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Did Rod Rosenstein Pressure Mueller to Enter the Plea Deal with Paul Manafort?

Bill Barr’s admission the other day that he and Rod Rosenstein started talking about how to deny that Trump obstructed justice on March 5, long before even getting the Mueller Report, has raised real questions about whether the two men pushed Mueller to finish his investigation (even though the Mystery Appellant and Andrew Miller subpoenas were still pending).

But I’ve started wondering whether Rosenstein — the guy who promised Trump he’d “land the plane” while he was trying to keep his job — hasn’t been pressuring Mueller to finish up even longer than that.

At the beginning of Manafort’s breach hearing, Andrew Weissmann described how this plea deal was different from most normal plea deals.

There were two points that I wanted to make to the Court. There are a number of subparts to them.

But, the first point has to do with sort of the context in which we operated at the time that we entered into the agreement. As the Court will recall, the agreement was entered into just shortly before the trial was to commence before this Court, and it was after three proffer sessions. And then, of course, there were many debriefings after that. And a couple things about that timing that are relevant.

One, at the end of the third proffer session, before entering into the agreement, we had made clear to the defense that we were willing to go forward. But, that given the limited opportunity, and yet the need to make a decision because of the eminent [sic] trial, we wanted to make clear to the defense that, of course, we were going in with good faith.

But we could not say at that point that we either could say the defendant was being truthful or that the defendant was going to be able to meet the substantial assistance prong. In other words, two parts of the agreement.

Of course, I think everyone was hopeful that all of that would be met. But we wanted to make it clear to the defense that they weren’t being misled in any way as to what we were thinking.

And the second component of that is, I think, something unusual — there were two factors that were unusual in this case compared to, I think, the cases that all of us at this table have had in the past. One was, there’s enormous interest in what I will call — for lack of a better term — the intelligence that could be gathered from having a cooperating witness in this particular investigation. And that would account for the Government agreeing to have Mr. Manafort cooperate, even though it was after a trial. Because that’s certainly an — not — not — it’s not that that never happens, but it’s more atypical.

By the same token, there was an unusual factor — the second unusual factor, which was [redacted] the normal motives and incentives that are built into a cooperation agreement.

To sum up, it was unusual because:

  • They didn’t do all the vetting they would normally do before entering into a plea deal,
  • There was a big push to avoid the September 2018 trial
  • They entered a plea deal when they weren’t sure about Manafort’s reliability in part to get intelligence, not prosecutorial information
  • Another factor, which is redacted, which by context is likely to be Trump’s floating of a pardon

In other words, there was great pressure to enter into this plea deal that led them not to do the vetting they would normally have.

We already know from the breach determination that Manafort said some things during his proffers that led prosecutors to give him the plea deal, but about which he promptly changed his story. Those subjects include, at a minimum, the degree to which his business associate Konstantin Kilimnik had formally entered into a conspiracy with him, how his kickback system worked, and the criminality of some Trump associate who tried something in August 2016 to save Trump’s campaign.

But the breach determination also revealed that Manafort was always lying about his ongoing discussions with Kilimnik about a “peace” deal. Over the course of his “cooperation,” he came to admit some parts of it after being shown evidence, but he never offered up those details.

That means that when Mueller entered into that plea deal, they knew Manafort was lying to them, at least about the Ukrainian “peace” deals and his coordination with Kilimnik.

But the Mueller Report also reveals were also two details Manafort told them during his proffers that the prosecutors didn’t believe. Manafort told prosecutors that he could not recall “anyone informing candidate Trump of the [June 9] meeting, including Trump Jr;” prosecutors already had other testimony suggesting this was false, and the day after Manafort told them this on September 11, 2018 (and before they actually finalized the deal), Michael Cohen described Don Jr discussing a meeting secretly with Trump in this time period.  That same day, Manafort also told prosecutors, “that he did not believe Kilimnik was working as a Russian ‘spy,'” even though several other Kilimnik colleagues, including Rick Gates, had told Mueller’s team he was.

So Mueller knew Manafort was lying, and yet still gave him a plea deal, which had the effect of averting a trial that would have been a key focus of press attention during the midterm elections. I laid out how Manafort’s failed plea ended up providing cover during the election season in this post.

Rudy Giuliani, remember, repeatedly said that Mueller would have to wrap up the entire investigation before DOJ’s 90 day election season.

I know there are a lot of DOJ beat reporters trying to chase down whether Barr told Mueller he had to finish up as soon as he got cleared to oversee the investigation in March. But I wonder whether Rosenstein wasn’t already pressuring Mueller to finish, going back to August. If he was, that would change the import of Trump’s tactic to avoid testifying — first stalling through the election, and then refusing any real cooperation — significantly.

It would also change the import of the fact that prosecutors still claim that the investigation into Manafort is ongoing.

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

The Parallel Tracks of Disclosure on Why Manafort Shared Campaign Polling Data with His Russian Co-Conspirator

No one knows what the first half of this sentence says:

[redacted] the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.

But it almost certainly includes language acknowledging evidence that might support (but ultimately was not enough to indict on) a conspiracy charge.

I have twice before demonstrated that the Barr Memo — and so this full sentence — is nowhere near as conclusive with respect to exonerating Trump as a number of people have claimed (and Trump’s equivocations about releasing the report). This post showed how little Barr’s Memo actually incorporates from the Mueller Report. And this post shows that the memo ignores Stone’s coordination with WikiLeaks, presumably because he didn’t coordinate directly with the Russian government.

But (as I’ve said elsewhere), the public record on Paul Manafort’s conduct also makes it clear that the Mueller Report includes inconclusive information on whether the Trump campaign conspired with Russians. This came up extensively, in the discussion of Manafort’s sharing of polling data at his August 2, 2016 meeting with Konstantin Kilimnik, at the February 4 breach hearing.

At the beginning of that discussion, ABJ asked whether Manafort had lied to the grand jury about his motives for sharing polling data. [Throughout this, I’m bolding the redactions but including the content where it’s obvious.]

JUDGE AMY BERMAN JACKSON: I think we can go on to the question of the [redacted; sharing of polling data]. And I don’t have that many questions, mainly because I think it’s pretty straightforward what you’re saying.

So, I would want to ask you whether it’s part of your contention that he lied about the reason [redacted; he shared the data]. I know initially he didn’t even agree that that [redacted; he had shared private polling data], and he didn’t even really agree in the grand jury. He said it just was public information. But, I think there’s some suggestion, at least in the 302, as to what the point was of [redacted].

And so, I’m asking you whether that’s part of this, if he was lying about that?

Because Mueller’s team only needed ABJ to rule that Manafort lied, Andrew Weissmann explained they didn’t need her to reach the issue of motive. But they did discuss motive. Weissmann describes that it wasn’t just for whatever benefit sharing the polling data might provide the campaign, but it would also help Manafort line up his next gig and (probably) get out of debt to Deripaska.

MR. WEISSMANN: So, I don’t think the Court needs to reach that issue, and I don’t know that we’ve presented evidence on the — that issue.

THE COURT: You didn’t. So you just don’t want me to think about it, that’s okay.

MR. WEISSMANN: No. No. No. I’m going to answer your question.

THE COURT: All right.

MR. [WEISSMANN]: I’m just trying to, first, deal with what’s in the record. And I think that in the grand jury, Mr. Manafort said that from his perspective, [redacted], which he admitted at that point was with — he understood that it was going to be given by [redacted] to the [redacted; Ukrainian Oligarchs] and to Mr. [redacted; possibly Deripaska], both. That from his perspective, it was — there was no downside — I’m paraphrasing — it was sort of a win-win. That there was nothing — there was no negatives.

And I think the Government agrees with that, that that was — and, again, you’re just asking for our — if we are theorizing, based on what we presented to you, that we agree that that was a correct assessment.

But, again, for purposes of what’s before you on this issue, what his ultimate motive was on what he thought was going to be [redacted] I don’t think is before you as one of the lies that we’re saying that he told.

It’s more that what he specifically said was, he denied that he had told Mr. Gates [redacted; to bring the polling data to the meeting]. That he would not, in fact, have [redacted] and that he left it to [redacted].

Weissmann then goes on to allege that Manafort lied about sharing this polling data because if he didn’t, it would ruin his chance of getting a pardon.

And our view is, that is a lie. That that is really under — he knew what the Gates 302s were. It’s obviously an extremely sensitive issue. And the motive, I think, is plain from the [redacted], is we can see — we actually have — we can see what it is that he would be worried about, which is that the reaction to the idea that [long redaction] would have, I think, negative consequences in terms of the other motive that Mr. Manafort could have, which is to at least augment his chances for a pardon.

And the proof with respect to that is not just Mr. Gates. So that I will say there’s no contrary evidence to Mr. Gates, but you don’t have just Mr. Gates’s information. You have a series of emails where we know that Mr. Kilimnik, in fact, is reporting [redacted]

And probably the best piece of evidence is you have Mr. Manafort asking Mr. Gates to [redacted; print out polling data]. So, it’s — there’s — from three weeks ago, saying: [redacted].

In an effort to understand why this lie was important, ABJ returns to Manafort’s motive again, which leads Weissmann to point out that the question of why Manafort shared the polling data goes to the core of their inquiry.

THE COURT: I understand why it’s false. And I’m not sure I understand what you said at the beginning, that you — and I understand why you’ve posited that he might not want to be open about this, given the public scrutiny that foreign contacts were under at the time. But, I’m not sure I understand what you’re saying where you say you agree with him when he said it had no downside.

So, this is an important falsehood because it was false? Or is there some larger reason why this is important?

MR. WEISSMANN: So — so, first, in terms of the what it is that the special counsel is tasked with doing, as the Court knows from having that case litigated before you, is that there are different aspects to what we have to look at, and one is Russian efforts to interfere with the election, and the other is contacts, witting or unwitting, by Americans with Russia, and then whether there was — those contacts were more intentional or not. And for us, the issue of [redacted] is in the core of what it is that the special counsel is supposed to be investigating.

My answer, with respect to the Court’s question about what it is — what the defendant’s intent was in terms of what he thought [redacted] I was just trying to answer that question, even though that’s not one of the bases for saying there was a lie here. And so I was just trying to answer that question.

And what I meant by his statement that there’s no downside, is that can you imagine multiple reasons for redacted; sharing polling data]. And I think the only downside —

Weissmann ultimately explains that there was no downside to Manafort to sharing the polling data during the campaign, but there was a downside (angering Trump and therefore losing any hope of a pardon) to the information coming out now.

THE COURT: You meant no downside to him?

MR. WEISSMANN: Yes.

THE COURT: You weren’t suggesting that there was nothing — there’s no scenario under which this could be a bad thing?

MR. WEISSMANN: Oh, sorry. Yes. I meant there was no downside — Mr. Manafort had said there was no downside to Mr. Manafort doing it.

THE COURT: That was where I got confused.

MR. WEISSMANN: Sorry.

THE COURT: All right.

MR. WEISSMANN: And meaning all of this is a benefit. The negative, as I said, was it coming out that he did this.

In her breach ruling, ABJ agreed that Manafort’s sharing of polling data was a key question in Mueller’s inquiry, as it was an intentional link to Russia. She establishes this by noting that Manafort knew the polling data would be shared with someone in Russia (probably Deripaska; though note, this is where ABJ gets the nationality of the two Ukranian oligarchs wrong, which Mueller subsequently corrected her on).

Also, the evidence indicates that it was understood that [redacted] would be [redacted] from Kilimnik [redacted] including [redacted], and [redacted]. Whether Kilimnik is tied to Russian intelligence or he’s not, I think the specific representation by the Office of Special Counsel was that he had been, quote, assessed by the FBI, quote, to have a relationship with Russian intelligence, close quote. Whether that’s true, I have not been provided with the evidence that I would need to decide, nor do I have to decide because it’s outside the scope of this hearing. And whether it’s true or not, one cannot quibble about the materiality of this meeting.

In other words, I disagree with the defendant’s statement in docket 503, filed in connection with the dispute over the redactions, that, quote, the Office of Special Counsel’s explanation as to why Mr. Manafort’s alleged false statements are important and material turns on the claim that he is understood by the FBI to have a relationship with Russian intelligence.

I don’t think that’s a fair characterization of what was said. The intelligence reference was just one factor in a series of factors the prosecutor listed. And the language of the appointment order, “any links,” is sufficiently broad to get over the relatively low hurdle of materiality in this instance, and to make the [redacted] Kilimnik and [redacted] material to the FBI’s inquiry, no matter what his particular relationship was on that date.

Elsewhere, in discussing Manafort’s efforts to downplay Kilimnik’s role in his own witness tampering, ABJ refers to Kilimnik as Manafort’s “Russian conspirator.”

Earlier in the hearing ABJ notes that Manafort’s excuse for why he forgot details of the August 2 meeting only reinforce the likelihood that he shared the polling data to benefit the campaign.

You can’t say you didn’t remember that because your focus at the time was on the campaign. That relates to the campaign. And he wasn’t too busy to arrange and attend the meeting and to send Gates [redacted] that very day. It’s problematic no matter how you look at it.

If he was, as he told me, so single-mindedly focused on the campaign, then the meeting he took time to attend and had [redacted] had a purpose [redacted; to benefit the campaign]. Or, if it was just part of his effort to [redacted; line up the next job], well, in that case he’s not being straight with me about how single-minded he was. It’s not good either way.

She further notes that Manafort took this meeting with his Russian partner in Ukrainian influence peddling even though he was already under press scrutiny for those Ukrainian ties.

[T]he participants made it a point of leaving separate because of the media attention focused at that very time on Manafort’ relationships with Ukraine.

Her ruling also explains at length why sharing polling data would be useful to Kilimnik, citing from Rick Gates’ 302s at length.

In other words, these two filings — to say nothing of the backup provided in the January 15 submission, which includes all but one of Gates’ 302s describing the sharing of the polling data — lay out in some detail the evidence that Manafort clandestinely met with Konstantin Kilimnik on August 2, 2016, in part to share polling data he knew would be passed on to at least one other Russian, probably Deripaska.

And here’s why that’s interesting.

Back in early March, the WaPo moved to liberate all the documents about Manafort’s breach determination. On March 19, Mueller attorneys Adam Jed and Michael Dreeben asked for an extension to April 1, citing the “press of other work.”

The government respectfully requests an extension of time—through and including April 1, 2019—to respond to the motion. The counsel responsible for preparing the response face the press of other work and require additional time to consult within the government.

Three days later, Mueller announced he was done, and submitted his report to Barr. Then, on March 25, all of Mueller’s attorneys withdrew from Manafort’s case, which they haven’t done in other cases (the main pending cases are Mike Flynn, Concord Management, and Roger Stone). Then, on March 27, Mueller and Jonathan Kravis, the AUSA taking over a bunch of Mueller’s cases, asked for another extension, specifically citing the hand-off to Kravis and two others in the DC US Attorney’s Office.

The government respectfully requests a further two-week extension of time—to and including April 15, 2019—to respond to the motion. The Special Counsel’s Office has been primarily handling this matter. On March 22, the Special Counsel announced the end of his investigation and submitted a report to the Attorney General. This matter is being fully transitioned to the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Because of this transition, additional time will be required to prepare a response.

On March 29, Barr wrote the Judiciary Leadership and told them he’d release his redacted version of the Mueller report — which he’ll be redacting with the Mueller’s team — by mid-April, so around April 15.

So there are currently two parallel efforts considering whether to liberate the details of Manafort’s sharing of polling data with Kilimnik and through him Russia:

  • The Barr-led effort to declassify a report that Mueller says does not exonerate Trump for obstruction, including the floating of a pardon to Manafort that (in Weissmann’s opinion) led Manafort to lie that and why he shared Trump campaign polling data to be passed on to Russians, which will be done around April 15
  • The DC USAO-led effort to unseal the materials on Manafort’s lies, for which there is a status report due on April 15

Kevin Downing — the Manafort lawyer whose primary focus has been on preserving Manafort’s bid for a pardon — already expressed some concern about how the breach documents would be unsealed, to which ABJ sort of punted (while suggesting that she’d entertain precise the press request now before her.

MR. DOWNING: Your Honor, just one other general question: How are we going to handle the process of unredacted down the road? I mean, there’s been a lot of redactions in this case, and the law enforcement basis for it or ongoing grand jury investigations. What is going to be the process to — is the Office of Special Counsel going to notify the Court that the reason stated for a particular redaction no longer exists, or still survives? Is it going to be some sort of process that we can put in place?

THE COURT: Well, in one case, I know with all the search warrants, it was an evolving process. There were things that were withheld from you and then you got them but they were still withheld from the press and then the press got them. But usually things have to be triggered by a motion or request by someone. There may be reasons related to the defense for everything to stay the way it is.

I, right now, without knowing with any particularity what it is that you’re concerned about, or if — and not having the press having filed anything today, asking for anything, I don’t know how to answer that question. But I think that is something that comes up in many cases, cases that were sealed get unsealed later. And if there’s something that you think should be a part of the public record that was sealed and there’s no longer any utility for it, obviously you could first find out if it’s a joint motion and, if not, then you file a motion.

But for now, the prosecutors in DC will be in charge of deciding how much of the information — information that Barr might be trying to suppress, not least because it’s the clearest known evidence how a floated pardon prevented Mueller from fully discovering whether Trump’s campaign conspired with Russia — will come out in more detail via other means.

Update: And now, over a month after Mueller’s correction, three weeks after sentencing, and a week after the entire Mueller team moved on, Manafort submitted his motion for reconsideration from Marc. They’re still fighting about redactions.

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. 

Rod Rosenstein Didn’t Even Clear Trump on All the Topics He Hired Mueller to Investigate

As I have noted, the William Barr memo everyone is reading to clear Trump and his flunkies of a conspiracy with Russia actually only clears the Trump campaign and those associated with it of conspiring or coordinating with the Russian government in its efforts to hack into computers and disseminate emails for purposes of influencing the election. The exoneration doesn’t even extend to coordinating with WikiLeaks, as Roger Stone is alleged to have done (though that, by itself, is not a crime).

More significantly, it is silent about whether Trump and his flunkies conspired with Russia in a quid pro quo trading election assistance and a real estate deal for policy considerations, the very same kind of election year shenanigans Barr has covered up once before with Iran-Contra.

And that’s important, because it means Barr and Rod Rosenstein haven’t even cleared Trump of what Rosenstein hired Mueller to investigate.

Jim Comey first described the investigation to include:

  1. The Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election
  2. The nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government
  3. Whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts

When Rosenstein appointed Mueller, he referenced Comey’s statement, but specifically mentioned just bullets 2 and 3 in his mandate, combining those two bullets into one that (unlike Comey’s original statement) was limited to just the Russian government, not Russia’s efforts generally.

  • any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and

In May 2017 when Rosenstein hired Mueller (and, according to public reports, through November 2017), the investigation into the hack-and-leak remained elsewhere at DOJ (significantly, but not entirely, in Pittsburgh and San Francisco).

When the FBI raided Paul Manafort on July 27, 2017 — a raid Rosenstein almost certainly approved personally —  they were looking for evidence (among other things) on the June 9, 2016 meeting in support of an investigation into accepting campaign contributions from a foreigners or a conspiracy to do so; there was no mention whatsoever of probable cause that Manafort had helped Russia hack Hillary Clinton. Six months after that raid, Mueller would learn that two months after the June 9 meeting, on August 2, 2016, Manafort shared Trump’s polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik at a meeting where he also discussed a Ukrainian peace deal that would amount to sanctions relief. Manafort lied about what happened at that meeting. In Andrew Weissmann’s opinion, he lied in hopes of getting a Trump pardon.

When the Mueller Report states, “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” it does so after Manafort refused to explain why he shared that polling data, or whether he knew whom Konstantin Kilimnik was sharing it with, and significantly, whether he had reason to believe that either Kilimnik himself or Oleg Deripaska — neither themselves part of the Russian government but Deripaska unquestioningly with close ties to it — would share the data with the GRU hackers who were still hacking Hillary Clinton.

And yet the only “links and/or coordination” that Barr and Rosenstein addressed involved  an, “agreement–tacit or express–between the Trump Campaign and the Russian government on election interference.”

Because of Trump’s obstruction, we don’t know whether Manafort entered into an agreement with Kilimnik to trade sanctions relief for election assistance, but even if he did, it would not qualify as “coordination with the Russian government.” It would qualify as coordination with a cut-out for the Russian government.

Likewise, we know if Don Jr agreed to revisit sanctions relief after Natalia Veselnitskaya and the Agalarov family offered dirt on Hillary. But Don Jr wasn’t even officially part of the campaign, and while Veselnitskaya and Agalarov both have almost inseparable from the Russian government, they are not the Russian government and therefore would not qualify under this standard.

The nature of Manafort’s links to the Russian government via Kilimnik and Don Jr’s links to the Russian government via Veselnitskaya and Agalarov are squarely within Mueller’s mandate as laid out by Rosenstein. And those links are pretty fucking sketchy and possibly criminal, but quite possibly for reasons distant from the hack-and-leak. But by limiting the evaluation of the memo to whether the campaign coordinated directly with Russia on the hack-and-leak and not whether the links to Russia that Mueller discovered were criminally suspect, Rosenstein, with Barr, is not addressing one part of the job he hired Mueller to do.

That’s all the more true given the way that Barr, in consultation with Rosenstein, determined that Trump did not obstruct justice. An explicit part of Mueller’s mandate was to investigate the links between his campaign and Russia, including the link through Kilimnik to Deripaska and through him the Russian government. According to Weissmann, Trump’s actions led Manafort to refuse to explain those links.

In “conspiring” with Barr to give Trump the all-clear, Rosenstein didn’t address a significant part of the job he gave Mueller.

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. 

After Mueller: An Off-Ramp on Russia for the Venal Fucks

We don’t know what the Mueller report says, though given William Barr’s promise to brief the Judiciary Committee leaders this weekend and follow it with a public summary, it’s not likely to be that damning to Trump. But I can think of five mutually non-exclusive possibilities for the report:

  • Mueller ultimately found there was little fire behind the considerable amounts of smoke generated by Trump’s paranoia
  • The report will be very damning — showing a great deal of corruption — which nevertheless doesn’t amount to criminal behavior
  • Evidence that Manafort and Stone conspired with Russia to affect the election, but Mueller decided not to prosecute conspiracy itself because they’re both on the hook for the same prison sentence a conspiracy would net anyway, with far less evidentiary exposure
  • There’s evidence that others entered into a conspiracy with Russia to affect the election, but that couldn’t be charged because of evidentiary reasons that include classification concerns and presidential prerogatives over foreign policy, pardons, and firing employees
  • Mueller found strong evidence of a conspiracy with Russia, but Corsi, Manafort, and Stone’s lies (and Trump’s limited cooperation) prevented charging it

As many people have pointed out, this doesn’t mean Trump and his kin are out of jeopardy. This NYT piece summarizes a breathtaking number of known investigations, spanning at least four US Attorneys offices plus New York state, but I believe even it is not comprehensive.

All that said, we can anticipate a great deal of what the Mueller report will say by unpacking the lies Trump’s aides told to hide various ties to Russia: The report will show:

  • Trump pursued a ridiculously lucrative $300 million real estate deal even though the deal would use sanctioned banks, involve a former GRU officer as a broker, and require Putin’s personal involvement at least through July 2016.
  • The Russians chose to alert the campaign that they planned to dump Hillary emails, again packaging it with the promise of a meeting with Putin.
  • After the Russians had offered those emails and at a time when the family was pursuing that $300 million real estate deal, Don Jr took a meeting offering dirt on Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” At the end (per the sworn testimony of four people at the meeting) he said his father would revisit Magnitsky sanctions relief if he won. Contrary to the claim made in a statement authored by Trump, there was some effort to follow up on Jr’s assurances after the election.
  • The campaign asked rat-fucker Roger Stone to optimize the WikiLeaks releases and according to Jerome Corsi he had some success doing so.
  • In what Andrew Weissmann called a win-win (presumably meaning it could help Trump’s campaign or lead to a future business gig for him), Manafort provided Konstantin Kilimnik with polling data that got shared with Ukrainian and Russian oligarchs. At the same meeting, he discussed a “peace” plan for Ukraine that would amount to sanctions relief.
  • Trump undercut Obama’s response to the Russian hacks in December 2016, in part because he believed retaliation for the hacks devalued his victory. Either for that reason, to pay off Russia, and/or to pursue his preferred policy, Trump tried to mitigate any sanctions, an attempt that has (with the notable exception of those targeting Oleg Deripaska) been thwarted by Congress.

We know all of these things — save the Stone optimization detail, which will be litigated at trial unless Trump pardons him first — to be true, either because Trump’s aides and others have already sworn they are true, and/or because we’ve seen documentary evidence proving it.

That’s a great deal of evidence of a quid pro quo — of Trump trading campaign assistance for sanctions relief. All the reasons above may explain why Mueller didn’t charge it, with the added important detail that Trump has long been a fan of Putin. Trump ran openly on sanctions relief and Presidents get broad authority to set their own foreign policy, and that may be why all this coziness didn’t amount to criminal behavior: because a majority of the electoral college voted (with Russia’s involvement) to support those policies.

Whatever reason this didn’t get charged as a crime (it may well have been for several involved, including Trump), several things are clear.

First, consider all this from the perspective of Russia: over and over, they exploited Trump’s epic narcissism and venality. Particularly with regards to the Trump Tower deal, they did so in a way that would be especially damaging, particularly given that even while a former GRU officer was brokering the deal, the GRU was hacking Trump’s opponent. They often did so in ways that would be readily discovered, once the FBI decided to check Kilimnik’s Gmail account. Russia did this in ways that would make it especially difficult for Trump to come clean about it, even if he were an upstanding honest person.

Partly as a result, partly because he’s a narcissist who wanted to deny that he had illicit help to win, and partly because he’s a compulsive liar, Trump and his aides all lied about what they’ve now sworn to be true. Over and over again.

And that raised the stakes of the Russian investigation, which in turn further polarized the country.

As I noted here, that only added to the value of Russia’s intervention. Not only did Trump’s defensiveness make him prefer what Putin told him to what American Russian experts and his intelligence community would tell him, but he set about destroying the FBI in an effort to deny the facts that his aides ultimately swore were true. Sure, Russia hasn’t gotten its sanctions relief, yet. But it has gotten the President himself to attack the American justice system, something Putin loves to do.

We don’t know what the Mueller report will say about Trump’s role in all this, and how that will affect the rest of his presidency. We do know he remains under investigation for his cheating (as an unindicted co-conspirator in the ongoing hush money investigation) and his venality (in the inauguration investigation, at a minimum).

We do know, however, that whatever is in that report is what Mueller wants in it; none of the (Acting) Attorneys General supervising him thwarted his work, though Trump’s refusal to be interviewed may have.

But we also know that Russia succeeded wildly with its attack in 2016 and since.

Democrats and Republicans are going to continue being at each other’s throats over Trump’s policies and judges. Trump will continue to be a venal narcissist who obstructs legitimate oversight into his mismanagement of government.

Both sides, however, would do well to take this report — whatever it says — as the final word on this part of the Russian attack in 2016, and set about protecting the country from the next attack it will launch.

An unbelievable swath of this country — including the denialists who say all those things that Trump’s own aides swore to doesn’t amount to evidence of wrongdoing — have chosen for tribal reasons (and sometimes venal ones) to side with kleptocratic Russians over the protection of America. Now that the report is done, it’s time to focus on protecting the United States again.

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. 

Mueller Is Close to Done, But the Andrew Weissmann Departure Is Overblown

As my docket tracker of the Mueller and related investigations shows, around August 1, 2018, after finalizing the GRU indictment, Ryan Dickey returned to his duties elsewhere at DOJ.

Around October 1, 2018, after submitting a filing saying Mike Flynn was ready to be sentenced, Brandon Van Grack moved back to his duties elsewhere at DOJ (though he continues to be named in documents in the case, as he was Tuesday). He is now starting a prosecutorial focus on FARA.

Around October 15, 2018, Kyle Freeny, who had worked the money laundering angle on the GRU and Manafort cases, moved back to her duties elsewhere at DOJ.

Around December 31, 2018, after successfully defending the Mystery Appellant challenge in the DC Circuit, Scott Meisler moved back to his duties elsewhere at DOJ.

Today, after getting Paul Manafort sentenced to 7.5 years in prison, imposing a $24 million restitution payment, and an $11 million forfeiture (including of Manafort’s Trump Tower condo), multiple outlets are reporting that the guy in charge of prosecuting Manafort’s corruption, Andrew Weissmann, is moving to a job at NYU.

After each prosecutor has finished their work on the Mueller team, he or she has moved on. Weissmann’s departure is more final, since he’s leaving DOJ. But his departure continues a pattern that was set last summer. Finish your work, and move on.

Nevertheless, his departure is being taken as a surefire sign the Mueller investigation is closing up.

Let me be clear: I do agree Mueller is just about done with the investigation. He’s waiting on Mystery Appellant, possibly on Andrew Miller’s testimony; he may have been waiting on formal publication of Jerome Corsi’s book yesterday. Multiple other details suggest that Mueller expects to be able to share things in a month that he’s unable to share today.

None of that tells us what will happen in the next few weeks. There is abundant evidence that Trump entered into a quid pro quo conspiracy with Russia, trading dirt and dollars for sanctions relief and other policy considerations. But it’s unclear whether Mueller has certainty that he’d have an 85% chance of winning convictions, which is around what he’d need to convince DOJ to charge it. There is also abundant evidence that Trump and others obstructed the investigation, but charging Trump in that presents constitutional questions.

If Mueller does charge either of those things, I’d still expect him to resign and either retire or move back to WilmerHale and let other prosecutors prosecute it. That’s what Leon Jaworski did in Watergate.

The far more interesting detail from Carrie Johnson’s Weissmann report is that just some of Mueller’s team are returning to WilmerHale.

WilmerHale, the law firm that Mueller and several other prosecutors left to help create the special counsel team, is preparing for the return of some of its onetime law partners, three lawyers have told NPR in recent weeks.

I’m far more interested in the plans of James Quarles (who has been liaising with the White House and so presumably has a key part of the obstruction investigation) or Jeannie Rhee (who seems to have been overseeing the conspiracy investigation) than Mueller or his Chief of Staff, Aaron Zebley. Their plans might tell us more about what to expect in the next month (though Rhee appeared in Roger Stone’s status hearing today, and may be sticking around for his prosecution, which just got scheduled for November 5).

In any case, though, we don’t have long to wait, so it’s not clear that misreading the departure of Weissmann — which is better understood as part of the normal pattern of Mueller’s prosecutors leaving when they’re done — tells us anything useful.

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 August 2, 2016, Paul Manafort Gave Konstantin Kilimnik 75 Pages of Recent, Detailed Polling Data

I want to return again to the question of what Paul Manafort ordered Rick Gates to print out on August 2, 2016, so he could share it with Konstantin Kilimnik at a clandestine meeting that night. While Manafort seems to have told the government or grand jury that the data “just was public information,” the comments of his own lawyer, Richard Westling, make it clear that it was something else entirely.

In the February 4 breach hearing, Westling actually argues that “if the goal [of sharing the data with Kilimnik] were to help Mr. Manafort’s fortunes, that some other kind of [redacted] something more public, more [redacted] might help.” He says that after describing the polling data as “gibberish” because he can’t, himself, understand the data, while describing it as, “very detailed [redacted] on a level that is very focused.” In an effort to sustain a claim that Manafort ordered Gates to print it out for use at a campaign meeting that day, Westling also says, “it was the most recent, from what we can tell, the most recent [redacted] but I’m not sure. That would have been relevant to a meeting they were having within the campaign.”

Westling also suggests that Amy Berman Jackson should go check it out herself: “there’s copies of it in the exhibits.”

In what might be an effort to describe the evidence they’re looking at to co-conspirators, Manafort’s lawyers again provided descriptive information of the polling data in a follow-up filing (which ABJ complains in her ruling hearing presented new claims not even raised at the breach hearing and which may have already been integrated into this still erroneous on the point of the polling data NYT story) — provides more detail about how much polling data Manafort gave Kilimnik to be shared with Russia. In an effort to flip-flop on their explanation that the data was the most recent available, they describe the email Manafort sent Gates on August 2, telling him to print out the polling data.

That exhibit is Exhibit 233.

Then it describes the data itself — stating that it dates to “prior to the Republican Convention and the start of the General Election.”

Even if this claim is true (again, as ABJ noted, Manafort’s team made this claim at a time when Mueller would not have an opportunity to correct the record), it would mean the data may have been just 15 days old. Dated, but not necessarily months old as the NYT likes to parrot.

Then, a totally redacted footnote further describes the data. While the description is redacted, the pagination of the exhibit is not. It shows that there are 75 pages of polling data.

This last filing also says a bit about the emails that Mr. Kilimnik sent, discussing his access to the data. Two footnotes make it clear there are at least 6 Kilimnik emails referring to the polling data.

Again — that’s not what I’m saying, or Amy Berman Jackson, or Andrew Weissmann. That’s how Manafort’s own lawyers describe the data and the emails where Kilimnik discussed having received it.

It’s when you couple that data with what Weissmann and ABJ go on to say about it that the data is more damning. As I’ve noted before, Rick Gates testified that Manafort walked Kilimnik through the data at that clandestine August 2 meeting.

And the logic of ABJ’s judgment makes clear that this sharing of poll data amounts to a link to the Russian government.

I disagree with the defendant’s statement in docket 503, filed in connection with the dispute over the redactions, that, quote, the Office of Special Counsel’s explanation as to why Mr. Manafort’s alleged false statements are important and material turns on the claim that he is understood by the FBI to have a relationship with Russian intelligence.

I don’t think that’s a fair characterization of what was said. The intelligence reference was just one factor in a series of factors the prosecutor listed. And the language of the appointment order, “any links,” is sufficiently broad to get over the relatively low hurdle of materiality in this instance, and to make the [redaction] Kilimnik and [redaction] material to the FBI’s inquiry, no matter what his particular relationship was on that date.

So 75 pages of gibberish that only a highly trained operative like Kilimnik could understand, which he then passed onto someone that ABJ believes amounts to a link to the Russian government. That’s Manafort’s least damning story.

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

On Mueller’s Choice Not to Elaborate on Paulie’s Lies

Back in November, I noted that by finding Paul Manafort in breach of his plea deal, Mueller guaranteed he could write a report — in the form of a sentencing memo laying out the significance of his lies — that Big Dick Toilet Salesman could not suppress.

And that “detailed sentencing submission … sett[ing] forth the nature of the defendant’s crimes and lies” that Mueller mentions in the report?

There’s your Mueller report, which will be provided in a form that Matt Whitaker won’t be able to suppress.

Back in December, I noted that at each step of his investigation, Mueller has chosen to submit far more details into the public record than necessary, effectively issuing a report of his work along the way. The WaPo and AP have neat stories in the last few days substantiating that that remains the case.

Indeed, today’s sentencing memo reinforces that point, insofar as it includes 577 pages of trial exhibits laying out Manafort’s sleazy influence peddling with respect to Ukraine.

What it doesn’t do is what I suggested — had Mueller chosen to use it as such — he might do, if he believed his report would be suppressed by the then [Acting] Attorney General, which is to use this report to lay out extensive details of what his investigation discovered. Rather than doing that, which would totally be in the norm for sentencing memos (indeed, Mueller would have been able to present more than Manafort’s lies as related conduct), he instead simply notes that Amy Berman Jackson is already familiar with all that.

Manafort’s conduct after he pleaded guilty is pertinent to sentencing. It reflects a hardened adherence to committing  crimes and lack of remorse. As the Court is fully familiar with this proof, we do not repeat the evidence herein.

The sentencing memo then incorporates Special Counsel’s submissions on the breach determination.

The government relies on and incorporates herein its submissions on this issue.

In a footnote supporting the first statement, the memo cites ABJ’s order finding that Manafort had lied to protect a Trump flunkie in another investigation, lied to hide why and how he dealt polling data to Konstantin Kilimnik at a meeting where they also discussed a Ukrainian peace deal (which Manafort knew to be code for sanctions relief), lied about his ongoing discussions about a sanctions-relief peace deal, and lied about a kickback scheme he had with vendors he hired to work for Trump’s campaign. It also cites the transcript where she explained her ruling on those issues, which among other things deemed the August 2, 2016 meeting to be material to the investigation, including the core issue of coordination with the Russian government.

[O]ne cannot quibble about the materiality of this meeting.

[snip]

This is a topic at the undisputed core of the Office of Special Counsel’s investigation into, as paragraph (b) of the appointment order put it, Any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign.

A footnote supporting the second statement cites the FBI’s declaration supporting the breach determination, which also included a slew of exhibits.

Of course, the transcript, declaration, and exhibits are significantly (almost entirely, in the case of the breach exhibits) redacted. Some of those redactions are dictated by law and DOJ regulations. The grand jury transcripts are protected by grand jury secrecy rules. The description of the other DOJ investigation Manafort lied about is protected as an ongoing investigation. And names of unindicted people are protected per DOJ regulations.

But the rest of those materials are redacted for another reason: to protect the investigation.

In addition, we know that Mueller actually didn’t show all the evidence of Manafort’s ongoing communications with the Trump administration, including communications that “provid[e] information about the questions or other things that are happening in the special counsel investigation, … sharing that with other people.” That was the only area where ABJ totally disagreed with Mueller’s claim that Manafort was in breach (she agreed Manafort’s lies about conspiring with Kilimnik were not good faith cooperation, but said making a finding that they had proven it without a transcript was “challenging”). In other words, Mueller could have presented more evidence that Manafort continued to be in communication with Trump to get ABJ’s ruling on that topic too, but didn’t, at least in part because they didn’t want to share what they knew with Manafort.

So Mueller chose not to make that information available, when he could have, especially given reports (which I have no reason to doubt) that the investigation is substantially complete. Compare the decision to keep that stuff secret with what Mueller did in the George Papadopoulos, Mike Flynn, Michael Cohen, and draft Jerome Corsi pleas, and Roger Stone’s indictment. In each of the other accusations of lying, Mueller laid out juicy details that pointed to key details of the investigation. Here, in a case where they legitimately considered charging Manafort with more false statements charges, they chose to keep precisely the kind of stuff they had disclosed in other false statements accusations secret. Particularly on the issue of sharing polling data, which Andrew Weissmann described to be the “the core of what it is that the special counsel is supposed to be investigating” because they pertained to whether contacts with Russia “were more intentional or not,” Mueller kept the key details redacted to protect the ongoing investigation.

And by choosing to leave the record where it stands — by choosing not to describe what the evidence shows regarding that August 2 meeting in this sentencing memo — Mueller has deviated from the approach he has taken in every other instance (including this one, as it pertains to Manafort’s Ukrainian lobbying) where he had an opportunity to provide a speaking document.

So it was, in fact, the case that deeming Manafort to be in breach provided an opportunity — that Big Dick Toilet Salesman could not and did not prevent — to provide more information. We got snippets of that, especially on the August 2 meeting. If Mueller believed he could not present a substantive final report now, he could have presented those details in unredacted form.

But is also the case that Mueller deviated from past practice. And he did so not because he didn’t believe the lies were material, nor because he believed the lies weren’t criminal, as the lies that Papadopoulos, Flynn, Cohen, Corsi, and Stone all told also were. Both Weissmann and ABJ made it clear the lies, particularly about that August 2 meeting, were central to the topic of investigation. He deviated from past practice to protect an ongoing investigation we have every reason to believe is substantially completed.

That leads me to believe he’s certain he will be able to provide a report in some public form, presumably in the same kind of detail he has presented in all his other statements. He doesn’t need to avail himself of this opportunity to do so.

I don’t know what that means about what form the report will take. I don’t know what that means about what it will show with regards to criminal conduct (except that, presumably, we’ll get the details that remain hidden about the August 2 meeting and communications with Trump’s people).

But it does make it clear that even given the opportunity to follow past practice at a time when, according to most reporting, the investigation is substantially done, Mueller chose not to avail himself of that opportunity, instead just pointing to materials that hide the most important details to protect the investigation.

After predicting (given claims that have since not borne out that the report was coming out next week) that this sentencing memo would lay out precisely the details that Mueller chose to keep hidden with his citations to redacted documents, I argued “we’ll learn a lot abt what [reports that Mueller is done] means from Manafort’s sentencing memo tho.”

I believe it suggests that Mueller plans to and believes he can present the details about that August 2 meeting somewhere else.

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

The Unseen Aspects of Paul Manafort’s Lies and Truth-Telling Are as Telling as the Ones We’ve Seen

As noted, yesterday Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled that Mueller’s team had proven Paul Manafort lied in three of the five areas they accused him of lying about:

  • The kickback scheme via which he got paid
  • Meetings with Konstantin Kilimnik to share polling data and discuss a “peace” deal with Ukraine
  • The role of a 7-character named person in an attempt to salvage Trump’s campaign being investigated in another district

The ruling is damning, and Manafort now may face what amounts to a life sentence (though, in her order ABJ noted that whether she’ll give him credit for acceptance of responsibility at sentencing depends “on a number of additional factors”).

Yet, in spite of the mounting evidence that Manafort shared polling data at a meeting where he also discussed a Ukrainian peace deal (a backdoor way of giving Russia sanctions relief), in spite of how damning this breach discussion has been, ABJ’s ruling is still just one step in an ongoing process.

I say that for several reasons that have to do with what we didn’t see as part of this breach determination.

We’re only seeing half of Manafort’s cooperation

First, we’re only seeing material relating to half of Manafort’s cooperation. In his declaration on the breach determination, FBI Agent Jeffrey Weiland described Manafort’s cooperation to include 14 sessions:

  • 3 pre-plea proffer sessions: September 11, 12, and 13
  • 9 debriefing sessions: September 20, 21, 25, 26, 27, October 1, October 5, October 11, and October 16
  • 2 grand jury appearances: October 26 and November 2

If I’ve tracked everything properly, the descriptions of Manafort’s lies only include material from some of those sessions:

  • 3 pre-plea proffer sessions: September 11, 12, and 13
  • 5 debriefing sessions: September 20, 21, October 1, October 5, and October 16
  • 1 grand jury appearance: October 26

That means there are three debriefing sessions and a grand jury appearance we haven’t heard anything about yet:

  • 4 debriefing sessions: September 25, 26, 27, and October 11
  • 1 grand jury appearance: November 2

In the breach hearing, Richard Westling claimed that the material we’ve seen constitutes just a “small set” of the topics covered in Manafort’s cooperation and he says some of the other topics were “more sensitive topics.”

WESTLING: And I think, you know, the last point that I would make is that given that relatively small set of areas where this occurred, whether even the allegations are being made, you know, we note that there’s not really a lot to explain. There’s no pattern, there’s no clear motive that would suggest someone who was trying to intentionally not share information. And many of the more sensitive topics that we’re aware of from a — all of us paying attention to what’s gone in the news cycle over the last many months, you know, are things where these issues didn’t come up, where there wasn’t a complaint about the information Mr. Manafort provided. And so we think that’s important context as we get started here today.

THE COURT: Do I have — and I don’t think I need them for today, but I’m certain that what you just said is also going to be a part of your acceptance of responsibility argument and argument at sentencing. Do I have the 302s from 12 days of interviews? Do I have everything, or do I only have what was given to me because it bore on the particular issues that I’m being asked to rule on today?

MR. WEISSMANN: Judge, you do not have everything. We are happy to give you the — all of the 302s. We just gave you — you have, I think, the majority of them, but not all of them.

THE COURT: Okay. And I don’t know that — if I need them. But, it’s hard to assess — and I certainly don’t think they should be a public part of any sentencing submission. But, if you want me to put this in context of more that was said, it helps to have it.

Now, it’s possible that Manafort did tell the truth about these more sensitive topics. It’s possible that (for example, with regards to Trump’s foreknowledge of the June 9 meeting), Manafort lied but prosecutors don’t have proof he did. Or it’s possible they know he lied about other issues but for investigative reasons, don’t want to share the proof they know he lied.

One of the other topics Manafort would have been asked about — which Westling’s reference to “what’s gone in the news cycle over the last many months” may reference — pertains to Roger Stone’s actions.

ABJ asked for — and presumably has or will obtain — the rest of the 302s from Manafort’s cooperation, so she may end up agreeing with Manafort’s lawyers that some of his cooperation was quite valuable.

Mueller was interested in Manafort’s cooperation, in part, to obtain intelligence

As I’ve noted before, Andrew Weissmann described Manafort’s cooperation to be somewhat unusual for the extent to which Mueller was seeking intelligence, rather than criminal evidence. Though he makes clear that that was true, as well, of Rick Gates’ early cooperation.

[T]here’s enormous interest in what I will call — for lack of a better term — the intelligence that could be gathered from having a cooperating witness in this particular investigation

[snip]

And with Mr. Gates, we also wanted to make sure that we could get information, and we thought that there was — I think there was certainly a significant issue. And we dealt with it by having the defendant plead to something in addition to take — to have the ramification for it. But that is to show, I think, an example of wanting the intelligence, but dealing with what we considered to be, you know, unacceptable behavior from the Government, particularly from somebody whose information we would rely on, and potentially ask the jury to rely on.

So we may never see a great deal of what Manafort was asked about.

Mueller is still protecting an ongoing investigation

That said, Mueller is still protecting both his and the other DOJ ongoing investigation. We know what Mueller is protecting from the redactions in the transcript.

ABJ noted that much of what they discussed at the breach hearing could be unsealed, while noting that Mueller felt more strongly about keeping some things secret.

I think a large portion of what we discussed could be public. I think there are certain issues where you probably only need to redact out names and turn them back into entities. And then there are may be one or two issues where we’re really talking about something that was completely redacted at every point prior to this and will continue to be. And, hopefully, you’ll both be on the same page about that with respect to what of the investigation is not yet public. I think the Office of Special Counsel has the stronger point of view about that.

Certainly, all the names had to be redacted, under DOJ guidelines prohibiting the publication of anyone’s name who has not been charged. Likewise, the other investigation is not Mueller’s to reveal (in any case, it seems to be still active, even if Manafort’s refusal to cooperate may have protected the target of it).

But more of the rest of the discussion could have been unsealed if Mueller didn’t have ongoing interests in the topics. Those topics include Manafort’s ongoing communications with the Administration, Ukrainian peace deal/sanctions relief, and his sharing of polling data (though there’s one reference to sharing polling data on page 19 that may have gotten missed by the censors). Mueller redacted those things even though Weissmann makes clear that they believe the polling data goes to the core of what they are investigating.

MR. WEISSMANN: So — so, first, in terms of the what it is that the special counsel is tasked with doing, as the Court knows from having that case litigated before you, is that there are different aspects to what we have to look at, and one is Russian efforts to interfere with the election, and the other is contacts, witting or unwitting, by Americans with Russia, and then whether there was — those contacts were more intentional or not. And for us, the issue of [2 lines redacted] is in the core of what it is that the special counsel is supposed to be investigating.

Note his use of the present progressive. They’re still trying to answer the question about whether that August 2 amounts to witting conspiracy with Russia.

Mueller is still sitting on information about the shared polling data

It may well be that, given Manafort’s refusal to cooperate on this issue, Mueller will never be able to charge Trump’s campaign for sharing polling data with Russia in the context of sanctions relief.

But they are sitting on more information than came out publicly in this breach discussion. Starting on page 93 of the transcript, ABJ, on her own, brings up other information she has seen, that pertains to the topic.

THE COURT: I need to ask the Office of Special Counsel about something ex parte because — and so I apologize for that, but I need to do that. And it may be after I talk to them, they tell me there’s no problem with sharing it with you. But I have received information in this case, in this binder, and in other means, and I just want to make sure I understand something. And so, I can’t — I need to ask —

MR. DOWNING: We would object. But we don’t know he —

THE COURT: I note your objection. And I will deem your objection also to be a request that what we’re about to discuss be revealed to you. And that will be the first thing I’m going to ask. And we can do it at the end, after we’re done, or you can just have him come to the bench for a minute.

The ex parte discussion on this topic is fairly short. But after the lunch break, Weissmann tells ABJ that the material she was thinking of remains redacted. But he does point her to two Gates 302s from early in his cooperation that seem to provide some of the same information.

THE COURT: All right. Let me start with you, Mr. Weissmann. Is there anything further you can add to what we talked about, that you can add publicly?

MR. WEISSMANN: Yes. Yes, Your Honor. So, we haven’t finished our review, but we believe that the material that you asked about was redacted.

THE COURT: Okay.

MR. WEISSMANN: However, I would like to direct your attention to two exhibits in the record. If you recall, I mentioned that I recalled that Mr. Gates had, very early on in his cooperation, given us information about [redacted]. And there are two 302s that are dated in, I believe, both in January of 2018. So before he actually pled guilty, so in connection with his proffers. So, the first one is Exhibit 222. And if you look at page 17 of that exhibit, there’s a long explanation of communications with [redacted] that refer to [redacted] at the direction of Mr. Manafort. And then if you look — and that is dated January 31st, 2018. And that was, of course, provided to counsel in connection with the Eastern District of Virginia trial. And Exhibit 236, and I believe I referred you previously to page 3, and I would also refer you to page 5. Both of those refer to [redacted] and also refer to the discussions of the — discussions of [redacted] at the August 2nd, 2016 meeting.

THE COURT: All right. I will look at all of that. So for right now, I’m going to leave the little conversation that we had ex parte, ex parte with your objection noted.

MR. WEISSMANN: Judge, we will continue to look to see if there is any portion that was unredacted to confirm that.

Given the issues she has presided over, this may pertain to one of the search warrant affidavits that Manafort tried to get completely unsealed last year, but which ABJ suggested pertained to other people.

In any case, there’s more on the sharing of polling data that ABJ knows about, this is relevant to its importance, but that does not appear in the unsealed transcript.

Mueller didn’t reveal all the evidence of Manafort’s attempts to contact the Administration

Finally, there appear to be communications between Manafort and Administration officials that Mueller did not release as part of this process. The government stated that clearly in a footnote (on page 27) of its breach declaration.

This is not a complete listing of such contacts Manafort had with Administration officials. Further, for the purpose of proving the falsity of Manafort’s assertions in this section, the government is not relying on communications that may have taken place, with Manafort’s consent, through his legal counsel.

And, in a bid to refute Manafort’s claim, in the redaction fail filing, that, “Mr. Manafort was well aware that the Special Counsel’s attorneys and investigators had scrutinized all of his electronic communications” because “Mr. Manafort voluntarily produced numerous electronic devices and passwords at the request of the Government,” Agent Weiland states that the FBI had found more than 10 devices or documents for which Manafort hadn’t shared a password.

Defendant said in his pleading that he has provided electronic to the government. However, although he has provided some electronic data, passwords, and documents, in more than ten instances he did not provide passwords to access his electronic communications, thumb drives, or documents.

Mueller’s team remains coy about how many of those 10 accounts, thumb drives, or documents they’ve been able to access without his assistance.

And Greg Andres provides some hints about what those other conversations involve: Manafort providing information about the investigation.

MR. ANDRES: Sure. Judge, throughout the interviews with Mr. Manafort and some of the issues we’ve discussed today, you see that he constantly either minimizes the information he has about the administration or any contact with the administration. So there’s an issue whether or not during his cooperation he’s communicating with [15 character redaction] or providing information about the questions or other things that are happening in the special counsel investigation, whether he’s sharing that with other people. And this is another example of Mr. Manafort —

THE COURT: That hasn’t been given to me as we’re troubled by this or he wasn’t truthful about that, so I don’t see how to put this in the context of that because I don’t know about that.

MR. ANDRES: Well, so for example, in the No. 4, the one that Mr. Manafort — that Mr. Weissmann just talked about with respect to the [redacted, other investigation], you see Mr. Manafort changing his story so as not to implicate either [redacted] or someone in [redacted]. I think, with respect to this issue, again, Mr. Manafort is trying to distance himself from the administration and saying he’s not having contact with the administration at a time when he’s under at least one indictment.

THE COURT: But you’re not suggesting right now that there’s more information in here about other efforts to distance himself from the administration or to deny a relationship or to deny reporting back to them?

MR. ANDRES: We’re not relying on any other evidence of that issue.

Particularly given that Manafort, between his early September proffers and his October 5 lies about the other investigation, managed to match his own testimony to that of the Trump associate being targeted in it, those communications may even date as recently as last fall (though that would mean he was communicating with the Administration from jail).

The fact that Mueller has other communications between Manafort and the Administration — but chose not to bolster their argument that Manafort lied about ongoing communications with the White House — suggests protecting what he wants to do with those communications is more valuable than convincing ABJ that Manafort lied about this topic (and, indeed, this is one of the two topics where she did not rule for the government).

For all the debate about whether Mueller is almost done or not, the things we didn’t learn about during this breach discussion are just as interesting as the things we did learn about. They suggest that all the discussion about cooperation deals (including my own) often forgets that Mueller is seeking both criminal evidence and intelligence on what the Russians were doing. They also suggest that Manafort may have provided testimony that bears on other parts of the investigation we’ve recently learned about (which might include Stone, or the Trump Tower deal) — but we can’t be sure whether Manafort told the truth, or whether he lied but Mueller either can’t prove or doesn’t want to reveal that he knows Manafort lied. They suggest that Mueller would still like to make the case, in whatever form, that Manafort intentionally gave the Russians polling data with the understanding that he’d push a Ukrainian peace deal that amounted to sanctions relief — but Manafort’s refusal to cooperate on this point might thwart that effort. Finally, they make it clear that Manafort remained a part of an effort to obstruct this investigation, including via means that bypassed the Joint Defense Agreement Trump has exploited.

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. 

Amy Berman Jackson Rules that Manafort Lied about Possible Criminal Activity Related to Donald Trump’s Campaign

Amy Berman Jackson has issued her ruling on whether Paul Manafort breached his plea agreement. She ruled that, for the purposes of acceptance of responsibility, Mueller’s team proved he had lied on three of the five topics they laid out: about his kickback scheme with a SuperPAC that was probably illegally coordinating with Trump’s campaign, about another investigation pertaining to someone’s efforts to save Trump’s candidacy, and when Manafort claimed he didn’t hand Konstantin Kilimnik polling data on the same day they talked about sanctions relief.

I. OSC has established by a preponderance of the evidence that defendant intentionally made false statements to the FBI, the OSC, and the grand jury concerning the payment by Firm A to the law firm, a matter that was material to the investigation. See United States v. Moore, 612 F.3d 698, 701 (D.C. Cir. 2010).

II. OSC has failed to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that on October 16, 2018, defendant intentionally made false statements concerning Kilimnik’s role in the obstruction of justice conspiracy.

III. OSC has established by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant intentionally made multiple false statements to the FBI, the OSC, and the grand jury concerning matters that were material to the investigation: his interactions and communications with Kilimnik.

IV. OSC has established by a preponderance of the evidence that on October 5, 2018, the defendant intentionally made false statements that were material to another DOJ investigation.

V. OSC has failed to establish by a preponderance of the evidence that on October 16, 2018, defendant intentionally made a false statement concerning his contacts with the administration.

That she didn’t rule that he had lied on the other two doesn’t help him much. While he tried to walk back his admission that he conspired with suspected GRU-asset Konstantin Kilimnik on witness tampering last year, ABJ effectively just ruled his efforts to walk back that guilty plea were only half-hearted.

And while prosecutors didn’t prove he lied about ongoing communications with Trump, they also didn’t show all their cards there, withholding some of the other communications they know about. Effectively, though, ABJ has just ruled that Manafort breached his plea agreement because he continues to lie about possible criminal activity related to Trump’s campaign.

Mind you, Manafort may not mind this outcome, much. After all, according to Andrew Weissmann, he lied (especially about sharing polling data) because he figured it was his best hope for a pardon. Admitting to the full details about the polling data he shared with the intent it be passed on to his Ukrainian and Russian paymasters, according to Weissman, “would have, I think, negative consequences in terms of the other motive that Mr. Manafort could have, which is to at least augment his chances for a pardon.”

So he may be sentenced to 20 years next month, but so long as he continues to lie about the crimes committed during Trump’s campaign, he might get a pardon.

On SSCI’s Investigation: Manafort “Conspired” Whether or Not Trump Also “Colluded”

I’d like to point out something about this NBC report headlined, “Senate has uncovered no direct evidence of conspiracy between Trump campaign and Russia,” but instead showing,

investigators disagree along party lines when it comes to the implications of a pattern of contacts they have documented between Trump associates and Russians — contacts that occurred before, during and after Russian intelligence operatives were seeking to help Donald Trump by leaking hacked Democratic emails and attacking his opponent, Hillary Clinton, on social media.

I sometimes beat up on Ken Dilanian and I don’t mean to do so here. Putting the headline and lead aside, his report shows the disagreement here, and he even references Mark Warner’s recent focus on Paul Manafort’s sharing of polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik (though it’s not clear he asked Richard Burr about the report).

After it recently emerged that Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort shared campaign polling data with a man the FBI says is linked to Russian intelligence, Warner called that the most persuasive evidence yet of coordination.

“This appears as the closest we’ve seen yet to real, live, actual collusion,” he said on CNN.

No evidence has emerged, however, linking the transfer of polling data to Trump.

Natasha Bertrand says the report soft-pedals the Democrats’ belief.

Senate Intelligence Committee aide tells me, re: NBC story, that right now there is “a common set of facts” that the panel is working with, “and a disagreement about what those facts mean.” They add: “We are closer to the end than the beginning, but we’re not wrapping up.”

But I think something else is going on, in addition to any downplaying Democrats’ views.

It’s that the report shifts back and forth between “conspiracy” and “collusion.”

After two years and 200 interviews, the Senate Intelligence Committee is approaching the end of its investigation into the 2016 election, having uncovered no direct evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, according to both Democrats and Republicans on the committee.

[snip]

“If we write a report based upon the facts that we have, then we don’t have anything that would suggest there was collusion by the Trump campaign and Russia,” said Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, in an interview with CBS News last week.

[snip]

“We were never going find a contract signed in blood saying, ‘Hey Vlad, we’re going to collude,'” one Democratic aide said.

[snip]

House Republicans announced last year they had found no evidence of collusion, but their report came under immediate criticism as a highly partisan product that excluded Democrats.

[snip]

“Senator Richard Burr, The Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, just announced that after almost two years, more than two hundred interviews, and thousands of documents, they have found NO COLLUSION BETWEEN TRUMP AND RUSSIA!” Trump tweeted Sunday. “Is anybody really surprised by this?”

[snip]

“This [sharing polling data] appears as the closest we’ve seen yet to real, live, actual collusion,” he said on CNN.

[snip]

The final Senate report may not reach a conclusion on whether the contacts added up to collusion or coordination with Russia, Burr said.

Democrats told NBC News that’s a distinct possibility.

“What I’m telling you is that I’m going to present, as best we can, the facts to you and to the American people,” Burr told CBS. “And you’ll have to draw your own conclusion as to whether you think that, by whatever definition, that’s collusion.”

The story promises to talk about conspiracy, but then ends up talking about “collusion,” going so far as quoting Burr saying you need to draw your own conclusion about what you think the definition of “collusion” is.

That’s an important distinction, especially in a report that talks about Paul Manafort, not least because Manafort has already pled guilty to conspiring with Konstantin Kilimnik, albeit for covering up crimes in 2018 rather than committing them in 2016.

And while Burr complains we can’t know his or any of the other flunkies’ motives, Andrew Weissmann made it clear that Manafort told the grand jury he didn’t have just one motive when he handed highly detailed, recent polling data to Konstantin Kilimnik to be handed over to his Ukrainian and Russian paymasters.

And I think that in the grand jury, Mr. Manafort said that from his perspective, [sharing polling data] which he admitted at that point was with — he understood that it was going to be given by [redacted] to the [redacted] and to Mr. redacted 9 character name], both. That from his perspective, it was — there was no downside — I’m paraphrasing — it was sort of a win-win. That there was nothing — there was no negatives.

[snip]

My answer, with respect to the Court’s question about what it is — what the defendant’s intent was in terms of what he thought [redacted] I was just trying to answer that question, even though that’s not one of the bases for saying there was a lie here. And so I was just trying to answer that question. And what I meant by his statement that there’s no downside, is that can you imagine multiple reasons for [redacted]. And I think the only downside —

THE COURT: You meant no downside to him?

MR. WEISSMANN: Yes.

THE COURT: You weren’t suggesting that there was nothing — there’s no scenario under which this could be a bad thing?

MR. WEISSMANN: Oh, sorry. Yes. I meant there was no downside — Mr. Manafort had said there was no downside to Mr. Manafort doing it.

[snip]

MR. WEISSMANN: And meaning all of this is a benefit. The negative, as I said, was it coming out that he did this.

This August 2, 2016 data hand-off occurred in the specific context of Manafort trying to get whole on his $20 million debt to Oleg Deripaska. The data was also going to some Ukrainian oligarchs that Manafort expected to pay him $2.4 million in November 2016. And all that’s aside from whether Manafort expected the Russians to do anything with the data that might help Trump.

He was badly underwater, and — according to his grand jury testimony, at least as described by Weissmann — he clandestinely handed off recent detailed polling data to a guy connected to the agency that was still hacking Hillary Clinton, to be shared with a bunch of oligarchs who could help him reverse his financial fortunes.

It seems there’s a conspiracy there one way another. Either Manafort effectively stole Trump’s campaign data and traded it to foreigners for monetary gain. And/or Manafort handed over that data expecting that the campaign would get a thing of value from the foreigners he was sharing it with.

Richard Burr would seem to argue that’s not “collusion” unless Trump knew about it (whether he did is one of the questions Mueller posed to Trump).

But it is a conspiracy, an agreement with Konstantin Kilimnik to commit one or more crimes, right there in the middle of the election season. Whether Mueller will charge it or do something else with it remains to be seen. But it is fairly clearly a conspiracy, down to the clandestine arrivals and departures from the dark cigar lounge.

Ultimately, Burr’s retreat to that word “collusion” is a tell. Because, given the public facts in this case, Republicans should be outraged that Trump’s campaign manager was so disloyal he shared highly sensitive data with potentially malign actors. Republicans should be outraged that Trump’s campaign manager was putting his own financial imperatives ahead of sound campaign practice.

But they’re not. For some reason, Republicans are not squawking about the explanation for this data hand-off that would suggest the campaign didn’t expect to benefit.

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.