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Roger Stone’s Remarkable Interest in Donald Trump’s Foreign Policy

On April 22, 2016, Maggie Haberman broke the news that Donald Trump would give a foreign policy speech. As she reported, the speech was scheduled to be held at the National Press Club and would be hosted by the Center for National Interest, a group that once had ties to the Richard Nixon Library.

Donald J. Trump will deliver his first foreign policy address at the National Press Club in Washington next week, his campaign said, at an event hosted by an organization founded by President Richard M. Nixon.

The speech, planned for lunchtime on Wednesday, will be Mr. Trump’s first major policy address since a national security speech last fall.

The speech will be hosted by the Center for the National Interest, formerly known as the Nixon Center, and the magazine it publishes, The National Interest, according to a news release provided by the Trump campaign.

The group, which left the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in 2011 to become a nonprofit, says on its website that it was founded by the former president to be a voice to promote “strategic realism in U.S. foreign policy.” Its associates include Henry A. Kissinger, the secretary of state under Nixon, as well as Senator Jeff Sessions, Republican of Alabama and a senior adviser to Mr. Trump. Roger Stone, a sometime adviser of Mr. Trump, is a former Nixon aide.

That night, according to texts released during his trial, Roger Stone wrote Rick Gates, furious that he had not been consulted about the details of the speech first — though Gates explained that he leaked it to Haberman so Stone would find out. “I cannot learn about a foreign policy speech from the media,” Trump’s rat-fucker said. “This is personally embarrassing. I’m out,” said the advisor who had supposedly quit the campaign almost a year earlier.

Among the things Stone bitched about learning from a leak to Maggie Haberman made partly for his benefit was about the venue. “No detail on venue and no input on content.”

It turns out, the night before the speech, the campaign announced a venue change, to the Mayflower Hotel, a decision that has attracted a great deal of scrutiny since because of the way the venue set up an opportunity (among other things) for the Russian Ambassador to hob-nob with Trump’s people.

The Mueller Report describes that Jared Kushner directed CNI to change the venue and reveals that the actual venue change was made on April 25, two days after Stone’s angry texts.

Kushner later requested that the event be moved to the Mayflower Hotel, which was another venue that Simes had mentioned during initial discussions with the Campaign, in order to address concerns about security and capacity.618

[snip]

On April 25, 2016, Saunders booked event rooms at the Mayflower to host both the speech and a VIP reception that was to be held beforehand.619 Saunders understood that the receptionat which invitees would have the chance to meet· candidate Trump–would be a small event.620 Saunders decided who would attend by looking at the list of CNI’ s invitees to the speech itself and then choosing a subset for the reception.621 CNI’s invitees to the reception included Sessions and Kislyak.622 The week before the speech Simes had informed Kislyak that he would be invited to the speech, and that he would have the opportunity to meet Trump.623

616 Simes 3/8/18 302, at 13; Saunders 2/15/18 302, at 7-8.

619 Saunders 2/15/18 302, at 11-12; C00006651-57 (Mayflower Group Sales Agreement).

620 Saunders 2/15/18 302, at 12-13.

621 Saunders 2/15/18 302, at 12.

622 C00002575 (Attendee List); C00008536 (4/25/16 Email, Simes to Kushner (4:53:45 p.m.)).

623 Simes 3/8/18 302, at 19-20.

But the interviews explaining why Kushner asked for the change and how the Mayflower got booked remain heavily redacted in the 302s released under the BuzzFeed FOIA, even after part of one got reprocessed.

The texts and the timing at least suggest that Stone may have had some influence over the change — and, since he complained about the content of the speech, even the content.

That’s not the only moment when Roger Stone, far better known for his domestic rat-fucking and policy interest in racism and decriminalization, tried to play a direct role in Trump’s foreign policy stance.

The SSCI Report provides a really remarkable description that — during the key period when Stone was pitching Manafort on what was happening with further releases of stolen documents in July and August 2016 — Stone was scripting pro-Russian Tweets for the candidate.

(U) On Sunday July 31, at 9:15 p.m., the day after speaking at length with Manafort, Stone called Gates.1550 Ten minutes later, Stone had two phone calls with Trump that lasted over ten minutes. 1551 Stone then emailed Jessica Macchia, one of Trump’s assistants, eight draft tweets for Trump, under the subject line “Tweets Mr. Trump requested last night.”1552 Many of the draft tweets attacked Clinton for her adversarial posture toward Russia and mentioned a new peace deal with Putin, such as “I want a new detente with Russia under Putin.”1553

(U) At 10:45 p.m. that same evening, Stone emailed Corsi again with the subject line “Call me MON[day]” and writing that “Malloch should see Assange.”1554

(U) The next morning, August 1, Stone again spoke twice with Trump. 1555 Stone later informed Gates of these calls. 1556 According to an email that morning from Stone to Macchia, Trump had “asked [Stone] for some other things” that Stone said he was “writing now.”1557

Four days after Trump appeared to ad lib a request for Russia to dump more emails, “Russia are you listening?” Trump’s rat-fucker left a digital trail showing himself scripting tweets for Trump to adopt a pro-Russian stance.

While most witnesses couldn’t explain why Trump asked Russia to find Hillary’s emails, Gates said in very ambiguous testimony the most damning part of which remains redacted that knowledge that Russia was behind the hack might have come from Stone (which is far different than actually scripting Trump’s comments).

Senior Campaign officials believed that the statement was unscripted. 1518 However, Gates also recalled Stone mentioning that Russia was probably the source of the materials, and Gates also acknowledged there were public indications at the time that Russia was responsible. 1519

1518 (U) See FBI, FD-302, Gates 4/11/2018; FBI, FD-302, Manafort 9/13/2018; Bannon Tr., pp. 173-174. 1519

(U) FBI, FD-302, Gates, 10/25/2018.

The SSCI Report is silent about whether Trump actually used any of those draft tweets, though the three Russian or Ukrainian tweets Trump did post in this period (one, two, three) were clean-up from the “Russia are you listening” comment, suggesting that Trump did not use what Stone drafted.

Stone, however, appears to have used the tweets he drafted himself. On July 27 (after Trump’s “Russia are you listening” comment), he affirmed that,

Of course the Russians hacked @HillaryClinton’s e-mail- Putin doesn’t want the WAR with Russia neo-con Hillary’s donors have paid for

And Stone sent three tweets that appear similar, if not identical, to the ones he drafted for Trump to send out (he appears to have posted them before sending them to Trump’s assistant).

HYPOCRISY ! @HillaryClinton attacks Trump for non-relationship with Putin when she and Bill have taken millions from Russians oligarchs

Trump wants to end the cold war and defuse out tensions with Russia. Hillary ,neocon wants war. Putin gets it. @smerconish @realDonaldTrump

,@RealDonaldTrump wants to end new cold war tensions with Russia-thru tough negotiation- #detente #NYTimes

Days later, Stone would flip-flop on the certainty, expressed on July 27, that Russia had hacked Hillary, linking to an Assange denial made to RT and repackaged at Breitbart and two different versions of his post claiming that Guccifer 2.0 was not Russian.

Aug 5, 2016 09:18:08 PMHillary lies about Russian Involvement in DNC hack -Julian Assange is a hero. https://t.co/0oxP32I3Fz [Twitter Web Client]

Aug 6, 2016 10:17:07 AMRussians had nothing to do with Hillary Hack https://t.co/OHQvbKrxBt 

Aug 6, 2016 10:55:14 PMRoger Stone shows Russians didn’t hack Hillary https://t.co/o3WfbQFPwH https://t.co/bkqgEjvXMC 

Aug 8, 2016 12:43:27 AM[email protected] lies about Russians hacking DNC e-mail https://t.co/OHQvbKrxBt

At two key moments in Trump’s first election campaign, a guy with no known foreign policy chops sure seemed to have an acute interest in dictating the candidate’s foreign policy views.

The Recruitment of Jared Kushner

The other day, DOJ provided its sixth installment of Mueller 302s in response to BuzzFeed and CNN’s FOIAs. The batch includes files that have previously been referred to other agencies, such as multiple pages from Steve Bannon’s February 14, 2018 interview that were sent to DOD, which has determined they must be protected under b5 (deliberative) and one b4 (trade secrets) exemption.

A whole set of previously referred interview reports pertain to Russian outreach to Jared Kushner. These reports include:

In addition, the 302 of Richard Burt and some other people from Center for National Interest — Simes’ think tank — were released.

As a reminder, CNI served as the host for Trump’s first foreign policy speech on April 27, 2016. There were allegations that CNI provided feedback on the speech and questions about whom Sergey Kislyak spoke with at the speech. Simes continued to advise Kushner on policy pertaining to Russia throughout the campaign. When Kushner wanted to vet an email from Vladimir Putin immediately after the election, he reached out to Simes for Kislyak’s contact information. Then, a series of meetings arranged via Kislyak during the Transition, during one of which Kushner asked for a back channel, resulted in a meeting with the head of sanctioned bank, Vnesheconombank, Sergei Gorkov.

Parallel to the Kislyak-led effort, Russia made three other attempts to establish a back channel during the Transition. One, via Robert Foresman reaching out to Mike Flynn, one via CNI Board Member and Alfa Bank board member Richard Burt through Simes, and a third — the most successful — in which Kirill Dmitriev reached out first via George Nader and then through Kushner’s college buddy Rick Gerson.

None of these newly released interview reports have exemption markings akin to the ones on Bannon’s reprocessed pages describing which agency they had been referred to (which may suggest they were reviewed by CIA), but they seem to pertain to the cultivation of the President’s son-in-law.

To be very clear: while Dmitriev, using Gerson, succeeded in setting the agenda for the first phone call between Putin and Trump, the Mueller Report found no evidence that Russia succeeded in using CNI has a back channel.

The investigation did not identify evidence that the Campaign passed or received any messages to or from the Russian government through CNI or Simes.

That said, all of this remains appears to remain under active investigation. Between Simes’ first and second interviews, over 200 redactions cite a b7A exemption for an ongoing investigation; many of those also cite b3, which may indicate classified information. 25 redactions in Burt’s interview cite b7A and there are a number of b3 exemptions. Four paragraphs in what may be a continuation of the Simes discussion in Kushner’s interview include b7A redactions. There are also b7A redactions (some also marked b3) in the interview reports of fellow CNI employees, Jacob Heilbrunn and Paul Saunders.

And while the available reports suggest Kushner was just an easy mark in all of this (as he likely is for all the foreign countries he negotiates with — there’s nothing unique about Russia here), there are a few details about how this got written up in the Mueller Report worth noting. For example, the Mueller Report describes Kushner reaching out to Simes because they had so little support from experienced foreign policy people.

Kushner told the Office that the event came at a time when the Trump Campaign was having trouble securing support from experienced foreign policy professionals and that, as a result, he decided to seek Simes’s assistance during the March 14 event.

The underlying 302 report describes Kushner “admitt[ing] to ‘pursuing’ SIMES.”

A paragraph in the Mueller Report describing Kushner’s periodic contact with Simes during the campaign depicts Kushner as the passive recipient of Simes’ attention.

Between the April 2016 speech at the Mayflower Hotel and the presidential election, Jared Kushner had periodic contacts with Simes.648 Those contacts consisted of both in-person meetings and phone conversations, which concerned how to address issues relating to Russia in the Campaign and how to move forward with the advisory group of foreign policy experts that Simes had proposed.649 Simes recalled that he, not Kushner, initiated all conversations about Russia, and that Kushner never asked him to set up back-channel conversations with Russians.650 According to Simes, after the Mayflower speech in late April, Simes raised the issue of Russian contacts with Kushner, advised that it was bad optics for the Campaign to develop hidden Russian contacts, and told Kushner both that the Campaign should not highlight Russia as an issue and should handle any contacts with Russians with care.651 Kushner generally provided a similar account of his interactions with Simes.652

648 Simes 3/8/18 302, at 27.

649 Simes 3/8/18 302, at 27.

650 Simes 3/8/18 302, at 27.

651 Simes 3/8/18 302, at 27. During this period of time, the Campaign received a request for a high-level Campaign official to meet with an officer at a Russian state-owned bank “to discuss an offer [that officer] claims to be canying from President Putin to meet with” candidate Trump. NOSC00005653 (5/17/16 Email, Dearborn to Kushner (8: 12 a.m.)). Copying Manafort and Gates, Kushner responded, “Pass on this. A lot of people come claiming to carry messages. Very few are able to verify. For now I think we decline such meetings. Most likely these people go back home and claim they have special access to gain importance for themselves. Be careful.” NOSC00005653 (5/17/16 Email, Kushner to Dearborn).

652 Kushner 4/11 /18 302, at 11-13.

But the unredacted details in Kushner’s 302 are of interest. They describe Simes sending Kushner a “memo on what Mr. Trump may want to say about Russia.” And in his interview, Kushner described never receiving information from Simes that could be “operationalized” (this passage appears before a description of Simes floating dirt on Clinton).

Similarly, the Mueller Report does not include something that appears in Kushner’s 302 describing the President’s son-in-law asking for a back channel, that Kushner asked to be connected with people “who can make decisions.” Days later, of course, Kislyak started to set up the meeting with Sergei Gorkov.

The Report notes that these meetings took place in either Kushner’s office or that of Colony Capital (Tom Barrack’s office). But the passage from Kushner’s 302 which the Report cites for the location of the Gorkov meeting (page 19) remains redacted.

The one-on-one meeting took place the next day, December 13, 2016, at the Colony Capital building in Manhattan, where Kushner had previously scheduled meetings. 1152

1152 Kushner 4/11/18 302, at 19; NOSC00000130-135 (12/12/16 Email, Kushner to Berkowitz).

And there’s a detail made public since the Mueller Report that suggests Kushner may not have been entirely candid in his interview: in testimony before Congress last year, Rex Tillerson disputed a key detail from Kushner’s testimony — that he had passed along a document from Dmitriev shared via Rick Gerson. There’s no record Mueller interviewed Tillerson.

To be fair, DOJ has released two details not included in the Mueller Report, which by the standards of this FOIA release is generous. Yet Jared also happens to be a top Trump advisor — the beneficiary of absurd levels of nepotism — involved in every aspect of foreign policy. He could not obtain security clearance on his own. And the details of these FOIA releases suggest that’s because it’s not yet clear what happened with Russian efforts to cultivate him during the election.

Given how the Mueller Report leaves out key details of Kushner’s vulnerability to such cultivation, DOJ should be forced to release more of this 302.

Mueller’s Emphasis: Russia’s Greater than Two Efforts to Interfere in the Election

I want to parse a few things that Robert Mueller said in his press conference today.

First, he departed from the language of the report — which said the investigation “did not establish” a conspiracy — and said “there was insufficient evidence to charge a broader conspiracy.” The meaning is the same, but the emphasis is different. There was, obviously, a good deal of evidence that there was a conspiracy between Russia and people in Trump’s camp. Just not enough to charge.

That’s significant for two other reasons. He ended his statements by saying, “there were multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election.”

Now consider how he described Volume One, with that “insufficient evidence” language:

The first volume details numerous efforts emanating from Russia to influence the election. This volume includes a discussion of the trump campaign’s response to this activity, as well as our conclusion that there was insufficient evidence to charge a broader conspiracy.

Everything in Volume One is, by this description, an effort by Russia to influence the election. That means Mueller is treating the third part of the volume, describing the links between Russian-linked individuals and the Trump campaign, as “an effort emanating from Russia to influence the election.” (The report itself states that the office selected which outreach to include.) That appears to mean that Mueller considers the things included in the volume — including the multiple Trump Tower Moscow dangles, the Kislyak outreach (including to JD Gordan), Konstantin Kilimnik’s outreach, and even Dmitri Simes’ advice (the latter of which surprises me, somewhat) — as a third systematic effort to influence the election.

He’s not saying Trump’s people conspired in that effort (though especially with Page and Manafort, the report is inconclusive on their willingness to participate). But he is suggesting that that outreach constitutes further “systematic efforts to interfere in our election.”

Why Republicans Launched the GSA Email Attack Now

I think most people are missing the significance of why the Republicans launched their attack on the GSA over the weekend (this post is a summary of what we know, with updates).

That’s true, in part, because people are misunderstanding what the Trump for America team recently learned. It’s not — as many have claimed — that they only recently learned Mueller had emails beyond what TFA had turned over to Congress and through that to Mueller. As Axios reported, “Trump officials discovered Mueller had the emails when his prosecutors used them as the basis for questions to witnesses, the sources said.” That is, Mueller has been asking questions based off these emails for months.

The timing of this complaint — not the complaint itself — is key

What TFA only discovered last week, according to their letter, at least, is how Mueller obtained them — by asking, just like prosecutors reviewing government communications in the course of investigating possible violations of the Espionage Act always do, especially if the subjects of the investigation have access to classified documents.

We discovered the unauthorized disclosures by the GSA on December 12 and 13, 2017. When we learned that the Special Counsel’s Office had received certain laptops and cell phones containing privileged materials, we initially raised our concerns with Brandon Van Grack in the Special Counsel’s Office on December 12, 2017. Mr. Van Grack confirmed that the Special Counsel’s Office had obtained certain laptops, cell phones, and at least one iPad from the GSA – but he assured us that the Special Counsel’s investigation did not recover any emails or other relevant data from that hardware. During this exchange, Mr. Van Grack failed to disclose the critical fact that undercut the importance of his representations, namely, that the Special Counsel’s Office had simultaneously received from the GSA tens of thousands of emails, including a very significant volume of privileged material, and that the Special Counsel’s Office was actively using those materials without any notice to TFA.1 Mr. Van Grack also declined to inform us of the identities of the 13 individuals whose materials were at issue.

The government has great leeway to access government communications, as Peter Strzok, the former counterintelligence FBI Agent who just had his own communications leaked and then released to the world, would probably be all too happy to tell you. All the more so given allegations that files went missing from the Transition SCIF, just as Jared Kushner was talking about back channel communications with the Russians.

So what’s new is not that Mueller had the emails (about which no one has complained before). But that he obtained the email inboxes of 13 people, including Jared, from GSA without letting the Transition do their own review of what to turn over.

Trump’s team may face obstruction charges

As I made clear here, it appears that one reason the Trump people are so angry is that Mueller has probably caught them failing to turn over emails that are absolutely material to the investigation, such as KT McFarland’s “Thrown election” email. Whoever did these document reviews may now be exposed to obstruction charges for withholding such material, which in turn would give Mueller leverage over them for their own further cooperation.

[Update: I should have said, withholding emails will only be a problem if the Transition was otherwise obligated (say, by subpoena) to turn them over. Mueller did subpoena the campaign for a similar set of emails; but since he didn’t need to from GSA, he may not have here.]

Mueller has far more damning information on Jared than Trump’s folks expected

Just as importantly, Axios explicitly said the emails include Jared Kushner’s emails (indeed, given his public claims about how many people he spoke to during the transition, I wouldn’t be surprised if his was the email box that had 7,000 emails).

As I have shown, Jared has been approaching disclosure issues (at least with Congress) very narrowly, ignoring clear requests to turn over his discussions about the topic of the investigation, and not just with the targets of it. If Mueller obtained all his emails, he’d have those “about” emails that Jared purposely and contemptuously has withheld from others.

We know that Jared is a key interim Mueller target here (and Abbe Lowell’s search for a crisis communications firm to help sure suggests Jared’s defense team knows that too). We know he felt the need to explain how he went from responding to a personalized Vladimir Putin congratulatory email on November 9 to asking Dmitri Simes for Sergei Kislyak’s name.

Take, for example, the public statement prepared for testimony to congressional committees by the president’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner. There, he revealed that on the day after the election, in response to a congratulatory email from Russian President Vladimir Putin, he asked the publisher of The National Interest, Dimitri Simes, for the name of Russia’s ambassador to the United States. “On November 9, the day after the election, I could not even remember the name of the Russian ambassador,” Kushner claimed. “When the campaign received an email purporting to be an official note of congratulations from President Putin, I was asked how we could verify it was real. To do so, I thought the best way would be to ask the only contact I recalled meeting from the Russian government, which was the ambassador I had met months earlier, so I sent an email asking Mr. Simes, ‘What is the name of the Russian ambassador?’”

We also know that Mueller’s team has expressed some skepticism about Kushner’s previous public claims — and I would bet money this includes that email.

CNN recently reported, however, that in an interview conducted in the weeks before Flynn’s plea deal, “Mueller’s team asked Kushner to clear up some questions he was asked by lawmakers and details that emerged through media reports.” So Mueller’s team may now have doubts about the explanation Kushner offered for his interest in speaking with Kislyak as one of the first things he did after his father-in-law got elected.

If Mueller has all Jared’s emails and those emails disclose far more about the negotiations with all foreign powers conducted during the transition (including with Bibi Netanyahu on settlements, but obviously also with Russia), and Trump’s people recognize those emails expose Jared to serious charges, then of course they’re going to complain now, as the expectation that Mueller might soon indict Kushner grows.

Mueller has an outline of places where Trump was personally involved

Most importantly, consider what those morons laid out: they want to claim that these emails from the transition period — emails they insist were not government emails — are protected by Executive Privilege.

The legal claim is ridiculous; as I and far smarter people have noted, you don’t get Executive Privilege until you become the actual Executive on inauguration day.

But that they made the claim is telling (and really fucking stupid).

Because that tells us which emails Trump officials believe involve communications directly with Trump. The KT McFarland email, which we know was written from Mar-a-Lago, is a case in point. Did they withhold that because they believe it reflects a conversation with Trump? If so, then we know that Trump was personally involved in the orders to Mike Flynn to ask the Russians to hold off on retaliating for Obama’s sanctions. It might even mean that the language attributed to McFarland — about Russia being the key that unlocks doors, efforts to “discredit[] Trump’s victory by saying it was due to Russian interference, “thrown elections,” and Obama boxing Trump in — is actually Trump’s own language. Indeed, it does sound like stuff he says all the time.

And given that the emails include “speculation about vulnerabilities of Trump nominees, strategizing about press statements, and policy planning on everything from war to taxes,” it might even reflect Trump’s own explanations of why — for example — he couldn’t nominate Flynn to be CIA Director because of his ties to Russia and Turkey.

In the wake of his plea agreement, Flynn’s surrogate made it clear that Trump ordered him to carry out certain actions, especially with Russia. That’s likely a big reason why, in the wake of the Flynn plea, Trump’s people are now squawking that Mueller obtained these emails, emails that may lay out those orders.

Heck. These emails might even reflect Trump ordering Flynn to lie about his outreach to Russia.

Maybe that’s why Trump’s aides have promised to demand Mueller return the emails in question.

All of which is to say, there are things about these emails that explain why this attack is coming now, beyond just a generalized effort to discredit Mueller. The attack is designed to discredit specific avenues of investigation Mueller clearly has in hand. And those avenues reveal far more about the seriousness of the investigation than anything Ty Cobb is willing to claim to appease the President.

That said, the attack is probably too little, too late.