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Is Manafort Getting Close to Crying “Uncle”?

Even before this hilarious Zoe Tillman report on a hearing in Paul Manafort’s civil suit against Robert Mueller, I was going to point to the things Manafort has learned that we haven’t. But the report that Manafort’s lawyers are trying to “Stop Bobby Three Sticks, before he indicts again!!!” makes the details all the more interesting.

In the hearing, Manafort’s lawyers tried to rescue their desperate lawsuit arguing Mueller’s appointment is improper by arguing they’re only trying to prevent prospective actions with this lawsuit — that is, they’re trying to prevent Mueller from larding on more charges.

During arguments Wednesday about whether Manafort’s lawsuit challenging special counsel Robert Mueller’s appointment could go forward, Manafort’s lawyer said the case wasn’t about getting the existing indictments tossed out — it was about stopping future prosecutions against Manafort by the special counsel’s office.

Pressed by the judge about how Manafort could sue now if he was trying to stop activity by the special counsel’s office that hadn’t happened yet, Manafort’s lead attorney Kevin Downing argued that the harm to Manafort was ongoing because the special counsel’s investigation and the grand jury were still active.

Without an order from the court stopping Mueller’s office from pursuing other charges in the future — based on an appointment order that Downing contends was unlawful — Manafort would have to “sit and wait” and keep chasing the special counsel’s office wherever they decided to prosecute him next in order to challenge Mueller’s appointment, Downing said. He didn’t specify what other types of charges he thought the special counsel might be investigating against Manafort.

Manafort’s civil lawsuit against the Justice Department and the special counsel’s office, filed in January in the US District Court for the District of Columbia, asked the court to not only declare Mueller’s original appointment in May invalid, but also to set “aside all actions taken against Mr. Manafort pursuant to the Appointment Order.”

But Downing has since walked that back, saying that they’re only asking for a forward-looking order that blocks future action.

As I noted, there are several apparently unrelated things that Mueller’s team may have shown Manafort that they haven’t shown us.

First, back on March 1, Mueller’s team moved to unseal transcripts of some sidebar conferences from the status conferences on January 16 and February 14, as well as an ex parte discussion they had with the judge on February 14 (as well as discussions about why Manafort couldn’t yet, and still can’t, make bail from February 14).

The United States of America, by and through Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller, III, respectfully moves to unseal the sealed portion of the transcripts of sidebar/bench conferences that occurred during the status conferences held in this matter on January 16, 2018, and February 14, 2018. The transcripts of these bench conferences were sealed at the government’s request. At the time, the government indicated that the cause for sealing was likely to be mooted in the near future and that the government had no objection to making the transcript available to the public once that happened. The government respectfully submits that unsealing is now appropriate. The government also submits that the transcript of an ex parte sidebar discussion between the government and the Court, conducted at the February 14, 2018, status conference should also be unsealed and made available to the public, the cause for sealing having been mooted. [my emphasis]

The cause for sealing that would soon be mooted might either be the larding on of new charges against Manafort related to his more recent money laundering between 2015 and 2017 (which took place on February 22), or Rick Gates’ anticipated plea (which took place on February 23).

On March 7, Gates’ team asked for more time to object to the unsealing, until five days after they got the transcripts, based on the fact that Tom Green had just joined the case and wasn’t present at those hearings. On March 9, Manafort’s team asked for the same five days after they got the transcripts. Judge Amy Berman Jackson granted both those requests. Since then, there’s been no further developments on this unsealing reflected in the unsealed docket, though there are skips in the numbering (230 and 231, and 238). While it’s possible those transcripts aren’t ready yet, the original version of the January 16 transcript was ready in 7 days (there’s no notice for the February 14 transcripts, though two hearings since that one have been docketed).

So it’s quite possible Manafort now has the transcript of that ex parte sidebar from February 14, but has decided he doesn’t want us to see it.

Then there’s the minute notice from yesterday granting the government’s request to seal an exhibit from its Monday filing.

Berman Jackson’s approval notes that the government has already released a redacted version of the exhibit, meaning the exhibit in question must be the Rod Rosenstein memo. I suggested yesterday that the government was effectively providing Manafort a less redacted copy showing what else it was investigating Manafort for, which might well pertain to Oleg Deripaska, given that Mueller dropped an otherwise superfluous reference to Deripaska in Monday’s motion.

But who knows? There are definitely possible investigative prongs that might be even more damaging for Manafort than just his well-known relationship with Deripaska.

Whatever it is, Manafort’s team went from reading that memo to making a desperate bid to prevent Mueller from bringing any more indictments against Manafort.

That bid — as well as the bid to throw out the indictments — appears to be doomed. Based on Tillman’s report, Berman Jackson seems to have already read Monday’s filing, given that the doubts she raised in today’s hearing all were all laid out in that.

US District Judge Amy Berman Jackson — who is also handling Manafort’s criminal case in DC — expressed significant doubts on Wednesday about whether Manafort could pursue a civil lawsuit. She questioned whether there was a clear limit on how broad a special counsel’s authority could be from the get-go; how Manafort had standing to sue over a possible future prosecution that hadn’t yet happened; and why he should be able to bring a civil lawsuit when he could make the same arguments in the criminal cases, where he clearly had the right to challenge the indictments.

The judge noted that the Justice Department regulations Manafort cited explicitly said that they did not create rights that could be enforced in a civil lawsuit.

That she’s raising objections from that motion suggests she finds them (unsurprisingly) persuasive.

Which means, absent some action from Trump or Rosenstein, Manafort will have to just sit there trying to negotiate bail and waiting for new charges until such time as he screams “uncle.”

About the Oleg Deripaska Reference in the Mueller Memo

As I promised in my general summary of the Mueller memo and my assertion that there are more memos from DAG Rosenstein authorizing expanded scope on Mueller’s investigation, I want to comment on the reference to Oleg Deripaska in the memo.

The memo, remember, ostensibly only needs to lay out how Mueller’s appointment “to investigate Russian interference with the 2016 presidential election and related matters” authorizes him to prosecute a bunch of money laundering used to hide the fact that Paul Manafort was lobbying for the interests of the Party of Regions, the Russian backed effort to keep its favored oligarchs in power in Ukraine, when he was pretending to represent an independent entity.

But at the end of a long paragraph explaining how Rosenstein’s appointment order alone would justify that prosecution — because Manafort played a key role in Trump’s campaign, and because Manafort resigned after his extensive ties to Yanukovych were exposed — Mueller drops in a reference to “open source reporting” tying Manafort to Deripaska.

The Appointment Order itself readily encompasses Manafort’s charged conduct. First, his conduct falls within the scope of paragraph (b)(i) of the Appointment Order, which authorizes investigation of “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.” The basis for coverage of Manafort’s crimes under that authority is readily apparent. Manafort joined the Trump campaign as convention manager in March 2016 and served as campaign chairman from May 2016 until his resignation in August 2016, after reports surfaced of his financial activities in Ukraine. He thus constituted an “individual associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump.” Appointment Order ¶ (b) and (b)(i). He was, in addition, an individual with long ties to a Russia-backed Ukrainian politician. See Indictment, Doc. 202, ¶¶ 1-6, 9 (noting that between 2006 and 2015, Manafort acted as an unregistered agent of Ukraine, its former President, Victor Yanukovych—who fled to Russia after popular protests—and Yanukovych’s political party). Open-source reporting also has described business arrangements between Manafort and “a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, a close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin.”8 [my emphasis]

There’s no explicit reference to Deripaska in Manafort’s indictment. The only public references to him in the Manafort prosecution I’m aware of are instead to Deripaska’s crony, Konstantin Kilimnik, laying out his efforts to spin the indictment in an op-ed in the Kyiv Post, which Mueller’s prosecutors argued was an attempt to skirt the gag rule in the case. There’s admittedly more detailed reference to Kilimnik — referred to as Person A — in the same team’s sentencing memo for Alex Van der Zwaan, including the assertion that,

[T]he lies and withholding of documents were material to the Special Counsel’s Office’s investigation. That Gates and Person A were directly communicating in September and October 2016 was pertinent to the investigation. Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agents assisting the Special Counsel’s Office assess that Person A has ties to a Russian intelligence service and had such ties in 2016. During his first interview with the Special Counsel’s Office, van der Zwaan admitted that he knew of that connection, stating that Gates told him Person A was a former Russian Intelligence Officer with the GRU.2

2 Person A worked with Manafort and Gates in connection with their Ukraine lobbying work. Person A is a foreign national and was a close business colleague of Manafort and Gates. He worked in Ukraine at Manafort’s company Davis Manafort International, LLC (DMI). Up until mid-August 2016, Person A lived in Kiev and Moscow

But thus far, nothing specifically relating to Deripaska or Kilimnik has been charged, even while a different open source report describing Manafort’s offer to give private briefings to Deripaska via Kilimnik laid out a much closer tie between Deripaska and election tampering, and another open source report described FBI scrutiny of Kilimnik’s role in changing the GOP platform.

As noted, instead of referencing those more damning open source reports, Mueller instead points to the August 15, 2016 NYT article that precipitated Manafort’s resignation from the Trump campaign. The report, sourced to investigators in “Ukraine’s newly formed National Anti-Corruption Bureau” laid out the secret ledgers showing that Manafort may have received $12.7 million in off-the-book payments for his consulting services that tampered with Ukraine’s electoral process.

The report goes on to lay out the general logic of the money laundering prosecution at issue — how Manafort’s money laundering prevented others from understanding how much he actually made for his services to Yanukovych and the Party of Regions.

Mr. Manafort never registered as a foreign agent with the United States Justice Department — as required of those seeking to influence American policy on behalf of foreign clients — although one of his subcontractors did.

It is unclear if Mr. Manafort’s activities necessitated registering. If they were limited to advising the Party of Regions in Ukraine, he probably would not have had to. But he also worked to burnish his client’s image in the West and helped Mr. Yanukovych’s administration draft a report defending its prosecution of his chief rival, Yulia V. Tymoshenko, in 2012.

Whatever the case, absent a registration — which requires disclosure of how much the registrant is being paid and by whom — Mr. Manafort’s compensation has remained a mystery.

From there, it turns to the Pericles Open Market fund that Manafort, Gates, and others got Deripaska to fund. The story doesn’t describe any direct tie between the secret ledgers at issue in the story and the Deripaska investments. Rather,the Deripaska lawsuit against Manafort made details of the fund available to Ukraine’s special prosecutor, who cited them as an example of how Yanukovych’s cronies laundered money.

In a recent interview, Serhiy V. Gorbatyuk, Ukraine’s special prosecutor for high-level corruption cases, pointed to an open file on his desk containing paperwork for one of the shell companies, Milltown Corporate Services Ltd., which played a central role in the state’s purchase of two oil derricks for $785 million, or about double what they were said to be worth.

“This,” he said, “was an offshore used often by Mr. Yanukovych’s entourage.”

[snip]

Mr. Deripaska agreed to commit as much as $100 million to Pericles so it could buy assets in Ukraine and Eastern Europe, including a regional cable television and communications company called Black Sea Cable. But corporate records and court filings show that it was hardly a straightforward transaction.

The Black Sea Cable assets were controlled by a rotating cast of offshore companies that led back to the Yanukovych network, including, at various times, Milltown Corporate Services and two other companies well known to law enforcement officials, Monohold A.G. and Intrahold A.G. Those two companies won inflated contracts with a state-run agricultural company, and also acquired a business center in Kiev with a helicopter pad on the roof that would ease Mr. Yanukovych’s commute from his country estate to the presidential offices.

The Deripaska reference in a memo describing why Mueller was authorized to prosecute Manafort for related (but not explicitly) money laundering would otherwise be a non-sequitur. Because it appears in an article that not only lays out the basis for the underlying charges, but does so in an article that had an impact on Manafort’s role in the campaign, it doesn’t seem so obviously tangential. Plus, it has the added benefit (unlike the open source reporting deriving from leaks from Congress or law enforcement) of being an on-the-record source from someone perfectly entitled to the talk to the press about Ukraine’s investigation into Manafort. This, then, was a legally permissible way to insert Deripaska into a filing where he otherwise might not have belonged.

Plus, that same open source report lays out that Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau can’t prosecute suspects, but instead has to rely on entities like the FBI — with which it has an evidence sharing agreement — to do so.

The bureau, whose government funding is mandated under American and European Union aid programs and which has an evidence-sharing agreement with the F.B.I., has investigatory powers but cannot indict suspects. Only if it passes its findings to prosecutors — which has not happened with Mr. Manafort — does a subject of its inquiry become part of a criminal case.

During Jim Comey’s March 20, 2017 testimony (which is cited explicitly in the Mueller memo to lay out the initial unclassified scope of the investigation), Jim Himes tried to get the then FBI Director to admit that DOJ had not responded to seven requests for MLAT assistance to secure Manafort’s cooperation in their inquiry.

HIMES: And the reason I bring all this up with you is because the story also says and it appears to have been confirmed by the Department of Justice that the current Ukraine regime, hardly a friend of the Russians. And very much targeted by the Russians has made seven requests to the United States government’s — the United States government for assistance under the MLA treaty in securing the assistance of Paul Manafort as part of this on anti-corruption case. And in fact, the story says that you were presented personally with a letter asking for that assistance.

So my question Director Comey is, is that all true? Have you been asked to provide assistance to the current Ukrainian government with respect to Paul Manafort? And how do you intend to respond to that request?

COMEY: It’s not something I can comment on. I can say generally, we have a very strong relationship and cooperation in the criminal and national security areas with our Ukrainian partners, but I can’t talk about the particular matter.

Comey, while not confirming the report, instead suggested that the FBI continued to cooperate closely with Ukraine on this issue — a strong suggestion that Ukraine ultimately had asked an entity that could take prosecutorial action to do so.

To sum up thus far: this reference to Deripaska is, to the best of my knowledge, the first explicit reference to him anywhere in the Manafort docket. It has no obvious place in a memo explaining why Mueller is authorized to prosecute Manafort for money laundering tied to the Party of Regions. But there it is, in the middle of a paragraph explaining why Manafort’s prosecution follows logically even from the original grant of authority, to say nothing of any unredacted or redacted bullet points explicitly including Manafort’s alleged and documented ties to Deripaska in the scope of Mueller’s authority. By including it in the memo, Mueller effectively includes Deripaska in the ongoing discussions of the things Judge Amy Berman Jackson will likely soon agree Mueller has the authority to prosecute.

It is, then, the most telling line in the entire memo, and the most clever. It uses the opportunity of this memo to pre-authorize where Mueller is going, without having to reveal what evidence Mueller is sitting on to go there.

Of course, where he’s going — to this oligarch and his crony’s role in Trump’s election — is very obviously tied to the case in chief, the Russian tampering in the US election.

Update: Later today Mueller’s team requested permission to file one of the exhibits from their filing — which given Judge Berman Jackson’s description has to be the Rosenstein memo — under seal. Which suggests they want him to know what else he’s being investigated for, which is probably the Deripaska stuff.

The Gates Flip and the 404(b) Delay

CNN reported tonight that, after not getting funded by rich GOP donors (perhaps in part because Trump thinks his cooperation won’t imperil him), Paul Manafort’s deputy, Rick Gates, is about to flip.

Gates has already spoken to Mueller’s team about his case and has been in plea negotiations for about a month. He’s had what criminal lawyers call a “Queen for a Day” interview, in which a defendant answers any questions from the prosecutors’ team, including about his own case and other potential criminal activity he witnessed.

[snip]

Once a plea deal is in place, Gates would become the third known cooperator in Mueller’s sprawling probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. It would also increase the pressure to cooperate on Gates’ co-defendant Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, who has pleaded not guilty to Mueller’s indictment and is preparing for a trial on alleged financial crimes unrelated to the campaign. Gates pleaded not guilty on October 30 alongside Manafort.

[snip]

Gates has told associates he had hoped for outside assistance from a legal defense fund, but deep-pocketed GOP donors have shown little interest in helping either Gates or Manafort cover their legal fees, two sources said.

The judge has already acknowledged that Gates could not show he had $5 million in assets to secure his bail. His financial situation is further hampered by assets he would have to forfeit to the government if found guilty of money laundering charges. A complex criminal case such as this could cost a defendant more than a million dollars in legal fees, especially if he were to go to trial, according to several people familiar with the legal industry.

Hopefully I’ll have time tomorrow to lay out what Gates might have offered Mueller. But for now, I want to look at a detail from the Gates/Manafort docket.

On Wednesday, Judge Amy Berman Jackson held a status conference. With Manafort, she appears to have discussed his continued efforts to make bail (one thing that CNN reports pressured Gates financially enough that made him willing to flip).

With Gates, she appears to have discussed his confusing legal situation, where his existing lawyers are trying to ditch him so his new lawyer, Tom Green, can finalize this plea deal. The night before, Gates had filed a pro se motion asking Berman Jackson to hold off on deciding whether his current lawyers can ditch him until February 21.

In response, Berman Jackson granted Gates his week.

Defendant Manafort’s (1) Sealed Motion 153 for Reconsideration of Conditions of Release remains under advisement. Defendant Manafort (1) must supplement the Motion. The 161 Motion to Withdraw as Counsel for Defendant Gates (2) remains under advisement. Defendant Gates is to advise the Court of his position on the Motion by 5:00 PM on Wednesday, 2/21/2018.

Just as interesting, Berman Jackson held off on resetting deadlines and on deciding whether or not the government can delay providing 404(b) notice of the evidence of other crimes the government will submit at trial.

The Current Briefing and Hearing schedules that were established at the Status Conference held on 1/16/2018, and in the Minute Order issued on 1/17/2018 are suspended pending further Order of the Court. The government’s 155 Motion to Modify the Court’s Schedule for Rule 404(b) Notice and Briefing remains under advisement. SO ORDERED. By Judge Amy Berman Jackson on 2/14/2018. (jth) (Entered: 02/14/2018)

I noted, when the government submitted that request, that Mueller’s team likely wanted to hide what other crimes Manafort and Gates had committed to save their value for when they testify against Trump and his family.

First, Mueller doesn’t want to tip his hand to the many crimes it has found Manafort implicated in. Perhaps, he also wants to avoid making other obvious allegations about Manafort and Gates to preserve their credibility when they flip on the President and his family. But it also seems to suggest Mueller expects he’ll be finding other crimes Manafort and Gates committed for the next 8 months.

Everything’s on hold, now, until Gates can plead guilty to crimes that involve only indirect taint of conspiring with the Russians, so the government doesn’t yet have to reveal how much it knows of that taint, at least not publicly.

I could be wrong, but this may answer something we’ve been trying to understand about George Papadopoulos and Mike Flynn — whether the government let them plead to far lesser crimes because that’s all they’ve got or because Mueller is trying to keep his witnesses relatively clean for when they testify against Trump.

I think Mueller’s trying to keep them clean, and in the process trying to keep his poker hand still close to the chest for when he starts to use it against the big guns.

I’m also interested in the timing, which would put at least one more guilty plea into place before Rachel Brand leaves.

Mueller Wants to Delay Telling Manafort and Gates What Other Crimes It Knows They Committed

The government just submitted a request to modify the deadline Judge Amy Berman Jackson set to give Paul Manafort and Rick Gates notice of other crimes or bad acts it will introduce at trial, what is called a Rule 404(b) notice. Currently, they have to provide that notice on April 6, but the judge is now considering a September rather than a May trial date, so prosecutors want to bump the 404 notice back accordingly.

Mueller’s prosecutors don’t want to give Manafort and Gates more than a couple months notice of the other crimes they’re going to unload during the trial. They also note that if they give notice in April, they may have to provide multiple notices as they learn of other bad acts.

Premature disclosure raises issues as well. For example, in declining to require disclosure that is too early, courts have recognized that “the evidence the government wishes to offer may well change as the proof and possible defenses crystallize.”

[snip]

For similar reasons, early disclosure can result in multiple Rule 404(b) notices and multiply the rulings that a court needs to make, thus undermining the efficient use of judicial and party resources.

The government wants to wait until 8 weeks before the trial before giving notice.

At least two things appear to be going on here. First, Mueller doesn’t want to tip his hand to the many crimes it has found Manafort implicated in. Perhaps, he also wants to avoid making other obvious allegations about Manafort and Gates to preserve their credibility when they flip on the President and his family. But it also seems to suggest Mueller expects he’ll be finding other crimes Manafort and Gates committed for the next 8 months.

EFF: The Fourth Amendment Is Not Top Secret

EFF is requesting that the judge in its FOIA for the October 3, 2011 John Bates FISA Court opinion, Amy Berman Jackson, review the redactions currently in the document to ensure they are properly classified. (h/t Mike Scarcella) It argues the court should undertake such a review because disclosure of the things DOJ had previously claimed were Top Secret has now proven “the agency’s previous blanket withholding assertions were overbroad and wholly without merit.”

To support that case, they point to this passage originally withheld from production.

Upon even a cursory review of the Opinion, it is apparent, DOJ’s blanket exemption claims were far broader than the law allows. For example, this passage, according to the agency, was appropriately “classified at the TOP SECRET level” and withheld from the Opinion:

The Fourth Amendment provides:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Opinion at 67 (reciting Fourth Amendment); see also Bradley Decl., ¶ 5 (Opinion “withheld in full pursuant to FOIA Exemptions b(1) and b(3)”).

Now, I’m actually not sure about this argument. In recent years, after all, the Fourth Amendment has been almost entirely disappeared without a trace. I wouldn’t be surprised if the government had disappeared it as a conscious policy decision. So perhaps they really do maintain that the Fourth Amendment must now be hidden pursuant to the Executive Order governing classified information.

Technically, the government previously argued that revealing the existence and text of the Fourth Amendment would cause exceptionally grave harm to the United States — that’s what the Top Secret classification it withheld this material under means. [Update: Or, as Nigel puts it, that the opinion referenced the Fourth. Except that’s even more absurd because the FOIA was a response to Ron Wyden’s declassification of a statement that said the FISC had found in this opinion that the program violated the Fourth.]

We’ll see whether Judge Jackson agrees that was a reasonable claim.