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Christina Bobb, Custodian of Records and Coup Conspirator

According to Donald Trump’s whack-ass filing the other day, he personally has yet to receive a subpoena in the investigation of his  suspected theft of classified documents and obstruction of one or more investigations by hiding, ripping, or flushing documents. Instead, his hospitality company and Christina Bobb have.

DOJ sent the June 22 subpoena for surveillance footage at Mar-a-Lago to the Custodian of Records at the Trump Organization.

On June 22, 2022, the Government sent a subpoena to the Custodian of Records for the Trump Organization seeking footage from surveillance cameras at Mar-a-Lago. At President Trump’s direction, service of that subpoena was voluntarily accepted, and responsive video footage was provided to the Government.

The WaPo explained that it was sent to Trump Organization, not Trump, because that’s who actually owns Mar-a-Lago.

By the way, that means that Trump Organization could have, but thus far has not, intervened in the August 8 search as well as Donald. Indeed, that may have been what Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart, who has read the search warrant affidavit, was alluding to when he memorialized his order asking DOJ to provide more justification for its review. He noted that neither Trump nor any other “purported owner” of Mar-a-Lago had intervened.

Neither Former President Trump nor anyone else purporting to be the owner of the Premises has filed a pleading taking a position on the Intervenors’ Motions to Unseal.

In fact, when Trump intervened in the Michael Cohen search in 2018 — and did so after just four days — he did so in the persons of Trump Organization lawyer Alan Futerfas and Futerfas’ partner Ellen Resnick. Having Trump Organization ask for a Temporary Restraining Order would have been another way to intervene in more timely and competent way than Trump has done so far — but Trump Organization has been rather distracted preparing for depositions in Tish James’ investigation and the October trial testimony of their former CFO in a New York City trial.

In any case, it is totally normal for a grand jury to subpoena the “Custodian of Records” of a corporation from which it wants records. In the case of the surveillance video (and presumably a renewed subpoena after the search), that just happened to place the legal obligation to respond on an entity that has a whole heap of other legal problems right now.

In Trump’s whack filing, though, the hero of our story Donald J. Trump magnanimously instructed Trump Organization to accept service and provide the video (it appears that Eric or the failson would have been the ones legally to give that order), otherwise known as “complying with a subpoena.”

It’s the other subpoena I find more interesting.

On May 11, 2022, Movant voluntarily accepted service of a grand jury subpoena addressed to the custodian of records for the Office of Donald J. Trump, seeking documents bearing any classification markings. President Trump determined that a search for documents bearing classification markings should be conducted — even if the marked documents had been declassified — and his staff conducted a diligent search of the boxes that had been moved from the White House to Florida. On June 2, 2022, President Trump, through counsel, invited the FBI to come to Mar-a-Lago to retrieve responsive documents. [italics Trump’s, bold mine]

There’s a lot going on in this passage. Whereas the earlier passage described the government sending the subpoena, here Trump’s team only describes that service for it was accepted, “voluntarily,” it notes in italics, which is not a thing.

It’s a subpoena, you don’t get a choice.

The passage dates that acceptance to May 11 — the day after, we now know, that the Acting Archivist Debra Steidel Wall had informed Evan Corcoran, acting as Trump’s attorney, that she would not respect Trump’s “protective assertion of executive privilege.” The dates are almost certainly related, but we can’t be sure how, because we can’t be sure when DOJ subpoenaed Trump for the rest of the classified documents he was hoarding.

More interesting, to me, is the way this passage introduces a second role (and third) it will rely on heavily to describe what must be a core focus of the obstruction investigation, that Custodian of Records of the Office of Donald J. Trump. The Custodian of Records accepted the subpoena (and so would be on the legal hook for it), “his staff conducted a diligent search,” and then his counsel — Corcoran — “invited” Jay Bratt to come get the additional classified documents that would constitute proof Trump had violated the Espionage Act. Trump doesn’t reveal who did the search (though other reports have said Corcoran did it). But as presented, this process implicated three different roles, at least one role performed by a guy who signed this very whack filing that works so hard to obscure all this.

All that is set-up for the meeting on June 3, which will carry a great deal of legal import going forward, not least in an inevitable Fourth Amendment suppression motion. Here’s the tale the whack filing, written in part by Evan Corcoran, tells:

The next day, on June 3, 2022, Jay Bratt, Chief of the Counterintelligence and Export Control Section in the DOJ’s National Security Division, came to Mar-a-Lago, accompanied by three FBI agents. President Trump greeted them in the dining room at Mar-a-Lago. There were two other attendees: the person designated as the custodian of records for the Office of Donald J. Trump, and counsel for President Trump. Before leaving the group, President Trump’s last words to Mr. Bratt and the FBI agents were as follows: “Whatever you need, just let us know.”

Responsive documents were provided to the FBI agents. Mr. Bratt asked to inspect a storage room. Counsel for President Trump advised the group that President Trump had authorized him to take the group to that room. The group proceeded to the storage room, escorted by two Secret Service agents. The storage room contained boxes, many containing the clothing and personal items of President Trump and the First Lady. When their inspection was completed, the group left the area.

Once back in the dining room, one of the FBI agents said, “Thank you. You did not need to show us the storage room, but we appreciate it. Now it all makes sense.” Counsel for President Trump then closed the interaction and advised the Government officials that they should contact him with any further needs on the matter.

This passage is designed to portray Trump’s response as completely cooperative, which is set up for a claim the warrant was not necessary. As such, it describes an FBI comment undoubtedly designed, legally, to reiterate that a consensual search — of the storage room — was indeed consensual, as if it means something else, that the FBI had had all its questions answered. But when Trump eventually receives the affidavit that relies on this FBI agent’s first-hand observations during a consensual search to show probable cause for a warrant to come back and search the storage room further, Trump will have ceded the consensual nature of it and therefore his ability to suppress the August 8 search.

Evan Corcoran will one day be underbussed for agreeing (and in this filing, attesting) to this consensual search; given the way he’s portrayed in this WaPo story, the underbussing may have already begun. But for now, it is the stated version Trump wants to tell.

What I’m interested in, though, is that according to this version — a version that makes absolutely no mention of the declaration Jay Bratt required Trump’s team provide after that consensual search of the storage room — the roles that Corcoran and Christina Bobb played were different, and different in a way that holds legal weight. They don’t name names, but because Corcoran is known to have done the things attributed to “counsel” in this whack filing, he must be the counsel in the meeting and Bobb, by process of elimination, was the Custodian of Records. So Bobb was the person on the hook for the subpoena response.

As a reminder, here’s the most complete description of the declaration that Corcoran neglected to mention in the whack filing, from an NYT article that studiously avoids mentioning that obstruction is one of the crimes under investigation.

Mr. Bratt and the agents who joined him were given a sheaf of classified material, according to two people familiar with the meeting. Mr. Corcoran then drafted a statement, which Ms. Bobb, who is said to be the custodian of the documents, signed. It asserted that, to the best of her knowledge, all classified material that was there had been returned, according to two people familiar with the statement.

Bobb, performing the role as the Custodian of Records and so the person on the legal hook for the search, is the one who signed the declaration, based off a search that unnamed Trump “staff” members — described as a third role separate from that of Custodian of Records Christina Bobb and counsel Evan Corcoran — conducted.

Who knows whether Bobb really played the legal function of Custodian of Records at the Office of Donald J. Trump? I’ll come back to that in a bit.

Whatever Bobb really is, though, three pages later, Trump’s Custodian of Records gets a dizzying demotion to one of “three attorneys in the general area” who showed up to observe the search. That demotion may serve the legal function of justifying a claim, made another 11 pages later, that the search warrant receipts Bobb signed do not meet the standards required by Rule 41.

Among other actions taken after being notified of this unprecedented event, counsel for President Trump contacted three attorneys in the general area who agreed to go to Mar-a-Lago. Once they arrived, they requested the ability to enter the mansion in order to observe what the FBI agents were doing, which the Government declined to permit.

After approximately nine hours, the FBI concluded its search. An FBI agent provided one of the attorneys who had been waiting outside for nearly the full nine hours with a copy of the Search Warrant. TheFBI also provided a three-page Receipt for Property. Receipt for Property

[Case 9:22-mj-08332-BER, ECF 17 at 5-7 of 7]. That list provided almost no information that would allow a reader to understand what was seized or the precise location of the items.

[snip]

In addition, Movant requests that this Court direct the United States to prepare and provide a specific and detailed Receipt for Property. See Fed. R. Crim. P. 41(f). The “Receipt For Property” provided to Movant on August 8, 2022 is so vague and lacking in specificity that the reader does not know what was seized from Movant’s home.

[snip]

Movant submits the current Receipt for Property is legally deficient. Accordingly, the Government should be required to provide a more detailed and informative Receipt For Property, which states exactly what was seized, and where it was located when seized. In addition, Movant requests that the Court provide him with a copy of the inventory. This, along with inspection of the full Affidavit, is the only way to ensure the President can properly evaluate and avail himself of the important protections of Rule 41. [my emphasis]

Rolling Stone has a piece explaining that this whack filing is not actually the significant Fourth Amendment filing we were promised. That one, a bid to demand that Trump get these files back, is still coming.

[T]he former president’s legal team appears to be working to retrieve at least some of the papers seized during the Aug. 8 federal search. In recent days, the Trump team — led by former federal prosecutor Evan Corcoran — has been quietly prepping additional legal arguments and strategies to try to pry back material that the feds removed from the ex-president’s Florida abode and club, the sources say. Those measures include drafting a so-called “Rule 41(g) motion,” which allows  “a person aggrieved by an unlawful search and seizure of property” to “move for the property’s return,” according to the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.

This would be a follow-up measure to the lawsuit, filed Monday by Trump and his attorneys, calling for the appointment of a special master to review the Mar-a-Lago materials for potentially privileged materials. It is unclear when the ex-president’s lawyers plan to file a subsequent motion, which people close to Trump expect to be more narrowly tailored than what the former president apparently wants.

But this whack filing is meant to lay the groundwork for the future promised significant Fourth Amendment whack filing.

And the success of both depends on a claim that poor Christina Bobb, who in her role as the Custodian of Records is either a witness or suspect in the obstruction side of this investigation, was on the day of the search just a pretty little lawyer who happened to be walking her dog in the neighborhood, and who asked the nice FBI agents to let her watch the search but wasn’t allowed to, which is why she signed off on the receipt without asking for more details on the front end. This entire scheme will fail when the FBI points out that a suspected co-conspirator didn’t do the due diligence Trump is now claiming (falsely) is legally required according to the standards of Rule 41.

It would almost certainly fail anyway, but it will especially fail when DOJ points out that Bobb is not just some lady walking her dog in the neighborhood, but played the role of the Custodian of Records, and so had the competence to demand a more complete receipt on the day of the search, but did not. The Office of Donald J. Trump has effectively already waived the issue of the receipts.

But consider the import of the claim that Christina Bobb functioned at the Custodian of Records for the Office of Donald J. Trump, particularly given Paul Sperry’s claim (h/t Ron Filipkowski) that Trump withheld these documents because he knew that if he turned them over, the Archives would in turn provide them to the January 6 Committee (and now, DOJ’s January 6 investigation).

Christina Bobb is not only not just a lady walking her dog in the neighborhood of Mar-a-Lago, she also played a key role in the coup attempt.

She was the first author of the draft Executive Order attempting to seize the voting machines.

That document is nearly identical to a draft executive order the National Archives has shared with the Jan. 6 committee, and that POLITICO published last month. Metadata on the document says it was created by a user named Christina Bobb, and later updated by an unnamed person. A One America News anchor by that name was involved in Giuliani’s work for Trump, and previously worked in the Department of Homeland Security during the Trump administration.

The Washington Post reported that Bobb was on at least one conference call about setting up alternate slates of electors for the Jan. 6 certification vote, and that she was at the Willard hotel “command center” that Trump’s allies used as a home base to coordinate efforts to overturn the election. The emails did not cast light on Bobb’s ties to the draft executive order beyond her name’s appearance in the metadata, and she did not respond to requests for comment.

And as Seth Abramson first confirmed, after leaving the Cannon Office Building at 1PM on January 6, Bobb spent the rest of the day in the Willard right alongside Rudy.

While the Archives spent a year trying to get Trump to return identified documents, some reports say things came to a head in December.

WaPo reports that Trump personally oversaw the packing of boxes to be returned to the Archives, and they were retrieved on January 17.

What followed was a tortured standoff among Trump; some of his own advisers, who urged the return of documents; and the bureaucrats charged by the law with maintaining and protecting presidential records. Trump only agreed to return some of the documents after a National Archives official asked a Trump adviser for help, saying they may have to soon refer the matter to Congress or the Justice Department.

Nearly a year later, on Jan. 17, 2022, Trump returned 15 boxes of newspaper clips, presidential briefing papers, handwritten notes and assorted mementos to the National Archives. That was supposed to settle the issue.

[snip]

It could not be determined who was involved with packing the boxes at Mar-a-Lago or why some White House documents were not sent to the Archives, though people familiar with the episode said Trump oversaw the process himself — and did so with great secrecy, declining to show some items even to top aides. Philbin and another adviser who was contacted by the Archives in April have told others that they had not been involved with the process and were surprised by the discovery of classified records.

What’s clear is that effort to pack up boxes, an effort Trump personally oversaw, was happening during the same period when Trump was trying to prevent the Archives from handing over records to the January 6 Committee.

October 18, 2021: Trump sues to prevent the Archives from complying with January 6 Committee subpoena.

November 10, 2021: Judge Tanya Chutkan denies Trump’s motion for an injunction against NARA. (While it wouldn’t appear in the affidavit, in recent days Paul Sperry has claimed that Trump withheld documents to prevent NARA from turning them over to the January 6 Committee.)

December 9, 2021: DC Circuit upholds Judge Chutkan’s decision releasing Trump records to the January 6 Committee.

On January 17, 2022, NARA retrieved 15 boxes of Records from 1100 S. Ocean Blvd, Palm Beach, FL.

January 19, 2022: SCOTUS upholds Chutkan’s decision.

Any tampering with already packed boxes may have happened after the DC Circuit ruled in favor of the Committee, but in any case, in courts in DC, such tampering happened during a period when Trump was legally fighting to hide records that would implicate him … and Christina Bobb.

I’m still not convinced that the January 6 investigation(s) are the primary thing that Trump was trying to retain, though I think there’s a decent chance they’re included among the investigation(s) that Trump is suspected of obstructing by hiding, ripping, and flushing documents.

But to the extent that Trump was attempting to obstruct parallel investigations of his efforts to steal the 2020 election, Bobb’s role as both a co-conspirator in the coup plan and as Custodian of Records would raise additional concerns for the FBI.

Drive for Show, Putt for Dough: Trump’s Accountant’s Putting Method Revealed [UPDATE-3]

[NB: Check the byline, thanks. This is a work in progress, subject to updates which will be added at the bottom of this post. /~Rayne]

Trump’s numbers guy, Allen Weisselberg, was indicted yesterday. The indictment was unsealed today and it’s revealing — not because there’s any big surprise but because the fifteen counts with which Weisselberg is charged point to the next hole(s) on this course to be played.

You can read the indictment here (thanks to Adam Klasfeld at Law & Crime News).

There are a lot of folks complaining this is puny stuff, whining that the Trump Organization and its CFO Weisselberg are getting away with a lot. Au contraire, mes amis, it’s too soon for such complaints.

Just Security’s Ryan Goodman notes right off the BIG FAT RED BLINKING LIGHTS embedded in the indictment which point to potential federal charges in the offing:

Sure would like to know how those IRS audits are coming along, hmm?

Here’s the thing: Trump, like his father before him, didn’t do something just once. If it worked — and it always has, never resulting in a criminal prosecution until now — Trump did it again. And again. What we see in this indictment is what will be found for every single business under the Trump Organization umbrella.

I will bet good money there will be other individuals who domiciled in New York whose compensation including living expenses were reported fraudulently to city, state, and federal authorities. The implication is right there in the repeated use of the word “defendants,” references to “Unindicted Co-conspirator #1,” and the conspiracy.

Which of the Trump kindred lived in New York and were also employed by a Trump Organization entity? Does this include ex-wives and their children while they lived at home?

As I noted above, this post is subject to updates; I am only through page 12 of the indictment so far. I’ll share a couple disjointed observations here.

— Jesus Christ, they kept goddamned spreadsheets documenting their criming. I feel like I’m watching The Untouchables with Elliott Ness wielding Capone’s bookkeeper’s black book.

— Trump Org paid tuition for Weisselberg’s family members (which was unreported compensation). This smells hinky; I wondered at first if an actual education facility received payment, but it’s likely. And yet this points to another possibility, that “tuition payments” may appear in the Trump Org’s books and not actually have been tuition payments.

— This is just the State of New York; where else did Weisselberg work for Trump beside NYS? Are there other states where Trump Org employees have failed to report their income? We know Florida doesn’t have personal income tax and can’t expect to see similar charges based on income tax evasion. But what about California, New Jersey, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Washington D.C. where other Trump Org golf courses and resorts are located?

I have to say I’m surprised that Weisselberg never moved as much of the Trump Org’s business as possible to Florida because of the lack of personal income tax. There must be some other reason behind retaining a (unreported) domicile in New York instead of “moving” to Florida or any of the other six eight states which don’t have personal income tax.

Ditto the use of an entity, Trump Payroll Corp. — was this created as another opportunity to skim cash off payroll?

— The indictment spells out a period, “during the period from on or about March 31, 2005, to on or about June 30, 2021” in which the offenses occurred. This is only months after Trump’s tenure on NBC’s The Apprentice began. Is there a correlation between offenses delineated in this indictment and the reality TV series?

Is there something in any of the records related to The Apprentice which is an MGM property, and now possibly owned by Jeff Bezos’ Amazon? ~dark laugh~

I hope you stocked up on popcorn because this is going to be entertaining. We haven’t even gotten to property tax and insurance fraud suggested by Michael Cohen’s appearance before the House Oversight Committee when he testified that Trump understated asset values.

UPDATE-1 — 11:00 AM ET 02-JUL-2021 —

Before I continue I have a couple of asks, thanks for any help you can offer:

— Does anyone have access to Dun & Bradstreet? If you do can you pull up a copy of the profile on Trump Organization? I’ve not pulled a D&B in a while, not certain if it will have history of the enterprise available, but it would be VERY helpful at this point to known who the “executives” were at Trump Org according to D&B. These are likely the same individuals legitimate lending organizations understand to be the policy and decision makers for the holding company structure.

— Does anyone have a copy of proceedings mentioned last night on Maddow? (Shut it, bmaz, we know how you feel about that show.) There was a key nugget in an excerpt last night and I can’t find it because MSNBC no longer uploads their evening programs in full. It may have been a transcript related to the grand jury but I couldn’t give it my full attention at the time; it was important enough that it caught my ear, though. What caught my ear was a throwaway remark that Weisselberg had other sources of income besides Trump Org. [See UPDATE-3 below.]

By now you’ve seen Marcy’s post this morning about Weisselberg’s stagnant income requiring tax evasion. My personal suspicion is that any changes to income levels were being hidden out of sight of local, state, and federal regulators as well as banks just about the point when Trump was beginning to think seriously about a run for POTUS, Trump Org was beginning to experience liquidity problems, AND they were pursuing what I might call euphemistically “alternative financing.” Trump Org purchased 4-5 golf courses in the period 2010-2011 (I need to confirm this number and which courses) which may have required filing of documents related to operating expenses for loans. Weisselberg’s income could have been suppressed on the Trump Org’s books but augmented by income not formally reported as Trump Org payroll.

Which brings me to another observation: the indictment mentions an unindicted co-conspirator. It’s not Trump because in the section Overt Acts under item 2 the indictment reads,

2) On or before April 5, 2010, the Trump Corporation, acting through its agent, Unindicted Coconspirator #1, underreported Allen Weisselberg’s taxable income for the tax year 2009.

The term agent makes it likely it’s Mazars, the accounting firm which did the bookkeeping for Trump Org.

What’s interesting to me looking at the timeline of events: Mazars, an international firm, acquired Weiser, an accounting firm in northeast U.S., in early 2010. It may be something, it may be nothing, but the acquisition happened ahead of the stagnation in Weisselberg’s income. Of course the acquisition didn’t change a history of sketchy financial reporting by Trump Org’s previous accountants, Weiser, and Spahr, Lacher & Berk before Weiser.

The term “executives” — plural — appears throughout the indictment nine times, hence my ask for the D&B profile. D&B’s freebie profile indicates the current executives are:

Eric Trump, Chief Executive Officer
Donald J. Trump Junior, Director
Ivanka Trump, Executive Vice President
A Aamiyahh, Accountant

I wonder if Aamiyahh also qualifies as controller, which may be relevant if more decision making power comes with that title. We don’t know the history of Trump Org’s executives that I’m aware of prior to Trump’s election. Were there any other persons who may also be under scrutiny as one of the “executives,” plural?

As I understand it, the indictment’s first count of grand larceny is based on theft of tax dollars owed not one victim but two — New York State and the IRS. The charge is not in lieu of a federal charge of tax fraud, though.

The multiple counts of falsifying business records have likely set any legitimate financing entities holding Trump Org debt scurrying to check documents on which they predicated lending decisions. One might imagine a liquidity crisis at Trump Org if loans are called in.

Last bit which has been niggling at me which the New York State investigation likely couldn’t encompass: what the hell was the ~$50 million “springing loan” related to Trump’s Chicago Unit Acquisition LLC? How does it fit into the Trump Org’s financial ecosystem?

I’m sure there will be plenty more to come, it’s just a matter of time.

UPDATE-2 — 11:30 AM ET 02-JUL-2021 —

Just had two three thoughts:

— Trump’s revocable trust which was last modified on February 10, 2017 after he assumed office as president doesn’t specify how the trust is revoked. The simplicity and spareness of the document is a massive loophole of sorts; at any given time Trump could give a verbal order and the trust could have been revoked and/or restored; the inclusion of an “ethics advisor” (ha!) is a mere gesture without any real brake on transactions. The two named trustees, Donnie Jr. and Weisselberg, also provide zero checks on this trust given their weaknesses. Ditto Eric Trump’s role as Chairman of the Advisory Board of the Trust; we don’t even know who that board is (could be just Eric).

In short, the trust is like the $50 million “springing loan,” the exact terms of which are unknown to the public. Is it possible the revocable trust and the springing loan are mirror images of each other, an asset in the trust and a debt in the loan, canceling each other out to avoid/evade taxes?

— The word “employees” plural appears 19 times in the indictment of Weisselberg, of which only one use is “executives and employees.” There are some employees who are not executives who must be very itchy right now, besides Weisselberg’s son Barry, the manager of the all-cash operation Wollman Rink.

— If I were a naïve and legitimate paid member of Trump Golf Courses, I’d be panicking. What happens to the tens of thousands of dollars, even hundreds of thousands of dollars paid to become a member (not to be confused with dues or fees related to monthly/annual consumption of services) should the entire Trump holding company structure go bankrupt?

UPDATE-3 — 10:50 PM ET 02-JUL-2021 —

Community member Justlp provided a link to the full transcript for last night’s Maddow show. It contains the snippet I heard which I couldn’t pick apart at the time.

Looking at the transcript I didn’t hear exactly what I thought I heard, but it does raise questions:

The prosecutor says to the judge: While these charges are eligible for bail, we believe there is a flight risk associated with this defendant. So surrender of the passport is necessary to reasonably assure his return to court. This defendant has been and apparently will remain the CFO of a company with international tentacles, and the evidence on this would demonstrate an ample record of travel by private jet and defendant has significant means and connections to support himself outside the jurisdiction, including in places beyond our powers of extradition.

The surrender of the passport is the least restrictive alternative condition that would reasonably assure defendant`s return to court. It`s our understanding that defendant Weisselberg consents to this condition and is prepared to surrender the passport to our investigators.

Emphasis mine — it was this bit in the transcript from the indictment hearing which caught my attention. It wasn’t that he had other income streams but assets and a network outside New York State and the U.S. such that prosecutors think he’s a flight risk.

Was Weisselberg paid enough during his tenure in spite of what reported expenses he had residing in New York, or are we supposed to believe he’s a talented asset manager after hours?

Organized Crime

Know what you call a crowd that requires 25 pardons to cover their illegal activities of the last 5 years?

As it happens, Trump is mulling the pardons at a juncture when loyalty appears his principal concern, complaining repeatedly over the past weeks that Republicans are deserting him when he needed them to help overturn the election results.

He has largely frozen out those advisers and associates who do not seem on the same page. One person who used to speak to Trump regularly, but who delicately encouraged him to soften his post-election stance, no longer has his calls returned and hasn’t heard from Trump in weeks.

In all, the President is considering pardons for more than two dozen people in his orbit whom he believes were targeted — or could be targeted in the future — for political ends. That’s in addition to hundreds of requests from others who have approached the White House directly, and tens of thousands more whose petitions are pending at the Justice Department.

Organized crime.

Peter Carr Speaks

Yesterday, Mueller’s spox Peter Carr issued a statement vaguely denying Thursday’s Buzzfeed story claiming that Trump ordered Michael Cohen to lie.

BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the special counsel’s office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony are not accurate.

Clearly, there are parts of the story that are correct, in that they provide specific details that match the vague ones Mueller himself has released.

The new details in the story include a price tag for the Trump Tower detail: Trump, “hoped could bring his company profits in excess of $300 million” (Mueller’s sentencing memorandum stated that the deal might be worth “hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources in licensing fees and other revenues”).  It quantifies how many times Trump and Cohen spoke about the deal: Trump, “had at least 10 face-to-face meetings with Cohen about the deal during the campaign.” It also confirms that Don Jr and Ivanka were the “family members” described in Cohen’s allocution who were apprised of the details.

That, by itself, suggests that Buzzfeed’s sources have direct access to some of this evidence.

But one thing Mueller is almost certainly responding to is a claim that puts blame for the lies Cohen told to Congress on Trump. Michael Cohen is under oath saying not that Trump ordered him to lie, but that he lied to match the messaging that Trump was using.

By 2017 I was no longer employed in this capacity, but continued to serve on several matters as an attorney to the former CEO of the Trump Organization and now President of the United States, who is referred to as Individual 1 in the information.

As I had in the years before the election, I continued in 2017 to follow the day-to-day political messaging that both Individual 1 and his staff and advisers repeatedly broadcast, and I stayed in close contact with these advisers to Individual 1. As such, I was aware of Individual 1’s repeated disavowals of commercial and political ties between himself and Russia, his repeated statements that investigations of such ties were politically motivated and without evidence, and that any contact with Russian nationals by Individual 1’s campaign or the Trump Organization had all terminated before the Iowa Caucus, which was on February 1 of 2016.

In 2017, I was scheduled to appear before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence as well as the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence concerning matters under their investigation, including principally whether Russia was involved in or interfered in the 2016 campaign and election.

In connection with my appearances, I submitted a written statement to Congress, including, amongst other things, a description of a proposed real estate project in Moscow that I had worked on while I was employed by the Trump Organization.

That description was false — I knew at the time — in that I had asserted that all efforts concerning the project had ceased in January of 2016 when, in fact, they had continued through June of 2016;

That I had very limited discussions with Individual 1 and others in the company concerning the project, when in fact I had more extensive communications; and,

Lastly, that I had never agreed to travel to Russia in connection with the project and had never asked Individual 1 to travel, when in fact I took steps to and had discussions with Individual 1 about travel to Russia.

And I would like to note that I did not in fact travel there, nor have I ever been to Russia.

I made these misstatements to be consistent with Individual 1’s political messaging and out of loyalty to Individual 1. [my emphasis]

That’s a point I made yesterday: Buzzfeed’s story materially differed from the sworn testimony in the case, and even if their sources were right that, in fact, Trump sanctioned Cohen’s lie, they should have explained why Mueller says differently.

Notably, Cohen’s allocution says that he “stayed in close contact with these advisers to Individual 1,” not that he was talking to Trump directly. It’d be hard (though by no means impossible) to have been ordered directly by Trump to lie if he was no longer in day-to-day contact with Trump.

Carr is also seemingly objecting to this characterization:

The special counsel’s office learned about Trump’s directive for Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents.

That’s unsurprising. He’s denying that Mueller has documents and Trump Organization (which may be different from White House) witnesses that would make Cohen’s sworn allocution false. In any case, Trump doesn’t use email, so there’s no email where Trump ordered Cohen to lie.

My very strong suspicion is that this happened — and Mueller pushed back — for two reasons.

First, as I noted yesterday, Buzzfeed’s sources appear to have access to primary evidence, but their focal awareness of what Cohen said to Mueller appears to be limited to precisely what Cohen’s sentencing memo had. That is, Buzzfeed didn’t receive any of the details that would be more useful for understanding how the Trump Tower deal relates to any larger conspiracy between Trump and Russia, they received the details that made it into the sentencing memo.

Cohen’s sentencing went through SDNY, where his other guilty plea was, which means SDNY (both the US Attorney’s office and the FBI Field Office) would have visibility on that process. So it’s likely that Buzzfeed’s sources are there, which would be consistent with the two descriptions Buzzfeed provided for their two law enforcement sources.

two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter

law enforcement sources familiar with his testimony to the special counsel

If that’s right, it explains a big part of what happened. As I noted yesterday, there’s a stark difference in the way that Cohen allocuted his hush payments for Trump and the way he allocuted his lies for Trump. Regarding the hush payments, he says he acted at the direction of Trump.

With respect to the conduct charged in these Counts, Michael kept his client contemporaneously informed and acted on his client’s instructions. This is not an excuse, and Michael accepts that he acted wrongfully. Nevertheless, we respectfully request that the Court consider that as personal counsel to Client-1, Michael felt obligated to assist Client-1, on Client-1’s instruction, to attempt to prevent Woman-1 and Woman-2 from disseminating narratives that would adversely affect the Campaign and cause personal embarrassment to Client-1 and his family. [my emphasis]

Regarding the lies to Congress, he says he was just trying to advance Trump’s political messaging.

Michael’s false statements to Congress likewise sprung regrettably from Michael’s effort, as a loyal ally and then-champion of Client-1, to support and advance Client-1’s political messaging. [my emphasis]

Both these statements would have been written in consultation with the prosecutors running the case. So SDNY used a fairly aggressive frame to implicate Trump in the hush payments, whereas Mueller was much more circumspect about Trump’s role.

The difference may, in part, be that when Cohen made those hush payments he was still working directly for Trump, and so was in a position to get a direct order rather than speaking (as he said he was) with Trump’s advisers. But even if both cases basically show Trump making his intentions known and Cohen executing those intentions, there’s a good reason for the asymmetry on the description.

Cohen is not a cooperating witness for SDNY. While they continue to investigate Trump and Trump Organization for campaign finance violations, they’re not relying on Cohen to make that case. They’re relying on immunized testimony from Allen  Weisselberg and David Pecker. So SDNY (whether people in the office or FBI Agents assigned to the case) has no incentive to be exacting in their description of the evidence on the Trump Tower deal. They can go big, just like they did in the hush payment allocution.

Cohen is, however, a cooperating witness for Mueller. If and when they make a case that the Trump Tower deal was part of a larger election year conspiracy, they will likely need to be able to call Cohen to the stand and describe the truth of how he kept Trump and Don Jr in the loop on the deal, most notably to explain how it factored into Don Jr’s mindset when he accepted a meeting offering dirt in exchange for sanctions relief. They need Cohen to explain that Don Jr would have understood there was $300 million riding on that meeting.

Everything about how Mueller’s team has handled Cohen attests to that possibility. They didn’t need to charge him with false statements and the charge did not add any prison time to his sentence. They didn’t need to make him publicly explain, under oath, why he lied. But by doing that, they began to rehabilitate Cohen publicly. In spite of Cohen’s significant cooperation, they didn’t offer him a 5K letter at sentencing, meaning he’s still on the hook for cooperation; unlike Mike Flynn, for example, he’s not getting a sentence reduction before he takes the stand. But because of the way they handled it, they can mandate his silence about what he told Mueller, demand that Congress limit the scope of his testimony next month, and dictate any response Cohen made yesterday to the story.

The possibility they’ll put Cohen on the stand is likely one reason why Cohen’s allocution about the Trump Tower lies is so much more modest than the SDNY allocution: Mueller will need to be able to corroborate, with other documentary evidence, everything that Cohen will ultimately testify to. And so while they may have reason to believe Trump approved of the lies being told on his behalf — maybe even ordered people at Trump Organization or his spawn to do what they needed to sustain the lies (which might look to SDNY law enforcement as clear evidence that he was directing the lies) — Mueller is not going to set the bar for proof of Cohen’s statement anywhere further than they need for a possible larger conspiracy case. And they don’t need to prove that Trump had a role in Cohen’s lies. Rather, they need to be able to prove that Cohen kept Trump and Don Jr in the loop on the deal itself.

If all this is right, it — and not the magnitude of any errors in the Buzzfeed story (because there have been a number of other big stories where the errors were clearly just as significant) — explains why Carr issued a statement yesterday. First, to make it very clear that in Mueller’s mind, Cohen’s allocution was honest, that he wasn’t (for example) protecting Trump in taking responsibility for the initial lie. But also, to make sure the bar they very deliberately set for Cohen’s testimony remained precisely where they put it in his plea allocution. The last thing Mueller needs is a juror who thinks that unless they show an email with Trump ordering Cohen to lie, then Cohen’s testimony is false. And by making this unprecedented statement, Mueller will make it harder for any defense attorney to raise the bar on what Mueller needs to prove in this case.

There’s probably another reason why Carr made this statement. I don’t doubt that Mueller hates Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier for the way they got the financial transfer part of this story when no one else did, and more of the Moscow Tower deal story than others (which seems to be forgotten in the squawking about Buzzfeed’s loneliness on this latest story).

But I suspect Carr took this step, even more, as a message to SDNY and any other Agents working tangents of this case. Because of the way Mueller is spinning off parts of this case, he has less control over some aspects of it, like Cohen’s plea. And in this specific case (again, presuming I’m right about the SDNY sourcing), Buzzfeed’s sources just jeopardized Mueller’s hard-earned reputation, built over 20 months, for not leaking. By emphasizing in his statement what happened in “the special counsel’s office,” “testimony obtained by this office,” Carr strongly suggests that the people who served as sources had nothing to do with the office.

A couple more points. A lot of people are complaining that Carr didn’t more aggressively warn Buzzfeed off the story (though he did provide what sounds like Cohen’s allocution, which — if it had been reviewed by one of Buzzfeed’s superb legal reporters — probably would have led to the cautions I raised yesterday). I get why that would be nice. But I think people really misunderstand the degree to which Mueller knows that every single action they take will eventually be subjected to scrutiny courtesy of a Judicial Watch FOIA. And any hint at all that Carr provided any inkling about the case to journalists will be blown up by Trump and his lawyers.

Finally, the actions Carr took yesterday (and Mueller’s big-footing on Cohen’s testimony before the Oversight Committee next month) only make sense if Cohen might have to play a role in a possible trial, and not a report submitted confidentially to Attorney General William Barr. That’s what more likely explains Carr’s response than anything else: the discrepancy between what Buzzfeed reported and what Cohen allocuted posed a risk to a possible jury trial. And that may explain another reason why Mueller is a lot more modest about Trump’s role in Cohen’s lies than SDNY is.

Trump’s not going to be indicted by Mueller — at least not before he leaves office via election defeat or impeachment. So Mueller’s focus needs to be on the crimes of those he can charge, like Don Jr. That doesn’t rule out that the evidence he’s looking at shows that Trump oversaw a series of coordinated false statements. He did! With Mike Flynn’s lies, Don McGahn’s clean up of Flynn and Jim Comey’s firings, the response to the June 9 meeting, and yes, this Trump Tower deal, nothing explains the coordinated story-telling of multiple Trump flunkies other than Trump’s approval of those lies. It is, frankly, journalistic malpractice that the press hasn’t noted that, especially on the June 9 meeting, the evidence that Trump lied and ordered others to has already been made public. Trump’s tacit (and explicit, with the June 9 statement) approval of serial false statements, to Congress, to the FBI Director, to FBI Agents, and to Mueller, is an impeachable offense. Multiple outlets have gotten solid proof of that, they just haven’t stated the obvious like Buzzfeed did, perhaps in part because they’re relying on White House sources for their reporting.

But Mueller won’t need to allege that for his case in chief, at least not on the issue of the Trump Tower deal. Because the events that matter to Mueller’s case in chief — the events to which Cohen might have to serve as a witness — happened in 2016, not 2017 or 2018. And the guilt that Mueller would need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt if he does indict this conspiracy is not Trump’s guilt — except as an unindicted co-conspirator. It is Don Jr’s guilt.

So outlets that are suggesting that Mueller’s pushback backs off any evidence that Trump committed a crime make no more sense than the original Buzzfeed report (and ignore the actual evidence of how Cohen’s lies evolved, an evolution in which these outlets were active participants). The only thing that explains Carr issuing such an unprecedented statement is if Cohen’s ability to testify on the stand must be preserved.

Robert Mueller has the unenviable task of needing to sustain as much credibility for a bunch of serial liars as possible, starting with Michael Cohen. Buzzfeed’s story — whether generally true or erroneous on details about Trump Organization witnesses or totally wrong — threatened that effort.

And that’s why, I strongly suspect, Peter Carr finally publicly spoke.

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. 

On Use Immunity, Predictions of Doom for the Presidency, and the Voluntary Waiver of Privilege on the Hush Payment Tape

Don’t get me wrong. I think Trump is in a whole heap of trouble (though remember that, wielded in the hands of a competent man or similarly competent advisors, the power of the presidency is an awesome force). I think the SDNY’s investigation of Trump Organization’s involvement in illegal hush payments and NYS’s investigation of the Trump Foundation pose the additional risk that the Trump business empire will collapse as people scrutinize both its legal shenanigans and its debt. And I think that risk will bring Trump to fear US law enforcement as much as he fears Russia (which I suspect could also bankrupt Trump Org if a few key oligarchs put their mind to it).

But I think people are getting slightly ahead of the story when they predict that “The significance of [what they call Weisselberg’s] flip, paired with Cohen’s recent plea deal, cannot be overstated.” That’s true, in part, because Weisselberg got only limited immunity tied to grand jury testimony implicating Michael Cohen.

The person briefed on the deal said that it was narrow in scope, protecting Mr. Weisselberg from self-incrimination in sharing information with prosecutors about Mr. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer, who pleaded guilty on Tuesday to tax and campaign finance charges. The latter charges stemmed from payments during the campaign to two women who said they had affairs with Mr. Trump. It was not, the person said, a blanket immunity extending beyond the information he shared, and Mr. Weisselberg remains in his job at the Trump Organization.

While his testimony will be damaging to the Trump Org and, probably even more directly, Don Jr, Weisselberg in no way “flipped” on Trump. Indeed, there’s good reason to believe his cooperation may be an attempt to limit the fallout of the investigation of Cohen.

At the risk of proving my most recent post (in which I argued that the push for a Special Master didn’t gain the Trump camp very much) wrong, consider this detail. On July 23, Special Master Barbara Jones informed Judge Kimba Wood that “the parties” had withdrawn their privileged designation for 12 audio files, which she then released to the government.

On July 20, 2018, the parties withdrew their designations of “privileged” as to 12 audio items that were under consideration by the Special Master. Based upon those de-designations, the Special Master released the 12 items to the Government that day.

Those tapes are understood to include the tapes Cohen made in which he discussed the hush payments with Trump.

Two days later after that notice, Michael Cohen released a truncated version of the tape of him telling Trump he had spoken to Weisselberg about buying the rights of the Karen McDougal story, which unsurprisingly immediately preceded the news that prosecutors wanted to speak with Weisselberg.

Now, it may be that Cohen and Trump voluntarily waived privilege on those tapes to provide something to the press to get the titillated by the sex story and distracted from real financial graft. Or it may be that someone has a different plan of hanging out Cohen on the hush payments, limiting damage to Trump Jr and the organization, all in a bid to undercut Cohen’s value in a larger cooperation deal.

Or there may be some other explanation.

That being said, as of right now, the Trump camp is, as far as we know, dealing with three still separate investigations: SDNY, NYS, and Mueller. Don Jr is implicated directly in all of them and they have the possibility to collapse into one (with the added benefit of limiting the value of a Trump pardon of his son). Indeed, according to Vanity Fair, Mueller is very actively putting the squeeze on Junior in the more dangerous of those investigations.

Another theory for what’s motivating Trump’s increasingly unhinged tweets is that Mueller may be closing in on his son Don Jr. “A lot of what Trump is doing is based on the fact [that] Mueller is going after Don Jr.,” a person close to the Trump family told me. “They’re squeezing Don Jr. right now.”

Don Jr.’s lawyer said, “I’m not going to comment.” Another person briefed on the investigation disputed the term “squeeze,” but said the Mueller team continues to ask for documents.

Mueller may not wait for Junior to implicate Dad before he indicts the spawn (certainly, Senior and Rudy G have been laying the groundwork to exonerate Junior for his conspiring with Russians for at least three weeks, so they clearly expect that possibility). And to the extent that Don Jr gets in real legal trouble — something beyond a tax problem they can restate and a campaign finance violation that might be manageable — then Dad might be in real trouble.

But it’s quite possible Weisselberg and the Trump Org found a way to limit the damage of the Cohen investigation, for now, to things that don’t affect the core corruption of the Trump Organization business model, or the conspiracy with Russia to win the election, and along the way limited the damage to Don Jr.

The thing about Trump is there are so many bodies, it may actually take three or four people who know where the different kinds of bodies are buried — Weisselberg plus several others — to bring him down. And thus far, Weisselberg is not telling about most of those bodies.

Update: I’d like to add a point I meant to include before I went to yoga. One thing that’s going on with the hush payment story — one I’ve even seen reporters admit — is that it pertains to issues that reporters can understand. Sex! Scandal! Tax cheats!

Add in the fact that sources are talking here, whereas all the Mueller investigation sources, save those associated with Roger Stone and his band of rat-fuckers, have gone silent (and they were all defense witness sources anyway, and so unlikely to provide the full picture).

There’s nothing wrong with the possibility that reporters will make more of a story that they have sources for and can understand and sell to readers easily. For that reason, too, it may have more immediate impact on Congress, even while I highly doubt Republicans are going to ditch Trump for some hush payments (at least not until he becomes significantly more wounded). But it’s worth noting that some of that may be going on.

And if the focus on these hush payments buys Mueller some times — shifts Trump’s ire from Mueller to Sessions — that’s probably a benefit too.