bad. The presentation ended by showing how those attacking the Capitol cited Trump’s lies to justify their actions.

Perhaps the most effective part of the hearing, however, was a video shown near the end that talked about how Trump monetized the Big Lie. He raised $250M telling lies about voter fraud.

Some of that money went to Mark Meadows’ “charity,” the Conservative Partnership Institute and even more went to Paul Manafort’s company, Event Strategies.

This is the kind of activity, fundraising making false claim, that got Steve Bannon charged with wire fraud and it’s the kind of scheme behind the investigation into Sidney Powell.

House January 6 Committee: Public Hearings – Day 1 [UPDATE-1]

[NB: Any updates will be published at the bottom of this post. /~Rayne]

This post and comment thread are dedicated to the House January 6 Committee hearings scheduled to begin Thursday June 9, 2022, at 8:00 p.m. ET.

Please take all comments unrelated to the hearings to a different thread.

The hearings will stream on:

House J6 Committee’s website: https://january6th.house.gov/news/watch-live

House J6 Committee’s YouTube page: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hZ0yNe3cFx4

C-SPAN’s House J6 hearing page: https://www.c-span.org/video/?520282-1/open-testimony-january-6-committee

C-SPAN’s YouTube page: https://www.youtube.com/c/C-SPAN/featured

Check PBS for your local affiliate’s stream: https://www.pbs.org/ (see upper right corner)

Twitter is carrying multiple live streams (NBC, PBS, Washington Post, Reuters, CSPAN, Bloomberg): https://twitter.com/i/events/1533876297926991877

MSNBC will carry coverage on their cable network with coverage beginning at 7:00 p.m. ET as well as on MSNBC’s Maddow Show podcast feed. Details at this link.

ABC, NBC, CBS will carry the hearings live on broadcast and CNN will carry on its cable network.

Fox News is not carrying this on their main network. Their weeknight programming including Tucker Carlson’s screed will continue as usual and will likely carry counterprogramming.

Twitter accounts live tweeting the hearing tonight:

Brandi Buchman-DailyKos: https://twitter.com/Brandi_Buchman/status/1535034512639512576

Scott MacFarlane-CBS: https://twitter.com/MacFarlaneNews/status/1535050143879266306

Chris Geidner-Grid News: https://twitter.com/chrisgeidner/status/1535052708922937345

JustSecurity’s team live tweeting: https://twitter.com/just_security/status/1534955708881457154

If you know of any other credible source tweeting the coverage, please share a link in comments.

Marcy will not be live tweeting as the hearing begins 2:00 a.m. IST/1:00 a.m. UTC/GMT. She’ll have a post Friday morning Eastern Time. Do make sure to read her hearing prep post, though.

An agenda for this evening’s hearing has not been published on the committee’s website.

~ ~ ~

Any updates will appear at the bottom of this post; please bear with any content burps as this page may be edited as the evening progresses.

Again, this post is dedicated to the House January 6 Committee  and topics addressed in testimony and evidence produced during the hearing.

All other discussion should be in threads under the appropriate post with open discussion under the most recent Trash Talk.

To new readers and commenters: welcome to emptywheel. New commenters, please use a unique name to differentiate yourself; use the same username each time you comment.

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~ ~ ~

UPDATE-1 — 7:30 P.M. ET 10-JUN-2022 —

According to Scott MacFarlane-CBS there will be a total of six House J6 Committee hearings this month.

House J6 Committee hearing schedule (as of eve 6/10/2022):

Monday June 13 — Hearing: On the January 6th Investigation
10:00 AM | 390 Canon HOB
Host: Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack

Wednesday June 15 — Hearing: On the January 6th Investigation
10:00 AM | 390 Canon HOB
Host: Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack

Thursday June 16 — Hearing: On the January 6th Investigation
1:00 PM | 390 Canon HOB
Host: Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack

Tuesday June 21 — Hearing: On the January 6th Investigation
**10:00 AM ET | Date-Time-Place Subject to Confirmation**
Host: Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack

Thursday June 23 — Hearing: On the January 6th Investigation
**8:00 PM ET | Date-Time-Place Subject to Confirmation**
Host: Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack

Date, time, and location of the next three hearings have been published on the U.S. House of Representatives’ calendar. The last two have not yet been confirmed and published.