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The Evidence Needed for a Trump Prosecution

It would be easier to prosecute Trump for January 6 than Peter Navarro. I say that (in advance of today’s debate about referring Navarro and Dan Scavino for contempt) because it is far easier to tie Trump’s actions directly to the successful obstruction of the vote certification on January 6 than it would Navarro’s, and Navarro’s actions are fairly tangential to the proof that Trump’s actions met the elements of obstruction of the vote certification.

Months ago, I laid out how to prosecute Trump using the framework that DOJ has already used with hundreds of January 6 defendants. But in this post, I will show how much evidence DOJ has already collected proving the case against Trump by using the framework for Trump’s criminal exposure laid out by Judges Amit Mehta and David Carter, incorporating a key point made by Judge Reggie Walton.

In his opinion upholding the lawsuits against Trump, Amit Mehta found that it was plausible Trump conspired with the militias and also that he bore aid-and-abet liability for assaults at the Capitol (see this post and this post). He found that:

  • Trump and the militias jointly pursued an effort to disrupt the vote certification
  • Trump planned the unpermitted march to the Capitol
  • Trump encouraged the use of force and threats to thwart the certification from proceeding
  • Trump knew supporters would respond to his calls to come to DC and march on the Capitol
  • Trump called for collective action
  • Trump intended his “fight like hell” comment to be taken literally and rioters did take it literally
  • Trump ratified the riot

In his opinion finding that one email from John Eastman must be turned over to the January 6 Committee on a crime-fraud exception (see this post), Carter laid out the following proof that Trump obstructed the vote certification:

  • Trump tried to persuade Pence to disrupt the vote certification
  • He publicly appealed to Pence to do so
  • He called on his followers to walk to Congress to pressure Pence and Congress

Carter laid out this evidence that Trump had corrupt intent:

  • Proof that he had been told the vote fraud claims were false and his own request of Brad Raffensperger showed he knew he had lost
  • Trump had been told the Eastman’s plan was not legal

Carter laid out this evidence he had entered into a conspiracy:

  • Trump held lots of meetings to talk about plans to obstruct the vote count
  • Trump ratified Eastman’s plan in his Ellipse speech

To those two frameworks finding that Trump probably conspired to obstruct the vote certification, Judge Walton held that you cannot point to back-room plotting to get to the intentions of the actual rioters; you can only look at what the rioters themselves accessed, Trump’s public speech and Tweets (see this post).

This table (which is still very much a work in progress) lays out what evidence would be needed to prosecute Trump. The horizontal Elements of 1512(c)(2)/Relevant to Motive and Co-Conspirators sections show what is necessary given the elements of the offense as laid out by the judges and in DOJ filings, versus what might provide evidence of a broader conspiracy. The Must Have/Nice to Have columns show that for each kind of proof, there’s what is necessary and what would be really useful before indicting a former President.

In other words, the things in the yellow boxes are the things that would be necessary to show that Trump obstructed the vote certification. They basically amount to proof that things that Trump did brought the rioters to DC and to the Capitol and that he had the corrupt mens rea to charge with obstruction. I include there proof that Trump conspired with the militias, which I consider necessary because the Proud Boys, especially, took the bodies that Trump sent them and made those bodies tactically effective.

While prosecutors are still working on tying Roger Stone to both militias and tying Alex Jones and Ali Alexander into the crimes at the Capitol, much of the rest of this evidence has already been collected and rolled out in charging papers. For example, I showed some of the proof that rioters responded to Trump’s attacks on Pence by targeting their own attacks on Pence. There are a number of Trump comments that directly led hundreds of rioters to start making plans to come to DC, including arming themselves; NYT recently laid out the most central communication, a Tweet on December 19, 2020, though not only is that focus not new, it’s the tweet and response to which Arieh Kovler predicted the attack on the Capitol in real time.

A number of the other things you’d want to have before you charged Trump are available to DOJ:

  • Details of how the march to the Capitol happened and why it — and Ali Alexander’s permitted rallies at the Capitol — made a riot more likely
  • Explanations why Ellipse rally organizers balked at including people like Ali Alexander and Roger Stone
  • Testimony from Pence’s aides about how Trump pressured his Vice President in private

It is true that the testimony of several people — those involved in selling the Big Lie and Scavino’s coordination of the riot (including a particular focus on The Donald) — would be really useful. But that testimony is as important to proving that they were part of the conspiracy along with Trump.

Pat Cipollone’s tesitmony would be incredibly useful to that case, too. Normally, he could invoke privilege, but Trump already waived some of that privilege by sharing details about his conversations with Cipollone with Sean Hannity. If Cipollone did cooperate with DOJ, I don’t think he would leak that.

Similarly, the Relevant to Motive and Co-Conspirators rows — showing Trump’s coordination with Congress or his prior planning of it — would be really useful to have in prosecuting Trump. But ultimately, as Judge Walton held, what Trump did in private could not have influenced most of the rioters, because they never knew those details. As such, some of that information — precisely the kinds of stuff that TV lawyers say would be the first overt signs that Trump was a subject of the investigation — is more useful for including others in the conspiracy.

The most important of this evidence — communications from the December 18 meeting and comms during the day of the riot — are already in DOJ’s possession from Rudy’s seized phones, whether or not they obtained a warrant for that content yet.

Update: I’ve tweaked the horizontal headings on the table to clarify that the top half of the table stems from the elements of offense for 1512(c)(2), whereas the bottom half is clearly related and may help prove mens rea or incorporate other co-conspirators, but is not necessary (in my opinion) to meeting the elements of obstruction.

But His Emails! Kushner’s Unique Exposure under the Presidential Records Act

The focus on what Trump will burn down in his final days as President has brought renewed focus on whether Trump will manage to destroy evidence on his way out. For example, Trump’s refusal to concede defeat may have delayed the normal archiving process, not to mention the instructions to White House employee that there needed to be an archiving process.

When Trump lost the November election, records staffers were in position to transfer electronic records, pack up the paper ones and move them to the National Archives by Jan. 20, as required by law. But Trump’s reluctance to concede has meant they will miss the deadline.

“Necessary funding from the (White House) Office of Management and Budget was delayed for many weeks after the election, which has caused delays in arranging for the transfer of the Trump presidential records into the National Archives’ custody,” the National Archives said in a statement to The Associated Press. “Even though the transfer of these records will not be completed until after Jan. 20, the National Archives will assume legal custody of them on Jan. 20 in accordance with the Presidential Records Act.”

White House spokesman Judd Deere said Saturday that contesting the election did not cause the delay in getting the president’s records transferred to the archives and that guidance was available to staffers on how to pack up their materials.

One person familiar with the transition said guidance typically emailed to executive branch employees explaining how to turn in equipment and pack up their offices was sent out in December, but quickly rescinded because Trump insisted on contesting the election.

With little guidance, some staffers in the White House started quietly calling records workers to find out what to do.

In early December, CREW and the National Security Archive tried to sue to preserve records, requesting a Temporary Restraining Order. While a key part of that suit — which the parties may be moving to novel litigation over — pertains to whether it’s enough to take a screen shot of an electronic communication, the suit also focuses on Jared Kushner’s well-documented habit of using private communications.

72. Notwithstanding these requests and the preservation directive, Mr. Kushner and his wife and Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump reportedly re-routed their personal email accounts to Trump Organization computers within one to two days of receiving the September 25, 2017 letters. Mar. 21, 2019 Oversight Letter, at 3.

73. In a December 2018 interview with then-House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Gowdy and Ranking Member Cummings, Mr. Kushner’s counsel “confirmed that Mr. Kushner has used—and continues to use—WhatsApp” to create or send Presidential records, including to communicate “with people outside the United States.” Mar. 21, 2019 Oversight Letter, at 6. When asked by Rep. Cummings if “Mr. Kushner has ever used WhatsApp to discuss classified information,” his counsel replied, “That’s above my pay grade.” Id.

74. WhatsApp is a non-official, encrypted electronic messaging application.

75. Mr. Kushner’s lawyer further explained that Mr. Kushner preserves Presidential records created or sent from his WhatsApp account by “tak[ing] ‘screenshots’ of these communications and forward[ing] them to his official White House email account or to the National Security Council.” Mar. 21, 2019 Oversight Letter, at 6 (emphasis added).

76. Mr. Kushner’s attorney also admitted that between January and August 2017, Mr. Kushner used his personal email account to send and receive official emails. Mar. 21, 2019 Oversight Letter, at 2-3.

The government is trying to make all this go away quickly though, arguing, in part, that the NGOs suing have no private right of action under the Presidential Records Act (meaning there’s no way for them to demand more diligent treatment of records).

Here, Plaintiffs cannot make such a showing; not only does the PRA lack any private right of action, see Judicial Watch, Inc. v. NARA, 845 F. Supp. 2d 288, 299 n.5 (D.D.C. 2012), but, as discussed above, the D.C. Circuit has concluded that it affirmatively precludes judicial review.

That’s one of the reasons I’m so interested in what happened in the last week in another lawsuit, Andrew McCabe’s lawsuit against DOJ for being fired as a result of Trump’s personal retaliation against him.

Whereas CREW and NSA sued in December, McCabe instead submitted a document subpoena to the Executive Office of the President on November 4 asking for materials relating to McCabe and his firing. Since then, the parties have been squabbling over how to deal with the subpoena and, specifically, how to make sure that relevant records stored on private accounts would be preserved.

In a mid-December hearing, Judge Randolph Moss endorsed, in principle, that such records should be preserved both by those who’ve already left government and those who remained at the White House.

That’s when things got interesting.

According to a status report submitted the day of the insurrection, even though this dispute was primarily about those still in the White House, the government tried to claim it would be too onerous to ask current White House employees — McCabe focused specifically on Hope Hicks, Dan Scavino, Stephen Miller, and Jared Kushner — to simply ask these four specifically whether they have archived their private server emails and WhatsApp chats properly and if not, to both do so and tell McCabe’s team if they haven’t.

Defendants’ position is as follows: Plaintiff asks that Defendants apply the procedure outlined in paragraph five above to four current EOP employees (Hope Hicks, Jared Kushner, Stephen Miller, and Daniel Scavino) to ensure that the individuals have copied any PRA records to an official EOP account before the end of their service at the White House. The White House has reminded all employees since the November election of their existing obligation to do just that—ensure that any official communications conducted on personal devices have been preserved on an official EOP account before the transition. Thus, there is no need to provide additional reminders to these individuals, particularly where there is no reason to presume that they have not complied with their obligations to preserve records. The benefit, if any, of requiring another reminder is outweighed by the burden on the EOP and its employees, especially given the deference owed to the White House in matters of discovery, see Cheney v. United States District Court for the District of Columbia, 542 U.S. 367, 387 (2004), and the alleged peripheral, at best, role of the four EOP employees in this litigation, as to which the White House is not even a defendant.

As McCabe’s team pointed out, it’s not enough to say these White House employees have a general obligation under the toothless PRA; these employees should also know they have a specific obligation under a lawsuit in which discovery has already been granted.

Moreover, a general post-election reminder to preserve documents does not suffice to inform the four current EOP employees of their obligation, specific to this litigation, to preserve relevant documents.

There’s no reason for DOJ to react in the way they did unless they had reason to believe the simple document retention request would cause problems. That’s particularly true given that, over the course of the Mueller investigation, DOJ has learned over and over that Jared (and people like Steve Bannon) weren’t archiving official records on specifically this topic. They already know details about what Jared (and Bannon) destroyed, which may explain why they responded in this fashion.

On January 8, Judge Moss sided with McCabe on this dispute, and ordered DOJ to give the four people specific warnings.

I assume, like everyone else, that Trump and his spawn have been lighting bonfires on their way out.

But in Jared’s case, he will now be asked, legally, whether he has done so.

The PRA still doesn’t have any teeth. But we may learn whether DOJ has been covering for Jared’s past document destruction, including on matters pertaining to the Mueller investigation and Trump’s vengeance for the investigation.

Four Data Points on the January 6 Insurrection

The NYT and WaPo both have stories beginning to explain the failures to protect the Capitol (ProPublica had a really good one days ago). The core issue, thus far, concerns DOD’s delays before sending in the National Guard — something that they happened to incorporate into a timeline not long after the attack, before the Capitol Police or City of DC had put their own together (the timeline has some gaps).

I can think of two charitable explanations for the lapses. First, in the wake of criticism over the deployment of military resources and tear gas against peaceful protestors to protect Donald Trump in June, those who had been criticized were reluctant to repeat such a display of force to protect Congress (and Mike Pence). In addition, in both DOJ and FBI under the Trump Administration, job security and career advancement depended on reinforcing the President’s false claims that his political supporters had been unfairly spied on, which undoubtedly created a predictable reluctance to treat those political supporters as the urgent national security threat they are and have always been.

Those are just the most charitable explanations I can think of, though. Both are barely distinguishable from a deliberate attempt to punish the President’s opponents — including Muriel Bowser and Nancy Pelosi — for their past criticism of Trump’s militarization of the police and an overt politicization of law enforcement. Or, even worse, a plan to exploit these past events to create the opportunity for a coup to succeed.

We won’t know which of these possible explanations it is (likely, there are a range of explanations), and won’t know for many months.

That said, I want to look at a few data points that may provide useful background.

Trump plans to pardon those in the bunker

First, as I noted here, according to Bloomberg, Trump has talked about pardoning the four men who’ve been in the bunker with Trump plotting recent events, along with Rudy Giuliani, who is also likely to be pardoned.

Preemptive pardons are under discussion for top White House officials who have not been charged with crimes, including Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, senior adviser Stephen Miller, personnel chief John McEntee, and social media director Dan Scavino.

I like to think I’ve got a pretty good sense of potential legal exposure Trump’s flunkies have, yet I know of nothing (aside, perhaps, from McEntee’s gambling problems) that these men have clear criminal liability in. And yet Trump seems to believe these men — including the guy with close ties to far right Congressmen, the white nationalist, the guy who remade several agencies to ensure that only loyalists remained in key positions, and the guy who tweets out Trump’s barely-coded dogwhistles — need a pardon.

That may suggest that they engaged in sufficient affirmative plotting even before Wednesday’s events.

Mind you, if these men had a role in coordinating all this, a pardon might backfire, as it would free them up to testify about any role Trump had in planning what happened on Wednesday.

Trump rewards Devin Nunes for helping him to avoid accountability

Several key questions going forward will focus on whether incompetence or worse led top officials at DOD to limit the mandate for the National Guard on January 6 and, as both DC and the Capitol Police desperately called for reinforcements, stalled before sending them.

A key player in that question is Kash Patel, who served as a gatekeeper at HPSCI to ensure that Republicans got a distorted view of the Russian intelligence implicating Trump, then moved to the White House to ensure that Trump got his Ukraine intelligence via Patel rather than people who knew anything about the topic, and then got moved to DOD to oversee a takeover of the Pentagon by people fiercely loyal to Trump.

And a key player in coordinating Kash’s activities was his original boss, Devin Nunes. On Monday, Trump gave Nunes the Medal of Freedom, basically the equivalent of a pardon to someone who likely believes his actions have all been protected by speech and debate. The entire citation for the award is an expression of the steps by which Trump, with Nunes’ help, undermined legitimate investigations into himself. In particular, Trump cited how Nunes’ efforts had hollowed out the FBI of people who might investigate anyone loyal to Trump.

Devin Nunes’ courageous actions helped thwart a plot to take down a sitting United States president. Devin’s efforts led to the firing, demotion, or resignation of over a dozen FBI and DOJ employees. He also forced the disclosure of documents that proved that a corrupt senior FBI official pursued a vindictive persecution of General Michael Flynn — even after rank and file FBI agents found no evidence of wrongdoing.

Congressman Nunes pursued the Russia Hoax at great personal risk and never stopped standing up for the truth. He had the fortitude to take on the media, the FBI, the Intelligence Community, the Democrat Party, foreign spies, and the full power of the Deep State. Devin paid a price for his courage. The media smeared him and liberal activists opened a frivolous and unjustified ethics investigation, dragging his name through the mud for eight long months. Two dozen members of his family received threatening phone calls – including his 98 year old grandmother.

Whatever else this debasement of the nation’s highest award for civilians might have done, it signaled to Nunes’ team — including but not limited to Patel — Trump’s appreciation for their work, and rewarded the guy he credits with politicizing the FBI.

That politicization is, as I noted above, one of the more charitable explanations for the FBI’s lack of preparation on Wednesday.

Interestingly, Nunes is not one of the members of Congress who challenged Biden’s votes after law enforcement restored order.

Corrected: Nunes did object to both AZ and PA.

Trump takes steps to designate Antifa as a Foreign Terrorist Organization

The day before the insurrection, Trump signed an Executive Order excluding immigrants if they have any tie to Antifa. Effectively, it put Antifa on the same kind of exclusionary footing as Communists or ISIS terrorists. Had Trump signed the EO before he was on his way out the door, it would have initiated a process likely to end with Antifa listed as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, giving the Intelligence Community additional intelligence tools to track members of the organization, even in the United States (the kind of tools, not coincidentally, that some experts say the FBI needs against white supremacist terrorists).

The EO will have next to no effect. Joe Biden will rescind it among the other trash he needs to clean up in the early days of his Administration.

But I find it curious that Trump effectively named a domestic movement a terrorist organization just days before multiple Trump associates attempted to blame Antifa for the riot at the Capitol.

That effort actually started before the order was signed. Back in December, Enrique Tarrio suggested that the Proud Boys (a group Trump had called to “Stand by” in September) might wear all black — a costume for Antifa — as they protested.

“The ProudBoys will turn out in record numbers on Jan 6th but this time with a twist…,” Henry “Enrique” Tarrio, the group’s president, wrote in a late-December post on Parler, a social media platform that has become popular with right-wing activists and conservatives. “We will not be wearing our traditional Black and Yellow. We will be incognito and we will spread across downtown DC in smaller teams. And who knows….we might dress in all BLACK for the occasion.”

The day after the riot, Matt Gaetz relied on a since-deleted Washington Times post to claim that the riot was a false flag launched by Antifa.

In a speech during the process of certifying President-elect Joe Biden, Gaetz claimed there was “some pretty compelling evidence from a facial recognition company” that some Capitol rioters were actually “members of the violent terrorist group antifa.” (Antifa is not a single defined group, does not have an official membership, and has not been designated a terrorist organization, although President Donald Trump has described it as one.)

Gaetz attributed this claim to a short Washington Times article published yesterday. That article, in turn, cited a “retired military officer.” The officer asserted that a company called XRVision “used its software to do facial recognition of protesters and matched two Philadelphia antifa members to two men inside the Senate.” The Times said it had been given a copy of the photo match, but it didn’t publish the picture.

There is no evidence to support the Times’ article, however. An XRVision spokesperson linked The Verge to a blog post by CTO Yaacov Apelbaum, denying its claims and calling the story “outright false, misleading, and defamatory.” (Speech delivered during congressional debate, such as Gaetz’s, is protected from defamation claims.) The Times article was apparently deleted a few hours after Apelbaum’s post.

Rudy Giuliani also attempted to blame Antifa.

And Captain Emily Rainey, who resigned today as DOD investigates the PsyOp officer for her role in the insurgency, also blamed Antifa for the violence.

Her group — as well as most at Wednesday’s rally — were “peace-loving, law-abiding people who were doing nothing but demonstrating our First Amendment rights,” she said.

She even shared a video on Facebook insisting that the rioters were all Antifa, saying, “I don’t know any violent Patriots. I don’t know any Patriots who would smash the windows of a National jewel like the [Capitol].”

It is entirely predictable that Trump loyalists would blame Antifa for anything bad they do — Bill Barr did so as the formal policy of DOJ going back at least a year. But Trump seems to have prepared the ground for such predictable scapegoating by taking steps to declare Antifa a terrorist “organization” hours before a riot led by his supporters would storm the Capitol.

The White House makes DHS Secretary Chad Wolf’s appointment especially illegal

I’m most intrigued by a flip-flop that had the effect of making DHS Acting Secretary’s appointment even more illegal than it has already been at times in the last two years.

On January 3, the White House submitted Chad Wolf’s nomination, along with those of 29 other people, to be DHS Secretary. Then, on January 6, it withdrew the nomination.

Wolf himself was out of the country in Bahrain when the riot happened. But he did tweet out — before DOD mobilized the Guard — that DHS officials were supporting the counter-insurgency. And he issued both a tweet and then — the next day — a more formal statement condemning the violence.

It’s not entirely clear what happened between his renomination and the withdrawal, but Steve Vladeck (who tracks this stuff more closely than anyone), had a lot to say about the juggling, not least that the withdrawal of his resubmitted nomination made it very clear that Wolf is not now legally serving.

This could have had — and could have, going forward — a chilling effect on any orders Wolf issues to deploy law enforcement.

Thus far, we haven’t seen much about what DHS did and did not do in advance of the riot — though its maligned intelligence unit did not issue a bulletin warning of the danger.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and an intelligence unit inside the Department of Homeland Security didn’t issue a threat assessment of the Jan. 6 pro-Trump protests that devolved into violence inside the Capitol, people briefed on the matter said.

In the weeks leading up to the protests, extremists posted about their plans to “storm” the Capitol on social media.

The joint department bulletin is a routine report before notable events that the agencies usually send to federal, state and local law-enforcement and homeland security advisers. The reports help plan for events that could pose significant risks.

At the DHS unit, called Intelligence and Analysis, management didn’t view the demonstrations as posing a significant threat, some of the people said.

Last year, Ken Cuccinelli forced whistleblower Brian Murphy to change language in a threat analysis to downplay white supremacist violence and instead blame Antifa and related groups.

In May 2020, Mr. Glawe retired, and Mr. Murphy assumed the role of Acting Under Secretary. In May 2020 and June 2020, Mr. Murphy had several meetings with Mr. Cuccinelli regarding the status of the HTA. Mr. Cuccinelli stated that Mr. Murphy needed to specifically modify the section on White Supremacy in a manner that made the threat appear less severe, as well as include information on the prominence of violent “left-wing” groups. Mr. Murphy declined to make the requested modifications, and informed Mr. Cuccinelli that it would constitute censorship of analysis and the improper administration of an intelligence program.

Wolf had been complicit in that past politicization. But something happened this week to lead the Trump White House to ensure that his orders can be legally challenged.

Update: Jake Gibson just reported that Wolf is stepping down.

These are just data points. We’ll learn far more about Trump’s involvement as the FBI obtains warrants for the communications who have ties to both groups like the Proud Boys and Trump associates like Roger Stone and Steve Bannon. But these are a few data points worth keeping an eye on.

The Unaddressed Counterintelligence Threat of Rudy Giuliani

The name “Giuliani” shows up, unredacted, just five times in the SSCI Russia Report:

  • A reference to a meeting that Rudy had with Paul Manafort and Trump at 5:30 PM on August 2, 2016, the last thing on Manafort’s calendar before he met with Konstantin Kilimnik to discuss how to win the Midwest, share campaign polling data, and carve up Ukraine.
  • A citation to a Rick Gates 302 that describes that Manafort was relying on Rudy, along with Jared Kushner, in his efforts to try to place people in the new Administration.
  • A footnote citing this story describing Rudy’s meetings with Andrii Telizhenko as part of his search for dirt in support of Trump’s 2020 re-election. The footnote is one of the few unredacted passages in an 8-page section that is part of a larger section describing Manafort’s follow-up on that August 2, 2016 meeting on Ukraine.
  • A footnote describing an email — involving Rudy, Hope Hicks, Dan Scavino, and Stephen Miller — used as an example of Trump’s team incorporating stolen information released by WikiLeaks into Trump’s tweets.
  • A footnote sourcing a rather incredible claim from Psy Group’s Joel Zamel that he first met Jared Kushner via an introduction, months after inauguration, from Rudy.

I raise this not because I think there’s any direct tie between Russia and the coup this week (though I find it interesting that of those scripting WikiLeaks information into Trump tweets, all but Hicks may be seeking a pardon). This coup was an all-American affair, with roots in racist extremism that goes back before the Civil War. Someday, six months from today, we can talk about how this attack was consistent with events started over four years ago, with all the same players in starring roles. But these are American fascists running the show, not Russians.

I raise it, instead, to point out that the single most sustained review of the danger that some of Trump’s closest advisors pose to his presidency almost entirely excluded  one who played the key role in the post-election period, the purported lawyer who — at every step of the way — encouraged the President to take more and more extreme measures to hold on his power.

This coup attempt happened, in significant part, because Rudy had almost unfettered access to the President, Rudy was one of few people who never lost his trust, and Rudy always encouraged the worst decisions from Trump.

Mark Meadows and the Potemkin Shut-Downs: Welcome to the April’s Fool White House

I know the White House has been running on Trump’s fumes for so long we’ve forgotten that Chiefs of Staff can exercise real power.

I’d like to suggest two things we’ve seen in the last week may reflect the hand of Mark Meadows.

The first is Monday’s campaign video played in the middle of Trump’s briefing, something Trump said Dan Scavino made inside the White House — a violation of the Hatch Act.

In a mash up of clips and audio that amounted to campaign ad, Trump lashed out at critics and returned to his favorite past time of going after reporters. The video began with a white screen saying “the media minimized the risk from the start.” At one point, it showed news clips of different governors giving kind remarks about the president’s response to the pandemic.

[snip]

When a reporter pressed him about the video resembling a campaign ad, Trump said it was done in the office. “We’re getting fake news and I’d like to have it corrected,” he declared.

The president also claimed that White House Director of Social Media Dan Scavino created the video, prompting reporters to question the fact that he had government employees put together what was essentially a campaign advertisement.

There’s nothing that suggests Meadows determined the content of it, but several of the decisions made in the almost two weeks since Meadows has been in place involve merging the White House and the campaign — most notably, the replacement of Stephanie Grisham with his campaign press secretary Kayleigh McEnany.

But I also suspect Meadows is behind a far more important strategy on shut-downs, in which Trump allies carry out a Potemkin shut-down, only to reopen quickly, probably in the context of graft as payoff. For this one, there’s explicit evidence in the Bloomberg coverage of his first week: Meadows convinced a number of hold-outs to enact stay-at-home orders.

Meadows has also gotten involved in the administration’s coronavirus response, calling Republican governors who have held out against issuing stay-at-home orders in their states to ask them to implement the policies immediately, according to two people familiar with the calls. The president has said such decisions are up to state leaders and has not publicly criticized those who decline, who are all Republicans.

[snip]

Meadows has also tried to persuade a group of holdout Republican governors that they should issue shelter-in-place orders to help curb the coronavirus outbreak. It isn’t clear if the new chief of staff has Trump’s blessing for the calls. The president has publicly said it is up to governors and local leaders to decide whether stay-at-home orders are appropriate and has declined to criticize the holdouts, all of whom are his political allies.

The governor of one of the holdout states, Kristi Noem of South Dakota, tweeted Wednesday that she’d spoken with Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who is a top medical adviser to the president. “Thankfully, he AGREES that a one-size-fits-all approach isn’t the answer in our state,” Noem wrote.

The tweet, according to one person familiar with the matter, was read by some as a signal to Meadows.

The week that Meadows started, a bunch of Trump flunkies issued stay-at-home orders: Arizona’s Doug Ducey (which was issued before Meadows officially started on April 1 and which extends through April 30), Florida’s Ron DeSantis (issued on April 1 and effective through April 30), Georgia’s Brian Kemp (which he has already extended through April 30), Mississippi’s Tate Reeves (imposed April 1, effective April 3, effective through April 20), Missouri’s Mike Parsons (imposed April 3, effective April 6, effective through April 24), South Carolina’s Governor Henry McMaster (imposed April 6, effective April 7, effective until rescinded). On March 31, Texas’ Governor Gregg Abbott issued an order that has been taken as a stay at home order which stops short of that; it remains in effect through April 30.

At least some of these governors, given the timing and the Bloomberg report, were cajoled by incoming Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to do so.

Last Thursday, days after his stay-at-home order, Ron DeSantis started talking about reopening schools in May (to be clear: this shut-down is having the greatest impact on children, especially those who don’t have WiFi at home and rely on schools for other services, like hot lunches). Yesterday, Gregg Abbott told Hannity most states don’t need to wait until May 1 to reopen (even though his own order goes through May 1). And of course, Mississippi and Missouri’s shutdowns don’t even last that long (indeed, they were never long enough to do any good).

So it seems likely that the same governors whom Meadows convinced to impose stay-at-home orders will shortly rescind them, giving Trump the story that he wants, that some of the nation’s biggest states have come through the COVID crisis. In Texas and Florida, in particular, a governor’s recision of a stay-at-home order might supersede those in badly affected cities (and both states are artificially limiting the number of official positive cases, in Texas by not testing likely cases in Houston, and in Florida by playing games with snowbirds.

I also suspect that one reason Mitch McConnell is refusing to negotiate with Nancy Pelosi over the other things she’d like to include in the next COVID relief package — which would include, among other things, $150 billion for state and local governments. McConnell wants to deal with such aid in a fourth aid bill and simply expand the funds available for the Paycheck Protection Program relief for small businesses, which is predictably already running out of money. The obvious reason to do that would be to withhold something that Trump can use as leverage over states and cities to do what he wants, rather than to give funds to them now without strings attached.

Trump believes, the Constitution notwithstanding, that he has either the authority or power to make states reopen. And given that Meadows was involved in getting a handful of states to impose what will amount to shut-downs that don’t appear to be good faith efforts to achieve the goal of shut-downs (though Kemp may have realized he has a bigger problem on his hands than he originally claimed), my suspicion is that those shut-downs were part of a plan to achieve some kind of leverage over reopening the economy.

Mueller Wants to Know How Far the Game of Email Telephone Got within the Trump Campaign

NBC has a story that has gotten a lot of people excited, reporting that Mueller’s team has been asking:

  • Policy towards Russia: Why Trump took policy positions that were friendly toward Russia and spoke positively about Russian President Vladimir Putin
  • Roger Stone: Whether Stone was aware of information the group had before it became public and when it might be released
  • Trump’s knowledge: Whether Donald Trump was aware that Democratic emails had been stolen before that was publicly known, and whether he was involved in their strategic release

I think this story is both less and more than people are making it out to be.

It’s being overhyped for its facial value. Of course Mueller is going to ask about what the president knew and when he knew it. Of course he’s going to chase down whether Roger Stone’s repeated claims to know what was coming were bluster or not.

But on at least two counts, I think there’s more to this story than meets the eye.

First, as I noted when George Papadopoulos’ plea came out, the FBI charged the former foreign policy advisor for lying about whether he had been told of dirt on Hillary in the form of emails (which we now know they said they might anonymously leak to help Trump) before or after he joined the campaign. That they believed this important enough to charge suggests that, after two full months of cooperation, they got the answer they expected.

FBI found those lies to be significant enough to arrest him over because they obscured whether he had told anyone on the campaign that the Russians had dirt in the form of Hillary emails.

To be sure, nothing in any of the documents released so far answer the questions that Papadopoulos surely spent two months explaining to the FBI: whether he told the campaign (almost certainly yes, or he wouldn’t have lied in the first place) and when (with the big import being on whether that information trickled up to Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner before they attended a meeting on June 9, 2016 in hopes of obtaining such dirt).

I’m sure that’s intentional. You gotta keep everyone else guessing about what Mueller knows.

But we can be pretty sure what the answers are.

There’s no way Papadopoulos’ plea would have been rolled out in the way it was except to get everyone he had told about the emails (as well as those who were instructing him on how to negotiate a meeting with Putin) on the record first.

So Mueller has a good idea of who learned first hand from Papadopoulos about the emails. What he may not know (or may be trying to lock in with further testimony) is how far that game of telephone extended; did it include Trump, and if so via what interlocutors. (Rick Gates may be, or may already have, enlightened Mueller on this point.)

These questions are also interesting against the background of something else suggested by the Papadopoulos plea (and subsequent NYT reporting), which I laid out here. Papadopoulos appeared to be signaling Ivan Timofeev, and those signals were closely tied to email releases.

In this post I did a timeline of all the known George Papadopoulos communications. The timeline made something clear: on two occasions, Papadopoulos alerted Ivan Timofeev to something in a Trump speech. On each occasion, something happened with emails.

[snip]

I’m not saying that the timing of these email releases were dictated by the speeches. Of course they weren’t. They were timed to do maximal damage to the Hillary campaign (not incidentally, in a way that coincided with the “later in the summer” timing Don Jr asked for in his communications with Rob Goldstone).

Rather, I’m saying that Papadopoulos seems to have been signaling Timofeev, and those signals closely mapped to email releases.

And those signals are among the things he tried to destroy.

Importantly, that signaling pertained to public statements on policies of Russian interest. I laid out three apparent incidences in that post, incidences mentioned in the plea.

In this post, I suggested what might be a fourth: when Trump’s twitter account tweeted about Hillary’s emails just 40 minutes after the June 9 Trump Tower meeting started and incorporated a potentially accurate number for how many staffers Hillary had.

I want to return to a detail many others have already noted, Donald Trump’s tweet, just 40 minutes after the Trump Tower meeting started, referencing Hillary emails (albeit the ones she deleted off her server, not the still secret stolen ones).

Given that George Papadopoulos seemed to treat other public statements from the campaign (most notably Trump’s April 27 foreign policy speech) as signals to the Russians the campaign was prepared to take the next step, could this tweet be the same? A response, seemingly from the candidate himself, accepting a deal presented in the meeting?

[snip]

I’m at least as interested in why Trump (or rather, Scavino or Parscale or Don Jr) used the number “823” in the tweet. In the aftermath of the John Sipher interview Jeremy Scahill did, Sipher suggested to me might be some kind of signal, a code; he’s the pro–maybe he’s right.

But I was wondering whether it might, instead, reflect real-time knowledge of the Hillary campaign’s finances and resources. That is, I wondered whether that number might have, itself, reflected the sharing of some kind of data that could verify the Russians had compromised Hillary’s campaign (or at least researched it substantively enough to know more than the Trump camp did). The public use of the number, then, might serve as a signal that that message, and the inside data, had been received.

While the specific number is difficult to check, I’ve been told the 823 number would have been at least “in the ball park” of the real number of Hillary’s campaign staffers on June 9, 2016.

If this (or, specifically mentioned in the NBC story, Trump’s July call for Russia to release Hillary’s emails) were part of the signaling, then Trump either could have been in the loop, or one of the flunkies who ran his iPhone account before he switched to iPhone himself could have been.

Which leads me to one more question reported by NBC today, almost as an afterthought. At least one witness was asked about the boundaries of Dan Scavino’s job.

At least one witness has been asked about Trump aide Dan Scavino, specifically about any involvement he may have had in the campaign’s data operation. Scavino currently runs the White House’s social media operations and is one of Trump’s closest aides.

I’m particularly interested in this given the report that Scavino was involved in negotiations through Rob Goldstone for promotions on Russian social media platform VKontakte, and the odds that he might have been the one tweeting any signaling tweets using Trump’s campaign.

So while these questions are, on the one hand, bloody obvious, they also may suggest a far more advanced understanding of how this operation might have worked.

Why Did Trump Tweet an “In the Ball Park” Accurate Number for Hillary’s Total Staffers on June 9, 2016?

In this post, I showed how the George Papadopoulos filings suggest there was a signaling process that went on during 2016, as he and other staffers sent public signals to the Russians that may have suggested further commitment to a deal of some kind. In this post, I laid out a bunch of circumstantial evidence suggesting that the current, public story about the June 9, 2016 meeting is just a limited hangout, one that hides more damning details about what happened after Natalia Veselnitskaya and Rinat Akhmetshin left the meeting. I also examined the first Guccifer 2.0 documents and noted that, in addition to responding to and debunking the June 14 WaPo story, they might serve well to lay out (arguably, to oversell) the breadth of what the Russians had stolen.

With those details in mind, I want to return to a detail many others have already noted, Donald Trump’s tweet, just 40 minutes after the Trump Tower meeting started, referencing Hillary emails (albeit the ones she deleted off her server, not the still secret stolen ones).

Given that George Papadopoulos seemed to treat other public statements from the campaign (most notably Trump’s April 27 foreign policy speech) as signals to the Russians the campaign was prepared to take the next step, could this tweet be the same? A response, seemingly from the candidate himself, accepting a deal presented in the meeting?

The tweet may have involved one or another of the campaign’s data guys

Mind you, as Pseudonymous in NC noted, the tweet was done on an iPhone — this is the period from before Trump had switched to iPhones — meaning someone else, perhaps either Brad Parscale or Dan Scavino, tweeted it. PINC lays out reasons either one of Trump’s data guys might be of particular interest:

Per the Bloomberg pre-election “bunker” story, Parscale was one of the few with credentials to the boss’s account. Pre-written tweets during events like the debates went through the web client, but my guess is that Scavino and Parscale represent most of the ‘Twitter for iPhone’ tweets in 2016 and early 2017. Some of them are RTing Scavino’s personal account, and Caddy Dan is that kinda guy. Parscale has consistently used an iPhone, including the June 8th photo from the Tower.

Remember that Feinstein is interested in Scavino’s contacts with, er, VKontakte, and that’s before considering Parscale’s data op. Pretty much everything tweeted out during 2016 that relates to the specifics of hacked emails is sent from an iPhone.

And the intermediary for the VK connection was Goldstone, going back to January 2016. It’s interesting that neither Scavino nor Parscale have apparently been called in for chats with investigators, or if they have, we haven’t heard about it.

[snip]

What I’m thinking is that if there was indeed an after-meeting about “dirt in the form of emails”, Scavino or Parscale may have been brought into the room. And Goldstone had been put in touch with Scavino earlier that year.

This story revealing Goldstone’s communications about his role in brokering the VK contact doesn’t support the possibility that one of the data guys was brought into the room. Rather, Goldstone’s emails suggest he discussed the idea with Don Jr and Paul Manafort, presumably on June 9, but that Scavino was not included in the meeting, even though he had been looped in during earlier discussions about it.

The newly disclosed emails show that Goldstone was in contact with the campaign about two weeks after visiting Trump Tower.

“I’m following up on an email [from] a while back of something I had mentioned to Don and Paul Manafort during a meeting recently,” Goldstone wrote to Scavino on June 29. Goldstone wrote that his client, Emin Agalarov, and a “contact” at VK wanted to create a “Vote Trump 2016” promotion.

“At the time, Paul had said he would welcome it, and so I had the VK folks mock up a basic sample page, which I am resending for your approval now,” Goldstone wrote. “It would merely require Mr. Trump to drop in a short message to Russian-American voters or a generic message, depending on your choice, and the page can be up and running very quickly.”

In any case, the discussion about VK is yet another detail that makes it pretty likely Goldstone, at least, arrived early or stayed after Natalia Veselnitskaya and Rinat Akhmetshin left (in the WaPo story on this, Scott Balber denies VK came up at any meeting Ike Kaveladze attended).

One other possibility for who sent that Tweet, though: It would not be surprising if Don Jr had access to Pop’s account. At least recently, he has alternated between an iPhone and the web client to send his own tweets, so it’s possible any tweets he sent on Dad’s behalf would also be from an iPhone.

Where’s Trump get that number, 823? And why’d he use it?

But I’m at least as interested in why Trump (or rather, Scavino or Parscale or Don Jr) used the number “823” in the tweet. In the aftermath of the John Sipher interview Jeremy Scahill did, Sipher suggested to me might be some kind of signal, a code; he’s the pro–maybe he’s right.

But I was wondering whether it might, instead, reflect real-time knowledge of the Hillary campaign’s finances and resources. That is, I wondered whether that number might have, itself, reflected the sharing of some kind of data that could verify the Russians had compromised Hillary’s campaign (or at least researched it substantively enough to know more than the Trump camp did). The public use of the number, then, might serve as a signal that that message, and the inside data, had been received.

While the specific number is difficult to check, I’ve been told the 823 number would have been at least “in the ball park” of the real number of Hillary’s campaign staffers on June 9, 2016.

Politico’s analysis of the Hillary campaign’s May 20 FEC filing showed Hillary had 732 staffers at the time of the report. The day after the June 9 meeting, Philip Bump did a story comparing Hillary and Trump’s staffing (a slew of such stories in the weeks after the June 9 meeting was one reason Corey Lewandowski got replaced as campaign manager), referencing the tweet. But his analysis reflected the month’s long lag in FEC filings. Without doing cleanup (to figure out who got paid that frequently, whether anyone got paid monthly rather than bi-monthly), Clinton’s FEC filings seem to show 587 individual payroll disbursements at her headquarters on June 15, 2016.

I talked to a couple of people on the campaign who remember thinking about the tweet, and its use of the 823 number, in real time. Someone who was working on responding to such issues told me he thought, when the tweet came out, that it might have been just a guess (though now thinks it might come from misreading a report). But another Hillary staffer described taking note of the specific number in real time. That person did about 10 minutes of follow-up at the time, checking real-time FEC filings, and concluded that it might be an accurate number. Between headquarters staff, working (policy) teams, advance, and field staff, the person believes the 823 number could very well represent a close to real number of staffers Hillary had “working” on her campaign.

Of course, none of this would mean the number came from the Russians. Such estimates are done by (competent) political campaigns all the time. So it could have come from Trump’s data people — the same people who could have tweeted the tweet in Trump’s name — itself.

That said, in none of the other Trump tweets using the 30,000 or the 33,000 email number does he include a similarly specific detail — the closest comparison is one invocation of Chelsea’s wedding. Note, too, just one other of those tweets also came from an iPhone — the equally suspicious one on July 27, 2016 asking Russia to release those emails (though one of the others came from the web client).

One more point on the number: That night, at 8:22PM ET, someone on Reddit’s The_Donald thread posted, “Hillary has a staggering 823 staffers on her campaign; Donald Trump  has over 142,000.” Best as I understand it, the comment was almost immediately removed by moderators. I find that worth noting.