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How Ric Grenell and Sidney Powell Have Made It Easier to Prosecute Donald Trump for Conspiring with Russia

In a Mike Flynn sentencing memo submitted in January delayed twice to secure all necessary approvals, Bill Barr’s DOJ asserted that Flynn’s lies were material because they hid, in part, who directed that he call up the Russian Ambassador and undermine sanctions.

It was material to the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation to know the full extent of the defendant’s communications with the Russian Ambassador, and why he lied to the FBI about those communications.

[snip]

The defendant’s false statements to the FBI were significant. When it interviewed the defendant, the FBI did not know the totality of what had occurred between the defendant and the Russians. Any effort to undermine the recently imposed sanctions, which were enacted to punish the Russian government for interfering in the 2016 election, could have been evidence of links or coordination between the Trump Campaign and Russia. Accordingly, determining the extent of the defendant’s actions, why the defendant took such actions, and at whose direction he took those actions, were critical to the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation.

That makes sense. After all, Don Jr took a meeting in June with envoys for Aras Agalarov and — at a meeting offering dirt on Hillary Clinton — said his father would reconsider Magnitsky sanctions after the election. Both after that meeting and on October 7 — two of three days that stolen emails were released — Aras Agalarov provided elaborate gifts to Trump, the latter one personally couriered from Russia by Ike Kaveladze. When Agalarov didn’t succeed in revisiting his conversations about sanctions directly after the election, Jared Kushner sought out a back channel. Flynn’s conversations with Sergey Kislyak arose directly out of the meeting at which Kushner made that request, and Kushner ordered Flynn to pursue the discussions with Kislyak. Flynn, Kushner, and KT McFarland made efforts to keep those conversations secret, even from other members of the Administration. At the same time, Flynn and McFarland were explicitly talking about sending secret messages between Putin and Trump.

So it would make sense that Flynn’s effort to undermine sanctions might be proof that Trump had entered into a quid pro quo back in June, rewarding Russia’s help for getting elected with sanctions relief.

But the Mueller Report did not find adequate proof that Trump directed this effort to charge it.

Some evidence suggests that the President knew about the existence and content of Flynn’s calls when they occurred, but the evidence is inconclusive and could not be relied upon to establish the President’s knowledge.

[snip]

Our investigation accordingly did not produce evidence that established that the President knew about Flynn’s discussions of sanctions before the Department of Justice notified the White House of those discussions in late January 2017.

The Report relies on some, but not the most damning, of the exchanges back and forth between Flynn, McFarland and others released in an affidavit targeting them in 2017, as well as Flynn and McFarland’s testimony.

Since that time, several other pieces of evidence have become available — thanks to the interventions of former Acting Director of National Intelligence Ric Grenell and Flynn (and recently fired Trump) attorney Sidney Powell, among others — that might tip the balance on this evidentiary question.

Bill Barnett’s interview report claims he pursued a desired outcome in the interviews of Flynn and KT McFarland

One of those things is the testimony of Bill Barnett, one of the key FBI agents who investigated Flynn. Barnett was interviewed by Jeffrey Jensen in the review of Flynn’s prosecution that Sidney Powell demanded in June 2019 and Bill Barr gave Powell in January 2020, just after DOJ filed a sentencing memo calling for prison time.

Barnett’s testimony is, by itself, remarkable for all the ways it materially conflicts with the actions he took in the case. Effectively, he claims to have treated the investigation as a criminal investigation when documents he drafted clearly treat it as a counterintelligence investigation (thereby undermining all the claims that this was just about the Logan Act).

Barnett also claims that, after expressing disinterest in conducting this investigation four different times but ultimately relenting only so he could serve as a counter-weight to other investigators on the team, he single-handedly prevented the Mueller team from concluding that KT McFarland was lying when she told a story about coordinating with Mar-A-Lago that exactly paralleled the lies that Flynn originally told.

Barnett describes that he was the only one who believed that KT McFarland was telling the truth when she said that she did not remember Trump directing Flynn’s efforts to undermine sanctions. Significantly, he describes this question as — in Mueller’s view — “key to everything.”

Many at the SCO had the opinion that MCFARLAND had knowledge TRUMP was directing [sanction discussions] between FLYNN and the Russian Ambassador. When MCFARLAND did not provide the information sought, it was assumed she was lying. When BARNETT suggested it was very possible MCFARLAND was providing truthful information, one of the SCO attorneys participating in the interview said BARNETT was the only person who believed MCFARLAND was not holding back the information about TRUMP’s knowledge of [the sanction discussions]. MUELLER described MCFARLAND as the “key to everything” because MCFARLAND was the link between TRUMP, who was at Mar-a-Lago with MCFARLAND, and FLYNN, who was in the Dominican Republic on vacation, when [the calls] were made.

Again, it is stunning that Barnett was permitted to give this answer without being asked about the call records, which showed Flynn lied about consulting with Mar-a-Lago, to say nothing about the way that McFarland’s forgetfulness matched Flynn’s and then her unforgetting similarly matched Flynn’s. It’s not a credible answer, but Jeffrey Jensen doesn’t need credible answers.

Then, having made it clear that he believed that Mueller treated McFarland as the “key to everything,” BARNETT described how he single-handedly managed to prevent the entire team from concluding that Trump was in the loop.

BARNETT was told at one point he was being taken off the MCFARLAND proffer interview because SCO attorneys thought would be easier for MCFARLAND to talk without BARNETT there, due to her attitude toward BARNETT during past interviews.

McFarland has complained publicly about being caught in a perjury trap by the FBI agents who first interviewed her (and the 302s show a continuity among the FBI agents), so Fox viewers have actually seen evidence that McFarland had a gripe with Barnett.

BARNETT insisted he be on the interview. When BARNETT was told he would not be allowed on the interview, BARNETT suggested he might take the matter to the Inspectors General or to “11.” BARNETT believed some at SCO were trying to get MCFARLAND to change her story to fit the TRUMP collusion [sic] theory. [Probably Van Grack] later contacted BARNETT and said BARNETT would be part of the MCFARLAND interview.

During the proffer interview with MCFARLAND, the “obstruction team” was leading the interview. BARNETT described the “obstruction team’s” questions as general. They did not ask follow-up or clarifying questions. BARNETT was perplexed by their lack of asking follow-up questions. BARNETT began asking MCFARLAND follow-up questions and direct questions. BARNETT was trying to “cut to the chase” and obtain the facts. BARNETT asked questions such as “Do you know that as a fact or are you speculating?” and “Did you pass information from TRUMP to FLYNN?” Andrew Goldstein (GOLDSTEIN), a SCO Attorney, called “time-out” and cautioned BARNETT by saying, “If you keep asking these questions, we will be here all day.”

It’s unclear whether Barnett’s depiction is correct or not. The 302 of that interview is heavily redacted, but doesn’t show a “time out” in it. What matters for the purposes of this post is that Barnett is claiming he singlehandedly prevented McFarland from implicating the President.

You would never get this kind of admission from an FBI Agent, that he single-handedly undermined the questioning of a witness to get an outcome he believed in, all the while undermining his previously untainted credibility. But Sidney Powell’s demands led to DOJ producing it, nevertheless.

And that’s before any further scrutiny of Barnett’s role and the material inconsistencies here. Such scrutiny might come from the Strzok and Page lawsuits, which would have reason to use his pro-Trump tweets as proof that they were selectively disciplined for expressing political views on FBI-issued devices. Or, particularly given his efforts to blame investigative decisions on Andrew McCabe in ways that conflict with the public record, the McCabe lawsuit might have cause to inquire whether he was the agent who sourced a false story that Sara Carter published, alleging that McCabe said, “First we fuck Flynn, then we fuck Trump,” which ended up leading to the investigation into McCabe itself and ultimately to his firing. Or, DOJ IG might have cause to investigate the Jensen investigation itself, given how it submitted altered documents packaged up for publication, and the circumstances of the Barnett interview in particular, given how DOJ withheld material information from Judge Emmet Sullivan by redacting references to Brandon Van Grack in the interview report.

Interviewing Barnett in such an obviously biased way provides an easy hook for more scrutiny.

For the first time in history we can compare NSLs to warrants obtained

Then there’s another unprecedented thing that Powell’s demands produced: A report of (some of) the NSL’s that DOJ used against Flynn in early 2017. In an effort — almost certainly deliberately misleading — to suggest that McCabe and Strzok inappropriately got NSLs targeting Flynn in 2017 that they chose not to get in 2016 (there’s reason to believe they did get NSLs, only financial rather than communication ones), the government summarized what NSLs FBI obtained in February and March 2017. Those were:

One NSL, authorized on February 2, 2017, sought subscriber and toll billing records for a telephone number associated with Michael T. Flynn for the period from July 1, 2015 to the present.

A second and third NSL, authorized on February 7, 2017, sought “electronic transactional records” for an email address associated with Michael T. Flynn for the period from July 15, 2015 to the present and subscriber information for a telephone number associated with Michael T. Flynn for the period from August 1, 2016 to the present.”

A fourth, fifth, and sixth NSL, all authorized on February 23, 2017, sought toll records for three telephone numbers, for the period of January 1, 2016 to the present, and an email address, for the period of inception to the present, all associated with Michael T. Flynn.

A seventh NSL, issued on March 7, 2017, sought subscriber and transactional information for a telephone number associated with Michael T. Flynn from December 21, 2016, to January 15, 2017.

The government has only recently permitted NSL recipients to inform targets, but just targets, and only after a significant delay. Here, however, you have the government listing out the seven different communication records publicly, in a case where there was already a pending request and precedent to release the warrant applications publicly.

That not only allows us (again, for the first time I know of) to see how the FBI launders information learned in an NSL for use in a potential criminal prosecution, but it also tells us something about the communications devices the government had reason to find relevant when it did obtain warrants.

Warrant applications for Flynn’s iPhone 6 and a computer (first filed on July 7, 2017, then refiled on July 27, 2017) rely on toll records obtained in June 2017 and “other materials in the government’s possession” (which surely include those NSLs) to determine that Flynn had used the same phone from March 2015 until at least June 8, 2017. That said, Flynn changed the number three times, including after he learned he was under criminal investigation in January 2017. After Flynn refused to turn the phone over in response to a subpoena, the government obtained a warrant that would have permitted it to search Covington & Burling, where Flynn was storing it, if they didn’t otherwise produce the phone.

The warrant application and a parallel one targeting Flynn’s son* were focused on FIG, but written in a way such that any communications with foreign officials like Kislyak would still be responsive, and could be used in a False Statements or Foreign Agent prosecution.

By the time of the July 27 warrant that presumably successfully obtained Flynn’s phone, the government already had his Flynn Intelligence Group emails (there are two EDVA warrants that have not yet been unsealed, and some of those emails were turned over pursuant to a subpoena).

Also by that time, the government had confirmed that Flynn’s FIG email was provided by Google. This was the period prior to the time when DOJ agreed to let enterprise clients know when warrants were served on their facilities, meaning the government could have independently obtained FIG emails from Google, as they obtained Michael Cohen’s Trump Org emails from Microsoft in the same period.

On August 25, 2017 — the same day that Mueller asked GSA to turn over related devices and email accounts — Mueller obtained a warrant for Mike Flynn, KT McFarland, and Flynn assistant Daniel Gelbinovich’s devices and emails. GSA had provided Flynn one email account, three phones, and three computers, which would be consistent with devices hardened to three levels of classification — unclassified, Secret, and Top Secret (Flynn had renewed his clearance earlier in 2016). The government had already used a d-order to obtain the header information for the email accounts and obtained toll records by undisclosed means (of which there would be several possible, but the NSLs would have provided that information as well). In addition to sender and recipient information, the header information would have shown what IP any emails were sent from, using what devices (this would have built on information obtained via NSL), which can help to identify the location of someone. The August 25 affidavit referenced FIG emails obtained via subpoena to demonstrate that the Russians contacted Flynn at his Transition account (as well as via Gelbinovich and, apparently, Flynn’s son); though because the Russian side of the conversation would have already been targeted under FISA, the FBI also would have had their side of the communication, which the Russians surely knew.

Then on September 27, 2017, Mueller obtained a warrant targeting the email accounts and devices of Keith Kellogg, McFarland assistant Sarah Flaherty, Sean Spicer, Reince Priebus, and Jared Kushner. These two posts show how damning the content relayed in this warrant is. For the purposes of this post, however, the affidavit is useful because it identifies whether the emails Flynn and McFarland were using to communicate with the others were Transition accounts or not. While it appears Kellogg always used his Transition account, Flaherty, Spicer, and Priebus occasionally did, most of the rest did not, except in cases where they were writing cover emails. But her emails! (Numerous communications from Tom Bossert are included in this batch, as well, but that must come from an interview and subpoena he complied with.)

In addition, the affidavit explains that regarding the sanctions coordination, McFarland was consistently calling Flynn on his personal cell phone (the implication may be that earlier calls were on one of his GSA devices). He was responding to her and calling Kislyak from the hotel phone where he was staying in the Dominican Republic (the latter calls and their content, the FBI would know from FISA intercepts). The December 31 follow-up from Kislyak was placed to Flynn’s personal cell.  The affidavit does not, however, describe which phones Flynn used for other calls.

There are many details about these records that are interesting. Among the most interesting, however, is that the FBI would have known before they obtained the first warrants on Flynn’s devices and emails that almost none of the key calls with Russia, nor even the key calls coordinating the Russian sanctions call with McFarland and others, involved Flynn’s GSA devices. Additionally, there appear to be extra phones, not identified by the known warrants. These might be the possible targets of the NSLs:

One NSL, authorized on February 2, 2017, sought subscriber and toll billing records for a telephone number associated with Michael T. Flynn for the period from July 1, 2015 to the present. [Flynn personal phone]

A second and third NSL, authorized on February 7, 2017, sought “electronic transactional records” for an email address associated with Michael T. Flynn for the period from July 15, 2015 to the present and subscriber information for a telephone number associated with Michael T. Flynn for the period from August 1, 2016 to the present.” [Flynn Intelligence Group email and another phone (possibly his son’s?)]

A fourth, fifth, and sixth NSL, all authorized on February 23, 2017, sought toll records for three telephone numbers, for the period of January 1, 2016 to the present, and an email address, for the period of inception to the present, all associated with Michael T. Flynn. [GSA accounts]

A seventh NSL, issued on March 7, 2017, sought subscriber and transactional information for a telephone number associated with Michael T. Flynn from December 21, 2016, to January 15, 2017. [unidentified account]

At a minimum, the NSL report suggests that even though none of the calls identified in the warrants were to Flynn’s presumably more secure phones (indeed, only Spicer appears to have had a second phone at that point, probably in part because, of the others, only Kellogg and Flaherty had clearance), the government chose to obtain those phones as well. The government knew, when it obtained the August 2017 warrant, that there was something interesting on those second and third GSA lines Flynn was using.

If it weren’t for Sidney Powell’s attempts to frame Andy McCabe, these details would be totally classified. But because she demanded the “review,” it shows that there are parallel phone communications via which Flynn could have kept Trump in the loop on his calls to Russia (remember, translators believed the key December 29 one, which Flynn made from his hotel phone, sounded like he was using a speaker phone).

Ric Grenell releases really damning transcripts but withholds the potentially most damning one

Finally, in yet another unprecedented release, while he was Acting Director of National Intelligence, Twitter troll Ric Grenell prepared the release of the actual transcripts of the calls between Flynn and Kislyak, purportedly to show there was nothing untoward about the calls. (Current DNI John Ratcliffe approved the actual release as one of his first acts on the job.)

Even by itself, the transcripts were far more damning than the gaslighters suggested. Of particular note, on the December 31 call that Kislyak placed to tell Flynn that Putin had held off on retaliating because of his request, Flynn told the Russian Ambassador that Trump was aware of one thing — a proposed Syrian “peace” conference — that Kislyak had raised just two days before.

FLYNN: and, you know, we are not going to agree on everything, you know that, but, but I think that we have a lot of things in common. A lot. And we have to figure out how, how to achieve those things, you know and, and be smart about it and, uh, uh, keep the temperature down globally, as well as not just, you know, here, here in the United States and also over in, in Russia.

KISLYAK: yeah.

FLYNN: But globally l want to keep the temperature down and we can do this ifwe are smart about it.

KISLYAK: You’re absolutely right.

FLYNN: I haven’t gotten, I haven’t gotten a, uh, confirmation on the, on the, uh, secure VTC yet, but the, but the boss is aware and so please convey that. [my emphasis]

This evidence would have been inadmissible without Grenell’s intervention. There would have literally no way in hell Mueller would have been permitted to rely on it, a raw transcript of a FISA intercept targeting a foreign power. With it, however, you have Flynn saying in real time that Trump was aware of these conversations with Russia, well before they were made public. That’s precisely what Mueller concluded they couldn’t prove.

The transcripts make evidence obtained using criminal process still more damning, too.

For example, the transcripts and the affidavits make it clear that Flynn, McFarland, and the Russians were explicitly messaging back and forth. First Flynn explicitly told Kislyak that if Russia did not escalate in response to Obama’s sanctions, “we,” which would have to include Trump, would recognize that as a message.

Flynn: And please make sure that its uh — the idea is, be — if you, if you have to do something, do something on a reciprocal basis, meaning you know, on a sort of even basis. Then that, then that is a good message and we’ll understand that message. And, and then, we know that we’re not going to escalate this thing, where we, where because if we put out — if we send out 30 guys and you send out 60, you know, or you shut down every Embassy, I mean we have to get this to a — let’s, let’s keep this at a level that us is, even-keeled, okay? Is even-keeled. And then what we can do is, when we come in, we can then have a better conversation about where, where we’re gonna go, uh, regarding uh, regarding our relationship. [my emphasis]

When Putin announced he would not retaliate, KT McFarland sent two emails explicitly labeling the move as a signal.

My take is Russians are taking the most restrained retaliation possible — it’s his Signal to trump that he wants to improve relations once obama leaves. Although [Obama] didn’t mean to he has given [Trump] new leverage over Putin.

[snip]

Putin response to NOT match obama tit for tat are signals they want a new relationship starting jan 20. They are sending us a signal.

But then Trump thanked Putin for the move, suggesting he was in on the signaling.

After he did so, McFarland sent Flynn, Kellogg, Flaherty, Priebus, Kushner, and Bannon — the latter of whom almost never used their official accounts but did here — and laid out a cover story, describing Flynn’s call without mentioning that he had raised sanctions. She offered,

a summary of FLYNN’s conversation the day before with the Russian “AMBO,” which I believe to be shorthand for “Ambassador.” McFarland appears to recite a summary of information she received from FLYNN in this email; she provides a summary of FLYNN’s conversation with the Russian Ambassador, but does not indicate that they discussed the sanctions imposed against Russia that had been announced earlier that day.

Flynn would admit to Mueller’s team that he, and therefore McFarland, who knew the truth, deliberately hid his discussions of sanctions with Kislyak.

Shortly thereafter, Flynn sent a text message to McFarland summarizing his call with Kislyak from the day before, which she emailed to Kushner, Bannon, Priebus, and other Transition Team members. 1265 The text message and email did not include sanctions as one of the topics discussed with Kislyak. 1266 Flynn told the Office that he did not document his discussion of sanctions because it could be perceived as getting in the way of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy.1267

But the Russians — who may have monitored some of the traffic that went on between these unsecure personal accounts — made damn well sure that the US intelligence community had a record that all this signaling was intentional. Kislyak called Flynn on his unsecure personal cell phone and told him he had a message, too. The message was that Flynn’s request was the reason Putin had not acted. The message was also that Russia recognized (or claimed to, to play to the Americans’ paranoia) to be pitted against the same hostile entities together.

Kislyak: Uh, you know I have a small message to pass to you from Moscow and uh, probably you have heard about the decision taken by Moscow about action and counter-action.

Flynn: yeah, yeah well I appreciate it, you know, on our phone call the other day, you know, I, I, appreciate the steps that uh your president has taken. I think that it was wise.

Kislyak: I, I just wanted to tell you that our conversation was also taken into account in Moscow and…

Flynn: Good

Kislyak: Your proposal that we need to act with cold heads, uh, is exactly what is uh, invested in the decision.

Flynn: Good

Kislyak: And I just wanted to tell you that we found that these actions have targeted not only against Russia, but also against the president elect.

Flynn: yeah, yeah

Kislyak: and and with all our rights to responds we have decided not to act now because, its because people are dissatisfied with the lost of elections and, and its very deplorable. So, so I just wanted to let you know that our conversation was taken with weight.

This messaging all ended up with Russia and the incoming President aligned on the same side, against the US government.

Still, that’s not direct proof that Trump was involved in real time (though I suspect the government obtained that from its NSLs).

But that may be why Mueller charged Flynn’s lies about the UN vote. In that case (in part because McFarland wasn’t hiding her actions as much), it’s clear that Jared Kushner ordered the effort (and the Americans initiated the calls).

According to records obtained during the course of the investigation, at approximately 8:46 a.m. on December 22, 2016, FLYNN had a four-minute conversation with Jared Kushner. After that conversation concluded, at approximately 8:53 a.m., FLYNN called the Russian Ambassador to the U.S. FLYNN then called a representative of the Egyptian government and had a four-minute conversation with him. At approximately 8:59 a.m., FLYNN had a three-minute conversation with the Russian Ambassador. Over the next few hours, FLYNN had several additional phone calls with the representative of the Egyptian government.

When the Trump crowd succeeded in delaying a vote, McFarland made it clear that Flynn was at Mar-a-Lago working directly with Trump on this effort.

At approximately 8:26 p.m. on December 22, 2016, K.T. McFarland emailed FLYNN and Sarah Flaherty and stated that FLYNN had “worked it all day with trump from mara lago.”

And in spite of the fact that he himself initiated the effort, Kushner sought to release a public cover story, to hide that he and his father-in-law initiated the effort.

Kushner replied all to that email [including Spicer, Bannon, Priebus, Kellogg, McFarland, Kushner, and one other person whose name is redacted] and wrote: “Can we make it clear that Al Sisi reached out to DJT so it doesn’t look like we reached out to intercede? This happens to be the true fact pattern and better for this to be out there.”

This was a lie — a lie designed to cover up that he and Trump and Flynn had worked with Egypt (which had allegedly bribed Trump to get him through the election) and Russia (which had conducted an elaborate operation to help him) to thwart the vote and with it the official US policy not to protect Israel’s illegal settlements.

As it turns out, the transcript from Flynn’s call to Russia that day isn’t among those Grenell released because they were so helpful to Trump. Even the one-line summary of the call, released for all other substantive calls, remains redacted.

But there, too, Kislyak may have been performing for the FBI intercepts he knew would catch these calls.

First, on the December 23 call — the one after the call for which the transcript hasn’t been released — Kislyak assures Flynn that whatever happened on it was considered by Putin.

Kislyak: Uh, I just wanted as a follow up to share with you several points. One, that, uh, your previous, uh, uh, telephone call, I reported to Moscow and it was considered at the highest level in Russia.

Then on the December 29 call, when Flynn asks Kislyak that Russia not box in the new Administration, Kislyak says that message has already been conveyed.

FLYNN: do not, do not uh, allow this administration to box us in, right now, okay? Um —

KISLYAK: We have conveyed it.

That request wasn’t in the December 23 call, so it must have been in one of the communications that preceded it, possibly even the face-to-face with Kushner in Trump Tower.

In his December 22 call — the one the content of which Grenell hid — Flynn made an ask of Russia, an ask that went beyond a vote at the UN. That was a call made from Mar-a-Lago, possibly even made with Trump on the call. That was a call that McFarland bragged Trump was involved with personally.

The Mueller Report, relying on evidence that would be admissible in court, said it was unclear how involved Trump was in any of this. But thanks to Ric Grenell, we now have solid evidence he was personally involved, if not on the phone for the call.

And even Bill Barr’s DOJ says that kind of personal involvement from Trump might amount to the kind of coordination that Bill Barr claimed didn’t exist.

When Mueller closed up shop, his team decided that they couldn’t make this case in court. Now, thanks to Sidney Powell and Ric Grenell, the Biden Administration may have a much easier time making that case.


*We know this warrant targeted Michael G. Flynn because it was sent to Barry Coburn, who represented the failson, because the warrant always refers to Flynn père as Michael T. Flynn (as an affidavit referencing both would necessitate), and the target of the third warrant tried to invoke the Fifth Amendment for questions about Flynn Sr.

Andrew McCabe’s Comments about Trump More Likely Reference What an Easy Mark Russia Thinks He Is than Any (Unexpected) Thing He Did

Andrew McCabe was on Chris Cuomo’s show last night, talking about Trump’s reported plan to release more sensitive intelligence about the Russian investigation. A number of people have asked me about it, so I thought I’d talk about what he did and did not say. First, my transcription:

Cuomo: … the next leading theory, other than just payback, is he wants a lot of stuff from the Russia investigation declassified because he’s been told by Nunes and others, “the more comes out the more it would look you were framed.” Uh, what’s the risk there, if a lot of stuff comes out? We’ve talked about sources and methods. But let me reverse the question: from your knowledge, is there anything that could come out that people would look at it and say, “Wow, I can’t believe they ever included the President in this analysis. He and his people clearly did nothing.”

McCabe: There is some very, very serious, very specific undeniable intelligence that has NOT come out that, if it were released, would risk compromising our access to that sort of information in the future. I think it would also risk casting the President in a very negative light. So does it — would he have a motivation to release those things? It’s almost incomprehensible to me that he would want that information out. I don’t see how he spins it to his advantage because, quite frankly, I don’t believe it’s flattering.

Cuomo: You think there’s more bad stuff about him that we don’t know?

McCabe: There is always more intelligence — there was a lot more in the intelligence community assessment than what was ever released for public consumption. I mean, the original version of that report was classified at the absolute highest level I have ever seen. You’re talking about Top Secret, Compartmentalized Code Word stuff, and it would be ver–it would be tragic to American intelligence collection for those sources to be put at risk.

First, note that McCabe at first didn’t answer Cuomo’s question, which was basically whether there was anything that would substantiate Trump’s claims to have been framed. Instead, he first says that there’s stuff that if it were released, would have a permanent impact on US intelligence collection. Only after saying that does McCabe say there’s stuff that McCabe doesn’t believe is “flattering” that would “risk casting the President in a very negative light.” Cuomo picks up on that and asks if there’s more bad stuff about Trump that we don’t know (as if CNN has covered even the public stuff that puts Trump in a very bad light, which they have not). McCabe responds by addressing only the Intelligence Community Assessment completed by early January 2017. He then describes the ICA using terms that describe the most sensitive stuff coming from a variety of different collection sources, without specifically saying that this is about Trump, or if it is, whether it involves something that Trump did rather than something that was said about Trump.

Moreover, McCabe is talking about stuff that was available by January 6, 2017, not stuff that became available by May 2019, when Mueller shut down his office. He’s talking about stuff that, because CIA and NSA were key parts of the collection effort, could not be targeted at Trump, but instead would be targeted at Russians.

It’s possible this stuff refers to more compromise by women. After all, the SSCI Report (which benefitted more from CIA and NSA information than it did from FBI information) found more examples — three — than were known about Trump’s possible sexual compromise when in Russia, and the section is preceded by two redacted pages.

It may also include details about Trump’s 2013 trip associated with Miss Universe, which the SSCI Report also provides damning new details about.

Another likely topic pertains to Russia’s profiling of Trump as a potential asset. The SSCI Report leaves his usefulness as a money laundering vehicle almost unmentioned and similarly limits mention of Trump’s ties to the mob (though it does include the latter in several places, such as this discussion of his 2013 trip and this discussion of warnings about the Agalarovs). But if the IC had the kind of collection as sensitive as McCabe says, it likely includes discussions of how easy it would be to stoke Trump’s narcissism to get him to work contrary to America’s interests.

There’s one more thing it likely includes. As I observed when it came out, the Mueller Report does not discuss — at all — Trump’s interactions directly with Putin, not even his meeting at the G20 where they discussed adoptions in advance of Trump crafting a June 9 denial for his failson that focused on adoptions. In my never-ending fascination with what gets classified, the Andrew Weissmann book also makes no mention of that meeting, even though he discusses the adoption cover story at length. If that weren’t really sensitive, he should have been able to argue that the meeting was public, not least given that Trump confessed it himself in an NYT interview. Trump and Putin are not known to have met before he became President. Nevertheless, there must be a corpus of intelligence of “about” collections in which Trump’s cultivation by Putin are discussed.

Still, most of that isn’t about what Trump did — aside the same financial corruption and serial sexual philandering he has done in the US. It’s about what Russia thinks of Trump. Which is consistent with it not being “flattering” rather than being described as “damning.”

McCabe doesn’t talk about the damning information that FBI would have found between the time the ICA came out and the time the investigation into his closest associates ramped up. And that stuff is likely more interesting.

The Steele Dossier and the Mueller Investigation: Michael Cohen

Update: I’m reposting this on July 20 because these warrants have been re-released in less redacted form. As noted below in the update on Section C, that previously redacted section does pertain to Michael Cohen’s hush payments to Stormy Daniels, meaning the only mention of the Steele Dossier in the earliest warrant on Cohen is just to a post-dossier WSJ article used exclusively to explain Cohen’s own description of how he served as Trump’s fixer. 

Because the frothy right thinks it’s an important question but won’t actually consult the public record, I’m doing a series on what that public record says about the relationship between the allegations in the Steele dossier and the known investigative steps against Trump’s associates. In this post, I argued that the way the Steele dossier influenced the Carter Page investigation may be slightly different than generally understood: it appears that the dossier appeared to predict — just like George Papadopoulos had — the release of the DNC emails on July 22. From that point forward, Page continued to do things — such as telling people in Moscow he was representing Donald Trump in December 2016, including on Ukraine policy — that were consistent with the general theory (though not the specific facts) laid out in the Steele dossier. That is, Page kept acting like the the Steele dossier said he would. That said, the government had plenty of reason before the Steele dossier to investigate Page for his stated willingness to share information with Russian spies, and his ongoing behavior continued to give them reason.

I’m more interested in the example of Michael Cohen.

The Steele dossier eventually describes Michael Cohen as the villain of coordination with Russia

The dossier makes allegations against Cohen four times, all after the time when Steele and Fusion GPS were shopping the dossier to the press, increasing the likelihood Russia got wind of the project and were shopping disinformation.

The first three mentions came on three consecutive days (probably based on just two sub-source to Kremlin insider conversations), all apparently sourced to the same second-hand access to a Kremlin insider, and evolving significantly over those three days.  Importantly, the sub-source is also the source for the claim that Page had been offered the brokerage of the publicly announced Rosneft sale, meaning this person purportedly had access to Igor Sechin and a Kremlin insider, and if this source was intentionally feeding disinformation, it would account for the most obviously suspect claims in the dossier.

October 18, 2016 (134): A Kremlin insider tells the sub-source that Michael Cohen was playing a key role in the Trump campaign’s relationship with the Kremlin.

October 19, 2016 (135): The Kremlin insider tells his source that Cohen met with Presidential Administration officials in August 2016 to discuss how to contain Manafort’s Russia/Ukraine scandal and Page’s secret meetings with Russian leaders. Since that August meeting Trump-Russian conversations increasingly took place via pro-government policy institutes.

October 20, 2016 (136): In a communication that “had to be cryptic for security reasons,” a Kremlin insider tells a friend on October 19 that the reported meeting with Cohen took place in Prague using Rossotrudnichestvo as a cover. It involved Duma Head of Foreign Relations Committee Konstantin Kosachev. This is notably different from the PA claim made just the day before.

Then there’s the final report, which Steele has claimed was provided for “free,” dated after David Corn and Kurt Eichenwald’s exposure of the dossier, after the election, after the Obama Administration ratcheted up the investigation on December 9, and after Steele had interested John McCain in the dossier. In addition to offering a report that seems to project blame onto Webzilla for what the Internet Research Agency did, this report alleges what would be a veritable smoking gun, missing from the earlier reports: that Cohen had helped pay for the hackers.

December 13, 2016 (166): The August meeting in Prague was no longer about how to manage the Manafort and Page scandals, but instead to figure out how to make deniable cash payments to hackers (located in Europe, including Romania, where the original Guccifer had come from, not Russia), who were managed by the Presidential Administration, not GRU.

This December report is really the only one that claims Trump had a criminal role in the hack-and-leak, but the claims in the report all engage with already public claims: situating the hackers where the persona Guccifer 2.0 claimed to be from, Romania, suggesting the hackers were independent hackers who had to be paid rather than Russian military officers, and blaming Webzilla rather than Internet Research Agency for disinformation. That is, more than any other, this report looks like it was tailored to the Russian cover story.

The way this story evolved over time should have raised concerns, as should have other obvious problems with the December report. But it’s worth noting that there are two grains of truth in it. Cohen had been the key interlocutor between the Trump campaign and the Presidential Administration during the campaign, but to discuss the building of a Trump Tower in Moscow in January, not how to steal the election in October. Few people (at least in the US) should have known that he had played that interlocutor role; how many knew in Russia is something else entirely. Cohen was also someone that people who had done business with Trump Organization, like Giorgi Rtslchiladze and people associated with Aras Agalarov’s Crocus Group, would know to be Trump’s fixer. That fact would have been far more widely known.

Nevertheless, by the end of it, Cohen was the biggest Trump-associate villain in the Steele dossier. If the Steele dossier had been directing the investigative priorities of the FBI, then Cohen should have been a focus for his role in the hack-and-leak as soon as the FBI received this report. Nothing in the public record suggests that happened. Indeed, at the time the FBI briefed the Gang of Eight on March 9, 2017, Cohen was not among the people described as subjects. Just Roger Stone had been added to the initial four subjects (Page, Manafort, George Papadopoulos, and Mike Flynn) by that point. Congress, including the Devin Nunes-led House Intelligence Committee, would focus closely on Cohen more quickly than the FBI appears to have.

That’s true even though Cohen was doing some of the things he would later be investigated for, including — immediately after the election — establishing financial ties with Viktor Vekselberg even while Felix Sater pitched him on a Ukraine deal.

Suspicious Activity Reports and the investigation into Cohen

The investigation into Cohen appears to have started — given this July 18, 2017 warrant application — as an investigation into suspicious payments, both Cohen’s payments to Stormy Daniels and payments from large, often foreign companies, particularly Columbus Nova, with which Viktor Vekelsberg has close ties, but also including Novartis, Korean Airlines, and Kazkommertsnank. The investigation probably started based off a Suspicious Activity Report submitted by First Republic Bank, where Cohen had multiple accounts, including one for Essential Consulting, where those foreign payments were deposited.

Cohen opened that Essential Consultants account on October 26, 2016, ostensibly to collect fees for domestic real estate consulting work, but in fact to pay off Stormy Daniels. His use of it to accept all those foreign payments would have properly attracted attention and a SAR from the bank under Know Your Customer mandates, particularly with his political exposure through Trump. Sometime in June 2017, First Republic submitted the first of at least three SARs on this account, covering seven months of activity on the account; that SAR and a later one was subsequently made unavailable in the Treasury system as part of a sensitive investigation, which led to a big stink in 2018 and ultimately to charges against an IRS investigator who leaked the other reports. The language of the third one appears to closely match the language in the warrant applications, including a reference to Viktor Vekselberg’s donations to Trump’s inauguration.

The first warrant application against Cohen

On June 21, the FBI served a preservation request to Google for his Gmail and to Microsoft for Cohen’s Trump Organization emails (see this post for the significance of Microsoft’s role). Generally that suggests that already by that point, FBI decided they would likely want that email, but needed to put together the case to get it. The preservation order on Microsoft suggests they may have worried that people at Trump’s company might destroy damning emails. It also suggests the FBI knew that there was something damaging in those emails, which almost certainly came in part from contact information the bank had and call records showing contacts with Felix Sater and Columbus Nova; it might also suggest the NSA may have intercepted some of Cohen’s contacts with Russians in normal collection targeting those Russians.

That July 2017 warrant (confirmed in later warrants to be the first one used against Cohen) lists Acting as a Foreign Agent (18 USC 951) and false statements to a financial institution. It explains:

[T]he FBI is investigating COHEN in connection with, inter alia, statements he made to a known financial institution (hereinafter “Bank 1”) in the course of opening a bank account held in the name of Essential Consultants, LLC and controlled by COHEN. The FBI is also investigating COHEN in connection with funds he received from entities controlled by foreign governments and/or foreign principals, and the activities he engaged in in the United States on their behalf without properly disclosing such relationships to the United States government.

In other words, the predicate for the investigation was his bank account — one in conjunction with which he would eventually plead guilty to several crimes — not the dossier. Had Cohen told the truth about why he was opening that bank account (to pay off the candidate’s former sex partners!), had he not conducted his international graft with it, had he been honest he was going to be accepting large payments from foreign companies, then he might not have been investigated. It’s possible that the public reporting on the dossier made the bank pay more attention, but his actions already reached the level that the bank was required to report it.

In the unredacted parts of the application, there is one citation of the dossier, but only to the title of a WSJ report on Cohen written in the wake of the dossier release, “Intelligence Dossier Puts Longtime Trump Fixer in Spotlight.” It uses the article in a section introducing who he is to cite Cohen explaining that he’s Trump’s “fìx-it guy . . . . Anything that [then-President-elect Trump] needs to be done, any issues that concern him, I handle,” not to describe any allegations in the dossier.

From there, it introduces the bank account, Essential Consulting.

Redacted section C

Update, 7/19: These warrants have now been unsealed, and — as media outlets originally reported — this section is about the hush payment to Stormy Daniels. The section also confirms that much of this investigation came from the KYC work of Cohen’s bank. I’ve marked the paragraphs that consider the possibility this section pertains to Russia with strike-through text.

The next section, C, is six paragraphs long (¶¶13 to 18), and remains entirely redacted. If the substance of the dossier appears in the warrant application, it would appear here. But such a redacted passage does not appear at all in a search warrant application for Paul Manafort from May, and no redacted passage appears as prominently in a Manafort warrant application from ten days later — which describes his relationship with three Russian oligarchs and the June 9 meeting — though there is a six page redaction describing the investigative interest in the June 9 meeting. The difference is significant because the dossier alleged that Manafort was managing relations with Russia until he left the campaign (including during June), so if there were redacted language about the dossier on Cohen, we would expect it to play a similar role in applications on Manafort, but nothing public suggests it does.

Some background on this redacted section. We got the Mueller-related warrants on Cohen because a bunch of media outlets asked Chief Judge Beryl Howell to liberate them on March 26, the week after Mueller officially finished his investigation. At first, Jonathan Kravis, the DC AUSA who has taken the lead in much of the ongoing Mueller word, noticed an appearance to respond. But it was actually Thomas McKay, one of the SDNY AUSA who prosecuted Cohen there, who responded to the request, along with another SDNY attorney.

Although the Warrant Materials were sought and obtained by the Special Counsel’s Office (“SCO”), the Government is represented in this matter by the undersigned attorneys from the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York (“SDNY”), as the SCO’s investigation is now complete.

They argue that they’re willing to release the warrant materials under terms consistent with the terms used in SDNY, where information about the FBI affiants and information we know deals with the hush payments investigation got redacted.

Judge Pauley ruled that “the portions of the Materials relating to Cohen’s campaign finance crimes shall be redacted” to protect an ongoing law enforcement investigation, along with “the paragraphs of the search warrant affidavits describing the agents’ experience or law enforcement techniques and procedures.” Cohen, 2019 WL 472577, at *6. By contrast, Judge Pauley ordered that the portions of the materials that did not relate to the campaign finance investigation be unsealed, subject to limited redactions to protect the privacy interests of certain uncharged third parties. Id. at *6-7. Judge Pauley’s decision in these respects is also consistent with prior decisions of this Court, which have recognized the distinction between law enforcement interests in ongoing, as opposed to closed, investigations, as well as the importance of respecting privacy concerns for uncharged third parties. See, e.g., Matter of the Application of WP Company LLC, 16-mc-351 (BAH), 2016 WL 1604976, at *2 & n.2 (D.D.C. Apr. 1, 2016).

Consistent with the foregoing, the Government does not oppose the Petitioners’ request for partial unsealing, but respectfully requests that the Court authorize redactions consistent with those authorized by Judge Pauley in the SDNY litigation.

Because of this language, some people assume the redacted passage C relates to the hush payments, which were, after all, the reason Cohen opened the account in the first place. That may well be the case: if so, the logic of the warrant application would flow like this:

A: Michael Cohen

B: Essential Consultants, LLC

C: Use of Essential Consultants to pay hush payments

[Later warrants would include a new section, D, that described Cohen’s lies about his net worth to First Republic]

D: Foreign Transactions in the Essential Consultants Account with a Russian Nexus

i. Deposits by Columbus Nova, LLC

ii. Plan to Life Russian Sanctions

E: Other Foreign Transactions in the Essential Consultants Account

That would explain McKay’s role in submitting the redactions, as well as his discussion of redacting the warrant consistent with what was done in SDNY, to protect ongoing investigations. (The government will have to provide a status report in August on whether these files still need to be redacted.)

That said, it was not until April 7, 2018 that anyone first asked for a warrant to access Cohen’s email accounts in conjunction with the campaign finance crimes. And some SARs submitted in conjunction with the hush payments, such as one associated with the $130,000 payment on October 27, 2016 to then Daniels lawyer Keith Davidson and one from JP Morgan Chase reflecting the transfer from the Essentials Consulting account to Davidson’s were not restricted in May 2018 in conjunction with a sensitive investigation (nor was the third one reflecting the foreign payments described above), suggesting they weren’t the most sensitive bits in May 2018. Of note, the Elliot Broidy payments to Essential Consulting would post-date this period of the investigation.

That leaves a possibility (though not that likely of one) that Section C could describe the Russian investigation. The next passage after the redacted one describes the “foreign transactions in the Essential Consultants Account with a Russian nexus” (though, as noted, subsequent warrants describe Cohen’s lies in the following paragraph). It describes the $416,664 in payments from Columbus Nova, and describes the tie between Columbus Nova and Vekselberg. After introducing the payments, the affidavit describes the public report on a back channel peace plan pitched by Felix Sater on behalf of Ukrainian politician Andrii Artemenko.

Another possibility is that it describes Trump’s inauguration graft, which embroils Cohen and Broidy (though the investigation into Broidy is in EDNY, not SDNY).

Perhaps most likely, however, is that that section just describes other reasons why that Essential Consulting account merited a SAR. For example, it might describe how Cohen set up a shell company to register the company, something that doesn’t show up in the unredacted sections, but which is a key part of the hush payment prosecution.

If the section does not mention the Russian investigation generally (and the dossier specifically), then it means there is no substantive mention of it in the warrant at all, meaning it played at most a secondary role in the focus on Cohen.

As the timeline of the investigation into Cohen below shows, that redacted section would grow by one paragraph in the next warrant application, for Cohen’s Trump Organization emails, obtained just two weeks later. It would remain that length for all the other unsealed Mueller warrants.

Felix Sater and the investigation into Cohen

The way in which Sater is mentioned in the warrants against Cohen presents conflicting information about what might be in that redacted section. Significantly, Sater (described as Person 3) is introduced as if for the first time, in the discussion of the Ukrainian deal that appears after the redaction. That means that he doesn’t appear in the redacted material. That’s important because Sater would be one other possible focus of any introduction to why Cohen would become the focus of the Russian investigation (aside from the dossier).

The next warrant would also note numerous calls with Sater, reflecting legal process for call records not identified here (the government almost certainly had a PRTT on Cohen’s phones by then). But those calls, as described, were in early 2017 (tied to the suspected Ukrainian peace plan), not in 2015-2016 when the two men were discussing a Trump Tower Moscow.

Mueller interviewed Sater on September 19, 2017, the first of two FBI interviews (he also appeared before the grand jury on an unknown date).

One of the most interesting changes to the Mueller warrants happens after that: In warrant applications submitted on November 13, the unredacted discussion of the Ukraine peace deal gets dropped. It’s unlikely Mueller’s investigation of it was eliminated entirely, because Mike Flynn, who allegedly ultimately received that deal, is not known to have been cooperating yet (his first known proffer was three days later, on November 16), and Mueller was still interested in interviewing Andrii  Artemenko — the Ukrainian politician who pitched the deal — in June 2018.

In addition, based off the details in the Mueller Report cited to Sater’s September interview, Mueller was already investigating the Trump Tower deal. That suggests both topics — the Trump Tower deal and the Ukranian peace pitch — could appear in the redacted passage. Indeed, while the unredacted passages don’t explain it, one important reason to obtain the earlier emails would be to obtain the communications between Sater and Cohen during that period.

None of these warrants explain why Mueller became convinced that Cohen had lied to Congress, but by the second December interview of Sater, he presumably knew that Cohen had lied. But he probably didn’t have all the documents on the deal until he subpoenaed Trump Organization in March 2018.

All of which is to say, the treatment of the warrants’ Sater’s ties to Cohen, so important in any consideration of Cohen’s ties to Russia, ultimately don’t help determine what’s in that section.

If Mueller obtained Cohen’s location data, it was only second-hand

Finally, there’s one other detail not shown in the Mueller warrants you might expect to have if the Steele dossier was central to the Cohen investigation: a concerted effort to confirm his location during August 2016, when the dossier claimed he had been in Prague.

Granted, by obtaining records from Google, Mueller would get lots of information helpful to confirming location. For example, Google would have provided all the IP addresses from which Cohen accessed his account going back to January 2016. He would have obtained calendar data, if Cohen used that Google function. The warrant (as all warrants to Google would) asks for “evidence … to determine the geographic and chronological context of account access” and describes the various ways investigators can use Google to ID location (though it doesn’t specifically talk about location data in conjunction with Google Maps).

Mueller would get even more information from the Apple warrant obtained on August 7, 2017. The warrant for Cohen’s iCloud account on August 7 focused on a new iPhone (a 4s!!!) he obtained on September 28, 2016 and used for a function that gets redacted (which, again, could be the hush payments). It described his use of Dust and WhatsApp on the phone (Dust was what he used with Felix Sater), meaning one reason they were interested in the account was not for Cohen’s Apple content, but for anything associated with the apps he used on his phone (remember that Mueller got Manafort’s otherwise encrypted WhatsApp chats from Apple; the Apple specific language notes that some users back up their WhatsApp texts to iCloud). That said, the language on Apple (as all warrants on it would) specified that users sometimes capture location data with the apps on their phones.

Apple allows applications and websites to use information from cellular, Wi-Fi, Global Positioning System (“GPS”) networks, and Bluetooth, to determine a user’s approximate location.

This is a way the FBI has increasingly gotten location data in recent years, via the apps that access it from your phone. So the FBI would have gotten information that would have helped them rule out a Cohen trip to Prague in 2016.

That said, it’s not until April 7 that the government obtained the only known warrant for cell location data. That warrant focused only on the campaign finance crimes, and it obtained historical data only started on October 1, 2016 — pointedly excluding the August 2016 period when Steele’s dossier alleged Cohen was in Prague.

In short, along the way, Mueller obtained plenty of information that would help him exclude a Prague meeting (and subpoenas and other government information — such as his Homeland Security file — could have helped further exclude a meeting). But there’s no sign in the public record that Mueller investigated the Steele dossier Prague meeting itself.

To sum up: while it’s possible the redacted portions discuss Russia and therefore potentially the dossier. But there are a lot of reasons to think that’s not the case. It is hypothetically possible that between March (when FBI wasn’t investigating Cohen) and May (when Mueller took over) the FBI had done something to chase down the dossier allegations on Cohen. But, there’s no evidence that Mueller investigated them. On the contrary, it appears that the investigation into Cohen arose from the Bank Secrecy Act operating the way it is designed to — to alert the Feds to suspect activity in timely fashion.

In another world, that should placate the frothy right. After all, they complain that the dossier was used in Carter Page’s FISA application. You’d think they’d be happy that, in the eight months between the time FBI obtained that order and started investigating Cohen aggressively, they hadn’t predicated an investigation into the dossier. By that time, there were overt things — like Vekselberg’s donation to the inauguration and the Ukraine plan — that were suspect and grounded in direct evidence.

Timeline

May 18, 2017: Possible date for meeting involving Jay Sekulow, Trump, and Cohen.

May 31, 2017: Cohen and lawfirm subpoenaed by HPSCI.

June 2017: A SAR from Cohen’s bank reflects seven months of suspicious activity in conjunction with this Essential Consulting account

June 2017: Federal Agents review Cohen’s bank accounts.

June 21, 2017: FBI sends a preservation request to Microsoft for Cohen’s Trump Org account.

July 14, 2017: FBI sends a preservation request to Microsoft for all Trump Org accounts.

July 18, 2017: FBI obtains a warrant for Cohen’s Gmail account focused on FARA charges tied primarily to the Columbus Nova stuff, but also his other foreign payments). ¶¶13-18 redacted.

July 20, 2017 and July 25, 2017: Microsoft responds to grand jury subpoenas about both Cohen’s account and TrumpOrg domain generally.

August 1, 2017: FBI obtains a warrant for Cohen’s Trump Org email account (which they obtained from Microsoft), adding bank fraud, money laundering, and FARA (as distinct from 951) to potential charges. ¶¶13-19 redacted. ¶¶20 to 24 note irregularities in claims to First Republic. ¶28 details how Cohen and Andrew Intrater started texting in large amounts on November 8, 2016, showing over 230 calls and 950 texts between then and July 14, 2017. ¶30 includes email reflecting visit to Columbus Nova. ¶31 reflects probable subpoena to bank (rather than just SARs). ¶32 describes Renova paying Cohen through Columbus Nova. ¶36 reflects phone records showing 20 calls with Felix Sater between January 5, 2017 and February 20, 2017, and one with Flynn on January 11, 2017. ¶39, ¶41 include new evidence from Google search.

August 7, 2017: FBI obtains a warrant for Cohen’s Apple ID (tied to his Google email). ¶¶14-20 redacted. ¶50-54 describes Cohen obtaining a new Apple iPhone 4s on September 28, 2016 and using it for a redacted purpose. It describes Cohen downloading Dust (the same encrypted program he used with Felix Sater) the day he set up the phone, and downloading WhatsApp on February 7, 2017.

August 17, 2017: FBI obtains second warrant on Cohen’s Gmail, not publicly released, but identified in second Google warrant. It probably added wire fraud to existing charges being investigated.

August 27-28, 2017: Cohen conducts a preemptive limited hangout on the Trump Tower story feeding WaPo, WSJ, and NYT.

August 31, 2017: Cohen releases the letter his attorney had sent — two weeks earlier — along with two earlier tranches of documents for Congress.

September 19, 2017: FBI interviews Sater. Cohen attempts to preempt an interview with SSCI by releasing a partial statement before testifying, only to have SSCI balk and reschedule the interview.

October 4, 2017: Additional SAR restricted because of ongoing sensitive investigations.

October 20, 2017: Cohen included in expanded scope of investigation.

October 24, 2017: HPSCI interviews Cohen.

October 25, 2017: SSCI interviews Cohen.

November 7, 2017: Mueller extends PR/TT on Cohen Gmail.

November 13, 2017: FBI obtains Cohen’s Gmail going back to June 1, 2015 and his 1&1 email. Adds wire fraud. ¶14-20 redacted.¶23a-25 adds Taxi medallion liability. Eliminates Ukraine/sanctions plan in unredacted section. Adds section F, payments in connection with political activities (associated with AT&T, expand Novartis, add Michael D Cohen and Associates.

December 15, 2017: FBI interviews Sater.

January 4, 2018: Mueller extends PR/TT on Cohen Gmail.

February 8, 2018: Mueller provides SDNY with Gmail and 1&1 email returns.

February 16, 2018: SDNY obtains d-order for header information on 1&1 account.

February 28, 2018: SDNY obtains warrant for emails sent after November 14, 2017 and warrant for emails Mueller handed over in conjunction with different conspiracy, false statements to a bank, wire fraud, and and bank fraud charges.

March 7, 2018: Mueller provides SDNY with iCloud returns.

March 15, 2018: Press reports that Mueller subpoenaed Trump Organization.

April 5, 2018: After CLOUD Act passes, SDNY applies for Google content that had been stored overseas and withheld in February 28 warrant.

April 7, 2018: FBI obtains warrant for cell location for two cell phones, tied only to illegal campaign donation investigation (the FBI would use this to use a triggerfish to identify which room he was in at Loews). FBI obtains warrant to access prior content for use in campaign donation investigation. This is the first warrant that lists 52 USC 30116 and 30109 as crimes being investigated.

April 8, 2018: FBI obtains warrant for cell location for two cell phones, tied only to illegal campaign donation investigation.FBI obtains warrant to search Cohen’s house, office, safe deposit box, hotel room, and two iPhones.

April 9, 2018: FBI obtains a warrant to correct Cohen’s hotel room.

June 20, 2018: Cohen steps down from RNC position.

July 27, 2018: Sources claim Cohen is willing to testify he was present, with others, when Trump approved of the June 9 meeting with the Russians.

August 7, 2018: First Cohen proffer to Mueller.

August 21, 2018: Cohen pleads guilty to SDNY charges. Warner and Burr publicly note that Cohen’s claim to know about the June 9 meeting ahead of time conflicts with his testimony to the committee.

September 12, 2018: Second proffer.

September 18, 2018: Third proffer.

October 8, 2018: Fourth proffer.

October 17, 2018: Fifth proffer.

November 12, 2018: Sixth proffer.

November 20, 2018: Seventh proffer.

November 29, 2018: Cohen pleads guilty to false statements charge.

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. 

Giorgi Rtslchiladze’s Honor Has Been Sullied because He Can’t Decide Whether He Knows the Tapes He Suppressed Exist or Not

The image for this post is associated with this post.

Giorgi Rtslchiladze believes his honor has been sullied by Robert Mueller.

Rtslchiladze is a naturalized American businessman from Georgia who shows up several times in the Mueller Report.

First, the section that describes Michael Cohen’s attempts to negotiate a Trump Tower deal explains that Cohen pitched Rtslchiladze on a Trump Tower deal in fall 2015, before deciding to pursue the Sater deal instead.

Also during the fall of 2015, Cohen communicated about the Trump Moscow proposal with Giorgi Rtslchiladze, a business executive who previously had been involved in a development deal with the Trump Organization in Batumi, Georgia.313 Cohen stated that he spoke to Rtskhiladze in part because Rtskhiladze had pursued business ventures in Moscow, including a licensing deal with the Agalarov-owned Crocus Group.314 On September 22, 2015, Cohen forwarded a preliminary design study for the Trump Moscow project to Rtskhiladze, adding “I look forward to your reply about this spectacular project in Moscow.” Rtskhiladze forwarded Cohen’s email to an associate and wrote, “first we could organize the meeting in New York at the highest level of the Russian Government and Mr. Trump this project would definitely receive the worldwide attention.”315 On September 24, 2015, Rtskhiladze sent Cohen an attachment that he described as a proposed “[l]etter to the Mayor of Moscow from Trump org,” explaining that “[w]e need to send this letter to the Mayor of Moscow (second guy in Russia) he is aware of the potential project and will pledge his support.”316 In a second email to Cohen sent the same day, Rtslchiladze provided a translation of the letter, which described the Trump Moscow project as a “symbol of stronger economic, business and cultural relationships between New York and Moscow and therefore United States and the Russian Federation.”317 On September 27, 2015, Rtslchiladze sent another email to Cohen, proposing that the Trump Organization partner on the Trump Moscow project with “Global Development Group LLC,” which he described as being controlled by Michail Posikhin, a Russian architect, and Simon Nizharadze.318 Cohen told the Office that he ultimately declined the proposal and instead continued to work with I.C. Expert, the company represented by Felix Sater.319

313 Rtskhiladze was a U.S.-based executive of the Georgian company Silk Road Group. In approximately 2011, Silk Road Group and the Trump Organization entered into a licensing agreement to build a Trump-branded property in Batumi, Georgia. Rtskhiladze was also involved in discussions for a Trum -branded ro’ect in Astana, Kazakhstan. The Office twice interviewed Rtskhiladze, [redacted]

The details on this second Trump Tower deal show that at some of the initiative for an election season Trump Tower deal came from Trump, not the Russians. This Rtskhiladze deal is noteworthy because he pursued (note the word) deals in the past with the Crocus Group — the Agalarov company — and because Mueller at least suggests he doesn’t entirely buy Rtslchiladze’s representation of the ownership of Global Development Group. Note that Rtskhiladze himself promised Cohen he had ties to the Mayor of Moscow.

An interview with Rtskhiladze is also footnoted in a discussion of Trump Organization’s decision to close out certain business deals in the wake of the election.

After the election, the Trump Organization sought to formally close out certain deals in advance of the inauguration.945

945 Cohen 9/18/18 302, at 1-2; see also Rtskhiladze 4/4/18 302, at 8-9.

The report doesn’t explain why Trump Org would have any open business deals with Rtskhiladze in November 2016.

Note that Silk Road Group is funded by Kazakh bank BTA group, payments to Michael Cohen from which were one of the reasons Mueller investigated him in the first place (and which has sued Felix Sater for attempting to launder funds through a Trump Tower deal).

It’s the second mention of Rtskhiladze that has sullied his name, according to reports and a letter his attorney sent Bill Barr asking for a retraction (Rtskhiladze’s attorney, A. Scott Bolden, works for the same firm, ReedSmith, that is engaging in a trollish defense of Concord Management; the letter he released to the press is actually a revised version of one he sent the day before).

As part of an explanation of why Jim Comey briefed Trump on the Steele dossier on January 6, 2017, a footnote explains that Rtskhiladze texted Cohen about compromising tapes in October 2016.

112 Comey 1/7/17 Memorandum, at 1-2; Comey 11/15/17 302, at 3. Comey’s briefing included the Steele reporting’s unverified allegation that the Russians had compromising tapes of the President involving conduct when he was a private citizen during a 2013 trip to Moscow for the Miss Universe Pageant. During the 2016 presidential campaign, a similar claim may have reached candidate Trump. On October 30, 20 I 6, Michael Cohen received a text from Russian businessman Giorgi Rtskhiladze that said, “Stopped flow of tapes from Russia but not sure if there’s anything else. Just so you know …. ” 10/30/16 Text Message, Rtskhiladze to Cohen. Rtskhiladze said “tapes” referred to compromising tapes of Trump rumored to be held by persons associated with the Russian real estate conglomerate Crocus Group, which had helped host the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Russia. Rtskhiladze 4/4/18 302, at 12. Cohen said he spoke to Trump about the issue after receiving the texts from Rtskhiladze. Cohen 9/ 12/ 18 302, at 13. Rtskhiladze said he was told the tapes were fake, but he did not communicate that to Cohen. Rtskhiladze 5/10/18 302, at 7.

As I read it, the entire point of including this reference is not to substantiate the existence of a pee tape. Rather, it’s to explain why Trump may have believed in the existence of one. It actually provides one explanation that makes Trump’s response to Comey’s briefing (as reflected in Comey’s own notes on it) less incriminating, not least his oblique reference to the Stormy Daniels and Susan McDougal allegations.

After all, the communications between Rtskhiladze and Cohen on October 30, 2016 would have happened just days after Cohen paid off Stormy Daniels on October 27. It would be unsurprising if Cohen discussed both with Trump at the same time.

Rtskhiladze is  complaining about a number of things. Some of them are fair complaints about how his communications with Cohen were portrayed in the footnote.

  • Referring to Rtskhiladze as a “Russian” businessman, his lawyer claims, it “implies he participated in a conspiracy to collude or interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.”
  • Quoting from the texts in isolation, “the isolated texts are suggestive of nefarious undertakings and, as such, defame Mr. Rtskhiladze’s character. Viewing the texts in their entirety against the backdrop of Mssrs. Cohen and Rtskhiladze’s cordial relationship places them in their proper context.”
  • Quoting the “‘Stopping the flow’ gives the impression that you are referencing the alleged salacious content of the alleged acts viewed on the tapes. To the contrary, this was a colloquialism by Mr. Rtskhiladze indicating that there was nothing to the rumors of the tapes, and that he did not believe there were any tapes, nor had he seen what was on the tapes, even if they existed.”
  • Misquoting the text without the word “some” — making the correct quote “stopped flow of some tapes from Russia.” Bolden claims, illogically, that the word some “is crucial as it establishes the fact that Mr. Rtskhiladze had no knowledge of the tapes’ content.”

That last bullet point, of course, makes zero sense. From there, the letter gets even more self-contradictory. Bolden first claims,

The texts that were excised from the Mueller Report clearly indicate that Mr. Rtskhiladze does not have direct knowledge of what was said at the party in Moscow, which he did not attend. Mr. Rtskhiladze also does not know and cannot identify who allegedly made the statements about the tapes. Furthermore, Mr. Rtskhiladze has never seen the tapes and cannot opine on whether they exist. [my emphasis]

Just a few paragraphs after claiming that Rtskhiladze does not know whether the tapes he assured Cohen he had suppressed existed or not, his attorney then claims that he knew the tapes did not exist.

The suggestion that Mr. Rtskhiladze tried to curry favor with Mr. Cohen, the Trump Organization and possibly President Trump himself by allegedly texting that he had “stopped the flow of tapes from Russia” — knowing all the while that the tapes did not exist — is an outrageous and sensation distortion of the communications between Mssrs. Cohen and Rtskhiladze.

Footnote 112 of the Mueller Report would  have the world believe that Mr. Rtskhiladze is at best a caricature of an idle gossip or, worse, an opportunist with deep ties to the Russian business community2 and privy to untoward conduct by President Trump that Mr. Rtskhiladze and others intended to use to embarrass then Candidate Trump, derail his campaign and/or manipulate him after assuming the elected office. There is not a scintilla of evidence to support these inferences and to suggest otherwise is defamatory. [my emphasis]

Footnote 2 in this passage references the other discussions of Rtskhiladze in the report, which show him telling Cohen he had ties to (among others) the Mayor of Moscow; Rtskhiladze doesn’t contest that he has the ties laid out on those sections.

I mean, Bolden is right: these texts do suggest that Rtskhiladze is either a gossip or, more likely, trying to capitalize on information he claimed to not only know about, but be able to affect.

But he’s not actually offering a less damning explanation for them.

What he has done, however, is to call far more attention to them, all in a way that purports to assail Mueller’s credibility, but instead raises even more questions about the relationship between him and Cohen.

Finally, Bolden issues a non-denial denial of having ties with Crocus.

In a similar vein, Mr. Rtskhiladze has not had contact or dealings with the Crocus Group in 14 years, although he considers Crocus a reputable and successful business group. It is inaccurately stated that Mr. Rtskhiladze had a licensing deal with the Crocus Group.

As I noted above, the report doesn’t claim that Rtskhiladze had a licensing deal, it said he was pursuing one. And there’s nothing about this non-denial denial that might suggest Rtskhiladze heard a rumor that — say — fellow Georgian-American Ike Kaveladze was bragging about some compromising tapes, and he made an effort to chase it down.

So one other possible purpose of Bolden’s efforts to impugn Mueller’s integrity all while bringing more publicity to the incident that he claims makes his client look bad is to try to diminish any ill-will the Agalarovs feel towards Rtskhiladze.

Ultimately, though, Rtskhiladze’s lawyer is making thoroughly contradictory claims about this incident rather than offering a less damning explanation of it.

Update: I engaged with the spokesperson for Rtskhiladze, and specifically mentioned the inconsistency between his claim that he didn’t know if the video existed and that he affirmatively did not know. She said that was a typo, and promised to write the most up-to-date statement, but did not send anything.

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. 

Quid Pro Quo Redux, Part One: The Trump Tower Dangle

Last May, I wrote a series using the questions (as imagined by Jay Sekulow) Mueller had posed to Trump to lay out what theory of investigation Mueller might be pursuing — and what details we know about it. We’ve learned a lot more about the investigation and confirmed that the investigation focusing on Trump personally includes both a criminal and a counterintelligence component. I wanted to update the series. Because we know so much more about both sides of this quid pro quo, the organization of the series will be somewhat different.

November 9, 2013: During a 2013 Trip To Russia, What Communication and Relationships Did You Have with the Agalarovs and Russian Government Officials?

On November 9, 2013, Aras Agalorov helped Trump put on Miss Universe in Moscow; Trump Tower meeting attendees Rob Goldstone and Ike Kaveladze were both involved, as were Don Jr, Michael Cohen, and Keith Schiller. If the pee tape — or any kompromat involving “golden showers,” as Jim Comey claims Trump called it — exists, it was made on November 8, 2013.

The prior trip set up the 2016 quid pro quo in several ways. First, it deepened Trump’s desire for a Moscow Trump Tower — an effort the Agalrovs and Trumps pursued for years after the meeting. It established Trump’s enthusiasm for Vladimir Putin — though Putin reportedly disappointed Trump’s desire for a meeting on that prior occasion. It also introduced Trump to a bunch of other oligarchs.

Just after Trump kicked off his presidential bid, Emin invited Trump to his father’s birthday party in Moscow on November 8 (PDF 17), the first of a series of outreaches during Trump’s campaign which would continue through the election. The Agalarovs would remain the key handlers of the Trump family until shortly after the election, when first Sergei Kislyak, then Putin himself, would take over interacting with Trump and his family.

September 25, 2015 to November 2016: What Communication did you have with Michael D. Cohen, Felix Sater, and others, including foreign nationals, about Russian real estate developments during the campaign

By September 25, 2015, Felix Sater and Michael Cohen already had a Moscow design study completed for a Trump Tower in Moscow. Days later, Andrey Rozov was promising to build Donald Trump the tallest tower in Europe. In October 2015, Felix Sater (whose actions in brokering this deal seemed designed to ensure that Trump’s willingness to work with Russian military intelligence and sanctioned banks would leave a digital paper trail) started pitching the centrality of Putin to the deal. On October 28, at a time when his presidential bid was meeting unexpected success, Trump signed a Letter of Intent on a deal that stood to make him a fantastic sum of $300 million.

In the days after getting the signed letter of intent and in response to Trump publicly complimenting Putin at a press conference, Sater bizarrely tied the deal to getting Trump elected. He claimed to believe that if Putin complimented Trump’s deal-making prowess at a press conference tied to a then hypothetical Trump trip to Moscow, it would help Trump’s election chances.

Michael my next steps are very sensitive with Putins very very close people, we can pull this off. Michael lets go. 2 boys from Brooklyn getting a USA president elected.

Sater first tried to get commitments for both Cohen and Trump to travel to Moscow (with the documents to prove it) in December 2015. While Cohen was willing to share his passport, he held off on Trump’s. Perhaps as a result of Cohen’s increasing impatience with Sater’s swapping out a lightly sanctioned bank for a more compromising one, Cohen said he wanted to take more control. That led to him to reach out to Dmitry Peskov directly (who had been involved in Trump’s efforts to meet Putin in 2013), which in turn led him to have a 20 minute call with Peskov’s personal assistant on January 21, 2016. Over the course of that conversation, she would have taken notes recording Cohen committing to Trump’s willingness to work through a former GRU officer and with sanctioned banks to get his $300 million deal. By the next day, Putin’s office had that in hand, the first of many receipts he would obtain on Trump, making him susceptible to compromise regardless of what happened.

Cohen smartly shifted negotiations to the encrypted communication app Dust for a time. But when Sater renewed discussions about a trip to Russia to make this happen in May 2016, he did so on texts that would be accessible to law enforcement. And Cohen made it clear Trump had to seal the nomination before he would risk making his coziness with Putin public, making it crystal clear that the election and the Trump Tower deal remained linked in his brain.

Both Trump and Don Jr were thoroughly briefed on these negotiations. That means when Don Jr accepted a meeting offering dirt on Hillary as part of Russia’s support for Trump, he would have known that a $300 million real estate deal might depend on taking the meeting. Don Jr took the June 9, 2016 meeting and — per four sworn witnesses’ statements — agreed to revisit Magnitsky sanctions if his father won.

At almost exactly the moment that meeting broke up, Felix Sater texted Cohen to take the next step on a deal, a trip for him to St. Petersburg, potentially to meet with Putin personally. Oleg Deripaska and Sergei Millian (the latter of whom Cohen had also worked with in the past) would also have been at the event.

In the days after the Trump Tower meeting, Sater and Cohen were scrambling to put together the trip to St. Petersburg at the last minute. But they looked like they would pull it off, only to have the WaPo report, on June 14, 2016, that Russia hacked the DNC postpone the plans for the trip.

That said, Cohen only said, “he would not be traveling at that time.” The news that Russia hacked Trump’s opponent didn’t kill the deal. It just made it more difficult.

On July 22, 2016 — the day that WikiLeaks released the DNC emails — George Papadopoulos (possibly with the coaching of Ivan Timofeev) and Sergei Millian seem to have picked up keeping discussions of a deal alive from Cohen and Sater.

According to the President’s current teevee lawyer, Trump answered Mueller’s questions on this topic to allow for the possibility that the Russian deal remained active through November. He’s just not committing to any story about how long the deal remained (or remains) active.

One thing to remember about this Trump Tower deal. The deal was too good to be true (and to some degree that’s the point!). But it fed all of Trump’s character weaknesses. The promise of having the tallest tower in Europe would feed Trump’s narcissism. The fairly ridiculous claim Trump Organization stood to make $300 million off of it would have been irresistible to the highly indebted family.

And in exchange for that, Trump showed repeated and sustained willingness to deal with GRU-tied individuals and sanctioned banks. And at the June 9 meeting, his spawn made it clear he’d trade policy considerations to get the deal.

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. 

RESOURCES

These are some of the most useful resources in mapping these events.

Mueller questions as imagined by Jay Sekulow

CNN’s timeline of investigative events

Majority HPSCI Report

Minority HPSCI Report

Trump Twitter Archive

Jim Comey March 20, 2017 HPSCI testimony

Comey May 3, 2017 SJC testimony

Jim Comey June 8, 2017 SSCI testimony

Jim Comey written statement, June 8, 2017

Jim Comey memos

Sally Yates and James Clapper Senate Judiciary Committee testimony, May 8, 2017

NPR Timeline on Trump’s ties to Aras Agalarov

George Papadopoulos complaint

George Papadopoulos statement of the offense

Mike Flynn 302

Mike Flynn statement of the offense

Mike Flynn cooperation addendum

Peter Strzok 302 (describing Flynn’s interview)

Michael Cohen statement of the offense

Internet Research Agency indictment

GRU indictment

Senate Judiciary Committee materials on June 9 meeting

BuzzFeed documents on Trump Tower deal

Text of the Don Jr Trump Tower Meeting emails

Jared Kushner’s statement to Congress

Erik Prince HPSCI transcript

Oleg Deripaska Met Sergei Millian at the St. Petersburg Forum Michael Cohen Would Have Met Putin

In a piece puzzling through why Oleg Deripaska — who wrote a deceptive op-ed that was published at his outlet — would get polling data from Trump’s campaign manager [Note, NYT has updated reporting to specify that Manafort sent the data to Serhiy Lyovochkin and Rinat Akhmetov], Chuck Ross mentions something that has entirely new meaning given recent disclosures. Oleg Deripaska met with Sergei Millian at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum in June 2016.

Deripaska has denied through intermediaries being a source for Steele, though he was spotted in June 2016 at an economic forum in St. Petersburg with Sergei Millian, an alleged source for the dossier.

Here’s a photo of the meeting, which Wendy Siegelman found.

Of course, Ross mostly cares about all this because Millian was allegedly a source for the Christopher Steele dossier, not for all the other events this one intersects with.

Consider the timeline of some key events below.

It shows that the email hacks paralleled Manafort’s increased responsibility on the campaign.

But even as Russia’s operation to release dirt on Hillary was proceeding (and Russians were reaching out to George Papadopoulos to dangle emails as well), Michael Cohen was negotiating a Trump Tower deal, via Felix Sater, which was premised on a meeting between him — and then later, Trump — and Vladimir Putin. On June 9 — the same day that Don Jr told Aras Agalarov’s representatives that the Trumps would revisit sanctions if Trump was elected — Cohen even started to book his travel for that meeting. He canceled those plans, however, on the same day Russia’s role in hacking the DNC became public.

But two key figures in the operation did meet at the St. Petersburg Forum: Deripaska and Millian. And Millian would pick up the Trump Tower deal after the RNC Convention, laundering it, at that point, through a junior staffer who had proven to be a useful go-between for the Russians.

We don’t know whether Deripaska, whom Steele was pitching as a viable partner to counter Russian organized crime, was a source for Steele’s dossier. We do know that Manafort is the one who pushed Trump to discredit the Russian investigation by attacking the dossier.

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. 

Timeline

January 12, 2016: Steele writes Bruce Ohr to say Oleg Deripaska may obtain a visa for later that year

January 20: Michael Cohen speaks with Dmitry Peskov’s personal assistant for 20 minutes about Trump Tower deal

January 21: Putin’s office contacts Felix Sater about Trump Tower deal

February 21: Steele sends Ohr Orbis reporting claiming Deripaska was not a tool of the Kremlin

February 29: Manafort drafts proposal to work for “free” for Trump

March 19: GRU hacks John Podesta

March 29: After the intervention of Roger Stone and Tom Barrack, Manafort joins the Trump campaign, initially only as Convention Chair

April: Manafort asks Kilimnik,”How do we use to get whole?”

April 18: GRU hacks into DNC via DCCC

April 26: George Papadopoulos learns Russians are offering election assistance in form of leaked emails

April 27: In first foreign policy speech Papadopoulos includes signal to Russians to meet

May 4: Cohen tells Sater he’ll do a trip to Russia before the Convention; Trump will do one after

May 5: Sater passes on Peskov invite to Cohen to attend St. Petersburg Forum to meet Putin or Medvedev

May 19: Manafort formally named campaign chair

May 21: Manafort forwards request for Trump meeting to Rick Gates, warning against sending a signal

June 3: Rob Golstone starts arranging meeting with Don Jr.

June 7: Manafort meets with Trump and Trump announces he’ll have an announcement about Hillary

June 8: GRU releases first emails via dcleaks

June 9: Trump Tower meeting presents dirt for sanctions relief; Cohen makes plans for trip to St. Petersburg Forum

June 14: WaPo reveals Russia hacked DNC; Cohen cancels plan for St. Petersburg trip

June 15: Guccifer 2.0 created

June 16-19: St. Petersburg forum (Putin does attend)

June 20: First Steele report, allegedly relying on Millian as one source

July 7: Manafort tells Kilimnik he’s willing to provide Deripaska private briefings; Ohr call with Steele about Deripaska

Week of July 15: Trump campaign prevents change making platform more belligerent to Ukraine

July 21: Sater visits Trump Tower

July 22: George Papadopoulos asks Ivan Timofeev to help prep for a meeting with Sergei Millian; Millian would eventually pitch Papadopoulos on Trump Tower Moscow deal

August 3: Manafort and Kilimnik meet in New York

August 17: Manafort fired from campaign

August: Manafort and Tom Barrack take boat trip, meet Kilimnik

October 18: Steele and Ohr discuss dispute between Ukraine and RUSAL

January 11 or 12, 2017: Manafort contacts Reince Priebus to tell him how to use the Steele dossier to discredit Russian investigation (remember, Manafort insists he didn’t lie about meeting with Trump officials, because those meetings happened before inauguration)

January 27: Papadopoulos agrees to meet FBI without a lawyer, in part in hopes of sustaining possibility of a job with Trump Admin and possibly a deal with Millian

January or February 2017: Manafort meets Kilimnik in Madrid

Some Important Historical Details Michael Cohen Probably Shared with Mueller’s Team

The attention since Michael Cohen pled guilty has focused largely on his role in brokering a Trump Tower deal, which was the substance of his lies to Congress as detail in his plea. But there are other things about which he was surely a really useful witness for Mueller. ABC provided some sketchy details, including the enticing detail that Cohen knew about pardon offers (possibly, even for him).

Cohen has spent more than 70 hours in interviews with Mueller’s team. The questioning has focused on contacts with Russians by Trump associates during the campaign, Trump’s business ties to Russia, obstruction of justice and talk of possible pardons, sources familiar with the discussions have told ABC News.

But I want to point to two historical details of particular interest.

It’s clear that Mueller has some interest in campaign finance irregularities, at least those of Roger Stone. But the crowd Roger rat-fucks with actually has a history with Michael Cohen. Cohen set up a 527 in 2011 into which Trump Organization funneled probably illegal cash.

As I’ve noted, in 2011, one of the people closely involved in Stone’s 2016 rat-fucking, Pamela Jensen, was involved in a 527 called ShouldTrumpRun that listed Michael Cohen as President.

The organization was apparently laundering Trump corporate cash into campaign spending. But when the issue came before the FEC, Commissioner Don McGahn helped kill an investigation into it.

During McGahn’s FEC tenure, one of those he helped save from enforcement action was Trump himself. In 2011, when the future president-elect was engaged in a high-profile process of considering whether to enter the 2012 race for the Republican presidential nomination, Trump was formally accused in an FEC complaint of violating agency regulations. The case was dismissed on a deadlocked vote of the FEC commissioners.

A four-page complaint filed by Shawn Thompson of Tampa, Fla., accused Trump of illegally funneling corporate money from his Trump Organization into an organization called ShouldTrumpRun.com. McGahn and fellow FEC Republicans Caroline Hunter and Matthew Petersen voted to block FEC staff recommendations that Trump be investigated in the matter—designated Matter Under Review (MUR) 6462.

Ultimately, Trump opted not to run for president in 2012. Nonetheless, FEC staff attorneys concluded his activities before that decision may have violated campaign finance rules regarding money raised to “test the waters” for a candidacy. A staff report from the FEC Office of General Counsel, based largely on news articles and other documents about Trump’s flirtation with running for president—including Trump’s own quoted statements— recommended that the commissioners authorize a full FEC investigation backed by subpoena power.

FEC Democrats voted to pursue the recommended probe, but the votes of McGahn and the other FEC Republicans precluded the required four-vote majority needed for the commission to act.

McGahn and Hunter issued a “ statement of reasons” explaining their votes in the Trump matter in 2013. The 11-page statement blasted FEC staff attorneys in the Office of General Counsel for reviewing volumes of published information regarding Trump’s potential 2012 candidacy in order to determine whether to recommend that the FEC commissioners vote to authorize a full investigation. McGahn and Hunter argued that the FEC counsel’s office was prohibited from examining information other than what was contained in the formal complaint submitted in the case.

The Office of General Counsel shouldn’t be allowed to pursue an “unwritten, standardless process whereby OGC can review whatever articles and other documents not contained in the complaint that they wish, and send whatever they wish to the respondent for comment,” the Republican commissioners wrote.

And this public trial balloon in 2011 is interesting for another reason. It means that when Trump set up the Miss American deal in 2013, the Russians knew he might consider running for President. Cohen was closely involved in that deal, too.

That Cohen was involved in negotiations with the Agalarovs in 2013  is interesting enough. But I’m particularly intrigued by something that happened in the wake of the disclosure of the June 9 meeting. As the Trumps and Agalarovs started getting testy about each others’ response, Ike Kaveladze called Roman Beniaminov’s attention to a picture from the Las Vegas announcement party that got leaked to the press, highlighting Cohen and Keith Schiller.

On July 13, 2017, Ike Kaveladze (who was really in charge of the meeting for his boss, Aras Agalarov) and Roman Beniaminov (Emin Agalrov’s assistant, who heard ahead of time the meeting was about dealing dirt on Hillary to the Trumps) had the following exchange by text (PDF 34).

[Kaveladze sends link]

Beniaminov: But I don’t recall taking any video. And I can’t understand why it looks so similar.

Kaveladze: I mean his trump organization employees.

By July 13, the Agalarovs and Trumps were increasingly at odds on how to respond to the story, not least after the Trumps leaked Rod Goldstone’s name to the press after saying they wouldn’t. After that, there seemed to be increasing amounts of dirt being leaked, perhaps by both sides.

It appears that Kaveladze may have phoned Beniaminov right before this to raise this CNN story, which had just been posted. Beniaminov seemed to think Kaveladze had suggested that he, Beniaminov, had taken the video, even while he seems to have been present at the Las Vegas event back in 2013.

Scott Balber, the Agalarov’s ever-present lawyer (who had actually represented Trump on a Miss Universe related issue in 2013), was quoted in the piece.

“It’s simply fiction that this was some effort to create a conduit for information from the Russian federal prosecutors to the Trump campaign,” Balber said on CNN’s “New Day.” “It’s just fantasy world because the reality is if there was something important that Mr. Agalarov wanted to communicate to the Trump campaign, I suspect he could have called Mr. Trump directly as opposed to having his son’s pop music publicist be the intermediary.”

I don’t rule out Balber having taken and leaked the video.

Or maybe not: What Kaveladze is interested in highlighting to Beniaminov is the presence of two other Trump employees in the video: Keith Schiller and Michael Cohen, shown above.

I don’t know what to make of the reference — though it’s equally possible they were involved in the 2017 response, or were viewed for some other reason as an additional concern regarding the June 9 meeting.

While Schiller actually was in the loop of the June 9 meeting (Rob Goldstone chatted with him the day of the meeting and asked about how to mail things to Trump given increased security), there’s no public evidence Cohen was.

But perhaps Kaveladze realized Cohen might know something about the 2013 events that would be of concern as the investigated heated up.

In any case, we know from Mueller’s questions he thinks the 2013 does serve as a key part of the investigation. And while Schiller — with his sinecure at the RNC — may not be talking, Michael Cohen is.

There are other aspects of Trump’s business that Cohen will explain for Mueller, including corrupt deals with Russians and related countries.

But these two past events are likely to be of particular interest for Mueller’s prosecutors.

The Shiny Object of the May 2017 Russian Investigation: The Evidence Mostly Came in after August 1

There’s a reason today’s NYT story so infuriates me — to say nothing of Trump’s efforts to declassify documents from the Russia investigation that, because of the personnel moves of virtually everyone involved, would mostly end by August 1, 2017.

That’s because it’s clear that — because Peter Strzok lost an August 2016 battle to investigate more aggressively in summer and fall 2016 — DOJ, FBI, and then Mueller were only obtaining key information around about August 1, 2017, a year later. It’s no surprise, then, that (as the frothy right has been obsessing about recently) Lisa Page and Strzok weren’t sure if there was evidence of “collusion” on May 17, 2017. Of course they weren’t. The government hadn’t started collecting the evidence in earnest yet.

Consider the following investigative steps:

FBI appears not to have sent a preservation request to Government Services Administration for George Papadopoulos’ material until March 9, 2017, and they appear not to have pursued his privately held call records (especially the Facebook ones that would have revealed the existence of Ivan Timofeev) until some time later.

On June 6, 2017, the Mueller team was still debating whether they would access Section 702 materials, something they otherwise do routinely with assessments, to say nothing of fully predicated national security investigations.

The John Dowd letter wrongly claiming unprecedented cooperation reveals that Mueller started to receive the documents requested by congressional committees on July 21; that would presumably be the first that the government obtained the version of the June 9 emails that included Paul Manafort’s replies.

Copies of all documents provided to the committees by the Campaign, and all search term lists and the privilege log, were also provided to the Special Counsel.

  • By letter dated May 17, 2017, the Campaign received a request for documents from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI).
  • By letter dated June 7, 2017, the Campaign received a request for documents from the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI). The records requested included records generated from June 16, 2015, to 12pm on January 20, 2017, and hence, included the transition period.
  • The Campaign voluntarily responded to these requests by providing 840 documents on July 21, 2017, and another set of 4,800 documents on July 31, 2017. By letter dated July 19, 2017, the Campaign received a request for documents from the Senate Judiciary Committee (SJC).

Mueller sent a preservation request for Transition materials on June 22. He obtained all the emails and devices from 13 transition staffers in late August.

Specifically, on August 23, 2017, the FBI sent a letter (i.e., not a subpoena) to career GSA staff requesting copies of the emails, laptops, cell phones, and other materials associated with nine PTT members responsible for national security and policy matters. On August 30, 2017, the FBI sent a letter (again, not a subpoena) to career GSA staff requesting such materials for four additional senior PTT members.

The list of documents the White House provided, organized by Bates number, show that some key documents couldn’t have come in until July 2017. Indeed, documents pertaining to Comey’s firing appear to be the last of the document sets obtained, sometime after the disclosure of the June 9, 2016 meeting in July 2017.

BuzzFeed’s big scoop on financial transfers between Aras Agalarov and Ike Kaveladze around the time of the June 9 meeting shows banks didn’t start looking for such suspicious transfers until after the June 9 meeting was disclosed on July 8, 2017.

None of these transactions was discovered until 2017, after the New York Times revealed the Trump Tower meeting. Shortly after that report, investigators asked financial institutions to look back at their accounts to learn how money flowed among the people who planned and attended the meeting: Agalarov; Kaveladze; Agalarov’s pop star son, Emin; their employee, Rob Goldstone, who sent the original email to Trump Jr.; and others.

To unearth connections between some of their accounts, banks took an extraordinary step: They invoked a provision of the Patriot Act — a post-9/11 law that included new tools to track money laundering and terrorist financing. That provision, rarely used in the Trump-Russia investigation, allowed the banks to share information about customers with one another.

Three financial institutions — Citibank, JP Morgan Chase, and Morgan Stanley — discovered the $3.3 million that flowed from Agalarov to Kaveladze.

My interview with the FBI (I believe I was the second source about one aspect of what I shared, but believe I was the first about the stuff that tied more obviously to the campaign) was July 14. I believe my materials were moved under Mueller when Ryan Dickey got moved under Mueller in November, 2017.

So the constant six-year old soccer chases by journalists trying to learn what happened in May 2017 — when things were chaotic because Trump was breaking all norms and firing people who actually weren’t investigating that aggressively — to the detriment of attention on what happened in the months thereafter really does a huge disservice to the truth. The investigation into Trump’s conspiracy with Russia started in earnest around about August 1, 2017. Once the government actually started looking for evidence, I imagine the evidence of conspiracy was pretty obvious.

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

Richard Burr Pretends He Has a Basis to Claim SSCI Has [Searched for and] Not Found Any Evidence of “Collusion”

Richard Burr is teeing up Tweet-bait again by going on Fox News and suggesting his committee has not found “hard evidence of collusion.”

In the interview, Burr uses some of the same squishy language he used last month with the AP, which the Fox dude raised to explain why he was asking him about the investigation when Burr’s Fox appearance was designed to boast about how well prepared the Trump Administration was for Hurricane Florence.

Fox: Sir, can you say today that there has been no evidence — no factual evidence — of collusion between the Trump campaign and any elements of the Russian government during the election of 2016?

Burr: I can say, as it relates to the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation, that we have no hard evidence of collusion. Now, we’re not over, and that leaves the opportunity that we might find something that we don’t have today. But the fact is if this is all about collusion — and our investigation encompasses more than collusion — that issue has not been finalized at all.

Fox: If that is your answer today, what is next, or how does this end, perhaps that’s the better way to ask that question.

Burr: Well, Bill, if you’d have asked me when we started this 19 months ago, if it would be over today, I would have said yes, but we found a lot of things that we didn’t anticipate that we would find, we’ve had to chase a lot of threads that needed to be chased. I hope to complete this at some point before the end of the year. It will take probably three to six months to write the final report. But we’ve got, we’ve been charged with making a determination as to what happened, and conveying that with facts to the American people, to let them make their mind up.

Fox: Okay, can you give us an idea of what the conclusion could be then Sir, if it’s not collusion? What is it?

Burr: I can’t really tell you, and maybe we find something in the next several interviews that are evidence of collusion, I don’t think so, with what we’ve seen, but clearly we were asked to look at Russian meddling. Today, once again, this Administration said we’re not going to let Russia meddle in our elections, we’re going to sanction people, they gave 45 days until after the election to report to DHS any interference, and DHS would seek sanctions against them. So the United States government, the whole of government’s taking a very tough stand on Russia. [my emphasis]

As I noted regarding the AP story last month, this statement also stops well short of claiming the Senate Intelligence Committee has looked for and not found evidence of Trump’s campaign conspiring with Russia.

It’s a squishy statement that seems designed — particularly given Burr’s newfound lassitude about ending the inquiry and his stated worries of being accused of missing something in the future — to permit him to sustain a claim he hasn’t seen any conspiracy, at least through the election, without aggressively investigating for one.

Burr is careful to make clear that he is speaking only about his committee, and the question, which seems coached, asked only about Trump’s campaign “colluding” with “elements of the Russian government.” Heck, Don Jr and Aras Agalarov employee Ike Kaveladze could have signed a pact in blood on June 10, 2016, the day after their Trump Tower meeting, and Burr’s statement would still be true, because Agalarov and his employees are not Russian officials. And both last month and today, Burr specifies that he’s talking about “factual” or “hard” evidence.

As it is, the public record of what SSCI has been focused on (and the witnesses whose dodgy comments it hasn’t tried to nail down) makes it clear it’s not looking all that aggressively for evidence of a conspiracy with Russia.

But Burr might feel comfortable making this repeated claim even if his investigators had, in the privacy of their SCIF, been told that a witness had provided Mueller evidence of a conspiracy, so long as those investigators made no effort to actually obtain the evidence. They could even have been told by a witness that she was specifically withholding inflammatory pieces of hard evidence potentially implicating Trump’s campaign, on the basis that she was waiting to see if FBI corroborated the most likely explanation for that evidence. If they never asked for that evidence, then Burr would be perfectly able to go on Fox News and claim his committee hadn’t received any evidence. No one is asking Burr whether he has sought out all the evidence of “collusion” his investigators have been informed about.

Such a scenario might also explain why, in both appearances, Burr laid the ground work to “discover” evidence in two months or so that did corroborate a conspiracy. He’s just going to make sure he doesn’t actually ask for such evidence before then.

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