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Lawfare’s Theory of L’Affaire Russe Misses the Kompromat for the Pee Glee

As I disclosed last month, 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. 

Lawfare has updated a piece they did in May 2017, laying out what they believe are the seven theories of “L’Affaire Russe,” of which just five have withstood the test of time. It’s a worthwhile backbone for discussion among people trying to sort through the evidence.

Except I believe they get one thing badly wrong. Close to the end of the long post, they argue we’ve seen no evidence of a kompromat file — which they imagine might be the pee tape described in the probably disinformation-filled Steele dossier.

On the other hand, the hard evidence to support “Theory of the Case #6: Kompromat” has not materially changed in the last 15 months, though no evidence has emerged that undermines the theory either. No direct evidence has emerged that there exists a Russian kompromat file—let alone a pee tape—involving Trump, despite a huge amount of speculation on the subject. What has changed is that Trump’s behavior at the Helsinki summit suddenly moved the possibility of kompromat into the realm of respectable discourse.

Nevertheless, along the way, they point to evidence of direct ties between Trump’s behavior and Russian response.

The candidate, after all, did make numerous positive statements about Russian relations and Vladimir Putin himself—though how much of this has anything to do with these meetings is unclear. At a minimum, it is no small thing for the Russian state to have gotten a Republican nominee for president willing to reverse decades of Republican Russia-skepticism and commitment to NATO.

[snip]

What’s more, two days before the meeting, Trump promised a crowd that he would soon be giving a “major speech” on “all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons”—but after the meeting turned out to be a dud, the speech did not take place. And notably, the hacking indictment shows that the GRU made its first effort to break into Hillary Clinton’s personal email server and the email accounts of Clinton campaign staff on the same day—July 27, 2016—that Trump declared at a campaign stop, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing” from Clinton’s email account.

For some reason, they describe Don Jr’s reported disappointment about the June 9 meeting, but not Ike Kaveladze’s testimony that his initial report to Aras Agalarov (the report made in front of witnesses) was positive. Based on Don Jr’s heavily massaged (and, public evidence makes clear, perjurious) testimony, they claim that the Trump Tower meeting was a dud. Then they go on to note that the Russians at the June 9 meeting asked for Magnitsky sanction relief, rather than offering dirt.

In June 2016, Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort met with a group of Russian visitors in Trump Tower, including attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya. In the now-infamous email exchange that preceded the meeting, Trump, Jr. wrote, “I love it, especially later in the summer” when informed that the meeting would provide him with documents that “would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.” Trump, Jr. and other representatives of the Trump campaign were reportedly disappointed when Veselnitskaya failed to provide the promised “dirt” on Clinton and discussed the issue of Russian adoptions under the Magnitsky Act instead.

[snip]

While there is evidence—most notably with respect to the Trump Tower meeting—of Trump campaign willingness to work with the Russians, there’s not a lot of evidence that any kind of deal was ever struck.

To sustain their case that “there’s not a lot of evidence that any kind of deal was ever struck,” they neglect a number of other points. They don’t mention, for example, that a week after the Trump Tower meeting, the Russians released the first of the stolen files. They don’t mention that (contrary to Don Jr’s massaged testimony and most public claims since) there was a significant effort in November 2016 to follow-up on that June 9 meeting. They don’t mention that that effort was stalled because of the difficulty of communicating given the scrutiny of being President-elect. They don’t mention that the same day the Agalarov people discussed the difficulty of communicating with the President-elect, Jared Kushner met the Russian Ambassador in Don Jr’s office (not in transition space) and raised the possibility of a back channel, a meeting which led to Jared’s meeting with the head of a sanctioned bank, which in turn led to a back channel meeting in the Seychelles with more sanctioned financiers. And inexplicably, they make no mention of the December 29, 2016 calls, during which — almost certainly on direct orders from Trump relayed by KT McFarland — Mike Flynn got the Russians to stall any response to Obama’s sanctions, a discussion Mike Flynn would later lie about to the FBI, in spite of the fact that at least six transition officials knew what he really said.

Why does Lawfare ignore the basis for the plea deal that turned Trump’s one-time National Security Advisor into state’s evidence, when laying out the evidence in this investigation?

All of which is to say that even with all the things Lawfare ignores in their summary, they nevertheless lay out the evidence that Trump and the Russians were engaged in a call-and-response, a call-and-response that appears in the Papadopoulos plea and (as Lawfare notes) the GRU indictment, one that ultimately did deal dirt and got at least efforts to undermine US sanctions (to say nothing of the Syria effort that Trump was implementing less than 14 hours after polls closed, an effort that has been a key part of both Jared Kushner and Mike Flynn’s claims about the Russian interactions).

At each stage of this romance with Russia, Russia got a Trump flunkie (first, Papadopoulos) or Trump himself to publicly engage in the call-and-response. All of that led up to the point where, on July 16, 2018, after Rod Rosenstein loaded Trump up with a carefully crafted indictment showing Putin that Mueller knew certain things that Trump wouldn’t fully understand, Trump came out of a meeting with Putin looking like he had been thoroughly owned and stood before the entire world and spoke from Putin’s script in defiance of what the US intelligence community has said.

People are looking in the entirely wrong place for the kompromat that Putin has on Trump, and missing all the evidence of it right in front of their faces.

Vladimir Putin obtained receipts at each stage of this romance of Trump’s willing engagement in a conspiracy with Russians for help getting elected. Putin knows what each of those receipts mean. Mueller has provided hints, most obviously in that GRU indictment, that he knows what some of them are.

For example, on or about July 27, 2016, the Conspirators  attempted after hours to spearphish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office. At or around the same time, they also targeted seventy-six email addresses at the domain for the Clinton Campaign.

But Mueller’s not telling whether he has obtained the actual receipts.

And that’s the kompromat. Trump knows that if Mueller can present those receipts, he’s sunk, unless he so discredits the Mueller investigation before that time as to convince voters not to give Democrats a majority in Congress, and convince Congress not to oust him as the sell-out to the country those receipts show him to be. He also knows that, on the off-chance Mueller hasn’t figured this all out yet, Putin can at any time make those receipts plain. Therein lies Trump’s uncertainty: It’s not that he has any doubt what Putin has on him. It’s that he’s not sure which path before him — placating Putin, even if it provides more evidence he’s paying off his campaign debt, or trying to end the Mueller inquiry before repaying that campaign debt, at the risk of Putin losing patience with him — holds more risk.

Trump knows he’s screwed. He’s just not sure whether Putin or Mueller presents the bigger threat.

At Helsinki Summit, Putin Re-enacts the June 9 Trump Tower Meeting

As I laid out last week, 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. 

I know there are a lot of people who aren’t as convinced as I am that a clear agreement was reached between Trump’s top aides and Putin’s emissaries at the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting. For doubters, however, Vladimir Putin just re-enacted the meeting on the world stage at the Helsinki summit.

On top of the denials, from both sides, of Russian tampering in the election (and both sides’ embrace of a joint cybersecurity working group), that re-enactment came in three ways.

First, when asked whether Russia tampered in our election, Putin issued a line that was sort of a non-sequitur, asserting that, “I was an intelligence officer myself. And I do know how dossiers are made of.” The line — a reference both to the Steele dossier and Putin’s more damaging kompromat on Trump — is pregnant with meaning (and probably was planned). When asked, later, whether he had any compromising information on Trump or his family, Putin said, “Now to kompromat. I did hear these allegations that we collected kompromat when he was in Moscow. I didn’t even know he was in Moscow.”

This is a reference to the pee tape, allegedly taped when he put on Miss Universe in Russia in 2013. But it’s premised on a claim about which there is sworn counter-evidence in the US. Rob Goldstone — the guy who set up the June 9 meeting — described how Putin not only knew Trump was in Moscow, but was still trying to fit in a meeting with him.

And it went down to the wire. It was on the day of the contest itself that maybe around 4:00 in the afternoon Emin called a few of us into a conference room at Crocus, and his Dad, Aras, was there. And we were told that a call was coming in through from a Mr. Peskov, who I know to be Dmitry Peskov, who I believe is a spokesman for Mr . Putin, and there’d be an answer. And the answer I think, as I may have stated the last time I saw you, was that due to the lateness o f the newly crowned King of Holland who’d been delayed in traffic, whether air or road traffic, Mr. Putin would not be able to meet with Mr. Trump. However, he invited him to Sochi, to the Olympics, and said he’d be happy to meet him here or at any future time. And that’s how it was left, so there would be not meeting taking place.

So not only did Putin lie about whether there could be a pee tape (I don’t think there is one, but I think the 2013 involves compromise in another way), but did so in a way that invoked the Agalrovs as Trump’s handlers going back years.

And did you notice that he never denied having kompromat?

Then, in a response to one of the questions about Putin’s tampering in the election, after he suggested that he’d be willing to have Mueller come to Russia to question the GRU officers who hacked Hillary, he demanded similar cooperation on his legal issues. He then raised Bill Browder (who is no longer a US citizen), complaining that

For instance, we can bring up Mr. Browder in this particular case. Business associates of Mr. Browder have earned over $1.5 million [sic] in Russia. They never paid any taxes, neither in Russia nor in the United States. And yet the money escaped the country, they [sic] were transferred to the United States. They sent huge amount of money, $400 million, as a contribution to the campaign of Hillary Clinton.

Aside from being muddled, both in Putin’s delivery and the translation, this is precisely the dangle that Natalia Veselnitskaya used to get into Trump’s campaign back in 2016 to ask to have the Magnitsky sanctions overturned.

This was simply Putin laying out his receipts of Trump’s compromise on the world stage.

There’s one other area where Putin simply showed off how badly he has compromised the President. His prepared talks emphasized cooperation on Syria, claiming it “could be first showcase example of joint work.” As I have noted, that has been the operative plan since less than 15 hours after polls closed in November 2016. And it was known by someone who played a significant role in the Russian attack.

This meeting, then, is just Putin collecting on the receipts collected back on June 9, 2016.

The Smoking Craters Where Trump Deal Brokers Used to Be

Amid the news that DOJ is giving the Gang of Eight another chance to look at sensitive case files on the Russia investigation (some of which they failed to look at in the last briefing), two scoops yesterday should provide far more damning proof of where the “SpyGate” is.

One-time Trump broker Sergei Millian offered Papadopoulos $30,000 a month to partner while working for Trump

First, in a piece that finally recognizes the existence of Ivan Timofeev (yet still hides how George Papadopoulos successfully hid his communications with him through two FBI interviews), Chuck Ross confirms what I had guessed: that Sergei Millian is the contact described in the FBI affidvit about whom Papadopoulos asks for feedback from Timofeev.

Mangiante, an Italian national, confirmed to TheDCNF that Millian is the individual Papadopoulos described in a July 22, 2016 Facebook message that is cited in documents the special counsel’s office released in October.

“On or about July 22, 2016, PAPADOPOULOS messages Foreign Contact 2 on Facebook to ask whether Foreign Contact 2 knew a particular individual with extensive ties to Russian-based businesses and persons,” reads an affidavit released along with Papadopoulos’ guilty plea. “PAPADOPOULOS asked Foreign Contact 2 ‘[i]f you know any background of him that is noteworthy before I see him, kindly send my way.’”

Papadopoulos and Millian met days after the July 22, 2016 Facebook message, said Mangiante, who has recently denied that Papadopoulos was engaged in collusion with Russians.

Mangiante also said that Papadopoulos and Millian met multiple times in Chicago and New York City before the election. In one encounter in Chicago, Millian offered Papadopoulos a substantial sum of money as part of an energy-related business deal.

The catch was that Millian said Papadopoulos would have to remain in the Trump administration while carrying out the work.

The business offer has been previously reported by The New York Times and NBC News. However, Mangiante is providing new details, saying that Millian offered Papadopoulos “$30,000 a month to work as a consultant while with Trump.”

“He refused, of course,” Mangiante said of Papadopoulos.

Interjection: This confirmation should end all the speculation from people examining Mangiante’s apparent flip flop in her public statements about Papadopoulos and seeing a Slavic accent to her statements. Mangiante’s actions are best understood, I think, by understanding that she knows little about US law and how she might best help her spouse, which has led her to respond to the cues of a bunch of sleazy people who have used her unfamiliarity to feed their own narratives or help their own clients (I’m thinking specifically of Victoria Toensing’s client Sam Clovis). But if Mangiante were a Russian spy, there’d be little reason for her to provide evidence that Millian is a Russian operative who sought to handle Papadopoulos and through him Trump’s foreign policy.

That said, Mangiante’s claims about her spouse are unsurprisingly misleading. For example, she has Chuck Ross ignoring the most damning parts of Papadopoulos’ lies to the FBI, as well as his deletion of his Facebook account to hide (among other things) precisely the exchange where Papadopoulos asked Timofeev about Millian. Unsurprisingly, she doesn’t mention that Papadopoulos couldn’t take Millian up on his lucrative deal, because Mike Flynn didn’t last in the National Security Advisor job long enough for him to offer Papadopoulos the job that would have been the prerequisite to accept the offer.

Mr. Millian proposed that he and Mr. Papadopoulos form an energy-related business that would be financed by Russian billionaires “who are not under sanctions” and would “open all doors for us” at “any level all the way to the top.”

One billionaire, he said, wanted to explore the idea of opening a Trump-branded hotel in Moscow. “I know the president will distance himself from business, but his children might be interested,” he wrote.

Nothing came of his proposals, partly because Mr. Papadopoulos was hoping that Michael T. Flynn, then Mr. Trump’s pick to be national security adviser, might give him the energy portfolio at the National Security Council.

The pair exchanged New Year’s greetings in the final hours of 2016. “Happy New Year, sir,” Mr. Papadopoulos wrote.

“Thank you and same to you, George. Happy New Year!” Mr. Flynn responded, ahead of a year that seemed to hold great promise.

But 2017 did not unfold that way. Within months, Mr. Flynn was fired, and both men were charged with lying to the F.B.I. And both became important witnesses in the investigation Mr. Papadopoulos had played a critical role in starting.

This is all the more interesting because (as Glenn Simpson explained to Adam Schiff) Millian has served a function for Trump that — like this Trump Tower deal — provided Trump a way to get loans for his business projects, in this case for Project Hollywood.

MR. SCHIFF: And tell me about the Trump Hollywood project. That was an example of the latter or the former? Did they get the financing from what you could tell because they got a bunch of Russians to pre-sale, or did they go to a bank and say these are our investors, or how did they go about that?

MR. SIMPSON: Well, eventually, I mean, they lost the project. It went under. I, can’t – I’m not – I’m sure we did look at who the creditors were, who the lenders were. This is the project that Sergi Millian appears to have been involved in, and there’s a picture of Jorge Perez, Donald Trump, and Sergi Millian.

And he tells a story about meeting Donald Trump at the golf — at a racetrack, drinking a bottle of Crystal with him, seems — he gave him some Crystal. And that was in the early phases of the project. So it was clear that Donald Trump — so the equity partner was the related group. It was clear that this Russian had been brought into this with Trump, and what you can surmise from that is that he’s there to say there are buyers. We can bring you buyers for this property. And that’s what a developer needs to know is that he’s got buyer interest.

MR. SCHIFF: And how does it work? Let’s say Sergi Millian or someone else lines up the Russian buyers. The Russian buyers sign pre-sale agreements. Trump can then get financing for the res! of the project. Do the buyers go through and buy the properties, or is that no longer necessary, once you’ve obtained the bank financing you can actually sell them to real people?

An architecture firm disappears overnight upon learning Mueller is watching

Keep that model — doing the real estate things that help Trump get loans — in mind when you read this, which I genuinely find to be among the most amazing Russian related stories since the election. In April, acting on a tip, CNBC asked an architect who has worked with Trump on some Eurasian and two American projects, John Fotiadis, about that relationship. Within days, his firm folded.

Between 2007 and 2013, Fotiadis designed all or part of six Trump-branded developments: a Trump Tower in Kazakhstan; a Trump-branded seaside resort in the republic of Georgia; a 47-story Trump Tower in Tbilisi, Georgia; hotel rooms at the Trump Tower in Istanbul; a Trump movie studio complex in Florida; and major portions of the Trump Parc Stamford, a condominium tower in Connecticut.

[snip]

The McClatchy news service reported in April that Mueller’s probe was looking more closely at the people involved in Trump’s dealings in three countries, Georgia, Kazakhstan and Russia.

Around this time, CNBC received a tip that Fotiadis had worked on several Trump projects in Eurasia. Curious about his professional relationship with Trump, CNBC reached out to Fotiadis on April 11 for comment about this work.

Fotiadis did not respond to a call or an email. But eight hours later, he announced on Twitter that he was closing his firm, John Fotiadis Architect, or JFA, after 10 years in business. A few days later, Fotiadis closed the Twitter account he had used to announce he was closing down his firm.

By the end of the week, all the content from Fotiadis’ professional website, including his portfolio, had been removed, leaving only a notesaying he planned to join a New Jersey-based engineering company.

Gone was Fotiadis’ impressive portfolio of 30 projects (some of which are pictured below), including villas, schools and office buildings he has designed for clients around the world. Also gone was any reference to the two overseas branches of JFA that he had opened — in Tbilisi and Kiev, Ukraine.

Admittedly, there’s no evidence to explain what happened here. But it sure has the look of either an intelligence front folding, or someone trying to get out of some really uncomfortable relationships quickly (CNBC describes Fotiadis’ new job with a company that does “car dealerships, self-storage facilities and medical labs,” which would seem to support the latter conclusion).

That said, as CNBC notes, the complex projects of the sort that Trump often use the architect as one key ingredient to bring in big creditors.

“The architect is a key part of the Trump sales pitch when he goes into these countries, and he’s convincing the money guys to give him a branding and development deal,” said Jan deRoos, a Cornell University professor of real estate finance. “The architect is the one who translates the Trump brand into actual design and construction standards.”

The Agalrov perennial Trump dangle

And these two stories come on top of the Agalarov’s perennial Trump dangle, including for a Trump Tower Moscow. I’m still working on the SJC released files (which are really damning), but the family complained that their years of cultivating Trump crumbled after the June 9 Magnitsky dangle was exposed.

These people — or the people who in turn managed them — exerted and probably still exert tremendous influence over Trump. They all seem to lay out a network of compromise far deeper than we imagined when this all started.