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The DeVoses and a Pence Pardon for Trump

WaPo wrote a long story about how two DeVos machine Republicans, Mike Shirkey and Lee Chatfield, went to the White House and declined to join in Donald Trump’s coup attempt. The story either chose not to mention or simply preceded the reports that the lawmakers spent the night at Trump Hotel, running up big bills for Dom Perignon, which doesn’t seem like the thing you’d do if you had just turned down a bribe to steal the election.

Presumably because it was written for a national audience, the story didn’t get into what ruthless shitholes these men are. These are men who’ve presided over attempts to undermine Gretchen Whitmer’s COVID response and refused to prohibit guns from the capitol building. And while Chatfield knocked down an effort to impeach Whitmer, Shirkey has largely facilitated the kind of eliminationist rhetoric that led to an assassination plot against Whitmer (both condemned the plot after it was thwarted).

MI journalist Susan Demas did a thread on what awful untrustworthy men they are.

Amid reports that Ronna not-Romney McDaniel is the favorite to become RNC Chair again — which stalwarts view as Trump’s attempt to run the RNC as his own operation, undercutting any challengers in 2024 — I find this quote in the WaPo story particularly interesting.

A fresh indication that Trump’s options are dwindling came Friday from an organization with close ties to his education secretary, Betsy DeVos. The conservative Michigan Freedom Fund, which the DeVos family finances, issued the following statement Friday: “The election is over. The results are in, and here in Michigan, they’re not going to change.”

There have been hints that Betsy and Dick were tiring of Trump already. Betsy’s former Chief of Staff, Josh Venable, even joined one of the anti-Trump groups during the election.

That has interesting implications for the fate of two men — Betsy’s brother Erik Prince and Trump himself.

To my mind, Erik Prince is one of Trump’s easiest pardons, both for his exposure for false statements to Congress about his back channel with Russia and for his efforts to sell mercenary services to China. That’s true because, unlike some others (like Roger Stone), Prince successfully lied his way through testimony without generating any other known legal exposure. He told his lies, did his service to Trump, and so couldn’t be forced to testify differently once his Fifth Amendment privileges disappeared. And his exposure on China — to the extent that Billy Barr hasn’t already killed this investigation beyond repair — doesn’t implicate Trump, and so is easy and clean for a President seeking to pay back loyalty. Plus, Prince is a big donor. What’s not to like?!?!

But the DeVoses are also very close to Mike Pence (he got Betsy hired, not Trump). And many of Trump’s other pardons — of people that could implicate Trump himself in crimes if they lost their Fifth Amendment protections — require that he also limit his own legal exposure (and of course, he can only do this on federal cases). He may well be planning a self-pardon, but a safer legal option would be an early resignation followed by a pardon from Pence.

In my opinion, Pence has a real incentive against such a pardon. That’s true, in part, because giving a far less controversial pardon to Richard Nixon really doomed Gerald Ford’s otherwise reasonable legacy. Pence spends a lot of time in Grand Rapids, where Ford’s tainted history is palpable.

That’s also true because Pence has further political ambitions. They may not be real ambitions, but a former Vice President would always consider himself a candidate for the Presidency. And counterintuitively, pardoning Trump would actually hurt those ambitions. That’s true because he’s not the most obvious inheritor of Trump’s legacy. Mike Pompeo has a higher profile and the same cachet among the Evangelical right. Don Jr has even suggested he might run, and if he did he could tap right into the furor his father created. Unlike both of them, Pence has mostly been a background figurehead, one who will be blamed for Trump’s biggest failing, on COVID. So if Pence pardoned Trump, it would only serve to allow one of the other Trump flunkies from capitalizing on his brand to become the presumptive 2024 nominee; it would hurt his own chances.

Still, unlike Pompeo, Pence is not inextricably linked to Trump’s crimes. Indeed, one of the bravest witnesses during impeachment, Jennifer Williams, was his aide. She even corrected her testimony to provide damning details after the fact. Everything we’ve seen from the Mueller Report also makes it clear that Pence was not in the loop of some of the most devious efforts to undermine America.

But Pence likely knows of some of that crime. He has heard some of the details of the Russian “collusion.” More importantly, he surely knows how a series of Trump campaign managers have engaged in grift that pursue ever more outrageous ways of getting rich off the process of pitching Trump, with Brad Parscale’s version only the most recent. Assuming he’s as insulated from this potentially criminal behavior as I think he he is, refusing to pardon Trump would be a way to undercut Trump’s legacy without lifting a finger. Even if Joe Biden’s Attorney General didn’t aggressively pursue new investigations, there are so many known open ones as to make Trump’s ongoing criminal exposure hard to contain.

That puts Pence — and with him, his close allies the DeVoses — in a remarkable position. To be clear, they are every bit as evil as Trump. We should assume however they wield that power will do little to help average Americans. But (caveats about Erik aside), they are differently evil than Trump.

And if they’ve decided Trump’s time is up, they have leverage that others don’t.

“Looking Forward” Will Be Harder for President Biden than It Was for President Obama

NBC has a story that has caused a bit of panic, reporting that “Biden hopes to avoid divisive Trump investigations, preferring unity.”

The panic is overblown, given that the main point of the story is that Biden is hoping that DOJ will resume a more independent stance than that taken, especially, by Billy Barr.

Biden wants his Justice Department to function independently from the White House, aides said, and Biden isn’t going to tell federal law enforcement officials whom or what to investigate or not to investigate.

“His overarching view is that we need to move the country forward,” an adviser said. “But the most important thing on this is that he will not interfere with his Justice Department and not politicize his Justice Department.”

If there were to be investigations of Trump, everyone should want them to be completely insulated from the White House.

The story raises two more specific types of investigations which are both likely moot.

They said he has specifically told advisers that he is wary of federal tax investigations of Trump or of challenging any orders Trump may issue granting immunity to members of his staff before he leaves office. One adviser said Biden has made it clear that he “just wants to move on.”

Another Biden adviser said, “He’s going to be more oriented toward fixing the problems and moving forward than prosecuting them.”

New York state already has a tax investigation into Trump, so a federal one would be duplicative. And the pardon power is absolute; there’s little likelihood DOJ could investigate the pardons that Trump grants, because doing so would be constitutionally suspect.

All that said, attempting to move forward may not be as easy for President Biden as it was for President Obama.

That’s because there are a number of investigations that implicate Trump that are either pending (as of right now, but I don’t rule out Trump trying to kill them in the interim) or were shut down corruptly, to say nothing of the obstruction charges Mueller effectively recommended (which aforementioned pardons would renew, even in spite of DOJ’s declination prior to pardons). At a minimum, those include:

  • The Build the Wall fraud case against Steve Bannon and others that might, eventually, implicate the failson or his close buddies
  • The Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas graft which clearly implicates Rudy Giuliani and by all rights should always have included Trump’s extortion of Volodymyr Zelensky; given the timing of David Correia’s plea, it’s likely there will be grand jury testimony from him banked
  • Other foreign agent charges against Rudy
  • The investigation into Erik Prince for selling his private mercenary services to China
  • False statements charges against Ryan Zinke that Jeffrey Rosen attempted to kill
  • Various campaign finance and grift charges implicating Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, and Brad Parscale, to say nothing of the hush payments involving Trump personally
  • Possible hack-and-leak charges against Roger Stone from 2016, as well as the related pardon quid pro quo for Julian Assange implicating Trump himself
  • The possible aftermath of Judge Sullivan’s decisions in the Mike Flynn case, which could include perjury referrals or an invitation for DOJ to prosecute Flynn on the foreign agent charges he pled out of

All of these investigations still do or were known to exist, and if they no longer exist when Biden’s Attorney General arrives at DOJ, it will be because of improper interference from Barr.

The last of these might get particularly awkward given that multiple people at Billy Barr’s DOJ, possibly in conjunction with Sidney Powell and Trump campaign lawyer Jenna Ellis, altered documents to concoct a smear targeting Joe Biden in a false claim that he invented a rationale to investigate Flynn for undermining sanctions on Russia. You cannot have an independent DOJ if the people who weaponized it in such a way go unpunished. Except investigating such actions would immediately devolve into a partisan fight, particularly if Republicans retain control of the Senate. (This particular issue will most easily be addressed, and I suspect already is being addressed, via a DOJ IG investigation.)

Still, in the other cases, DOJ may need to decide what to do with investigations improperly closed by Barr, or what to do with investigations where just some of the defendants (such as Fruman and Bannon) get pardons.

And all this will undoubtedly play against the background of the confirmation battle for whomever Biden nominates. I would be shocked if Mitch McConnell (especially if he remains Majority Leader) didn’t demand certain promises before an Attorney General nominee got approved.

So none of this will be easy.

A far more interesting question will pertain to what President Biden does about the ICC investigation into US war crimes in Afghanistan, crimes that occurred during both the Bush and Obama Administrations. Mike Pompeo launched an indefensible assault against the ICC in an attempt to block this investigation, sanctioning ICC officials leading the investigation. Biden’s Secretary of State will have to decide whether to reverse those sanctions, effectively making a decision about whether to look forward to ignore crimes committed (in part) under Barack Obama.

Roger Stone’s 2016 “Stop the Steal” Effort May Have Been Coordinated with Russia

CNN has traced out in detail what I’ve been noting for some time: the “Stop the Steal” effort ginning up disinformation and threats of violence in the wake of Donald Trump’s loss is a repackaged version of an effort that Roger Stone rolled out in 2016.

[W]hile Stop the Steal may sound like a new 2020 political slogan to many, it did not emerge organically over widespread concerns about voting fraud in President Donald Trump’s race against Joe Biden. It has been in the works for years.

Its origin traces to Roger Stone, a veteran Republican operative and self-described “dirty trickster” whose 40-month prison sentence for seven felonies was cut short by Trump’s commutation in July.

Stone’s political action committee launched a “Stop the Steal” website in 2016 to fundraise ahead of that election, asking for $10,000 donations by saying, “If this election is close, THEY WILL STEAL IT.”

But CNN — with four journalists bylined — misses several important parts of that earlier story, parts that are critical to understanding the stakes for Steve Bannon and Stone now.

Stone may have mixed his political fundraising

First, there’s good reason to believe that Stone was not segregating the different kinds of campaign finance organizations he was using for his 2016 rat-fucking. Even from what remained of his public infrastructure when I wrote this post, it showed that fundraising for one kind of dark money group went to links associated with a PAC.

[I]t’s clear he wasn’t segregating the fundraising for them, and I wonder whether some of his email fundraising involved other possible campaign finance violations. For example, here’s the Stop the Steal site as it existed on March 10, 2016. It was clearly trying to track fundraising, carefully instructing people to respond to emails if they received one. But it claimed to be TCTRAG (what I call CRAG), even though the incoming URL was for Stop the Steal.

That remained true even after Stop the Steal was formally created, on April 10. Even after the website changed language to disavow Stop the Steal being a PAC by April 23, the fundraising form still went to TCTRAG (what I call CRAG), a PAC.

In other words, people would click a link thinking it would fund one effort (and one kind of legal entity) and any money donated would instead go to another effort (and another kind of legal entity). Since then, we’ve learned more about how everyone associated with Trump — Corey Lewandowski, Paul Manafort, and Brad Parscale, in addition to Stone — set up these entities to get rich off of Trump. It’s one reason the rivalry between Lewandowski and Manafort was so heated: because one’s relative prominence in Trump’s campaign effort was directly related to the amount of money that one could grift from it.

But as Bannon’s indictment for fraud makes clear, telling people they’re donating money for one purpose (to build a wall) but using the money for other purposes (to support Bannon’s pricey lifestyle) can be prosecuted as fraud.

When Andrew Miller was negotiating testimony about Stone, he specifically asked for immunity relating to Stone’s PACs and his texts with Stone that the government subpoenaed after his grand jury appearance overlapped with that campaign slush.

In 2016, Stone was (illegally) coordinating with the campaign

As appears to have been the case for all these efforts to grift off the campaign, Stone was coordinating his PAC and dark money efforts with the campaign.

We learned that, in Stone’s case, starting with a legal debate in the lead-up to Stone’s trial about 404(b) information, which is information about other bad actions (including crimes) that prosecutors are permitted to introduce during a trial to prove something like motive or consistent behavior.

In advance of Stone’s trial prosecutors got permission to introduce evidence that Stone lied about something in his HPSCI testimony, on top of all the lies about who his go-between with WikiLeaks was, only that other lie wasn’t charged.

At the pretrial conference held on September 25, 2019, the Court deferred ruling on that portion of the Government’s Notice of Intention to Introduce Rule 404(b) evidence [Dkt. # 140] that sought the introduction of evidence related to another alleged false statement to the HPSCI, which, like the statement charged in Count Six, relates to the defendant’s communications with the Trump campaign. After further review of the arguments made by the parties and the relevant authorities, and considering both the fact that the defendant has stated publicly that his alleged false statements were merely accidental, and that he is charged not only with making individual false statements, but also with corruptly endeavoring to obstruct the proceedings in general, the evidence will be admitted, with an appropriate limiting instruction. See Lavelle v. United States, 751 F.2d 1266, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1985), citing United States v. DeLoach, 654 F.2d 763 (D.C. Cir. 1980) (given the defendant’s claim that she was simply confused and did not intend to deceive Congress, evidence of false testimony in other instances was relevant to her intent and passed the threshold under Rule 404(b)). The Court further finds that the probative value of the evidence is not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson permitted prosecutors to include it because it showed that Stone was trying to cover up all of his coordination with the campaign.

A September hearing about this topic made clear that it pertained to what Stone’s PACs were doing.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael J. Marando argued that Stone falsely denied communicating with Trump’s campaign about his political-action-committee-related activities, and that the lie revealed his calculated plan to cover up his ties to the campaign and obstruct the committee’s work.

This debate suggested prosecutors could present the information via just one witness, but unless I’m misunderstanding, it actually came in via two witnesses: There were a number of texts between Rick Gates and Stone where Stone kept demanding lists from the campaign (indeed, this is something that Stone’s lawyers actually emphasized!). And during the period when Bannon was campaign manager, Stone asked him to get Rebekah Mercer to support some of his other activities, designed to suppress the black vote.

Both of these communications show that Stone was at least attempting to coordinate his efforts with the campaign (it’s not clear to what degree Gates responded to Stone’s demands), and the second detail shows that he was coordinating with Bannon, the guy who took over the Stop the Steal effort this year.

This kind of coordination is illegal (albeit common), though Billy Barr’s DOJ refused to prosecute Trump for any of it (and he even appears to have shut down an investigation into what appeared to be a kickback system Manafort used to get paid).

Stone’s Stop the Steal efforts paralleled the voter suppression efforts of the Russian operation

Even back when I examined Stone’s Stop the Steal efforts in 2018 (when I was skeptical about his legal liability with respect to WikiLeaks), it was clear that the steps Stone took happened to coincide with Russia’s efforts.

Stone’s voter suppression effort is not surprising. It’s the kind of thing the rat-fucker has been doing his entire life.

Except it’s of particular interest in 2016 because of the specific form it took. That’s because two aspects of Stone’s voter suppression efforts paralleled Russian efforts. For example, even as Stone was recruiting thousands of “exit pollers” to intimidate people of color, Guccifer 2.0 was promising to register as an election observer, in part because of the “holes and vulnerabilities” in the software of the machines.

INFO FROM INSIDE THE FEC: THE DEMOCRATS MAY RIG THE ELECTIONS

I’d like to warn you that the Democrats may rig the elections on November 8. This may be possible because of the software installed in the FEC networks by the large IT companies.

As I’ve already said, their software is of poor quality, with many holes and vulnerabilities.

I have registered in the FEC electronic system as an independent election observer; so I will monitor that the elections are held honestly.

I also call on other hackers to join me, monitor the elections from inside and inform the U.S. society about the facts of electoral fraud.

More interesting still, the GRU indictment makes it clear that GRU’s information operation hackers were probing county electoral websites in swing states as late as October 28.

In or around October 2016, KOVALEV and his co-conspirators further targeted state and county offices responsible for administering the 2016 U.S. elections. For example, on or about October 28, 2016, KOVALEV and his co-conspirators visited the websites of certain counties in Georgia, Iowa, and Florida to identify vulnerabilities.

Whether or not GRU ever intended to alter the vote, Russia’s propagandists were providing the digital “proof” that Republicans might point to to sustain their claims that Democrats had rigged the election.

This is a line that Wikileaks also parroted, DMing Don Jr that if Hillary won his pop should not concede.

Hi Don if your father ‘loses’ we think it is much more interesting if he DOES NOT conceed [sic] and spends time CHALLENGING the media and other types of rigging that occurred—as he has implied that he might do.

Since that time, we’ve learned that Maria Butina and Sergey Kislyak were also aiming to focus on observing polls in 2016. We’ve learned that the GRU hackers were actually targeting conservative Florida counties in 2016 (including Matt Gaetz’s district), meaning that had Trump lost he might have turned to the hacking of GOP strongholds to claim that that hacking had undermined his vote totals in Florida.

There are also indications that Mueller was pursuing evidence that not only Stone, but also Paul Manafort, had advance notice of all this. For example, Manafort got asked about Russians hacking voting machines in regards to a November 5, 2016 note he sent to the campaign regarding “Securing the Victory” (which admittedly is a slightly different topic but one that might have elicited an answer about hacking the Boards of Election if Manafort were at all inclined to tell the truth, which he was not).

All of which is to say that, had Hillary won narrowly (as Biden won by close margins in enough states to amount to a resounding victory), we probably would have seen Stone’s Stop the Steal effort to be doing precisely what Bannon’s Stop the Steal has been doing this year, both delegitimizing the outcome and sowing violence. But in that case, the effort may have been accompanied by possible foreknowledge that a close investigation of certain GOP strongholds would disclose proof of tampering in the election.

Stone pitched Bannon on a way to win ugly the day he became Campaign Manager

At this point, I’ve come to believe that prosecutors used their live witnesses at Stone’s trial (aside from former FBI Agent Michelle Taylor, who introduced most of the evidence) to make certain testimony public regarding other investigative prongs. For example, prosecutors got Gates to testify publicly that Stone claimed involvement in the release of stolen emails at a time when only Guccifer 2.0 was releasing them, not WikiLeaks. Prosecutors got Randy Credico to confirm publicly that shortly after the election, he helped Stone try to pay off his election debt by pardoning Julian Assange.

And prosecutors got Steve Bannon to — very reluctantly — repeat grand jury testimony that he regarded a pitch that Stone made to him the day after he became campaign manager to be related to dirty tricks and WikiLeaks.

Prosecutors introduced a similar exchange with Steve Bannon, the guy who took over from Manafort weeks later: an August 18, 2016 email exchange  where Stone claimed Trump could “still win” … “but it ain’t pretty,” and Bannon responded by asking to talk ASAP.

Manafort didn’t testify at Stone’s trial. But Bannon did. Prosecutors had Bannon sitting there on the stand, forcing him to repeat what he had said to a grand jury earlier in the year, yet they only asked him to say this much about what all this means, in which he begrudgingly admitted he believed this discussion about using social media to win was about WikiLeaks:

Q. At the bottom of this email Mr. Stone states, “Trump can still win, but time is running out. Early voting begins in six weeks. I do know how to win this, but it ain’t pretty. Campaign has never been good at playing the new media. Lots to do, let me know when you can talk, R.” Did I read that correctly?

A. That’s correct.

Q. Then you respond, “Let’s talk ASAP”; am I correct?

A. That’s correct.

Q. When Mr. Stone wrote to you, “I do know how to win this but it ain’t pretty,” what in your mind did you understand that to mean?

A. Well, Roger is an agent provocateur, he’s an expert in opposition research. He’s an expert in the tougher side of politics. And when you’re this far behind, you have to use every tool in the toolbox.

Q. What do you mean by that?

A. Well, opposition research, dirty tricks, the types of things that campaigns use when they have got to make up some ground.

Q. Did you view that as sort of value added that Mr. Stone could add to the campaign?

A. Potentially value added, yes.

Q. Was one of the ways that Mr. Stone could add value to the campaign his relationship with WikiLeaks or Julian Assange?

A. I don’t know if I thought it at the time, but he could — you know, I was led to believe that he had a relationship with WikiLeaks and Julian Assange.

Even though prosecutors didn’t lay out precisely what happened next — something that other evidence suggests may have implicated Jared Kushner — Stone’s team never challenged the prosecution claim that this email and the subsequent exchanges did pertain to WikiLeaks. Perhaps, because they had reviewed Bannon’s grand jury and more recent testimony, they knew how he would respond and thought better off leaving it unchallenged.

Perhaps, too, they didn’t want to have to explain how long this exchange persisted. For example, the Stone affidavits — starting with one obtained after Bannon’s first testimony — showed this particular email exchange lasted two more days, through August 19 and 20 (the day before the Podesta “time in the barrel” tweet).

On August 19, 2016, Bannon sent Stone a text message asking if he could talk that morning. On August 20, 2016, Stone replied, “when can u talk???”

And those discussions may have continued into face-to-face meetings in September.

On September 4, 2016, Stone texted Bannon that he was in New York City for a few more days, and asked if Bannon was able to talk.

[snip]

On September 7, 2016, Stone and Bannon texted to arrange a meeting on September 8, 2016 at the Warner Center in New York.

On September 7, 2016, Bannon texted Stone asking him if he could “come by trump tower now???”

On September 8, 2016, Stone and Bannon texted about arranging a meeting in New York.

This is a lot of back-and-forth to discuss the “the tougher side of politics.”

Even though they had Bannon there on the stand, prosecutors did not get him to explain what this plan to win ugly entailed. So we don’t know whether it pertained to Stone’s efforts to suppress the black vote, his Stop the Steal effort to discredit a potential Hillary win, or something more (I’ll eventually get around to what that something more might be). But we do know that when Bannon enthusiastically responded to those pitches, he expected Stone’s plan to win ugly would involve dirty tricks and WikiLeaks.

Stone’s real go-between with WikiLeaks was likely Guccifer 2.0

No one involved with the Trump campaign — at least as far as is public — claims to have known who Stone’s claimed tie to WikiLeaks was.

But Rick Gates apparently did testify that Stone claimed to have a tie to Guccifer 2.0 well before the time he was DMing with the persona on Twitter. The FBI had evidence (though how good it is remains inconclusive) that he was searching on both Guccifer 2.0 and dcleaks before those sites went live. When prosecutors wrote the Mueller Report in March 2019, they still had not determined whether any proof they had of Stone’s awareness of Russia’s ongoing hacking — which extended until November 2016 — was sufficient proof beyond reasonable doubt to charge him as part of the hack-and-leak conspiracy.

As I have argued, there is evidence, albeit not conclusive, that Stone’s go-between with WikiLeaks was Guccifer 2.0.

If that’s right, it suggests that Stone’s parallel efforts with Guccifer 2.0’s, efforts that seemingly anticipated hacks that might have served to discredit the vote in 2016, may not have been coincidence or even just a result of the seeming dance via which Trump’s team and Russia followed the same path without any coordination. It may have reflected coordination.

Let me very clear: I’m not making any claims that happened this year. There’s no evidence of it, and those who tracked election tampering efforts have said they found none.

But until Billy Barr intervened in Stone’s sentencing, all this was (at least per FOIA redactions) an ongoing investigation, the investigation that Stone’s prosecution served, in part, as an investigative step in. If you put that together with Bannon’s own legal exposure in the Build the Wall fraud indictment, it changes the stakes on these men’s efforts to curry Trump’s favor (and to ensure he remains in power, via whatever means).

If Trump remains in charge of DOJ, these men will stay out of prison. If he doesn’t, they may not. And for Stone, especially, a Joe Biden DOJ (or a Democratic Congress, with DOJ’s help) may reveal what he has been denying for years, that Stone willingly coordinated during the 2016 election with someone whose ties to Russia were only thinly hidden.

Roger Stone Demanded Lists from Rick Gates at Least Nine Times During the 2016 Election

For a whole slew of reasons, I want to point out a detail in an exhibit released in Roger Stone’s trial: He asked for “lists” — once explicitly described as donor lists, but described as voter registration lists by Stone’s attorney, Bruce Rogow, at trial — from Rick Gates at least nine times:

4/30/16, 2:37:22 PM [Stone to Gates]: Obtain the donor list- I Need it soon to effect [sic] California!!

5/11/16, 7:16:14 AM [Stone to Gates]: Get the list. I don’t care about anything else.

5/11/16, 1:08:05 PM [Stone to Gates]: Get the list !!!!!!!

5/13/16, 1:52:51 AM [Stone to Gates]: Tried – corey trying desperately to tie me to New PAC and Trump seems to be unaware that this PA

5/13/16, 1:15:31 AM [Gates to Stone]: New updates.

5/13/16, 1:32:00 PM [Stone to Gates]: Can make sure Manafort makes sure Trump knows about Sovereignty PAC-???

5/15/16, 2:36:32 PM [Gates to Stone]: Did you see the positive press o. AS PAC? Hope it holds.

5/17/16, 3:54:53 PM [Stone to Gates]: Get the list.

5/17/16, 7:19:20 PM[Stone to Gates]: Get the list – “u need to reconcile against FEC report” crucial

6/21/16, 3:54:40 PM [Stone to Gates]: Lists Friday ??? please

7/2/16, 5:59:17 PM [Stone to Gates]: Lists? You said last weds

9/21/16, 10:30:25 PM [Stone to Gates]: Please get me lists – please.

9/26/16, 8:30:22 PM [Stone to Gates]: Lists????

9/28/16, 1:43:14 AM [Stone to Gates]: Are u going to send me the lists in time for me to use? do me no good after the election

10/19/16, 5:00:14 PM [Stone to Gates]: Lists…..pls

It’s not entirely clear why they were included at trial. The government had talked about introducing 404b information showing Stone illegally coordinating with the campaign, but there was more focus, on that point, on Stone’s discussions with Steve Bannon about obtaining funding from Rebekah Mercer while the latter was campaign manager.

Perhaps the defense wanted to include these exchanges as proof that Stone’s conversations with Gates focused more often on lists than on WikiLeaks. In his cross examination of Gates, Rogow got Trump’s former Deputy Campaign Manager to confirm that Stone, “continually asked questions about voter registration lists.”

Q. Mr. Stone’s role in the campaign dealt with voter registration lists, primarily, didn’t it?

A. I didn’t know what Mr. Stone was responsible for prior to when I arrived. When I arrived, Mr. Stone had already left the campaign.

Q. Did Mr. Stone continually ask questions about voter registration lists?

A. He did.

To be clear: I’m completely agnostic what Stone’s requests were about. But there are a slew of possibilities.

One reason I raise it — given a Campaign Legal Center complaint to the FEC, alleging that Trump laundered $170 million in campaign funding through Brad Parscale’s firms and news today of Parscale’s attempt at self-harm yesterday — pertains to some comments that Paul Manafort made in a September 27, 2016 interview:

Stone had a PAC that was not well funded and he wanted Manafort to designate it as the favored PAC for the campaign, but Manafort did not want to. Lewandowski also had a PAC and wanted the same thing, and Manafort did not want to deal with internal politics related to their PACs. He thought it was a good idea to have a designated PAC, he just did not want it to be either Stone’s or Lewandowski’s.

[snip]

Manafort was not sure how Stone made his money. Manafort knew Stone wrote books and gave speeches and did some consulting. Manafort knew Stone was working on a book about the Trump campaign and consulted with different candidates and on various referenda. Manafort did not know Stone’s client base. Manafort was not familiar with the company Citroen.

Manafort’s comments are positively hilarious. He presents this as a battle between Stone and Corey Lewandowski over who could make the most profit off of illegally coordinating with the campaign. That battle was real, and cut throat.

But at the time Stone and Lewandowski were fighting that out, Manafort’s allies had their own PAC that prosecutors at least suspected that Manafort used as a kick back system to get paid. Manafort didn’t want anyone else to be the official illegally coordinating campaign, presumably, because he wanted his PAC to have that role. And at the time Manafort made this comment in September 2018, he was pretty aggressively trying to hide how his own PAC worked.

The investigation into Manafort’s PAC has been closed, whether because Bill Barr shut it down or prosecutors gave up trying to untangle it.

But the CLC complaint into Trump’s current campaign alleges that one of Parscale’s firms, American Made Media Holding Corporation, serves as a pass through for campaign vendor services that are therefore improperly shielded from campaign finance reporting.

Approximately one month after AMMC’s formation, the Trump campaign began reporting sizable payments to AMMC, and AMMC soon became the Trump campaign’s largest vendor. Since 2019, the Trump campaign has reported paying $106 million to AMMC for an array of general purposes, including placed media, consulting, online advertising, SMS advertising, and more; the Trump Make America Great Again Committee has reported over $61 million in payments to AMMC, largely for online advertising.

Available evidence indicates that AMMC is not directly providing those services to the Trump campaign, but instead is acting as a “clearinghouse”10 that disburses Trump campaign funds to other vendors, “effectively shielding the identities of the underlying contractors being paid for Trump campaign work.”11 In several instances, Trump campaign officials and public reports have described other firms as major contractors providing services to the Trump campaign, yet those contractors’ names do not appear on the Trump campaign’s reports filed with the Commission; instead, it appears that the Trump campaign reports payments to AMMC, which then passes on the funds to the intended payees.

For example, Trump campaign officials have spoken publicly about directing and managing the development of a mobile app produced by the software company Phunware, yet the Trump campaign has not reported direct payments to the company. Other public records suggest that the Trump campaign is contracting with Realtime Media and Opn Sesame— firms headed by the Trump campaign’s digital director, Gary Coby12—yet neither firm has appeared on the campaign’s reports filed with the FEC. Federal Communications Commission (“FCC”) records show that the Trump campaign’s ads are placed by the firm Harris Sikes Media, but the campaign has not reported payments to that firm during the 2019-20 election cycle. Available evidence indicates that the Trump campaign is selecting, directing, and controlling these vendors and their work, yet is failing to report payments to the firms and is instead using AMMC as a conduit for its payments to the firms. Other possible vendors that the campaign may be paying through AMMC, such as those providing services for direct mail, software, subscriptions, or video production—all services for which the campaign has also described paying AMMC this cycle—are not ascertainable through public records.

In addition, CLC reviews some of the reporting that Parscale pays a number of people — notably Don Jr’s girlfriend and Eric Trump’s wife — for their work on the campaign.

Additionally, the Trump campaign is currently paying Parscale Strategy, the consulting firm of former Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale, approximately $48,000 a month for “strategy consulting,” and, according to multiple media reports, using Parscale Strategy as a conduit for salary payments to particular campaign staff.13

[snip]

Similarly, in a July 15, 2020 article reporting on Parscale’s change of position within the campaign, the Washington Post reported that Parscale’s “firm, Parscale Strategy, bills for the campaign salaries of Lara Trump and Kimberly Guilfoyle, the wife and girlfriend respectively of Trump’s two oldest sons, Eric and Donald Jr.”93

In the 2020 cycle, the Trump campaign has not directly reported making any salary payments to campaign manager Brad Parscale, nor has it reported any salary payments to Kimberly Guilfoyle or Lara Trump.94

This is the kind of scheme that the NYT described in its blockbuster report on Trump’s tax returns, though in that case the “consultant” was Ivanka.

Examining the Trump Organization’s tax records, a curious pattern emerges: Between 2010 and 2018, Mr. Trump wrote off some $26 million in unexplained “consulting fees” as a business expense across nearly all of his projects.

In most cases the fees were roughly one-fifth of his income: In Azerbaijan, Mr. Trump collected $5 million on a hotel deal and reported $1.1 million in consulting fees, while in Dubai it was $3 million with a $630,000 fee, and so on.

Mysterious big payments in business deals can raise red flags, particularly in places where bribes or kickbacks to middlemen are routine. But there is no evidence that Mr. Trump, who mostly licenses his name to other people’s projects and is not involved in securing government approvals, has engaged in such practices.

Rather, there appears to be a closer-to-home explanation for at least some of the fees: Mr. Trump reduced his taxable income by treating a family member as a consultant, and then deducting the fee as a cost of doing business.

The “consultants” are not identified in the tax records. But evidence of this arrangement was gleaned by comparing the confidential tax records to the financial disclosures Ivanka Trump filed when she joined the White House staff in 2017. Ms. Trump reported receiving payments from a consulting company she co-owned, totaling $747,622, that exactly matched consulting fees claimed as tax deductions by the Trump Organization for hotel projects in Vancouver and Hawaii.

When CLC filed an FEC complaint against the grift of Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman in 2018, they shared the complaint with SDNY, which is what led to the prosecution of Rudy’s grifters. Here, the appropriate venue would likely be FL or TX (so less likely to pursue a vigorous investigation), but given CLC’s past practice, one should assume it’s likely the information was shared.

In 2016, Trump engaged in all sorts of dodgy campaign financing. But possibly because his key advisors were in such a cutthroat competition with each other, only the now-closed Manafort investigation and the inauguration funding got much scrutiny.

But now, with everything centralized in Parscale’s sports cars, it may be easier to see the grift.

Then there’s what Cambridge Analytica did, some independently and some with the campaign. Channel 4 in the UK has a story today on how aggressively Trump suppressed the black vote.

Finally, I think it’s also important to note that Trump’s Deputy Campaign Manager was being asked (there’s only one indication, May 13, 2016, that Gates delivered, and even that’s not definite) to provide Trump’s rat-fucker with voting lists in a parallel time table as he was providing Russian intelligence officer Konstantin Kilimnik polling data. In September, Russian hackers would spend much of the month making copies of Hillary’s analytics on AWS.

In any case, Trump continues to be surrounded by people who are clearly grifting off their work with him, without much clarity on how they’re doing so and what the implications of all that are.

Three Things: Numbers, Hearings and Racist Code

There’s always more than three things to address but here’s three we should look at more closely.

~ 3 ~
This is what we’re up against.

823 Americans have died of COVID-19 since yesterday. In contrast, South Korea, which learned of its first case of COVID-19 the same day the U.S. learned of its own, has only lost 281 of its citizens.

We lost not one American to an attempted shoe bombing in 2001 and yet an immediate program was developed and implemented to detect future shoe bombing attempts, requiring air travelers to take off their damned shoes and go through multiple screenings.

But Trump can’t be arsed to shut up and let the professionals handle stopping an ongoing daily stream of deaths from COVID-19.

This administration is killing Americans. Trump’s not even hiding the fact he’s willing to ignore deaths to manipulate numbers by insisting testing for the virus should be suppressed. He has the temerity to brag about his performance which has resulted in the unnecessary deaths of more than 120,000 Americans.

Yesterday the House Committee on Energy and Commerce held a hearing on oversight of the Trump Administration’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Called to testify before the committee:

Robert R. Redfield, M.D., Director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (statement at 27:39)

Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., Director, National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes o Health (at 33:40)

Admiral Brett P. Giroir, M.D., Assistant Secretary for Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (at 38:25)

Stephen M. Hahn, M.D., Commissioner, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (at 43:54)

 

Some of the GOP’s efforts are useless, wasteful filibustering — like Rep. Bob Latta’s (OH-5) question about how the human body makes antibodies. This is something he should have been briefed on let alone read on his own long before this hearing. He should have read this basic biology question MONTHS AGO when the pandemic began. So was his question about how the vaccine would be distributed WHEN WE’RE 6-18 MONTHS OUT AT BEST from having a viable, effective, safe vaccine through Phase III trials.

Rep. Diana DeGette asked Fauci about vaccine development (at about 1:28:00); I think he was extremely optimistic saying he thought there would be one by early 2021. But the question wasn’t as specific as it should have been; there are clinical trials in progress for a couple of candidates, but it’s not clear what phase they are in.

Reported last week by StatNews:

There are more than 100 projects around the world centered on the development of a vaccine for the coronavirus. As of May 11, eight candidate vaccines were being tested in clinical trials in people.

An official at the National Institutes of Health said in mid-May that large-scale testing could begin in July with a vaccine potentially available by January.

Other experts say the more likely timeline is summer or fall of 2021.

The other factor beyond the capabilities of the vaccines and developers which will predict the time to public distribution is Congress and the White House.

If we still have that malicious narcissist in the Oval Office without a veto-proof Democratic majority in the Senate, nationwide roll-out of a vaccine by the U.S. government may not happen even if an efficacious vaccine is found.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 don’t care…

Just like Trump.

~ 2 ~
The Mary Sue presented a nice overview of what happened in Tulsa this past weekend.

In short, Team Trump fucked themselves hard.

What happened this weekend was supposed to be a point where Trump turned the narrative back in his favor and moved the attention away from the activists and change that have controlled the news cycle for months. But what really happened was instead of taking the attention away from the K-Pop teens for his failures, those things all combined to add one more line to an endless line of failures that we can only hope will keep going until November.

It wasn’t just a loss of narrative and momentum but the complete trashing of campaign data harvesting.

We don’t know exactly what the data accumulated by Trump’s re-election campaign looks like after receiving ~800,000 registrations for the Tulsa rally. Some were valid, some were valid but no-shows, some were legitimate addresses of people who had zero intention of attending — likely sent by TikTok accounts.

And a mess of them must have been K-pop fans who are still feeling their oats after they DDoS’d police video monitoring during anti-racism protests as well as spamming right-wing hashtags.

Parscale’s operation better have had a good backup before the Tulsa registrations began, though I have suspicions somebody’s ass wasn’t well covered.

I mean, who is foolish enough to brag about more than 1,000,000 registrations like that, without a hint of skepticism about the data’s integrity?

Somebody prone to hubris, that’s who.

And somebody else isn’t going to pay Team Trump for data gleaned through Tulsa.

~ 1 ~
The ACLU filed suit this morning against the Detroit Police Department for its wrongful arrest of Robert Williams based on racist facial recognition technology.

The Washington Post published an op-ed by Williams explaining what happened to him and why facial recognition software should be banned.

The next morning, two officers asked if I’d ever been to a Shinola watch store in Detroit. I said once, many years ago. They showed me a blurry surveillance camera photo of a black man and asked if it was me. I chuckled a bit. “No, that is not me.” He showed me another photo and said, “So I guess this isn’t you either?” I picked up the piece of paper, put it next to my face and said, “I hope you guys don’t think that all black men look alike.”

The cops looked at each other. I heard one say that “the computer must have gotten it wrong.” I asked if I was free to go now, and they said no. I was released from detention later that evening, after nearly 30 hours in holding. …

It’s not just the software at fault, though. DPD made absolutely no attempt to confirm Williams’ identity against images they had before they took him into custody, processed him, and detained him overnight in holding.

They literally can’t be bothered or they are racist as hell in a minority majority city.

The ACLU is calling for a ban on facial recognition in Detroit, Williams being a perfect example of how flawed and racist the technology is as well as an assault on innocent citizens’ privacy.

 

Boston’s city council banned facial recognition technology this morning, setting an example for Detroit.

What’s your municipality doing about facial recognition technology?

Are you blowing off this issue because you’re white and you couldn’t possibly be misidentified?

Sure.

~ 0 ~
The House Judiciary Committee hearing on politicization at the Justice Department is still under way as hit Publish. If you haven’t been following along and want to catch up, here are four Twitter threads covering the hearing.

Marcy https://twitter.com/emptywheel/status/1275821690170335237

Jennifer Taub https://twitter.com/jentaub/status/1275825424405323776

Courthouse News https://twitter.com/ByTimRyan/status/1275821746923417603

CNN https://twitter.com/jeremyherb/status/1275820657289428994

This is an open thread.

The Tussle in Tulsa: A Retrospective

I had been worried about the risk of violence in Tulsa this weekend given Trump’s tweet bordering on incitement ahead of his rally.

Fortunately my concern was for naught. Didn’t see a single Hawaiian shirt cross my Twitter feed while watching the lead up to and after the event, not a one in the approximately 6,600 attendees.

But the event itself didn’t live up to other expectations.

I have to believe Brad Parscale will be looking for new contracts. Or perhaps he’ll be retained just to keep him from mucking things up further somewhere else in the election cycle food chain.

He’d claimed 800,000 had reserved for the event, a number which seemed wholly unrealistic considering the population within a four-hour drive of Tulsa and the advertisements placed for non-white attendees. We know now a confluence of activist engagement via social media platform TikTok, K-pop fans, and mounting concerns about COVID-19 contagion as well as risk of violence may have artificially boosted reservations and kept attendance down.

Parscale’s claimed this morning that protesters blocked access to the venue, pointing to an AFP photo of a gate with a couple handfuls of protesters and what looks like an equal amount of media.

Unfortunately for Parscale, AFP took a photo of another gate with red-hatted, pale-skinned, maskless attendees streaming through the gate.

And other media outlets took photos outside the venue showing an awful lot of pavement.

The speech intended for outdoor overflow audience was cancelled. Wouldn’t even need a sound system to speak to this few people.

The big feat of the day: one-handed drinking.

Attendees were subjected to a 20-minute ramble about the “fake news” from his Westpoint speech last weekend after which he had difficulty walking down a ramp.

What a perfect example of the cobra effect — trying to defuse a problem but only making it worse. But Trump is too much of a narcissist to allow criticism of his person to go unanswered.

The lowest point in Trump’s speech yesterday was his remarks about COVID-19 testing.

He’s made comments before about the number of tests correlating to the number of cases. Comic Sarah Cooper has famously riffed on this.

But this time he’s expressed an intent to withhold health care from the public for personal aims — to keep the reported number of cases artificially low, without regard to the effect this would have on actual reduction of COVID-19 cases.

Aside from revealing again he’s so utterly toxic, this statement needs investigation. It’s impeachable if he both demanded a reduction or slow-down in tests, especially if he did so for the purposes of improving his polling numbers.

None of his efforts skewing reality have paid off as he’d like. We can see the tangerine emperor’s ass.

And nothing he’s done will make this grim number go away.


This is an open thread.

The Real News in Bill Barr’s Announcement: He’s Vetoing Campaign Finance Investigations, Too

Yesterday, NYT broke the news that Attorney General Barr had issued a memo, as promised, requiring his approval before opening an investigation into a presidential candidate. (Update: here’s the memo.)

The memo, which said the Justice Department had a duty to ensure that elections are “free from improper activity or influences,” was issued on the same day that President Trump was acquitted on charges that he had abused his office to push a foreign power to publicly announce investigations into his political rivals. The memo said that the F.B.I. and all other divisions under the department’s purview must get Mr. Barr’s approval before investigating any of the 2020 presidential candidates.

The NBC version of this — written by Barr mouthpiece Pete Williams — falsely suggests this decision was justified by the entirety of the IG Report.

His directive follows a report by the Justice Department’s inspector general that harshly criticized the FBI’s investigation of the 2016 Trump campaign. It recommended an evaluation of the kind of sensitive matters that should require high-level approval, particularly those involving politics.

While the IG Report recommended different practices for sensitive investigations going forward, the report actually showed that a lot of conspiracy theories that Barr had embraced about the opening of the investigation and the use of informants were false. The criticisms — as distinct from recommendations — were largely limited to the Carter Page FISA.

The distinction is important because the other excuse Barr offers is that, if an investigation became known — like both the Hillary email investigation and the Breitbart-dirt predicated Clinton Foundations ones — it might affect the election.

“In certain cases, the existence of a federal criminal or counterintelligence investigation, if it becomes known to the public, may have unintended effects on our elections,” Mr. Barr wrote.

Those concerns, combined with the inspector general’s findings, seemed to underpin Mr. Barr’s memo to top Justice Department officials.

All the evidence in the world suggests that the known problems in Crossfire Hurricane stemmed from the opposite problem, working too hard to keep the investigation secret. Had the FBI not worked so hard to keep it secret, it wouldn’t have been run out of FBI HQ, and so would have had more resources available. Had the FBI not avoided overt steps, it would have obtained call records to indicate that George Papadopoulos (and Paul Manafort and Roger Stone), and not Carter Page, should have been the priority targets. Had the FBI not worked so hard to keep this secret, it might have caught several of Trump’s flunkies in the act of selling out the country. (And all three of those men hid information to prevent their actions from becoming known.) And now Bill Barr wants to make it harder, not easier, to find people selling out our country before they do real damage.

Indeed, this extends even to the larger investigation into Russian interference. SSCI released its report on what the Obama Administration should have done better in 2016 yesterday, and many of the criticisms stem from how closely it held the intelligence about the attack, from Congress, election professionals, and agencies that might respond. (The report also undermined Barr’s justification for the Durham investigation, in that it suggested the IC should have warned policy makers far earlier than happened about Russian intentions, and points to John Brennan’s sensitive intelligence about the operation as the first alarm.)

So the stated purpose doesn’t hold up, as most of Barr’s stated purposes don’t. That’s all the more true when you look at how Barr’s rule has dramatically expanded since he first floated it.

As both NYT and NBC noted, Barr announced the policy in January. The policy, as laid out back then, was far more limited — extending just to counterintelligence investigations.

Attorney General William Barr on Monday announced the Justice Department’s first policy change in response to the FBI’s mucking around in the 2016 election. Henceforth, both an AG and the FBI director must sign off on any proposed counterintelligence investigation into a presidential campaign.

Neither the NYT nor NBC describe any such limitation. Indeed, the make it clear that criminal investigations, including into donors!!!, must be approved.

While the department must respond “swiftly and decisively” to credible threats to the electoral process, “we also must be sensitive to safeguarding the department’s reputation for fairness, neutrality and nonpartisanship,” he wrote.

He previewed the new policy at a news conference in January, when he said his approval would be required in future investigations involving presidential candidates or campaigns.
In the memo, Mr. Barr established a series of requirements governing whether investigators could open preliminary or full “politically sensitive” criminal and counterintelligence investigations into candidates or their donors.

No investigation into a presidential or vice-presidential candidate — or their senior campaign staff or advisers — can begin without written notification to the Justice Department and the written approval of Mr. Barr.

The F.B.I. must also notify and consult with the relevant leaders at the department — like the heads of the criminal division, the national security division or a United States attorney’s office — before investigating Senate or House candidates or their campaigns, or opening an inquiry related to “illegal contributions, donations or expenditures by foreign nationals to a presidential or congressional campaign.”

This rule would have protected the following people from any investigation in 2016:

  • Trump, for paying off former sex partners
  • Paul Manafort, for taking $2.4M after discussing carving up Ukraine to Russia’s liking in 2016
  • Roger Stone, for dark money activity and coordination still unresolved as well as optimizing materials stolen from the Democrats
  • Mike Flynn, for being on Turkey’s payroll while attending Top Secret candidate briefings
  • George Papadopoulos, for trying to monetize his access to Trump with foreign countries including Israel
  • Illegal donations from Russians, Malaysians, Emiratis, and Ukrainians in 2016
  • Illegal coordination between the campaign and its SuperPAC

The only criminal investigations into Trump flunkies that wouldn’t have been covered in 2016 would be the money laundering investigation into Manafort (which started two months before he joined the campaign) and, possibly, the counterintelligence investigation into Page (because his tie to the campaign was not known at the time).

As stated, the rule would require pre-approval for the Ukrainian grifter investigation and any investigation into known coordination problems Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale has engaged in. It would protect not just Trump, but also (because they work on his campaign) his failson and son-in-law.

Plus, Barr believes that because the President can’t be indicted, he should not be investigated. So this is, quite literally, a guarantee that no crime Trump commits between now and election day will be investigated — not even shooting someone on Fifth Avenue  (at the federal level, at least, but DOJ has maintained that NYS cannot investigate the sitting president either). Barr has just announced, using fancy language to avoid headlines describing what this is, that from now until November, he will hold President Trump above the law.

Citizens United has opened up a floodgate of barely hidden cash from foreign donors into our elections. This is not a partisan thing; as noted, Mohammed bin Zayed was dumping huge money into both Hillary and Trump’s campaign. And the Attorney General of the United States has just made it easier for foreigners to tamper in our elections.

Barr has snookered reporters into believing this is the same announcement as he made in January.

It’s not. This is not about spying on a campaign, much as Pete Williams wants to pretend it is. This is about telling Trump and his associates they will not be prosecuted by DOJ, going forward, for the same crimes they’ve committed in the past.

Update: Two more details. The memo requires signed approval by the Deputy Attorney General to open a preliminary investigation of any presidential candidate. But it also requires prompt notice to the Assistant Attorney General for any assessment. That means the AG is demanding that his top deputies learn when someone does a database search.

Paul Manafort Is One of 37 People in an Omertà with the President

Apparently, Bob Woodward committed some journalism along with canonizing racist John Kelly and wife-beater Rob Porter in his book: he got a number for how many people are included the Joint Defense Agreement that gives Rudy Giuliani such confidence the President is not at risk: 37.

And Politico committed still more journalism and answered the question we’ve all been asking: yes, Paul Manafort is among those 37.

Giuliani also confirmed that Trump’s lawyers and Manafort’s have been in regular contact and that they are part of a joint defense agreement that allows confidential information sharing.

“All during the investigation we have an open communication with them,” he said. “Defense lawyers talk to each other all the time where as long as our clients authorize it therefore we have a better idea of what’s going to happen. That’s very common.”

Giuliani confirmed he spoke with Manafort’s lead defense lawyer Kevin Downing shortly before and after the verdicts were returned in the Virginia trial, but the former mayor wouldn’t say what he discusses with the Manafort team. “It’d all be attorney-client privilege not just from our point of view but from theirs,” he said.

That means when John Dowd complained that the raid of Manafort’s condo (where his eight iPods were seized), that was based on privileged conversations between lawyers. And when, in January, Trump confidently said he was sure Manafort would protect him, that was based on privileged conversations between lawyers.  And when, just before the EDVA trial, Kevin Downing was ostentatiously saying there was no way Manafort was flipping, and when he was balking on a plea with Mueller immediately after the trial, he was also talking to Rudy Giuliani.

Mind you, Rudy G will learn right away if Manafort starts considering cooperating, rather than just pleading, because Manafort will have to (finally!) drop out of the JDA before those discussions start.

And while I suspect Mueller has slowly been peeling away people like Sam Patten, that the JDA is so big likely means some or most of the following people are part of the omertà (and Michael Cohen, Rick Gates, and Mike Flynn were part of it):

  • Paul Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik
  • Jared Kushner
  • The Trump Org defendants: Don Jr, Rhonna Graff
  • Bill Burck’s clients: Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, Don McGahn (and up to three more)
  • Victoria Toensing’s clients: Mark Corallo, Erik Prince, Sam Clovis
  • The hush payment recipients: Hope Hicks, Brad Parscale, Keith Schiller
  • Roger Stone and his buddies: Stone, Michael Caputo, Sam Nunberg, Andrew Miller, plus some (probably)

That’s 20. Some other likely (and enticing) JDA members are: Devin Nunes, Jeff Sessions, Tom Barrack, Keith Kellogg, John Mashburn, KT McFarland, JD Gordon, Walid Phares, Stephen Miller, Sean Spicer, Rob Porter, Corey Lewandowski, John Kelly. Heck, it’s not even clear that George Papadopoulos is not part of the JDA.

But that still leaves space in the JDA for people who were already comparing notes with known members of the JDA, including Rinat Akhmetshin, Rob Goldstone, and Ike Kaveladze (along with Emin and Aras Agalarov, who are all represented by Scott Balber).

No wonder Rudy thinks he knows everything that Mueller has.

That’s why the collective panic on the discovery that Stone’s phone was likely among the ~10 or so that Mueller got warrants for in the wake of Rick Gates’ cooperation agreement is so interesting, and also why Manafort, playing his part as point, tried so hard to find out who the other four AT&T users whose phones were obtained with his own.

These guys may be good at omertà. But every single one we’ve seen so far has shitty OpSec; they’ve been saying their co-conspiracy communications on their phones and on iCloud. Plus there are people like Omarosa wandering among them, dismissed as irrelevant even while they record everything they hear. And meanwhile, Mueller is chipping away at the edges, people they haven’t considered (like Patten). And all the while he’s been building his case against Stone and Don Jr.

Trump Is Willing to Pay for Joint Defense for Hope Hicks, But Not for France

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 keep coming back to this exchange between Dana Bash and Rudy Giuliani over the weekend.

BASH:  But let’s just focus on one of the things that you said…

GIULIANI: Go.

BASH: … that there is no evidence — you say that the special counsel hasn’t produced evidence.

But they haven’t said that they have no evidence. They have — you say that there have been leaks. They have been remarkably tight-lipped, aside from what they have had to do with indictments and such.

GIULIANI: No, they haven’t. They leaked reports. They leaked reports. They leaked meetings. They’re leaking on Manafort right now. They leaked Cohen before it happened.

BASH: But this is an ongoing investigation. We don’t really know what they have and what they don’t have. That’s fair, right?

GIULIANI: Well, I have a pretty good idea because I have seen all the documents that they have. We have debriefed all their witnesses. And we have pressed them numerous times.

BASH: You have debriefed all of their witnesses?

GIULIANI: Well, I think so, I mean, the ones that were — the ones that were involved in the joint defense agreement, which constitutes all the critical ones.

They have nothing, Dana. They wouldn’t be pressing for this interview if they had anything. [my emphasis]

Rudy asserts that every critical witness is a member of a Joint Defense Agreement involving Trump.

That’s a big Joint Defense Agreement. It also suggests that if Mueller can learn who is in it, he’s got a map of everyone that Trump himself thinks was involved in the conspiracy with Russia.

Some people will be obvious — not least, because they share lawyers. Witnesses with shared lawyers include:

Erik Prince, Sam Clovis, Mark Corallo (represented by Victoria Toensing)

Reince Priebus, Steve Bannon, Don McGahn (represented by William Burck)

Don Jr, Rhona Graff (represented by Trump Organization lawyer Alan Futerfas)

Almost certainly, it includes the key witnesses who’ve been moved onto various parts of the Reelection campaign, including 2020 convention security head Keith Schiller (represented by Stuart Sears) and Brad Parscale (defense attorney unknown).

Others are obvious because we know they’re centrally involved — people like Jared Kushner (represented by Abbe Lowell) and Hope Hicks (represented by Robert Trout). Indeed, Hicks may also fall into the category of shared lawyers — at least from the same firm — as Trout Cacheris & Janis got paid $451,779 by the RNC in April for representing Hope and two other witnesses.

One implication from this (which would be unbelievable, if true) is that Paul Manafort remains a part of the Joint Defense Agreement. But that is the only way that Trump can assess his vulnerability — as he has in the past, and appears to have shared with the Russians — to go exclusively through Manafort.

There are other implications of claiming that every critical witness is part of the Joint Defense Agreement — including that the Attorney General (represented by Iran-Contra escape artist lawyer Charles Cooper) must be part of it too. So, too, must Stephen Miller (defense attorney unknown).

But here’s the really telling thing. A key part of Trump’s foreign policy — one he’ll be focusing on relentlessly in advance of next week’s NATO summit — is that other members of the United States’ alliances are freeloaders. He’s demanding that NATO members all start paying their own way for our mutual defense.

But Trump is willing to make sure that those protecting him get paid (even if he’s not willing to pay himself). (I stole this observation from an interlocutor on Twitter.)

Which is saying something about what Trump is willing to do when he, himself, is at risk.

Roger Stone and ConFraudUs

CNN’s David Gelles has an instructive tweet this morning showing how the rate at which Trump tweets about the Mueller “witch hunt” is accelerating.

Assuming this includes this morning’s two “witch hunt” tweets, Trump is on pace to use the phrase 28 times by the end of the month, though I bet he’ll continue to accelerate the use of it in the week remaining in the month.

The Mueller investigation is, I suspect, coming to a head.

I don’t claim I know how it will turn out. The president has an enormous amount of power and his flunkies in Congress promise they’re about to end Rod Rosenstein’s bend-don’t-break defense by impeaching him (though Rosenstein and Chris Wray have just thrown more documents out to slow the Republicans). It’s certainly possible that Trump will make a last ditch effort to undercut the Mueller investigation and that effort will be competently executed and none of the secondary fall-back defenses Mueller has put into place will work. For now, though, the Trump team seems intent on a delay and discredit strategy, which won’t stave off any imminent steps.

So we shall see whether Trump succeeds in undercutting the investigation. I keep thinking, “that’s why they play the game,” but this is no game.

There are a number of reasons I think Mueller’s investigation is coming to a head. But consider one detail. I’ve long explained that Mueller seems to be building a series of Conspiracy to Defraud the United States indictments that will ultimately incorporate the entire Russian operation (and may integrate the Trumpsters’ international self-dealing as well). As Mueller’s team has itself pointed out, for heavily regulated areas like elections, ConFraudUs indictments don’t need to prove intent for the underlying crimes. They just need to prove,

(1) two or more persons formed an agreement to defraud the United States;

(2) [each] defendant knowingly participated in the conspiracy with the intent to defraud the United States; and

(3) at least one overt act was committed in furtherance of the common scheme.

Let’s see how evidence Mueller has recently shown might apply in the case of Roger Stone, Trump’s lifelong political advisor. We already knew that Stone had communications that he did not immediately disclose with Guccifer 2.0 and Wikileaks. With both, Stone has contributed to and reinforced claims the entities were not Russian operations, though his conversion about the source of the Hillary emails was pretty sudden and curiously timed.

Now we know that in May, Stone had lunch with someone calling himself Henry Greenberg offering dirt on Hillary. His explanation — based only on the texts that Michael Caputo was asked about in a Mueller interview — is not that he didn’t entertain the offer, but that he didn’t take Greenberg up on the offer as made in late May because Greenberg was asking for big money.

Both clearly recognized Greenberg as a Russian, therefore a foreigner offering something of value during an election.

Bizarrely, in trying to rebut the import of this exchange publicly, Caputo and Stone are doing nothing more than working the public refs, claiming to assume this was an FBI sting. Mueller knows whether it was an FBI sting, and there’s virtually no way he’d be asking questions about it if it were (particularly if Stone really didn’t take the bait). In short, Stone has no justification for this he’s willing to offer publicly; instead, he’s just adopting the SpyGate narrative in an attempt to discredit the investigation. And that’s assuming there were no follow-ups or other damning texts that didn’t involve someone willing to leak them to the press.

And all that happened before Peter Smith came on the scene, someone who, unlike Donald Trump, was willing to spend money for such things, an operation Stone is suspected of being involved in but which he studiously avoids mentioning when trying to explain himself. Smith did obtain emails from people Matt Tait advised him might be part of a Russian operation, and when he couldn’t validate them, sent them on to Wikileaks.

Which is to say Stone repeatedly entertained offers from foreigners illegally offering dirt that would benefit the Trump campaign — Greenberg, Guccifer 2.0, possibly Peter Smith’s Dark Web hackers. He may even have exhibited a belief that Australian Julian Assange had and could release the latter dirt, possibly with the knowledge they came from Russians.

So we’ve got Stone meeting with other people, repeatedly agreeing to bypass US election law to obtain a benefit for Trump, evidence (notwithstanding Stone’s post-hoc attempts to deny a Russian connection with Guccifer 2.0 and Wikileaks) that Stone had the intent of obtaining that benefit, and tons of overt acts committed in furtherance of the scheme.

And all that’s without leaning on the the other stuff Mueller found on Stone’s phone, which Stone is also trying to explain away by public conspiracies (in this case that the phone content was obtained with a FISA order rather than with a probable cause warrant obtained on March 9).

This is just one of the people Mueller has publicly focused on in recent days. We could lay out similar arguments for Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort, and Brad Parscale, at a minimum. Mueller had — and acted on — probable cause warrants covering five AT&T phones in March, all of which probably had close ties to Rick Gates. Assuming those targets are distributed proportionately with the US population, he’s likely to have obtained warrants for as many as 15 phones just in that go-around.

So if Roger Stone is any indication, the Mueller investigation may soon be moving into a new phase.