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Some Possibilities on the Emails Hope Hicks Wanted to Withhold

Remember this story about how Hope Hicks told Mark Corallo in a conference call on July 9, 2017 that they didn’t have to be fully forthcoming about the purpose of the meeting because the emails would never come out?

In Mr. Corallo’s account — which he provided contemporaneously to three colleagues who later gave it to The Times — he told both Mr. Trump and Ms. Hicks that the statement drafted aboard Air Force One would backfire because documents would eventually surface showing that the meeting had been set up for the Trump campaign to get political dirt about Mrs. Clinton from the Russians.

According to his account, Ms. Hicks responded that the emails “will never get out” because only a few people had access to them. Mr. Corallo, who worked as a Justice Department spokesman during the George W. Bush administration, told colleagues he was alarmed not only by what Ms. Hicks had said — either she was being naïve or was suggesting that the emails could be withheld from investigators — but also that she had said it in front of the president without a lawyer on the phone and that the conversation could not be protected by attorney-client privilege.

At the time, I suggested something didn’t make sense about the story, given the facts we knew at the time, because the NYT already had (what we assume to be) the set of emails that got released.

[T]he NYT admits that even as (or shortly after) that meeting transpired it already had the emails Don Jr released that day and was going to publish them itself.

I suggested at the time that there might be other emails — perhaps between Don Jr and Rob Goldstone, perhaps between other players — that provided more damning information.

But there’s another possibility: that more emails exist, between Don Jr and Rob Goldstone (indeed, we know Goldstone sent follow-up emails involving Vkontakte). Or that there are communications between other players. In which case the release of the current emails might serve to distract from a fuller set that Hicks did succeed in burying.

Given the materials released to SJC — and when they were released — we can be sure there were other emails, and at least some of them have come out.

A return email to Paul Manafort

I’ve already noted one example, or at least part of one example. The Don Jr production turned over by the Trump Organization withheld the version of the original invite letter that includes a response from Paul Manafort.

Of particular interest, however, is a detail revealed about the email that Don Jr released last summer. Effectively, the email thread setting up the meeting appears in two places in the exhibits introduced with Don Jr’s testimony. The thread appearing at PDF 26 to 29 is for all intents and purposes the set he released over two tweets last July 11. That bears Bates stamp DJTJR 485 to 487, which designates that it was the version that Don Jr himself turned over. There’s another version of that thread, though, bearing Bates stamp DJTFP 11895 to 11897, which appears at PDF 1 to 3 in Don Jr’s exhibits (and is used for all the other witnesses). The Bates stamp abbreviation DJTFP, Donald J Trump for President, indicates that that’s the version turned over by the campaign. The exhibit shows the same thread, only with this addition.

That is, after Don Jr informed Jared and Paul Manafort that the meeting would be at 4 instead of 3, Manafort responded, “See you then.”

That — and the fact that Don Jr chose to suppress it when publicly releasing his email — is not by itself damning.

Jared wasn’t copied on the Manafort response, so he couldn’t have turned over the Manafort response (and it wouldn’t have been in the copy leaked to the NYT, if he did the leaking, as suggested by Michael Wolff’s book). Nevertheless by the time Don Jr testified on September 7, SJC had both copies.

Manafort’s awareness of the meeting might be damning by itself, because he spoke with Don Jr and met with Trump on June 7, the day Trump announced the campaign would soon be making a “a major speech on probably Monday of next week, and we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons.”

But it’s possible Manafort’s response wasn’t the last in the thread. Perhaps Don Jr wrote back and said something like, “with the dirt Emin promised we’ll really take out this bitch” or something similarly dignified.

The emails showing Agalarov involvement

As I mentioned in this thread, Goldstone did not fully cooperate with SJC. In the first round he left out a lot of stuff that was responsive to SJC’s request and he never provided phone records; in his later production, two voice mails from Emin appear to be truncated. But in February of 2018 (probably after at least one interview with Mueller’s team), his lawyer provided more documents not produced in the first go-around. Among other things, those materials included more details on Emin’s involvement in crafting a statement, and Kaveladze’s role running everything. Of particular interest, many of these materials would show direct communications between the Agalarov camp and Trump Organization lawyers as they crafted their statement.

The draft statement from July 6

Finally, when considering the possibility that parties withheld damning records, consider this email between Goldstone and Don Jr’s lawyer.

It shows that by the time Goldstone (and Emin and Kaveladze) had some phone calls with Alan Garten and Alan Futerfas at the end of June, the Trump folks already had a statement. When Goldstone gets off his cruise in Greece on July 6, he immediately contacts the Trump camp and asks if that statement has been released.

There’s no record of a response to Goldstone from the Trump camp for several days (though they were on the phone with Kaveladze), until when, on July 9, someone (Goldstone believes it’s the Trump camp) leaked his name. That’s when communications resumed, starting with a Trump request that Goldstone attest that the misleading Don Jr statement they subsequently released is 100% true.

Still, the communication on July 6 is damning enough, because it makes it clear that before Trump is known to have been involved, before Trump spoke to Putin, the Trump camp had what it presented as a finalized statement.

Now imagine if either Goldstone or someone else has a hard copy of that statement and it qualitatively deviates from the existing story?

One notable detail. As noted, Goldstone provided these materials after the NYT story at question here, and after Mark Corallo said he’d testify about Hope Hicks’ obstruction; it possibly took place after the Corallo testimony itself. Goldstone testified to SJC a second time on March 29, not long after Mueller subpoenaed the Trump organization — a subpoena that almost certainly would obtain new copies of the documents at least pointed to if not turned over by others.

All of which is to say that there are numerous emails that have been identified since Don Jr testified that appear not to have been turned over in his production, not to mention any Manafort communications he suppressed.

As I’m still working on showing, there was a tremendous degree of coordination going on in that period. And yet, perhaps in spite of that, some of the key documents didn’t get turned over.

Update: Here’s a version of the document requests to the Trump’s. Any of the emails between the Trump lawyers and Kaveladze or Goldstone would have been responsive. Here is what Jared got (remember, the committee complained that he hadn’t provided everything). And here is what Kaveladze and what Goldstone got. I can see Goldstone arguing the follow-up — and the discussions about earlier Agalarov/Trump meetings — didn’t fit the criteria laid out.

The 58 Second Gap: Did Emin Agalarov Tell Rob Goldstone Putin Talked to His Father about the June 9 Meeting?

Neither of the Agalarov employees — Ike Kaveladze and Rob Goldstone — involved in the June 9 meeting were fully responsive to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Kaveladze, who worked with Aras Agalarov to implement the meeting, at first failed to tell SJC that he got on a plane the day after the meeting and flew to Moscow. Even in a second appearance, he had not looked up whose Russian mobile phones he spoke to the day after the meeting, while he was still in NY, and never explained the timing of his last minute trip to NY and then Moscow.

Goldstone had to do a second appearance to talk through efforts to set up a meeting with Putin in 2013, and also to walk through newly complete versions of the WhatsApp texts he had with Emin as the June 9 story broke last summer. And Goldstone — an independent businessman who surely needs such records for tax purposes — ultimately never provided phone records that would show whom he called when during key periods.

I’d like to look at the circumstances surrounding a piece of evidence newly turned over and discussed in Goldstone’s second interview, which took place on March 29. At issue is a WhatsApp voice message Emin left Goldstone at 9:17 AM on July 10, 2017, in the midst of Goldstone’s panic as he increasingly became the focus of press attention and even (he claims) started to lose business over having set up the June 9 meeting. It takes place shortly after this exchange, in which Goldstone complains about being depicted as “some mysterious link to Putin,” to which Emin (a good Russian) responds, “That should give you mega PR.” (PDF 21)

According to Goldstone’s testimony, after he texted, “Forget it,” he and Emin spoke by phone, and the latter told Goldstone he should be happy because the scandal was making him one of the most famous people in the world.

I think there was a call between us as some point before these [voice mails]. After I said, “Forget it,” I believe we did have a really brief call that I hung up on. And, yes, there was. It was, again, him saying, “I still don’t understand. This is mega” — you know I think at one point he said to me, “This is making you one of the most famous people in the world,” and the reason I remember it is because I said to him, “You know, Jeffrey Dahmer was famous. I don’t think he got a lot of work out of it,” and hung up.

What follows are three WhatsApp voicemails left from 9:17-18 on July 10 (while this is taking place, Emin is in Moscow and Goldstone is in Greece; as this exchange was taking place, Kaveladze was landing in Moscow, having had a call with Don Jr’s lawyers on July 7, the day Putin and Trump talked about adoptions as the Trump camp was struggling to come up with a statement about the June 9 meeting).

In the first call, Emin tried to downplay his own role in things, suggesting Goldstone should work with Kaveladze and his father.

Rob, I understand your frustration and no way I’m trying to downsize what’s happening. But as you know, as the meeting happened through Ike and my Dad, I was not involved, and I was also against all possibilities. The same way right now, any comments should go through them. Just figure out with Ike what the strategy should be. I don’t mind you commenting anything. There’s no problem from my side, as you understand.

Goldstone didn’t provide a very convincing explanation for what Emin meant by “I was also against all possibilities.”

Then Emin calls back again (it’s pretty obvious Goldstone is still angry and ignoring these three calls). He offers to ask his father whether Goldstone should comment.

And if you want, I can speak to my father and ask him directly if he minds or doesn’t mind, wants you to comment, doesn’t want you to comment.

Which brings us to the third voicemail, which WhatsApp shows to be 1:10 long, but which Goldstone’s lawyer, Bernard Ozarowski, says was only 12 seconds long. In addition to that discrepancy (which Ozarowski claims is a WhatsApp error), the first word of even the 12 second voicemail — describing someone contacting Aras — is cut off. (PDF 59-61)

MR. PRIVOR: Before the break, we were discussing one of the voicemail messages that appears to be cut off, and, Counsel, you were going to explain sort of what you had in your files and what has been produced, and we’d invite you to make a statement on the record about that.

MR. OZAROWSKI: Sure. Our best understanding at this point is that all of the audio files that we’ve produced to the Committee are complete. I myself helped get the files off of Rob’s phone, and they are complete files to the best of our knowledge. Our general understanding is that the 1 minute and 10 second time stamp is an error on WhatsApp. It appears maybe to be related to the minute and 10 second voicemail that comes later in the string of texts. This message, as best we can tell, is approximately 12 seconds. And, also, when looking at Rob’s phone more recently and replaying it, the message appears to be 12 seconds long.

MR. PRIVOR: Very well. We appreciate that clarification, and let’s now continue with that particular message.

BY MR. PRIVOR: Q. So as noted — and we understand that the file you have is shorter — it nevertheless appears to be cut off slightly at the beginning. It sounds like Emin is saying someone was in direct contact with him. The “him” I think is a reference to Aras Agalarov. Is that your understanding, Mr. Goldstone?

A. Could I ask that that be played again? Just because there’ s been a little time in between.

MR. PRIVOR: Yes, of course. Again, the file is Bates RG-000253.

[Voicemail message played]

MR. AGALAROV: — is in direct contact with him, but I haven’t spoken on the matter recently to him, but I can. Let me know if you want me to.

MR. GOLDSTONE : I can’t make out what that first word is, but it obviously relates to somebody being in direct contact with him. And as it relates to the previous voice message, I would agree that it’s with his father, Aras.

BY MR. PRIVOR :  Q. Do you recall having any conversation with Emin about who was in direct contact with his father?

A. I do not.

Q. Emin says in that message that he hasn’t “spoken on the matter recently to him, but I can.  Let me know if you want me to.” That, again, sounds like an offer to speak to his father. The “him” is a reference to Aras. Do you agree with that?

A. I agree with that.

Q. Did you ever follow up with Emin to ask him to follow up with his father?

A. No.

Q. And did you yourself directly follow up with Aras?

A. No.

Now, there are likely some non-scandalous explanations for who of interest might have reached out to Aras Agalarov, but the most likely explanations are almost certainly wrong. The most likely reference would be to Kaveladze. He generally dealt directly with Aras, Goldstone dealt directly with Emin, Aras and Emin dealt directly with each other, and Kaveladze and Goldstone dealt with each other.

Except that’s highly unlikely because earlier in this same exchange, Emin and Goldstone had discussed that Kaveladze was in the air on the way to Moscow.

And after Kaveladze lands (I’m still trying to figure out the real time of this text, but it temporally slides into the discussion of statements Goldstone and Emin started, as the larger string of Kaveladze’s texts show), Kaveladze texts Emin and asks to talk. (PDF 31)

The next exchange of texts seems to suggest Emin and Kaveladze meet to talk about a statement. First Goldstone says that Kaveladze has told him he — either Emin alone or with Kaveladze — is drafting a statement.

And Emin responds, “meeting now.”

Emin calls shortly thereafter and tweaks Goldstone’s speech.

So the missing name doesn’t appear to be Kaveladze.

The only other person in the loop on these issues — Emin’s assistant Roman Beniaminov — worked through Emin and Kaveladze, just like Goldstone did.

There are, presumably, other possibilities we wouldn’t know about. For example, Emin could be suggesting that the Agalarovs throw business to Goldstone via some other means.

But the context suggests one possibility. The last thing Goldstone texted before the phone call he hung up on and Emin’s three voice mails was a complaint that he was being perceived as having a link to Putin, with earlier complaints about losing work from it. By Goldstone’s own description, on the call he complained again about losing work, and analogized what he had just raised — a purported link to Putin — with being a serial killer.

In the third of three voicemails that Emin leaves to try to placate Goldstone for suggesting he should be thrilled about a link to Putin rather than horrified by it, Emin starts by saying someone — the missing name — “is in direct contact with” his father, Aras Agalarov. “I haven’t spoken on the matter recently to him,” — Emin doesn’t say what matter, which might either relate to the June 9 meeting or something discussed on the phone call. But he offers to speak to (apparently) his father about this. “but I can. Let me know if you want me to.”

Again, that’s in no way definitive. But in context, it’s possible. It certainly might explain why these texts weren’t fully turned over in the first round, why at least the first word of the voicemail, if not 58 seconds, is missing, and why Goldstone hasn’t, apparently, turned over his phone records (which would show how long this call was).

At the very least, Mueller has Goldstone’s phone records. He may well have a copy of the WhatsApp chats from Facebook. He also surely has the other information Kaveladze didn’t turn over to SJC. So he may well know the answer to this.

The Same Day Aras Agalarov Was Talking about Restoring Communication with Trump, Jared Kushner Pitched a Back Channel

I want to pull out a few details regarding the December 1, 2016 meeting between Mike Flynn, Jared Kushner, and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that come out of the SJC materials released some weeks back. They show that the same day that Jared pitched Kislyak on a back channel, Trump’s handler was in Moscow trying to figure out how to restore communications in the wake of the election.

In his statement (remember, he chickened out of testifying before SJC after Flynn pled guilty, though he attributed the decision to Dianne Feinstein’s release of Glenn Simpson’s transcript), Kushner stated that Kislyak requested the meeting on November 16.

On November 16, 2016, my assistant received a request for a meeting from the Russian Ambassador.

On November 18, Ike Kaveladze texted Aras Agalarov, following up on a phone conversation they had already had, reporting on Rob Goldstone’s outreach to the Trump team to set up a second meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya to discuss Magnitsky sanctions again.

Q. Could you please take a look at the entry for November 18, 2016, at 17:45. This appears to  be a message from you to Aras Agalarov. Mr. Kaveladze, could you please translate the content of that message?

A. “Hello. Rob spoke with Trump people. They asked a short synopsis of what is she going to be discussing. Last time she produced a lot of emotions and less facts. Most of the people who took part in that meeting are moving to Washington, D. C. Some of them already fired. When they receive synopsis, they will decide who to send to that meeting.”

The text is bizarre for several reasons. While Kaveladze’s English is not great, the description of what has happened to the attendees at the June 9 meeting would suggest more than three attendees, not least because by saying “some” people got fired suggests more than one person — Paul Manafort — had been. In any case, the text makes it clear that the Agalarovs had already started their efforts to resume the discussion about raising Magnitsky sanctions first presented during the summer, which Don Jr had said  in that meeting they would revisit after his father won.

Indeed, while we don’t know when those calls occurred, the outreach seems to nearly if not exactly coincide with Kislyak’s outreach to Kushner, the one known June 9 meeting attendee who was already headed to Washington.

In his testimony, Goldstone claimed he hadn’t done the outreach clearly reflected in Kaveladze’s text and hadn’t forwarded Veselnitskaya’s document the previous week, as reflected in another text to Kaveladze.

Q. So in your November 27th message to Mr. Kaveladze, you said you forwarded the information last week. The last email was an email sent on November 28th, the day after this message with Kaveladze, forwarding the document to Ms. Graff. Had you, in fact, forwarded the document the week before your November 27th message with Kaveladze?

A. I don’t recall, but because I know myself, and I know how I write , I would imagine that the minute he reminded me of it in here, I forwarded it to Rhona, probably the next day. So I don’t recall one before then, no.

Q. All right. Prior to sending that email to Ms. Graff on November 28th, 2016, did you speak with Ms. Graff or any other Trump associates about a second meeting with Veselnitskaya?

A. I don’t believe so.

The Kaveladze transcript and his text messages reveal that the efforts to get Veselnitskaya back in to meet with the Trump team continued for the rest of November.

Probably because he was interviewed before Kaveladze’s documents were provided to the committee, Don Jr was not asked about any of those texts (and Goldstone wasn’t asked about the Kaveladze ones that clearly rebutted his story). Don Jr was asked only about a November 28, 2016 email from Goldstone to Rhona Graff forwarding Veselnitskaya’s document, which was not CCed to Junior. Even though he was probably the one whom Goldstone spoke to and was instructed by to send a synopsis and probably got a synopsis a week before Graff did, Junior claimed not to recall any other follow-up besides the email to Graff.

Q. It appears Mr. Goldstone continued his anti-Magnitsky effort beyond your June 9, 2016 meeting. Other than this e-mail, were you aware of any other effort he made on this issue after your meeting?

A. Not that I recall, no.

Goldstone told Kaveladze he made a bunch of calls following up on the synopsis on November 28, but got no response (though he testified he didn’t make the calls because he didn’t want to pitch the second meeting). He also texted Kaveladze about having Emin call “Trump” (presumably Junior) directly.

In a text on November 29 to Veselnitskaya, Kaveladze explained, without describing from whom Goldstone had learned this, that “Robert says that logistics of organizations of meetings with Team Trump now would be difficult and lengthy. I’ve landed in Moscow. I will discuss this situation … with my boss.”

The next day, December 1 at 11:49AM, Kaveladze texted again (Veselnitskaya was by this point frantic because Trump had met with Preet Bharara, with her even discussing who Trump might, “Wet and not to wet” with respect to the US Attorney, which Kaveladze translated as “crush”), explaining that Aras planned on meeting with Trump to restore communications. “Unfortunately, we don’t have communication. My boss planned to meet with him. We will send a formal request. Hopefully after the meeting we will keep communication.”

The timing on all of Kaveladze’s communications are difficult to track since he travels to Moscow so often, but his time stamps probably reflect PT, meaning that text would have been sent in the evening Moscow time, which is 7 hours ahead of DC.

On December 1, Jared Kushner (the one June 9 meeting attendee definitely on his way to DC at that point) and Mike Flynn met with Sergey Kislyak. Even according to Jared’s prepared statement, that meeting was about establishing communication channels to Russia.

The meeting occurred in Trump Tower where we had our transition office, and lasted twenty-thirty minutes. Lt. General Michael Flynn (Ret.), who became the President’s National Security Advisor, also attended. During the meeting, after pleasantries were exchanged, as I had done in many of the meetings I had and would have with foreign officials, I stated our desire for a fresh start in relations. Also, as I had done in other meetings with foreign officials, I asked Ambassador Kislyak if he would identify the best person (whether the Ambassador or someone else) with whom to have direct discussions and who had contact with his President. The fact that I was asking about ways to start a dialogue after Election Day should of course be viewed as strong evidence that I was not aware of one that existed before Election Day.

The Ambassador expressed similar sentiments about relations, and then said he especially wanted to address US. policy in Syria, and that he wanted to convey information from what he called his “generals.” He said he wanted to provide information that would help inform the new administration. He said the generals could not easily come to the U.S. to convey this information and he asked if there was a secure line in the transition office to conduct a conversation. General Flynn or I explained that there were no such lines. I believed developing a thoughtful approach on Syria was a very high priority given the ongoing humanitarian crisis, and I asked if they had an existing communications channel at his embassy we could use where they would be comfortable transmitting the information they wanted to relay to General Flynn. The Ambassador said that would not be possible and so we all agreed that we would receive this information after the Inauguration. [emphasis original]

Of course, intercepts of Kislyak’s calls back to Moscow captured his alarm that Kushner wanted to use Russian diplomatic facilities to communicate with Russia.

Ambassador Sergey Kislyak reported to his superiors in Moscow that Kushner, son-in-law and confidant to then-President-elect Trump, made the proposal during a meeting on Dec. 1 or 2 at Trump Tower, according to intercepts of Russian communications that were reviewed by U.S. officials. Kislyak said Kushner suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the communications.

[snip]

Kislyak reportedly was taken aback by the suggestion of allowing an American to use Russian communications gear at its embassy or consulate — a proposal that would have carried security risks for Moscow as well as the Trump team.

In any case, this makes it clear that the same day that Trump’s handler, Aras Agalarov, was discussing restoring communication channels with Trump in the post-election period, Jared was pitching the Russian Ambassador on using Russian facilities to conduct such communication. And even though Kushner claims he and Kislyak deferred such communications until after the inauguration, we know that within weeks, Kislyak had set up a meeting with the head of a sanctioned bank to meet with Kushner, a meeting that would precede Flynn’s calls with Kislyak about delaying any response to Obama’s December 28 sanctions, which would, in turn, lead to another meeting in Seychelles, all before the inauguration.

Natalia Veselnitskaya never got her second meeting to pitch the end to Magnitsky sanctions, but Sergey Gorkov got a meeting.

One more detail. Kushner’s statement suggests the meeting with Kislyak took place in formal transition space. But that’s not the case.

Don Jr revealed that meeting took place in his office (he came in at the end, sweaty from a workout).

Q. You mentioned during the conversation with my colleagues that you had become aware of a meeting or meetings with Ambassador Kislyak. Can you just explain like what meetings did you become aware of? When did they take place?

A. I don’t remember the exact timing of when they took place. I believe it was after we had already secured — meaning after the election, but I could be mistaken. The only reason I’m aware of it is because it occurred in my office. I came back from the gym and they were in there.

Q. So when you say after the election, you mean after November 8, 2016?

A. I believe so.

Q. Was it a meeting in December of 2016?

A. That would fit the description, yes, I believe so.

Q. So it was a meeting in Trump Tower?

A. Yes.

Q. In your office but you hadn’t known about it beforehand?

A. Correct.

Q. Do you know why they used your office?

A. It was open, I was at the gym.

Q. And who was in that meeting?

A. I believe it was Jared Kushner, the Ambassador, maybe Flynn, but I don’t remember.

Q. Anyone else, to the best of your recollection?

A. No, not that I recall.

Q. Was the meeting still ongoing when you returned?

A. I believe it was, yes.

Q. Did you go in and join the meeting?

A. No, I did not.

Q. Why not?

A. Because I didn’t know what it was about and I was sweaty from the gym.

Q. Did you ask Mr. Kushner or Lieutenant General Flynn about the meeting after?

A. No, I don’t think I did.

Don’t people shower at the gym before they head back to work? Especially if it’s a fancy schmancy private gym?

At the very least, this suggests that the meeting between Kushner, Flynn, and Kislyak took place outside of formal transition space, which might mean it took place outside the view of Secret Service (a habit Don Jr himself adopted the following year for a period). Don Jr’s claims to have been at the gym, ignorant to the meeting that seemed to parallel one taking place that day in Moscow between Agalarov team members in the wake of discussions about Emin reaching out to Don Jr, are suspicious, not least because he claimed to have forgone the normal shower process following a workout. Had he been in the meeting, you’d think Kislyak would have reported that back. Maybe he did.

But one thing is clear: In NYC and Moscow, on the same day, the Trump team and their Russian handlers were trying to figure out how to restore communications in the wake of the election.

Concord Consulting Aims to Make Russian Bots Legal

Remember when they used to say, “they hate us for our freedoms” in the wake of 9/11? The company of Putin’s buddy Yevgeniy Prigozhin is doing the opposite — having a field day with the due process rights his company, Concord Consulting, gets under US law after being charged in the Internet Research Agency indictment.

As I noted, Concord unexpectedly decided to contest its indictment for using Prigozhin’s troll factory to interfere in the 2016 election. Last week it pled not guilty.

In that post, I suggested that the risk posed by the Concord not guilty plea could be deferred, for now, by arguing over a protection order and ensuring that sensitive data be shared under CIA.

[N]either will happen immediately — Mueller’s team will push for a protection order and CIPA process before turning over the requested discovery and defendants almost never get a Bill of Particulars — effectively, Concord signaled its intention to impose real costs on the US government’s use of our criminal justice system to embarrass Russia. They made it clear that one of Putin’s closes allies will be demanding the intelligence behind an indictment naming him and two of his companies. Which is going to pose real discomfort for Mueller’s team (which might explain a bit of their delay here).

Let me clear: Concord is entirely within its right to begin demanding such evidence. That’s the risk of using our criminal justice system, affording due process, in charging a Russian corporate person who can challenge any charges without risking their freedom. I imagine Mueller’s team didn’t sufficiently account for this possibility when charging it this way. And if there are any other known Russian corporations involved in this operation (or fronts, such as the one Joseph Mifsud worked behind), I would imagine Mueller’s team is rethinking their approach to including those fronts. This could be problematic to the extent that proving any “collusion” between Trump’s people and Russians would most easily be demonstrated via conspiracy charges involving Russian entities.

If and when Mueller dismisses the indictment against Concord (but not its 13 paid trolls), it would be an embarrassing PR moment. But the contest thus far only posed a legal risk to any further indictments that relied on corporate entities, which the rest of the Internet Research Agency one does not.

Concord’s latest challenge may pose a greater threat. It requests the judge in the case (which here would be Magistrate Michael Harvey, though Trump appointee Dabney Friedrich is the District judge on the case) to review the grand jury instructions to make sure the prosecutors explained the mens rea required behind the conspiracy to defraud the US charge in the case. It is, as the motion argues, a fairly modest request (the government will argue, rightly, that it asks for grand jury information it is not entitled to, but Concord is asking just for the judge to review it). It’s basically asking the judge to make sure prosecutors explained to the grand jury that they had to find that IRA knew that it was violating US law.

As I noted here, ConFraudUs provides Mueller’s team with a way to argue the abuse of weak parts in our electoral system violates the law, and charging a conspiracy sets up a way to drop in American defendants at a later date. And, as Lawfare laid out in this good legal review of ConFraudUs, ConFraudUs has been used in the electoral context in the past.

Notably for present purposes, §371 has been deployed in the context of election law specifically. The Justice Department’s manual on federal prosecution of election offenses explicitly contemplates bringing charges of conspiracy to defraud based on campaign finance offenses. It explains the theory as follows:

To perform [its] duties, the FEC must receive accurate information from the candidates and political committees that are required to file reports under the Act. A scheme to infuse patently illegal funds into a federal campaign, such as by using conduits or other means calculated to conceal the illegal source of the contribution, thus disrupts and impedes the FEC in the performance of its statutory duties.

Several federal circuit courts have heard cases brought under §371 based on this theory and have not found fault with its application to behavior that may also violate the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA).

But Concord is arguing the use of ConFraudUs in this case departs from the approach DOJ has previously used to keep foreign influence out of elections (citing cases of Chinese influence peddling under Clinton).

The Court is well aware that heretofore investigations of alleged improper foreign involvement in American elections have been handled by the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”); specifically the Campaign Finance Task Force created by former Attorney General Reno in 1997, and where the Court worked as a prosecutor from September 1997 to August 1998. Former Attorney General Reno refused to bow to massive political pressure to appoint a special counsel, and instead the Task Force methodically investigated and prosecuted cases through 2000.1 Throughout all of that activity, the DOJ never brought any case like the instant Indictment, that is, an alleged conspiracy by a foreign corporation to “interfere” in a Presidential election by allegedly funding free speech. The obvious reason for this is that no such crime exists in the federal criminal code.

It doesn’t actually prove that use of ConFraudUs in this case would be improper (indeed, after complaining that Janet Reno didn’t appoint a special counsel to investigate funding of Clinton, the motion spends a page complaining about a special counsel in this case). Rather, it argues that the indictment couldn’t charge ConFraudUs because none of the Russians involved knew they had to register with the government before engaging in online trolling (they note they’re going to make similar challenges with respect to other charges in the future).

But violations of the relevant federal campaign laws and foreign agent registration requirements administered by the DOJ and the FEC require the defendant to have acted “willfully,” a word that does not appear anywhere in Count One of the Indictment. See 52 U.S.C. § 30109(d) and 22 U.S.C. § 618(a).

[snip]

Count One of the Indictment appears to be facially invalid because it fails to charge an essential element of the offense of conspiracy to defraud the United States by impairing, obstructing and defeating the functions of the FEC and the DOJ, that is, that the Defendant acted willfully, in this case meaning that Defendant was aware of the FEC and FARA requirements, agreed to violate those requirements, and ultimately acted with intent to violate those requirements.

There’s a two-fold risk here, if Concord is successful (and they could be).

First, there’s a risk that such a ruling would in effect provide foreign corporations more ability to engage in improper election speech than domestic ones. Particularly as social media companies move to require more transparency in online advertising, a foreign company could continue to violate those requirements simply by pleading dumb. Certainly Congress could mandate some kind of transparency on foreign companies and with that require private companies to administer such things. but it wouldn’t be a quick fix.

There’s a more immediate risk, however. The filing claims that this indictment is, “a case that has absolutely nothing to do with any links or coordination between any candidate and the Russian Government.” While it is true that Rod Rosenstein emphasized there was no allegation in the current indictment that any American knowingly conspired with these Russians, there are actually three Trump campaign staffers described in a way in the indictment that may reflect they’re still under investigation. And in its last filing, Concord demanded the communications behind one event — an American holding a sign in front of the White House — that leads me to believe Concord knows that the involvement of this US person is more complex than alleged in the indictment.

With respect to ¶ 12b, identify the “real U.S. person,” identify the specific Defendant or conspirator who communicated with the “real U.S. person,” provide the dates and times of any such communications, identify the Defendant or conspirator who stated “is a leader here and our boss . . . our funder,” and clarify whether it is alleged that any such communications were made on behalf of Defendant Concord.

That is, while Rosenstein said that thus far there are no Americans in this indictment, that doesn’t mean Mueller didn’t have plans to add some at a later date.

But if Concord can get this conspiracy charge thrown out before then, it’s going to undercut any effort to claim the conspiracy that will be critical to substantiating the collusion charge even if Mueller presents clear evidence of an agreement to carry out this trolling.

That doesn’t mean he won’t be able to prove a conspiracy involving a more obvious agreement — such as the Agalarovs offering dirt in exchange for sanction relief (though that would invoke the bribery rules that SCOTUS has significantly reined in).

But for now, the IRA indictment is a test case in a legal theory that will make it fairly easy to show that Republicans engaged in a conspiracy to tamper with the election. Because Mueller named a corporate person, he provided a way for the Russians to otherwise undercut a theory that seems central to the effort to hold Trump and the Russians accountable.

Again, Mueller can likely prove ConFraudUs with other players in the larger conspiracy. But this filing poses an immediate threat of undermining the logic of such an approach before he can charge it.

The Quid Pro Quo: a Putin Meeting and Election Assistance, in Exchange for Sanctions Relief (Part Two in a Series)

As I explained in Part One of this series, I think the Mueller questions leaked by the Trump people actually give a far better understanding of a damning structure to the Mueller investigation — one mapping out cultivation, a quid pro quo, and a cover-up — than the coverage has laid out. This post will lay out how, over the course of the election, the Russians and Trump appear to have danced towards a quid pro quo, involving a Putin meeting and election assistance in exchange for sanctions relief if Trump won (as noted, the Russians dangled real estate deals to entice Trump based on the assumption he wouldn’t win).

April 27, 2016: During the campaign, what did you know about Russian hacking, use of social media, or other acts aimed at the campaign?

Given the structure of George Papadopoulos’ plea, it’s highly likely Mueller knows that Papadopoulos passed on news that the Russians had thousands of Hillary emails they planned to release to help Trump to people in the campaign. Papadopoulos could have passed on that news to Stephen Miller and Corey Lewandowski as early as April 27. On the same day, Papadopoulos helped draft Trump’s first foreign policy speech, which Papadopoulos reportedly told Ivan Timofeev signaled a willingness to meet.

Between the time the GRU first exfiltrated DNC emails in April and the election, Trump invoked “emails” 21 times on Twitter (usually to refer to emails from Hillary’s server). The first of those times came on June 9, less than an hour after the Trump Tower meeting. The most famous of those came on July 27, when Trump addressed Russia directly.

Earlier in the day, Trump had called on Russia to release the emails not to the FBI, but to the press.

Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.

The timing may reflect awareness among some in the campaign that the call to Russia was a step too far legally. (h/t TC for the addition)

That Trump’s email comments pertain mostly to Hillary’s home-based server doesn’t actually exonerate him. Right after the DNC release (and therefore the July 27 Trump tweet), GOP rat-fucker Peter Smith started reaching out to Russian hackers in hopes of finding hacked versions of those emails. His support documents named Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, Sam Clovis, and Mike Flynn. If those people actually learned of the effort (there’s reason to believe Smith was just overselling the ties to the campaign), it’s possible that Trump learned about it as well.

As to social media, while it has gotten virtually no attention, the reference to three Florida-based Trump campaign officials in the Internet Research Agency indictment suggests further investigative interest in them.

[T]here are three (presumed) Americans who, both the indictment and subsequent reporting make clear, are treated differently in the indictment than all the other Americans cited as innocent people duped by Russians: Campaign Official 1, Campaign Official 2, and Campaign Official 3. We know, from CNN’s coverage of Harry Miller’s role in building a cage to be used in a fake “jailed Hillary” stunt, that at least some other people described in the indictment were interviewed — in his case, for six hours! — by the FBI. But no one else is named using the convention to indicate those not indicted but perhaps more involved in the operation. Furthermore, the indictment doesn’t actually describe what action (if any) these three Trump campaign officials took after being contacted by trolls emailing under false names.

So Mueller may be pursuing whether there was state-level coordination going on, and if so, how far up the campaign chain of command knowledge of that coordination extended.

May 31, 2016: What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding any meeting with Mr. Putin? Did you discuss it with others?

On June 16, 2015, the day Trump announced his campaign, the Agalarovs offered to serve as an intermediary between him and Putin.

Then, starting at least as early as March 31, 2016 (with Trump’s first foreign policy meeting), his aides started floating pitches for meetings with increasingly senior campaign officials that would hypothetically lead up to one between Trump and Putin.

Those include at least:

  • The George Papadopoulos thread, spanning from March 21 through August 15
  • The Carter Page thread, including his Moscow trip in July, and possibly continuing through his December Moscow trip
  • The NRA thread, focusing on the NRA meeting in Kentucky in May; NRA’s longer outreach includes Trump associates John Bolton and David Clarke

We know Trump was present and did not object when Papadopoulos pitched this in the May 31 meeting. Several of the other entrees went through Don Jr. Many of the offers got briefed at least as far as Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort. We don’t know how many of the other offers he learned about. We just know that years earlier he had joked about becoming Putin’s best friend, and over the course of the campaign, Russian intermediaries made repeated, persistent efforts to work towards a meeting between Trump and Putin, with a meeting between Agalarov representatives (who, again, had offered to serve as intermediaries with Putin when Trump kicked off the campaign) and the most senior people on the campaign happening just as Trump sealed up the nomination.

May 31, 2016: What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding Russian sanctions?

This is an open-ended question that might pose particular problems for Trump given the misleading statement claiming the June 9 meeting was about adoptions and not the Magnitsky sanctions. More interesting still are hints that Mueller sees a signaling going back and forth involving Papadopoulos; some of this may have involved signaling a willingness to provide sanctions relief.

Both Aras Agalarov and Natalia Veselnitskaya followed up after the election pushing for sanctions relief.

June 9, 2016: When did you become aware of the Trump Tower meeting?

Sam Nunberg has suggested Trump probably learned of the Trump Tower meeting before it happened. While he is unreliable on that point, the original June 3, 2016 email Rob Goldstone sent to Don Jr suggests reaching out to Trump’s assistant Rhona Graff.

I can also send this info to your father via Rhona, but it is ultra sensitive so wanted to send to you first.

Democrats suspect that between two calls Don Jr had with Emin Agalarov about the meeting on June 6, 2016, he called his dad.

Trump Jr.’s phone records show two calls to and from the same Russian number on June 6, 2016.62 The first call occurred at 4:04 pm on June 6, 2916 – just 21 minutes after Goldstone emailed Trump Jr. to say that Emin Agalarov was “on stage in Moscow but should be off within 20 minutes so I am sure can call. [emphasis added]” 63 At 4:38 pm, Trump Jr emailed Goldstone, “Rob, thanks for the help.”64

This documentary evidence indicates that a call likely took place between Trump Jr. and Emin Agalarov. During his interview, Trump Jr. confirmed that the Russian phone number belonged to Agalarov, though he claimed to not recall whether he actually spoke with him. Rather, despite one of the two calls reflecting a two-minute connection, Trump Jr. suggested that Agalarov may have left voice messages.65

The phone records also show a “blocked” number at 4:27 pm, between the two calls to and from Emin Agalarov. Trump Jr. claimed he did not know who was associated with the blocked number.66 While the Committee has not pursued leads to determine who called Trump Jr. at this crucial time from a blocked number, Corey Lewandowski told the Committee that Mr. Trump’s “primary residence has a blocked [phone] line.” 67

Mueller, of course, almost certainly has the phone records the Democrats weren’t able to obtain.

Finally, Steve Bannon has stated that he’s certain Don Jr “walk[ed] these jumos up to his father’s office on the twenty-sixth floor” on the day of the meeting. There’s reason to believe Ike Kaveladze and Goldstone could have done so, including the new piece of evidence that “Kaveladze left [a meeting with Rinat Akhmetshin and Natalia Veselnitskaya] after a few minutes to take a call from Agalarov to discuss the meeting.”

The day after the meeting — and four days before Trump’s birthday — Agalarov sent Trump an expensive painting as a present.

The June 9 meeting is, as far as is public, the most important cornerstone in a presumed quid pro quo. Russians offered unnamed dirt that Don Jr seemed to know what it entailed even before speaking to Emin Agalarov personally. Having offered dirt, four Russians — including two representatives of Trump’s long-time handler Aras Agalarov — laid out a pitch to end the Magnitsky sanctions. And less than a week later, a presumed Russian agent released the first dirt stolen from Hillary Clinton.

July 7, 2016: What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign?

We don’t have many details on what Mueller knows about Manafort’s requests for help on the campaign. We do know he remained in close touch with Russians via someone the FBI believed was a Russian intelligence agent, Konstantin Kilimnik, through whom he remained in communications with Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. Deripaska is named in some court documents in a way that suggests his relationship with Manafort may be the still hidden third prong of investigation into Manafort approved by August 2, 2017.

Starting in April, Manafort and Kilimnik (whom Rick Gates and therefore presumably Manafort knew was a former GRU officer), exchanged a series of cryptic emails, suggesting that Manafort might be able to pay off the $20 million he owed Deripaska with certain actions on the campaign. In an email sent on July 7, Manafort offered to provide briefings on the campaign to Deripaska. On or around August 2, Manafort and Kilimnik met in person at the Grand Havana Club, in Kushner’s building at 666 5th Avenue. Both deny that anything about the campaign came up. Shortly after this meeting, one of Deripaska’s jets came to Newark, and Russian opposition figure Viktor Navalny has claimed to have proof the jet went from there to a meeting between Deripaska and Russian deputy prime minister Sergei Prikhodko.

An August 2017 report describes intercepts picking up “Russian operatives discussing their efforts to work with Manafort, … relay[ing] what they claimed were conversations with Manafort, encouraging help from the Russians.”

There’s one more area of potential assistance I find of interest. Since January, we’ve been getting hints that Oleg Deripaska has some tie to the Steele dossier, possibly through a lawyer he and Steele share. I’ve raised repeated concerns that the Russians learned about the dossier and found ways to feed Steele disinformation. If they did, the disinformation would have led Democrats to be complacent about the hacks that targeted them. And whether or not the dossier is disinformation (and whether or not Deripaska had a role in that, if true), Paul Manafort coached Reince Priebus on how to attack the dossier as a way to discredit the investigation into the campaign’s ties with Russia.

With regards to this Manafort question: remember that Rick Gates flipped on February 23, and the questions date to early March. So Gates may have proffered confirmation about these details. In any case, Mueller likely has learned far more about them two months after Gates flipped.

July 10-12, 2016: What involvement did you have concerning platform changes regarding arming Ukraine?

The Majority HPSCI Russia Report explains that the RNC platform was changed by staffers at the convention based off Trump’s public statements on sanctions.

[Rick] Dearborn generated a memorandum, dated August 1, 2016, outlining a detailed sequence of events that occurred between July 10 and 12, 2016. As part of that memo, J.D. Gordon created a timeline that noted candidate Trump’s policy statements–including at a March 31, 2016, national security meeting–served as the basis for the modification of [Diana] Denman’s amendments. Gordon’s timeline made it clear that the change was initiated by campaign staffers at the convention–not by Manafort or senior officials.

J.D. Gordon has not confirmed that he was asked about this, but he surely was. I would expect Mueller to have tested the timeline Gordon laid out in summer 2016 (when the platform change was a big political issue) against the testimony and communications records of everyone else involved.

Of course, by asking the question in this fashion, Mueller doesn’t reveal what he has already confirmed about the platform changes.

August 5, 2016: What did you know about communication between Roger Stone, his associates, Julian Assange or WikiLeaks?

After multiple public statements that the Russians were behind the hack-and-leak, on August 5, 2016 (after traveling from NY to LA to his home in FL), Roger Stone wrote a column claiming to believe that Guccifer 2.0 was a hacktivist with no ties to Russia. Stone’s purportedly changed beliefs about Guccifer 2.0 coincide with an August 4 claim he made in an email to Sam Nunberg that he had met with Julian Assange the night before. Stone’s claimed belief that Guccifer 2.0 is not Russian is key to his denials of any involvement or pre-knowledge of hack-and-leak events. It also kicked off an alternative story that others, up to and including Trump, have adopted to excuse their own embrace of the stolen emails. In other words, a key prong in the plausible deniability the Russians built into the hack-and-leak campaign came from long-time Trump associate Roger Stone, after a dramatic and unexplained change in beliefs (Lee Stranahan, who used to work for Breitbart and now works for Sputnik, has claimed some credit for the change, and given how lucid the August 5 column is, someone had to have helped Stone write it).

Ten days later, after Stone had called on Twitter to let him out of Twitter jail, Guccifer 2.0 and Stone started exchanging (fairly innocuous) DMs.

There are events both before and after that which suggest Stone — probably through more interesting go-betweens than Randy Credico — sought information on what dirt Assange and Wikileaks had, and what and when planned to do with it.

Much has been made, especially in the DNC lawsuit, about Stone’s seeming prediction that “it would soon be Podesta’s time in the barrel.” Perhaps that’s true (and Stone’s explanation for the tweet is garbage), but any explanation of Stone’s supposed prediction needs to acknowledge that he more often predicted Wikileaks would release Clinton Foundation emails, not Podesta ones, that he got the timing somewhat wrong, and that he didn’t dwell on the Podesta emails at all once Wikileaks started releasing them (preferring, instead, to talk about Bill Clinton’s lady problems). Still, that may reflect Stone involvement in the Peter Smith operation, and efforts to get WikiLeaks to release purported Clinton Foundation emails passed on via hackers.

That Mueller is even asking this suggests (if the several grand jury witnesses in recent months dedicated to it don’t already) that Mueller has a pretty good idea that Stone’s communications were more extensive than his denials let on. That he thinks Stone may have shared that information with Trump is all the more interesting.

All of which is to say that the known answers to Mueller’s questions map out a quid pro quo set up during the election, in which Russians offered a Putin meeting and dirt on Hillary, with the expectation that Trump would lift the Magnitsky sanctions if he won (and would get a Trump Tower in Moscow if he lost). I suspect there are other pieces to the quid pro quo, dealing with Ukraine and Syria. But certainly the June 9 meeting set up an understanding: dirt in exchange for Magnitsky relief. The release of the Guccifer 2.0 emails may indicate the Trump camp provided some signal they had formally accepted the offer.

Update: Fixed syntax in last paragraph, h/t LT.

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 statement of the offense

Internet Research Agency indictment

Text of the Don Jr Trump Tower Meeting emails

Jared Kushner’s statement to Congress

Erik Prince HPSCI transcript

THE SERIES

Part One: The Mueller Questions Map Out Cultivation, a Quid Pro Quo, and a Cover-Up

Part Two: The Quid Pro Quo: a Putin Meeting and Election Assistance, in Exchange for Sanctions Relief

Part Three: The Quo: Policy and Real Estate Payoffs to Russia

Part Four: The Quest: Trump Learns of the Investigation

Part Five: Attempting a Cover-Up by Firing Comey

Part Six: Trump Exacerbates His Woes

The Mueller Questions Map Out Cultivation, a Quid Pro Quo, and a Cover-Up (Part One, Cultivation)

I wasn’t going to do this originally, but upon learning that the Mueller questions, as NYT has presented them, don’t maintain the sixteen subjects or even the 49 questions that Jay Sekulow drew up from those 16 areas of interest, and especially after WaPo continues to claim that Mueller is only investigating “whether Trump obstructed justice and sought to thwart a criminal probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election,” I am going to do my own version of the questions, as released by the NYT.

I’m not pretending that this better represents what Mueller has communicated to Sekulow, nor am I suggesting NYT’s version isn’t valid. But the questions provide an opportunity to lay out a cultivation, quid pro quo, and cover-up structure I’ve been using to frame the investigation in my own mind.

This post lays out the “cultivation” questions Mueller wants to pose.

The cultivation

The questions start well before the election, focusing on both Trump’s persistent interest in building a Trump Tower in Moscow, the cultivation of Trump by the Agalarov camp, and Trump’s interest in becoming best friends with Vladimir Putin. The questions may also include other real estate deals that would be less obviously tied to Russia, but possibly just as compromising. It’s worth remembering, Trump probably didn’t expect he’d win. So the Trump Tower offers were a prize that would be available (and easier to take advantage of) based on the assumption he’d lose.

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, the Agalorovs helped Trump put on Miss Universe in Moscow; Trump Tower meeting attendees Rob Goldstone and Ike Kaveladze were both also involved. 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.

Leading up to the event, Trump talked about meeting Putin and “will he become my new best friend?,” but that reportedly did not happen. But he did meet a bunch of other oligarchs. In the aftermath of the event, the Agalorovs floated building a Trump Tower in one of their developments.

November 2, 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?

On November 3, 2015, at a time when Trump’s campaign was experiencing remarkable success, and well after (per the Internet Research Agency indictment) the election year operation had started, Felix Sater approached Michael Cohen to pitch yet another Trump Tower in Moscow deal. He tied the deal explicitly to getting Trump elected.

Michael I arranged for Ivanka to sit in Putins [sic] private chair at his desk and office in the Kremlin. I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected. We both know no one else knows how to pull this off without stupidity or greed getting in the way. I know how to play it and we will get this done. Buddy our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer it. I will get Putins [sic] team to buy in on this, I will manage this process.

Remember: Mueller’s subpoena to Sam Nunberg goes back to November 1, 2015, suggesting this is the timeframe he’s thinking explicitly about.

The initial public story about the deal — which Cohen tried to squelch before his congressional interviews — claimed that the deal fizzled out in January 2016. More recent reporting has revealed that one of the people involved in this deal has ties to GRU, the Russian intelligence organization behind the hack-and-leak, and that Cohen pursued it at least as late as June, 2016.

Around that time (possibly on July 22, with the involvement of Ivan Timofeev, who was involved in offering up emails), Sergei Millian — who had brokered Trump business with Russians in the past — started cultivating George Papadopoulos. After the election, Millian pitched that the two of them should do a Trump Tower deal.

The Trump Tower offers are only the most obvious election-related deal Mueller might be interested in. In October 2016, for example, Cypriot businessman Orestes Fintiklis obtained a majority stake in the troubled Trump Panama development, which he has since taken over (possibly along with a bunch of papers showing the money laundering Ivanka did to fill the building). And all that’s before you consider any deals Jared was pitching.

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 statement of the offense

Internet Research Agency indictment

Text of the Don Jr Trump Tower Meeting emails

Jared Kushner’s statement to Congress

Erik Prince HPSCI transcript

THE SERIES

Part One: The Mueller Questions Map Out Cultivation, a Quid Pro Quo, and a Cover-Up

Part Two: The Quid Pro Quo: a Putin Meeting and Election Assistance, in Exchange for Sanctions Relief

Part Three: The Quo: Policy and Real Estate Payoffs to Russia

Part Four: The Quest: Trump Learns of the Investigation

Part Five: Attempting a Cover-Up by Firing Comey

Part Six: Trump Exacerbates His Woes

On Manafort’s Referral of the Papadopoulos Offer(s)

I want to return to something from the George Papadopoulos plea agreement in light of last week’s HPSCI Russia reports. In it, there was a footnote describing Paul Manafort’s response to Papadopoulos’ email about efforts to set up a meeting between Trump and Putin.

On or about May 21, 2016, defendant PAPADOPOULOS emailed another high-ranking Campaign official, with the subject line “Request from Russia to meet Mr. Trump.” The email included the May 4 MFA Email and added: “Russia has been eager to meet Mr. Trump for quite sometime and have been reaching out to me to discuss.”2

2 The government notes that the official forwarded defendant PAPADOPOULOS’s email to another Campaign official (without including defendant PAPADOPOULOS) and stated:

“Let[‘]s discuss. We need someone to communicate that DT is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal.”

The Majority HPSCI Report explains the email, first, by noting that it accompanied another one Papadopoulos forwarded regarding a proposed Greek meeting. Then it described Gates and Manafort referring the requests for “these meetings” to a correspond to both.

(U) Although the Committee has no information to indicate that Papadopoulos was successful in setting up any meetings between the Trump campaign and the Russian government, he worked with campaign chief executive Steve Bannon to broker a September 2016 meeting between candidate Trump and Egyptian president Abdel Fatah el-Sisi.181 Trump was apparently pleased with the meeting, which he described In an Interview as “very productive,” describing el-Sisi as “a fantastic guy.”182

(U) While on a trip to Athens, Greece in May 2016, Papadopoulos sent an email to Manafort stating that he expected to soon receive “an official invitation for Mr. Trump to visit Greece sometime this summer should his schedule allow.”183 In the same email to Manafort, Papadopoulos also forwarded a meeting Invitation from Ivan Timofeev, Director or [sic] Programs for the Russian International Affairs Council, and claimed that “Russia has been eager to meet Mr. Trump for quite sometime and have been reaching out to me to discuss. thought it would be prudent to send to you.”184

(U) As of May 2016, Manafort had not yet been elevated to campaign chairman, but had a long track record of work abroad. Manafort forwarded Papadopoulos’ email to his business and campaign deputy [Rick Gates] noting that we need someone to communicate that D[onald] T[rump] is not doing these trips.” 185 Manafort and [Gates] agreed to assign a response of a “general letter” to “our correspondence coordinator.” the person responsible for “responding to all mail of non-importance.”186

Curiously, this account is based off Gates’ production; it should exist in the campaign’s production as well.

The clarification would seem to suggest that Manafort was treating all requests for Trump meetings as formalities, to be responded to with a regrets letter sent by a low level clerk. But it still doesn’t explain what Manafort meant when he said “It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal.”

But there’s another detail that may undermine the claim that Manafort responded to all requests for Russian meetings with regrets. As the Minority HPSCI Report makes clear, Manafort received another request for a Trump-Putin meeting within days of the Papadopoulos one, one tied to Aleksandr Torshin’s trip to the NRA meeting.

On May 10, 2016, Erickson reached out to Rick Dearborn, a longtime senior advisor to Jeff Sessions and a senior campaign official:

“Switching hats! I’m now writing to you and Sen. Sessions in your roles as Trump foreign policy experts / advisors. […] Happenstance and the (sometimes) international reach of the NRA placed me in a position a couple of years ago to slowly begin cultivating a back-channel to President Putin’s Kremlin. Russia is quietly but actively seeking a dialogue with the U.S. that isn’t forthcoming under the current administration. And for reasons that we can discuss in person or on the phone, the Kremlin believes that the only possibility of a true re-set in this relationship would be with a new Republican White House.”44

The email goes on to say that Russia planned to use the NRA’s annual convention to make “first contact” with the Trump campaign and that “Putin is deadly serious about building a good relationship with Mr. Trump. He wants to extend an invitation to Mr. Trump to visit him in the Kremlin before the election.”45

Dearborn communicated this request on May 17, 2016 to the highest levels of the Trump campaign, including Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, and Jared Kushner. The effort to establish a back-channel between Russia and the Trump campaign included a private meeting between Torshin and “someone of high rank in the Trump Campaign.”46 The private meeting would take place just prior to then-candidate Trump’s speech to the NRA. As explained in Dearborn’s email, such a meeting would provide Torshin an opportunity “to discuss an offer he claims to be carrying from President Putin to meet with DJT. They would also like DJT to visit Russia for a world summit on the persecution of Christians at which Putin and Trump would meet.”47

The account of the NRA outreach is a bit muddled between the two reports. But Kushner passed on a related one from Rick Clay — not because he didn’t want to take the meeting, but because he worried they couldn’t verify the back channel.

“Pass on this. A lot of people come claiming to carry messages. Very few we are able to verify. For now I think we decline such meetings,” as well as “(b)e careful.”

But as both reports make clear, Don Jr did meet, briefly, with Torshin, though there is no known record of their face-to-face exchange.

The Majority’s finding on this topic affirms that Trump Jr. met with a Russian government official, Alexander Torshin, at the event, but conveniently concludes that “the Committee found no evidence that the two discussed the presidential election.”48 As with many findings in the report, this relies solely on the voluntary and self-interested testimony of the individual in question, in this case Trump Jr. The Majority refused multiple requests by the Minority to interview witnesses central to this line of inquiry, including Torshin, Butina, Erickson, and others.

These accounts come from the Sessions and Dearborn production. Again, both should also be available via the campaign, but that’s not where they came from, and the NRA requests were also sent to Manafort and Gates (so Gates’ production should include any response from Manafort).

As noted in both reports, Don Jr. met Torshin briefly on May 19, two days after the request for a high level meeting got passed onto senior people in the campaign.

Both reports separate the timelines out by source — and the Majority one presents events out of order, which adds to the confusion. But here’s how the two outreach efforts look.

May 4 [this gets forwarded to Lewandowski, Clovis, and Manafort by May 21]:

Timofeev to Papadopolous “just talked to my colleagues from the MFA. [They are] open for cooperation. One of the options is to make a meeting for you at the North America Desk, if you are in Moscow.”

Papadopolous to Timofeev: “Glad the MFA is interested.”

May 4, Papadopoulos to Lewandowski (forwarding Timofeev email):

“What do you think? Is this something we want to move forward with?”

May 5: Papadopoulos has a conversation with Sam Clovis, then forwards Timofeev email, with header “Russia updates.”

May 8, Timofeev to Papadopoulos:

Emails about setting Papadopoulos up with the “MFA head of the US desk.”

May 10, Paul Erickson email to Rick Dearborn proposes a meeting between Torshin and “someone of high rank in the Trump Campaign … to discuss an offer [Torshin] claims to be carrying from President Putin to meet with DJT.”

May 13, Mifsud to Papadopoulos:

“an update” of what they had discussed in their “recent conversations,” including: “We will continue to liaise through you with the Russian counterparts in terms of what is needed for high level meeting of Mr. Trump with the Russian Federation.”

May 14, Papadopoulos to Lewandowski:

“Russian govemment[] ha[s] also relayed to me that they are interested in hostingMr. Trump.”

May 16: Rick Clay email to Rick Dearborn mentions an “overture to Mr. Trump from
President Putin.” Kushner responds, “Pass on this. A lot of people come claiming to carry messages. Very few we are able to verify. For now I think we decline such meetings.”

May 21, Papadopoulos to Paul Manafort, forwarding May 4 email:

“Request from Russia to meet Mr. Trump”

“Regarding the forwarded message, Russia has been eager to meet Mr. Trump for quite some time and have been reaching out to me to discuss.”

May 21, Manafort forwards Papadopoulos email to Rick Gates:

“Lets discuss. We need someone to communicate that DT is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal.”

As noted, there should be more in the Gates production to describe what Manafort was up to, if he was indeed opposed to meetings themselves.

Of course, we don’t have that — though Mueller does have Gates wrapped up in a cooperation agreement.

Meanwhile, Don Jr kept doing meetings with Russians he would go on to disclaim. And weeks after all these invitations for high level meetings, he, Kushner, and Manafort took a meeting with someone all three had reason to trust, Aras Agalarov’s representatives.

 

The Context of Veselnitskaya’s “Informant” Comment

There seems to be a great deal of confusion about what Natalia Veselnitskaya admitted to in a contentious MSNBC interview. Before I get into the admission(s), consider two details about the interview. First, Veselnitskaya insisted on making her own recording of the interview, which she says she always does for her own “security” (I’m using MSNBC’s translations throughout here, but I await a Russian speaker to see how well that was done). It’s unclear whether she’s doing that because she doesn’t trust the journalists she’s speaking with, or whether she feels like she needs a record to avoid trouble with the Russian state.

Also the interview is based on probably hacked documents leaked to Mikhail Khodorkovsky who then passed them on, precisely the kind of “weaponized” leaking that our intelligence services claim (dubiously) never to do. MSNBC dismisses Veselnitskaya’s accusations that Americans might have hacked her (she provided names but sadly MSNBC doesn’t tell us whom she named) by pointing to Khodorkovsky and his anonymous dropbox, as if he played any different role than Julian Assange played in the Russian election operation, down to the verification using metadata. All’s fair in love and hacking — I’m not complaining that this happened to her — but it’s worth attending to the provenance of the documents, particularly given that key ones are attachments.

There are two separate admissions in the interview (MSNBC has not released a transcript, and the excerpts shown are edited in ways that I believe are, like all else MSNBC does on the Russian story, designed to be as inflammatory as possible often at the expense of clarity, if not fact).

The first admission is that Veselnitskaya has ties to a military organization that has ties to the FSB (MSNBC presents it as her “doing legal work for Russia’s intelligence agency, the FSB”). Here’s what she admits to:

I did not represent the interests of the FSB. … I did not represent the interests of the FSB. I represented the interests of a military unit which has a very remote association with the FSB. … I can’t tell you anything further.

The second admission appears to be that, in regards to a US request to the Russian government for information on Denis Katsyv — the same client and same legal issue whom Veselnitskaya was representing in the Prevezon case through which she worked with US law firm Baker and Hostetler and Fusion GPS — she provided the language to the Russian government used to refuse to comply with an MLAT request. It appears to be in this context — in response to the claim that she may have crafted the official government response — that she used the word “informant.”

Former SDNY Prosecutor Jaimie Nawaday, who worked on the Prevezon case: The US Department of Justice puts out a request to Russia asking for bank records, incorporation records, because the underlying fraud involved the theft of corporate identities.

Richard Engel: How did the Russian authorities respond?

JN: Essentially they responded by saying that the US government’s allegations were without merit, and they would not be providing the records.

RE: Were you surprised by that response?

JN: Well, yes, because it’s not the job of the foreign government to reinvestigate and come to its own conclusion about the merits of the government’s case.

Let me interject and say this is a load of baloney, though it sure makes for good — if misleading — TV. In the same way no one imagines the UK will ever respond to one of Russia’s regularly issued arrest warrants for Bill Browder, the oligarch who is behind the Magnitsky sanctions, no one should expect Russian cooperation on an MLAT request for information on the money laundering of a favored oligarch. That doesn’t justify it. But it’s just pure fantasy to think Russia will cooperate in the prosecution of one of its own.

What MSNBC showed were emails to an official in Russia’s prosecutor general office (to someone named Sergey Bochkarev,* not to Yuri Chaika himself), as well as a Word document with track changes, neither of which is obviously Veselnitskaya (one is HP or NR — her patronymic is Vladimirovna, so her initials in Cyrillic would be HB; the other is a name that doesn’t appear to be hers).

Veselnitskaya at first did not confirm that the emails were hers. And she flatly denied dictating to the Russian prosecutor’s office how it should respond to the US.

Nothing of the sort. It’s not true.

At another point in the interview, she said she wanted something (perhaps this denial, perhaps that what she did constituted obstruction of justice) on the record, but it appears MSNBC edited out what that was.

Later she did admit that the details in the documents (though not the documents) were hers.

There are many things here from my motions. This was in one of my memos I passed along to the prosecutor general’s office.

But again she denies that she had a “back and forth dialogue.”

Finally, though, Engel asks her what her relationship to the prosecutor general is (again, because of the editing, it is totally unclear whether this comes after the discussion of the Katsyv response or after something else), to which she says,

I am a lawyer and I am an informant.

In point of fact, she has previously admitted providing information she obtained from Fusion to the prosecutor general, so she could have simply been repeating that admission. In any case, in context, this appears to be an admission that she provided information about the case against Katsyv to the prosecutor.

These two details come well after Richard Engel asks Veselnitskaya on whose behalf she went to Trump Tower to lobby Trump’s spawn and campaign manager to lift the Magnitsky sanctions (lobbying activities she engaged in publicly and extensively outside of that event). And they come between the time he describes the HPSCI report finding there was no collusion between Trump’s team and Russians and the times he (ridiculously, in my opinion) twice uses the word “collusion” to refer to Veselnitskaya’s interactions with the Russian government on behalf of a known client.

Frankly, I think the MSNBC reporting (or at least editing) is a mess, in part because what one would want to prove is that she was working for Aras Agalarov (Trump’s apparent handler) or Putin when she met with Don Jr and the others. As I’ve intimated elsewhere, I think the reference to “Crown Prosecutor” in Rob Goldstone’s email to Don Jr is some kind of code, not a reference to Yuri Chaika or Veselnitskaya at all.

But in reality, the “informant” admission is the far less interesting of Veselnitskaya’s two admissions in the interview, because at least in context, all she’s admitting to is providing information to the prosecutor general’s office in the course of her representation of Katsyv. The other admission — the confirmation she’s done work for some entity with ties to Russian intelligence — might be more interesting, though still not a smoking gun regarding the background to her appearance at Trump Towers.

Most of all, though, I still think the role of the Agalarovs — whom the Minority HPSCI Report describes offering to set up a Putin meeting and providing birthday gifts days earlier than stolen emails that appear just after Trump’s birthday — is far more crucial to showing that the Trump Tower meeting was an official outreach from the Russian government. Veselnitskaya was just a convenient way to deliver the demand, Magnitsky relief, and that’s a role she played overtly in numerous other occasions.

Update: I meant to note this detail from the HPSCI Minority Report. Dana Rohrabacher apparently explained his 2016 meeting with Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin by “acknowledging” that they were probably spies.

In testimony before the Committee, Congressman Rohrabacher acknowledged that he met Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin on previous occasions, but that in April 2016, he was traveling as part of a Congressional delegation and encountered them by chance at the hotel lobby of the Ritz Carlton in St. Petersburg. He acknowledged that they were probably spies and probably knew the Congressman would be there. HPSCI Executive Session Interview with Dana Rohrabacher, December 21, 2017.

*I’ve been informed Bochkarev is Chaika’s chief of staff. So not him directly, but close to it.

Was Trump’s Birthday Present a Painting? Or Stolen Emails?

Donald Trump was born on June 14, 1946.

According to the Minority HPSCI Russian Report, the day after Trump’s spawn, spawn’s husband, and campaign manager met with a bunch of Russian envoys (including Aras Agalarov’s representative Ike Kaveladze), Agalarov sent the presidential candidate an expensive painting.

[O]n June 10, 2016, Aras Agalarov delivered to candidate Trump an expensive painting for the candidate’s birthday.

An email from Rob Goldstone identified it as a birthday gift.

Email from Rob Goldstone to Rhona Graff, Subject: Birthday gift for Mr. Trump, June 10, 2016

On June 14, 2016 — Donald Trump’s birthday — the Washington Post revealed that Hillary had been hacked by Russia.

According to Nakashima, she was first contacted about this story, “About a week before the story published online.”

On June 15, in what has always been presumed to be a rushed response to the WaPo story, Russian cut-out Guccifer 2.0 published a bunch of stolen documents, including Hillary’s (dated) oppo research on Trump.

On June 17, a Trump staffer sent an Agalarov staffer a Trump thank you note, one that did not (at least in the bit quoted in the Minority HPSCI report) describe what the gift in question was.

“There are few things better than receiving a sensational gift from someone you admire – and that’s what I’ve received from you. You made my birthday a truly special event by your thoughtfulness – not to mention your remarkable talent. I’m rarely at a loss for words, but right now I can only say how much I appreciate your friendship and to thank you for this fantastic gift. This is one birthday that I will always remember.”

Was the gift a painting? Or stolen emails?

The Holes in Ike Kaveladze’s Trump Tower Meeting Story

One of the things the HPSCI narrative about the Trump Tower makes clear is that the story of Ike Kaveladze, the Agalarov representative whose presence at the meeting is unexplained (indeed, the majority HPSCI report makes no effort to explain it, while the minority explicitly says he was representing the Agalarovs), doesn’t make sense.

The narrative starts by explaining that Kaveladze knew the meeting was about the Magnitsky Act going in, but for some inexplicable reason thought it would be weird to lobby politicians about a desired policy, and so only after learning that it was about the Magnitsky Act, also learned it was about dealing “dirt” on Hillary to the campaign.

The Committee discovered that the participants.of the June 9 meeting did not all have the same understanding as to the reasons for the meeting, with [Kaveladze] testifying that he thought it was odd that all three senior Trump campaign officials would be taking a meeting on the Magnitsky Act, a U.S. human rights law that imposes certain sanctions on Russian interests. Accordingly, [Kaveladze] called [Roman Beniaminov], a close associate of Emin Agalarov based in the United States, to inquire about the purpose

Based on this discussion, the lunch attendees believed the Trump Tower meeting was about the Magnitsky Act. of the meeting. [Beniaminov] explained that he believed the scheduled meeting at Trump Tower was about providing negative information on candidate Clinton to the Trump campaign.

While HPSCI doesn’t acknowledge it, this means Kaveladze (and, by association, Rob Goldstone) knew both sides of a quid pro quo before the meeting: dirt on Hillary in exchange for Magnitsky relief.

But then, having made the effort to learn the meeting was about dealing dirt, Kaveladze somehow became convinced again it was (only) about the Magnitsky Act during lunch right before the meeting (note, the report doesn’t address some oddities about the communication between Veselnitskaya and Kaveladze that I mention here).

Based on this discussion, the lunch attendees believed the Trump Tower meeting was about the Magnitsky Act.

After the meeting Kaveladze spoke to Aras Agalarov twice (once immediately after the meeting, per the minority report); HPSCI’s understanding of those calls, in which he claims the meeting was a waste of time, came from Kaveladze’s interview. Kaveladze claims that the “dirt” on Hillary Clinton did not come up in the discussion with Agalarov.

Kaveladze testified that he received two calls from Aras Agalarov after the meeting. During the second call, Kaveladze explained that the meeting was a “complete loss of time and about nothing.” Aras Agalarov and Kaveladze did not discuss the “dirt” on Hillary Clinton.

Except the “dirt” on Hillary is the only thing that came up in an email to his daughter about the meeting sent (curiously) on June 14.

Kaveladze also sent an email to his daughter after the meeting indicating that the “meeting was boring. The Russians did not have any bad info [o]n Hillary.” — a reference back to his conversation with Beniaminov, which he had apparently relayed to his daughter.

All of which is to say that a US-based witness HPSCI refused to call (Beniaminov) and the contemporary documentary evidence show that Kaveladze believed the meeting was about dealing dirt. But in Kaveladze’s testimony — at least according to the HPSCI retelling — he somehow got dissuaded the meeting was about dirt by a lunch meeting right beforehand, but then reconvinced it was about dirt in an email sent to his daughter on the day the Washington Post reported that Russia had hacked the DNC.

Yes, it’s true that his contemporaneous account also makes it clear the dirt was not spelled out.

The date of the email, June 14, is particularly interesting though.

As the minority report reminds, on that same day, Goldstone (the other guy who knew the meeting was about dirt and Magnitsky) sent Kaveladze an email connecting the emails with the meeting.

When news broke five days after this meeting that Russians were behind the hacked DNC emails, Rob Goldstone sent a news article to Emin Agalarov and Ike Kaveladze, “Top story right now – seems eerily weird based on our Trump meeting last week with the Russian lawyers etc”.

It’s unclear which email came first, the Goldstone one tying the Russian hack to the Trump Tower meeting offering dirt, or the Kaveladze one telling his daughter the Russians didn’t have any bad info on Hillary. The Goldstone one bears the Bates stamp HIC-KAV-00001 to 00002 while the one to Kaveladze’s daughter is Bates stamped HIC-KAV-00020, suggesting it may be later in the day (though that is in no way definitive). Given that he appears not to have been asked about this, I’m also interested in the date Kaveladze provided these emails to the committee. The story about Goldstone’s email leaked on December 7, over a month after Kaveladze’s interview, so it may be he avoided answering questions about it by providing it after the fact.

Ultimately, though, it appears that both Goldstone and Kaveladze knew the meeting involved both dirt and Magnitsky sanctions.

The majority report avoids dealing with the possibility that the dirt might be the Guccifer 2.0 emails in two ways.  First, it makes no mention of Trump’s tweet, released almost immediately after the meeting, calling for Hillary’s emails and mentioning an “in the ball park” accurate number for Hillary’s staff. And in treating the silence in the meeting about email as dirt (which, remember, had already been floated to the campaign a month and a half earlier), it oddly doesn’t mention the most obvious possibility, that non-Podesta emails came up.

The Committee received no testimony or documentary evidence indicating that the purpose of the meeting was to discuss Wikileaks, Julian Assange, the hacking of the DNC servers, and/or the John Podesta emails.

Given that this claim is sourced to Goldstone’s interview, and given that his interview definitely post-dated the time the committee received the Goldstone to Kaveladze email tying the meeting to the hack of the DNC, it seems an explicit dodge of the fact that Goldstone himself made the connection almost immediately after learning of the DNC hack.