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Rudy Is Relying on Tapes to Claim Buzzfeed Is Phony: But There Aren’t Tapes of Everything

Yesterday, I noted that Rudy could not be sure the Buzzfeed story was phony when Trump’s lawyers called Mueller’s office Friday, because the White House should have no knowledge of what Michael Cohen said in his interviews with law enforcement.

Today, the New Yorker provided Rudy’s latest splutter explaining why he believed he could be sure the story was phony.

Where are we now with Trump and Cohen and the BuzzFeed story, and your response to it?

I guess the BuzzFeed story—I don’t remember what it said about Cohen—but it said there was corroboration that the President talked to Cohen and told him to lie about, I guess it was, the Moscow proposal. There are no tapes, there are no texts, there is no corroboration that the President told him to lie. That’s why the special counsel said that the story was inaccurate. First time the special counsel has ever done that. As a prosecutor, having done that for fifteen years, that is quite a heavy rebuke of BuzzFeed. And the reality is that the President never talked to him and told him to lie. And I don’t know what Cohen is saying, but certainly the idea that two federal agents said that there was corroboration is totally untrue.

Did President Trump’s lawyers or you yourself reach out to the special counsel’s office after the story, as has just been reported?

I can’t discuss that. President Trump would not have done that. If anybody would have done it, obviously it would have been his lawyers, and I really can’t discuss that. That would be confidential.

Do you—

But I can tell you, from the moment I read the story, I knew the story was false.

Because?

Because I have been through all the tapes, I have been through all the texts, I have been through all the e-mails, and I knew none existed. And then, basically, when the special counsel said that, just in case there are any others I might not know about, they probably went through others and found the same thing.

Wait, what tapes have you gone through?

I shouldn’t have said tapes. They alleged there were texts and e-mails that corroborated that Cohen was saying the President told him to lie. There were no texts, there were no e-mails, and the President never told him to lie.

So, there were no tapes you listened to, though?

No tapes. Well, I have listened to tapes, but none of them concern this.

This passage explains everything we need to know both about why Mueller’s office set the bar on Cohen’s testimony where they did, and why the White House responded the way it did.

But it doesn’t mean Rudy can be certain that Cohen didn’t tell authorities that Trump ordered him to lie.

Remember that when Cohen was raided, Trump squealed like having his fixer raided was the biggest constitutional crime of the century. Both Trump Org and Trump himself insisted on paying $1 million to get a special master appointed to conduct the privilege review.

The results were expansive and seemingly an expensive dud for Trump. Special Master Barbara Jones ended up finding just 7,434 items out of boxes and boxes of evidence to be privileged. There were 57 other items Trump and friends wanted to claim were privileged, but not enough to argue why they were publicly.

In her summary, Jones described that altogether 7,434 items had been deemed privileged. Trump and or Cohen had objected to Jones’ designations with regards to 57 items, but were unwilling to fight to have Wood overrule Jones’ designation if their arguments would be public.

It was part way through the Special Master process when Cohen started talking about being abandoned by Trump and warming up to flipping on the guy he had been loyal to for so long.

On July 2 and July 13, Jones started releasing big chunks of non-privileged items. Almost 2.2 million items were turned over. On July 10, Cohen moved to share all these materials with Guy Petrillo. By this point, Cohen felt he had been abandoned by Trump and was preparing to flip against his client. July 23 is when Jones reported that Cohen and Trump had withdrawn designations of privilege with respect to 12 audio files, which were then released to the government (and began to be leaked on cable shows).

I guess I was wrong when I said this process was an expensive dud. Trump’s lawyers weren’t using it to assert privilege over stuff they knew was mostly not.

They were using it to assess how much damage Cohen could do to the President. Once they reviewed that discovery, they recognized they didn’t have to continue to dangle a pardon for Cohen, because there wasn’t documentary or recorded evidence to back up the most damning allegations he might make against the President. It’d just be Cohen’s word against Trump’s.

And that’s the basis on which the White House contacted Mueller’s office Friday: Having reviewed everything seized from Cohen’s raid, including any tapes Cohen made of conversations with Trump, they believed they could assert to Mueller’s office that the Buzzfeed story was not true.

This also explains why Mueller set the bar on Cohen’s allocution where he did. Cohen may well have told Mueller that he believed Trump ordered him to lie. Trump likely did! Certainly, Rudy is not denying that happened. But unless Cohen recorded that conversation — as he did for the hush payments — then Mueller is not going to set himself up to have to prove that. That necessarily partly explains (in addition to the issues I raised here) the difference in how SDNY allocuted Cohen and how Mueller did. SDNY has tapes, courtesy of Cohen, of Trump ordering him to pay off his sex partners; Mueller does not have tapes, courtesy of Cohen, of Trump ordering Cohen to lie to Congress.

That said, Rudy still should have no basis for asserting what Cohen has said to one or another law enforcement agent. While it’s not clear what Cohen’s status was at various times of this process, he would only have been recorded by the FBI if he was in custody. And the White House should not have his 302s (nor might they have all the other materials from others who have been interviewed, though admittedly would have lot from having done Trump Organization’s document production and being in a joint defense agreement with most of the relevant people).

One more thing: The degree to which Rudy emphasizes that Trump would not have reached out to Mueller’s office makes me believe we’re shortly going to learn he did reach out to Big Dick Toilet Salesman Matt Whitaker.

President Trump would not have done that.

That’s one of the most logical explanations for the currently contradictory messages coming from seemingly official DOJ sources about what Rod Rosenstein’s office did.

Epic cheap-ass Donald Trump paid $500,000 to figure out whether Michael Cohen had recorded the most damning conversations between them. But it was worth it! He paid it to be able to do what he did Friday, demand a statement disclaiming what is obviously true: that has Trump repeatedly suborned perjury from his advisors to hide what he did with Russia.

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

On Use Immunity, Predictions of Doom for the Presidency, and the Voluntary Waiver of Privilege on the Hush Payment Tape

Don’t get me wrong. I think Trump is in a whole heap of trouble (though remember that, wielded in the hands of a competent man or similarly competent advisors, the power of the presidency is an awesome force). I think the SDNY’s investigation of Trump Organization’s involvement in illegal hush payments and NYS’s investigation of the Trump Foundation pose the additional risk that the Trump business empire will collapse as people scrutinize both its legal shenanigans and its debt. And I think that risk will bring Trump to fear US law enforcement as much as he fears Russia (which I suspect could also bankrupt Trump Org if a few key oligarchs put their mind to it).

But I think people are getting slightly ahead of the story when they predict that “The significance of [what they call Weisselberg’s] flip, paired with Cohen’s recent plea deal, cannot be overstated.” That’s true, in part, because Weisselberg got only limited immunity tied to grand jury testimony implicating Michael Cohen.

The person briefed on the deal said that it was narrow in scope, protecting Mr. Weisselberg from self-incrimination in sharing information with prosecutors about Mr. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer, who pleaded guilty on Tuesday to tax and campaign finance charges. The latter charges stemmed from payments during the campaign to two women who said they had affairs with Mr. Trump. It was not, the person said, a blanket immunity extending beyond the information he shared, and Mr. Weisselberg remains in his job at the Trump Organization.

While his testimony will be damaging to the Trump Org and, probably even more directly, Don Jr, Weisselberg in no way “flipped” on Trump. Indeed, there’s good reason to believe his cooperation may be an attempt to limit the fallout of the investigation of Cohen.

At the risk of proving my most recent post (in which I argued that the push for a Special Master didn’t gain the Trump camp very much) wrong, consider this detail. On July 23, Special Master Barbara Jones informed Judge Kimba Wood that “the parties” had withdrawn their privileged designation for 12 audio files, which she then released to the government.

On July 20, 2018, the parties withdrew their designations of “privileged” as to 12 audio items that were under consideration by the Special Master. Based upon those de-designations, the Special Master released the 12 items to the Government that day.

Those tapes are understood to include the tapes Cohen made in which he discussed the hush payments with Trump.

Two days later after that notice, Michael Cohen released a truncated version of the tape of him telling Trump he had spoken to Weisselberg about buying the rights of the Karen McDougal story, which unsurprisingly immediately preceded the news that prosecutors wanted to speak with Weisselberg.

Now, it may be that Cohen and Trump voluntarily waived privilege on those tapes to provide something to the press to get the titillated by the sex story and distracted from real financial graft. Or it may be that someone has a different plan of hanging out Cohen on the hush payments, limiting damage to Trump Jr and the organization, all in a bid to undercut Cohen’s value in a larger cooperation deal.

Or there may be some other explanation.

That being said, as of right now, the Trump camp is, as far as we know, dealing with three still separate investigations: SDNY, NYS, and Mueller. Don Jr is implicated directly in all of them and they have the possibility to collapse into one (with the added benefit of limiting the value of a Trump pardon of his son). Indeed, according to Vanity Fair, Mueller is very actively putting the squeeze on Junior in the more dangerous of those investigations.

Another theory for what’s motivating Trump’s increasingly unhinged tweets is that Mueller may be closing in on his son Don Jr. “A lot of what Trump is doing is based on the fact [that] Mueller is going after Don Jr.,” a person close to the Trump family told me. “They’re squeezing Don Jr. right now.”

Don Jr.’s lawyer said, “I’m not going to comment.” Another person briefed on the investigation disputed the term “squeeze,” but said the Mueller team continues to ask for documents.

Mueller may not wait for Junior to implicate Dad before he indicts the spawn (certainly, Senior and Rudy G have been laying the groundwork to exonerate Junior for his conspiring with Russians for at least three weeks, so they clearly expect that possibility). And to the extent that Don Jr gets in real legal trouble — something beyond a tax problem they can restate and a campaign finance violation that might be manageable — then Dad might be in real trouble.

But it’s quite possible Weisselberg and the Trump Org found a way to limit the damage of the Cohen investigation, for now, to things that don’t affect the core corruption of the Trump Organization business model, or the conspiracy with Russia to win the election, and along the way limited the damage to Don Jr.

The thing about Trump is there are so many bodies, it may actually take three or four people who know where the different kinds of bodies are buried — Weisselberg plus several others — to bring him down. And thus far, Weisselberg is not telling about most of those bodies.

Update: I’d like to add a point I meant to include before I went to yoga. One thing that’s going on with the hush payment story — one I’ve even seen reporters admit — is that it pertains to issues that reporters can understand. Sex! Scandal! Tax cheats!

Add in the fact that sources are talking here, whereas all the Mueller investigation sources, save those associated with Roger Stone and his band of rat-fuckers, have gone silent (and they were all defense witness sources anyway, and so unlikely to provide the full picture).

There’s nothing wrong with the possibility that reporters will make more of a story that they have sources for and can understand and sell to readers easily. For that reason, too, it may have more immediate impact on Congress, even while I highly doubt Republicans are going to ditch Trump for some hush payments (at least not until he becomes significantly more wounded). But it’s worth noting that some of that may be going on.

And if the focus on these hush payments buys Mueller some times — shifts Trump’s ire from Mueller to Sessions — that’s probably a benefit too.

The Trump Team’s Strategic Errors: Special Master Edition

Between Michael Cohen’s guilty plea and Paul Manafort’s guilty verdict, I’m struck this week by how badly two strategic decisions they made have failed. I’ll return to the issue of Manafort’s “rocket docket” strategy. Here, however, I’d like to note how little Michael Cohen and Donald Trump (AKA Individual-1) gained by fighting to have a special master review the materials seized in the April 9 raid of Cohen’s property.

As you recall, the Southern District of NY planned to use a taint team — basically, a second set of prosecutors — to sort through Cohen’s possessions. But Cohen and (especially) Trump complained about the impropriety of doing so when the President is one of the clients involved. Cohen invented an attorney-client relationship with Sean Hannity.

And after listening to all those arguments,on April 27, Judge Kimba Wood appointed Barbara Jones special master to make privilege determinations. It was definitely the right decision for the legitimacy of the proceeding. It might even have gotten the review done as quickly as SDNY could have done so.

But Trump and Cohen gained very little beyond what will end up being more than half a million dollar bill for their troubles. (Jones’ invoices for labor through the end of July, which are being split 50-50 between the plaintiffs — Cohen, Trump, and Trump Organization — and SDNY, add up to $1,050,022.)

It started on June 4, when Jones issued her first report on the hard copy documents and three devices that were the first things she received. Of the 172 items the plaintiffs tried to claim privilege over, she agreed in just 169 cases. Jones disagreed with the claims about three items (the circumstances with this report are murky, as she later reconsidered one item, and this appears to be the batch of materials from which Cohen and Trump later decided to reverse their privilege claim surrounding 12 recordings).

On June 6, the president’s lawyer, Joanna Hendon, wrote Kimba Wood on behalf of Trump, Cohen, and the Trump Organization, requesting that any challenge to a privilege determination appear under seal and ex parte. The next day the government responded that it had no problem with discussions of the content of documents to be submitted under seal and ex parte, but argued the legal discussions should be public.

There is no reason why the Government and the public should be deprived of access to the balance of the filing — such as the law upon which Cohen and the two Intervenors rely, or their legal analysis to the extent it does not directly describe the substance of the documents in question.

In other words, SDNY argued that if the plaintiffs wanted to fight Jones’ determinations, they would have to show their legal arguments in public.

In a June 8 order, Judge Wood agreed with the government that any legal discussion should be public. In response, the plaintiffs withdrew certain privileged designations, effectively deciding they weren’t willing to challenge Jones’ determinations with legal arguments the public could see.

After Jones amended her June 4 report on June 15, Judge Wood reviewed the substance of what Jones had found, effectively conducting a spot check of her work. Her June 22 order on the matter reveals that Michael Cohen did more consulting of lawyers than consulting as a lawyer.

The Court adopts the Report for the following reasons: 57 of these items are text messages between Plaintiff and his outside counsel, in which Plaintiff requests legal advice from his outside counsel or Plaintiff’s outside counsel provides legal advice; 55 of these items are text messages between Plaintiff and his outside counsel, in which Plaintiff requests legal advice from his outside counsel or Plaintiff’s outside counsel provides legal advice in anticipation of litigation; 22 of these items are email communications or portions of email communications in which Plaintiff receives or requests legal advice from outside counsel; 6 of these items are email communications in which Plaintiff receives or requests legal advice from outside counsel in anticipation of litigation; 7 of these items are email communications between Plaintiff and a client, containing legal advice made in anticipation of litigation; 1 of these items is an email communication in which Plaintiff receives a request to initiate legal representation; 9 of these items are legal memoranda from outside counsel, providing legal advice to Plaintiff or a client of Plaintiff; 1 of these items is a letter from Plaintiff’s outside counsel containing legal 2 of these items are retainer agreements between Plaintiff and outside counsel, containing requests for legal advice10; 1 of these items is a litigation document containing notes for Plaintiff’ s outside counsel, made in anticipation of litigation. The Court has also reviewed the 7 documents that the Special Master recommends withholding from the Government because they are Highly Personal. (ECF No. 81, at 2.) These documents all concern Plaintiffs family affairs and are not relevant to the Government’s investigation. With respect to the above items, the Court ADOPTS the Amended Report. [my emphasis]

That is, in this first batch of documents, even the privileged ones only included 8 files in which Cohen was the lawyer providing advice. The rest involved Cohen getting advice for himself or a client.

On July 2 and July 13, Jones started releasing big chunks of non-privileged items. Almost 2.2 million items were turned over. On July 10, Cohen moved to share all these materials with Guy Petrillo. By this point, Cohen felt he had been abandoned by Trump and was preparing to flip against his client. July 23 is when Jones reported that Cohen and Trump had withdrawn designations of privilege with respect to 12 audio files, which were then released to the government (and began to be leaked on cable shows).

Here are the determinations Barbara Jones described making in reports dated July 19, July 24, July 28, August 2, and August 9. Claimed privilege, here, is what Cohen or Trump or Trump organization claimed. The next two columns show what Jones labeled those files as. The objections are items for which the plaintiffs still argued there was a privilege claim after her recommendations, though they did not fight any of these designations.

In her summary, Jones described that altogether 7,434 items had been deemed privileged. Trump and or Cohen had objected to Jones’ designations with regards to 57 items, but were unwilling to fight to have Wood overrule Jones’ designation if their arguments would be public.

What Jones didn’t mention is that along the way, she had overruled the plaintiffs’ designation of something as privileged or highly sensitive around 6,200 times (these numbers don’t entirely add up, possibly because of overlapping categories).

While Trump and Cohen may have achieved the goal of delay, within 134 days after the raid on his home, Cohen had found a new lawyer and pled guilty to 8 counts. And while it’s not clear whether Jones applied a similar or more stringent standard on privilege claims than SDNY’s privilege team would have, as it was, the Trump people paid half a million dollars to try but fail to keep over 6,200 items out of government hands.

Update, 8/27: Oops! I forgot to add this language from the plea hearing, Prosecutor Andrea Griswold explained this about the evidence.

The proof on these counts at trial would establish that these payments were made in order to ensure that each recipient of the payments did not publicize their stories of alleged affairs with the candidate. This evidence would include:

Records obtained from an April 9, 2018 series of search warrants on Mr. Cohen’s premised, including hard copy documents, seized electronic devices, and audio recordings made by Mr. Cohen.

We would also offer text messages, messages sent over encrypted applications, phone records, and emails.

We would also submit various records produced to us via subpoena, including records from the corporation referenced in the information as Corporation One and records from the media company also referenced in the information.

She makes it clear that the audio recording — apparently the same ones that Cohen and Trump waived privilege over — were part of the evidence on those charges.

Update: Added more punctuation for those of you who thought I’d leave out an Oxford comma.

Mueller Frees Up the Troll Team

In the background of the celebrating over the Carpenter SCOTUS decision — which held that the government generally needs a warrant to access historical cell phone location — there were a few developments in the Mueller investigation:

  • The George Papadopoulos parties moved towards sentencing, either on September 7 or in October. If Mueller told Papadopoulos his wife Simon’s Mangiante seeming coordination of the Stefan Halper smear with Sam Clovis (and his lawyer, Victoria Toensing) and Carter Page got him in trouble, we got no sign of that.
  • Amy Berman Jackson dismissed a Paul Manafort attempt to limit the criminal penalties of his Foreign Agent Registration Act violations; this isn’t very sexy, but if the well-argued opinion stands, it will serve as a precedent in DC for other sleazy influence peddlers.
  • After ABJ made sure Rick Gates ask Mueller if he really didn’t mind Gates going on a trip without his GPS ankle bracelet, Gates got permission to travel — with the jewelry.
  • Kimba Wood accepted Special Master Barbara Jones’ recommendations, which among other things held that just 7 of the files reviewed so far pertain to the privilege of anyone, presumably including Trump,  to whom Michael Cohen was providing legal services. So Cohen and Trump just paid upwards of $150,000 to hide the advice Cohen has gotten from lawyers and seven more documents — that is, for no really good reason.
  • In two separate filings, four DOJ lawyers filed notices of appearance in the Internet Research Agency/Concord Management case.

It’s the latter that I find most interesting. Mueller has added a team of four lawyers:

  • Deborah A. Curtis
  • Jonathan Kravis
  • Kathryn Rakoczy
  • Heather Alpino

To a team with three (plus Michael Dreeben):

  • Jeannie Sclafani Rhee
  • Rush Atkinson
  • Ryan Kao Dickey

Devlin Barrett (he of the likely impressive link map) reported that Mueller did this to prepare for the moment when his office shuts down and the Concord Management nuisance defense drags on for years.

People familiar with the staffing decision said the new prosecutors are not joining Mueller’s team, but rather are being added to the case so that they could someday take responsibility for it when the special counsel ceases operation. The case those prosecutors are joining could drag on for years because the indictment charges a number of Russians who will probably never see the inside of a U.S. courtroom. Russia does not extradite its citizens.

The development suggests Mueller is contemplating the end of his work and farming out any potentially outstanding prosecutions to other parts of the Justice Department.

Except this doesn’t make sense. Not only are Concord and the judge, Dabney Friedrich, pushing for a quick trial, but Atkinson and Dickey are themselves DOJ employees, so could manage any residual duties.

Far more likely, Mueller is ensuring one of his A Teams — including Dickey, DOJ’s best cyber prosecutor — will be able to move on to more important tasks on the central matters before him.