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Three Inconvenient Truths about a Hypothetical Trump Pardon for Julian Assange

For the last several weeks, there have been floated hints that Donald Trump might pardon Julian Assange. Assange’s supporters — from frothy MAGAts to esteemed journalistic outlets — are fooling themselves about a possible Trump pardon on several counts.

Before I lay out what those are, let me reiterate, again, that I believe the Espionage Act charges against Assange pose a serious risk to journalism (though as written, the CFAA charge does not). I agree that the Chelsea Manning disclosures, which make up most but not all of the charges currently pending against Assange, included a large number of important revelations, many I relied on with gratitude. I’d be perfectly fine if Vanessa Baraitser ruled on January 4 that US prisons were too inhumane for Assange. And I agree that EDVA would be a horrible venue for Assange (though unlike other defendants, DOJ is not simply inventing that jurisdiction for the onerous precedents it offers out of thin air; it is the most obvious venue for Assange because of the Pentagon).

So this is neither disagreement on the risks an Assange prosecution poses, nor is it an endorsement of the prosecution of Assange as it exists. But a pardon would necessarily involve other crimes, in addition to the ones for which he has been charged, and those crimes go well beyond journalism. They may even involve crimes that Assange backers want no part in supporting.

A Donald Trump pardon of Julian Assange will be a very good way of making sure Assange comes to symbolize those other crimes, not earlier laudable releases, and it might not even end his imprisonment.

It may not work

If Trump gives Assange a pardon, it’s not actually clear it will end his legal jeopardy. The existing Espionage Act charges, particularly the ones for publishing names of coalition informants (which would include the UK) are actually more obviously illegal in the UK than the US. Two UK defendants have already pled guilty to a CFAA conspiracy that makes up part of the CFAA charge against Assange. And because the Vault 7 damage assessment presented at the Joshua Schulte trial explicitly included damage to foreign partners, that publication may expose Assange to Official Secrets Act charges in the UK as well. Plus, there are other aspects of the Vault 7 publication, including Assange’s efforts — with the help of a lawyer he shared with Oleg Deripaska — to coerce immunity from the US with them, that may pose legal jeopardy in the UK if he is pardoned in the US.

I’ve likened the Assange extradition to that of AQAP graphic designer Minh Quang Pham, and this may be another similarity. In that case, as soon as it became clear that the legal disposition that Theresa May was attempting in the UK might not work, SDNY promptly indicted Pham, ensuring Pham would remain in custody no matter what happened in the UK. I wouldn’t be surprised if the reverse happened in the eventuality of an Assange pardon in the US. That is, DOJ may already have sent the UK the evidence to support prosecution of Assange in the UK for some of the things the US would otherwise like to try him on. Indeed, that is consistent with the way the US charged Assange within a day of when Ecuador applied for diplomatic credentials for Assange; the UK has already proven to be in almost immediate coordination with the US on this.

The UK would surely rather the US do the job, but particularly because of the damage the Vault 7 release caused the Five Eyes, I don’t rule out the UK prosecuting Assange if the US could not.

A Trump pardon would have to pardon everything through current day

Assange’s boosters appear to think a pardon would cover just the existing Espionage charges pertaining to the Chelsea Manning leaks (plus the CFAA charge, which is no longer limited to the password crack attempt, though virtually all his boosters ignore the substance of that charge).

That, of course, wouldn’t work. Unless Assange were immediately whisked away to a country that doesn’t have an extradition treaty with the US, he could quickly be charged in a virtually identical indictment covering Vault 7 (and the US could charge it in any case as a way to pressure whatever country he was in). Only, on every charge, the claims now being made to defend Assange — about newsworthiness, about intentionality of revealing protected identities, about the push to leak entire databases — would be far weaker arguments with respect to Vault 7 than with respect to the Manning leaks. Just as one example, WikiLeaks left the identities of the people Joshua Schulte was angry at unredacted in the Vault 7 release, which would make it easier for prosecutors to show forethought and malice for revealing those identities than is the case in (especially) the Cable leaks. And that, again, ignores how Assange repeatedly used the files in an attempt to coerce immunity from the US.

Several close WikiLeaks associates have told me after the initial indictment they were glad it didn’t include Vault 7, because that’s a lot harder to defend against. The US might prefer it for that reason.

So an Assange pardon would have to include some language like, “all offenses against the United States prior to the pardon” — a pardon akin to what Gerald Ford gave Richard Nixon.

Surely, if Trump is going to pardon Assange anyway, he would be willing to do that. Trump’s gonna make Oprah look stingy in the next few weeks, after all. But legally, for a pardon for Julian Assange to stick, it would have to cover all crimes he committed against the US through the present day.

That of course shouldn’t bother Assange supporters — it accords him even broader protection than Mike Flynn got. But it does mean that the pardon would be assessed on the entirety of Assange’s actions, the record of which remains significantly classified and the public record with which virtually no Assange booster — up to and including extradition hearing “expert” witnesses — exhibit familiarity. In other words, they’re arguing blind, without knowing what they’re asking to pardon.

Because an Assange pardon would need to extend through the present it would be tainted by Trump’s own corruption, possibly including litigation

If a Trump pardon for Assange were written broadly enough to stick, it would almost certainly include a conspiracy involving Trump himself, possibly including Russia’s GRU, granting a pardon for Assange in exchange for the optimization of the Podesta files. The pardon itself would likely be a crime for Trump. And that raises the stakes on it.

When WikiLeaks supporters hear “Assange pardon,” they seem to immediately think, “Dana Rohrbacher.” That’s significantly because Assange’s lawyers, in a deliberate use of Assange’s extradition hearing to sow propaganda (of which this is by no means the only example), had Jen Robinson submit testimony describing how Rohrabacher attempted to broker a pardon for Assange in August 2017, a pardon that was contingent on claiming Russia was not behind the 2016 theft of DNC documents.  The testimony was meant to support Assange’s claim that his prosecution is political, a claim that involved misrepresenting the public record in many ways.

When Assange’s team brought this up in his extradition hearing, the lawyer for the US emphasized that Trump didn’t sanction this offer. That’s credible (and backed by contemporaneous reporting), mostly because at the time John Kelly was assiduously gate-keeping offers like this. So WikiLeaks’ focus on the Rohrabacher pardon dangle, while accurate (Robinson is far too ethical to misrepresent things), also falsely suggests that that pardon dangle was the only, or even the most important, pardon discussion between Trump and Assange. It wasn’t. And WikiLeaks knows that, because key WikiLeaks supporters — Randy Credico and Margaret Kunstler — were involved with the one still under criminal investigation.

It is a fact that the Mueller Report stated that they had referred ongoing investigations into whether Roger Stone took part in Russia’s hacking conspiracy to the DC US Attorney’s Office for further investigation. It is a fact that, when the court unsealed warrants against Stone in April, they revealed an ongoing investigation into Stone for the hacking, for conspiracy, and for serving as a foreign agent of Russia, one that Mueller had hidden from Stone. It is a fact that Randy Credico testified under oath he had put Stone in touch with Margaret Kunstler to discuss a pardon for Assange. Credico is evasive about when this discussion began, including whether the discussion started before the election. Texts submitted at trial show Stone and Credico discussed asylum and Credico’s tie to Kunstler on October 3, 2016, in a period when Stone had multiple phone calls with Credico as well as some presumed to be with Trump. Stone appears to have had lunch with Trump on October 8, the day after the Podesta emails dropped. Mike Flynn testified that after the Podesta files dropped, Trump’s closest advisors discussed reaching out to WikiLeaks. Shortly after that, Stone did reach out to WikiLeaks, and WikiLeaks reached out to Don Jr. WikiLeaks reached out to both after Trump won. And according to affidavits obtained against Stone, he and Kunstler started communicating over Signal starting on November 15, seven days after the election. As of October 1 of this year, significant swaths of Kunstler’s two interview reports with Mueller prosecutors remained sealed with redactions protecting an ongoing investigation.

If Stone is to be believed, he pursued this effort to get Assange a pardon at least through 2018. Two things are clear, however. Days after Stone told Assange he was working with the “highest level of Government” to resolve Assange’s issues, Trump directed Corey Lewandowski to direct Jeff Sessions to shut down the entire retroactive Russian investigation. Trump already took an overt act to respond to Stone’s entreaties to help Assange, one documented in Twitter DMs and notes Trump demanded Lewandowski take down. And after Mueller asked Trump about an Assange pardon, Don Jr’s best buddy Arthur Schwartz told Cassanda Fairbanks, “a pardon isn’t going to fucking happen” (she ultimately flew to London to tell Assange what Schwartz told her in person). Nevertheless, Stone’s buddy Tucker Carlson had Glenn Greenwald on pitching one to Trump — as a great way to get back at The [American] Deep State — in September.

To be clear: If Trump pardons Assange for all crimes against the United States, the pardon will still work for Assange (again, unless the UK decides to file charges against Assange instead). And I expect a great deal of Assange’s most loyal boosters won’t give a shit about what all was included in the pardon. Indeed, WikiLeaks’ most loyal fans believe it was a good thing for Assange to partner with the GRU in 2016 to undermine a democratic election.

But if Trump pardons Assange, these details are virtually guaranteed to come under close scrutiny in the months ahead, all the more so if he tries a self-pardon, because this would be one thing that even the 6 Republican majority on SCOTUS might find unreasonable, and it would be the quickest way to prove that not just Stone, but Trump himself, conspired to optimize the files stolen by Russia.

If all that were to happen after he was safe in Oz, Assange probably wouldn’t care, nor would I if I were in Assange’s position. But those backing an Assange pardon are — because of details that virtually none of them understand — cheering Trump to do one of the most corrupt things he would have done over the course of the last five years.

Organized Crime

Know what you call a crowd that requires 25 pardons to cover their illegal activities of the last 5 years?

As it happens, Trump is mulling the pardons at a juncture when loyalty appears his principal concern, complaining repeatedly over the past weeks that Republicans are deserting him when he needed them to help overturn the election results.

He has largely frozen out those advisers and associates who do not seem on the same page. One person who used to speak to Trump regularly, but who delicately encouraged him to soften his post-election stance, no longer has his calls returned and hasn’t heard from Trump in weeks.

In all, the President is considering pardons for more than two dozen people in his orbit whom he believes were targeted — or could be targeted in the future — for political ends. That’s in addition to hundreds of requests from others who have approached the White House directly, and tens of thousands more whose petitions are pending at the Justice Department.

Organized crime.

The Mistaken Presumptions of Virtually All Discussions of a Future Trump Prosecution

Jack Goldsmith has written a piece arguing against a Trump prosecution under the Biden Administration. He’s wrong on a key point that many other people engaging in this discussion also are. He’s wrong about what crime might be prosecuted and whose DOJ investigated it.

Before I get to that, though, I want to critique two smaller issues in his post.

First, he links to the DOJ IG investigation on Carter Page, apparently suggesting it supports a claim that that report found there were inappropriate parts of the investigation into Donald Trump.

The first in this line was the investigation of the 2016 Trump campaign and presidential transition by the FBI and the Obama Justice Department, which continued with the Mueller investigation. Some elements of this investigation were clearly legitimate and some, clearly not.

Except that’s not what that report shows (even ignoring the report’s own problems). It shows that FBI followed the rules on informants and even on including an investigative agent in Trump’s first security briefing (after which Flynn promptly moved to cover up his secret relationship with Turkey). It shows that there were problems with the Carter Page FISA application. But the single solitary thing in the report that would not survive a Franks review is Kevin Clinesmith’s alteration of an email. Every single other thing would meet the Good Faith standard used in Fourth Amendment review. And all that’s separate from the question of whether Carter Page was a legitimate target for investigation, which the bipartisan SSCI investigation has said he was.

I also disagree with Goldsmith’s concerns about the status of the Durham investigation going forward.

But though Durham started out as a credible figure, the review was damaged from the beginning due to Trump’s and Barr’s ceaseless public prejudging of the case (and, for some, Durham’s response to one of Horowitz’s reports). And all of that was before Barr expanded the investigation into a criminal one and then later appointed Durham as a special counsel to ensure that his criminal investigation could continue into the Biden administration. Once again, the nation is divided on the legitimacy of all of this.

The third challenge, exacerbating the first two, is that these investigations—the FBI investigation of the Trump campaign and transition, the Durham investigation, and the Hunter Biden investigation—extended (or will extend) into an administration of a different party. That means that what began as a cross-party investigation where the worry was bias against political opponents will transform, in the middle of the investigation, into an intraparty investigation, where the worry will shift to one party’s desire for self-protection.

I think the Durham investigation is misunderstood by all sides. Even according to Billy Barr, Durham has debunked some conspiracy theories Republicans have floated and he appears to have moved beyond the question of whether the CIA wrongly concluded that Putin wanted to elect Trump. That means if he were to write a report, it would substantially consist of telling the frothy right that their conspiracy theories were just that, and that George Papadopoulos really did entertain recruitment by at least one Russian agent.

That said, the Durham investigation has, unfortunately, been hopelessly biased by Billy Barr’s work in at least two ways. Durham apparently believes that the treatment of partisan bias at DOJ has been equally applied, which is demonstrably false (which also means he’s relying on witnesses who have themselves committed the sins he has used to predicate his own investigation, using FBI devices to speak for or against a political candidate). More troublingly, every single legal document his prosecutors have filed thus far have betrayed that they don’t understand the most basic things about the counterintelligence investigations they’re focusing on. But because of that ignorance, I’m fairly confident that if Durham tried to prosecute people for the theories that Bill Barr has been pushing while micromanaging this, Durham’s prosecutors would get their ass handed to them. Plus, even without Biden’s AG doing anything, I think there’s a possibility that Durham’s independence can be put to good use to investigate the crimes that Barr’s DOJ may have committed in pushing these theories. And there’s an easy way to solve the political nastiness of Barr’s special counsel appointment: by swapping Durham for Nora Dannehy. In short, freed from the micromanaging and mistaken beliefs of Bill Barr, Durham may evolve into a totally useful entity, one that will debunk a lot of the bullshit that the frothy right has been spewing for years.

In any case, the only reason it would be perceived as a cross-party investigation was the micromanagement of Barr. The FBI is not a member of either party, and if Durham finds real crimes — like that of Clinesmith — by all means he should prosecute. Once he is freed of Barr’s micromanagement, though, he may discover that he was given a very partial view of the evidence he was looking at.

Which brings me to Goldsmith’s treatment of whether or not Trump should be prosecuted. Before giving three reasons why one shouldn’t investigate Trump, he lays out what he sees as the potential crime this way:

Many people have argued that the Biden Justice Department should continue this pattern by examining the criminal acts Trump might have committed while in office—some arguing for a full-blown broad investigation, others (like my co-author, Bob Bauer, in “After Trump”) for a measured, narrowly tailored one. I don’t think this is a good idea. I doubt Trump has committed prosecutable crimes in office (I am confident that obstruction of justice prosecution would fail), I doubt he will ever go to jail if he did commit criminal acts in office (which would make the effort worse than useless), Trump will thrive off the attention of such an investigation, and the Biden administration will be damaged in pursuing other elements of its agenda (including restoration of the appearance of apolitical law enforcement). But the main reason I am skeptical is that such an investigation would, in the prevailing tit-for-tat culture, cement the inchoate norm of one administration as a matter of course criminally investigating the prior one—to the enormous detriment of the nation. (I do not believe that federal investigations for Trump’s pre-presidential actions raise the same risk.

There are two problems inherent with Goldsmith’s logic here, problems that virtually all the other people who engage in this debate also make.

First, he assumes that any prosecution of Trump would have to engage in further investigation. Here’s just one of several places where he makes that assumption clear.

The investigation by one administration of the predecessor president for acts committed in office would be a politically cataclysmic event.

Goldsmith doesn’t consider the possibility that such an investigation was begun under Mueller and continued under Bill Barr, waiting for such time as Trump can be charged under DOJ guidelines. It’s odd that he doesn’t consider that possibility, because Mueller laid that possibility out clearly in the report, describing leaving grand jury evidence banked for such time as Trump could be charged (indeed, it’s fairly clear a January 2019 Steve Bannon grand jury appearance included such evidence). If Bill Barr’s DOJ conducted an investigation that shows Trump committed a crime, it would break out of the tit-for-tat that Goldsmith complains about.

Goldsmith also appears to believe, even in spite of Trump’s transactionalism, that any crime Trump committed in office would have begun and ended during his term of office.

Part of these two errors appear to stem from another one. Goldsmith clearly believes the only crime for which Mueller investigated Trump is obstruction and he dismisses the possibility that an obstruction prosecution would stick. I’m agnostic about whether that view of obstruction is true or not. Even just reviewing how the Mueller Report treated the Roger Stone investigation, though, I’m certain there are places where the Mueller Report protected investigative equities. That may be true of the obstruction case as well. If so, then it would suggest the obstruction case might be far stronger than we know.

But it is false that Mueller only investigated Trump for obstruction. That’s because Trump may have entered into a conspiracy with his rat-fucker. In addition to investigating Roger Stone for covering up who his tie to Wikileaks was, Mueller also investigated Roger Stone for entering the CFAA conspiracy with Russia, a part of the investigation that recently declassified information as well as the warrants in the case make clear continued after the close of the Mueller investigation. Not only did Mueller ask Trump about his contacts with Stone on the specific issue for which the rat-fucker remained under investigation after Mueller closed up shop, but Mueller’s last warrants listed Stone’s written record of his communications with Trump during the campaign among the items to be seized in the search of Stone’s homes. If Stone entered into the CFAA conspiracy with Russia and those contacts show that Trump entered into an agreement with Stone on his part of the conspiracy, then Mueller was investigating Trump himself in the conspiracy. There is no way you target Stone’s records of communications with Trump unless Trump, too, was under investigation for joining that conspiracy.

I know I’m the only one saying this, but that’s in significant part because — as far as I know — I’m the single solitary journalist who has read these documents (plus, the unsealed language showing the investigation into Stone on the CFAA charges got buried in the election). But the record makes this quite clear: by investigating Roger Stone, Mueller also investigated Donald Trump for joining the CFAA conspiracy with Russia that helped him get elected. And because Mueller did not complete the investigation into Roger Stone before he closed up shop, he did not complete the investigation into Donald Trump.

And while I’m less certain, abundant evidence tells us what Stone and Trump’s role in the conspiracy may have been: to enter into a quid pro quo trading advance access to select John Podesta files (and, possibly, optimizing their release to cover up the DHS/ODNI Russian attribution statement) for a pardon for Julian Assange.

Stone did something in August 2016 to obtain advance copies of the Podesta files that the frothy right believed would be particularly beneficial in attacking Podesta and Hillary. Days before the Podesta file release in October 2016, Stone and Credico appear to have started talking about a pardon for Julian Assange. After the release of the Podesta files, Trump discussed reaching out to Assange with more people, including Mike Flynn. And no later than 7 days after the election — and given Credico’s refusal to give a straight answer about this, probably before — Stone set out on an extended effort to deliver on that pardon. And Trump took an overt act, as President, to try to deliver on that quid pro quo when he ordered Corey Lewandowski to tell Jeff Sessions to shut down any investigation into the hack-and-leak (which would have shut down the investigation into Assange’s role in it).

I have no idea whether DOJ obtained enough evidence to charge a former president in conspiring with a hostile foreign power to get elected. The investigation into Stone’s role in the conspiracy may have shut down when Barr’s intervention in Stone’s sentencing led all four prosecutors to drop from the case, so it’s possible that a Biden DOJ would need to resume that investigation (and finish it up before statutes of limitation tolled). Still, as of October 1, when DOJ withheld almost the entirety of two interviews with Margaret Kunstler to protect an ongoing investigation, that part of the investigation was ongoing. So if you want to consider the possible universe of Trump charges, this is the possibility you’d need to consider: that after Mueller shut down but before the end of Barr’s tenure, DOJ acquired enough evidence to prosecute Donald Trump once he becomes available to prosecute under DOJ rules.

I think there are other instances where Trump cheated to win in criminal fashion (even ignoring the hush payments for which he got named in Cohen’s charging documents). For example, Barr very obviously violated DOJ guidelines in his treatment of the whistleblower complaint about the Volodymyr Zelenskyy call, and with the evidence that OMB, State, and DOD withheld from the impeachment inquiry and witnesses subject to subpoena (indeed, at least some of whom will likely have no Fifth Amendment privileges after a pardon), the impeachment case is likely far stronger than Goldsmith imagines. Plus, there is an obvious tie to the SDNY investigation into Lev Parnas (where the whistleblower complaint would have been referred had Barr not violated DOJ guidelines). So on that case, it might be a question of Biden shutting down an ongoing investigation, not one of starting a new investigation.

Perhaps the most difficult and controversial decision for a Biden AG will be whether to reopen the investigation into the Egyptian payment Trump may have gotten in 2016 that kept his campaign afloat, one that SCOTUS reviewed (for the Mystery Appellant challenge) and sustained a subpoena for. Per CNN, DOJ doesn’t yet have enough to prosecute that, but that’s because DOJ chose not to subpoena Trump Organization for documents. And a Biden Administration could sanction the Egyptian bank to require it to cooperate in a way they refused to do under Mueller.

But those two instances can’t be shown via the public evidence. The overt act that Trump took in response to Roger Stone’s request — one Stone documented in a DM to Julian Assange — is public. Importantly, this would be a conspiracy that started before Trump got elected and extended into his presidency.

If you want to imagine whether Biden would prosecute Trump, you have to consider the possibility that he would prosecute Trump for crimes Bill Barr investigated.

Rat-Fucker Rashomon: Getting the “Highest Level of Government” to Free Julian Assange

On June 10, 2017, according to affidavits submitted as part of the Mueller investigation, Roger Stone DMed Julian Assange and told him he was doing everything he could to “address the issues at the highest level of Government.”

57. On or about June 10, 2017, Roger Stone wrote to Target Account 2, “I am doing everything possible to address the issues at the highest level of Government. Fed treatment of you and Wikileaks is an outrage. Must be circumspect in this forum as experience demonstrates it is monitored. Best regards R.” Target Account 2 wrote back, “Appreciated. Of course it is!”

On June 19, 2017, according to the Mueller Report, the President dictated a message for Corey Lewandowski to take to Jeff Sessions, telling the (recused) Attorney General to meet with Robert Mueller and order him to limit his investigation only to future election meddling, not the election meddling that had gotten Trump elected.

During the June 19 meeting, Lewandowski recalled that, after some small talk, the President brought up Sessions and criticized his recusal from the Russia investigation.605 The President told Lewandowski that Sessions was weak and that if the President had known about the likelihood of recusal in advance, he would not have appointed Sessions.606 The President then asked Lewandowski to deliver a message to Sessions and said “write this down.” 607 This was the first time the President had asked Lewandowski to take dictation, and Lewandowski wrote as fast as possible to make sure he captured the content correctly.608 The President directed that Sessions should give a speech publicly announcing:

I know that I recused myself from certain things having to do with specific areas. But our POTUS . .. is being treated very unfairly. He shouldn’t have a Special Prosecutor/Counsel b/c he hasn’t done anything wrong. I was on the campaign w/ him for nine months, there were no Russians involved with him. I know it for a fact b/c I was there. He didn’t do anything wrong except he ran the greatest campaign in American history.609

The dictated message went on to state that Sessions would meet with the Special Counsel to limit his jurisdiction to future election interference:

Now a group of people want to subvert the Constitution of the United States. T am going to meet with the Special Prosecutor to explain this is very unfair and let the Special Prosecutor move forward with investigating election meddling for future elections so that nothing can happen in future elections.610

Days after Roger Stone told Julian Assange that he was trying to resolve matters at the highest level of government, the President of the United States tried to issue a back channel order that would shut down the investigation into Assange — and by association, Stone.

According to Lewandowski, neither he nor Rick Dearborn (on whom he tried to pawn off the task) actually delivered the message. But according to Andrew Weissmann, when he and Jeannie Rhee first got briefed on the investigation into how Russia released the documents it had stolen around that time, they learned no one was investigating it.

This effort didn’t start in June 2017, though. It started at least seven months earlier.

The SSCI Report reveals that the day before the Podesta emails got released, Stone probably had a six minute phone call with the candidate via Keith Schiller’s phone.

On the afternoon of October 6, Stone received a call from Keith Schiller’s number. Stone returned the call about 20 minutes later, and spoke-almost certainly to Trump–for six minutes.1663 The substance of that conversation is not known to the Committee. However, at the time, Stone was focused on the potential for a WikiLeaks release, the Campaign was following WikiLeaks’s announcements, and Trump’s prior call with Stone on September 29, also using Schiller’s phone, related to a WikiLeaks release. Given these facts, it appears quite likely that Stone and Trump spoke about WikiLeaks.

The SSCI Report and the affidavits reveal that Stone postponed a lunch with Jerome Corsi on October 8 to go meet with Trump.

On or about October 8, 2016, STONE messaged CORSI at Target Account 2, “Lunch postponed- have to go see T.” CORSI responded to STONE, “Ok. I understand.”

According to Mike Flynn, in the wake of the Podesta release, senior campaign officials discussed reaching out to WikiLeaks.

Beginning on October 7, 2016, WikiLeaks released emails stolen from John Podesta, the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. The defendant relayed to the government statements made in 2016 by senior campaign officials about WikiLeaks to which only a select few people were privy. For example, the defendant recalled conversations with senior campaign officials after the release of the Podesta emails, during which the prospect of reaching out to WikiLeaks was discussed.

And then, days later, Roger Stone tried to reach out to WikiLeaks — seemingly in response to WikiLeaks’ public disavowal of any tie to Stone — only to be rebuffed.

On October 13, 2016, while WikiLeaks was in the midst of releasing the hacked Podesta emails, @RogerJStoneJr sent a private direct message to the Twitter account @wikileaks. This account is the official Twitter account of WikiLeaks and has been described as such by numerous news reports. The message read: “Since I was all over national TV, cable and print defending WikiLeaks and assange against the claim that you are Russian agents and debunking the false charges of sexual assault as trumped up bs you may want to rexamine the strategy of attacking me- cordially R.”

Less than an hour later, @Wikileaks responded by direct message: “We appreciate that. However, the false claims of association are being used by the democrats to undermine the impact of our publications. Don’t go there if you don’t want us to correct you.”

On October 16, 2016, @RogerJStoneJr sent a direct message to @Wikileaks: “Ha! The more you \”correct\” me the more people think you’re lying. Your operation leaks like a sieve. You need to figure out who your friends are.”

But after the election, it was WikiLeaks that reached out to Stone.

On November 9, 2016, one day after the presidential election, @Wikileaks sent a direct message to @RogerJStoneJr containing a single word: “Happy?” @Wikileaks immediately followed up with another message less than a minute later: “We are now more free to communicate.”

At Stone’s trial, Randy Credico testified that in that same period after the election, he put Roger Stone in touch with Margaret Kunstler, Credico’s tie to WikiLeaks and one of the 1,000 lawyers (per a snarky answer from Credico) who represented Assange, to discuss a pardon.

Q. Had you put Mr. Stone directly in touch with Ms. Kunstler after the election?

A. Yes, I did.

Q. And why had you done that?

A. Well, sometime after the election, he wanted me to contact Mrs. Kunstler. He called me up and said that he had spoken to Judge Napolitano about getting Julian Assange a pardon and needed to talk to Mrs. Kunstler about it. So I said, Okay. And I sat on it. And I told her–I told her–she didn’t act on it. And then, eventually, she did, and they had a conversation.

Credico is very evasive about the timing of all this. Texts between him and Stone, introduced as an exhibit at Stone’s trial, show that Credico raised asylum on October 3, three hours before he boasted that he was best friends with Assange’s lawyer, meaning Kunstler.

But when asked about the timing, Credico refused to answer, or even answer a yes or no question about whether discussions began before the election. Note, these texts were ones that neither Credico nor Stone provided at first, on Credico’s part because he no longer had them; the government ultimately subpoenaed them from Stone after Stone shared them with Chuck Ross. The texts Stone produced go through November 14, but the ones released at trial stop on October 3.

Later affidavits make clear, however, that on November 15, seven days after Trump won an election with Julian Assange’s help, Trump’s rat-fucker sent Kunstler a link to download Signal and asked her to call him, which she said she’d do. (This was the first day Stone was using the iPhone 7 on which he sent her these texts.)

Additionally, text messages recovered from Stone’s iCloud account revealed that on or about November 15, 2016, Stone sent an attorney with the ability to contact Julian Assange a link to download the Signal application. 15 Approximately fifteen minutes after sending the link, Stone texted the attorney, “I’m on signal just dial my number.” The attorney responded, “I’ll call you.”

15 This attorney was a close friend of Credico’s and was the same friend Credico emailed on or about September 20, 2016 to pass along Stone’s request to Assange for emails connected to the allegations against then-candidate Clinton related to her service as Secretary of State.

So the pardon discussions Credico testified about under oath began no later then a week after Assange helped Trump get elected and Credico refused to rule out that they started on November 9 or even earlier. The SSCI Report notes Credico had a 12 minute call with Stone on October 5 and five more calls on October 6.

After Trump was inaugurated in early 2017, via an attorney he shared with Oleg Deripaska, Assange tried to leverage CIA’s hacking tools believed to have been stolen the previous April to obtain an immunity deal. Even while those discussions were ongoing, on March 7, 2017, WikiLeaks released the first installment of CIA’s hacking tools, a release they called Vault 7. According to witnesses at the trial of the accused source, Joshua Schulte, the Vault 7 release brought CIA’s hacking-based spying virtually to a halt while the agency tried to figure out who would be compromised by the release.

But that didn’t stop the pardon discussions between WikiLeaks, including Assange personally, and Stone. After another spat about whether Stone had had a back channel to WikiLeaks which they aired on CNN, Stone returned to a discussion of a pardon on April 7.

On or about March 27, 2017, Target Account 1 wrote to Roger Stone, “FYI, while we continue to be unhappy about false \”back channel\” claims, today CNN deliberately broke our off the record comments.”

On March 27, 2017, CNN reported that a representative of WikiLeaks, writing from an email address associated with WikiLeaks, denied that there was any backchannel communication during the Campaign between Stone and WikiLeaks. The same article quoted Stone as stating: “Since I never communicated with WikiLeaks, I guess I must be innocent of charges I knew about the hacking of Podesta’s email (speculation and conjecture) and the timing or scope of their subsequent disclosures. So I am clairvoyant or just a good guesser because the limited things I did predict (Oct disclosures) all came true. ”

On or about April 7, 2017, Roger Stone wrote to Target Account 1, ” I am JA’s only hope for a pardon the chances of which are actually (weirdly) enhanced by the bombing in Syria (which I opposed) . You have no idea how much your operation leaks. Discrediting me only hurts you. Why not consider saying nothing? PS- Why would anyone listen to that asshole Daniel Ellsberg.”

On April 13, in the wake of the Vault 7 hack, Mike Pompeo declared WikiLeaks a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by Russia.

It is time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is – a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia. In January of this year, our Intelligence Community determined that Russian military intelligence—the GRU—had used WikiLeaks to release data of US victims that the GRU had obtained through cyber operations against the Democratic National Committee. And the report also found that Russia’s primary propaganda outlet, RT, has actively collaborated with WikiLeaks.

In response, Stone took to InfoWars on April 18, calling on Pompeo to either provide proof of those Russian ties or resign, defending the release of the Vault 7 tools along the way.

The Intelligence agencies continue to insist that Julian Assange is an active Russian Agent and that Wikileaks is a Russian controlled asset. The agencies have no hard proof of this claim whatsoever. Assange has said repeatedly that he is affiliated with no nation state but the Intelligence Agencies continue to insist that he is under Russian control because it fits the narrative in which they must produce some evidence of Russian interference in our election because they used this charge to legally justify and rationalize the surveillance of Trump aides, myself included.

[snip]

President Donald Trump said on Oct, 10, 2016 “I love Wikileaks” and Pompeo who previously had praised the whistleblowing operation now called Wikileaks “a non-state hostile Intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia”. Mr. Pompeo must be pressed to immediately release any evidence he has that proves these statements. If he cannot do so ,the President should discharge him.

[snip]

Julian Assange does not work for the Russians. Given the import of the information that he ultimately disclosed about the Clinton campaign, the Obama administration and the deep secrets in the CIA’s Vault 7, he has educated the American people about the tactics and technology the CIA has used to spy on ordinary Americans.

Assange personally DMed Stone to thank him for the article, while claiming that Pompeo had stopped short of claiming that WikiLeaks had gotten the stolen DNC emails directly, thereby making WikiLeaks like any other media outlet.

On or about April 19, 2017, Assange, using Target Account 2, wrote to Stone, “Ace article in infowars. Appreciated. But note that U.S. intel is engages in slight of hand maoevers [sic]. Listen closely and you see they only claim that we received U.S. election leaks \”not directly\” or via a \”third party\” and do not know \”when\” etc. This line is Pompeo appears to be getting at with his \”abbeted\”. This correspnds to the same as all media and they do not make any allegation that WL or I am a Russia asset.”

It’s in that context — in the wake of Trump’s trusted CIA Director (and a former WikiLeaks booster himself) asserting serial cooperation between Russia and WikiLeaks — that Stone and Assange had the exchange that directly preceded Trump’s attempt to shut down any investigation into the leaks to WikiLeaks.

On June 4, Stone threatened to “bring down the entire house of cards” if the government moved on Assange (Stone kept a notebook during the campaign detailing all the calls he had had with Trump), then raised a pardon again, suggesting Assange had done nothing he needed to be pardoned for.

56. On or about June 4, 2017, Roger Stone wrote back to Target Account 2, “Still nonsense. As a journalist it doesn’t matter where you get information only that it is accurate and authentic. The New York Times printed the Pentagon Papers which were indisputably stolen from the government and the courts ruled it was legal to do so and refused to issue an order restraining the paper from publishing additional articles. If the US government moves on you I will bring down the entire house of cards. With the trumped-up sexual assault charges dropped I don’t know of any crime you need to be pardoned for – best regards. R.” Target Account 2 responded, “Between CIA and DoJ they’re doing quite a lot. On the DoJ side that’s coming most strongly from those obsessed with taking down Trump trying to squeeze us into a deal.”

57. On or about June 10, 2017, Roger Stone wrote to Target Account 2, “I am doing everything possible to address the issues at the highest level of Government. Fed treatment of you and Wikileaks is an outrage. Must be circumspect in this forum as experience demonstrates it is monitored. Best regards R.” Target Account 2 wrote back, “Appreciated. Of course it is!”

According to texts between Stone and Credico, Stone at least claimed to be pursuing a pardon in early 2018 (though he may have been doing that to buy Credico’s silence).

And it wasn’t just Stone involved in the discussions to free Assange.

Manafort’s Ecuador trip

While it’s not clear to what end, Paul Manafort took steps relating to Assange as well.

There’s the weird story by Ken Vogel, explaining that between those two Stone-Assange exchanges in April and June, 2017, long-time Roger Stone friend Paul Manafort went to Ecuador to negotiate Assange’s expulsion.

In mid-May 2017, Paul Manafort, facing intensifying pressure to settle debts and pay mounting legal bills, flew to Ecuador to offer his services to a potentially lucrative new client — the country’s incoming president, Lenín Moreno.

Mr. Manafort made the trip mainly to see if he could broker a deal under which China would invest in Ecuador’s power system, possibly yielding a fat commission for Mr. Manafort.

But the talks turned to a diplomatic sticking point between the United States and Ecuador: the fate of the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

In at least two meetings with Mr. Manafort, Mr. Moreno and his aides discussed their desire to rid themselves of Mr. Assange, who has been holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London since 2012, in exchange for concessions like debt relief from the United States, according to three people familiar with the talks, the details of which have not been previously reported.

They said Mr. Manafort suggested he could help negotiate a deal for the handover of Mr. Assange to the United States, which has long investigated Mr. Assange for the disclosure of secret documents and which later filed charges against him that have not yet been made public.

The story never explained whether Manafort wanted Assange handed over for trial, for a golf vacation, or for Russian exfiltration (as was reportedly planned for Assange later in 2017).

That Manafort went to Ecuador and negotiated for an Assange release accords, however, with the 302 of a witness who called in to Mueller’s team. The witness described that Manafort had told him or her, in real time, that he had gone to Ecuador, “to try to convince the incoming President to expel Assange from the Embassy in order to gain favor with the U.S.”

Neither of these stories should be considered reliable, as written. 302s that Bill Barr’s DOJ is willing to release in unredacted form, as this one is, tend to be false claims that make Trump look less suspect than he really is. And Manafort-adjacent sources were using Ken Vogel to plant less-damning cover stories during this period. Further, as we’ll see, the dates of them, November 28 and December 3, 2018, respectively, puts them in a period after Trump knew that Mueller was investigating efforts to pardon Assange.

Manafort went to Ecuador in May of 2017. At the time, his lifelong buddy Roger Stone was still pursuing some means to get Assange released. It’s unclear precisely what Manafort asked Lenín Moreno to do.

WikiLeaks cultivates Trump’s oldest son

A more interesting parallel timeline (one that becomes more interesting if you track the communications in tandem, as I do below) is the dalliance between Don Jr and WikiLeaks. The failson’s communications with WikiLeaks are one area where all of the Roger Stone stories withhold key details. The Mueller Report, for example, covers only three of the Don Jr-WikiLeaks exchanges, which it caveats by explaining that it addresses the ones “during the campaign period” (again, only the one where Don Jr accesses a non-public website using the private password WikiLeaks shared involved a prosecutorial decision and so needed to be included).

Like the Mueller Report, the SSCI Report describes in the body of the report Don Jr’s exchange with WikiLeaks in a period around the time that Trump and his closest advisors had discussed reaching out to WikILeaks.

(U) WikiLeaks also sought to coordinate its distribution of stolen documents with the Campaign. After Trump proclaimed at an October 10 rally, “I love WikiLeaks” and then posted about it on Twitter,1730 WikiLeaks resumed messaging with Trump Jr. On October 12, it said: “Strongly suggest your dad tweets this link if he mentions us … there’s many great stories the press are missing and we’re sure some of your follows [sic] will find it. btw we just released Podesta Emails Part 4.”1731 Shortly afterward, Trump tweeted: “Very little pick-up by the dishonest media of incredible information provided by WikiLeaks. So dishonest! Rigged System!”1732 Two days later, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted the link himself: “For those who have the time to read about all the corruption and hypocrisy all the @wikileaks emails are right here: wlsearch.tk.”1733 Trump Jr. admitted that this may have been in response to the request from WikiLeaks, but also suggested that it could have been part of a general practice of retweeting the. WikiLeaks releases when they came out. 1734

But it only presents one part of the exchange that Jr and WikiLeaks had on November 8 and 9, and it relegates that to a footnote.

1738 (U) Ibid., pp. 164-166. WikiLeaks continued to interact with Trump Jr. after the general election on November 8, 2016. On November 9, 2016, WikiLeaks wrote to Trump Jr.: “Wow. Obama people will surely try to delete records on the way out. Just a heads up.”

As to the affidavits, the warrant application for Julian Assange’s Twitter account described having earlier obtained Don Jr’s Twitter account, but didn’t refer to him by name. Instead, it referred to him as “a high level individual associated with the Campaign,” and described just the September exchange between the two of them.

After the Atlantic provided more of those DMs, Don Jr, as he had earlier with his June 9 emails, released them himself. The Election Day exchange of which SSCI made no mention pushes Don Jr to adopt a strategy Russia was also pushing — to refuse to concede (a strategy that Trump will undoubtedly adopt on November 4 if he loses).

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. He is also much more likely to keep his base alive and energised this way and if he is going to start a new network, showing how corrupt the old ones are is helpful. The discussion about the rigging can be transformative as it exposes media corruption, primary corruption, PAC corruption etc. We don’t like corruption ither [sic] and our publications are effective at proving that this and other forms of corruption exists.

That doesn’t pertain to pardons (though it does demonstrate that WikiLeaks was not involved in a journalistic enterprise).

But a DM from December 16, 2016 the SSCI similarly excerpted in a footnote does discuss what amounts to a pardon:

Hi Don. Hope you’re doing well! In relation to Mr. Assange: Obama/Clinton placed pressure on Sweden, UK and Australia (his home country) to illicitly go after Mr. Assange. It would be real easy and helpful for your dad to suggest that Australia appoint Assange ambassador to DC “That’s a really smart tough guy and the most famous australian you have! ” or something similar. They won’t do it, but it will send the right signals to Australia, UK + Sweden to start following the law and stop bending it to ingratiate themselves with the Clintons. Background: justice4assange.com

When these DMs were released on November 14, 2017, Assange tweeted out a follow-up to the December 2016 one, adding a threat by hashtagging, Vault8, the source code to the CIA files, a single example of which WikiLeaks had just released on November 9, 2017.

Meanwhile, the one other example where WikiLeaks provided the President’s son advice — a pitch for him to release his own June 9 emails via WikiLeaks in July 2017 — WikiLeaks explicitly suggested that Don Jr contact Margaret Kunstler, the same lawyer who had been discussing pardons with Assange nine months earlier.

There appears to be more — far more — to Margaret Kunstler’s role. Two 302s identifiable as hers have been released in response to the BuzzFeed FOIA, an interview on October 29, 2018 involving Stone prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky and Obstruction prosecutor Andrew Goldstein, and a second interview, this one by phone, on November 20, 2018, this one adding Russian prosecutor Rush Atkinson along with Zelinsky and Goldstein. Both 302s were released on October 1, 2020, the most recent release. In the first interview, only Kunstler’s response stating that she did not pass on Stone’s September request for information about Libya to Julian Assange was partly unsealed; there are at least five more paragraphs that remain redacted as part of an ongoing investigation. The second is eight pages long and appears to have at least four sub-topics with separate headings. Aside from the introductory paragraph, it remains entirely redacted, with over half covered by a b7A ongoing investigation exemption.

The investigation into much of Stone’s activities appears to have been shut down. But the investigation into the pardon discussions appears to have been ongoing just three weeks ago.

The Mueller question

The discussion of efforts to free Julian Assange appears, primarily, in two versions of the Roger Stone story. Prosecutors at Stone’s trial used the discussions to explain which of Stone’s threats — those naming Kunstler directly — worked most effectively to delay Credico’s cooperation. It also appears in affidavits, though with Don Jr’s identity obscured.

The SSCI report relegates both the Don Jr and Stone pardon discussions with WikiLeaks to footnotes and doesn’t quote Stone using the word “pardon” in the excerpts it includes. It does so even though the SSCI Report describes Dana Rohrabacher’s attempt to broker an Assange pardon in August 2017 in the body of the text.

The Mueller Report doesn’t discuss pardon efforts for Assange where you might expect it, along with discussions of pardons for Manafort, Flynn, Stone himself, and Michael Cohen. Mention of the effort to free Assange appears in just one place: amid the questions asked of Trump in an appendix.

Did you have any discussions prior to January 20, 2017, regarding a potential pardon or other action to benefit Julian Assange? If yes, describe who you had the discussion(s) with, when, and the content of the discussion(s).

I do not recall having had any discussion during the campaign regarding a pardon or action to benefit Julian Assange.

That appendix explains that Mueller’s team submitted these questions on September 17, 2018 (before both of Kunstler’s interviews) and Trump returned them on November 20, 2018.

In the interim period, on October 30, 2018, Don Jr’s close buddy, Arthur Schwartz, for the first time in years of having listened to former Sputnik employee Cassandra Fairbanks’ lobbying for Julian Assange in the right wing chat room they both (along with Ric Grenell) participated in responded by telling her that he would be charged and expelled from the embassy, that a pardon was not going to fucking happen and — at some point, if Fairbanks can be believed — suggesting someone with whom Schwartz was lifelong friends might be affected.

Arthur Schwartz warned me that people would be able to overlook my previous support for WikiLeaks because I did not know some things which he claimed to know about, but that wouldn’t be so forgiving now that I was informed. He brought up my nine year old child during these comments, which I perceived as an intimidation tactic.

He repeatedly insisted that I stop advocating for WikiLeaks and Assange, telling me that “a pardon isn’t going to fucking happen.” He knew very specific details about a future prosecution against Assange that were later made public and that only those very close to the situation would have been aware of. He told me that it would be the “Manning” case that he would be charged with and that it would not involve Vault 7 publication or anything to do with the DNC. He also told me that they would be going after Chelsea Manning. I also recollect being told, I believe, that it would not be before Christmas.

[snip]

The other persons who Schwartz said might also be affected included individuals who he described as “lifelong friends.”

Shortly after Trump submitted his answers, two stories — one public, one via witness testimony to Mueller — claimed that Manafort’s visit to Moreno, at a time when his buddy Stone was seeking a pardon, was actually an attempt to expel him from the embassy.

In spite of what Schwartz told Cassandra, however, the pardon discussions aren’t over. Just before Julian Assange’s extradition hearing started, Roger Stone’s buddy Tucker Carlson invited Glenn Greenwald on to make a three minute pitch — one in which Glenn explained what a good way this would be for Trump to stick it to the Deep State — for both Assange and Ed Snowden.

Timeline

September 20, 2016: WikiLeaks DMs Don Jr a link to putintrump site, including a password.

October 3, 2016: Credico raises asylum for Assange and tells Stone he’s best friends with Assange’s lawyer. WikiLeaks DMs Don Jr asking him to push a story about Hillary drone-striking Assange; Don Jr notes he has already done so and asks what is coming on Wednesday.

October 5, 2016: Credico and Stone speak for 12 minutes.

October 6, 2016: Stone probably has a six minute call with Trump. Stone has five calls with Credico.

October 7, 2016: The release of the Podesta email swamps the DHS/ODNI release attributing the DNC hack and tying WikiLeaks to Russia

October 8, 2016: Stone and Trump probably meet.

Shortly after Podesta release: Senior campaign officials discuss reaching out to WikiLeaks.

October 10, 2016: Trump tweets “I love WikiLeaks.”

October 12, 2016: WikiLeaks disavows any back channel with Stone. WikiLeaks also DMs Don Jr suggesting he get his father to tweet a link. Don Jr tweets it that day.

October 13, 2016: Stone and WikiLeaks exchange DMs.

October 14, 2016: Trump tweets the link WikiLeaks sent to Don Jr.

October 16, 2016: Stone tells WikiLeaks “You need to figure out who your friends are.”

October 21, 2016: WikiLeaks suggests that Don Jr release Trump’s tax returns to WikiLeaks.

November 8, 2016: WikiLeaks DMs Don Jr to suggest Trump not concede if he loses.

November 9, 2016: WikiLeaks DMs Don Jr to claim Obama’s people will delete records on the way out. WikiLeaks DMs Stone to say, “We are now more free to communicate.”

November 14, 2016: Stone gets a new phone.

November 15, 2016: Stone texts Margaret Kunstler a link to Signal and tells her to call him on it, which she said she would do.

December 16, 2016: WikiLeaks suggests that he ask his dad to suggest Australia appoint Assange as Ambassador to the US.

January 6, 2017: WikiLeaks DMs Don Jr a John Harwood tweet asking, Who do you believe, America?

March 7, 2017: WikiLeaks starts releasing the Vault 7 files, effectively halting CIA’s hacking capability for a period.

March 27, 2017: Stone and WikiLeaks exchange more complaints about whether Stone had a back channel.

April 7, 2017: Stone writes WikiLeaks that he is “JA’s only hope for a pardon.”

April 13, 2017: Mike Pompeo calls WikiLeaks a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by Russia.

April 18, 2017: Stone calls on Pompeo to release proof of WikiLeaks’ Russian ties or resign.

April 19, 2017: Assange thanks Stone for the attack on Pompeo, but claims that Pompeo has stopped short of calling WikiLeaks a Russian asset.

April 26, 2017: Assange DMs Don Jr some video on “Fake News.”

May 2017: Manafort meets in Ecuador with Lenín Moreno to discuss Assange.

June 4, 2017: Stone DMs Assange, threatening to “bring down the entire house of cards” if the US government moves on Assange.

June 10, 2017: Roger Stone tells Assange he is “doing everything possible … at the highest level of Government” to help Assange.

June 19, 2017: Trump tries to give a back channel order to Jeff Sessions to limit the Mueller investigation to future election meddling, not the meddling that helped him get elected.

July 11, 2017: WikiLeaks DMs Don Jr to suggest he release his June 9 emails via WikiLeaks, providing him Margaret Kunstler’s contact information as if she would take the submission.

October 12, 2017: Mueller’s team obtains Don Jr’s Twitter content.

November 6, 2017: Mueller’s team obtains WikiLeaks and Assange’s Twitter content.

November 14, 2017: Don Jr releases his Twitter DMs with WikiLeaks. Julian Assange publicly references the December 16 DM, suggests he can open “luxury immunity suites for whistleblowers,” and includes a Vault8 hashtag (referencing CIA’s source code).

December 21, 2017: Reported attempt to exfiltrate Assange from the embassy; DOJ charges Assange with CFAA conspiracy.

January 6, 2018: Stone claims “I am working with others to get JA a blanket pardon.”

September 17, 2018: Mueller submits questions to Trump, including one about a pardon for Assange.

October 29, 2018: Mueller’s team interviews Kunstler.

October 30, 2018: Arthur Schwartz tells Cassandra Fairbanks there’s not going to be a fucking Assange pardon.

November 20, 2018: Trump returns his questions to Mueller. Mueller’s team interviews Kunstler.


The movie Rashomon demonstrated that any given narrative tells just one version of events, but that by listening to all available narratives, you might identify gaps and biases that get you closer to the truth.

I’m hoping that principle works even for squalid stories like the investigation into Roger Stone’s cheating in the 2016 election. This series will examine the differences between four stories about Roger Stone’s actions in 2016:

As I noted in the introductory post (which lays out how I generally understand the story each tells), each story has real gaps in one or more of these areas:

My hope is that by identifying these gaps and unpacking what they might say about the choices made in crafting each of these stories, we can get a better understanding of what actually happened — both in 2016 and in the investigations. The gaps will serve as a framework for this series.

Jeff Sessions HAD Shut Down the Investigation into Russian Interference

The most alarming exchange in the Mueller Report described how, on June 19, 2017, President Trump dictated a message that Corey Lewandowski should take to Jeff Sessions, telling Sessions (in part) to meet with Mueller and limit his jurisdiction to investigating only “election meddling for future elections,” not the one that got him elected.

During the June 19 meeting, Lewandowski recalled that, after some small talk, the President brought up Sessions and criticized his recusal from the Russia investigation.605 The President told Lewandowski that Sessions was weak and that if the President had known about the likelihood of recusal in advance, he would not have appointed Sessions.606 The President then asked Lewandowski to deliver a message to Sessions and said “write this down.” 607 This was the first time the President had asked Lewandowski to take dictation, and Lewandowski wrote as fast as possible to make sure he captured the content correctly.608

The President directed that Sessions should give a speech publicly announcing:

I know that I recused myself from certain things having to do with specific areas. But our POTUS . .. is being treated very unfairly. He shouldn’t have a Special Prosecutor/Counsel b/c he hasn’t done anything wrong. I was on the campaign w/ him for nine months, there were no Russians involved with him. I know it for a fact b/c I was there. He didn’t do anything wrong except he ran the greatest campaign in American history.609

The dictated message went on to state that Sessions would meet with the Special Counsel to limit his jurisdiction to future election interference:

Now a group of people want to subvert the Constitution of the United States. I am going to meet with the Special Prosecutor to explain this is very unfair and let the Special Prosecutor move forward with investigating election meddling for future elections so that nothing can happen in future elections.610

The President said that if Sessions delivered that statement he would be the “most popular guy in the country.”611

Lewandowski told the President he understood what the President wanted Sessions to do.6 12 Lewandowski wanted to pass the message to Sessions in person rather than over the phone.613 He did not want to meet at the Department of Justice because he did not want a public log of his visit and did not want Sessions to have an advantage over him by meeting on what Lewandowski described as Sessions’s turf. 614 Lewandowski called Sessions and arranged a meeting for the following evening at Lewandowski’s office, but Sessions had to cancel due to a last minute conflict.6 15 Shortly thereafter, Lewandowski left Washington, D.C., without having had an opportunity to meet with Sessions to convey the President’s message.6 16 Lewandowski stored the notes in a safe at his home, which he stated was his standard procedure with sensitive items.617

When the Mueller Report came out, this seemed distinct from all other attempts to fire Mueller, because it attempted to shut down not just the investigation into Trump, but even the investigation into Russia’s interference in 2016 altogether.

But a passage from Andrew Weissmann’s book makes this passage even more alarming. He describes how, “a few weeks after he arrived” (and so around the same time as Trump’s dictation to Lewandowski), after Jeannie Rhee got her own briefing on the ongoing investigation into Russian interference, Weissmann asked for the same briefing. He discovered that no one was really investigating it.

As soon as the Special Counsel’s Office opened up shop, Team R inherited work produced by other government investigations that had been launched before ours: These included the Papadopoulos lead, the National Security Division’s investigation into Russian hacking, and the Intelligence Community’s written assessment on Russian interference.

Ingesting this information was the domain of Team R, and Jeannie had quickly gotten to work untangling and synthesizing the facts. A few weeks after I arrived, I asked attorneys in the National Security Division of the Department of Justice to give me the same briefing they had given Jeannie, so I could familiarize myself with the investigation they’d been conducting into Russian hacking.

The meeting was in a SCIF at Justice’s imposing art deco headquarters on Pennsylvania Avenue.

[snip]

Because my debriefing with the National Security Division involved classified information, I cannot discuss its content substantively here. It took a couple of hours, as a team of NSD lawyers graciously walked me through what they had been up to and answered all my questions. As soon as I got back to our offices, however, I made a beeline to Jeannie’s office and immediately asked her: “What the fuck?”

“I know,” she said. She didn’t need me to finish my thought.

We had both been shocked by something we’d heard in our briefings—but it was less the substance of the Justice Department’s investigation than its approach. Jeannie knew that she was going to inherit some evidence that Russia had hacked the DNC and DCCC emails, but she was astonished that the National Security Division was not examining what the Russians had done with the emails and other documents they’d stolen from those servers—how the release of that information was weaponized by targeted release, and whether the Russians had any American accomplices. More alarmingly, the Department was not apparently looking beyond the hacking at all, to examine whether there had been other Russian efforts to disrupt the election. It was staggering to us that the Justice Department’s investigation was so narrowly circumscribed. Election interference by a foreign power was, inarguably, a national security issue; we expected the National Security Division to undertake a comprehensive investigation. Once again, Jeannie and I were left to speculate as to whether this lapse was the result of incompetence, political interference, fear of turning up answers that the Department’s political leaders would not like, or all of the above. The Intelligence Community’s investigation had assessed that Russia was behind the hacking, but remained seemingly incurious as to everything else. “The rest is going to be up to us,” Jeannie explained. [my emphasis]

As Weissmann describes, Aaron Zebley narrowly focused the Mueller investigation, at first, to leave out any investigation into how Russia had weaponized the releases against Hillary.

But Mueller’s deputy, Aaron Zebley, argued that it was not actually within our remit to look at Russian interference. This defied all logic; the special counsel’s appointment order, signed by Rod Rosenstein, had made clear that we had the authority to investigate these matters. Indeed, it was the first responsibility the order assigned us: “to ensure a full and thorough investigation of the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.” But Aaron insisted it was out of bounds and instructed Jeannie to focus Team R’s investigatory energy only on the question of whether there were “links and coordination” between the Russian government and the Trump campaign—the other central duty spelled out in our appointment order.

[snip]

Mueller, meanwhile, signed off on Aaron’s directive for his own set of reasons. Even if Aaron’s logic did not make sense, walling our office off from that larger inquiry into Russian interference spoke to Mueller’s perpetual concern about spreading our resources too thin and his impulse to keep the overall investigation moving quickly. Mueller felt we had too much else to do.

Jeannie was convinced this was wrongheaded: The issue was too important not to undertake ourselves and too central to our remit. She knew that the Department, left to its own devices, was not going to get the job done—with the president publicly expressing antipathy toward substantiating Russian election interference, investigators were not going to get the support for this endeavor—nor would they view digging into this issue as a career enhancer. Mueller and Aaron conceded that if we found Russian links to the campaign, then perhaps Team R could begin to branch out and examine the wider Russian interference effort. Otherwise, Big Bu—the FBI—could handle the interference investigation for now, and simply keep us updated.

Mueller’s thinking had logical force only if you believed the Department would run with the ball—something Jeannie, Omer, and I knew was not going to happen. It was hard to think otherwise: The very reason for appointing a special counsel was because of the conflict the Department of Justice had—it was headed by people selected by the White House and had a conflict in investigating whether the White House coordinated with Russians in the 2016 election. That did not mean there was also a conflict in the Justice Department’s investigating whether and how Russia interfered with the 2016 election, as that investigation should in normal times be a bipartisan effort. One would think any administration would be incentivized to investigate foreign election interference. Except, it turned out, this one. Jeannie knew that if her team did not do it, it was simply not going to happen.

Nevertheless, Aaron told Jeannie to find an appropriate team at the FBI and ship off this part of the investigation. Though Jeannie and her team of attorneys and agents disagreed, they followed orders. She spent the next six weeks, in the late summer and early fall of 2017, trying to interest various squads at the Bureau in taking up the task. No one there wanted to touch it; it was too hot politically, with zero margin for error. Plus, it would be an arduous investigation, requiring a team with both criminal and cyber expertise to roll up its sleeves. (“No cases, no problems,” Omer and I thought.)

In the meantime, she and Lawrence Rush Atkinson, an intrepid young colleague of mine from the Fraud Section who now worked on Team R, and who had cyber expertise, worked late at night, after their other work was done, to keep this part of the investigation moving forward as Jeannie shopped the investigation to people at the Big Bu. She hoped to put herself in a position to reargue Team R’s case to Mueller as more facts emerged.

The book would go on to explain that Facebook’s briefing on the Internet Research Agency trolls gave Rhee the opening to incorporate the Russian interference into the investigation.

As the Mueller Report tells it, Lewandowski never delivered his message to Jeff Sessions.

But as the public record appears, the message got delivered.

Congress Already Has Evidence Trump Lied Under Oath to Robert Mueller

I laid out what follows in this post, but given that the NYT’s weak questions for Robert Mueller exhibit ignorance on this point, I’m going to make this more explicit.

In a useless question designed to get Mueller to characterize Trump’s answers to the Special Counsel’s questions, the NYT asked whether the responses were “candid.”

In general, virtually all of Trump’s answers not only lacked candor, they were downright obnoxious. But on the topic of the Trump Tower Moscow project, Trump’s answers are not just insolent, they are lies.

One paragraph of his answers about it — submitted after Michael Cohen started cooperating but before Cohen’s plea deal regarding his lies to Congress — reads, [I’ve numbered the claims as reference points for the discussion that follows.]

I had [1] few conversations with Mr. Cohen on this subject. As I recall, they were brief, and [5] they were not memorable. I was not enthused about the proposal, and [2] I do not recall any discussion of travel to Russia in connection with it. I do not remember discussing it with anyone else at the Trump Organization, although it is possible. I do not recall being aware at the time of any communications between Mr. Cohen or Felix Sater and [3] any Russian government official regarding the Letter of Intent. In the course of preparing to respond to your questions, I have become aware that [4] Mr. Cohen sent an email regarding the Letter of Intent to “Mr. Peskov” at a general, public email account, which should show there was no meaningful relationship with people in power in Russia. I understand those documents already have been provided to you.

In that answer, Trump replicates three claims that match Michael Cohen’s statement to Congress but that Cohen swore under oath were lies in his plea agreement:

  1. The Moscow Project ended in January 2016 and was not discussed extensively with others in the Company. … To the best of my knowledge , [Individual l] was never in contact with anyone about this proposal other than me on three occasions.
  2. COHEN never agreed to travel to Russia in connection with the Moscow Project and “never considered” asking Individual 1 to travel for the project.
  3. COHEN did not recall any Russian government response or contact about the Moscow Project.

Cohen’s statement claimed he discussed this just three times with Trump; Trump claimed he only had a “few” such conversations rather than the ten Cohen would later admit to. Cohen’s statement claimed no one ever discussed traveling to Russia; Trump claimed not to recall any discussion of travel to Russia, even though he told Cohen to consult with Corey Lewandowski about when he could take such a trip. Cohen’s statement disclaimed any Russian government response to the Letter of Intent; Trump claimed the only contact with the Russian government was an unanswered letter to Peskov’s public line, rather than the email response from Elena Poliakova that led to a 20 minute conversation that Cohen described to Trump immediately after it finished.

In all three of those statements, then, Trump hewed to the false statement Jay Sekulow helped Cohen write.

That said, Trump made assertions about those three topics in such a way as to claim he didn’t remember the things Cohen remembered in his proffer sessions with Mueller. So as far as those answers go, Trump is covered legally, even if it is more clear these are lies than some of his other non-responsive answers.

Not so Trump’s claim that Cohen’s only contact with Dmitry Peskov was via “a general, public email account” [marked 4, above]. Mueller obtained the January 20, 2016 email response from Peskov’s assistant, Elena Poliakova, asking Cohen to call her. By itself, that email is proof there was a response from the Russian government (though not an obvious one; she wrote it from her personal email account).

Per Cohen’s congressional testimony, the email formed part of the Mueller interviews with Cohen.

O Do you have a copy of this January 20th, 2016, email from Elena Poliyakova (ph)?

A I do not.

Q When was the last time you saw a copy of this email?

A Again, at one of the hearings that I attended.

Q With the special counsel’s office?

A I believe so, yes.

This email is one of the reasons I’m so interested in the fact that Mueller obtained Cohen’s Trump Organization emails from Microsoft, and only subpoenaed Trump Organization the following year for such things: because Mueller obtained this email, Congress (apparently) did not receive it in response to a subpoena, and Trump’s lawyers continued to deny the existence of it in November 2018. That suggests Trump’s lawyers continued to hide the existence of this email, even in preparing the President’s lawyers to write answers to Mueller’s questions.

(Note: given Don Jr’s reluctance to testify to Mueller but his willingness to testify to Congress, it’s possible there are damning emails involving him obtained from Microsoft that Trump Organization withheld from Congress, as well.)

Still, thus far, Trump could blame his faulty memory and his lawyers for the inaccuracies of his sworn answers to Mueller.

Not so after his public statements in the wake of Cohen’s plea, as Mueller laid out in his report, pointing to the same paragraph I’ve analyzed above.

On November 20, 2018, the President submitted written responses that did not answer those questions about Trump Tower Moscow directly and did not provide any information about the timing of the candidate’s discussions with Cohen about the project or whether he participated in any discussions about the project being abandoned or no longer pursued. 1049 Instead, the President’s answers stated in relevant part:

I had few conversations with Mr. Cohen on this subject. As I recall; they were brief, and they were not memorable. I was not enthused about the proposal, and I do not recall any discussion of travel to Russia in connection with it. I do not remember discussing it with anyone else at the Trump Organization, although it is possible. I do not recall being aware at the time of any communications between Mr. Cohen and Felix Sater and any Russian government official regarding the Letter of Intent. 1050

On November 29, 2018, Cohen pleaded guilty to making false statements to Congress based on his statements about the Trump Tower Moscow project. 1051 In a plea agreement with this Office, Cohen agreed to “provide truthful information regarding any and all matters as to which this Office deems relevant.”1052 Later on November 29, after Cohen’s guilty plea had become public, the President spoke to reporters about the Trump Tower Moscow project, saying:

I decided not to do the project. . . . I decided ultimately not to do it. There would have been nothing wrong if I did do it. If I did do it, there would have been nothing wrong. That was my business …. It was an option that I decided not to do …. I decided not to do it. The primary reason . . . I was focused on running for President. . . . I was running my business while I was campaigning. There was a good chance that I wouldn’t have won, in which case I would’ve gone back into the business. And why should I lose lots of opportunities? 1053 [my empahsis]

[snip]

In light of the President’s public statements following Cohen’s guilty plea that he “decided not to do the project,” this Office again sought information from the President about whether he participated in any discussions about the project being abandoned or no longer pursued, including when he “decided not to do the project,” who he spoke to about that decision, and what motivated the decision. 1057 The Office also again asked for the timing of the President’s discussions with Cohen about Trump Tower Moscow and asked him to specify “what period of the campaign” he was involved in discussions concerning the project. 1058 In response, the President’s personal counsel declined to provide additional information from the President and stated that “the President has fully answered the questions at issue.” 1059

1053 President Trump Departure Remarks, C-SPAN (Nov. 29, 2018). In contrast to the President’s remarks following Cohen’s guilty plea, Cohen’s August 28, 2017 statement to Congress stated that Cohen, not the President, “decided to abandon the proposal” in late January 2016; that Cohen “did not ask or brief Mr. Trump … before I made the decision to terminate further work on the proposal”; and that the decision · to abandon the proposal was “unrelated” to the Campaign. P-SCO-000009477 (Statement of Michael D. Cohen, Esq. (Aug. 28, 2017)).

1057 1/23/19 Letter, Special Counsel’s Office to President’s Personal Counsel.

1058 1/23/ 19 Letter, Special Counsel’s Office to President’s Personal Counsel.

1059 2/6/ l 9 Letter, President’s Personal Counsel to Special Counsel’s Office.

As Mueller pointed out in footnote 1053, Trump’s comments to the press conflict in significant ways with Cohen’s statement to Congress, in that they show the project continued past January and that the decision to end it related to the campaign.

Unstated here — but almost certainly the reason why Mueller went back to Trump after these comments (and Rudy Giuliani’s comments admitting the deal continued all the way to the election) — is that by stating that “I decided” even while justifying continuing to pursue the deal during the campaign because, “why should I lose lots of opportunities,” Trump is admitting that he recalls the discussions about the deal and was enthusiastic about it [marked with 5 above].

Trump’s sworn answer to Mueller is that these conversations were not memorable and he was not enthused about the project. But even after submitting those sworn statements, Trump went on TV and described remembering precisely what happened and decribed the deal as an opportunity he didn’t want to lose.

Effectively, those statements amounted to Trump going on TV and admitting he lied under oath to Mueller.

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

Trump’s Never-Declined Invitation from Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko

In an interview with NYT last year, George Papadopoulos claimed that he had a call scheduled with Stephen Miller on April 27, 2016, when he probably would have told him that Joseph Mifsud had just told him that Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton in the form of thousands of emails they planned to drop anonymously to help Donald Trump. But the call didn’t go through.

PAPADOPOULOS: That’s all I can say. I mean, actually, and the reason why I don’t know how much wiggle room — I don’t think I’m really leaving myself any wiggle room at all because probably 99 percent of my communication with the campaign was over email. You know, I was living in London. You know, I met some officials face to face very briefly. So the place I would have potentially sent this information — I think it’s public — I mentioned to Stephen Miller I’m receiving interesting messages from Moscow about a meeting, when the time is right. That was the same day that I had received that information. I think I had a scheduled call with Miller that same day, never went through, and perhaps that’s where it went. It just stayed in my mind.

[Later in the interview.]

MAZZETTI: One of the things that seems the most puzzling out of this whole Trump-Russia story is that you’re told about this pretty explosive information. It is information that would no doubt help the Trump campaign. You wanted to help the Trump campaign. You were very eager to gain, cement, a place in the campaign. And yet, you say you didn’t tell anyone about it but you did tell the Australian diplomat and the Greek foreign minister. Seems strange for people to sort of —

PAPADOPOULOS: I allegedly told the Australian, and I certainly told the Greek foreign minister, but let’s not forget, though, at the time I was shuffling between Europe quite frequently. I wasn’t at a campaign headquarters, where I would have the opportunity to sit down and probably talk with campaign heads. So, I actually I don’t find it shocking that I wouldn’t have told them something like this, considering my interactions with the campaign was, as I stated, probably 99 percent done via email. And maybe — you never know — maybe if the call between myself and Stephen Miller occurred that day, I would have told him. But that call never went through, and we’re left with receiving interesting messages from Moscow. It’s how fate works sometimes, I guess.

According to his statement of offense, after his second interview with the FBI, he got a new phone number, suggesting he ditched his cell phone.

On or about February 23, 20 17, defendant PAPADOPOULOS ceased using his cell phone number and began using a new number.

According to the government’s sentencing memo in his case, Papadopoulos hid the existence of a different phone he used to communicate with Mifsud while in London until his fourth and final interview with the FBI.

The defendant also did not notify the government about a cellular phone he used in London during the course of the campaign – that had on it substantial communications between the defendant and the Professor – until his fourth and final proffer session.

This was a guy working pretty hard to hide his communications — including any he had on encrypted apps that would bypass his phone company.

Which is why I find details about the Trump Organization response — or rather, non-response — to an invitation from Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Sergei Prikhodko, to attend the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, the same event Cohen was supposed to attend to arrange the Trump Tower Moscow deal.

Here’s what the timeline of that invitation looks like, according to the Mueller Report (starting at page 78 of Volume I).

December 21, 2015: Mira Duma emails Ivanka passing along Prikhodko’s invite as an attachment

January 7, 2016: Ivanka forwards email to Rhona Graff

January 14, 2016: Graff replies to Duma by email saying Trump would have to decline because of his travel schedule, asking whether she should send a formal declination

January 15, 2016: Duma replies that a formal denial note would be appropriate

March 17, 2016 (according to Trump’s written response, though no email is cited in the report): Prikhodko emails Graff again inviting Trump to SPIEF

March 31, 2016: Graff prepares a two-paragraph letter declining the invitation and forwards it to another assistant to have Trump sign it, which he doesn’t sign

March 31, 2016: Robert Foresman follows up a phone introduction by Mark Burnett with an email to Graff, explaining that he had set up a back channel between George W Bush and Putin and discussing an “approach” by “senior Kremlin officials” asking for a meeting with Lewandowski about topics he did not want to include on an unsecure email

March 31, 2016: At a meeting of Trump’s foreign policy advisors, he responds favorably to Papadopoulos’ pitch to set up a meeting between Trump and Putin

April 4, 2016: Graff forwards that email to the same assistant who had put the invitation declination on letterhead

April 26, 2016: Foresman reminds Graff

April 27, 2016: Graff forwards the initial March 31 email and the April 26 email to Lewandowski

April 27, 2016: Papadopoulos emails Miller, “Have some interesting messages coming in from Moscow about a trip when the time is right”

April 27, 2016: Papadopoulos emails Lewandowski,  “to discuss Russia’s interest in hosting Mr. Trump. Have been receiving a lot of calls over the last month about Putin wanting to host him and the team when the time is right”

April 30, 2016: Foresman reminds Graff again, suggesting a meeting with Don Jr or Eric Trump, so he could convey information that “should be conveyed to [the candidate] personally or [to] someone [the candidate] absolutely trusts”

May 2, 2016: Graff forwards the April 30 email to Stephen Miller

May 4, 2016: Cohen tells Sater he would travel before the RNC in July, and Trump would “once he becomes the nominee after the convention”

May 5, 2016: Sater extends invitation purportedly from Peskov to SPIEF

Ultimately, there’s no record Trump did decline the invitation from Prikhodko (nor does the report cite the email he purportedly sent to Graff). Nor does the report describe what happened after Foresman’s invite got sent to Miller.

But it does show that in the wake of Papadopoulos purportedly failing to tell Miller the Russians were offering dirt, he was the guy Lewandowski wanted to field an offer a possible back channel 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. 

Why Did Mueller Include the June 9 Meeting Statement in His Obstruction Case?

I’ve got a bunch more posts on the Mueller Report I’m going to eventually write; I’ve still got a slew of theories and observations to share. But there’s one topic I just have guesses on, one I’d love to have more people weigh in on.

Why did Mueller’s team include Donald Trump’s statement on the June 9 meeting — which is described not as a false statement, but an effort to prevent the disclosure of Don Jr’s emails setting up the meeting — in his obstruction analysis?

The obstruction analysis on the June 9 meeting shows it’s not itself obstruction

As a number of reviews of the Mueller Report obstruction analysis show, the June 9 meeting cover-up is the one obstructive act where the report concludes the evidence did not establish it as an act of obstruction for all three factors:

As the obstruction analysis lays out, Trump talked hopefully about ensuring the emails didn’t get out, but there’s no evidence he took action, beyond lying publicly, to suppress them.

Each of these efforts by the President involved his communications team and was directed at the press. They would amount to obstructive acts only if the President, by taking these actions, sought to withhold information from or mislead congressional investigators or the Special Counsel. On May 17, 2017, the President’s campaign received a document request from SSCI that clearly covered the June 9 meeting and underlying emails, and those documents also plainly would have been relevant to the Special Counsel’s investigation.

But the evidence does not establish that the President took steps to prevent the emails or other information about the June 9 meeting from being provided to Congress or the Special Counsel. The series of discussions in which the President sought to limit access to the emails and prevent their public release occurred in the context of developing a press strategy.

It then repeats that analysis by showing that while withholding the emails might amount to obstruction, he did not withhold emails.

As noted above, the evidence does not establish that the President sought to prevent disclosure of the emails in those official proceedings.

Then, in the intent section, it shows Trump’s central role in crafting the adoptions statement, while again concluding that the statement doesn’t amount to withholding the email.

The evidence establishes the President’s substantial involvement in the communications strategy related to information about his campaign’s connections to Russia and his desire to minimize public disclosures about those connections. The President became aware of the emails no later than June 29, 2017, when he discussed them with Hicks and Kushner, and he could have been aware of them as early as June 2, 2017, when lawyers for the Trump Organization began interviewing witnesses who participated in the June 9 meeting. The President thereafter repeatedly rejected the advice of Hicks and other staffers to publicly release information about the June 9 meeting. The President expressed concern that multiple people had access to the emails and instructed Hicks that only one lawyer should deal with the matter. And the President dictated a statement to be released by Trump Jr. in response to the first press accounts of the June 9 meeting that said the meeting was about adoption.

But as described above, the evidence does not establish that the President intended to prevent the Special Counsel’s Office or Congress from obtaining the emails setting up the June 9 meeting or other information about that meeting.

Curiously, this analysis of intent doesn’t talk about why Trump may have wanted to hide the truth about the June 9 meeting, even though elsewhere the report suggests that, overall, one motive for Trump obstructing the investigation might be because he thought the June 9 meeting would be found to be criminal.

So Mueller spent over eight pages laying out whether Trump’s role in crafting a deceitful statement about the June 9 meeting was obstruction of justice when, according to the report’s analysis of obstruction of justice, it was not even a close call.

So why — in a report that might better be understood as an impeachment referral — did they include that?

Trump’s statement on the June 9 meeting as evidence of corrupt intent for other obstructive acts

I’ve commented elsewhere that one of the posts I’ll eventually do is a narratological analysis of the report. I said that, in part, for the way the report intersperses several acts of potential Trump obstruction that all happened during the same time period in summer 2017. While the report only mentions this in passing, Trump’s lies about the June 9 meeting occur during the same time frame as three other potential obstructive acts that the report shows do amount to obstruction: the effort to get Don McGahn to get Rod Rosenstein to fire Mueller, the request that Corey Lewandowski (!!) fire Jeff Sessions, and the effort to get Sessions to unrecuse.

And, as noted, the June 9 meeting is one of three things — along with the Trump Tower Moscow deal and Trump’s push to have Roger Stone optimize the release of the stolen emails — that the report posits might be the underlying facts Trump was attempting to hide with his other obstruction (note that the report never focuses on Mike Flynn’s discussion on sanctions, which I’ll return to in a later post).

Which suggests Trump’s involvement in the June 9 statement is there not for those actions themselves, but for the way his actions prove corrupt intent for other obstructive actions.

A story describing Trump’s unique actions that nevertheless leaves out the biggest detail

Still, the specific story the report tells is damning. It includes details that suggest this was a unique event, with Trump trying to retain plausible deniability even though several witnesses say he knew about the meeting, and describing Trump preferring to break his cardinal sin, remaining silent on a story. But note that the story leaves out one of the most important details: Vladimir Putin’s interactions with the President during the day Trump wrote his deceitful statement.

Here’s the story, as told in the obstruction section.

Trump claims he didn’t know about the meeting ahead of time, contrary to what several witnesses said.

According to written answers submitted by the President in response to questions from this Office, the President had no recollection of learning of the meeting or the emails setting it up at the time the meeting occurred or at any other time before the election 668

The Chief of Staff learns about the meeting from Sean Hannity, which is just crazy train.

[Reince] Priebus recalled learning about the June 9 meeting from Fox News host Sean Hannity in late June 2017.672

Trump tells Jared not to share details of the meeting with him, according to Hope Hicks.

According to Hicks, Kushner said that he wanted to fill the President in on something that had been discovered in the documents he was to provide to the congressional committees involving a meeting with him, Manafort, and Trump Jr.678 Kushner brought a folder of documents to the meeting and tried to show them to the President, but the President stopped Kushner and said he did not want to know about it, shutting the conversation down.’

[snip]

On June 28, 2017, Hicks viewed the emails at Kushner’s attorney’s office 68° She recalled being shocked by the emails because they looked “really bad.”68′ The next day, Hicks spoke privately with the President to mention her concern about the emails, which she understood were soon going to be shared with Congress.682 The President seemed upset because too many people knew about the emails and he told Hicks that just one lawyer should deal with the matter.”‘ The President indicated that he did not think the emails would leak, but said they would leak if everyone had access to them.684

Later that day, Hicks, Kushner, and Ivanka Trump went together to talk to the President.685 Hicks recalled that Kushner told the President the June 9 meeting was not a big deal and was about Russian adoption, but that emails existed setting up the meeting.686 Hicks said she wanted to get in front of the story and have Trump Jr. release the emails as part of an interview with “softball questions.”687 The President said he did not want to know about it and they should not go to the press 688 Hicks warned the President that the emails were “really bad” and the story would be “massive” when it broke, but the President was insistent that he did not want to talk about it and said he did not want details!'” Hicks recalled that the President asked Kushner when his document production was due.699 Kushner responded that it would be a couple of weeks and the President said, “then leave it alone.”‘ Hicks also recalled that the President said Kushner’s attorney should give the emails to whomever he needed to give them to, but the President did not think they would be leaked to the press.692 Raffel later heard from Hicks that the President had directed the group not to be proactive in disclosing the emails because the President believed they would not leak.693

But Jared claims that didn’t happen. This narrative is largely sourced to interviews with Hope Hicks. Even in his second interview, Jared said it didn’t happen this way.

Hicks 12/7/17 302, at 7; Hicks 3/13/18 302, at I. Counsel for Ivanka Trump provided an attorney proffer that is consistent with Hicks’s account and with the other events involving Ivanka Trump set forth in this section of the report. Kushner said that he did not recall talking to the President at this time about the June 9 meeting or the underlying emails. Kushner 4/11/18 302, at 30.

Hicks is confused about why Trump wants to commit his ultimate sin.

On July 7, 2017, while the President was overseas, Hicks and Raffel learned that the New York Times was working on a story about the June 9 meeting.695 The next day, Hicks told the President about the story and he directed her not to comment.696 Hicks thought the President’s reaction was odd because he usually considered not responding to the press to be the ultimate sin.697 Later that day, Hicks and the President again spoke about the story.698 Hicks recalled that the President asked her what the meeting had been about, and she said that she had been told the meeting was about Russian adoption.699 The President responded, “then just say that.”706

The Report neglects to mention the Putin meeting where he and Trump talked about the subject of the statement.

[see this post]

Trump edits Jr’s statement because it admits they were offered dirt and discussed sanctions relief, defaulting on Putinesque spin.

On the flight home from the G20 on July 8, 2017, Hicks obtained a draft statement about the meeting to be released by Trump Jr. and brought it to the President.701 The draft statement began with a reference to the information that was offered by the Russians in setting up the meeting: “I was asked to have a meeting by an acquaintance I knew from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant with an individual who I was told might have information helpful to the campaign.”702 Hicks again wanted to disclose the entire story, but the President directed that the statement not be issued because it said too much.703 The President told Hicks to say only that Trump Jr. took a brief meeting and it was about Russian adoption.704 After speaking with the President, Hicks texted Trump Jr. a revised statement on the June 9 meeting that read:

It was a short meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. We discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at that time and there was no follow up. 705

Hicks’s text concluded, “Are you ok with this? Attributed to you.”706 Trump Jr. responded by text message that he wanted to add the word “primarily” before “discussed” so that the statement would read, “We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children.”707 Trump Jr. texted that he wanted the change because “[t]hey started with some Hillary thing which was bs and some other nonsense which we shot down fast. “708 Hicks texted back, “I think that’s right too but boss man worried it invites a lot of questions[.) [U]ltimately [d]efer to you and [your attorney] on that word Be I know it’s important and I think the mention of a campaign issue adds something to it in case we have to go further.” 709 Trump Jr. responded, “lfl don’t have it in there it appears as though I’m lying later when they inevitably leak something.” 710

Hope Hicks channels the President hoping the damning emails would never leak.

Corallo told the President the statement had been authorized and further observed that Trump Jr. ‘s statement was inaccurate and that a document existed that would contradict it.722 Corallo said that he purposely used the term “document” to refer to the emails setting up the June 9 meeting because he did not know what the President knew about the emails.723 Corallo recalled that when he referred to the “document” on the call with the President, Hicks responded that only a few people had access to it and said “it will never get out.”724 Corallo took contemporaneous notes of the call that say: “Also mention existence of doc. Hope says ‘ only a few people have it. It will never get out.”‘725 Hicks later told investigators that she had no memory of making that comment and had always believed the emails would eventually be leaked, but she might have been channeling the President on the phone call because it was clear to her throughout her conversations with the President that he did not think the emaiis would leak.726

Trump’s flunkies deny that the guy who met Vladimir Putin twice during the drafting of the statement wrote the statement.

Over the next several days, the President’s personal counsel repeatedly and inaccurately denied that the President played any role in drafting Trump Jr. ‘s statement.729 After consulting with the President on the issue, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told the media that the President “certainly didn’t dictate” the statement, but that “he weighed in, offered suggestions like any father would do.”730

The Report again neglects to mention the Putin meeting where he and Trump spoke about the subject of the statement.

On July 19, 2017, the President had his follow-up meeting with Lewandowski and then met with reporters for the New York Times. In addition to criticizing Sessions in his Times interview, the President addressed the June 9, 2016 meeting and said he “didn’t know anything about the meeting” at the time.734 The President added, “As I’ve said-most other people, you know, when they call up and say, ‘By the way, we have information on your opponent,’ I think most politicians – I was just with a lot of people, they said … , ‘Who wouldn’ t have taken a meeting like that?”‘735

[see this post]

Providing the framework for the Putin involvement

As I’ve said, I think it remarkable — though perhaps explicable on constitutional grounds — that the report does not mention Putin’s role in all of this, and Trump’s bizarre behavior at the G20 (where he had Ivanka sit in on a meeting while he worked on the statement) more generally. Trump’s interactions with Putin — and his efforts to keep them secret even from staffers — is the subject of other congressional investigation. Which is why this passage from the beginning of the obstruction section sticks out.

Given those considerations, the facts known to us, and the strong public interest in safeguarding the integrity of the criminal justice system, we conducted a thorough factual investigation in order to preserve the evidence when memories were fresh and documentary materials were available.

As noted, I think Mueller included the June 9 meeting statement not because it, by itself, amounts to obstruction, but because the evidence laid out — plus evidence available publicly or via separate congressional investigation — provides an important motivational explanation for the rest of it. Trump made three separate attempts to gut the Mueller investigation in this period, all at a time he was acting unusually (for him) in his efforts to bury the June 9 meeting.

This is the lie he was telling while using his office to try to stop the investigation. Or rather, this is the lie he and Vladimir Putin were telling.

EMPTYWHEEL’S MUELLER REPORT COVERAGE

Two Exceptions to Trump’s “Do Not Recall” Responses: A Limited Answer on an Assange Pardon and a Non-Answer on Sanctions Relief

The Significance of Trump’s Obstruction of Investigation of His Family’s Campaign Finance Crimes, Plural

How “Collusion” Appears in the Mueller Report

Putin’s Ghost: The Counterintelligence Calculus Not Included in the Obstruction Analysis

Working Twitter Threads on the Mueller Report

The Trump Men and the Grand Jury Redactions

Mueller’s Language about “Collusion,” Coordination, and Conspiracy

The Many Lies and Prevarications of Bill Barr

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

Why Did Mueller Include the June 9 Meeting Statement in His Obstruction Case?

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. 

The Commander-in-Chief Keeps Instructing His National Security Officials Not to Protect the Country

One of the most alarming passages in the Mueller Report describes how, in an effort to get Corey Lewandowski to convince Jeff Sessions to reverse his recusal in the Russian investigation, Trump suggested that Mueller could be limited to investigating future election hacks. (h/t to TC who has been emphasizing this passage)

During the June 19 meeting, Lewandowski recalled that, after some small talk, the President brought up Sessions and criticized his recusal from the Russia investigation.605 The President told Lewandowski that Sessions was weak and that if the President had known about the likelihood of recusal in advance, he would not have appointed Sessions.606 The President then asked Lewandowski to deliver a message to Sessions and said “write this down.” 607 This was the first time the President had asked Lewandowski to take dictation, and Lewandowski wrote as fast as possible to make sure he captured the content correctly.608 The President directed that Sessions should give a speech publicly announcing:

I know that I recused myself from certain things having to do with specific areas. But our POTUS . .. is being treated very unfairly. He shouldn’t have a Special Prosecutor/Counsel b/c he hasn’t done anything wrong. I was on the campaign w/ him for nine months, there were no Russians involved with him. I know it for a fact b/c I was there. He didn’t do anything wrong except he ran the greatest campaign in American history.609

The dictated message went on to state that Sessions would meet with the Special Counsel to limit his jurisdiction to future election interference:

Now a group of people want to subvert the Constitution of the United States. I am going to meet with the Special Prosecutor to explain this is very unfair and let the Special Prosecutor move forward with investigating election meddling for future elections so that nothing can happen in future elections.610

The President said that if Sessions delivered that statement he would be the “most popular guy in the country.”6 11 Lewandowski told the President he understood what the President wanted Sessions to do.612

In June 2017, the Commander-in-Chief of the United States suggested that the FBI should not investigate a historic cyberattack by an adversary on the United States. The investigation Trump was obstructing was not just of his own conduct, but also that of Russia.

That revelation puts two other events in dramatically different light.

First, recall that when Congress was considering bills to ensure election integrity last year, Trump pre-empted the effort with an Executive Order imposing a two step review, after the fact, to see if foreign adversaries had attempted to interfere in the election. First, ODNI does a report on the election, then he delivers it to other Executive Branch Officials. Then DHS Secretary and the Attorney General deliver a report based on that describing whether the effort to interfere had had a material effect. That report, too, just gets delivered to Executive Branch officials.

Section 1. (a) Not later than 45 days after the conclusion of a United States election, the Director of National Intelligence, in consultation with the heads of any other appropriate executive departments and agencies (agencies), shall conduct an assessment of any information indicating that a foreign government, or any person acting as an agent of or on behalf of a foreign government, has acted with the intent or purpose of interfering in that election. The assessment shall identify, to the maximum extent ascertainable, the nature of any foreign interference and any methods employed to execute it, the persons involved, and the foreign government or governments that authorized, directed, sponsored, or supported it. The Director of National Intelligence shall deliver this assessment and appropriate supporting information to the President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of Defense, the Attorney General, and the Secretary of Homeland Security.

(b) Within 45 days of receiving the assessment and information described in section 1(a) of this order, the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the heads of any other appropriate agencies and, as appropriate, State and local officials, shall deliver to the President, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of the Treasury, and the Secretary of Defense a report evaluating, with respect to the United States election that is the subject of the assessment described in section 1(a):

(i) the extent to which any foreign interference that targeted election infrastructure materially affected the security or integrity of that infrastructure, the tabulation of votes, or the timely transmission of election results; and

(ii) if any foreign interference involved activities targeting the infrastructure of, or pertaining to, a political organization, campaign, or candidate, the extent to which such activities materially affected the security or integrity of that infrastructure, including by unauthorized access to, disclosure or threatened disclosure of, or alteration or falsification of, information or data.

The report shall identify any material issues of fact with respect to these matters that the Attorney General and the Secretary of Homeland Security are unable to evaluate or reach agreement on at the time the report is submitted. The report shall also include updates and recommendations, when appropriate, regarding remedial actions to be taken by the United States Government, other than the sanctions described in sections 2 and 3 of this order.

Predictably, when the deadlines for these reports came due after the mid-term elections last year, the Trump Administration balked at sharing all this reporting with the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Then there’s this NYT report revealing that the Mick Mulvaney told DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen not to involve the Commander-in-Chief in any effort to keep this country’s elections safe, which (the report implicitly suggests) made it far more difficult for Nielsen to make protecting elections a priority.

Ms. Nielsen left the Department of Homeland Security early this month after a tumultuous 16-month tenure and tensions with the White House. Officials said she had become increasingly concerned about Russia’s continued activity in the United States during and after the 2018 midterm elections — ranging from its search for new techniques to divide Americans using social media, to experiments by hackers, to rerouting internet traffic and infiltrating power grids.

But in a meeting this year, Mick Mulvaney, the White House chief of staff, made it clear that Mr. Trump still equated any public discussion of malign Russian election activity with questions about the legitimacy of his victory. According to one senior administration official, Mr. Mulvaney said it “wasn’t a great subject and should be kept below his level.”

Even though the Department of Homeland Security has primary responsibility for civilian cyberdefense, Ms. Nielsen eventually gave up on her effort to organize a White House meeting of cabinet secretaries to coordinate a strategy to protect next year’s elections.

[snip]

Ms. Nielsen grew so frustrated with White House reluctance to convene top-level officials to come up with a governmentwide strategy that she twice pulled together her own meetings of cabinet secretaries and agency heads. They included top Justice Department, F.B.I. and intelligence officials to chart a path forward, many of whom later periodically issued public warnings about indicators that Russia was both looking for new ways to interfere and experimenting with techniques in Ukraine and Europe.

[snip]

A second senior administration official said Ms. Nielsen began pushing after the November midterms for the governmentwide efforts to protect the 2020 elections, but only after it became increasingly clear that she had fallen out of Mr. Trump’s favor for not taking a harder line against immigration.

That official said Ms. Nielsen wanted to make election security a top priority at meetings of Mr. Trump’s principal national security aides, who resisted making it a focus of the discussions given that the 2020 vote was, at the time, nearly two years away.

Trump’s refusal to protect elections accompanies a de-emphasis — one enforced by John Bolton — on cybersecurity generally.

This is, quite literally, a case where the Commander-in-Chief is refusing to take the action necessary to protect the country from being attacked in the same way were most recently were attacked.

Update: Earlier this week Politico reported on the effects of a reorganization in Office of Management and Budget’s cybersecurity office before Mulvaney left OMB to become Chief of Staff.

Few Americans may have heard of the Office of the Federal Chief Information Officer, but the unit inside the Office of Management and Budget coordinates tech improvements across the government, helping agencies boost cybersecurity and manage technology and cybersecurity budgets that totaled $105 billion in the past fiscal year.

But many OFCIO employees are overwhelmed by unclear and changing priorities, while others are simply checked out or feeling increasingly marginalized, according to an internal February staff survey that POLITICO obtained, along with data from an annual governmentwide report and interviews with a current OMB employee, five former OFCIO employees and three former senior federal officials familiar with the office.

The unit is grappling with “high turnover,” “a lot of infighting,” a “crushing workload” and “inaction from leadership,” said the current employee, who — like others interviewed for this story — requested anonymity to discuss sensitive personnel matters.

“Things do slip through the cracks,” the OMB employee said. OFCIO’s guidance “impacts the long-term implementation strategy out in the agencies,” and if that’s lacking, there will be “a debilitating effect on overall cybersecurity in the long run,” the person said, adding that there was “real concern at the staff level that if this continues, something bad will happen and we won’t be ready for it.”

[snip]

“This organization looks like it’s in free fall,” said a former senior federal IT official who worked closely with the office.

[snip]

[A] November reorganization appeared to cause significant confusion and discontent among employees. It replaced a structure built around three core units — agency oversight, cybersecurity and policy development — with one centered on “workstreams” for activities such as cybersecurity risk and data strategy.

But the reorganization was “built on the fly” and poorly explained, said a former staffer. More than 80 percent of survey respondents said it was unclear how the reorganization improved office communication.

Adding to these woes is significant frustration with OFCIO’s senior leaders, especially Kent, a former Ernst & Young consultant who took over the office in March 2018 after the team went more than a year without a leader.

Kent, who lacks a cybersecurity or IT background, has fostered “a closed-door culture,” the current OMB employee said.

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. 

It Is Objectively False that Trump Provided Unprecedented Cooperation; Stop Parroting Rudy Claiming He Did

If a President makes an expansive new claim to Executive Privilege and the press reports the opposite, did it really happen?

That’s a question presented by the coverage of yesterday’s news that after a year of resistance, President Trump finally provided the answers to his open book test to Mueller. That’s because a slew of journalists repeated Rudy Giuliani’s claim, made in his official statement, that Trump has provided “unprecedented cooperation” with Mueller’s team, without noting that the claim is objectively false.

I showed back in February — when the press first started parroting this claim credulously, which was first made by John Dowd — that it was not true.

A simple comparison of the Bush White House’s cooperation the CIA leak case, which investigated events that occurred in a more narrow period two month period of time, showed Dowd’s claim about cooperation on discovery and witnesses was overblown.

More importantly, a key detail distinguished George W Bush’s cooperation from Trump’s: Bush sat for an interview with Patrick Fitzgerald and answered questions about the orders he gave, while President, to at least one of his Assistants and the Vice President about an exclusive executive authority, declassification.

Bush sat for an interview in June 2004, and Cheney — who himself made some grossly false statements in his tenure — sat for one in May 2004 and a little-known follow-up that August. According to Cheney’s autobiography, “[T]he second session was conducted under oath so that [his] testimony could be submitted to the grand jury.”

[snip]

[Randall] Samborn, the Fitzgerald spokesperson who was famously reticent during the whole CIA leak investigation, offered an expansive rebuttal to Dowd’s claim that this White House has offered unprecedented cooperation. “Trump’s team can claim all the cooperation it wants, and whether justifiably so or not, it seems to me that it all gets negated, if at the end, he personally refuses to be questioned when so much substance depends on what he knew and did, as well as his state of mind.”

Any refusal to sit for an interview, Samborn said, was central evaluating the level of cooperation.

“That’s sort of the ultimate in noncooperation,” he explained, “especially after saying he looks forward to being interviewed and under oath.”

By limiting his cooperation to an open book test, Trump has stopped far short of the cooperation Bush offered.

And yet, because Rudy included the claim in the statement he released to the press, many news outlets are repeating that false claim, uncontested. The outlets that subscribe to the AP feed are propagating false claim today, because Eric Tucker repeated that line from Rudy’s statement with no correction to it.  Unsurprisingly, Fox News parroted Rudy. But so did some more credible outlets, like NBC, ABC, CNN, and Reuters. Even the WaPo’s otherwise superb report from Carol Leonnig and Robert Costa repeated the claim in the last line of their story.

NYT’s Maggie and Mike, incidentally, avoided repeating Rudy’s claim, choosing to include the part of his statement that provided quasi-factual numbers, but leaving out the superlative claim.

It’s bad enough that most of the press has repeated Rudy and Dowd’s claim uncritically since January. But for yesterday’s stories, it is all the more important to get it right. That’s because Trump is not just refusing to answer questions on Mueller’s obstruction investigation, he’s also refusing to answer questions about the transition period, before any claim of Executive Privilege should kick in. While that’s consistent with what Trump did with Hope Hicks’ and Corey Lewandowski’s testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, it nevertheless represents an expansion of accepted claims to executive power.

The emphasis, here, should be on Trump’s claim to be above the law even before he took an oath to protect and defend the Constitution.

Instead, a bunch of copy and paste journalism has made it the opposite.