Posts

Peter Carr Speaks

Yesterday, Mueller’s spox Peter Carr issued a statement vaguely denying Thursday’s Buzzfeed story claiming that Trump ordered Michael Cohen to lie.

BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the special counsel’s office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony are not accurate.

Clearly, there are parts of the story that are correct, in that they provide specific details that match the vague ones Mueller himself has released.

The new details in the story include a price tag for the Trump Tower detail: Trump, “hoped could bring his company profits in excess of $300 million” (Mueller’s sentencing memorandum stated that the deal might be worth “hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources in licensing fees and other revenues”).  It quantifies how many times Trump and Cohen spoke about the deal: Trump, “had at least 10 face-to-face meetings with Cohen about the deal during the campaign.” It also confirms that Don Jr and Ivanka were the “family members” described in Cohen’s allocution who were apprised of the details.

That, by itself, suggests that Buzzfeed’s sources have direct access to some of this evidence.

But one thing Mueller is almost certainly responding to is a claim that puts blame for the lies Cohen told to Congress on Trump. Michael Cohen is under oath saying not that Trump ordered him to lie, but that he lied to match the messaging that Trump was using.

By 2017 I was no longer employed in this capacity, but continued to serve on several matters as an attorney to the former CEO of the Trump Organization and now President of the United States, who is referred to as Individual 1 in the information.

As I had in the years before the election, I continued in 2017 to follow the day-to-day political messaging that both Individual 1 and his staff and advisers repeatedly broadcast, and I stayed in close contact with these advisers to Individual 1. As such, I was aware of Individual 1’s repeated disavowals of commercial and political ties between himself and Russia, his repeated statements that investigations of such ties were politically motivated and without evidence, and that any contact with Russian nationals by Individual 1’s campaign or the Trump Organization had all terminated before the Iowa Caucus, which was on February 1 of 2016.

In 2017, I was scheduled to appear before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence as well as the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence concerning matters under their investigation, including principally whether Russia was involved in or interfered in the 2016 campaign and election.

In connection with my appearances, I submitted a written statement to Congress, including, amongst other things, a description of a proposed real estate project in Moscow that I had worked on while I was employed by the Trump Organization.

That description was false — I knew at the time — in that I had asserted that all efforts concerning the project had ceased in January of 2016 when, in fact, they had continued through June of 2016;

That I had very limited discussions with Individual 1 and others in the company concerning the project, when in fact I had more extensive communications; and,

Lastly, that I had never agreed to travel to Russia in connection with the project and had never asked Individual 1 to travel, when in fact I took steps to and had discussions with Individual 1 about travel to Russia.

And I would like to note that I did not in fact travel there, nor have I ever been to Russia.

I made these misstatements to be consistent with Individual 1’s political messaging and out of loyalty to Individual 1. [my emphasis]

That’s a point I made yesterday: Buzzfeed’s story materially differed from the sworn testimony in the case, and even if their sources were right that, in fact, Trump sanctioned Cohen’s lie, they should have explained why Mueller says differently.

Notably, Cohen’s allocution says that he “stayed in close contact with these advisers to Individual 1,” not that he was talking to Trump directly. It’d be hard (though by no means impossible) to have been ordered directly by Trump to lie if he was no longer in day-to-day contact with Trump.

Carr is also seemingly objecting to this characterization:

The special counsel’s office learned about Trump’s directive for Cohen to lie to Congress through interviews with multiple witnesses from the Trump Organization and internal company emails, text messages, and a cache of other documents.

That’s unsurprising. He’s denying that Mueller has documents and Trump Organization (which may be different from White House) witnesses that would make Cohen’s sworn allocution false. In any case, Trump doesn’t use email, so there’s no email where Trump ordered Cohen to lie.

My very strong suspicion is that this happened — and Mueller pushed back — for two reasons.

First, as I noted yesterday, Buzzfeed’s sources appear to have access to primary evidence, but their focal awareness of what Cohen said to Mueller appears to be limited to precisely what Cohen’s sentencing memo had. That is, Buzzfeed didn’t receive any of the details that would be more useful for understanding how the Trump Tower deal relates to any larger conspiracy between Trump and Russia, they received the details that made it into the sentencing memo.

Cohen’s sentencing went through SDNY, where his other guilty plea was, which means SDNY (both the US Attorney’s office and the FBI Field Office) would have visibility on that process. So it’s likely that Buzzfeed’s sources are there, which would be consistent with the two descriptions Buzzfeed provided for their two law enforcement sources.

two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter

law enforcement sources familiar with his testimony to the special counsel

If that’s right, it explains a big part of what happened. As I noted yesterday, there’s a stark difference in the way that Cohen allocuted his hush payments for Trump and the way he allocuted his lies for Trump. Regarding the hush payments, he says he acted at the direction of Trump.

With respect to the conduct charged in these Counts, Michael kept his client contemporaneously informed and acted on his client’s instructions. This is not an excuse, and Michael accepts that he acted wrongfully. Nevertheless, we respectfully request that the Court consider that as personal counsel to Client-1, Michael felt obligated to assist Client-1, on Client-1’s instruction, to attempt to prevent Woman-1 and Woman-2 from disseminating narratives that would adversely affect the Campaign and cause personal embarrassment to Client-1 and his family. [my emphasis]

Regarding the lies to Congress, he says he was just trying to advance Trump’s political messaging.

Michael’s false statements to Congress likewise sprung regrettably from Michael’s effort, as a loyal ally and then-champion of Client-1, to support and advance Client-1’s political messaging. [my emphasis]

Both these statements would have been written in consultation with the prosecutors running the case. So SDNY used a fairly aggressive frame to implicate Trump in the hush payments, whereas Mueller was much more circumspect about Trump’s role.

The difference may, in part, be that when Cohen made those hush payments he was still working directly for Trump, and so was in a position to get a direct order rather than speaking (as he said he was) with Trump’s advisers. But even if both cases basically show Trump making his intentions known and Cohen executing those intentions, there’s a good reason for the asymmetry on the description.

Cohen is not a cooperating witness for SDNY. While they continue to investigate Trump and Trump Organization for campaign finance violations, they’re not relying on Cohen to make that case. They’re relying on immunized testimony from Allen  Weisselberg and David Pecker. So SDNY (whether people in the office or FBI Agents assigned to the case) has no incentive to be exacting in their description of the evidence on the Trump Tower deal. They can go big, just like they did in the hush payment allocution.

Cohen is, however, a cooperating witness for Mueller. If and when they make a case that the Trump Tower deal was part of a larger election year conspiracy, they will likely need to be able to call Cohen to the stand and describe the truth of how he kept Trump and Don Jr in the loop on the deal, most notably to explain how it factored into Don Jr’s mindset when he accepted a meeting offering dirt in exchange for sanctions relief. They need Cohen to explain that Don Jr would have understood there was $300 million riding on that meeting.

Everything about how Mueller’s team has handled Cohen attests to that possibility. They didn’t need to charge him with false statements and the charge did not add any prison time to his sentence. They didn’t need to make him publicly explain, under oath, why he lied. But by doing that, they began to rehabilitate Cohen publicly. In spite of Cohen’s significant cooperation, they didn’t offer him a 5K letter at sentencing, meaning he’s still on the hook for cooperation; unlike Mike Flynn, for example, he’s not getting a sentence reduction before he takes the stand. But because of the way they handled it, they can mandate his silence about what he told Mueller, demand that Congress limit the scope of his testimony next month, and dictate any response Cohen made yesterday to the story.

The possibility they’ll put Cohen on the stand is likely one reason why Cohen’s allocution about the Trump Tower lies is so much more modest than the SDNY allocution: Mueller will need to be able to corroborate, with other documentary evidence, everything that Cohen will ultimately testify to. And so while they may have reason to believe Trump approved of the lies being told on his behalf — maybe even ordered people at Trump Organization or his spawn to do what they needed to sustain the lies (which might look to SDNY law enforcement as clear evidence that he was directing the lies) — Mueller is not going to set the bar for proof of Cohen’s statement anywhere further than they need for a possible larger conspiracy case. And they don’t need to prove that Trump had a role in Cohen’s lies. Rather, they need to be able to prove that Cohen kept Trump and Don Jr in the loop on the deal itself.

If all this is right, it — and not the magnitude of any errors in the Buzzfeed story (because there have been a number of other big stories where the errors were clearly just as significant) — explains why Carr issued a statement yesterday. First, to make it very clear that in Mueller’s mind, Cohen’s allocution was honest, that he wasn’t (for example) protecting Trump in taking responsibility for the initial lie. But also, to make sure the bar they very deliberately set for Cohen’s testimony remained precisely where they put it in his plea allocution. The last thing Mueller needs is a juror who thinks that unless they show an email with Trump ordering Cohen to lie, then Cohen’s testimony is false. And by making this unprecedented statement, Mueller will make it harder for any defense attorney to raise the bar on what Mueller needs to prove in this case.

There’s probably another reason why Carr made this statement. I don’t doubt that Mueller hates Jason Leopold and Anthony Cormier for the way they got the financial transfer part of this story when no one else did, and more of the Moscow Tower deal story than others (which seems to be forgotten in the squawking about Buzzfeed’s loneliness on this latest story).

But I suspect Carr took this step, even more, as a message to SDNY and any other Agents working tangents of this case. Because of the way Mueller is spinning off parts of this case, he has less control over some aspects of it, like Cohen’s plea. And in this specific case (again, presuming I’m right about the SDNY sourcing), Buzzfeed’s sources just jeopardized Mueller’s hard-earned reputation, built over 20 months, for not leaking. By emphasizing in his statement what happened in “the special counsel’s office,” “testimony obtained by this office,” Carr strongly suggests that the people who served as sources had nothing to do with the office.

A couple more points. A lot of people are complaining that Carr didn’t more aggressively warn Buzzfeed off the story (though he did provide what sounds like Cohen’s allocution, which — if it had been reviewed by one of Buzzfeed’s superb legal reporters — probably would have led to the cautions I raised yesterday). I get why that would be nice. But I think people really misunderstand the degree to which Mueller knows that every single action they take will eventually be subjected to scrutiny courtesy of a Judicial Watch FOIA. And any hint at all that Carr provided any inkling about the case to journalists will be blown up by Trump and his lawyers.

Finally, the actions Carr took yesterday (and Mueller’s big-footing on Cohen’s testimony before the Oversight Committee next month) only make sense if Cohen might have to play a role in a possible trial, and not a report submitted confidentially to Attorney General William Barr. That’s what more likely explains Carr’s response than anything else: the discrepancy between what Buzzfeed reported and what Cohen allocuted posed a risk to a possible jury trial. And that may explain another reason why Mueller is a lot more modest about Trump’s role in Cohen’s lies than SDNY is.

Trump’s not going to be indicted by Mueller — at least not before he leaves office via election defeat or impeachment. So Mueller’s focus needs to be on the crimes of those he can charge, like Don Jr. That doesn’t rule out that the evidence he’s looking at shows that Trump oversaw a series of coordinated false statements. He did! With Mike Flynn’s lies, Don McGahn’s clean up of Flynn and Jim Comey’s firings, the response to the June 9 meeting, and yes, this Trump Tower deal, nothing explains the coordinated story-telling of multiple Trump flunkies other than Trump’s approval of those lies. It is, frankly, journalistic malpractice that the press hasn’t noted that, especially on the June 9 meeting, the evidence that Trump lied and ordered others to has already been made public. Trump’s tacit (and explicit, with the June 9 statement) approval of serial false statements, to Congress, to the FBI Director, to FBI Agents, and to Mueller, is an impeachable offense. Multiple outlets have gotten solid proof of that, they just haven’t stated the obvious like Buzzfeed did, perhaps in part because they’re relying on White House sources for their reporting.

But Mueller won’t need to allege that for his case in chief, at least not on the issue of the Trump Tower deal. Because the events that matter to Mueller’s case in chief — the events to which Cohen might have to serve as a witness — happened in 2016, not 2017 or 2018. And the guilt that Mueller would need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt if he does indict this conspiracy is not Trump’s guilt — except as an unindicted co-conspirator. It is Don Jr’s guilt.

So outlets that are suggesting that Mueller’s pushback backs off any evidence that Trump committed a crime make no more sense than the original Buzzfeed report (and ignore the actual evidence of how Cohen’s lies evolved, an evolution in which these outlets were active participants). The only thing that explains Carr issuing such an unprecedented statement is if Cohen’s ability to testify on the stand must be preserved.

Robert Mueller has the unenviable task of needing to sustain as much credibility for a bunch of serial liars as possible, starting with Michael Cohen. Buzzfeed’s story — whether generally true or erroneous on details about Trump Organization witnesses or totally wrong — threatened that effort.

And that’s why, I strongly suspect, Peter Carr finally publicly spoke.

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. 

Compromise: Before Trump Won His First Primary, Putin Collected His First Receipt

In this post, I noted that, while important, the Buzzfeed story on Trump’s role in Michael Cohen’s lies to Congress did not advance our understanding of  how the Trump Tower deal fits into the larger Trump conspiracy with Russia.

It doesn’t include a number of details that would be more important for understanding how the Trump Tower deal relates to other parts of Trump’s conspiracy with Russians: who (if not Trump himself or Don Jr) was the senior campaign official who knew of Cohen’s negotiations, precisely what Don Jr knew of the negotiations on June 3 when he took a meeting described to be “part of  Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” and whether the timing of Cohen’s plans for a trip to St. Petersburg — which started on June 9 and ended on June 14 — related somehow to the June 9 Trump Tower meeting and the June 14 revelation that Russians had hacked the DNC. It’d also be useful to know whether Cohen had any 2016 dealings with Ike Kaveladze, who knew of Cohen from the 2013 business dealings between Trump and the Agalarovs, and who had a curious reaction to a video of him in the wake of the June 9 meeting story breaking. Those are the details that would advance the story of how the Trump Tower deal relates to Russia’s efforts to hack the election.

But there is a piece of the Cohen statement of the offense the significance of which hasn’t gotten sufficient attention. That’s the detail that Dmitry Peskov’s personal assistant took detailed notes from a 20-minute January 20, 2016 phone call with Cohen, which led to Putin’s office contacting Felix Sater the next day.

On or about January 16, 2016, COHEN emailed [Peskov]’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 [Peskov] (“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.

Shortly after receiving the email, COHEN called Assistant 1 and spoke to her for approximately 20 minutes. On that call, COHEN described his position at the Company and outlined the proposed Moscow Project, including the Russian development company with which the Company had partnered. COHEN requested assistance in moving the project forward, both in securing land to build the proposed tower and financing the construction. Assistant 1 asked detailed questions and took notes, stating that she would follow up with others in Russia.

The day after COHEN’s call with Assistant 1, [Sater] contacted him, asking for a call. Individual 2 wrote to COHEN, “It’s about [the President of Russia] they called today.”

Cohen had lied about this, claiming that he had emailed Peskov’s public comment line just once, but gotten no response.

This language is important not just because it shows that Cohen lied.  It’s important because of what Cohen would have said to Peskov’s assistant. And it’s important because a written record of what Cohen said got handed on to Putin’s office, if not Putin himself.

BuzzFeed’s piece from May reveals that Cohen would have been in discussions with one of two banks in January 2016: VTB or GenBank.

Their surrogates in Moscow would be meeting with Putin and a “top deputy” just two days later, and they had financing: VTB Bank President and Chairman Andrey Kostin was on board to fund the project, Sater said in an email.

The bank was a dicey choice. VTB was under US sanctions at the time, with American citizens and companies forbidden to do business with it. Asked by congressional investigators if he knew the bank was blacklisted, Sater responded: “Of course. I wasn’t seeking funding, the local development partner would have. Trump Organization never gets financing from local partners.”

[snip]

New Year’s Eve 2015, he sent Cohen an image of a letter from GenBank — not VTB Bank, as they had earlier discussed — inviting the men to Moscow for a visit.

Just nine days earlier, the US Treasury Department had sanctioned GenBank for operating in Crimea after the disputed Russian takeover. GenBank became the first Russian financial institution to move into the Crimean peninsula.

Both were sanctioned. While Sater (who seems to have knowingly set this trap) dismissed the import of the sanctions, Cohen clearly knew — and left record that he knew in communications with Sater — that they were the intended funders.

A former GRU officer contact of Sater’s was key to obtaining funding from VTB.

This friend is a former member of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence unit that the US intelligence community believes interfered during the 2016 election.

[snip]

[On December 19], Sater told Cohen that their invitations and visas were being arranged by VTB Bank, and that Kostin, the bank’s powerful president and chairman, would meet Cohen in Moscow. Key to getting VTB on board was the former GRU spy; Sater told congressional and special counsel investigators that the former spy said he had a source at VTB Bank who would support the deal.

Obtaining funding from GenBank would have relied on Putin and Peskov.

Sater told Cohen that GenBank operates “through Putin’s administration and nothing gets done there without approval from the top. The meetings in Moscow will be with ministers — in US, that’s cabinet-level and with Putin’s top administration people. This likely will include Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s press secretary. To discuss goals, meeting agenda and meeting time between Putin and Trump.”

The BuzzFeed article makes it clear that Sater’s GRU contact got back involved after Cohen’s conversation with Peskov’s assistant.

All of which is to say that when Cohen called Peskov’s assistant, he would have told her that he was speaking on behalf of Donald Trump, that Trump remained interested in a Trump Tower in Moscow (as he had been in 2013, the last time Putin had dangled a personal meeting with Trump), and that on Trump’s behalf Cohen was willing to discuss making a deal involving both a sanctioned bank (whichever one it was) and a former GRU officer.

So it’s not just that Trump was pursuing a real estate deal while running for President. He was pursuing a real estate deal involving a sanctioned  bank — possibly one sanctioned for its involvement in Crimea — and involving someone with ties to the intelligence agency that was preparing to hack Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager.

Cohen told Peskov’s assistant Trump was willing to negotiate that deal while running for President. The assistant wrote all that down (how Mueller knows this is an interesting question on its own right). And then she or Peskov passed on at least the content of the notes to get Putin’s office to contact Sater.

And all that happened before Trump performed unexpectedly well in the Iowa caucuses on February 1.

Last year, I argued that — pee tape or no — the kompromat Putin has on Trump consists of a series of receipts of Trump formally communicating his willingness to enter into a conspiracy with Russia, receipts that would be devastating if Putin released them.

Trump and the Russians were engaged in a call-and-response, a call-and-response that appears in the Papadopoulos plea and (as Lawfare notes) the GRU indictment, one that ultimately did deal dirt and got at least efforts to undermine US sanctions (to say nothing of the Syria effort that Trump was implementing less than 14 hours after polls closed, an effort that has been a key part of both Jared Kushner and Mike Flynn’s claims about the Russian interactions).

At each stage of this romance with Russia, Russia got a Trump flunkie (first, Papadopoulos) or Trump himself to publicly engage in the call-and-response. All of that led up to the point where, on July 16, 2018, after Rod Rosenstein loaded Trump up with a carefully crafted indictment showing Putin that Mueller knew certain things that Trump wouldn’t fully understand, Trump came out of a meeting with Putin looking like he had been thoroughly owned and stood before the entire world and spoke from Putin’s script in defiance of what the US intelligence community has said.

People are looking in the entirely wrong place for the kompromat that Putin has on Trump, and missing all the evidence of it right in front of their faces.

Vladimir Putin obtained receipts at each stage of this romance of Trump’s willing engagement in a conspiracy with Russians for help getting elected. Putin knows what each of those receipts mean.

What Cohen’s plea deal makes clear is that Putin pocketed the first of those receipts — a receipt showing Trump’s willingness to work with both sanctioned banks and the GRU — even before the first vote was cast. Even before GRU hacked its first Democratic target (though APT 29 had been spying on the Democrats since the previous summer).

Discussing a real estate deal is not, as Trump has repeated, illegal. If that’s all this were about, Trump and Cohen might not have lied about it.

But it’s not. Even before the GRU hacked John Podesta, even before Don Jr told his June 9 visitors that his dad would consider lifting sanctions if he got elected, Michael Cohen let a key Putin deputy know that Trump would be happy to discuss real estate deals that involved both partnering with the GRU and with sanctioned banks.

And Putin has been sitting on that receipt ever since.

Update: 22-paragraphs into a 1400-word story on the latest developments in the Trump Tower Moscow story yesterday, the NYT revealed the name of the officer, without explaining why the connection is important to the larger story of a GRU-led operation targeting the US election.

One of the people Mr. Sater contacted was Evgeny Shmykov, a former general in Russian military intelligence who once worked with anti-Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. Mr. Sater appears to have seen Mr. Shmykov as a conduit to get Russian government approval for the Trump project.

According to emails reviewed by The Times, Mr. Sater sent an urgent message to Mr. Cohen in late 2015 saying that Mr. Shmykov was on the phone and he needed passport information for Mr. Cohen and Mr. Trump so they could receive visas.

As I disclosed in 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. 

About the BuzzFeed Scoop: It’s Important, But It Oversells the Lying Part

BuzzFeed has an important story that fleshes out what was made clear in Michael Cohen’s allocution, sentencing memo, and the public record (including earlier BuzzFeed reports). Trump and his kids knew a lot about Cohen’s negotiations for a Trump Tower, and also knew and helped sustain his lies to Congress. BuzzFeed even suggests that all the lying came from Trump; on that issue, the story is problematic for reasons I lay out below.

The new details in the story include a price tag for the Trump Tower detail: Trump, “hoped could bring his company profits in excess of $300 million” (Mueller’s sentencing memorandum stated that the deal might be worth “hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources in licensing fees and other revenues”).  It quantifies how many times Trump and Cohen spoke about the deal: Trump, “had at least 10 face-to-face meetings with Cohen about the deal during the campaign.” It also confirms that Don Jr and Ivanka were the “family members” described in Cohen’s allocution who were apprised of the details.

Cohen gave Trump’s children “very detailed updates.”

[snip]

The two law enforcement sources disputed this characterization and said that [Don Jr] and Cohen had multiple, detailed conversations on this subject during the campaign.

It doesn’t include a number of details that would be more important for understanding how the Trump Tower deal relates to other parts of Trump’s conspiracy with Russians: who (if not Trump himself or Don Jr) was the senior campaign official who knew of Cohen’s negotiations, precisely what Don Jr knew of the negotiations on June 3 when he took a meeting described to be “part of  Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” and whether the timing of Cohen’s plans for a trip to St. Petersburg — which started on June 9 and ended on June 14 — related somehow to the June 9 Trump Tower meeting and the June 14 revelation that Russians had hacked the DNC. It’d also be useful to know whether Cohen had any 2016 dealings with Ike Kaveladze, who knew of Cohen from the 2013 business dealings between Trump and the Agalarovs, and who had a curious reaction to a video of him in the wake of the June 9 meeting story breaking. Those are the details that would advance the story of how the Trump Tower deal relates to Russia’s efforts to hack the election.

That said, I have qualms about the way the story deals with the perjury side of this. First, it makes an absurd claim that this is the first time we’ve heard that Trump told someone to lie.

Cohen’s testimony marks a significant new frontier: It is the first known example of Trump explicitly telling a subordinate to lie directly about his own dealings with Russia.

The NYT first reported that Trump floated pardons to Mike Flynn and Paul Manafort in March of last year and they also reported that Mueller had asked Trump about discussions with Flynn about his testimony by the same month. The entire story leading up to Flynn’s firing includes a series of lies, and like Cohen’s false claims about the Trump Tower story featured the kind of matching lies that require coordination (though Trump’s directions to Flynn probably did not include foreknowledge of his FBI interview, so legally the import is that he sustained Flynn’s lies). Manafort, under whatever expectation of a pardon, spent the two months leading up to the election perjuring himself about his ongoing work with Konstantin Kilimnik and communications with the White House, all while reporting back to Trump via his lawyer. Trump had Don McGahn craft a letter to Comey (who, after all, was part of the FBI when he received it) about his firing that hid that he did it because of the Russia investigation, after first writing a statement that acknowledged that clearly. And Trump himself dictated (probably in consultation with Vladimir Putin) a misleading statement about the June 9 Trump Tower meeting, only part of which got cleaned up before Don Jr repeated the misleading comments before Congress. Trump’s current defense attorney Jay Sekulow even went on teevee last August to apologize for repeating a lie Trump told about the June 9 meeting; while he told that lie publicly, the statement Don Jr told to Congress retained part of that lie. Not all of those amount to suborning perjury, but some of them do, and they’ve been public for a long time.

Buzzfeed also suggests that the lying all came from Trump:

the law enforcement sources familiar with his testimony to the special counsel said he had confirmed that Trump directed him to lie to Congress

Cohen’s own public sworn testimony on this issue is slightly different though. He said,

I made these misstatements to be consistent with Individual 1’s political messaging and out of loyalty to Individual 1,

The latter detail may be semantics. After all, Trump Organization necessarily withheld documents from Congress to sustain Cohen’s (and Don Jr’s) lies. So the directive to lie and the coordination obviously came from the top (though some of it was achieved by Cohen’s leaks to the press). And the sentencing memo’s statement that “Cohen described the circumstances of preparing and circulating his response to the congressional inquiries, while continuing to accept responsibility for the false statements contained within it,” make it clear he could have blamed others for the coordination of his lies. But Cohen is on the record suggesting he chose to lie, in contrast to his allocutions with the hush payments, where he said Trump directed him to undertake the criminal activity. The discrepancy on this issue — which could be cleared up with a few details — may otherwise subject Cohen to accusations of perjury in his allocation.

And heck, if Cohen downplayed Trump’s direction of his lies, then that is newsworthy in and of itself.

I’m more concerned that Buzzfeed claimed, on January 17, 2019, that this is the first evidence that Trump ordered someone to lie about Russia. Normally, I’d excuse this kind of exaggeration to get eyeballs as normal publicity for a story. But not coming, as it does, two days after Trump’s nominee to be Attorney General stated clearly in his confirmation hearing that suborning perjury would be clearly criminal, even if done by the President. Yes, William Barr already made that clear in his memo on the Mueller investigation. But few people besides me realized that fact until, in Tuesday’s hearing, he was asked to confirm that things we know Trump has done — such as float pardons — amount to a crime.

And the response to this story, coming two days after Barr made that statement, has been to suggest that the stuff included in it — as distinct from the long line of lies we already knew Trump suborned — would put Trump at legal jeopardy under Barr that he’s not already in.

Trump is already getting itchy upon discovering that Barr has a close relationship with Mueller.

President Donald Trump was startled Tuesday as he watched television coverage of his nominee for attorney general describing a warm relationship with the special counsel Robert Mueller in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, according to three people familiar with the matter.

During the first day of his confirmation hearing, William Barr described telling the President the first time he met him in June 2017 that he was friends with Mueller, referring to him on a first name basis.

“I told him how well I knew Bob Mueller and that the Barrs and Muellers were good friends and would be good friends when this was all over,” Barr said. “Bob is a straight-shooter and should be dealt with as such.”

While Barr said during his hearing that Trump “was interested” in hearing about the friendship, the details that emerged this week caught the President off guard, the three sources said. He bristled at Barr’s description of the close relationship, complaining to aides he didn’t realize how much their work overlapped or that they were so close.

I think Barr will be shitty on a range of issues (though he’s less of a bigot and homophobe than Jeff Sessions and the Big Dick Toilet Salesman). But there are many reasons to believe, from his testimony, that he won’t interfere with the Mueller investigation. The overhyped claims in this Buzzfeed story, however, are likely to make Trump newly aware of that fact, and could have negative and unnecessary consequences (and in that way, I worry the Buzzfeed story is like NYT’s two underreported stories about the aftermath of the Jim Comey firing, which both did significant damage that could have been avoided with more awareness of the rest of Russian story and more context).

The Buzzfeed story is important for the concrete details it adds to a story we already knew — and these reporters deserve a ton of kudos for consistently leading on this part of the story. But it has unnecessarily overhyped the uniqueness of Trump’s role in these lies, in a way that could have detrimental effect on the country’s ability to actually obtain some kind of justice for those lies.

Update: The language in Cohen’s own sentencing memorandum similarly sets up a contrast in the language used to discuss the hush payments, where his lawyers emphasize Trump’s direction.

With respect to the conduct charged in these Counts, Michael kept his client contemporaneously informed and acted on his client’s instructions. This is not an excuse, and Michael accepts that he acted wrongfully. Nevertheless, we respectfully request that the Court consider that as personal counsel to Client-1, Michael felt obligated to assist Client-1, on Client-1’s instruction, to attempt to prevent Woman-1 and Woman-2 from disseminating narratives that would adversely affect the Campaign and cause personal embarrassment to Client-1 and his family. [my emphasis]

Compare that with their discussion of his Trump Tower lies, which emphasizes his efforts to reinforce Trump’s messaging, but lacks any mention of Trump’s direction.

Michael’s false statements to Congress likewise sprung regrettably from Michael’s effort, as a loyal ally and then-champion of Client-1, to support and advance Client-1’s political messaging. At the time that he was requested to appear before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Michael was serving as personal attorney to the President, and followed daily the political messages that both Client-1 and his staff and supporters repeatedly and forcefully broadcast. Furthermore, in the weeks during which his then-counsel prepared his written response to the Congressional Committees, Michael remained in close and regular contact with White House-based staff and legal counsel to Client-1.

As such, he was (a) fully aware of Client-1’s repeated disavowals of commercial and political ties between himself and Russia, as well as the strongly voiced mantra of Client-1 that investigations of such ties were politically motivated and without evidentiary support, and (b) specifically knew, consistent with Client-1’s aim to dismiss and minimize the merit of the SCO investigation, that Client-1 and his public spokespersons were seeking to portray contact with Russian representatives in any form by Client-1, the Campaign or the Trump Organization as having effectively terminated before the Iowa caucuses of February 1, 2016.

Seeking to stay in line with this message, Michael told Congress that his communications and efforts to finalize a building project in Moscow on behalf of the Trump Organization, which he began pursuing in 2015, had come to an end in January 2016, when a general inquiry he made to the Kremlin went unanswered. [my emphasis]

Cohen’s lawyer uses clearly different language on these two issues, language that suggests in the latter case Trump’s “direction” might be what it was for Mike Flynn’s lies.

 

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

Trump’s “Official Acts” to Pay Off a Russian Bribe Should Make Impeachment a Legal Issue, Not Just a Political One

The pearl clutchers screamed about Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib saying that we need to impeach the motherfucker, Donald Trump, demeaning the presidency.* While I’m glad that she has refused to back down from her beliefs in the face of the attacks, I think her more substantial argument about impeachment deserves further attention (which I hope to return to in a later post). More important, I think that the response to Tlaib’s comments has resulted in members of both parties retreating to a debate about Trump’s impeachment using the old formulation that it’s a political, not a legal question.

It is true that impeachment is political question insofar as, so long as there’s the political will, a president can be impeached for anything, even lying about a consensual blowjob immaterial to an investigation into financial scandal. But impeachment is also a legal question. Indeed, the Constitution mandates that the President be removed from office if he is impeached and convicted not just for the unenumerated grab bag of “high crimes and misdemeanors” — where Congress exercises the political will to decide whether a blowjob merits impeachment — but also the enumerated crimes of treason and bribery.

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

In spite of Emmet Sullivan’s question — as one of the only people who has read sealed documents laying out what Trump’s transition team did — about whether Mueller’s investigators considered charging Mike Flynn with treason, there’s no chance that Trump will be named in a treason charge.

But there is very good chance he will be named in a conspiracy involving a quid pro quo trading dirt and real estate deals for sanctions relief and other policy considerations.

The other day, I realized something ironic: in precisely the same period Trump was entering in an apparent quid pro quo with Russians, John Roberts was authoring a unanimous Supreme Court decision that clarified the limits of quid pro quo bribery.

And while the Supreme Court believed that Governor Bob McDonnell had not accepted bribes for setting up meetings in exchange for gifts, the language Roberts wrote in the weeks after Trump’s son told some Russians they would revisit Magnitsky sanctions if his father won does not so narrow the definition of bribery as to make Trump’s actions legally excusable.

Roberts described an official act this way:

In sum, an “official act” is a decision or action on a “question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy.” The “question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy” must involve a formal exercise of governmental power that is similar in nature to a lawsuit before a court, a determination before an agency, or a hearing before a committee. It must also be something specific and focused that is “pending” or “may by law be brought” before a public official. To qualify as an “official act,” the public official must make a decision or take an action on that “question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy,” or agree to do so.

Notably, the bribed public official doesn’t actually have to follow through on the official act he agreed to take, so it doesn’t help Trump that Congress has repeatedly prevented him from overturning sanctions on Russia.

Under this Court’s precedents, a public official is not required to actually make a decision or take an action on a “question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy”; it is enough that the official agree to do so.

And there are a number of data points in the public record that suggest Trump did believe he had made a deal with the Russians and that Russia had what it believed was a commitment from Trump. For example, four of the people who attended the June 9 meeting testified (most under oath) that Don Jr said his father would revisit sanctions relief if he got elected.

Natalia Veselnitskaya said Don Jr said they’d revisit the topic.

Mr. Trump, Jr. politely wound up the meeting with meaningless phrases about somewhat as follows: can do nothing about it, “if’ or “when” we come to power, we may return to this strange and confusing story.

Ike Kaveladze said that Don Jr said they might revisit the issue if his father won.

There was no request, but as I said, it was a suggestion that if Trump campaign wins, they might get back to the Magnitsky Act topic in the future.

Rinat Akhmetshin said that Don Jr said they would revisit Magnitsky when they won.

A. I don’t remember exact words which were said, but I remember at the end, Donald, Jr., said, you know, “Come back see us again when we win.” Not “if we win,” but “when we win.” And I kind of thought to myself like, “Yeah, right.” But it happened, so — but that’s something, see, he’s very kind of positive about, “When we win, come back and see us again.” Something to that effect, I guess.

Anatoli Samochornov, Veselnitskaya’s translator, who is the most independent witness and the only one who didn’t compare his story with others, said that Don Jr said they would revisit the issue if Trump won.

A. Like I described, I remember, not verbatim, the closing that Mr. Donald Trump, Jr., provided, but that’s all that I recall being said from the other side.

MR. PRIVOR: That closing being that Donald Trump, Jr., suggested —

MR. SAMOCHORNOV: If or when yes, and I do not remember if or when, but if or when my father becomes President, we will revisit this issue.

And Ike Kaveladze, in the call back to his boss to report on the meeting that witnesses observed, was happy with the outcome of the meeting.

It’s not just the Russians who seem to have acted on the meeting. Michael Cohen’s allocution seems to suggest that the meeting tied directly to the negotiations over a Trump Tower, because he took steps to travel to Russian on the day of the meeting.

From on or about June 9 to June 14, 2016, Individual 2 sent numerous messages to COHEN about the travel, including forms for COHEN to complete. However, on or about June 14 , 2016, COHEN met Individual 2 in the lobby of the Company’s headquarters to inform Individual 2 he would not be traveling at that time.

Remember: a “senior campaign official” was involved in discussions about trips to Russia. And had the President’s personal lawyer actually taken this trip to St. Petersburg, the plan was to meet Vladimir Putin (who did attend the forum that year).

While the dates provided in Cohen’s allocution also suggest the disclosure that Russia hacked the DNC halted Cohen’s plans “at that time,” we know that the plans did resume after that canceled trip into July.

The Russians certainly believed they had an agreement. They put in some effort to meet again after Trump won. While finding an appropriate communication channel failed for the Agalarovs, Flynn and Jared Kushner moved to establish a back channel via Sergey Kislyak. When Trump met with Preet Bharara and reportedly agreed to keep him on, Veselnitskaya panicked, and suggested Trump planned to keep him on so he could take him out.

In its indictment of Veselnitskaya, DOJ just established that she was actually working as part of the Russian government when she claimed to have fought to get an MLAT request in her Prevezon case. And Veselnitskaya believed that after Trump won the election, he would take out the prosecutor whom she was facing in court. Ultimately, Trump did take out Preet, firing all his US Attorneys in an effort to do so.

And details from Mike Flynn’s allocution provide one important piece of evidence that Russians believed they had received a commitment from Trump.

After Obama imposed sanctions on Russia partly in retaliation for the election year operation, Trump’s team panicked, both because they wanted to improve relations with Russia, but also because Russia’s role in his victory delegitimized the victory. That is, even those unlikely to be unaware of any quid pro quo recognized that the public accounting of Russia’s role in helping defeat Hillary would make it all the more difficult to deal with Russia.

Obama is doing three things politically:

  • discrediting Trump’s victory by saying it was due to Russian interference
  • lure trump into trap of saying something today that casts doubt on report on Russia’s culpability and then next week release report that catches Russia red handed
  • box trump in diplomatically with Russia. If there is a tit-for-tat escalation trump will have difficulty improving relations with Russia which has just thrown USA election to him.

Trump’s response, however, was to reach out to Russia and assure them they didn’t need to worry about Obama’s new policy. In response, the Russians made it very clear that Putin had decided not to respond based on the assurances that Flynn gave Kislyak.

On or about December 30, 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin released a statement indicating that Russia would not take retaliatory measures in response to the U.S. Sanctions at that time.

On or about December 31, 2016, the Russian Ambassador called FLYNN and informed him that Russia had chosen not to retaliate in response to FL YNN’s request.

Mueller, of course, has the full transcript of what Flynn said to Kislyak that successfully placated Putin. It is highly likely the transcript provides explicit evidence of an official act to pay off his side of the deal, sanctions relief.

All of which is to say that Mueller may well be finalizing a conspiracy indictment of Don Jr and Trump Org laying out a quid pro quo in which Trump agreed to provide sanctions relief (and some other stuff) in exchange for Russia’s help winning the election.

That Mueller might be able to show all this is bribery may not affect Republican willingness to take the action laid out in the Constitution, to convict Trump in an impeachment inquiry. But given that the Constitution specifically envisions impeaching a President who has accepted a bribe, commentators should stop treating impeachment exclusively as a political issue.

Update: I posted this before I had read this analysis from Jack Goldsmith raising concerns about investigating the President for foreign policy decisions. While I think Goldsmith raises key points, he focuses on actions Trump took as President. But that’s one reason I think the transition activities are so important. If I’m right that the calls to Kislyak amount to an official act, then Trump took it to undermine the official policy of the government, not set it as President. Further, The Trump team had been asked — and at least one person had agreed — to not undermine Obama’s policies during the transition. There were several efforts to hide that they were doing so: the indications they couldn’t reengage on Magnitsky sanctions using the same channels as they used during the election, the request for a back channel, and the meeting with Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan that Susan Rice discovered by unmasking the identities of those who met with him.

The actions Trump took that led to Flynn and Comey’s firings were part of an effort to hide these clandestine efforts during the transition. Yes, they were conducted while he was President. But they were conducted to cover up actions taken before he became President. This is why I keep harping on the remarkable lack of curiosity about why Trump really fired Flynn. The public story Trump is telling is assuredly false. The real reason almost certainly ties back to these transition period actions.

As I disclosed in 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. 

*Full disclosure: I donated to Tlaib’s campaign.

Oleg Deripaska Met Sergei Millian at the St. Petersburg Forum Michael Cohen Would Have Met Putin

In a piece puzzling through why Oleg Deripaska — who wrote a deceptive op-ed that was published at his outlet — would get polling data from Trump’s campaign manager [Note, NYT has updated reporting to specify that Manafort sent the data to Serhiy Lyovochkin and Rinat Akhmetov], Chuck Ross mentions something that has entirely new meaning given recent disclosures. Oleg Deripaska met with Sergei Millian at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum in June 2016.

Deripaska has denied through intermediaries being a source for Steele, though he was spotted in June 2016 at an economic forum in St. Petersburg with Sergei Millian, an alleged source for the dossier.

Here’s a photo of the meeting, which Wendy Siegelman found.

Of course, Ross mostly cares about all this because Millian was allegedly a source for the Christopher Steele dossier, not for all the other events this one intersects with.

Consider the timeline of some key events below.

It shows that the email hacks paralleled Manafort’s increased responsibility on the campaign.

But even as Russia’s operation to release dirt on Hillary was proceeding (and Russians were reaching out to George Papadopoulos to dangle emails as well), Michael Cohen was negotiating a Trump Tower deal, via Felix Sater, which was premised on a meeting between him — and then later, Trump — and Vladimir Putin. On June 9 — the same day that Don Jr told Aras Agalarov’s representatives that the Trumps would revisit sanctions if Trump was elected — Cohen even started to book his travel for that meeting. He canceled those plans, however, on the same day Russia’s role in hacking the DNC became public.

But two key figures in the operation did meet at the St. Petersburg Forum: Deripaska and Millian. And Millian would pick up the Trump Tower deal after the RNC Convention, laundering it, at that point, through a junior staffer who had proven to be a useful go-between for the Russians.

We don’t know whether Deripaska, whom Steele was pitching as a viable partner to counter Russian organized crime, was a source for Steele’s dossier. We do know that Manafort is the one who pushed Trump to discredit the Russian investigation by attacking the dossier.

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. 

Timeline

January 12, 2016: Steele writes Bruce Ohr to say Oleg Deripaska may obtain a visa for later that year

January 20: Michael Cohen speaks with Dmitry Peskov’s personal assistant for 20 minutes about Trump Tower deal

January 21: Putin’s office contacts Felix Sater about Trump Tower deal

February 21: Steele sends Ohr Orbis reporting claiming Deripaska was not a tool of the Kremlin

February 29: Manafort drafts proposal to work for “free” for Trump

March 19: GRU hacks John Podesta

March 29: After the intervention of Roger Stone and Tom Barrack, Manafort joins the Trump campaign, initially only as Convention Chair

April: Manafort asks Kilimnik,”How do we use to get whole?”

April 18: GRU hacks into DNC via DCCC

April 26: George Papadopoulos learns Russians are offering election assistance in form of leaked emails

April 27: In first foreign policy speech Papadopoulos includes signal to Russians to meet

May 4: Cohen tells Sater he’ll do a trip to Russia before the Convention; Trump will do one after

May 5: Sater passes on Peskov invite to Cohen to attend St. Petersburg Forum to meet Putin or Medvedev

May 19: Manafort formally named campaign chair

May 21: Manafort forwards request for Trump meeting to Rick Gates, warning against sending a signal

June 3: Rob Golstone starts arranging meeting with Don Jr.

June 7: Manafort meets with Trump and Trump announces he’ll have an announcement about Hillary

June 8: GRU releases first emails via dcleaks

June 9: Trump Tower meeting presents dirt for sanctions relief; Cohen makes plans for trip to St. Petersburg Forum

June 14: WaPo reveals Russia hacked DNC; Cohen cancels plan for St. Petersburg trip

June 15: Guccifer 2.0 created

June 16-19: St. Petersburg forum (Putin does attend)

June 20: First Steele report, allegedly relying on Millian as one source

July 7: Manafort tells Kilimnik he’s willing to provide Deripaska private briefings; Ohr call with Steele about Deripaska

Week of July 15: Trump campaign prevents change making platform more belligerent to Ukraine

July 21: Sater visits Trump Tower

July 22: George Papadopoulos asks Ivan Timofeev to help prep for a meeting with Sergei Millian; Millian would eventually pitch Papadopoulos on Trump Tower Moscow deal

August 3: Manafort and Kilimnik meet in New York

August 17: Manafort fired from campaign

August: Manafort and Tom Barrack take boat trip, meet Kilimnik

October 18: Steele and Ohr discuss dispute between Ukraine and RUSAL

January 11 or 12, 2017: Manafort contacts Reince Priebus to tell him how to use the Steele dossier to discredit Russian investigation (remember, Manafort insists he didn’t lie about meeting with Trump officials, because those meetings happened before inauguration)

January 27: Papadopoulos agrees to meet FBI without a lawyer, in part in hopes of sustaining possibility of a job with Trump Admin and possibly a deal with Millian

January or February 2017: Manafort meets Kilimnik in Madrid

It Is False and Defamatory to Accuse WikiLeaks of a Bunch of Things that Aren’t the Key Allegations against It

WikiLeaks decided it was a good idea to release a long list of claims about Julian Assange and WikiLeaks that it considers defamatory. Emma Best obtained and liberated the list. Given that the list clearly attempts (unsuccessfully in some places, and hilariously in other places where they deem matters of opinion defamatory) to be factually correct, I’m interested in the way WikiLeaks uses the list to try to deny a bunch of things that might end up in a US criminal indictment.

The US is only angry with Assange because Ecuador has lots of debt

Pretty far down the list, WikiLeaks denies being gagged for claims made about Sergey Skripal in such a way as to falsely suggest the only concerns the US had over Assange came to do with debt pressure.

It is false and defamatory to suggest that Ecuador isolated and gagged Mr. Assange due to his comments on Sergei Skripal [in fact, he was isolated over his refusal to delete a factually accurate tweet about the arrest of the president of Catalonia by Spain in Germany, along with U.S. debt pressure on Ecuador. The president of Ecuador Lenin Moreno admitted that these two countries were the issue, see https://defend.wikileaks.org/about-julian/].

It’s nonsensical to claim that Assange was gagged just because of debt pressure, but it’s a good way to hide how the timing of his gag correlated with actions he took to piss of the US government, including by releasing a live CIA malware file.

The US charged Assange for actions it already decided not to charge him for, on which statutes of limitation have expired

The rest of the list is sprinkled with efforts to spin the US government’s legal interest in Assange. There’s an extended series of items that attempt to claim, as WikiLeaks has since DOJ accidentally revealed the existence of a recently filed complaint against Assange, that the charges instead relate to long-past publications (like Cablegate).

It is false and defamatory to deny that Julian Assange has been formally investigated since 2010 and charged by the U.S. federal government over his publishing work [it is defamatory because such a claim falsely imputes that Mr. Assange’s asylum is a sham and that he is a liar, see https://defend.wikileaks.org/].

It is false and defamatory to suggest that such U.S. charges have not been confirmed [in fact, they have, most recently by Associated Press (AP) and the Washington Post in November 2018].
– It is false and defamatory to suggest that the U.S. government denies the existence of such charges.
– It is false and defamatory to suggest that Julian Assange is not wanted for extradition by the U.S. government [in fact, public records from the Department of Justice show that the U.S. government says it had been intentionally concealing its charges against Mr. Assange from the public specifically to decrease his ability to “avoid arrest and extradition”].
– It is false and defamatory to suggest that the U.S. government has not publicly confirmed that it has an active grand jury, or pending or prospective proceedings, against Julian Assange or WikiLeaks, each year since 2010.

These claims are all true. WikiLeaks has been under investigation since well before 2010. There are charges that the US would like to extradite Assange for.

But all the public evidence suggests those charges relate to WikiLeaks’ recent actions, almost certainly involving Vault 7 and probably involving Russia’s election year operation.

Julian Assange is not a hacker, which is different from being someone who solicits or assists in hacks

WikiLeaks makes repeated claims that might appear to deny that the organization has solicited or assisted in hacks. The list denies that the DNC (which doesn’t have all the evidence Mueller does) has accused Assange of soliciting hacks of the DNC or Podesta. (Everywhere, this list is silent about the DCCC and other election year targets).

It is false and defamatory to suggest that the Democratic National Committee has claimed that Julian Assange directed, conspired, or colluded to hack the Democratic National Committee or John Podesta [in fact, the DNC makes no such claim: https://www.courthousenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/WikiLeaksDNC.pdf].

It denies that France has claimed that the MacronLeaks came from Russia (which again stops short of saying that the MacronLeaks came from Russia).

It is false and defamatory to suggest that the French government found that “MacronLeaks” were hacked by Russia [in fact, the head of the French cyber-security agency, ANSSI, said that they did not have evidence connecting the hack with Russia, see https://wikileaks.org/macron-emails/].

It denies that Assange has hacked the state of Ecuador (but not the Embassy of Ecuador or other states, including the US or Iceland).

It is false and defamatory to suggest that Julian Assange has ever hacked the state of Ecuador.

And it denies that Assange is, himself, a hacker.

It is false and defamatory to suggest that Julian Assange is a “hacker”.

All of these hacking denials stop well short of denying that WikiLeaks has solicited hacks before, including by publicizing a “most wanted” list that Russian hackers might respond to.

Mueller described WikiLeaks as an unindicted co-conspirator but that doesn’t mean Mueller has any interest in the organization

Close to the top of the list, WikiLeaks makes two claims to suggest the organization and Assange are not targets in the Mueller investigation.

It is false and defamatory to suggest that WikiLeaks or Julian Assange has ever been contacted by the Mueller investigation.

It is false and defamatory to suggest that there is any evidence that the U.S. charges against Julian Assange relate to the Mueller investigation.

This is misdirection hiding a great deal of evidence that WikiLeaks is a target in the Mueller investigation. The list is silent, for example, on whether Congressional investigators have contacted Assange, whether Assange ultimately did accept SSCI’s renewed request last summer to meet with Assange, and whether Assange demanded immunity to travel to the US to respond to such inquiries.

Nor does WikiLeaks deny having been described — in a fashion usually reserved for unindicted co-conspirators — in a Mueller indictment.

WikiLeaks doesn’t deny that WikiLeaks denied Russians were its source for 2016 materials

WikiLeaks twice denies, in very similar language, that it suggested that Seth Rich was its source for the DNC emails.

It is false and defamatory to suggest that WikiLeaks or Julian Assange claimed that any person or entity was their source for WikiLeaks’ 2016 U.S. election publications [it is defamatory because Julian Assange’s professional reputation is substantially based on source protection].

[snip]

It is false and defamatory to suggest that WikiLeaks or Julian Assange has ever stated or suggested that any particular person was their source for any publication, including Seth Rich.

A good lawyer would be able to sustain a claim that Assange had indeed “suggested” that Rich was his source, though it would make an interesting legal battle.

But when WikiLeaks denies feeding Seth Rich conspiracies, it does so only by denying the most extreme conspiracy, that the Democrats had Rich killed.

It is false and defamatory to suggest that WikiLeaks or Julian Assange has ever published, uttered or tried to promote alleged conspiracy theories claiming “John Podesta engaged in satanic rituals”, the “Democratic Party had Seth Rich Killed”, “Clinton wore earpieces to the 2016 US election debates”, on “Clinton’s health” or “Clinton kidnapping children”.

All of this, of course, dodges the way that WikiLeaks repeatedly tried to claim that Russia was not its ultimate source for the 2016 files.

Should we take the silence on this point as an admission?

Marcy Wheeler is false and defamatory

Finally, there are four claims relating to Vault 7, three of which pertain to my coverage of the way WikiLeaks attempted to leverage the Vault 7 releases in conversations with the Trump Administration. WikiLeaks denies that the two times Assange suggested to the President’s spawn that he should be made an ambassador to the US constituted an effort by WikiLeaks to get Trump to appoint Assange ambassador (note, this is also a denial that Assange tried to serve in another diplomatic role, which is different than being Ambassador).

It is false and defamatory to suggest that WikiLeaks tried to have the Trump administration appoint Julian Assange as an ambassador or to have any other person or state appoint him as an ambassador.

I find it notable that this claim departs from the form used in many of these denials, speaking for both Assange and WikiLeaks.

Then the list twice denies that Assange suggested he wouldn’t release the Vault 7 files if the Trump Administration provided him immunity.

It is false and defamatory to suggest that Julian Assange has ever extorted the United States government.

It is false and defamatory to suggest that Julian Assange has ever proposed that he not publish, censor or delay a publication in exchange for any thing.

Assange would and will claim that the discussions with Adam Waldman where just this arrangement was floated are protected by Attorney-Client privilege. But Waldman may have said enough to people at DOJ to refute this denial regardless.

Finally, WikiLeaks insisted it has never retracted any of the bullshit claims it made about its Vault 7 files.

It is false and defamatory to suggest that any of WikiLeaks’ claims about its 2017 CIA leak, Vault 7, “were later retracted”.

Given that one of the claims directly parroted the bullshit claims Shadow Brokers was making, a claim it made in a release that will probably be part of the charges against it, this non-retraction doesn’t necessarily help it much.

Note that one other thing WikiLeaks is silent about here are its public statements about Joshua Schulte, whose attempts to continue leaking from jail the FBI got on video. I find that interesting both for WikiLeaks’ attempt to corroborate Schulte’s thin excuse for using Tor after he was charged, and for its relative silence about whether he would be a whistleblower if he were its source for CIA’s hacking tools.

Update: WikiLeaks has released a revised version that takes out, among other things, the Ambassador claim, the Seth Rich claims, and also a denial that it is close to Russia.

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

The Black Holes in the Mike Flynn 302: The Back Channel Discussion May Be Most Sensitive Investigative Detail

In this post, I talked about what we can deduce from the unredacted parts of the Mike Flynn 302 released last night. It shows that Flynn’s lies served to hide that he consulted very closely with Mar-a-Lago — almost certainly with Trump — and even denied parts of the transcript that showed him quoting directly from KT McFarland’s related instructions.

While we’re waiting on Flynn’s sentence, I’d like to look at the substantive redactions, as a way of assessing what Mueller thinks must remain secret. I’ll just be looking at the actual report, not the bureaucratic redactions (which hide things like the case number and classification levels for the individual paragraphs).

The first redaction comes in a paragraph recording what Flynn claimed were his past communications with Sergei Kislyak, in which he explains that he called Kislyak in the wake of the death of GRU head Igor Sergun in January 2016.

It’s possible the redaction includes an admission that he and Kislyak discussed policy — ascribing a a policy call to a condolence one is precisely what he did with the December 29 calls to Kislyak, after all. Note, too, the way Flynn distanced that conversation from Trump (he probably figured out that that call, like his much later one, would have been picked up). It’d be especially interesting if the redaction pertained to Flynn’s claim that Sergun died in Lebanon; Russia’s military issued a panicked denial today that Sergun died there (they say he died of heart problems in Russia).

The second redaction hides Flynn’s discussion of his trip to Russia in 2015, on a trip ultimately paid by RT, where he sat at a table with Vladimir Putin and Jill Stein.

This actually might be hidden for counterintelligence reasons — to hide the circumstances of how Russians tried to sidle up to Flynn by flying him in for the gala. That said, the details are likely part of Mueller’s understanding of how Russia cultivated Trump and those close to him.

The next redaction hides Flynn’s description of the outreach to the Russians he was making.

I suspect this provides more detail about the outreach Flynn made on Syria. He portrays it as pertaining to terrorism, not paying back Russia. The hidden passage may also address timing which we now know actually started during the election (which would mean this redacted passage could hide yet another Flynn lie).

Note, it’s actually fairly interesting that Flynn worked exclusively via Kislyak, but none of that is likely to be redacted.

The first paragraph about the December 29 conversation hides two details: what appears to be a request that Flynn set up the conference call that ultimately took place on January 28, and an inquiry on whether the US would send observers to … something.

This redaction is one I expect we’ll get follow-up reporting on, as Kislyak was making significant asks at that time.

Update: TC suggests the reference to monitors might pertain to evacuation of Aleppo. It’s definitely a possibility. Update: The observer comment pertained to Syria peace talks. h/t JM

The longest redaction in the 302 may be the one that hides Flynn’s description of the December 1 meeting with himself and Jared Kushner (Don Jr came in at some point — the meeting was conducted in his office) where Jared asked for a back channel of communications.

I find the extent of this redaction … to be bad news for Jared Kushner (and Don Jr if he attended more of the meeting than he claims). This is another meeting that FBI had details about (or later would discover them), from when Kislyak called home and reported on the back channel request. A significant purpose for this redaction must be to hide what Flynn said from the other co-conspirators.

Also note: if this meeting is the only other communication with Kislyak that Flynn admitted to, he may have also hid communications he had during the election (in which case those communications would have also been considered sensitive).

These two words are the only ones redacted in the entire three-paragraph passage describing Flynn’s lies about the vote on Israeli settlements.

The redactions here — at least the second one — are for diplomatic reasons.

I believe the second one hides the word “Egyptians;” I’m not sure if the first is long enough to be “Israel.” It may be “Trump,” in which case it’d be another point where Flynn hid how much he coordinated with Trump on all this.

In any case, the fact that Mueller redacted so little of this discussion suggests that the effort to help Israel is not a core part of his investigation (or if it is, Jared, who ordered Flynn to try to delay the vote on Israel, has already locked in his testimony on it).

It’s unclear what this redaction, in the first paragraph as the FBI Agents circled back to Flynn’s lies about the sanctions call, hides. It may be another reference to the discussion about sending observers somewhere.

That’s the final redaction, though. The rest — which details how the Agents quoted directly from the transcript (including the bit that was itself a quote of KT McFarland) is all unsealed, so presumably no longer sensitive from an investigative standpoint.

All of which is to say that the most sensitive investigative detail in Flynn’s 302 — the thing the government cared most about hiding — is what Flynn said about that December 1 meeting where Jared asked to set up a back channel of communication with Russia.

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

The Quid Pro Quo Was Even Tighter Than I Imagined

Way back in May, I did a six part series on what the questions (as imagined by Jay Sekulow) that Mueller wanted to ask to Trump said about his investigation.

Part One: The Mueller Questions Map Out Cultivation, a Quid Pro Quo, and a Cover-Up

Part Two: The Quid Pro Quo: a Putin Meeting and Election Assistance, in Exchange for Sanctions Relief

Part Three: The Quo: Policy and Real Estate Payoffs to Russia

Part Four: The Quest: Trump Learns of the Investigation

Part Five: Attempting a Cover-Up by Firing Comey

Part Six: Trump Exacerbates His Woes

I gotta say, I’m quite proud of the way the series has held up: while there’s a bunch I’d add to the series if I rewrote it today, there’s little that I’d retract.

And from the very start, I argued that the election conspiracy involves a quid pro quo. The second post described how, “over the course of the election, the Russians and Trump appear to have danced towards a quid pro quo, involving a Putin meeting and election assistance in exchange for sanctions relief if Trump won (as noted, the Russians dangled real estate deals to entice Trump based on the assumption he wouldn’t win).”

I still stand by the series, but recent developments in the case make it clear the quid pro quo is even tighter than I thought because of the way the Trump Tower Moscow dangle, which we now know was the payoff that required a meeting with Putin, hung over it all.

Consider this passage in the Mueller Cohen sentencing memo.

The defendant’s false statements obscured the fact that the Moscow Project was a lucrative business opportunity that sought, and likely required, the assistance of the Russian government. If the project was completed, the Company could have received hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources in licensing fees and other revenues. The fact that Cohen continued to work on the project and discuss it with Individual 1 well into the campaign was material to the ongoing congressional and SCO investigations, particularly because it occurred at a time of sustained efforts by the Russian government to interfere with the U.S. presidential election. Similarly, it was material that Cohen, during the campaign, had a substantive telephone call about the project with an assistant to the press secretary for the President of Russia.

Cohen’s lies, aside from attempting to short circuit the parallel Russian investigations, hid the following facts:

  • Trump Organization stood to earn “hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources” if the Trump Tower deal went through.
  • Cohen’s work on the deal continued “well into the campaign” even as the Russian government made “sustained efforts … to interfere in the U.S. presidential election.”
  • The project “likely required[] the assistance of the Russian government.”
  • “Cohen [during May 2016] had a substantive telephone call about the project with an assistant to the press secretary for the President of Russia [Dmitri Peskov].”

Now consider the line Rob Goldstone used to entice Don Jr into taking a meeting — a meeting that, Rudy Giuliani says Paul Manafort says prosecutors know Trump knew about — to hear about dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Less than three years after Trump’s ability to get a meeting with Putin during the Miss Universe contest had been portrayed, by Goldstone himself, as entirely reliant on the efforts of Aras Agalarov, Goldstone packaged this meeting as “part of  Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

And while Goldstone testified that he didn’t mean anything specific about that phrase, he also testified that among the bare facts that Emin wanted conveyed in that message is that this meeting would benefit the Trumps — not the campaign, but the Trumps.

Q. — you talked about with my colleague, I know we have asked you a lot of questions. I just want to have you explain. When you say there — you wrote the statement “based on the bare facts I was given,” exactly what were the bare facts that you were given?

A. So, to the best of my recollection, when I spoke to Emin, he said to me: I would like you to set up a meeting. A Russian attorney met with my — a well-connected Russian attorney met with my dad in his office, and she appears to have or seems to have damaging information on the Democrats and its candidate, Hillary Clinton. And I think it could be useful to the Trumps.

He talked about the Trumps rather than the campaign. And he would like us to get a meeting. To me, that was it. That’s when I started pushing for more information. But those would be the bare facts: attorney, damaging information, Democrats, Hillary Clinton. [my emphasis]

Goldstone was just a go-between in efforts, going back to 2013 and involving Dmitri Peskov, to set up a meeting between Trump and Putin. And Emin was clearly not sharing everything with Goldstone. But Emin was more centrally involved, even in 2013, and (his comments to Goldstone make clear) remained so in 2016 and 2017. So Emin’s emphasis on the benefit for Trump is striking.

And whether or not that language about “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump” was as innocent as Goldstone makes out, in context, it would have clear meaning for Don Jr, whom we know Cohen kept apprised of the efforts to renew the Trump Tower Moscow deal. The Trumps were monetizing this running-for-President thing, and they were happy to make campaign promises to Russians bearing dirt, because the point wasn’t to actually win the election. It was about the hundreds of millions they stood to gain.

And the very day of that June 9 meeting, Michael Cohen started making his travel plans to go meet top Russian officials in St. Petersburg, possibly even Putin himself, plans that were only scuttled when the Russian hack of the DNC got exposed.

Consider one more detail about this quid pro quo. We’ve already seen how broke Trump’s working for “free” campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was at the time (though yesterday’s Manafort filing makes it clear that Tom Barrack had a much bigger role in this than previously known, and may have been — may even still be! — the one paying Manafort’s bills). The SDNY Cohen filing describes why he had to use a HELOC to pay off Trump’s former sex partners.

In December 2015, Cohen contacted a bank (“Bank-3”) to apply for a home equity line of credit (“HELOC”). In his application for the HELOC, Cohen made false statements about his net worth and monthly expenses. Specifically, Cohen failed to disclose more than $20 million in debt he owed to another bank (“Bank-2”), and also materially understated his monthly expenses to Bank-3 by omitting at least $70,000 in monthly interest payments due to Bank-2 on that debt. (PSR ¶ 34). These statements were the latest in a series of false statements Cohen made to financial institutions in connection with credit applications.

While elsewhere, SDNY makes clear that Cohen has been hiding some liquid assets … somewhere, the amount of fraud he was conducting to keep his finances in order (to say nothing of his refusal to fully cooperate with SDNY’s investigation) suggest they may be the wrong kind of liquid.

An updated financial statement Cohen provided at closing reflected a positive $17 million net worth in addition to previously undisclosed liquid assets, a nearly $20 million increase from the false financial information Cohen had provided to Bank-2 just weeks earlier in the negotiations.

So Manafort was underwater and Cohen was underwater. How badly underwater do you expect we’ll learn Trump Organization is and was?

The Russians exploited Trump’s most venal instincts and those of all the people around him. And all the election help and policy payoffs were just side shows to Trump. So long as he showed a willingness to damage Hillary Clinton in any way available, the Russians were happy to have him believe this was just about a silly tower in Moscow.

As I disclosed in 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 and Felix Sater’s Evolving Cooperation against Trump

Among the things I remain most amazed by, in the Russian investigation, is that even while Trump and the GOP are trying to discredit the Mueller investigation by claiming, without evidence, that the Deep State had a bunch of informants infiltrate Trump’s campaign, no one has ever alleged that Felix Sater had been sent by the Deep State, even though he had a known background of being an informant for the Deep State before this whole thing began. And while Trump has attacked Michael Cohen viciously since he discovered (after his personal lawyer got raided by the Feds), that Cohen had recordings that exposed Trump personally, it still seems that Cohen and Sater may be shading their coordinated testimony to protect Trump from the worst implications of the Trump Tower deal. I’ve even heard chatter that Cohen remained in touch with Trump as recently as September.

I argued back in August 2017 that Mueller had seemed to form a prosecutorial team with the lessons his FBI learned via Felix Sater. That was before BuzzFeed reported in March that Sater actually had ties to six of Mueller’s prosecutors, starting with Andrew Weissmann.

Today, as he is being questioned about Trump’s business deals and ties to Russia, he has built relationships with at least six members of special counsel Robert Mueller’s team, some going back more than 10 years.

[snip]

Signing Sater’s cooperation agreement for the Department of Justice was Andrew Weissmann, then an assistant US attorney and now a key member of the special counsel’s team. Mueller himself would be the FBI director for most of the time Sater served as a source.

Even given the extensive background Mueller’s team has with Sater, they seem to have delayed interviewing him until fairly late in the process: December 2017. And it looks like Sater was no more forthright when he first met with Congress (and therefore possibly even Mueller’s team) than Cohen was.

In anticipation of today’s sentencing filings, I’d like to track the evolving stories on the Trump Tower deal, because I’m genuinely curious whether Cohen has now been more forthcoming than Sater.

May 31, 2017: Cohen and his lawfirm subpoenaed by HPSCI. Facing the problems with the Trump Tower story would have come up within weeks of Jim Comey’s firing, when the House Intelligence Committee — which was still conducting a marginally credible investigation — first asked and then subpoenaed him for documents. Ironically, they were likely after documents pertaining to the Steele dossier allegations, which may have been why Devin Nunes so readily assented to a subpoena. Those allegations have amounted to nothing, thus far.

July 8, 2017: First report on June 9 meeting creates a rush for testimony on that topic.

July 19, 2017: SJC requests documents from Trump organization. The request was written targeted specifically to the influence campaign, not ties with Russia generally, though it should have at least obligated Trump Organization to preserve the company’s contacts with Russian government officials.

If this has not yet been done, we ask that you immediately take steps to preserve all relevant documents in the possession, custody, or control of the Trump Organization related to Russian interference in the 2016 election, including documents related to the Trump Organization’s or Trump campaign’s3 contacts with: Russian government officials, associates, or representatives; any individuals who purported to act or whom were believed to be acting on behalf of Russian government officials, associates, or representatives; anyone who might have been involved in or in receipt of information obtained as a result of Russia’s influence campaign

But Sater was not among those it included in the communication list.

all communications to, from, or copied to the Trump Organization relating to Rob Goldstone, Emin Agalarov, Aras Agalarov, Natalia Veselnitskaya, Rinat Akhmetshin, Anatoli Samochornov, Irakly (Ike) Kaveladze, Christopher Steele, Aleksej Gubarev, Webzilla B.V., XBT Holdings S.A., Alfa Group, Dmitry Peskov, Vladimir Putin, the Ritz Carlton Moscow Hotel, Paul Manafort, Carter Page, Igor Sechin, Sergei Ivanov, Igor Divyekin, Sergei Millian, Dmitry Medvedev, Michael Flynn, Jill Stein, Michael Cohen, Konstantin Kosachev, Viktor Yanukovych, Corey Lewandowski, Sergei Kislyak, Yuri Ushakov, Anton Vaino, Mikhail Kalugin, Andrei Bondarev, Mikhail Fridman, Petr Aven, German Khan, Oleg Govorun, Sergey Lavrov, Rosneft, Sergei Kiriyenko, Oleg Solodukhin. This shall include any documents referring to any of the aforementioned using alternate spellings, pseudonyms, nicknames, abbreviations, or codes;

The very same day SJC submitted a document request that would not cover Trump’s business ties to Russia, the NYT published the interview in which it obediently set a “red line” on Trump’s businesses that Mueller should not cross.

August 27-28, 2017: Probably because of the way the June 9 meeting was disclosed, Congress more aggressively pursued testimony on it than on other issues. As a result, Don Jr got a request — and an early hearing date — for testimony from the Senate Judiciary Committee. In the lead-up to that (and to his own SSCI interview), Michael Cohen conducted a preemptive limited hangout on the Trump Tower story. It started with a WaPo scoop that cited several people familiar with the proposal when telling Cohen’s partial version, one of whom must be Cohen.

Trump never went to Moscow as Sater proposed. And although investors and Trump’s company signed a letter of intent, they lacked the land and permits to proceed and the project was abandoned at the end of January 2016, just before the presidential primaries began, several people familiar with the proposal said.

The next day, the Trump Organization turned over [some, but obviously not all of the] emails on the deal to Congress, leading to more reporting on it. At the same time, Cohen turned over a statement on the projected project, the following parts of which got quoted in his statement of the offense.

The proposal was under consideration at the [Company] from September 2015 until the end of January 2016 . By the end of January 2016 , I determined that the proposal was not feasible for a variety of business reasons and should not be pursued further . Based on my business determinations, the [Company] abandoned the [Moscow Project] proposal . To the best of my knowledge , [Individual l] was never in contact with anyone about this proposal other than me on three occasions . I did not ask or brief [Individual l] , or any of his family , before I made the decision to terminate further work on the proposal.

I primarily communicated with the Moscow- based development company . through a U. S . citizen third- party intermediary , [Individual 2] . [ Individual 2] constantly asked me to travel to Moscow as part of his efforts to push forward the discussion of the proposal . I ultimately determined that the proposal was not feasible and never agreed to make a trip to Russia . Despite overtures by [Individual 2] , I never considered asking [Individual l] to travel to Russia in connection with this proposal .

In mid- January 2016 , [Individual 2] suggested that I send an email to [Russian Official l] , the Press Secretary for the President of Russia , since the proposal would require approvals within the Russian government that had not been issued . Those permissions were never provided . I decided to abandon the proposal less than two weeks later for business reasons and do not recall any response to my email , nor any other contacts by me with [Russian Official l] or other Russian government officials about the proposal

Also that day, WSJ reported another part of the cover story: that Cohen had talked to Trump about it, but just three times. Later that day, WSJ published an interview with Cohen who described, in helpful detail for anyone trying to coordinate stories, the three contacts with Trump about it he admitted to.

In 2015, Mr. Cohen said, he informed the then-candidate that he was working on a licensing deal for a Trump Tower in Moscow. He subsequently asked for and received Mr. Trump’s signature on a nonbinding letter of intent for the project in October 2015. And in January 2016, he said, he informed the then-candidate that he had killed the proposal. Mr. Cohen said each conversation was brief.

NYT, too, picked up the story, even republishing fragments of emails sent during 2015. It did repeat Felix Sater’s boast that by building a Trump Tower it could get Trump elected. However, it quotes Sater seemingly backing the shortened (September 2015 through January 2016) timeline of the deal.

“During the course of our communications over several months, I routinely expressed my enthusiasm regarding what a tremendous opportunity this was for the Trump Organization,” Mr. Sater said.

By August 28, all media outlets had focused on the January 2016 Cohen email to the general press line for Dmitri Peskov, which was attention getting (because it involved Putin’s close aide) but could also be pitched to show (because Cohen used the general press line rather than a more direct line to Peskov) how few contacts with Russia Cohen purportedly had. Trump Organization provided a statement that mirrored Cohen’s lie that the deal had died in January 2016. It is clear that Cohen and Trump Organization coordinated this roll-out. Yet Cohen has not yet publicly disclosed that coordination.

August 30, 2017: On August 30, Dmitri Peskov substantially backed Cohen’s story. Notably, he denied knowing either Cohen or Sater and said that Vladimir Putin had never known about the deal. It’s possible — likely, even — that Peskov was just taking cues from Cohen’s public leaks of his cover story, though it would awfully damning if this coordination went further.

August 31, 2017: Then, Cohen released the letter his attorney had sent — two weeks earlier — along with two earlier tranches of documents for Congress. Having done his limited hangout of the Moscow deal, releasing the letter that focused entirely on his denials with respect to the Steele dossier shifted the focus back on that.

September 7, 2017: SJC interviews Don Jr. While he didn’t tell huge lies, he nevertheless claimed to know “very little” about the 2015-2016 Trump Tower Moscow deal, being only “peripherally aware” of the negotiations. Perhaps his most specific lie was that he did not know of Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s outreach to the Kremlin seeking President Vladimir Putin’s help on the deal until that news had been reported by the press just weeks earlier.

September 19, 2017: Cohen attempts to preempt an interview with SSCI by releasing a partial statement before testifying, only to have SSCI balk and reschedule the interview. The statement alluded to, but did not incorporate, the statement on the Trump Tower deal he had released on August 28, though even his allusion to it included lies.

I assume we will discuss the rejected proposal to build a Trump property in Moscow that was terminated in January of 2016; which occurred before the Iowa caucus and months before the very first primary. This was solely a real estate deal and nothing more. I was doing my job. I would ask that the two-page statement about the Moscow proposal that I sent to the Committee in August be incorporated into and attached to this transcript.

October 24, 2017: HPSCI interviews Cohen. The timing of the interviews of the three players in the Trump Tower deal is rather curious, especially given Richard Burr’s recent suggestions the committee is working closely with Mueller. SSCI got Cohen and Don Jr on the record during the same period HPSCI was getting all three on the record. But SSCI doesn’t yet get Sater on the record, and it’s not until that same time period (presumably after the HPSCI interview) until Mueller gets Sater, even with his long relationship with six of Mueller’s team members, on the record. As the HPSCI report makes clear, however, as late as December 14, Sater was still telling a story that conflicts with the story both he and Cohen are currently telling.

October 25, 2017: SSCI interviews Cohen.

December 6, 2017: HPSCI interviews Don Jr. Of the three men, Don Jr gets closest to the truth in his interview with HPSCI, but in ways that conflict with his September SJC testimony.

December 13, 2017: SSCI staff interviews Don Jr.

December 14, 2017: HPSCI interviews Felix Sater in his lawyers’ NYC office.

December 2017: Mueller interviews Sater.

March 5, 2018: Mueller adds questions about the Trump Tower deal to those he wants Trump to answer. Note, this comes in the wake of Rick Gates’ cooperation deal; we still do not know what senior campaign official knew of Cohen’s attempts to travel to Russia as part of the Trump Tower deal but it’s possible Gates was in the loop on it.

March 12, 2018: BuzzFeed’s first long piece relying on Felix Sater focuses (like his statement to HPSCI) on his time as an informant, not the Trump Tower deal. It does, however, provide an unsatisfying explanation for why he thought building a Trump Tower would help Trump get elected.

Did he think the Trump Moscow deal could get Trump elected?

Even Trump “is fucking surprised he became the president.”

Then why send that email?

“If a deal can get done and I could make money and he could look like a statesman, what the fuck is the downside, right?”

It also includes details on the Ukrainian deal, and ends with Sater’s insistence (among comments explaining why he won’t say mean things about Trump) that once Trump leaves office he intends to build Trump Tower.

“First thing I plan to do when Trump leaves office, whether it’s next week, in 2020 or four years later, is march right into his office and say, ‘Let’s build Trump Moscow.’

“I’m serious.”

It also shows that the statement Sater gave to HPSCI doesn’t address his involvement with Trump at all, but instead focuses on his service as an informant. Which may explain the gratuitous statement on those activities in HPSCI’s report.

March 15, 2018: NYT reports that Mueller has subpoenaed Trump Org for documents relating to Russia, which it uses to suggest Mueller is inching closer to the false red line the NYT so obediently set in August 2017. Keep in mind: by this point the known witnesses on Trump Tower had claimed there was no follow-up on the Peskov email, which suggests they had reason to believe the discovery shared with Congress (which is what Mueller got in the first round) did not tell the complete story. If Gates was in the loop on the Cohen negotiations, Mueller would have known by that point that Trump Organization had withheld responsive documents.

March 22, 2018: HPSCI releases Russia Report. It shows that both Sater and Cohen were telling the same cover story when they met with the committee in October and December 2017, respectively, Don Jr’s December testimony was closer to the truth (and as such probably in conflict with his September testimony to SJC). But as the bolded passages make clear, HPSCI had a pretty good idea they were being lied to.

In approximately September 2015, he received a separate proposal for Trump Tower Moscow from a businessman named [Sater] According to Cohen, the concept of the project was that “[t]he Trump Organization would lend its name and management skills, but It was not going to borrow any money and it would not have any resulting debt for the purchase of the land and the building of the facility.”;~ Cohen worked on this idea with [Sater] and his company, the Bayrock Group, a real estate consultancy that had previously worked with the Trump Organization.

[gratuitous paragraph on what a colorful fellow Sater is — see note on statement, above]

(U) After signing a letter of intent with a local developer in October 2015,36 Cohen and [Sater] exchanged a number of emails and text messages in late 2015 detailing their attempts to move the project forward. For instance, in December 2015, [Sater] tried to get Cohen and candidate Trump to travel to Russia to work on the project.

(U) Several of [Sater’s] communications with Cohen involved an attempt to broker a meeting or other ties between candidate Trump and President Putin, and purported to convey Russian government interest in the project. Perhaps most notably, [Sater] told Cohen in a November 3, 2015, email, “[b]uddy our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer it.” 39 [Sater] continued that if “Putin gets on stage with Donald for a ribbon cutting for Trump Moscow, . .. Donald owns the republican nomination.” 10 This assertion apparently arose from [Sater’s] rather grandiose theory that cementing a deal with a hostile U.S. adversary would increase candidate Trump’s foreign policy bona fides.41

(U) Sater testified that his communications with Cohen regarding President Putin were ”mere puffery,” designed to elicit a response from the · Trump Organization to move the project along.42 [Sater] explained that “[u]ntil the bank writes the check, it’s all salesmanship and promotion to try to get many, many, many parties towards the center to try to get the deal done.” 43 Cohen similarly characterized [Sater] as “a salesman” who “uses very colorful language.”44

(U) When the project started proceeding too slowly for the Trump Organization,45 Cohen and [Sater] began to exchange acrimonious text messages. 46 As part of those text messages [Sater] told Cohen that President Putin’s people were backing the deal, including “this is thru Putins [sic] administration, and nothing gets done there without approval from the top,” as well as meetings in Russia with “Ministers” and “Putins [sic] top administration people.”] [Sater] also mentioned Dmitry Peskov (President Putin’s spokesman) would “most likely” be included. 48

(U) Cohen thus attempted to reach out to members of the Russian government in an attempt to make the project proceed, but apparently did not have any direct points of contact. for example, Cohen sent an email to a general press mailbox at the Kremlin in an effort to reach Peskov.49 Cohen’s message notes that he has been working with a local partner to build a Trump Tower in Moscow and that communications have stalled with the local partner.50 The email further seeks contact with Peskov so they may ” discuss the specifics as well as arrang[e] meetings with the appropriate individuals.”51 Based on the documents produced to the Committee, it does not appear Cohen ever received a response from anyone affiliated with the Russian government.

(U) [Sater’s] testimony likewise made clear that neither President Putin nor any element of the Russian government was actually directly involved in the project. For instance, in one exchange, [Sater] testified he was offering the Trump Organization access to one of his acquaintances. This acquaintance was an acquaintance of someone else who is “partners on a real estate development with a friend of Putin’s.” 52

[Sater] testified that he was unaware of “any direct meetings with any [Russian] government officials” in connection with the Trump Tower Moscow project.53 In addition, neither candidate Trump nor Cohen traveled to Russia in support of the deal.54

[U] It appears the Trump Tower Moscow project failed in January 2016.57 Trump Jr. testified that, as of early June 2016, he believed the Trump Tower Moscow project was dormant.53 The project failed because “[t]he due diligence did not come through” and the Trump Organization’s representative “lost confidence in the licensee, and [he] abandoned the project.”59 In fact, the Trump Organization did not have a confirmed site, so the deal never reached the point where the company was discussing financing arrangements for the project.60 The Committee determined that the Trump Tower Moscow project did not progress beyond an early developmental phase, and that this potential licensing deal was not related to the Trump campaign.61

So by March 22, at least some of the people with influence over the HPSCI report (it’s unclear whether Democrats had any influence on the final product at this point at all) had doubts about whether Cohen got a response from the Kremlin, used hedged language about whether either candidate Trump or Cohen planned on traveling to Russia (a particularly important hedge, as Cohen appears to have made plans to do so specifically in response to the June 9 meeting), and didn’t entirely believe the deal failed in January. Indeed, Don Jr’s language suggested it continued afterwards.

April 4, 2018: SSCI interviews Felix Sater. Given that Sater almost certainly lied in his Mueller interview — given its proximity to the interview with HPSCI where he told the cover story — this may have been an attempt to see what the interim story would be. Note that it immediately precedes the Cohen raid. The BuzzFeed story published the following month, which noted discrepancies between Sater’s then currently operative story and Cohen’s, suggests that Sater did provide more of the truth to SSCI, noting, for example, that Trump got regular updates.

Last month, Senate Intelligence Committee staffers peppered Sater for hours with questions about the Trump Moscow project. Sater testified that Cohen acted as the “intermediary” for Trump Moscow and was eager to see the deal through because he wanted to “score points with Trump.”

Sater also testified that Trump would regularly receive “short updates about the process of the deal.”

And it revealed the plans went on into “at least” June.

[N]ew records show he was still working on it with Sater at least into June. In May, six weeks before the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Sater asked Cohen when he and Trump would go to Moscow. In a text message, Cohen replied: “MY trip before Cleveland. Trump once he becomes the nominee after the convention.”

April 9, 2018: Cohen raided by SDNY, based on a subpoena that names “many” people. In litigation that follows, SDNY made several claims about Cohen’s cooperation to this point, including fact-checking whether or not he has been fully cooperative with Mueller’s inquiry. Key to that was Cohen’s efforts to limit what Trump Organization turned over.

Cohen also states that the SCO “had requested that the Trump Organization produce all of Mr. Cohen’s communications that were within the Trump Organization’s custody, possession, or control,” and that Cohen objected “on the grounds that [the request] called for production of privileged communications, among other things.” (Br. 8-9). Although in the ordinary course, the USAO-SDNY would not comment on investigative requests or demands made to third parties, particularly those from a separate office undertaking its own, independent investigation, in light of the representations made by Cohen’s counsel, USAO-SDNY contacted the SCO about these representations and understands they are not accurate. In particular, the SCO did not request that the Trump Organization produce “all communications” by Cohen in the Trump Organization’s possession or control irrespective of subject matter or privilege. Indeed, the request made by the SCO was considerably narrower, and specifically omitted, among other things, any documents that were protected by privilege or of a purely personal nature. Cohen nonetheless objected to that request for documents and, after discussions between Cohen’s counsel and the SCO, the SCO decided not to seek production at that time. That Cohen sought to preclude the Trump Organization from producing these third party communications belies both (i) his general assertion of cooperation, and (ii) his stated principal interest in protecting attorney-client communications. Indeed, a careful review of Cohen’s motion papers reveals that he does not purport to have personally produced any documents to the SCO.

The SDNY statement also included a redacted passage suggesting that Cohen (or perhaps Trump Organization?) may have already destroyed evidence.

Elsewhere, the filing notes that “USAO-SDNY has already obtained search warrants – covert until this point – on multiple different email accounts maintained by Cohen,” which may by why they knew he might delete things.

For its part, Trump Organization tried to demand every single thing written between Cohen and the Trump Organization to be treated as privileged.

We consider each and every communication by, between or amongst Mr. Cohen and the Trump Organization and each of its officers, directors and employees, to be subject to and protected by the attorney- client privilege and/or the work-product privilege.

May 17, 2018: BuzzFeed presents what it calls the definitive story on Trump Tower deal, relying on “emails, text messages, congressional testimony, architectural renderings, and other documents.” As noted above, in the guise of telling BuzzFeed what his April testimony had been to SSCI, Sater admitted that Trump had gotten regular updates and that the deal went on into at least June.

But there were details that, the story made clear, Sater was still hiding. That includes the name of someone Sater and the developer, Andrey Rozov, met in early November 2015, in the Bahamas.

About a week after Trump signed the document, Sater and Rozov, the developer, went on vacation to the Bahamas. Rozov rented Little Whale Cay, a private island, for $175,000, and the two men went diving and spearfishing. In an email, Sater told Cohen that another, unidentified friend was flying in to join them. This mystery individual, who is not named in the documents and whom Sater would not identify, knew two of the richest and most powerful men in Russia, the Rotenberg brothers.

And there are differences between what Sater said publicly and what Cohen said. Sater focuses on this follow-up in the wake of Cohen’s attempt to reach Peksov.

Four days later, Cohen received a letter from Andrey Ryabinskiy, a Russian mortgage tycoon and boxing promoter. “In furtherance of our previous conversations regarding the development of the Trump Tower Moscow project,” Ryabinskiy wrote, “we would like to respectfully invite you to Moscow for a working visit.” The meeting would be to tour plots of land for the potential tower, to have “round table discussions,” and to coordinate a follow-up visit by Trump himself. Ryabinskiy did not return a message left with his attorney.

It is not clear how Cohen responded, but Sater asked Cohen for travel dates for both Cohen and Trump the same afternoon Ryabinskiy sent the letter. “Will do,” Cohen wrote.

Sater’s story doesn’t reflect the discussion with Peskov’s assistant that Cohen’s current story does.

Perhaps most remarkably, Sater seems to telegraph to Cohen a story about messages from between January and May being lost.

Sater has told investigators that during the first months of 2016, he and Cohen were using Dust, at Cohen’s suggestion, to communicate secretly about the Moscow project. Those messages, which were encrypted and are deleted automatically, have disappeared forever, Sater told BuzzFeed News. But on May 3, the day Trump won the Indiana primary and his top opponent Ted Cruz suspended his campaign, Sater sent Cohen an ordinary text message: “Should I dial you now?”

The claim that Sater and Cohen shifted to Dust and then shifted back to iMessage to plan travel in May doesn’t make any sense, and suggests something else is going on.

Finally, Sater’s story makes no mention of what Sater was doing in Trump Tower on July 21, ending instead with a dubious story about seeing a July 26 Trump tweet denying any business deals in Russia and realizing the deal was over. Anyone who knows Trump as well as Sater must, has to know that a public statement from Trump as often as not means the opposite of what he says. As I’ve suggested, it seems that the deal didn’t die, it just moved under a Sergei Millian and George Papadopoulos carried rock.

June 20, 2018: Cohen steps down from RNC position.

July 27, 2018: Sources claim Cohen is willing to testify he was present, with others, when Trump approved of the June 9 meeting with the Russians.

August 7, 2018: First Cohen proffer to Mueller.

August 21, 2018: Cohen pleads guilty to SDNY charges. Warner and Burr publicly note that Cohen’s claim to know about the June 9 meeting ahead of time conflicts with his testimony to the committee.

September 12, 2018: Second proffer.

September 18, 2018: Third proffer.

October 8, 2018: Fourth proffer.

October 17, 2018: Fifth proffer.

November 12, 2018: Sixth proffer.

November 20, 2018: Seventh proffer.

November 29, 2018: Cohen pleads guilty to false statements charge. In his statement to the court, he does not say that Trump (or anyone else at Trump Organization) ordered him to lie. Rather, he said that he did so to be consistent with Trump’s messaging.

I made these statements to be consistent with Individual-1’s political messaging and out of loyalty to Individual-1,

In his official statement, Rudy claims that Trump Organization turned over the documents underlying Cohen’s plea, which is almost certainly a lie.

It is important to understand that documents that the Special Counsel’s Office is using to show that Cohen lied to Congress were voluntarily disclosed by the Trump Organization because there was nothing to hide.

After the plea, Rudy gives an unbelievably hedged statement about whether the Trump Tower deal ever really died.

“The president, as far as he knows, he remembers there was such a proposal for a hotel,” Giuliani said. “He talked it over with Cohen as Cohen said. There was a nonbinding letter of intent that was sent. As far as he knows it never came to fruition. That was kind of the end of it.”

The day of Cohen’s plea, Sater provided BuzzFeed with materials and describes that he suggested giving Vladimir Putin a penthouse to make Trump Tower more lucrative. But he describes that as a marketing gimmick, not a FCPA-prohibited bribe that would further compromise Trump in his relationship with Putin.

Sater told BuzzFeed News today that he and Cohen thought giving the Trump Tower’s most luxurious apartment, a $50 million penthouse, to Putin would entice other wealthy buyers to purchase their own. “In Russia, the oligarchs would bend over backwards to live in the same building as Vladimir Putin,” Sater told BuzzFeed News. “My idea was to give a $50 million penthouse to Putin and charge $250 million more for the rest of the units. All the oligarchs would line up to live in the same building as Putin.” A second source confirmed the plan.

Given that BuzzFeed says this involved a Peskov representative, Sater may have been trying to hide this detail when he provided a different emphasis on the negotiations in the interviews leading up to the May story than Cohen did in his false statements admission (that is, Sater may have responded to seeing Cohen admit that detail by calling up BuzzFeed to provide a new limited hangout).

December 5, 2018: In his sentencing memorandum, Cohen repeats his line, from the oral statement he gave during his guilty plea, that he lied of his own accord.

Michael’s false statements to Congress likewise sprung regrettably from Michael’s effort, as a loyal ally and then-champion of Client-1, to support and advance Client-1’s political messaging. At the time that he was requested to appear before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Michael was serving as personal attorney to the President, and followed daily the political messages that both Client-1 and his staff and supporters repeatedly and forcefully broadcast. Furthermore, in the weeks during which his then counsel prepared his written response to the Congressional Committees, Michael remained in close and regular contact with White House-based staff and legal counsel to Client-1.

As such, he was (a) fully aware of Client-1’s repeated disavowals of commercial and political ties between himself and Russia, as well as the strongly voiced mantra of Client-1 that investigations of such ties were politically motivated and without evidentiary support, and (b) specifically knew, consistent with Client-1’s aim to dismiss and minimize the merit of the SCO investigation, that Client-1 and his public spokespersons were seeking to portray contact with Russian representatives in any form by Client-1, the Campaign or the Trump Organization as having effectively terminated before the Iowa caucuses of February 1, 2016.

Seeking to stay in line with this message, Michael told Congress that his communications and efforts to finalize a building project in Moscow on behalf of the Trump Organization, which he began pursuing in 2015, had come to an end in January 2016, when a general inquiry he made to the Kremlin went unanswered. He also stated that his communications with Client-1 and others in the Trump Organization regarding the project were minimal and ceased at or about the same time. In fact, Michael had a lengthy substantive conversation with the personal assistant to a Kremlin official following his outreach in January 2016, engaged in additional communications concerning the project as late as June 2016, and kept Client-1 apprised of these communications. He and Client-1 also discussed possible travel to Russia in the summer of 2016, and Michael took steps to clear dates for such travel.

In the heated political environment of the moment and understanding the public message that Client-1 wished to propagate, Michael, in his written statement to Congress, foreshortened the chronology of events and his communications with Client-1 to characterize both as having terminated before the Iowa caucuses. At the time, Michael justified his false summary of the matter on the ground that the Moscow project ultimately did not go forward. He recognizes that his judgment was fundamentally wrong, and wishes both to apologize and set the record straight.

Of course, this statement depends on the truth of the claim that the deal did not go forward — something about which Trump’s lawyer seems unconvinced and about which there is some evidence to the contrary. That is, this seems to be an effort to shift the date of the agreement to June or maybe July, when the deal was still active in January 2017 when Papadopoulos lied to try to keep his hand in that deal or even still active (as Sater said for the May story) for when Trump leaves office.

But the other problem with it is that Cohen’s explanation that he made up this cover story on his own, as a kind of mirror of Trump’s concerns rather than specifically conspiring to do so, only makes sense if he was the only person to tell this lie. But, at a minimum, Sater did, and Don Jr appears to have told a version of it. Now, it’s certainly possible that Cohen and Sater coordinated their story by leaking to the press; that’s the purpose the BuzzFeed stories seem to serve.

But if, as seems virtually certain, Trump Organization didn’t turn over any communications that would conflict with that cover story, then Cohen must have coordinated with Trump Organization, at a minimum. And given how Cohen stops short of attributing this move to Trump’s orders, whereas on the Stormy payoff he does attribute it to Trump, it seems to shy away from implicating Trump as much as must have happened.

Far more importantly, Russia seemed to know the outlines of the cover story, with Peskov matching what Cohen was saying (and Peskov has now matched Cohen’s currently operative story).

Given their past clear efforts to craft a joint limited hangout, and given a lot of other details about this story that don’t make sense, it seems that Cohen and Sater may still be working Mueller’s prosecutors (whom Sater knows as well as anyone).

That’s one thing we may get a sense of from the sentencing memo due by 5PM today. In any case, Cohen won’t get a 5K letter like Mike Flynn did. He still has some cooperating to do before Mueller will give him that. So if I’m right, he may still be caught in a dangerous game.

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

The Year Long Trump Flunky Effort to Free Julian Assange

The NYT has an unbelievable story about how Paul Manafort went to Ecuador to try to get Julian Assange turned over. I say it’s unbelievable because it is 28 paragraphs long, yet it never once explains whether Assange would be turned over to the US for prosecution or for a golf retirement. Instead, the story stops short multiple times of what it implies: that Manafort was there as part of paying off Trump’s part of a deal, but the effort stopped as soon as Mueller was appointed.

Within a couple of days of Mr. Manafort’s final meeting in Quito, Robert S. Mueller III was appointed as the special counsel to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election and related matters, and it quickly became clear that Mr. Manafort was a primary target. His talks with Ecuador ended without any deals.

The story itself — which given that it stopped once Mueller was appointed must be a limited hangout revealing that Manafort tried to free Assange, complete with participation from the spox that Manafort unbelievably continues to employ from his bankrupt jail cell — doesn’t surprise me at all.

After all, the people involved in the election conspiracy made multiple efforts to free Assange.

WikiLeaks kicked off the effort at least by December, when they sent a DM to Don Jr suggesting Trump should make him Australian Ambassador to the US.

Hi Don. Hope you’re doing well! In relation to Mr. Assange: Obama/Clinton placed pressure on Sweden, UK and Australia (his home country) to illicitly go after Mr. Assange. It would be real easy and helpful for your dad to suggest that Australia appoint Assange ambassador to DC “That’s a really smart tough guy and the most famous australian you have! ” or something similar. They won’t do it, but it will send the right signals to Australia, UK + Sweden to start following the law and stop bending it to ingratiate themselves with the Clintons. 12/16/16 12:38PM

Weeks later, Hannity would go to the Embassy to interview Assange. Assange fed him the alternate view of how he obtained the DNC emails, a story that would be critical to Trump’s success at putting the election year heist behind him, if it were successful. Trump and Hannity pushed the line that the hackers were not GRU, but some 400 pound guy in someone’s basement.

Then the effort actually shifted to Democrats and DOJ. Starting in February through May 2017, Oleg Deripaska and Julian Assange broker Adam Waldman tried to convince Bruce Ohr or Mark Warner to bring Assange to the US, using the threat of the Vault 7 files as leverage. In February, Jim Comey told DOJ to halt that effort. But Waldman continued negotiations, offering to throw testimony from Deripaska in as well. He even used testimony from Christopher Steele as leverage.

This effort has been consistently spun by the Mark Meadows/Devin Nunes/Jim Jordan crowd — feeding right wing propagandists like John Solomon — as an attempt to obstruct a beneficial counterintelligence discussion. It’s a testament to the extent to which GOP “investigations” have been an effort to spin an attempt to coerce freedom for Assange.

Shortly after this effort failed, Manafort picked it up, as laid out by the NYT. That continued until Mueller got hired.

There may have been a break (or maybe I’m missing the next step). But by the summer, Dana Rohrabacher and Chuck Johnson got in the act, with Rohrabacher going to the Embassy to learn the alternate story, which he offered to share with Trump.

Next up was Bill Binney, whom Trump started pushing Mike Pompeo to meet with, to hear Binney’s alternative story.

At around the same time, WikiLeaks released the single Vault 8 file they would release, followed shortly by Assange publicly re-upping his offer to set up a whistleblower hotel in DC.

Those events contributed to a crackdown on Assange and may have led to the jailing of accused Vault 7 source Joshua Schulte.

In December, Ecuador and Russia started working on a plan to sneak Assange out of the Embassy.

A few weeks later, Roger Stone got into the act, telling Randy Credico he was close to winning Assange a pardon.

These efforts have all fizzled, and I suspect as Mueller put together more information on Trump’s conspiracy with Russia, not only did the hopes of telling an alternative theory fade, but so did the possibility that a Trump pardon for Assange would look like anything other than a payoff for help getting elected. In June, the government finally got around to charging Schulte for Vault 7. But during the entire time he was in jail, he was apparently still attempting to leak information, which the government therefore obtained on video.

Ecuador’s increasing crackdown on Assange has paralleled the Schulte prosecution, with new restrictions, perhaps designed to provide the excuse to boot Assange from the Embassy, going into effect on December 1.

Don’t get me wrong: if I were Assange I’d use any means I could to obtain safe passage.

Indeed, this series of negotiations — and the players involved — may be far, far more damning for those close to Trump. Sean Hannity, Oleg Deripaska, Paul Manafort, Chuck Johnson, Dana Rohrabacher, Roger Stone, and Don Jr, may all worked to find a way to free Assange, all in the wake of Assange playing a key role in getting Trump elected. And they were conducting these negotiations even as WikiLeaks was burning the CIA’s hacking tools.