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John Durham’s Igor Danchenko Case May Be More Problematic than His Michael Sussmann Case

Legal commentators who ignored the run-up to the Michael Sussmann trial and still have not reported on the evidence of abuse and incompetence are writing posts claiming it was always clear that the jury in that case would return an acquittal. The same people, however, are suggesting there might be more to the Igor Danchenko charges.

I wrote a whole series of posts laying out why that’s wrong — the last one, with links to the others, is here. In addition, I’ve been tracking Durham’s difficulties obtaining classified discovery from other parts of DOJ here. This post pulls together the problems Durham faces in his second trial, which is currently scheduled to start on October 11.

As a reminder, the Danchenko indictment charges the former Christopher Steele source with telling five lies to the FBI in interviews in which they tried to vet the Steele dossier:

  • One alleged lie on June 15, 2017  about whether he had spoken with Chuck Dolan “about any material contained in the” dossier.
  • Four alleged lies, told in interviews on March 16, May 18, October 24, and November 16, 2017, that he spoke to Sergei Millian in late July 2016 when Danchenko knew (variably in 2016 or in the interviews in 2017) that he had never spoken with him; one charged lie accuses Danchenko of wittingly lying about speaking to Millian more than once.

Durham will have to prove that these five statements were intentional lies and that they were material to the FBI’s operations.

Danchenko could get his former lawyer to testify

Before looking at the problems with each of those claimed lies and their materiality, consider that shortly after being charged, Danchenko replaced Mark Schamel, who represented Danchenko in his 2017 interviews with the FBI, with a team led by Lowenstein Sandler’s Stuart Sears. This makes it possible for Danchenko to do something risky but in this case potentially warranted: have his former attorney testify.

The interview report from his initial series of interviews in January 2017 shows that Danchenko was uncertain about the answer to some questions, but over the course of three days, checked his own records and corrected himself when he realized he had made an error in answering an affirmative question from the FBI. In at least one case, Danchenko also provided proof to back one of his claims. Schamel could explain how diligently he and Danchenko prepared for these interviews, how Danchenko corrected himself when he realized he was wrong, and the perceived focus — by all appearances, on Danchenko’s Russian sources — of the FBI interviews.

In short, Schamel’s testimony could go a long way to demonstrating that where Danchenko made an error, it was not willful.

The FBI didn’t ask the question about Chuck Dolan that Durham claims they did

Then there are the charges themselves. There are two potentially fatal problems with the single charge built around Chuck Dolan, which Durham has used to insinuate, with no evidence, that the minor Hillary supporter was the source of the pee tape allegation. The alleged lie Durham has accused Danchenko of, though, pertains to a more general question: whether Danchenko had “denied … that he had spoken to [Dolan] about any material” in the dossier.

Except, as happened repeatedly in his indictment of Danchenko, that’s neither what Danchenko was asked nor what he answered.

As I laid out in this post, it appears that Danchenko was asked whether Dolan was a source for Steele, not whether he was a source for Danchenko.

FBI AGENT-1: Um, because obviously I don’t think you’re the only …

DANCHENKO: Mm-hmm.

FBI AGENT-1: Person that has been contributing. You may have said one – and this is the other thing we are trying to figure out.

[ … ]

FBI AGENT-1: Do you know a [PR Executive-1]?

DANCHENKO: Do I know [PR Executive-1]? Yeah.

FBI AGENT-1: How long have you known him? [laughing] [pause]

DANCHENKO: I’ve known [PR-Executive-1] for [pause] I don’t know, a couple years maybe.

FBI AGENT-1: Couple years?

DANCHENKO: But but but but but but but I’ve known of him for like 12 years.

[ … ]

DANCHENKO: Yeah. Yeah he likes Russia. I don’t think he is, uh, – would be any way be involved. But-but-uh-b-but he’s uh [UI] what I would think would be easily played. Maybe. Uh, he’s a bit naive in his, um liking of Russia. [emphasis Durham’s]

The question was premised on Steele having other primary subsources other than Danchenko and his response was a denial of the possibility that Dolan was one of them. All of Danchenko’s responses could be framed with that understanding of the question.

Durham’s alleged false statement appears to stem from a follow-up question. But there, Durham has completely misrepresented Danchenko’s answer.

FBI AGENT-1: Okay, so you’ve had … was there any … but you had never talked to [PR Executive-1] about anything that showed up in the dossier [Company Reports] right?

DANCHENKO: No.

FBI AGENT-1: You don’t think so?

DANCHENKO: No. We talked about, you know, related issues perhaps but no, no, no, nothing specific. [emphasis Durham’s]

Danchenko explicitly told the FBI that he talked to Dolan about “related issues.” Particularly as regards the pee tape, Danchenko might consider using information from Dolan for further investigation a “related issue” but not the core issue that the FBI was interested in.

As to the report for which Durham presents compelling evidence that Dolan was the source, Durham presents no evidence of specific questioning about it, and there’s abundant evidence that Danchenko was never sure which reports came from him and which (he assumed) came from others.

Durham did not present any evidence that Danchenko denied, in response to specific questions about whether Dolan was involved in identified reports, that Dolan played a role in the dossier. He has evidence that Danchenko answered a question about something else, and then, in a follow-up, gave a much more equivocal response than Durham claims he gave.

Another Durham materiality claim fizzles after he actually investigates

Plus, it is virtually certain that Danchenko will be able to prove that his equivocal response could not have been material.

That’s because — as a declassified footnote of the DOJ IG Report makes clear — the reason the FBI asked these questions about Dolan on June 15, 2017 was because FBI had recently obtained Section 702 material showing conversations between Danchenko’s source, Olga Galkina, and Dolan.

The FBI [received information in early June 2017 which revealed that, among other things, there were [redacted]] personal and business ties between the sub-source and Steele’s Primary Sub-source; contacts between the sub-source and an individual in the Russian Presidential Administration in June/July 2016; [redacted] and the sub‐source voicing strong support for candidate Clinton in the 2016 U.S. elections. The Supervisory Intel Analyst told us that the FBI did not have Section 702 coverage on any other Steele sub‐source. [my emphasis]

That is, the reason the FBI was asking these questions in the first place is because they were trying to understand the communications they had just discovered between Dolan and Danchenko.

As the indictment lays out, Danchenko didn’t hide the key details about Dolan — that he was doing business in Russia, had ties with Dmitry Peskov, and had developed a business relationship with Galkina.

In a later part of the conversation, DANCHENKO stated, in substance and in part, that PR Executive-1 had traveled on the October “delegation” to Moscow; that PR Executive-1 conducted business with Business-1 and Russian Sub-source-1; and that PR Executive-1 had a professional relationship with Russian Press Secretary-1.

Durham claimed that Danchenko’s imagined lie was material because it deprived the FBI from obtaining information on Dolan.

DANCHENKO’s lies denying PR Executive-1 ‘s role in specific information referenced in the Company Reports were material to the FBI because, among other reasons, they deprived FBI agents and analysts of probative information concerning PR Executive-1 that would have, among other things, assisted them in evaluating the credibility, reliability, and veracity of the Company Reports, including DANCHENKO’s sub-sources.

We now know that, at the time Durham made this claim, he had barely begun the process of obtaining relevant evidence from DOJ IG. Even in the Michael Sussmann case, Durham first made a formal discovery request of Michael Horowitz’s office on October 13, 2021, almost a month after charging Sussmann (and just three weeks before indicting Danchenko). Durham didn’t receive materials that completely undermined his case against Sussmann until March.

From that, it’s fairly safe to assume that Durham (again) didn’t bother to test whether there was any basis for his materiality claims before building a long speaking indictment around them.

The FBI didn’t need Danchenko to tell them about Dolan’s Russian ties. They had discovered that already from 702 collection targeting Galkina. That’s precisely why they asked Danchenko whether Dolan could be another Steele source. And when asked for more details, Dahchenko offered up the details that FBI would have been looking for.

Durham’s due diligence problems on the Sergei Millian charges

There are several kinds of problems with the remaining four counts. As noted, four of the charges against Danchenko accuse him of hiding what Durham claims is affirmative knowledge (arguably in real time) that Sergei Millian never called him in late July 2016.

As a threshold matter, there’s no language in the Danchenko indictment suggesting Durham has affirmative proof that such a call didn’t happen — whether from Millian or anyone else. In his FBI interview, Danchenko suggested the call may have happened on a secure app and he said he had replaced the phone he used at the time. So it’s not clear that Durham can rule out a call on Signal or similar encrypted app. When Durham first rolled out this indictment, I thought such a claim would be reckless, but we now know Durham built his entire Sussmann indictment around billing records even though Durham had affirmative proof (in his taxi reimbursement) that Sussmann did not bill Hillary for his meeting with the FBI.

Worse still, even in the transcripts that Durham miscites in the indictment, Danchenko included a bunch of caveats that Durham does not include in his charging language: “I don’t know,” “at the time I was under the impression it was him,” “at least someone I thought was him.”

That creates a temporal problem with the way Durham has charged this. Even if Danchenko came to believe later in 2016 or in 2017 that he never spoke with Millian, in his interviews, Danchenko was answering about what he believed to be the case in July 2016, when he shared this report with Christopher Steele. All Danchenko was claiming was that he talked to some journalists at a Russian outlet, someone called Danchenko shortly thereafter (at a time, it should be said, when Oleg Deripaska likely already knew of the dossier project), and Danchenko assumed it was Millian because it was the most logical explanation. From the start, Danchenko always admitted his uncertainty about that call.

Durham is relying on a Twitter feed he has already said makes false claims about the Durham investigation

Then there’s the fact that Durham is relying on Sergei Millian as a witness against Danchenko.

As I noted last year, in his indictment, Durham claimed to prove that such a call had not happened based on Millian’s say-so. But not actual testimony. Rather, at that point, Durham was relying on Sergei Millian’s Twitter feed.

Chamber President-1 has claimed in public statements and on social media that he never responded to DANCHEKNO’s [sic] emails, and that he and DANCHENKO never met or communicated.

That was batshit insane then, not least because over the years journalists and others have raised real questions about the authenticity of Millian’s Twitter account. And since charging Danchenko, Millian has repeatedly made claims on Twitter that utterly demolishes the credibility of Millian’s Twitter feed.

Millian has played a key role in the “sleuths corner” that has ginned up all sorts of false claims about Durham’s investigation.

This explicit affiliation will entitle Danchenko to subpoena the activity of the group, and even if Millian were entirely credible, there are a number of people associated with the corner who are not.

Then, as part of his role in generating froth about the Durham investigation, Millian played a central role in misrepresenting a claim Durham had made in a filing in the Sussmann case, suggesting that Durham had proven that researchers had spied on the Trump White House.

This led Durham to formally state that those who made such claims were “misrepresent[ing] facts contained in the Government’s Motion.” So Durham has publicly accused his star witness — Sergei Millian’s Twitter feed — of making false claims about matters pertaining to Durham’s investigation.

Worse still, in the same time period, Millian claimed that he had called the White House and told them “who was working against them.”

That reflects the kind of knowledge that could only come from a concerted effort, in real time (seemingly in 2016), to fuck with the Fusion investigation, followed by a subsequent effort (at such time when Trump was in the White House), to exact a cost for the investigation. Effectively, with this tweet, Millian confessed to being part of the effort to undermine the Russian investigation. That makes Millian’s contact with Deripaska in 2016 all the more problematic, since Deripaska has seemingly carried out a sustained campaign to attack the Russian investigation. But it also suggests that Millian’s claims to have entirely blown off Danchenko’s quetions were false.

Millian has since claimed that Durham’s office was trying to keep him off Twitter, but that he refused because he wants to attack his enemies.

This is all just stuff that Millian has done since the indictment, and to the extent earlier Millian tweets are preserved showing professed knowledge of the 2016 Russian operation (as some are), Danchenko would be able to use those at trial as well.

Which may be why — at least according to Millian’s unreliable Twitter feed — Durham is now trying to get Millian to come testify at trial. But Millian suggests that testifying under oath to the claims he has been making on Twitter for years would amount to “using him.”

Durham’s star witness refuses to return to the US without some kind of “gentleman’s agreement” regarding his “safe return.” That’s not going to be a very credible witness on the stand, if he even shows up to testify.

The counterintelligence investigation against Millian was real in 2016 and may be realer now

Which leads us, again, to Durham’s failures to do basic investigation before charging these indictments.

We know Durham didn’t reach out to Michael Horowitz until weeks before charging Danchenko. The Sussmann case made it clear Durham had not received centrally relevant evidence in the Sussmann case until March.

That means Durham may not have been aware of the public evidence — in both the DOJ IG Report and declassified footnotes — describing the counterintelligence investigation opened on Millian in October 2016, which was opened in NY (where Millian lived at the time), not DC (where Fusion and others were also raising concerns).

In addition, we learned that [Millian] was at the time the subject of an open FBI counterintelligence investigation. 302 We also were concerned that the FISA application did not disclose to the court the FBI’s belief that this sub-source was, at the time of the application, the subject of such an investigation. We were told that the Department will usually share with the FISC the fact that a source is a subject in an open case. The OI Attorney told us he did not recall knowing this information at the time of the first application, even though NYFO opened the case after consulting with and notifying Case Agent 1 and SSA 1 prior to October 12, 2016, nine days before the FISA application was filed. Case Agent 1 said that he may have mentioned the case to the OI Attorney “in passing,” but he did not specifically recall doing so. 303

301 As discussed in Chapter Four, [Millian] [redacted]

302 According to a document circulated among Crossfire Hurricane team members and supervisors in early October 2016, [Millian] had historical contact with persons and entities suspected of being linked to RIS. The document described reporting [redacted] that [Millian] “was rumored to be a former KGB/SVR officer.” In addition, in late December 2016, Department Attorney Bruce Ohr told SSA 1 that he had met with Glenn Simpson and that Simpson had assessed that [Millian] was a RIS officer who was central in connecting Trump to Russia.

We know Durham has little familiarity with the Mueller Report, much less the underlying investigation. Which means he similarly may not have considered the evidence that Millian was cultivating George Papadopoulos during precisely the same weeks when Danchenko was contacting Millian for information on Trump.

Papadopoulos first connected with Millian via LinkedIn on July 15, 2016, shortly after Papadopoulos had attended the TAG Summit with Clovis.500 Millian, an American citizen who is a native of Belarus, introduced himself “as president of [the] New York-based Russian American Chamber of Commerce,” and claimed that through that position he had “insider knowledge and direct access to the top hierarchy in Russian politics.”501 Papadopoulos asked Timofeev whether he had heard of Millian.502 Although Timofeev said no,503 Papadopoulos met Millian in New York City.504 The meetings took place on July 30 and August 1, 2016.505 Afterwards, Millian invited Papadopoulos to attend-and potentially speak at-two international energy conferences, including one that was to be held in Moscow in September 2016.506 Papadopoulos ultimately did not attend either conference.

On July 31 , 2016, following his first in-person meeting with Millian, Papadopoulos emailed Trump Campaign official Bo Denysyk to say that he had been contacted “by some leaders of Russian-American voters here in the US about their interest in voting for Mr. Trump,” and to ask whether he should “put you in touch with their group (US-Russia chamber of commerce).”507 Denysyk thanked Papadopoulos “for taking the initiative,” but asked him to “hold off with outreach to Russian-Americans” because “too many articles” had already portrayed the Campaign, then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and candidate Trump as “being pro-Russian.”508

On August 23, 2016, Millian sent a Facebook message to Papadopoulos promising that he would ” share with you a disruptive technology that might be instrumental in your political work for the campaign.”509 Papadopoulos claimed to have no recollection of this matter.510

On November 9, 2016, shortly after the election, Papadopoulos arranged to meet Millian in Chicago to discuss business opportunities, including potential work with Russian “billionaires who are not under sanctions.”511 The meeting took place on November 14, 2016, at the Trump Hotel and Tower in Chicago.512 According to Papadopoulos, the two men discussed partnering on business deals, but Papadopoulos perceived that Millian’s attitude toward him changed when Papadopoulos stated that he was only pursuing private-sector opportunities and was not interested in a job in the Administration.5 13 The two remained in contact, however, and had extended online discussions about possible business opportunities in Russia. 514 The two also arranged to meet at a Washington, D.C. bar when both attended Trump’s inauguration in late January 2017.515

More recently, as part of charges against a different Russian-American who fled because of a counterintelligence investigation, DOJ made clear that Millian’s organization knew at least by 2013 they should have registered as agents of Russia.

a. On or about January 30, 2013, BRANSON received an email from an individual using an email address ending in “mail.ru.” Based on my review of publicly available information, I have learned that this individual was a Senior Vice President of the Russian American Chamber of Commerce in the USA. This email had the subject line “Problem.” and the text of the email included, among other things, a portion of the FARA Unit’s website with background on FARA. In response, BRANSON wrote, in part, “I am interested in the number of the law, its text in English[.]” The sender then responded with “Lena, read …” and copied into the email background on FARA and portions of the statute.

All of which to say that Durham likely cannot make any “gentleman’s agreement” on DOJ’s behalf with Millian about coming to the US to testify against Danchenko, because other parts of DOJ have equities that significantly precede Durham’s, equities that pertain more directly to harm to the United States and current national security priorities.

Plus, even if Durham did succeed in bringing his star witness against Danchenko to EDVA to testify against him, even if Millian weren’t arrested on sealed charges when he landed, the trial would end up being a circus in which the evidence against Millian and the false claims Millian has made about the Durham investigation playing a more central role than the evidence against Danchenko.

There are few things Durham could do that would make it more clear how his witch hunt has served Russia’s interests, and not those of the US.

I mean, I’m all for it. But at some point Durham may come to recognize that’s not a winning case.

There is affirmative evidence that any alleged lies Danchenko told were not material

It’s not clear whether Sussmann jurors ever got as far as considering the materiality problems in the case against Sussmann. But, even on top of the specific problem arising from the Section 702 directive targeting Galkina, described above, Durham may have bigger materiality problems with Danchenko.

That’s because — as explained in the DOJ IG Report Durham didn’t read closely — FBI repeatedly made decisions that affirmatively reflect finding claims in the dossier and Danchenko’s interviews were not material to their decision to keep surveilling Carter Page.

That’s true, first of all, because the initial FISA targeting Page obtained useful information. Notes from Tashina Gaushar that Durham belatedly discovered in the Sussmann case described the FISAs against Page this way:

So before the FBI ever spoke to Danchenko, they had independent reason (on top of the counterintelligence concerns NYFO had used in March 2016 to open an investigation on Page) to target Page.

Moreover, the FBI started identifying problems with the Millian allegations before the first FISA, but never integrated those or Danchenko’s own interviews into their FISA applications.

Regarding the information in the first bullet above, in early October 2016, the FBI learned the true name of Person 1 (described in Report 95 as “Source E”). As described in Chapter Six, the Primary Sub-source told the FBI that he/she had one 10- to 15-minute telephone call with someone he/she believed to be Person 1, but who did not identify him/herself on the call. We found that, during his/her interview with the FBI, the Primary Sub-source did not describe a “conspiracy” between Russia and individuals associated with the Trump campaign or state that Carter Page served as an “intermediary” between Manafort and the Russian government. In addition, the FBl’s summary of the Primary Sub-source’s interview did not describe any discussions between the parties concerning the disclosure of DNC emails to Wikileaks in exchange for a campaign platform change on the Ukrainian issue. To the contrary, according to the interview summary, the Primary Sub-source told the FBI that Person 1 told him/her that there was “nothing bad” about the communications between the Kremlin and Trump, and that he/she did not recall any mention of Wikileaks. Further, although Steele informed the FBI that he had received all of the information in Report 95 from the Primary Sub-source, and Steele told the OIG the same thing when we interviewed him, the Primary Subsource told the FBI that he/she did not know where some of the information attributed to Source E in Report 95 came from. 388 Despite the inconsistencies between Steele’s reporting and the information his Primary Sub-source provided to the FBI, the subsequent FISA renewal applications continued to rely on the Steele information, without any revisions or notice to the court that the Primary Sub-source had contradicted the Steele reporting on key issues described in the renewal applications. Instead, as described previously, FISA Renewal Application Nos. 2 and 3 advised the court:

In an effort to further corroborate [Steele’s] reporting, the FBI has met with [Steele’s] [redacted] sub-source [Primary Sub-source] described immediately above. During these interviews, the FBI found the [redacted] subsource to be truthful and cooperative [redacted]. The FBI is undertaking additional investigative steps to further corroborate the information provide [sic] by [Steele] and [redacted]

It cannot be the case that FBI at once ignored everything Danchenko said that should have raised concerns, but also that Danchenko’s repetition of the things he said in his first interview would be material to later parts of the investigation. There’s a 478-page report laying out why that’s not the case.

As to the Dolan tie, the FBI obtained intelligence that the reports that most mattered to the ongoing Russian investigation — the sketchy Cohen-in-Prague stories sourced to Olga Galkina, stories that may well have arisen because Dolan vouched for Galkina with Peskov — were disinformation a week before first speaking to Danchenko.

A January 12, 2017, report relayed information from [redacted] outlining an inaccuracy in a limited subset of Steele’s reporting about the activities of Michael Cohen. The [redacted] stated that it did not have high confidence in this subset of Steele’s reporting and assessed that the referenced subset was part of a Russian disinformation campaign to denigrate U.S. foreign relations. A second report from the same [redacted] five days later stated that a person named in the limited subset of Steele’s reporting had denied representations in the reporting and the [redacted] assessed that the person’s denials were truthful.

As I have shown, Mueller did not use the Cohen reports at all in predicating the investigation against Trump’s lawyer.

Finally, the DOJ IG Report strongly suggests that the FBI was not going to get a fourth FISA targeting Page until they discovered two new facilities — probably one or more encrypted app and some financial accounts — they thought might answer some of their outstanding questions about Page.

[A]vailable documents indicate that one of the focuses of the Carter Page investigation at this time was obtaining his financial records. NYFO sought compulsory legal process in April 2017 for banking and financial records for Carter Page and his company, Global Energy Capital, as well as information relating to two encrypted online applications, one of which Page utilized on his cell phone. Documents reflect that agents also conducted multiple interviews of individuals associated with Carter Page.

Case Agent 6 told us, and documents reflect, that despite the ongoing investigation, the team did not expect to renew the Carter Page FISA before Renewal Application No. 2’s authority expired on June 30. Case Agent 6 said that the FISA collection the FBI had received during the second renewal period was not yielding any new information. The OGC Attorney told us that when the FBI was considering whether to seek further FISA authority following Renewal Application No. 2, the FISA was “starting to go dark.” During one of the March 2017 interviews, Page told Case Agent 1 and Case Agent 6 that he believed he was under surveillance and the agents did not believe continued surveillance would provide any relevant information. Cast Agent 6 said [redacted]

SSA 5 and SSA 2 said that further investigation yielded previously unknown locations that they believed could provide information of investigative value, and they decided to seek another renewal. Specifically, SSA 5 and Case Agent 6 told us, and documents reflect, that [redacted] they decided to seek a third renewal. [redacted]

This is yet another reason why nothing Danchenko could have said in his interviews would have changed the FBI’s actions.

That leaves the purported lies — the same alleged lies about Millian — told in October and November 2017 that Durham claims Danchenko had been telling all along. By that point, though, Mueller already had George Papadopoulos refusing to provide details pertaining to Millian that would have raised further questions about Millian’s activities in 2016.

Honestly, this post barely scratches the surface of problems with Durham’s Igor Danchenko case. Things get worse when you consider Oleg Deripaska’s role in the dossier and the very active investigation into him and more recent sanctions into Dmitry Peskov.

And, this time, Durham may realize that. Just weeks before the Sussmann trial, Durham made a frenzied effort to include details about the dossier and Millian in Sussmann’s case. For example, he got approved as exhibits and “accidentally” released Fusion GPS files entirely unrelated to the Sussmann case. He attempted, but failed, to make Christopher Steele a central issue at the Sussmann trial. And during the testimony of Jared Novick, he attempted to introduce the names of dossier subjects that were unrelated to the core Sussmann charge. That is, Durham expanded the scope of his already unhinged conspiracy theory to incorporate topics — most notably, the dossier — that he might otherwise present at the Danchenko trial.

In the next two weeks, Durham will — after over ten weeks of delay — have to face the challenges of obtaining the classified discovery that Danchenko can demand to prove this is the case. In light of those challenges, we’ll see whether Durham wants to barrel forward towards yet another humiliating loss at trial.

Will KleptoCapture Catch John Durham, Along with the Russian Spies and Oligarchs?

I’ve been right about a lot of things regarding John Durham’s investigation (though not, apparently, that he would supersede the indictment against Michael Sussmann — maybe he was afraid of getting no-billed if he corrected the things in the indictment he has since discovered to be false?).

Perhaps the most prescient observation I’ve made, though, was that Durham had no fucking clue where to look for evidence related to his already-charged allegations.

I’ve seen reason to believe Durham doesn’t understand the full scope of where he needs to look to find evidence relevant to that case.

I said that in November. Since that time in the Sussmann case, Durham has had to publicly confess he had not:

Effectively, Durham spent most of three years speaking to those who would confirm his conspiracy theories, and not consulting the actual evidence. It took until six months after Durham charged Sussmann before Durham tested Sussmann’s sworn explanation for his Baker meeting — and when he checked, he found the evidence backed Sussmann’s explanation.

Six months after indicting Igor Danchenko, Durham asked to extend discovery another month

It’s that record that makes me so interested in Durham’s second bid to extend deadlines for classified discovery in the Igor Danchenko case.

After Danchenko argued he couldn’t be ready for an April 18 trial date, Durham proposed a March 29 deadline for prosecutors to meet classified discovery; that means Durham originally imagined he’d be done with classified discovery over six weeks ago. A week before that deadline, Durham asked for a six week delay — to what would have been Friday. Danchenko consented to the change and Judge Anthony Trenga granted it. Then on Monday, Durham asked for another extension, this time for another month.

When Durham asked for the first delay, he boasted they had provided Danchenko 60,000 unclassified documents and promised “a large volume” of classified discovery that week (that is, before the original deadline).

To date, the government has produced over 60,000 documents in unclassified discovery. A portion of these documents were originally marked “classified” and the government has worked with the appropriate declassification authorities to produce the documents in an unclassified format.

[snip]

Nevertheless, the government will produce a large volume of classified discovery this week

This more recent filing boasts of having provided just one thousand more unclassified documents and a mere 5,000 classified documents — for a case implicating two known FISA orders and several past and current counterintelligence investigations.

To date, the Government has produced to the defense over 5,000 documents in classified discovery and nearly 61,000 documents in unclassified discovery. The Government believes that the 5,000 classified documents produced to date represent the bulk of the classified discovery in this matter.

Danchenko waited six weeks and got almost nothing new.

See this post for an explanation of all the classified information that Danchenko should be able to demand and the onerous process that using it requires, called Classified Information Procedures Act. Even in November, I showed that Danchenko could likely make a case that he should get discovery from the FBI and NSA, and probably CIA and Treasury. There is no way Durham is getting through this case with just 5,000 classified documents.

As he noted in his opposition to this latest request for an extension, with each request, Durham’s proposed schedule was shrinking the time afforded Danchenko to review classified discovery before providing a list of the classified information he wanted to use at trial (called a CIPA 5 notice), first from 60 days to 40, and then from 40 days to 22.

On March 22, 2022, the Special Counsel filed a Consent Motion to Adjourn the Classified Discovery and CIPA Schedule. Dkt. 44. In his Motion, the Special Counsel sought to extend the deadline to produce classified discovery from March 29, 2022, to May 13, 2022. Id. at 2. The Special Counsel’s motion also sought to extend the dates for various CIPA filings and hearings. Id. Importantly, the Special Counsel’s proposed schedule reduced the amount of time within which Mr. Danchenko had to file his Section 5(a) written notice from approximately 60 days after the close of classified discovery to approximately 40 days.

[snip]

On May 9, 2022, the Special Counsel filed his Second Motion to Adjourn the Classified Discovery and CIPA Schedule. Dkt. 48. In his motion, the Special Counsel now tells the Court that he can provide the outstanding classified discovery by “no later than” June 13, 2022. See id. at 2. He also proposes a June 29, 2022, deadline for Defendant’s Section 5(a) written notice. Id. Therefore, the Special Counsel has essentially asked this Court to enter an Order that will now decrease Mr. Danchenko’s time within which to file his Section 5(a) written notice from approximately 40 days after the close of classified discovery to approximately 22 days.

[snip]

Mr. Danchenko would be substantially prejudiced by the Special Counsel’s proposed schedule because it significantly shortens the time period within which Mr. Danchenko can review any final classified productions and file his CIPA Section 5(a) notice. That is of particular concern to Mr. Danchenko because the Special Counsel has not provided sufficient notice of how much additional classified discovery may be forthcoming other than his “belie[f]” that the “bulk” of the classified discovery has already been produced.

Shrinking Danchenko’s deadlines would make the additional discovery that is still outstanding far less useful. In the Sussmann case, for example, it took over a month for Sussmann’s team to find the documents that disprove Durham’s case buried among 22,000 other documents provided on his extended deadline. So while Durham might be trying to comply with discovery obligations, arguing that the proper solution to his struggles fulfilling discovery is to shrink Danchenko’s own time to review the evidence suggests he’s not doing so in good faith.

Judge Trenga must have agreed. While he granted the government’s request for an extension, he gave Danchenko 42 days to submit his CIPA 5 notice.

A Russian dog named Putin ate Durham’s classified homework

I’ve noted how the post-invasion sanctions on Alfa Bank deprived John Durham of a second investigative team, Alfa Bank’s Skadden Arps lawyers, whose filings a judge observed seemed to be “written by the same people” as Durham’s.

But the aftermath of Putin’s attempt to overthrow Ukraine may be causing Durham even bigger problems in the Danchenko case.

When Durham asked for an extension of his CIPA deadline in the Sussmann case days after Russia extended its invasion of Ukraine, he explained that the people who had to write declarations in support of CIPA (usually agency heads like CIA Director William Burns or NSA Director Paul Nakasone) were busy dealing with the response to Ukraine.

However, the Government’s submission includes not only the Government’s memorandum but also one or more supporting declarations from officials of the U.S. intelligence community. The Government’s review of potentially discoverable material is ongoing, and these officials cannot finalize their declarations until that review is complete.

Moreover, recent world events in Ukraine have further delayed the Government’s review and the officials’ preparation of the supporting declaration(s). As a result, the Government respectfully submits that a modest two-week adjournment request to its CIPA Section 4 filing deadline is appropriate and would not impact any other deadlines, to include the currently scheduled trial date

Effectively, this request moved the CIPA deadline from a week before Durham’s classified discovery deadline to a week after; yet Durham just committed, once again, to finalizing his CIPA 4 submission almost a week before his classified discovery deadline in the Danchenko case.

That’s important because Durham overpromised when he said he could finish a CIPA filing before the discovery deadline. Durham filed a supplement to his CIPA 4 notice on May 7 (nine days before trial) that, unless Judge Cooper ruled orally at a closed hearing last week, remains outstanding. That’s not entirely unusual in a case that relies on classified information, but if Cooper were to rule this classified information was necessary for Sussmann’s defense, it would give Sussmann no time to actually prepare to use it.

Durham cited the Ukraine response again on March 22, a month after Russia launched its failed attempt to take Kyiv, when he asked for an extension on his classified discovery deadline.

However, recent world events in Ukraine have contributed to delays in the production of classified discovery. The officials preparing and reviewing the documents at the FBI and intelligence agencies are heavily engaged in matters related to Ukraine.

Importantly, these people focusing on keeping us safe from Russian aggression rather than, as Durham is, making us safe for Russian aggression, are different than the people cited in the Sussmann case. These aren’t senior officials, but instead those “preparing and reviewing the documents at the FBI and intelligence agencies.” That’s not William Burns, that’s FBI counterintelligence agents, among others.

In last week’s request for an extension, Durham didn’t mention Ukraine, but his reference to “overseas activities” suggests the response to Ukraine remains the problem.

However, recent world events continue to contribute to delays in the processing and production of classified discovery. In particular, some of the officials preparing and reviewing the documents at the FBI and intelligence agencies continue to be heavily engaged in matters related to overseas activities.

Unsurprisingly, Danchenko asked Trenga to require Durham to provide some kind of explanation for why “overseas activities,” probably Ukraine, continue to delay classified discovery in a case criminalizing an attempt to fight Russia’s attack on democracy in 2016.

Moreover, the Special Counsel has failed to adequately explain how “recent world events” (Dkt. 48 at 2) have specifically made it impossible for him to meet his discovery obligations. While it seems unlikely that the same government officials charged with declassifying discovery are also responding to events overseas, it certainly is possible. But, even if that is the case, the Special Counsel must offer more explanation than he has, especially in light of the fact that his prior motion to extend the discovery deadline was based on the events in Ukraine, and the ongoing nature of that conflict must or should have been considered when he requested the May 13 deadline.

Sadly, Trenga didn’t order up an explanation for why this delay, probably Ukraine-related, is causing so many difficulties for Durham’s prosecution of Danchenko.

KleptoCapture threatens at least one and possibly up to three key Durham figures

One reason I would have liked Trenga to force Durham to explain how a dog named Putin ate his classified homework is because the public response to Russia’s attempt to conquer Ukraine has already implicated three figures who are key to Durham’s case. While I need to update it, this post attempts to capture everything that the US government and some partners have done since the expanded invasion.

Dmitry Peskov

Perhaps the response least damaging to Durham’s case — but one that will affect discovery — involves Dmitry Peskov. As I explained in this post, Durham made Peskov’s relationship with Chuck Dolan and Olga Galkina a key part of his indictment against Danchenko.

In his role as a public relations professional, [Dolan] spent much of his career interacting with Eurasian clients with a particular focus on Russia. For example, from in or about 2006 through in or about 2014, the Russian Federation retained [Dolan] and his then-employer to handle global public relations for the Russian government and a state-owned energy company. [Dolan] served as a lead consultant during that project and frequently interacted with senior Russian Federation leadership whose names would later appear in the Company Reports, including the Press Secretary of the Russian Presidential Administration (“Russian Press Secretary-I”), the Deputy Press Secretary (“Russian Deputy Press Secretary-I”), and others in the Russian Presidential Press Department.

[snip]

In anticipation of the June 2016 Planning Trip to Moscow, [Dolan] also communicated with [Peskov] and Russian Deputy Press Secretary-I, both of whom worked in the Kremlin and, as noted above, also appeared in the Company Reports.

[snip]

Additionally, on or about July 13, 2016, [Galkina] sent a message to a Russia-based associate and stated that [Dolan] had written a letter to Russian Press Secretary-1 in support of [Galkina]’s candidacy for a position in the Russian Presidential Administration.

On March 3, the State Department added Peskov to the sanctions list under a 2021 Executive Order President Biden signed, in part, to target those who (among other things), “undermine the conduct of free and fair democratic elections and democratic institutions in the United States and its allies and partners.” On March 11, Treasury added Peskov’s family members to the sanctions list. The package used to sanction Peskov would have been the product of intelligence reports circulated within the US government.

While the legal reason Peskov was sanctioned pertained to his official role in the Russian government (and the lavish lifestyles his family enjoys even with his civil service salary), State also described Peskov as “the chief propagandist of the Russian Federation.” That, by itself, would be unremarkable. But if — as even Durham alludes — Peskov had a role in feeding Galkina disinformation for the Steele dossier, particularly if he crafted disinformation to maximally exploit Michael Cohen’s secret call with Peskov’s office in January 2016, that could be a part of the sanctions package against Peskov. If it were, then it would be centrally important discovery for Danchenko.

Oleg Deripaska

Then there’s Oleg Deripaska. This post lays out in depth the reasons why Danchenko would have reason to demand information on Deripaska’s role in the dossier, including:

  • Evidence about whether Oleg Deripaska was Christopher Steele’s client for a project targeting Paul Manafort before the DNC one
  • All known details of Deripaska’s role in injecting disinformation into the dossier, up through current day
  • Details of all communications between Deripaska and Millian

Given his blissful ignorance of the actual results of the Mueller investigation and the DOJ IG Carter Page investigation, Durham was always going to have a nasty discovery surprise in complying with such requests. Plus, a search last October of two Deripaska-related properties made clear that the most likely source of disinformation in the dossier was under aggressive criminal investigation for sanctions violations.

A recent Bloomberg story reported that that criminal investigation has now been moved under and given the prioritization of the KleptoCapture initiative started in response to the Ukraine war.

Deripaska has been sanctioned since 2018 for his ties to Vladimir Putin, and the seizures at a Washington mansion and New York townhouse linked to him predate the invasion of Ukraine. But the investigation of Deripaska’s assets is now part of an escalating U.S. crackdown on ultra-rich Russians suspected of laundering money and hiding assets to help finance Putin’s regime.

The raids were key steps to unearth information that may determine whether — and how — Deripaska moved money around. Among the mishmash of items taken from the New York and Washington properties were half a dozen works of fine art, sunglasses, hiking boots, housewares, financial records, telephone bills and other documents, according to the people, who asked not to be identified because the investigation hasn’t been made public.

The Deripaska inquiry is now part of a special U.S. Department of Justice task force dubbed “KleptoCapture,” according to New York federal prosecutor Andrew Adams, who is heading up the group.

“As Russia and its aggression continues, we have our eyes on every piece of art and real estate purchased with dirty money,” Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said at a recent news conference.

If DOJ plans on indicting Deripaska — for sanctions violations and anything else on which the statute of limitations has not expired — they might delay discovery cooperation with Durham until they do so. And if such a hypothetical indictment mentioned Deripaska’s role in facilitating the 2016 election interference and/or successful efforts to exploit the dossier to undermine the Russian investigation, it might make Durham’s charges against Danchenko unsustainable, even if he is able to otherwise fulfill his discovery requirements. Durham’s theory of prosecution is that Danchenko is the big villain that led to FBI confusion over the dossier, but Deripaska seems to have had a far bigger role in that.

Sergei Millian

Finally, there’s Sergei Millian, who happened to meet with Deripaska in 2016 at an event, the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, that played a key role in the election operation.

In the same week Millian met Deripaska, a bunch of cybersecurity experts first started looking for evidence of Russian hacking in DNS data and Igor Danchenko was in Moscow meeting with Chuck Dolan and his other named Steele dossier sources.

As the DOJ IG Report and declassified footnotes make clear, FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation into Millian in October 2016. All the evidence indicates that the investigation did not arise from Crossfire Hurricane and, given that Millian’s ID was hidden in the dossier reports shared with NYFO on their way to HQ, and given that other information on Millian was fed into DC, not NY, was probably predicated completely independent of Crossfire Hurricane.

In addition, we learned that [Millian] was at the time the subject of an open FBI counterintelligence investigation. 302 We also were concerned that the FISA application did not disclose to the court the FBI’s belief that this sub-source was, at the time of the application, the subject of such an investigation. We were told that the Department will usually share with the FISC the fact that a source is a subject in an open case. The OI Attorney told us he did not recall knowing this information at the time of the first application, even though NYFO opened the case after consulting with and notifying Case Agent 1 and SSA 1 prior to October 12, 2016, nine days before the FISA application was filed. Case Agent 1 said that he may have mentioned the case to the OI Attorney “in passing,” but he did not specifically recall doing so. 303

301 As discussed in Chapter Four, [Millian] [redacted]

302 According to a document circulated among Crossfire Hurricane team members and supervisors in early October 2016, [Millian] had historical contact with persons and entities suspected of being linked to RIS. The document described reporting [redacted] that [Millian] “was rumored to be a former KGB/SVR officer.” In addition, in late December 2016, Department Attorney Bruce Ohr told SSA 1 that he had met with Glenn Simpson and that Simpson had assessed that [Millian] was a RIS officer who was central in connecting Trump to Russia.

303 Although an email indicates that the OI Attorney learned in March 2017 that the FBI had an open case on [Millian], the subsequent renewal applications did not include this fact. According to the OI Attorney, and as reflected in Renewal Application Nos. 2 and 3, the FBI expressed uncertainty about whether this sub‐source was Person 1. However, other FBI documents in the same time period reflect that the ongoing assumption by the Crossfire Hurricane team was that this sub‐source was [Millian].

Plus, Mueller found plenty on Millian to raise separate issues of concern.

Given several other counterintelligence cases developed in NYFO, the predication likely had more to do with Russia’s effort to use cultural and other diaspora groups as a way to covertly extend Russian influence.

And in fact, Millian’s group — the Russian American Chamber of Commerce — has already made a cameo appearance in one such prosecution, that against Elena Branson, a complaint that was rolled out in the same week as the sanctions against Peskov.

a. On or about January 30, 2013, BRANSON received an email from an individual using an email address ending in “mail.ru.” Based on my review of publicly available information, I have learned that this individual was a Senior Vice President of the Russian American Chamber of Commerce in the USA. This email had the subject line “Problem.” and the text of the email included, among other things, a portion of the FARA Unit’s website with background on FARA. In response, BRANSON wrote, in part, “I am interested in the number of the law, its text in English[.]” The sender then responded with “Lena, read …” and copied into the email background on FARA and portions of the statute.

This awareness and flouting of registration requirements is the kind of thing that often features in prosecutions for 18 USC 951 violations. And, at least in the case of Branson, the statute of limitations can extend so long as the person in question continues to play a role in US politics, though in Branson’s case, she only fled the country 18 months ago.

If the FBI believed Millian was an unregistered foreign agent who fled to avoid an investigation in 2017, his ongoing involvement in efforts to gin up an investigation into the investigation — particularly claims that, even according to Durham, misinterpreted facts his own prosecutors filed and thereby contributed to death threats against witnesses in the investigation — then it wouldn’t rule out an investigation into Millian himself, an investigation that would have preceded Durham’s reckless reliance on him (or rather, Millian’s unvetted Twitter feed) as a star witness against Danchenko.

Even Millian’s public claim (albeit one offered by someone the FBI considers an embellisher) that he called the White House directly to elicit this investigation could be of interest.

We can now say with great certainty that Durham didn’t check the most obvious sources of evidence against key players involved in the Steele dossier, such as DOJ IG’s backup files in the Carter Page investigation that is the primary focus of Durham’s Danchenko indictment. That makes it highly likely he never bothered to see whether other parts of DOJ considered key players in the Steele dossier to be actual threats to democracy.

One of those key players is undoubtedly Oleg Deripaska. And the renewed focus on Russian influence operations may expand beyond that.

Wall Street Journal: Bigger Dupes of John Durham or Alexsej Gubarev?

The Wall Street Journal claims they’ve cracked the Steele dossier!

In a 4,300-word romantic comedy, they claim that, “many of the dossier’s key details originated with a few people gossiping after they had been brought together over a minor corporate publicity contract.” There are several incorrect aspects of this fairy tale.

First, WSJ claims that, “the [Igor Danchenko] indictment pointed to Mr. Dolan as an important source for the dossier.” Even assuming the allegations in the indictment were accurate (some are not), that’s not what the indictment claims. It alleges that Dolan was the source for the perhaps most verifiably true claim in the dossier (which is not surprising given that Dolan told the FBI he simply repeated a news story). It suggests, as part of uncharged materiality claims, that Dolan may have played a part in but does not charge that he was the direct source for three other reports. That doesn’t make him “an important source” (though I’m sure Durham is happy he duped some reporters into making that claim).

Here’s how WSJ credulously takes the most spectacular of those materiality claims and repeats it, all without explaining that in the FBI interviews they otherwise cite repeatedly, Danchenko attributed the kompromat claim to Sergey Abyshev, who confirmed that he and Ivan Vorontsov met with Danchenko on that trip to Moscow.

One of Mr. Danchenko’s chats with Mr. Dolan appeared to figure in the dossier’s most inflammatory entry.

Mr. Dolan was helping to organize a fall 2016 conference in Moscow to drum up foreign investment. While in Moscow in June to lay the groundwork, he stayed at the Ritz-Carlton, a few hundred yards from the Kremlin. He met with the hotel’s general manager and got a tour of the hotel, including the presidential suite, according to the indictment of Mr. Danchenko. It says he also met with Mr. Danchenko, who was in town.

Less than a week later, Mr. Steele’s first dossier chapter alleged that a “Source D,” described as a close associate of Mr. Trump, had said Mr. Trump once hired prostitutes to urinate on the bed when he stayed in the Ritz-Carlton’s presidential suite, because former President Barack Obama, whom the dossier said Mr. Trump detested, had stayed there.

The dossier said the Kremlin had video and was holding it as kompromat, or compromising material. It said the episode had been confirmed by a senior member of the hotel staff and a female hotel staffer.

Prosecutors noted that the dossier reflected some details Mr. Dolan had learned on the hotel tour, such as that Mr. Trump had stayed at the hotel’s presidential suite.

Telling Danchenko that Trump had stayed at the Ritz — if that is where Danchenko learned that detail — is not serving as the key source here. Maybe Danchenko did make more of what Dolan told him, maybe Danchenko or Steele turned Dolan into Source D, but Durham has neither alleged nor charged it.

I’m sure he loves when reporters insinuate that he did, though.

Meanwhile, by claiming they’ve cracked the dossier with its “minor corporate publicity contract” story, WSJ misrepresents the relationship between Danchenko and someone who is an important source of the dossier, Olga Galkina. She played a part in more claims in the dossier than Dolan and those claims were far more important. Those include the most important one used in the Carter Page FISA application, the discredited Michael Cohen in Prague stories, as well as one of the claims that Durham suggests Dolan was involved with. WSJ suggests Danchenko only started obtaining information from her in the context of her relationship with Dolan.

What brought Mr. Danchenko, Mr. Dolan and Ms. Galkina together was a marketing campaign—funded by the Dolan PR client whose company was cited in the dossier.

He was Aleksej Gubarev, a Russian internet entrepreneur living in Cyprus, who decided in early 2016 to launch a U.S. marketing campaign to burnish the image of his cloud server company.

That’s affirmatively misleading, because Danchenko was using Galkina as a source before he ever formally met Dolan. In Danchenko’s interview, for example, he describes using Galkina as a source for other projects. “[Danchenko] has been able to collect information for Orbis across a wide range of topics — major Russian firms; Russian state entities, including the Kremlin.” Importantly, Galkina knew that Danchenko worked in business intelligence and even tried to task him in the period after the dossier became public.

Having therefore misrepresented the relationship between Danchenko and Galkina, WSJ repeats a second time that many of the claims in the dossier came from “this route,” meaning the PR relationship.

Mr. Danchenko told the FBI of other people he also spoke to in gathering information for Mr. Steele. Many of his details, however, came through this route, the Journal’s review shows.

The spreadsheet the FBI used to vet the dossier identified well over a hundred discrete claims in the dossier. Durham alleges that Chuck Dolan was the source for one claim and involved with part of the sourcing for three others. That’s not “many” out of a hundred. So once you correct for WSJ’s false claims about the Galkina relationship, that claim too falls apart.

Crazier still, WSJ makes no mention of the reason the newly formed relationship between Galkina and Dolan was important — and important to at least one of the central false claims in the dossier. As the indictment describes, that relationship allowed Galkina to use Dolan’s access to the Kremlin for her own benefit.

b. Additionally, on or about July 13, 2016, [Galkina] sent a message to a Russia-based associate and stated that [Dolan] had written a letter to Russian Press Secretary-1 in support of [Galkina]’s candidacy for a position in the Russian Presidential Administration.

Dolan used his ties to Dmitry Peskov to help Galkina. That’s the import of the relationship! But if you acknowledge that, then a key premise of the story, most notably its claim that, “much of the dossier’s information came from [] anything but Kremlin insiders,” falls apart because it presents the possibility that the Cohen in Prague story came from Peskov.

Dmitry Peskov is the quintessential Kremlin insider. He also knew firsthand that Donald Trump was lying on the campaign trail to hide a secret conversation Michael Cohen had had with Peskov’s own office in January 2016. Dolan helped Galkina get closer to Peskov. And after that happened, when Danchenko asked Galkina for information on a number of Trump flunkies, Cohen’s name is the one that Galkina “almost immediately” recognized. If Peskov was involved in all that, then it explains a great deal about the most damning claim in the dossier.

Peskov’s name doesn’t appear in the WSJ story.

Another name that doesn’t appear in the WSJ is Oleg Deripaska’s, even while WSJ puzzles over whether the dossier was intentionally filled with disinformation.

One remaining riddle is whether the dossier’s misinformation was purely careless or might have included disinformation sown by the Kremlin itself.

WSJ cites the DOJ IG Report on Carter Page repeatedly, so they know all the references to Deripaska in it (though perhaps not the declassified footnotes reporting that Deripaska, whose associate Konstantin Kilimnik played a key role in the election interference operation, may have learned of the dossier project by early July). But they’re silent on Danchenko’s earlier tasking to collect on Paul Manafort for Deripaska, which is at least as central to understanding the dossier as the ties between Dolan and Galkina.

Mr. Danchenko’s work for Mr. Steele, which had mostly involved business intelligence, also took a turn toward politics. Mr. Steele, a former agent in Russia for the British intelligence agency MI-6, asked Mr. Danchenko to work on a new assignment Mr. Steele had accepted: to look for compromising material on Mr. Trump in Russia.

It’s like WSJ made a conscious decision not to name any of the sanctioned Russians who played a role in the dossier.

Perhaps it is unsurprising, then, that the WSJ journalists who claim to have cracked the dossier make several false claims about the Mueller investigation.

But Mr. Mueller reported no evidence that the campaign conspired with Russia’s military intelligence apparatus as it hacked into the email of the Democratic National Committee. The dossier took real events, such as the visit of a Trump adviser to Moscow, and expounded on them by describing meetings with high-level Kremlin officials for which no corroborating evidence surfaced.

It’s actually false that there was no corroboration for the Igor Sechin claim. The son of the guy who hosted Carter Page in Moscow described hearing the rumor too (and also described that they couldn’t account for all of Page’s time in Moscow).

Crazier still, it takes a special kind of incompetence to assert, as fact, that, “Mueller reported no evidence that the campaign conspired” with GRU, basing that claim on a report on Bill Barr’s letter to Congress that a judge subsequently ruled lacked candor. Mueller found evidence that the campaign conspired with Russia, just not enough to charge. He also got verdicts or rulings that Michael Cohen lied about his secret communications with Peskov (in which Cohen said he’d be happy to chase a real estate deal relying on a former GRU officer as broker), the Coffee Boy lied about getting advance notice of Russia’s plans, Manafort lied about passing polling data and campaign strategy to Kilimnik, and Mike Flynn lied about his attempt to undermine sanctions on Russia. The Mueller Report also revealed that “a Section 1030 conspiracy charge against Stone,” and the GRU was, “the subject of ongoing investigations that have been referred by this Office to the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s Office” (though Barr buried this detail in the 2020 election); a referral for further investigation of a hacking conspiracy is the opposite of finding no evidence of a conspiracy. And a jury found that Stone had lied to cover up what his real ties to the Russian operation were.

I mean, seriously, it’s 2022. No legitimate journalist has an excuse for sounding like a Seth Rich truther, as WSJ’s two journalists do.

So the WSJ doesn’t mention Peskov and doesn’t mention Deripaska. It does, however, mention Aleksej Gubarev, who seems to have enthusiastically participated in a misleading story claiming that his contractor, Dolan, and his employee, Galkina, were singularly responsible for the dossier.

Mr. Gubarev’s company flew Mr. Dolan and two KGlobal colleagues to Cyprus in July 2016 and put them up at the Four Seasons hotel so they could deliver a sales pitch, Mr. Gubarev said. With Mr. Trump clinching the Republican nomination in the U.S., the talk in Cyprus wandered into politics.

[snip]

Mr. Gubarev said he learned about the report when a friend sent him a link to the BuzzFeed article. Mr. Gubarev said that at first he didn’t take it seriously, writing an email to Mr. Dolan with a smiling emoticon in the subject line and saying “need to found out who is make this stupid report.”

Mr. Dolan told him he thought the report might get traction in public. “It will have some legs with the sex allegations,” he wrote

Mr. Gubarev had declined to renew the publicity campaign for which he hired Mr. Dolan, saying he expected more for the $75,000 his company spent. But after the dossier’s publication, Mr. Gubarev hired Mr. Dolan again, this time to fight off the bad press, as Western banks were moving to cut his credit lines.

Mr. Gubarev said Mr. Dolan told him that Mr. Danchenko likely had compiled the dossier for Mr. Steele.

Mr. Gubarev sued BuzzFeed and Mr. Steele, lodging defamation claims in Florida and at the High Court in London.

[snip]

Mr. Gubarev said he was shocked that the indictment pointed to Mr. Dolan as an important source for the dossier. He said Mr. Dolan did a good job helping him fight to clear his name. “He is a nice guy, he did his best,” Mr. Gubarev said. “Washington is a strange place that I don’t understand.”

WSJ repeats all these Gubarev claims without noting that his lawfare was just one part of an extended campaign of lawfare, one that involves people like Petr Aven and Yevgeniy Prigozhin with known direct ties to and taskings from Putin.

In a story that openly wonders about instruments of disinformation, you’d think they’d be a bit more curious about why Gubarev would participate so enthusiastically. But then, a story that claims to explain, “how the Steele dossier was created,” by ignoring Deripaska’s pre-existing relationship with Steele and four of the most important sources for it is itself a vehicle of disinformation.

Update: In related news, Durham wants another month extension on classified discovery; the people they need help from are too busy indicting Russian foreign agents, including one who discussed that FARA was a “problem” with an employe of one of Durham’s star witness, Sergei Millian. Danchenko objects to the delay.

However, recent world events continue to contribute to delays in the processing and production of classified discovery. In particular, some of the officials preparing and reviewing the documents at the FBI and intelligence agencies continue to be heavily engaged in matters related to overseas activities. Nevertheless, the Government is continuing to press the relevant authorities to produce documents in classified discovery as quickly as possible and on a rolling basis, and no later than the proposed deadline set forth below.

Durham claims there are only 5,000 still-classified pages in discovery.

To date, the Government has produced to the defense over 5,000 documents in classified discovery and nearly 61,000 documents in unclassified discovery. The Government believes that the 5,000 classified documents produced to date represent the bulk of the classified discovery in this matter.

For the reasons laid out in this post, I find that spectacularly unbelievable.

The original deadline was March 29. They want the deadline extended to June 13, which would be a 76-day extension.

Confirmed: John Durham Has Withheld Discovery That DOJ Already Disproved His Claims of Political Malice

In his reply filing in the fight over what evidence will be submitted at his trial, Michael Sussmann confirmed something I’ve long suspected: John Durham has not provided Sussmann with the discovery Durham would need to have provided to present his own conspiracy theories at trial without risking a major discovery violation.

Were the Special Counsel to try to suggest that Mr. Sussmann and Mr. Steele engaged in a common course of conduct, that would open the door to an irrelevant mini-trial about the accuracy of Mr. Steele’s allegations about Mr. Trump’s ties to Russia—something that, like the Alfa Bank allegations, many experts continue to believe in, and about which the Special Counsel has tellingly failed to produce any significant discovery.

Sussmann dropped this in the filing without fanfare. But it is clear notice that if Durham continues down the path he is headed, he may face discovery sanctions down the road.

I explained why that’s true in these two posts. A core tenet of Durham’s conspiracy theories is that the only reason one would use proven cybersecurity methods to test certain hypotheses about Donald Trump would be for malicious political reasons. Here’s how Durham argued that in his own reply.

As the Government will demonstrate at trial, it was also the politically-laden and ethically-fraught nature of this project that gave Tech Executive-1 and the defendant a strong motive to conceal the origins of the Russian Bank-1 allegations and falsely portray them as the organic discoveries of concerned computer scientists.

There’s no external measure for what makes one thing political and makes another thing national security. But if this issue were contested, I assume that Sussmann would point, first, to truth as a standard. And as he could point out, many of the hypotheses April Lorenzen tested, which Durham points to as proof the project was malicious and political, turned out to be true. They were proven to be true by DOJ. Some of those true allegations involved guilty pleas to crimes, including FARA, explicitly designed to protect national security; another involved Roger Stone’s guilty verdict on charges related to his cover-up of his potential involvement in a CFAA hacking case.

DOJ (under the direction of Trump appointee Rod Rosenstein, who in those very same years was Durham’s direct supervisor) has already decided that John Durham is wrong about these allegations being political. Sussmann has both truth and DOJ’s backing on his side that these suspicions, if proven true (as they were), would be a threat to national security. Yet Durham persists in claiming to the contrary.

Here’s the evidence proving these hypotheses true that Durham has withheld in discovery:

The researchers were testing whether Richard Burt was a back channel to the Trump campaign. And while Burt’s more substantive role as such a (Putin-ordered) attempt to establish a back channel came during the transition, it is a fact that Burt was involved in several events earlier in the campaign at which pro-Russian entities tried to cultivate the campaign, including Trump’s first foreign policy speech. Neither Burt nor anyone else was charged with any crime, but Mueller’s 302s involving the Center for National Interest — most notably two very long interviews with Dmitri Simes (one, updated, two, updated), which were still under investigation in March 2020 — reflect a great deal of counterintelligence interest in the organization.

The researchers were also testing whether people close to Trump were laundering money from Putin-linked Oligarchs through Cyprus. That guy’s name is Paul Manafort, with the assistance of Rick Gates. Indeed, Manafort was ousted from the campaign during the period researchers were working on the data in part to distance the campaign from that stench (though it didn’t stop Trump from pardoning Manafort).

A more conspiratorial Lorenzen hypothesis (at least on its face) was that one of the family members of an Alfa Bank oligarch might be involved — maybe a son- or daughter-in-law. And in fact, German Khan’s son-in-law Alex van der Zwaan was working with Gates and Konstantin Kilimnik in precisely that time period to cover up Manafort’s ties to those Russian-backed oligarchs.

Then there was the suspicion — no doubt driven, on the Democrats’ part, by the correlation between Trump’s request to Russia for more hacking and the renewed wave of attacks that started hours later — that Trump had some back channel to Russia.

It turns out there were several. There was the aforementioned Manafort, who in the precise period when Rodney Joffe started more formally looking to see if there was a back channel, was secretly meeting at a cigar bar with alleged Russian spy Konstantin Kilimnik discussing millions of dollars in payments involving Russian-backed oligarchs, Manafort’s plan to win the swing states, and an effort to carve up Ukraine that leads directly to Russia’s current invasion.

That’s the kind of back channel researchers were using proven cybersecurity techniques to look for. They didn’t confirm that one — but their suspicion that such a back channel existed proved absolutely correct.

Then there’s the Roger Stone back channel with Guccifer 2.0. Again, in this precise period, Stone was DMing with the persona. But the FBI obtained at least probable cause that Stone’s knowledge of the persona went back much further, back to even before the persona went public in June 2016. That’s a back channel that remained under investigation, predicated off of national security crimes CFAA, FARA, and 18 USC 951, at least until April 2020 and one that, because of the way Stone was scripting pro-Russian statements for Trump, might explain Trump’s “Russia are you listening” comment. DOJ was still investigating Stone’s possible back channel as a national security concern well after Durham was appointed to undermine that national security investigation by deeming it political.

Finally, perhaps the most important back channel — for Durham’s purposes — was Michael Cohen. That’s true, in part, because the comms that Cohen kept lying to hide were directly with the Kremlin, with Dmitri Peskov. That’s also true because on his call to a Peskov assistant, Cohen laid out his — and candidate Donald Trump’s — interest in a Trump Tower Moscow deal that was impossibly lucrative, but which also assumed the involvement of one or another sanctioned bank as well as a former GRU officer. That is, not only did Cohen have a back channel directly with the Kremlin he was trying to hide,  but it involved Russian banks that were far more controversial than the Alfa Bank ties that the researchers were pursuing, because the banks had been deemed to have taken actions that threatened America’s security.

This back channel is particularly important, though, because in the same presser where Trump invited Russia to hack his opponent more, he falsely claimed he had decided against pursuing any Trump Organization developments in Russia.

Russia that wanted to put a lot of money into developments in Russia. And they wanted us to do it. But it never worked out.

Frankly I didn’t want to do it for a couple of different reasons. But we had a major developer, particular, but numerous developers that wanted to develop property in Moscow and other places. But we decided not to do it.

The researchers were explicitly trying to disprove Trump’s false claim that there were no ongoing business interests he was still pursuing with Russia. And this is a claim that Michael Cohen not only admitted was false and described recognizing was false when Trump made this public claim, but described persistent efforts on Trump’s part to cover up his lie, continuing well into his presidency.

For almost two years of Trump’s Administration, Trump was lying to cover up his efforts to pursue an impossibly lucrative real estate deal that would have required violating or eliminating US sanctions on Russia. That entire time, Russia knew Trump was lying to cover up those back channel communications with the Kremlin. That’s the kind of leverage over a President that all Americans should hope to avoid, if they care about national security. That’s precisely the kind of leverage that Sally Yates raised when she raised concerns about Mike Flynn’s public lies about his own back channel with Russia. Russia had that leverage over Trump long past the time Trump limped out of a meeting with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, to which Trump had brought none of the aides who would normally sit in on a presidential meeting, looking like a beaten puppy.

Durham’s failures to provide discovery on this issue are all the more inexcusable given the fights over privilege that will be litigated this week.

As part of the Democrats’ nesting privilege claims objecting to Durham’s motion to compel privileged documents, Marc Elias submitted a declaration describing how, given his past knowledge and involvement defending against conspiracy theory attacks on past Democratic presidential candidates launched by Jerome Corsi and Donald Trump, and given Trump’s famously litigious nature, he believed he needed expertise on Trump’s international business ties to be able to advise Democrats on how to avoid eliciting such a lawsuit from Trump. (Note, tellingly, Durham’s motion to compel doesn’t mention a great deal of accurate Russian-language research by Fusion — to which Nellie Ohr was just one of a number of contributors — that was never publicly shared nor debunked as to quality.)

There are four redacted passages that describe the advice he provided; he is providing these descriptions ex parte for Judge Cooper to use to assess the Democrats’ privilege claims. Two short ones probably pertain to the scope of Perkins Coie’s relationship with the Democratic committees. Another short one likely describes Elias’ relationship, and through him, Fusion’s, with the oppo research staff on the campaign. But the longest redaction describing Elias’ legal advice, one that extends more than five paragraphs and over a page and a half, starts this way:

That is, the introduction to Elias’ description of the privilege claims tied to the Sussmann trial starts from Trump’s request of Russia to hack Hillary. Part of that sentence and the balance of the paragraph is redacted — it might describe that immediately after Trump made that request, the Russians fulfilled his request — but the redacted paragraph and the balance of the declaration presumably describes what legal advice he gave Hillary as she faced a new onslaught of Russian hacking attempts that seemingly responded to her opponent’s request for such hacking.

Given what Elias described about his decision to hire Fusion, part of that discussion surely explains his effort to assess an anomaly identified independently by researchers that reflected unexplained traffic between a Trump marketing server and a Russian bank. Elias probably described why it was important for the Hillary campaign to assess whether this forensic data explained why Russian hackers immediately responded to Trump’s request to hack her.

As I have noted, in past filings Durham didn’t even consider the possibility that Elias might discuss the renewed wave of hacking that Hillary’s security personnel IDed in real time with Sussmann, Perkins Coie’s cybersecurity expert.

It’s a testament to how deep John Durham is in his conspiracy-driven rabbit hole that he assumes a 24-minute meeting between Marc Elias and Michael Sussmann on July 31, 2016 to discuss the “server issue” pertained to the Alfa Bank allegations. Just days earlier, after all, Donald Trump had asked Russia to hack Hillary Clinton, and within hours, Russian hackers obliged by targeting, for the first time, Hillary’s home office. Someone who worked in security for Hillary’s campaign told me that from his perspective, the Russian attacks on Hillary seemed like a series of increasing waves of attacks, and the response to Trump’s comments was one of those waves (this former staffer documented such waves of attack in real time). The Hillary campaign didn’t need Robert Mueller to tell them that Russia seemed to respond to Trump’s request by ratcheting up their attacks, and Russia’s response to Trump would have been an urgent issue for the lawyer in charge of their cybersecurity response.

It’s certainly possible this reference to the “server” issue pertained to the Alfa Bank allegations. But Durham probably doesn’t know; nor do I. None of the other billing references Durham suggests pertain to the Alfa Bank issue reference a server.

Durham took a reference that might pertain to a discussion of a correlation between Trump’s ask and a renewed wave of Russian attacks on Hillary (or might pertain to the Alfa Bank anomaly), and assumed instead it was proof that Hillary was manufacturing unsubstantiated dirt on her opponent. He never even considered the legal challenges someone victimized by a nation-state attack, goaded by her opponent, might face.

And yet, given the structure of that redaction from Elias, that event is the cornerstone of the privilege claims surrounding the Alfa Bank allegations.

Because of all the things I laid out in this post, Judge Cooper may never have to evaluate these privilege claims at all. To introduce privileged evidence, Durham has to first withstand:

  • Denial because his 404(b) notice asking to present it was late, and therefore forfeited
  • Denial because Durham’s motion to compel violated local rules and grand jury process, in some ways egregiously
  • Rejection because most of the communications over which the Democrats have invoked privilege are inadmissible hearsay
  • The inclusion or exclusion of the testimony of Rodney Joffe, whose privilege claims are the most suspect of the lot, but whose testimony would make the communications Durham deems to be most important admissible

Cooper could defer any assessment of these privilege claims until he decides these other issues and, for one or several procedural reasons, simply punt the decision entirely based on Durham’s serial failures to follow the rules.

Only after that, then, would Cooper assess a Durham conspiracy theory for which Durham himself admits he doesn’t have proof beyond a reasonable doubt. As part of his bid to submit redacted and/or hearsay documents as exhibits under a claim that this all amounted to a conspiracy (albeit one he doesn’t claim was illegal), Durham argues that unless he can submit hearsay and privileged documents, he wouldn’t otherwise have enough evidence to prove his conspiracy theory.

Nor is evidence of this joint venture gratuitous or cumulative of other evidence. Indeed, the Government possesses only a handful of redacted emails between the defendant and Tech Executive-1 on these issues. And the defendant’s billing records pertaining to the Clinton Campaign, while incriminating, do not always specify the precise nature of the defendant’s work.

Accordingly, presenting communications between the defendant’s alleged clients and third parties regarding the aforementioned political research would hardly amount to a “mini-trial.” (Def. Mot. at 20). Rather, these communications are among the most probative and revealing evidence that the Government will present to the jury. Other than the contents of privileged communications themselves (which are of course not accessible to the Government or the jury), such communications will offer some of the most direct evidence on the ultimate question of whether the defendant lied in stating that he was not acting for any other clients.

In short, because the Government here must prove the existence of client relationships that are themselves privileged, it is the surrounding events and communications involving these clients that offer the best proof of those relationships.

Moreover, even if the Court were to find that no joint venture existed, all of the proffered communications are still admissible because, as set forth in the Government’s motions, they are not being offered to prove the truth of specific assertions. Rather, they are being offered to prove the existence of activities and relationships that led to, and culminated in, the defendant’s meeting with the FBI. Even more critically, the very existence of these written records – which laid bare the political nature of the exercise and the numerous doubts that the researchers had about the soundness of their conclusions – gave the defendant and his clients a compelling motive, separate and apart from the truth or falsity of the emails themselves, to conceal the identities of such clients and origins of the joint venture. Accordingly, they are not being offered for their truth and are not hearsay.

This passage (which leads up to a citation from one of the Georgia Tech researchers to which Sussmann was not privy that the frothers have spent the weekend drooling over) is both a confession and a cry for help.

In it, Durham admits he doesn’t actually have proof that the conspiracy he is alleging is the motive behind Michael Sussmann’s alleged lie.

He’s making this admission, of course, while hiding the abundant evidence — evidence he didn’t bother obtaining before charging Sussmann — that Sussmann and Joffe acceded to the FBI request to help kill the NYT story, which substantiates Sussmann’s stated motive.

And then, in the same passage, Durham is pointing to that absence of evidence to justify using that same claimed conspiracy for which he doesn’t have evidence to pierce privilege claims to obtain the evidence he doesn’t have. It’s a circular argument and an admission that all the claims he has been making since September are based off his beliefs about what must be there, not what he has evidence for.

Thus far the researchers’ beliefs about what kind of back channels they might find between Trump and Russia have far more proof than Durham’s absence of evidence.

Again, Durham doesn’t even claim that such a conspiracy would be illegal (much less chargeable under the statute of limitations), which is why he didn’t do what he could have had he been able to show probable cause that a crime had been committed: obtaining the communications with a warrant and using a filter team. Bill Barr’s memoir made it quite clear that he appointed Durham not because a crime had been committed, but because he wanted to know how a “bogus scandal” in which DOJ found multiple national security crimes started. ”Even after dealing with the Mueller report, I still had to launch US Attorney John Durham’s investigation into the genesis of this bogus scandal.” In his filing, Durham confesses to doing the same, three years later: using his feelings about a “bogus scandal” to claim a non-criminal conspiracy that he hopes might provide some motive other than the one — national security — that DOJ has already confirmed.

An absolutely central part of Durham’s strategy to win this trial is to present his conspiracy theories, whether by belatedly piercing privilege claims he should have addressed before charging Sussmann (even assuming he’ll find what he admits he doesn’t have proof is there), or by presenting his absence of evidence and claiming it is evidence. He will only be permitted to do if Judge Cooper ignores all his rule violations and grants him a hearsay exception.

But if he manages to present his conspiracy theories, Sussmann can immediately pivot and point out all the evidence in DOJ’s possession that proves not just that the suspicions Durham insists must be malicious and political in fact proved to be true, but also that DOJ — his former boss! — already deemed these suspicions national security concerns that in some cases amounted to crimes.

John Durham’s entire trial strategy consists of claiming that it was obviously political to investigate a real forensic anomaly to see whether it explained why Russia responded to Trump’s call for more hacks by renewing their attack on Hillary. He’s doing so while withholding abundant material evidence that DOJ already decided he’s wrong.

So even if he succeeds, even if Cooper grants him permission to float his conspiracy theories and even if they were to succeed at trial, Sussmann would have immediate recourse to ask for sanctions, pointing to all the evidence in DOJ’s possession that Durham’s claims of malice were wrong.

Update: The bad news I’m still working through my typos, with your help, including getting the name of Dmitri Simes’ organization wrong. The good news is the typos are probably due to being rushed out to cycle in the sun, so I have a good excuse.

Update: Judge Cooper has issued an initial ruling on Durham’s expert witness. It limits what Durham presents to the FBI investigation (excluding much of the CIA investigation he has recently been floating), and does not permit the expert to address whether the data actually did represent communications between Trump and Alfa Bank unless Sussmann either affirmatively claims it did or unless Durham introduced proof that Sussmann knew the data was dodgy.

Finally, the Court takes a moment to explain what could open the door to further evidence about the accuracy of the data Mr. Sussmann provided to the FBI. As the defense concedes, such evidence might be relevant if the government could separately establish “what Mr. Sussmann knew” about the data’s accuracy. Data Mot. at 3. If Sussmann knew the data was suspect, evidence about faults in the data could possibly speak to “his state of mind” at the time of his meeting with Mr. Baker, id., including his motive to conceal the origins of the data. By contrast, Sussmann would not open the door to further evidence about the accuracy of the data simply by seeking to establish that he reasonably believed the data were accurate and relied on his associates’ representations that they were. Such a defense theory could allow the government to introduce evidence tending to show that his belief was not reasonable—for instance, facially obvious shortcomings in the data, or information received by Sussmann indicating relevant deficiencies.

Ultimately, Cooper is treating this (as appropriate given the precedents in DC) as a question of Sussmann’s state of mind.

Importantly, this is what Cooper says about Durham blowing his deadline (which in this case was a deadline of comity, not trial schedule): he’s going to let it slide, in part because Sussmann does not object to the narrowed scope of what the expert will present.

Mr. Sussmann also urges the Court to exclude the expert testimony on the ground that the government’s notice was untimely and insufficiently specific. See Expert Mot. at 6–10; Fed. R. Crim. P. 16(a)(1)(G). Because the Court will limit Special Agent Martin’s testimony largely to general explanations of the type of technical data that has always been part of the core of this case—much of which Mr. Sussmann does not object to—any allegedly insufficient or belated notice did not prejudice him. See United States v. Mohammed, No. 06-cr-357, 2008 WL 5552330, at *3 (D.D.C. May 6, 2008) (finding that disclosure nine days before trial did not prejudice defendant in part because its subject was “hardly a surprise”) (citing United States v. Martinez, 476 F.3d 961, 967 (D.C. Cir. 2007)).

This suggests Cooper may be less willing to let other deadlines slide, such as the all-important 404(b) one.

“Problem:” SDNY Charges Elena Branson as Unregistered Agent of Russia

Back in 2013, the Senior Vice President of the Russian American Chamber of Commerce (Sergei Millian’s organization) sent Elena Branson language from FARA with the subject line, “Problem.”

a. On or about January 30, 2013, BRANSON received an email from an individual using an email address ending in “mail.ru.” Based on my review of publicly available information, I have learned that this individual was a Senior Vice President of the Russian American Chamber of Commerce in the USA. This email had the subject line “Problem.” and the text of the email included, among other things, a portion of the FARA Unit’s website with background on FARA. In response, BRANSON wrote, in part, “I am interested in the number of the law, its text in English[.]” The sender then responded with “Lena, read …” and copied into the email background on FARA and portions of the statute.

Branson, who the prior year had founded the Russian Center of New York and subsequently became the Chair of Russian Community Council of the USA (KSORS), apparently didn’t think it was an urgent problem. It wasn’t until 2019 that she appears to have considered — but then, after asking Russian Ambassador Anatoly Antonov for guidance, decided not to — register under FARA.

b. On or about December 10, 2019, BRANSON received an email indicating that BRANSON had requested a new FARA “eFile” account.21 That day, a member of the FARA Unit emailed the Branson RCNY Account with an eFile account number and temporary password to log in to the FARA eFile system. Later that day, a user logged in to the FARA eFile system using that account number and temporary password, and entered the registration name “Russian Center, Inc.” and the RCNY Office as the address. The user did not submit a FARA registration for the account. A user then accessed the account again on or about December 11, 2019, but, again, the individual did not submit a FARA registration. The internet protocol addresses connected to both log-ins of this account resolve to the same zip code as the RCNY Office.

c. On or about December 26, 2019, BRANSON emailed the Embassy Email Account. In the cover email, BRANSON wrote, in part, “[A] letter is in the attachment. Respectfully, Elena.” In the attached letter, BRANSON wrote, in part, that she had been asked questions from “compatriots” about “whether it is necessary to register their public organizations as a foreign agent.” BRANSON further wrote “[t]hese questions began to arise after the arrest of Maria Butina in Washington in July 2018 on charges of working as a foreign agent in the United States without registration.” BRANSON concluded the letter by asking the Embassy to advise such Russian compatriot groups, writing, “I am asking you to provide legal advice regarding registration as a foreign agent . . . for public organizations of Russian compatriots in the United States.” The letter was addressed to Ambassador-1.

Branson’s failure to register lies at the core of a 6-count complaint unveiled by SDNY yesterday, charging Branson in several conspiracies, under both FARA and 18 USC 951, as well as for visa fraud.

Branson won’t be arrested off this complaint. She’s long gone.

A month after the FBI interviewed her and searched her office in September 2020, she fled the country. Not long after Biden was inaugurated, Branson sold her NYC apartment.

During this investigation, the FBI has, among other things, executed judicially authorized search warrants for (i) approximately eight of BRANSON’s electronic accounts (the “Branson Accounts”3); (ii) the RCNY office (which was also BRANSON’s residence) in Manhattan, New York (the “RCNY Office”); and (iii) BRANSON’s person, for all electronics and other materials in her possession at the time of the search. From the RCNY Office and the search of BRANSON’s person, the FBI recovered a total of approximately 34 electronic devices (the “Branson Electronics”), including approximately 11 cellular phones. The FBI also conducted a voluntary interview of BRANSON on the same day as the search of the RCNY Office (the “Branson Interview”) and has interviewed other individuals living in the United States in connection with the investigation.

The searches of the RCNY Office (the “RCNY Search”) and BRANSON’s person, as well as the Branson Interview, took place on or about September 29, 2020. BRANSON flew to Moscow, Russia, on or about October 20, 2020, and BRANSON does not appear to have returned to the United States since that date. In or about March 2021, BRANSON sold the RCNY Office, which had been her residence in New York City. During in or about October and November 2020, BRANSON’s then boyfriend 9 (“Boyfriend-1”) wired approximately $197,000 to two of BRANSON’s bank accounts at Russian banks.4 On or about October 15, 2021, RT, formerly known as Russia Today, a Russian state-controlled television station, published an interview conducted by Maria Butina5 of BRANSON. During this interview, BRANSON told Butina, in substance and in part, that BRANSON left the United States for Moscow approximately one month after the Branson Interview because BRANSON was “scared” and thought the “probability was very high” that she would be arrested if she stayed in the United States.6

3 The Branson Accounts include four email accounts and four social media accounts, including BRANSON’s Facebook account (the “Branson Facebook Account”).

So Branson will only be arrested if she decides to flee Putin’s increasingly totalitarian regime.

Unlike the prosecution of Jack Hanick, then, whose indictment may have been timed to tolling statutes of limitation last November and in which the US is working on getting him extradited from the UK, this complaint seems to be more about messaging in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

As a messaging vehicle, it shows how Russia has committed to the “consolidation” of Russian diaspora, cultivating a Russian identity that can be used to mobilize political pressure (and, in Ukraine and the Baltics, justifications for imperialism).

In or about November 2015, Lavrov published an article titled “Russian World: Steering Towards Consolidation.” In this article, Lavrov wrote, in part, “The provision of support to the Russian world is an unconditional foreign-policy priority for Russia, as formalized by Russia’s Foreign Policy Concept. . . . Over the years, we have managed to elevate our work in this area to an entirely new level and to create effective cooperation mechanisms in close contact with representatives of foreign communities.”

Some of Branson’s activities are mundane cultural exchanges paid for by Russian government entities. Some sprinkle the names of likely spies or handlers in the description.

Perhaps most interesting, the complaint provides an interesting addition to this passage from the Mueller Report.

Later [on November 9, 2016, the day after Trump’s victory, Kirill] Dmitriev flew to New York, where Peskov was separately traveling to attend the chess tournament. 1020 Dmitriev invited Nader to the opening of the tournament and noted that, if there was “a chance to see anyone key from Trump camp,” he “would love to start building for the future.” 1021 Dmitriev also asked Nader to invite Kushner to the event so that he (Dmitriev) could meet him. 1022 Nader did not pass along Dmitriev’s invitation to anyone connected with the incoming Administration. 1023 Although one World Chess Federation official recalled hearing from an attendee that President-Elect Trump had stopped by the tournament, the investigation did not establish that Trump or any Campaign or Transition Team official attended the event. 1024 And the President’s written answers denied that he had. 1025

The complaint describes how Branson had been instructed to arrange a meeting with Trump or Ivanka in March 2016, around the same time Russia was hacking John Podesta, though the complaint is remarkably coy about whether Branson ever sent her draft letter to Trump Organization (and if so, whether it was among the documents showing direct ties to Russia that Trump Organization withheld from Mueller’s inquiry and SSCI).

In or about March 2016, BRANSON exchanged a series of emails with Minister-2. During these messages, in part, Minister-2 asked BRANSON to organize a meeting with CC-2 and the now-former President of the United States, who was then a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, or his daughter, in New York. On or about March 23, 2016, BRANSON received an email from Minister-2 with the subject line “additional meetings of [CC-2].” The email stated, in part, that the author was requesting BRANSON’s assistance in organizing meetings for CC-2 with “the management” of certain specified U.S. companies. On or about March 16, 2016, BRANSON sent an individual, who was then-chair of KSORS, a draft letter addressed to the now-former President, inviting him to the Russia Forum New York in April 2016 and suggesting that if his “busy schedule will not permit your attending our forum, perhaps you can suggest one of your children . . . who have followed in your footsteps.” The draft invitation included BRANSON’s name and contact information in the signature block. There is no indication that the now-former President or his children attended the referenced meeting.

Branson’s complaint describes what would be a second attempt to get Trump to attend the Chess Championship, in addition to Kirill’s attempt to extend an invite through George Nader. Branson sent her invite to an unnamed Trump Advisor.

BRANSON also attempted to arrange meetings for Russian officials at the 2016 World Chess Championship, which was held in Manhattan, New York:

1. On or about November 9, 2016, CC-6 emailed BRANSON with the subject line “Chess business.” CC-6 wrote to BRANSON, in part, “as discussed we will try to get Kirsan online after tomorrow’s official press-conference is over around noon at Fulton Street Market Building, South Street Seaport NY[.]”20 On or about that same day, BRANSON responded to CC-6 and wrote “[CC-6], good evening! I can bring the ipad for a Skype session. I will contact the media. Need them at noon?”

2. On or about November 10, 2016, BRANSON emailed an advisor to the now-former President of the United States (“Advisor-1”), expressing congratulations for their victory in the presidential election and attaching an invitation to the World Chess Championship addressed to the then-President- elect. The invitation was signed by “President of the International Chess Federation (FIDE-FIDE).” There is no indication that the now-former President attended the referenced event.

3. On or about November 11, 2016, BRANSON was photographed at the World Chess Championship with CC-6 and a second individual who I recognize, based on my review of publicly available photographs, to be the current Press Secretary for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

20 Based on my training and experience, including my review of publicly available material, I have learned that Kirsan Ilyumzhinov is the former President of the Republic of Kalmykia in the Russian Federation and the former president of FIDE, the International Chess Federation. I have further learned that, on or about November 25, 2015, the United States Department of the Treasury designated Ilyumzhinov as a Specially Designated National for his involvement with the Government of Syria and related entities.

Here, the complaint reiterates the Mueller conclusion: there’s no evidence Trump attended the event. But it does raise questions about the completeness of the response Trump offered to Mueller’s questions, pertaining to whether Trump was asked to attend.

Were you asked to attend the World Chess Championship gala on November 10, 2016? If yes, who asked you to attend, when were you asked, and what were you told about about [sic] why your presence was requested? 1. Did you attend any part of the event? If yes, describe any interactions you had with any Russians or representatives of the Russian government at the event.

Were you asked to attend the World Chess Championship gala on November 10, 2016? If yes, who asked you to attend, when were you asked, and what were you told about about [sic] why your presence was requested? 1. Did you attend any part of the event? If yes, describe any interactions you had with any Russians or representatives of the Russian government at the event.

Response to Question V, Part (a)

I do not remember having been asked to attend the World Chess Championship gala, and I did not attend the event. During the course of preparing to respond to these questions, I have become aware of documents indicating that in March of 2016, the president of the World Chess Federation invited the Trump Organization to host, at Trump Tower, the 2016 World Chess Championship Match to be held in New York in November 2016. I have also become aware that in November 2016, there were press inquiries to my staff regarding whether I had plans to attend the tournament, which was not being held at Trump Tower. I understand these documents have already been provided to you.

Trump describes a March 2016 discussion about hosting the event and November press inquiries about whether he would attend it. But there’s no mention of a November 2016 invitation asking him to attend.

Yet the Branson complaint suggests there would have been an invitation to Trump, signed by the sanctioned Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, sent through an unnamed advisor. His response reflects only earlier (in March) communications about the chess championship, not anything sent on November 10 bearing Ilyumzhinov’s signature.

This is a signaling complaint, one that likely won’t lead to anyone’s arrest. But it should raise more questions about Donald Trump’s candor with Mueller back in 2018.

And we should expect more of the same. On Twitter, Brandon Van Grack, who would have been involved in Branson’s investigation when he ran the National Security Division’s FARA office and likely knows what else might be in the pipeline, suggested there’s probably more of the same to come.

How Putin Got in Trump’s (and So, All of Our) Head

As of 8AM on December 22, this tweet has over 50,000 likes and almost 11,000 RTs.

The AP story he RTed selectively reported Vladimir Putin’s taunt in response to a Dmitry Simes’ question at his yearly epic press conference (posed well into the process, even after a possibly more interesting exchange about doping and the Olympics).

In context, Putin’s response is not that inflammatory. It uses domestic US politics as a way to pressure Trump to sign START-3. (I’ve italicized the Putin language that AP took out of context and provided their own translation of; also note: Simes was himself a subject of the Mueller investigation for the early advice he gave Jared Kushner on how to manage this relationship and is close to a number of key members of Congress.)

D. Simes:  Channel One, The Big Game.

D. Peskov : Please give a microphone.

D. Simes:  Mr. President, two days ago the US Congress passed bills on sanctions against Russia. Moreover, by such a majority that it would be very difficult for President Trump to maintain his veto.

And, as you probably know, the House of Representatives passed an impeachment act yesterday. This is the context in which he has to make decisions on foreign policy as a whole and more specifically, of course, in relation to Russia.

In this situation, what, do you think, do you and Russia have the opportunity to try to maintain or strengthen dialogue with the United States until the end of Trump’s presidency? What can you do for strategic stability, and more specifically, for the extension of the strategic offensive arms treaty START-3?

Vladimir Putin:  Regarding the extension of our dialogue until the end of Trump’s presidency, it’s as if you are already raising the question that it is ending. I’m just not sure about that. You also need to go through the Senate, where the Republicans, as far as I know, have the majority, and they are unlikely to want to remove the representative of their party from power for some, in my opinion, absolutely far-fetched reasons.

It’s just a continuation of the internal political struggle, and one party that lost the election, the Democratic Party, it is achieving results by other means, by other means, charging Trump with conspiracy with Russia, then it turns out that there was no conspiracy, this cannot lie in the basis of impeachment. Now they have come up with some kind of pressure on Ukraine. I don’t know what it is … But it’s more visible to your congressmen.

As for those decisions that are made in [respect] of Russia. They are accepted by people who practically do not bear responsibility for these decisions. These are not executive authorities, but representative ones, they must pass laws. They make such decisions regarding Russia.

Of course, this will affect the level of our interstate relations. We know the general approach, which is that the United States will work with us where it is interesting and profitable, and at the same time will restrain Russia with the help of solutions of this kind. Knowing this, we, too, will act in a mirror image, and that’s it. There is nothing good about it. These are absolutely unfriendly acts against Russia.

They want to help Ukraine maintain transit. I just told a colleague from Ukraine: we ourselves want to preserve transit, we are interested in this anyway and will do it. If you wanted to help, it would be better if they gave money. Why don’t they give money to Ukraine? Would give them the opportunity to subsidize.

Look, because they almost do not give money, they give only guarantees for possible loans, but this is not real money – there is no real support. And the IMF, at the same time as the United States, is demanding that all privileges for energy resources, including gas, be canceled. And now the population will again have a leap.

Other Westerners, the EU, are demanding that the round timber be exported and allowed to be exported to Europe. There will soon be nothing left of the Carpathians – bare rocks will be there if they take out the round timber. It seems like they support the current Ukrainian regime and leadership, but at the same time, in my opinion, they are doing some serious blows.

Now they demand that land be sold. For Ukrainians, the land has sacred significance, and I can understand it: these are the “golden” lands. Of course, the opposition immediately took advantage of this, now it begins to inflict domestic political blows on Zelensky.

They accuse us of something in relation to Ukraine, they allegedly want to help, but they really want to do something so that Ukraine replenishes its budget at the Russian expense. Give money yourself, help, give good loans at preferential rates for a long period. There is nothing.

Nevertheless, we are interested in developing and maintaining relations with the United States, and we will do this regardless of who is in the White House or who controls both houses of the US Congress.

Are there any prospects here? I think there is. You yourself mentioned one of the foundations on the basis of which we must build our relations – these are global security issues, including START-3. We have given our proposals, I have already said, and I want to repeat once again: until the end of the year we are ready to simply extend, just to take and extend the current START-3 agreement.

If tomorrow they send us by mail, or we are ready to sign and send to Washington, let the relevant leaders, including the President, put their signature there, if they are ready. But so far there is no answer to all our proposals. And if there is no START-3, then there will be nothing at all in the world that holds back the arms race. And this, in my opinion, is bad.

Along the way, though, Putin’s correct observation that Republicans will be loathe to replace their own president led AP to foreground his claimed opinion that the impeachment was like the Mueller investigation and the allegations are far-fetched.

In a world of rigorous journalism, such a report would note that the Ukraine allegations are in some ways the continuation of Trump’s efforts to undermine the Russian investigation and incorporate a hoax that Trump believes partly because Putin has convinced him to (claim to) believe.

But the AP didn’t include that. It instead included Putin’s comment with the spin he might prefer, and slapped it into a tweet that emphasized Putin’s predictive powers. And somehow that tweet attracted Trump’s attention (how it did so — after all, the AP is not Trump’s regular media diet — is one of the more interesting questions about this). And Trump tweeted it out, “A total Witch Hunt!,” like he would other tweets parroting precisely what he wants to hear.

Given Trump’s kneejerk narcissism, that he retweeted this Putin comment is not much different than him retweeting Rand Paul or Jim Jordan or Mark Meadows saying something similar. Putin is just one other person Trump has chosen to include in his echo chamber,  and he’s there for the same reason: because he says to Trump what Trump wants to hear.

Of course it is different, not just because Putin has a role in Trump’s crimes, which has made this tweet go viral in part due to outrage retweeting. A slew of stupid news coverage has followed.

But the tweet is also different because by elevating the tweet, Trump will allow Putin to claim to be correct when the Senate fails to remove Trump, not just on his analysis that Republicans won’t want to remove their own President, but also that the allegations are far-fetched, something many but not all Republicans are willing to perform belief of, but which few people who’ve read the facts actually do believe.

Along the way, Putin will co-opt those Republicans (like John Kennedy) willing to spew hoaxes about Ukraine out of partisan loyalty. Loyalty to Trump will appear to be validation of Putin, even on a question premised on the overwhelming bipartisan support for sanctions on Russia. And that, in turn, will be deemed, by Trump opponents, to demonstrate irrationality of his supporters.

It’s all very predictable and — pro Trump, anti Trump, and lazy journalist — we’re all playing our designated parts like trained monkeys. All of this reactive expression only serves to heighten partisanship on terms with real consequences for foreign policy. It doesn’t take genius by Putin to do this either (though he’s very very good at playing Trump and the western press). It just takes our own reactiveness triggered by social media.

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. 

Why Trump Believed He Could Withhold the June 9 Email: Because He Succeeded in Withholding Moscow Trump Tower Ones

In this post, I showed that I was correct when I wrote, back in January, that the Trump Organization did not turn over all the documents requested in the House Intelligence Committee subpoena to Michael Cohen. Trump Organization withheld — from HPSCI and from Cohen — the email that shows Dmitry Peskov’s office did respond to Cohen’s request for help (as well as emails showing that he kept trying to reach Peskov’s office).

On January 20, 2016, Cohen received an email from Elena Poliakova, Peskov’s personal assistant. Writing from her personal email account, Poliakova stated that she had been trying to reach Cohen and asked that he call her on the personal number that she provided.350 Shortly after receiving Poliakova’s email, Cohen called and spoke to her for 20 minutes.

I also showed that Trump’s sworn response to a Mueller question about all this replicates the lies that Cohen told in his false statement to Congress.

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 or Felix Sater and any Russian government official regarding the Letter of Intent. In the course of preparing to respond to your questions, I have become aware that 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.

[snip]

With that in mind, consider the substance of that middle paragraph. It repeats the key lies that Cohen pled guilty to in December:

  • Trump and Cohen only have a few (three) conversations about the deal rather than ten or more
  • Trump did not know of any travel plans to Russia
  • Trump didn’t discuss the project with anyone else at Trump Org, including Ivanka and Don Jr
  • Cohen’s attempt to contact Dmitry Peskov in January 2016 was via a public email address and proved unsuccessful

Compare those lies with the three main lies Cohen pled guilty to.

  • The Moscow Project ended in January 201 6 and was not discussed extensively with others in the Company.
  • COHEN never agreed to travel to Russia in connection with the Moscow Project and “never considered” asking Individual 1 to travel for the project.
  • COHEN did not recall any Russian government response or contact about the Moscow Project.

Not knowing (or caring) that his former fixer was already cooperating with Mueller, Trump repeated precisely the same lies Cohen is now in prison for, did so under oath, and refused to fix those responses when given an opportunity to.

All that’s important background for something explained in the Mueller Report: that it was Trump — not Hope Hicks (as Mark Corallo feared) — who planned to withhold the thread of emails setting up the June 9 meeting to hide that Don Jr had accepted dirt from the Russian government. In the weeks before the NYT learned of the emails, Trump repeatedly tried to insulate himself from being shown the emails and said that “just one lawyer should deal with the matter” to prevent them from leaking.

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.679

On June 28, 2017, Hicks viewed the emails at Kushner’s attorney’s office.680 She recalled being shocked by the emails because they looked “really bad.”681 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.683 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.689 Hicks recalled that the President asked Kushner when his document production was due. 690 Kushner responded that it would be a couple of weeks and the President said, “then leave it alone.”691 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

When the NYT reached out to the White House for the story, Trump uncharacteristically told Hicks not to comment for the story.

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

Then, when Trump, who was with Hicks, was chewing Mark Corallo out for the counter-statement he released, Hicks, “channel[ed] the President” by saying that the email would never get out.

The next day, July 9, 2017, Hicks and the President called Corallo together and the President criticized Corallo for the statement he had released.721 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 emails would leak.726

In the period when the Joint Defense Agreement was trying to respond to Congressional requests for documents on Trump’s ties to Russia, the President’s response was to argue that “just one lawyer should deal with the matter” to ensure that the emails did not get out.

That lawyer is Alan Garten.

We know that because in Cohen’s March 6 testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, he described that Alan Garten and Alan Futerfas were in charge of document collection for the Trump Organization.

THE CHAIRMAN: A number of those emails were never turned over to our committee in the document production. Do you know who was responsible for the document production and who would have withheld those documents from this committee?

MR. COHEN: Alan Futerfas and Alan Garten.

More specifically, Cohen’s February 28 testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, he described a meeting he had with Garten on document production. He was telling the story to explain that at the meeting, Garten told Cohen enough for him to figure out that Trump was the one who drafted the false statement on the June 9 meeting.

THE CHAIRMAN: You mentioned a meeting also with Alan Garten?

MR. COHEN: Yes, sir.

THE CHAIRMAN: And can you tell us who that is?

MR. COHEN: Alan Garten is now general counsel at The Trump Organization, And prior to that, he was assistant general counsel.

THE CHAIRMAN: You referenced that in the context of this also raised your suspicion of collusion. What in particular were you referring to?

MR. COHEN: My conversation with Alan Garten was in regard to, I believe, this committee’s subpoena where they wanted all of my contacts from the Trump Org server. And in order to limit the amount, because there were about 10,000, he brought to me a stack of pages and wanted me to go through each one of those email addresses to the best of my ability to mark off which ones were family, which ones were friends, which ones related to Trump Org business, which ones were just solicitations, Google alerts, et cetera. We started to engage in conversation, because at the time the news cycle was all over the allegation that the conversation going back and forth was about adoption. And I said, well, what’s going on? Tell me what happened. So he told me that he was with Don Jr. and that they were communicating back and forth with Air Force One. And he goes, you know how it gets, back and forth and back and forth. He goes, it was such a process. That was the conversation with Alan Garten.

THE CHAIRMAN: And tell me what raised your suspicion about that conversation.

MR. COHEN: lt was about how to describe the meeting, the Trump Tower meeting, as to whether it was about obtaining dirt on Hillary Clinton or it was about adoption. And what he expressed to me is that, you know, Mr. Trump drafted the first round, and it came to Don and him, and then they sent it back, and back and forth.

THE CHAIRMAN: So what he described to you was Mr. Trump’s participation in the creation of a false statement about what took place in that meeting?

MR. COHEN: Yes, that’s how he described it. Well, that’s how I understood it.

But the point of the meeting was to begin the document response process from Trump Organization that resulted in the most damning emails — emails that would prove false the story Cohen and the Trump family lawyers planned to tell about the Trump Tower Moscow deal — being withheld.

In the March 6 one, Adam Schiff got Cohen to repeat that the reason he and Garten were having this conversation in the first place is because Garten was pulling documents to reply to Congressional requests.

Q Well, let me ask it a different way. What was the purpose of him showing you your contacts and other documents?

A The Trump Organization received a subpoena in order to turn over documents, and since I had no documents, everything being in their custody and control, they wanted the contacts to be limited to, I suspect, non-business-related, you know, removal, family removal emails that are not pertaining to the investigation.

Q So the purpose of the meeting was to discuss a document production that The Trump Organization needed to provide?

A Correct.

Q And was it to provide to this committee?

A I don’t know which committee, but I suspect it was all the committees.

Q All right. And do you recall that the false statement that Don Jr. issued about the Trump Tower meeting that was discussed on Air Force One, do you recall that happened in approximately June of 2017?

A I believe so.

Garten was with Don Jr in person as they worked back and forth with Hope Hicks and Donald Trump on Air Force One to draft the June 9 meeting that Trump wanted to lie about by making sure the email didn’t leak.

There were no lawyers on Air Force One. This is the conversation that, in his appearances before Congress, Don Jr successfully avoided discussing because he was with his lawyer. But no privilege should have attached to that conversation because Garten did not represent Trump personally (Trump was supposed to be walled off from Trump Organization matters), much less Hope Hicks.

In June 2017, when Donald Trump was trying to sustain a false story about the June 9 meeting by suggesting that if just one lawyer dealt with the matter, the email disproving that story would not be “leaked,” Alan Garten was ensuring that the email disproving Michael Cohen’s false story did not get turned over to Congress.

That’s why Trump thought he’d get away with the lie. Because he almost got away with it on the Trump Tower Moscow story.

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. 

Michael Cohen’s HPSCI Testimony Proves Trump Lied in his Answers to Mueller

Yesterday, the House Intelligence Committee released transcripts of Michael Cohen’s February 28 and March 6 testimony before the committee. Together they’re utterly damning for a bunch of reasons:

  • GOPers (with former US Attorney John Ratcliffe incompetently replacing Trey Gowdy as their designated “adult”) thought they could prove that Cohen hadn’t been offered a pardon, but proved the opposite; on top of looking like blithering idiots, it basically put them in the position of laying out proof of — then shrugging away — crime after Trump crime
  • As I anticipated at the time, Cohen makes clear that any Joint Defense Agreement involving him lasted only so long as Trump believed Cohen could hurt him
  • On top of providing details about the editing of his false statement, Cohen lays out how in conversations before the first draft, Jay Sekulow got him to shorten the timeframe of the Moscow Trump Tower deal
  • Cohen confirmed that — as I laid out in January — there was a gap in the documents shared with HPSCI necessary to sustain the false story

Perhaps most surprising, though, Cohen’s testimony establishes that Trump lied to Robert Mueller in his sworn answers.

Trump’s responses on Trump Tower questions were the least responsive of his many non-responsive answers

Far too little attention has been focused on Trump’s downright contemptuous responses to Mueller’s questions, many of which conflict with the testimony of numerous loyal Trump people. Worst of all were Trump’s response to seven questions on the Trump Tower deal.

a. In October 2015, a “Letter of Intent,” a copy of which is attached as Exhibit B, was signed for a proposed Trump Organization project in Moscow (the “Trump Moscow project”).

i. When were you first informed of discussions about the Trump Moscow project? By whom? What were you told about the project?

ii. Did you sign the letter of intent?

b. In a statement provided to Congress, attached as Exhibit C, Michael Cohen stated: “To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Trump was never in contact with anyone about this proposal other than me on three occasions, including signing a non-binding letter of intent in 2015.” Describe all discussions you had with Mr. Cohen, or anyone else associated with the Trump Organization, about the Trump Moscow project, including who you spoke with, when, and the substance of the discussion(s).

c. Did you learn of any communications between Michael Cohen or Felix Sater and any Russian government officials, including officials in the office of Dmitry Peskov, regarding the Trump Moscow project? If so, identify who provided this info1mation to you, when, and the substance of what you learned.

d. Did you have any discussions between June 2015 and June 2016 regarding a potential trip to Russia by you and/or Michael Cohen for reasons related to the Trump Moscow project? If yes, describe who you spoke with, when, and the substance of the discussion(s).

e. Did you at any time direct or suggest that discussions about the Trump Moscow project should cease, or were you informed at any time that the project had been abandoned? If yes, describe who you spoke with, when, the substance of the discussion(s), and why that decision was made.

f. Did you have any discussions regarding what information would be provided publicly or in response to investigative inquiries about potential or actual investments or business deals the Trump Organization had in Russia, including the Trump Moscow project? If yes, describe who you spoke with, when, and the substance of the discussion(s).

g. Aside from the Trump Moscow project, did you or the Trump Organization have any other prospective or actual business interests, investments, or arrangements with Russia or any Russian interest or Russian individual during the campaign? If yes, describe the business interests, investments, or arrangements.

In response, Trump wrote three paragraphs.

Response to Question III, Parts (a) through (g)

Sometime in 2015, Michael Cohen suggested to me the possibility of a Trump Organization project in Moscow. As I recall, Mr. Cohen described this as a proposed project of a general type we have done in the past in a variety of locations. I signed the non-binding Letter of Intent attached to your questions as Exhibit B which required no equity or expenditure on our end and was consistent with our ongoing efforts to expand into significant markets around the world.

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 or Felix Sater and any Russian government official regarding the Letter of Intent. In the course of preparing to respond to your questions, I have become aware that 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.

I vaguely remember press inquiries and media reporting during the campaign about whether the Trump Organization had business dealings in Russia. I may have spoken with campaign staff or Trump Organization employees regarding responses to requests for information, but I have no current recollection of any particular conversation, with whom I may have spoken, when, or the substance of any conversation. As I recall, neither I nor the Trump Organization had any projects or proposed projects in Russia during the campaign other than the Letter of Intent.

The first paragraph is factually accurate. The last paragraph is correct (as far as we know) with respect to having no other proposed projects, but is utterly non-responsive to a question about the response to investigative questions (including these ones) regarding the project, in part because Trump only agreed to answer questions pertaining to the campaign period.

The middle paragraph, however, is inconsistent with the documentary record, but consistent with the false statement that Cohen is now sitting in prison for.

After Cohen pled guilty, Mueller offered Trump a chance to correct his testimony, but he refused

Because I get into why that is, consider that, in the wake of Cohen’s plea, Trump admitted to remembering that the deal may have gone through the end of the campaign (the LOI was only withdrawn after the election) and Rudy ran his mouth admitting that the project went through November. In response, Mueller asked follow-up questions.

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

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.

On this matter, then, Trump made comments to the public after submitting his responses to Mueller that made it clear his claims to not recall these matters were false. When Mueller gave him the opportunity to fix his testimony, he refused.

Part of Trump’s response exactly replicates the lies Cohen told, in a statement prepared with the input of Jay Sekulow, to Congress

With that in mind, consider the substance of that middle paragraph. It repeats the key lies that Cohen pled guilty to in December:

  • Trump and Cohen only have a few (three) conversations about the deal rather than ten or more
  • Trump did not know of any travel plans to Russia
  • Trump didn’t discuss the project with anyone else at Trump Org, including Ivanka and Don Jr
  • Cohen’s attempt to contact Dmitry Peskov in January 2016 was via a public email address and proved unsuccessful

Compare those lies with the three main lies Cohen pled guilty to.

  • The Moscow Project ended in January 201 6 and was not discussed extensively with others in the Company.
  • COHEN never agreed to travel to Russia in connection with the Moscow Project and “never considered” asking Individual 1 to travel for the project.
  • COHEN did not recall any Russian government response or contact about the Moscow Project.

Not knowing (or caring) that his former fixer was already cooperating with Mueller, Trump repeated precisely the same lies Cohen is now in prison for, did so under oath, and refused to fix those responses when given an opportunity to.

Cohen’s testimony, however, makes these lies even more damning.

The Trump Organization withheld the documents that would have made it clear Cohen was lying from the Committees

Again, as I noted back in January, there is no way that the lies Cohen told SSCI and HPSCI would have been sustainable if the committees had gotten all the documents they asked for. Specifically, three emails referenced in Cohen’s statement of the offense could not have been turned over to the committees without them figuring out he was lying.

On or about January 14, 2016 , COHEN emailed Russian Official 1’s office asking for assistance in connection with the Moscow Project.

On or about January 16, 2016, COHEN emailed Russian Official 1’s office again , said he was trying to reach another high- level Russian official, and asked for someone who spoke English to contact him.

On or about January 20, 2016, COHEN received an email from the personal assistant to Russian Official 1 (“Assistant 1”) , stating that she had been trying to reach COHEN and requesting that he call her using a Moscow-based phone number she provided.

Cohen’s story (and the one Trump submitted as his sworn testimony) is that he tried emailing Dmitry Peskov’s office just once, and that via a public email address. But as Mueller describes it — citing three emails from Cohen and one response from Peskov’s assistant Elena Poliakova — he wrote one email in which he fat-fingered the address for Peskov’s email, one to the general press line, and a second to Peskov’s email. In response, Poliakova wrote back, stating, “I can’t get through to both your phones. Pls, call me.”

On January 11, 2016, Cohen emailed the office of Dmitry Peskov, the Russian government’s press secretary, indicating that he desired contact with Sergei Ivanov, Putin’s chief of staff. Cohen erroneously used the email address “[email protected]” instead of “Pr [email protected] .ru,” so the email apparently did not go through.346 On January 14, 2016, Cohen emailed a different address ([email protected]) with the following message:

Dear Mr. Peskov, Over the past few months, I have been working with a company based in Russia regarding the development of a Trump Tower-Moscow project in Moscow City. Without getting into lengthy specifics, the communication between our two sides has stalled. As this project is too important, I am hereby requesting your assistance. I respectfully request someone, preferably you; contact me so that I might discuss the specifics as well as arranging meetings with the appropriate individuals. I thank you in advance for your assistance and look forward to hearing from you soon.347

Two days later, Cohen sent an email to [email protected], repeating his request to speak with Sergei Ivanov.348 Cohen testified to Congress, and initially told the Office, that he did not recall receiving a response to this email inquiry and that he decided to terminate any further work on the Trump Moscow project as of January 2016. Cohen later admitted that these statements were false. In fact, Cohen had received (and recalled receiving) a response to his inquiry, and he continued to work on and update candidate Trump on the project through as late as June 2016.349

On January 20, 2016, Cohen received an email from Elena Poliakova, Peskov’s personal assistant. Writing from her personal email account, Poliakova stated that she had been trying to reach Cohen and asked that he call her on the personal number that she provided.350 Shortly after receiving Poliakova’s email, Cohen called and spoke to her for 20 minutes.351

346 1/11/16 Email, Cohen to [email protected] (9: 12 a.m.).

347 1/14/16 Email, Cohen to [email protected] (9:21 a.m.).

348 1/16/16 Email, Cohen to [email protected] (10:28 a.m.).

349 Cohen Information ,i,i 4, 7. Cohen’s interactions with President Trump and the President’s lawyers when preparing his congressional testimony are discussed further in Volume II. See Vol. II, Section 11.K.3, infra.

350 1/20/1 6 Email, Poliakova to Cohen (5 :57 a.m.) (“Mr. Cohen[,] I can’t get through to both your phones. Pis, call me.”).

351 Telephone records show a 20-minute call on January 20, 2016 between Cohen and the number Poliakova provided in her email. Call Records of Michael Cohen After the call, Cohen saved Poliakova’s contact information in his Trump Organization Outlook contact list. 1/20/16 Cohen Microsoft Outlook Entry (6:22 a.m.).

The Poliakova email, by itself, would prove all the claims that Cohen got no response to be false.

As Cohen explained it, since he was no longer at Trump Organization anymore, he had to rely on Trump Org lawyers (probably Alan Garten) to comply with discovery requests. That probably means Garten is responsible for withholding the emails — particularly the Poliakova one — not just from Congress, but from Cohen.

Q Now, in your February 28th interview before this committee you mentioned that Alan Futerfas and Alan Garten, the two lawyers who were tied to The Trump Organization, were responsible for the document production that you produced to the committee in response to this committee’s May of 2017 subpoena. ls that accurate?

A That’s accurate.

[snip]

Q Do you have any information about why The Trump Organization would have withheld from this committee production of the January 141h, 2016, email from you to Peskov’s office?

A I do not.

Q Same question as to the January 161h, 2016, email from you to Peskov’s office regarding Sergei lvanov?

A I also do not.

Q Same question with regards to the January 20th,2016, email from Elena Poliyakova (ph)?

A I do not

THE CHAIRMAN: Mr. Cohen, what Mr. Mitchell is asking about is you’ve testified that the members of the joint defense agreement were aware that the written testimony that you were going to give to this committee was false. Documents that would have contradicted that timeline, namely, the three that Mr. Mitchell just referenced, were not produced to this committee. ls there any insight you can shed as to who might have been involved in withholding documentary evidence that would have contradicted your written false testimony?

MR. COHEN: Again, it would be other members of the joint defense team, but specifically at The Trump Organization level.

For reasons I’ll return to, Cohen was one of the only Trump people who got subpoenaed and therefore whose document compliance would be legally binding. But that means that Trump Org failed to comply with a subpoena issued not by Adam Schiff, but by Devin Nunes.

Cohen didn’t talk about these emails with Joint Defense Agreement lawyers, but he talked about the Poliakova one (and the follow-up call) with Trump

All that’s damning enough, especially since Trump claimed to Mueller that the documents turned over to his office would match his story (this is not the only sworn response where Trump falsely claimed the documentary record matches his testimony).

All the more so, though, because Trump is the one person that Cohen spoke to at Trump Org about receiving this Poliakova email (in addition to Felix Sater, who wrote the next day to say Putin’s office had contacted him, seemingly in response).

Indeed, immediately after his call with Poliakova, Cohen talked to Trump about how well versed she was on issues that mattered for their deal.

Q At what time did you speak to anyone at The Trump Organization about this email?

A About this specific email? I did not

Q Never?

A No. Well, actually, I apologize, that’s not true, I spoke to Mr. Trump about it.

Q When was that?

A That was after I had spoken to Ms. Poliyakova (ph).

[snip]

THE CHAIRMAN: And did I hear you to say that you spoke to Mr. Trump about your conversation with Mr. Peskov’s office?

MR. COHEN: Yes, with Ms. Poliyakova (ph).

THE CHAIRMAN: And was the conversation you had with Mr. Trump about that conversation with Ms. Poliyakova (ph) in person or by phone?

MR. COHEN: lt was in person.

THE CHAIRMAN: And how soon after your conversation with her on the phone did that take place?

MR. COHEN: Right afterwards.

THE CHAIRMAN: Can you tell us about the conversation you had with Ms Poliyakova (ph)?

MR. COHEN: I just found that she was very professional and her questions regarding the project were insightful. As an assistant, I was impressed, and I just made mention to him that I had spoken to an assistant for Peskov, and I was, again, incredibly impressed with her line of questioning regarding the project. And I made mention how nice it would be to have an assistant who asked such pertinent questions.

[snip]

THE CHAIRMAN: And by the detailed nature of her questions, you could tell that they knew a great deal about the project?

MR. COHEN: Yes.

THE CHAIRMAN: And what kind of questions did she have for you about the project?

MR. COHEN: The areas that obviously we would want to be building in. I don’t want to try to recollect the specific questions, but there were just very profess — they were very professional, talking about like the size of the project, the scope, length of time, where the construction crews were going to come from. I mean, it was a pretty insightful conversation.

Even if you buy that Trump forgot this conversation and the other seven he claims to have forgotten about a deal he very much wanted, you still need to explain why his responses, which allegedly account for the documentary evidence, nevertheless repeat the story that Cohen told based on a documentary record that Trump lawyers ensured was incomplete.

Given the great lengths Trump went to to not answer any of Mueller’s questions, it would take some doing for him to tell a demonstrable lie.

But he did just that with regards to the Trump Tower meeting — and refused to fix his testimony after he made it clear, publicly, that he had lied.

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. 

Rod Rosenstein’s Unfortunate Vocabulary: Defining a Criminal Investigation by “Links” and “Collusion”

Rod Rosenstein is the very unlikely hero of the Mueller investigation. “Rod is a survivor,” Jim Comey said after getting fired. “And you don’t get to survive that long across administrations without making compromises.”

Yet here we are, 22 months after he appointed Robert Mueller to investigate an investigation Trump tried to kill by firing Comey, awaiting the results of that investigation.

At times, I think Rosenstein didn’t imagine (and doesn’t now acknowledge) the damage his bend-don’t-break has done along the way. While based off the very sound precedent that existed until Comey’s declination speech about Hillary, it seems ridiculous for him to claim that the full results of the Mueller investigation can’t be shared with Congress, as he’s now claiming, given how he has provided unprecedented disclosure to Congress about the investigation already, including the first ever unsealed probable cause FISA application.

It will take some years to measure whether Rosenstein chose the best or perhaps only the least worst approach to the last several years.

But there’s one thing he did that really makes me uncomfortable, today, as we all await the results of the Mueller report: his mandate to Mueller.

As has been noted countless times in the last 22 months, Rosenstein asked Mueller to investigate:

    • any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and
    • any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation;
    • any other matters with the scope of 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(a).
  • if the Special Counsel believes it is necessary and appropriate, the Special Counsel is authorized to prosecute federal crimes arising from the investigation of these matters.

We actually know the answer to the first bullet, in part: As I laid out here, during five key interactions pertaining to the question of a possible conspiracy between Trump’s associates and Russia, there was direct contact between someone the government has deemed an agent of Russia and the Trump campaign:

  1. January 20, 2016, when Michael Cohen told Dmitry Peskov’s personal assistant that Trump would be willing to work with a GRU-tied broker and (soft and hard) sanctioned banks in pursuit of a $300 million Trump Tower deal in Russia.
  2. June 9, 2016, when Don Jr, knowing that currying favor with Russia could mean $300 million to the family, took a meeting offering dirt on Hillary Clinton as “part of  Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” At the end of the meeting, per the testimony of at least four attendees, Don Jr said they’d revisit Magnitsky sanctions if his dad won.
  3. August 2, 2016, when Paul Manafort and Rick Gates had a clandestine meeting with Konstantin Kilimnik at which Trump’s campaign manager walked Kilimnik through highly detailed poll data and the two discussed a “peace” plan for Ukraine understood to amount to sanctions relief.
  4. December 29, 2016, when (working on instructions relayed by KT McFarland, who was at Mar-a-Lago with Trump) Mike Flynn said something to Sergey Kislyak that led Putin not to respond to Obama’s election-related sanctions.
  5. January 11, 2017, when Erik Prince, acting as a back channel for Trump, met with sanctioned sovereign wealth fund Russian Direct Investment Fund CEO Kirill Dmitriev.

That Peskov’s assistant (and whatever representative from Putin’s office that called Felix Sater the next day), Sergey Kislyak, and Kirill Dmitriev are agents of Russia is clear. With the indictment of Natalia Veselnitskaya in December, the government deemed her to be working as an agent of Russia during the same time period she pitched sanctions relief to Trump’s campaign. And while the government hasn’t proven it beyond quoting Rick Gates acknowledging he knew of Konstantin Kilimnik’s past with the GRU and FBI’s belief that he continues to have ties, the government certainly maintains that Kilimnik does have ties to Russian intelligence.

Those are links. It’d be useful to have an official report on them. But since Mueller hasn’t charged them as a conspiracy, we may only learn what we’ve seen in plea agreements or official testimony to Congress.

Likewise Rosenstein’s invocation of “collusion” in the unredacted parts of his memo describing the scope of the investigation as it existed in August 2017 (it expanded and contracted after that point, so there are like different memos).

Allegations that Paul Manafort:

  • committed a crime or crimes by colluding with Russian government officials with respect to the Russian government’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 election for President of the United States, in violation of United States law;

Here, unlike in the initial mandate, Rosenstein at least noted that Mueller was assessing whether crimes were committed in using that squishy language. But he used the word “collusion,” which started to be politicized by March 2017, when Comey tried to correct it once and for all.

I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts. As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.

[snip]

Collusion is not a legal term. It is not one I have used today. I said we are investigating to see if there is any coordination between people associated with the campaign– [my emphasis]

Sure, “collusion” might be understood to incorporate a bunch of possible crimes, and so appropriately didn’t limit Mueller to one specific crime as he investigated Manafort (but then, so did the term, “coordination”). But I nevertheless think that using the word has confused the issue of what Rosenstein intended Mueller to be able to reveal, which would instead be conspiracy and a bunch of other crimes covering up evidence of coordination that Mueller has found necessary and appropriate to charge, and not whether there was “collusion.”

All the while, people on both sides of this debate have taken “collusion” to mean whatever minimalist or maximalist interpretation of wrong-doing that best serves their side.

There are two things at issue: whether Trump and his aides coordinated in a way that is criminal, which would be a conspiracy, and whether Trump has coordinated with Russia in a way that would be an abuse of power and/or puts the nation at risk.

Both are legitimate questions. And while Rosenstein says only crimes that are indicted are appropriate to reveal (and he may well be right about that, as a principle), he did ask Mueller to conduct an investigation of that other stuff, and Congress has deferred to Mueller even while that other stuff is squarely within their mandate.

Ideally, this weeks focus on Mueller’s discoveries would be on what the actual evidence showed, which we know to include, at a minimum, the following:

  • Trump pursued a ridiculously lucrative $300 million real estate deal even though the deal would use sanctioned banks, involve a former GRU officer as a broker, and require Putin’s personal involvement at least through July 2016.
  • The Russians chose to alert the campaign that they planned to dump Hillary emails, again packaging it with the promise of a meeting with Putin.
  • After the Russians had offered those emails and at a time when the family was pursuing that $300 million real estate deal, Don Jr took a meeting offering dirt on Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” At the end (per the sworn testimony of four people at the meeting) he said his father would revisit Magnitsky sanctions relief if he won. Contrary to the claim made in a statement authored by Trump, there was some effort to follow up on Jr’s assurances after the election.
  • The campaign asked rat-fucker Roger Stone to optimize the WikiLeaks releases and according to Jerome Corsi he had some success doing so.
  • In what Andrew Weissmann called a win-win (presumably meaning it could help Trump’s campaign or lead to a future business gig for him), Manafort provided Konstantin Kilimnik with polling data that got shared with Ukrainian and Russian oligarchs. At the same meeting, he discussed a “peace” plan for Ukraine that would amount to sanctions relief.
  • Trump undercut Obama’s response to the Russian hacks in December 2016, in part because he believed retaliation for the hacks devalued his victory. Either for that reason, to pay off Russia, and/or to pursue his preferred policy, Trump tried to mitigate any sanctions, an attempt that has (with the notable exception of those targeting Oleg Deripaska) been thwarted by Congress.

Instead, however, we’re still arguing about a word — collusion — that was stripped of all meaning years ago, with the result that Mueller’s presumably very measured assessment of what happened cannot serve as the arbiter of truth we need.

Rosenstein may well be the unlikely hero of preserving some semblance of rule of law in this country. But along the way, his choice of language has unfortunately twice fostered the confusion about where the line between crime and misconduct is.

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.