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Mueller Told Trump He Was Being Investigated for Hacking, Wire Fraud, and Mail Fraud

Having followed Carol Leonnig’s reporting since the Scooter Libby case, I’m thrilled she finally wrote — with Philip Rucker — a book, A Very Stable Genius. She is one of the reporters who mixes an ability to read public records with very good sourcing. And while attentive readers of this site will be familiar with much of the reporting in Stable Genius, there are tidbits that make the book well worth your time.

One example is a description of the discussions between Trump’s lawyers and Mueller’s team from summer 2018. In the middle of a description of talks between Jane Raskin and James Quarles, the book reveals that Quarles told Trump’s team that the President was being investigated for hacking, wire fraud, and mail fraud.

In early September 2018, Trump’s lawyers finally reached a conclusion with Mueller over his request for a presidential interview. Trump’s lawyers had argued to prosecutors all summer why they didn’t believe it was necessary to provide the president’s responses to their questions and tried to appear open to a possible compromise for him to provide limited answers. The discussion took the form of a volley of emails and memos between Trump’s lawyer Jane Raskin and her old law firm friend James Quarles.

Some of the correspondence was rudimentary. The Trump lawyers wanted to know what criminal statutes Mueller’s team was investigating as possible crimes and why this would require answers from the president. Raskin’s shorthand version was something to the effect of “You have told us our client is the subject of the investigation and you won’t even tell us what you are looking at.” It took roughly three weeks to get an answer to that question. Quarles responded that the statutes governed the criminal acts of hacking, under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, as well as the very general crimes of wire fraud and mail fraud. Trump’s lawyers shrugged. That’s it? That’s useless, they said to each other. They were certain the president hadn’t engaged in any of those crimes.

Mueller’s team would be silent for long stretches, especially later in the summer. At one point, Quarles told the Trump lawyers that it was important to ask about the president’s view of events surrounding his pursuit of the Trump Tower Moscow project, as well as his role in describing Donald Trump Jr.’s 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer who was expected to provide damaging information on Clinton. Raskin and her colleagues had a shared reaction: “What conceivably is criminal about that? Why do you want to ask about that?” The president’s team also argued that prosecutors were not entitled to question Trump on decisions he made as president because anything prosecutors needed to know from Trump’s time in office could be obtained from the thousands of documents and dozens of witnesses the White House had helped provide. [my emphasis]

That’s a fairly surprising detail!

There’s a heavily redacted section of the Mueller Report that explains why they didn’t charge someone under CFAA (PDF 187) that might pertain to Don Jr’s use of a password to access a WikiLeaks related website before it was public, or might pertain to some skiddies who tried to access Guccifer 2.0’s social media accounts who were investigated in Philadelphia.

More interesting is the 3-page redaction, starting at PDF 186 in the FOIA version, that footnote 1278 makes clear pertains to the publishing of post-hacking emails. That may well related exclusively to WikiLeaks, but it was redacted under exemptions tied to Roger Stone’s case.

And filings in the Roger Stone case — most explicitly, this opinion from Amy Berman Jackson — make it clear that Mueller’s team had shown probable cause to obtain warrants against Stone including CFAA and wire fraud charges as late as August 28, 2018. (The numbering Stone’s lawyers used does not match the timeline, so search warrant 18 is not the last; see footnote 2 of the opinion for the dates of the warrants, which I’ve tracked in the Mueller warrant docket.)

Fourteen of the eighteen warrant applications sought authorization to search for evidence of, among other crimes, the intentional unauthorized access of computers in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1030. See SW1-SW13, SW18.

[snip]

The fourteen affidavits also sought to search for evidence of violations of other crimes, including 18 U.S.C. § 2 (aiding and abetting), 18 U.S.C. § 3 (accessory after the fact), 18 U.S.C. § 4 (misprison of  a felony), 18 U.S.C. § 371 (conspiracy), 18 U.S.C. § 1001 (false statements), 18 U.S.C. § 1505 (obstruction of justice); 18 U.S.C. § 1512 (tampering with a witness), 18 U.S.C. § 1513 (retaliating against a witness), 18 U.S.C. § 1343 (wire fraud), 18 U.S.C. § 1349 (attempt and conspiracy to commit wire fraud), and 52 U.S.C. § 30121 (foreign contributions ban).

This accords with the timing laid out in Stable Genius: during the period when Quarles and Raskin discussed possible charges against Trump, Stone was still under investigation for hacking or abetting hacks after the fact. And we know from public records that Stone’s efforts to optimize the WikiLeaks releases occurred in close coordination with Trump himself.

This detail may take on renewed import given Reggie Walton’s decision to review the redaction decisions on the Mueller Report himself. DOJ institutionally redacted some details — and sustained those redactions even when Stone asked for an unredacted copy of the Mueller Report — to protect Trump’s privacy.

I still maintain that Walton will release little more than what has already been released, if at all (pending the lifting of the Stone gag, at which point Walton will release everything currently redacted under it).

But if there’s a passage that explains why Mueller considered charging Stone — and possibly even Trump! — with CFAA charges for so long, which would, in turn, explain why Trump worked so hard to obstruct the investigation, Walton might find a way to release it.

The Kinds and Significance of Russian Interference — 2016 and 2020

Trump’s meltdown last week — in which he purged top staffers at the Director of National Intelligence after a briefing on Russian interference in the 2020 election, followed by National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien making shit up on Meet the Press — has created a firestorm about Russian interference in the 2020 election. That firestorm, however, has spun free of what ways Russia interfered in 2016 and what effect it had.

Five ways Russia interfered in 2016

First, remember that there were at least five ways Russia interfered in 2016:

  • Stealing information then releasing it in a way that treats it as dirt
  • Creating on-going security challenges for Hillary
  • Using trolls to magnify divisions and feed disinformation
  • Tampering with the voting infrastructure
  • Influence peddling and/or attempting to recruit Trump aides for policy benefits

Stealing information then releasing it in a way that treats it as dirt

The most obvious way Russia interfered in 2016 was by hacking the DNC, DCCC, and John Podesta (it also hacked some Republicans it did not like). It released both the DNC and Podesta data in such a way as to exaggerate any derogatory information in the releases, successfully distracting the press for much of the campaign and focusing attention on Hillary rather than Trump. It released DCCC information that was of some use for Republican candidates.

Roger Stone took steps — not all of which are public yet — to optimize this effort. In the wake of Stone’s efforts, he moved to pay off one participant in this effort by trying to get a pardon for Julian Assange.

Creating on-going security challenges for Hillary

In addition to creating a messaging problem, the hack-and-leak campaign created ongoing security challenges for Hillary. Someone who played a key role in InfoSec on the campaign has described the Russian effort as a series of waves of attacks. The GRU indictment describes one of those waves — the efforts to hack Hillary’s personal server — which came in seeming response to Trump’s “Russia are you listening” comment. An attack that is often forgotten, and from a data perspective was likely one of the most dangerous, involved a month-long effort to obtain Hillary’s analytics from the campaign’s AWS server.

Whatever happened with this data, the persistence of these attacks created additional problems for Hillary, as her staff had to spend time playing whack-a-mole with Russian hackers rather than optimizing their campaign efforts.

Using trolls to magnify divisions and feed disinformation

Putin’s “chef,” Yevgeniy Prigozhin, also had staffers from his troll factory in St. Petersburg shift an ongoing campaign that attempted to sow division in the US to adopt a specific campaign focus, pushing Trump and attacking Hillary. Importantly, Prigozhin’s US-based troll effort was part of a larger multinational effort. And it was in no way the only disinformation and trolling entity involved in the election. Both parties did some of this, other countries did some, and mercenaries trying to exploit social media algorithms for profit did some as well.

Tampering with the voting infrastructure

Russia also tampered with US voting infrastructure. In 2016, this consisted of probing most states and accessing voter rolls in at least two, though there’s no evidence that Russian hackers made any changes. In addition, Russian hackers targeted a vendor that provided polling books, with uncertain results. The most substantive evidence of possible success affecting the vote in 2016 involved failures of polling books in Durham County, NC, which created a real slowdown in voting in one of the state’s most Democratic areas.

In recent days, there have been reports of a ransomware attack hitting Palm Beach County in September 2016, but it is unclear whether this was part of the Russian effort.

Because there’s no certainty whether the Russian hack of VR Systems was behind the Durham County problems, there’s no proof that any of these efforts affected the outcome. But they point to the easiest way to use hacking to do so: by making it harder for voters in particular areas to vote and harder for specific localities to count the vote.

Some of what Russia did in 2016 — such as probes of a particularly conservative county in FL — may have been part of Russia’s effort to discredit the outcome. They didn’t fully deploy this effort because Trump won.

Influence peddling and/or attempting to recruit Trump aides for policy benefits

Finally, Russia accompanied its other efforts with various kinds of influence peddling targeting Trump’s aides. It was not the only country that did so: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, UAE, and Israel were some of the others. Foreign countries were similarly trying to target Hillary’s campaign — and the UAE effort, at least, targeted both campaigns at once, through George Nader.

Importantly, however, these efforts intersected with Russia’s other efforts to interfere in the election in ways that tied specific policy outcomes to Russia’s interference:

  • An unrealistically lucrative Trump Tower deal involved a former GRU officer and sanctioned banks
  • At a meeting convened to offer Trump dirt about Hillary, Don Jr agreed in principle to revisit ending Magnitsky sanctions if Trump won
  • George Papadopoulos pitched ending sanctions to Joseph Mifsud, who had alerted him that Russia had emails they intended to drop to help Trump
  • Paul Manafort had a meeting that tied winning the Rust Belt, carving up Ukraine, and getting paid personally together; the meeting took place against the background of sharing internal polling data throughout the campaign

As I’ll note in a follow-up, information coming out in FOIAed 302s makes it clear that Mike Flynn’s effort to undercut Obama’s December 2016 sanctions was more systematic than the Mueller Report concludes. So not only did Russia make it clear it wanted sanctions relief, Trump moved to give it to them even before he got elected (and his Administration found a way to exempt Oleg Deripaska from some of these sanctions).

Manafort continued to pursue efforts to carve up Ukraine until he went to jail. In addition, Trump continues to take actions that undercut Ukraine’s efforts to fight Russia and corruption. Neither of these have been tied to a specific quid pro quo (though the investigation into Manafort’s actions, especially, remained inconclusive at the time of the Mueller Report).

So while none of these was charged as a quid pro quo or a conspiracy (and the reasons why they weren’t vary; Manafort lied about what he was doing, and why, whereas Mueller couldn’t prove Don Jr had the mens rea of entering into a quid pro quo), Russia tied certain policy outcomes to its interference.

Trump’s narcissism and legal exposure exacerbated the effects

The Russian attack was more effective than it otherwise would have been for two reasons. First, because he’s a narcissist and because Russia built in plausible deniability, Trump refused to admit that Russia did try to help him. Indeed, he clings more and more to Russian disinformation about what happened, leading the IC to refuse to brief him on the threat, leading to last week’s meltdown.

In addition, rather than let FBI investigate the people who had entered into discussions of a quid pro quo, Trump obstructed the investigation. Trump has spent years now attacking the rule of law and institutions of government rather than admit what DOJ IG found — there was reason to open the investigation, or admit what DOJ found — there was reason to prosecute six of his aides for lying about what happened.

The Russian effort was just one of the reasons Hillary lost

It’s also important to remember that Russia’s interference was just one of the many things that contributed to Hillary’s loss.

Other aspects were probably more important. For example, Republican voter suppression, particularly in Wisconsin and North Carolina, was far more important than any effect the VR Systems hack may have had in Durham County. Jim Comey’s public statements about the email investigation had at least as much effect as the Russian hack-and-leak campaign did on press focus. Hillary made some boneheaded choices — like barely campaigning in WI and MI; while I had worried that she made those choices because Russia tampered with her analytics (with the AWS hack), that doesn’t seem to have happened. Disinformation sent by the Trump campaign and associates was more significant than Russian disinformation. It didn’t help that the Obama Administration announced a sharp spike in ObamaCare prices right before the election.

The response matters

As noted, Trump’s narcissism dramatically increased the effect of the Russian efforts in 2016, because he has always refused to admit it happened.

Compare that to Bernie’s response to learning that Russia was trying to help his campaign, which accepted that it is happening and rejected the help.

“I don’t care, frankly, who [Russian President Vladimir] Putin wants to be president,” Sanders said in a statement. “My message to Putin is clear: Stay out of American elections, and as president I will make sure that you do.

“In 2016, Russia used Internet propaganda to sow division in our country, and my understanding is that they are doing it again in 2020. Some of the ugly stuff on the Internet attributed to our campaign may well not be coming from real supporters.”

This was not perfect — Bernie could have revealed this briefing himself weeks ago, Bernie blamed the WaPo for reporting it when it seems like the story was seeded by O’Brien. But it was very good, in that it highlighted the point of Russian interference — sowing divisions — and it reaffirmed the import of Americans selecting who wins. Plus, contrary to Trump, there’s no reason to believe Bernie would pursue policies that specifically advantaged Russia.

Other factors remain more important than Russian interference

There’s very serious reason to be concerned that Russia will hack the outcome of 2020. After all, it would need only to affect the outcome in a small number of precincts to tip the result, and the prospect of power outages or ransomware doing so in urgent fashion have grown since 2016.

That said, as with 2016, there are far more urgent concerns, and those concerns are entirely American.

Republicans continue to seek out new ways to suppress the vote, including by throwing large swaths of voters off the rolls without adequate vetting. There are real concerns about voting machines, particularly in Georgia (and there are credible concerns about the reliability of GA’s tally in past elections). Republicans have continued to make polling locations less accessible in Democratic precincts than in Republican ones.

Facebook refuses to police the accuracy of political ads, and Trump has flooded Facebook with disinformation.

And Bloomberg’s efforts this year — which include a good deal of trolling and disinformation — are unprecedented in recent memory. His ad spending has undercut the ability to weigh candidates. And his personnel spending is increasing the costs for other candidates.

Russian efforts to sway the vote are real. Denying them — as some of Bernie’s supporters are doing in ways that hurt the candidate — does not help. But, assuming DHS continues to work with localities to ensure the integrity of voting infrastructure, neither does overplaying them. Between now and November there’s far more reason to be concerned about American-funded disinformation and American money distorting our democratic process.

Elise Stefanik Makes Case that Don Jr and Eric Trump Must Resign from Trump Organization

The first of today’s two impeachment hearings just finished up. While Adam Schiff and Dan Goldman remained sharp, Steve Castor remained lackadaisical, and Devin Nunes and Jim Jordan remained disgusting, much of the rest of the committee, on both sides, seemed less engaged than in last week’s hearings. Bizarrely, Republicans spent much of the hearing asking witnesses Alexander Vindman and Jennifer Williams — both of whom were direct witnesses to the call to which Republicans want to limit the impeachment inquiry — to provide hearsay testimony about Burisma and Hunter Biden.

The highlight of the hearing came when Vindman, who had been smeared with questionable loyalties leading up and during the hearing, explained that he told his father not to worry about him testifying because, “This is the country I’ve served and defended. That all of my brothers have served. And here, right matters.”

Because of her stunt in last Friday’s hearing, I’m interested in what Elise Stefanik did.

First, she got demoted. Her male colleagues treated her like the junior committee member she is, rather than giving her top billing. That, by itself, made it clear she was used last week as a token.

When it finally came around to her turn three and a half hours into the hearing, she then focused on talking points she has adopted — that under Trump (in part forced by Congress) Ukraine has gotten assistance and continued to work on corruption, no investigation into Joe Biden got started, and the aid ultimately got released.

But as part of that, she walked Vindman through an attack on Burisma, first misquoting him saying that in Ukraine, generally, tax evasion and money laundering are a problem, to apply that to Burisma. She then said,

I know that my constituents in NY-21 have many concerns about the fact that Hunter Biden, the son of the Vice President, sat on the board of a corrupt company like Burisma.

It’s a wonderful sentiment, really, that Congress should dictate what the family members of top officials should do to make money.

But since she has expressed this concern, I assume she feels the same about two other children who occupy top positions in a company with a documented history of facilitating money laundering and credible allegations of tax evasion, particularly given that her own state, New York State, found that these children, Don Jr and Eric Trump, as well as their sister, must be barred from running any charities in the state.

Since Elise Stefanik has stated, in front of the nation, that the children of top government officials must not have leadership positions in corrupt companies with money laundering and tax evasion problems, surely she’ll call for the President’s sons to step down from the family business?

The Trump-Mueller Answer the Stone Trial Really Implicates: Pardoning Assange

A bunch of media outlets responded to Rick Gates’ testimony in the Roger Stone trial — describing how Donald Trump got off a call with Roger Stone on August 31, 2016 and told him WikiLeaks would release more emails — by arguing that Gates’ testimony is proof that Trump lied to Robert Mueller about the subject.

I recall that in the months leading up to the election there was considerable media reporting about the possible hacking and release of campaign-related information and there was a lot of talk about this matter. At the time, I was generally aware of these media reports and may have discussed these issues with my campaign staff or others, but at this point in time – more than two years later – I have no recollection of any particular conversation, when it occurred, or who the participants were.

I do not recall being aware during the campaign of any communications between the individuals named in Question II (c) [Roger Stone, Donald Trump, Jr., Paul Manafort, or Rick Gates] and anyone I understood to be a representative of WikiLeaks or any of the other individuals or entities referred to in the question.

[snip]

I was in Trump Tower in New York City on October 7, 2016. I have no recollection of being told that WikiLeaks possessed or might possess emails related to John Podesta before the release of Mr. Podesta’s emails was reported by the media. Likewise, I have no recollection of being told that Roger Stone, anyone acting as an intermediary for Roger Stone, or anyone associated with my campaign had communicated with WikiLeaks on October 7, 2016.

I do not recall being told during the campaign that Roger Stone or anyone associated with my campaign had discussions with any of the entities named in the question regarding the content or timing of release of hacked emails.

I spoke by telephone with Roger Stone from time to time during the campaign. I have no recollection of the specifics of any conversations I had with Mr. Stone between June 1.2016 and November 8, 2016. I do not recall discussing WikiLeaks with him, nor do I recall being aware of Mr. Stone having discussed WikiLeaks with individuals associated with my campaign, although I was aware that WikiLeaks was the subject of media reporting and campaign-related discussion at the time.

But these are very carefully crafted answers, as they disclaim any memory of the requested details rather than — ever — claiming they didn’t happen. Unlike Trump’s answers on Trump Tower Moscow, he did not subsequently make clear he has distinct memories of Roger Stone’s boasts about having advance knowledge of WikiLeaks releases, both publicly and in private calls with Trump.

So I don’t really think that’s the most important Trump response given evidence presented at the Stone trial. Rather, a more potentially damning one pertains to the way a shared support for Julian Assange lurks behind the relationship between Randy Credico, Margaret Ratner Kunstler, and Roger Stone.

Credico wanted — and still wants — to rebut any “collusion” claims

Credico had long been hostile to any investigation of Stone’s ties to Assange. When Jerry Nadler started asking questions (of Jim Comey) about Stone’s ties to Assange in September 2016, Credico accused Nadler of McCarthyism.

In early January, 2018, Credico texted to Stone that he would do an interview with Michael Isikoff to make it clear that Assange was “not colluding.”

Much later — indeed, to this day — Credico would go to great lengths to try to rebut claims that Assange was “colluding.”

Credico’s WikiLeaks focus in responding to the subpoena

When HPSCI asked for first voluntary then compelled testimony. Credico responded by sharing the subpoena with a network of people — including Craig Murray, Ray McGovern, Jess Radack, Thomas Drake, Bill Binney, Stefania Maurizi, Colleen Rowley, and Noam Chomsky — with an affinity and in many cases close ties to WikiLeaks. Stone was, at that point, just one of 18 people Credico thought to alert, and the defense made much of the other recipients of Credico’s email releasing the subpoena.

Credico would go on to do as Stone had requested in response to the subpoena, plead the Fifth to avoid testifying before the House Intelligence Committee. On the stand at trial, Credico explained that a “lot of people” had a role in that decision, “amongst them, Mr. Stone.”

The defense, however, tried to suggest that Kunstler (who testified she represented WikiLeaks as an organization and had represented Sarah Harrison for four years) had a role in this decision. They got Credico to admit that Kunstler gave him legal advice, but was not his lawyer. And they got Kunstler to admit that she said she was at a meeting with several lawyers when Credico got a subpoena. That falls far short of saying she advised him to dodge the subpoena, but that’s certainly what the defense tried to insinuate.

Even if she had suggested that Credico, who is a friend of hers, should avoid testifying, none of that is untoward (it’d be the equivalent of bmaz telling me to shut the fuck up about any of my own legal issues, which he does constantly). It just suggests that Credico’s immediate focus in 2017 was on protecting Assange, not necessarily protecting Stone.

The shared interest in pardoning Assange

But this whole relationship was intertwined with an apparent shared interest in pardoning Assange. Right in the middle of Credico’s claims about what WikiLeaks was up to in early October 2016, for example, on October 3, he pushed Stone to get Trump to back asylum for Assange.

Then there are the exchanges on the topic that MoJo reported on a year ago from early January 2018.

In the wake of Stone’s successful effort to get Credico to plead the Fifth, the President’s rat-fucker suggested that if Credico publicly revealed that he couldn’t be Stone’s back channel, it might screw up efforts he claimed he was making to get Assange a pardon.

They resumed the discussion about a pardon several days later, when Stone sent Credico Jerome Corsi’s story on Ecuador’s grant of a diplomatic passport to Assange.

Remarkably, given what has transpired since, Credico informed Stone that the British government was not honoring the diplomatic passport, observed that “Infowars ” — which in this case would be Corsi — “doesn’t know what they’re talking about,” then taunted, ‘Maybe your back Channel knows more than I do.”

The current operative story, of course, is that Corsi was the backchannel, though Credico wouldn’t have known that at the time.

It’s certainly possible that Stone was blowing smoke, raising something he knew Credico cared deeply about, pardoning Assange, to get him to toe the line. It’s likely, too, he was just taking reporting on efforts made in late 2017 to liberate Assange and claiming credit for it.

But at the very least, it shows that Stone used a pardon for Assange — something Credico still spends a lot of time pushing — as leverage to try to get Credico to sustain his cover story.

Kunstler was a key point of pressure for Stone

Which is one of the reasons I find the new details about how Stone’s threatened Kunstler to be interesting.

Per evidence submitted at trial, Stone used several different tactics to pressure Credico to testify (or not) in certain ways, including:

  • Telling him to take the Fifth
  • Telling him to pull a Frank Pentangeli (meaning, to testify falsely)
  • Offering to pay for his lawyer in late 2017
  • Sending him some work in early 2018
  • Threatening Bianca (a threat Credico said he didn’t take very seriously)
  • Making threats of violence of exposure
  • Threatening Margaret Kunstler

Ultimately, per his testimony, Credico changed his stance on testifying so as not to be Stone’s fall-guy (and because he didn’t want to be blamed for Trump’s election). But according to (live texts of) his testimony, a really big part of that change was that Stone threatened Kunstler. Credico testified he, “didn’t want to drag her name though this.”

On March 10, 2018, Stone responded to Credico alerting him that he was going to go on Chris Hayes’ show by forwarding the September 2016 email chain in which Credico feigned helping Stone figure out if WikiLeaks had certain Libya-related emails and threatening, “If you go on with Chris Hayes be sure to mention this,” which would have exposed that Credico did at least appear to respond to Stone’s request for help. On May 21, 2018, Stone responded to a Credico email saying “you should have just been honest with the house intel committee” by threatening, “Keep running your mouth and I’ll file a bar complaint against your friend Margaret.”

Mostly, raising Kunstler would invoke two details Stone knew about. First, some time on or before August 25, 2016, Kunstler passed on Credico’s request to have Assange on his drive time show. She was the person who got WikiLeaks to consider the August 25, 2016 interview that lay a the core of Credico and Stone’s wavering claims that Credico might have inside knowledge. On the stand, Kunstler said that was the first and only time she passed on a request to WikiLeaks on Credico’s behalf.

Then, after some badgering from Stone, on September 2016, Credico sent her the package of information Stone had shared on what he claims was an effort by Hillary to prevent Moammar Qaddafi from stepping down to avoid the Libyan war, BCCing Stone. Significantly, Stone’s lawyers made a point of getting Kunstler to clarify that she did not learn that email had been BCCed with Stone until prosecutors showed it to her in an interview. And it’s true that nothing about the package would have identified it as a Roger Stone smear.

Kunstler testified that she ignored the email and got pretty pissed about it, because that’s not the kind of thing she would do with clients.

Those two details made it clear that Kunstler was Credico’s link to Assange, that she had succeeded in sharing a request from Credico when it served Assange’s interest, but that she wouldn’t consider serving as a source of information about Assange and upcoming leaks.

But in a little noticed response, Credico revealed that he put Stone in touch with Kunstler after the election to talk about a pardon for Julian Assange. I double checked. That happened in late 2016.

Again, there’s absolutely nothing untoward about this. Kunstler represented WikiLeaks and any smart lawyer would push for a pardon for her client. Credico’s relationship with Stone was already public (though it’s unclear whether Kunstler knew of the whole back channel stuff yet, given that she may not  have known the Libya request came from Stone). But it adds an important wrinkle to the year-long Trump flunkie effort to get Assange a pardon.

We know that sometime after the October 2016 WikiLeaks dump, Mike Flynn was part of a conversation where Trump’s team discussed reaching out to WikiLeaks (something that didn’t get mentioned at all at Stone’s trial). Credico’s introduction of Kunstler to Stone would have come around the same time that Assange himself DMed Don Jr asking to become an Ambassador of sorts.

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

Assange renewed that request as part of his Vault 8-based extortion in November 2017.

All of which is to say there’s one more instance where someone in Trump’s orbit discussed a pardon for Assange. Because it involved Kunstler, it tied the discussion even more closely to Stone’s claims to have optimized WikiLeaks’ releases.

That may be one explanation for Stone’s lawyers’ efforts to make it clear that Kunstler couldn’t have known that Stone had made a request that got presented to her, because that would make it look like a quid pro quo, a request for Stone to return the favor.

Trump may have told the truth — but that doesn’t rule out a quid pro quo with WikiLeaks

Which leads me to the Mueller question that I think most enticingly ties to details revealed at trial.

Trump was asked whether he had ever discussed a pardon for Julian Assange before his inauguration, and he offered the same kind of non-responsive answer he offered to all the other Mueller questions.

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

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

Notably, however, because Trump adhered to a practice he inconsistently used (in answering questions only as they applied to the campaign, but not the transition), his answer doesn’t actually deny a key possibility: that he and Stone (and Don Jr) discussed a pardon for Assange during the transition period.

This doesn’t even have to be an instance where Trump did not recall something that happened during the election. If Trump entertained a Stone brokered pardon request in the months after Assange helped him win the election, it would be easily the most damning of Trump’s many abuses of clemency, because it would appear to be a clear quid pro quo for election assistance.

As I disclosed last year, 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 Guy Who Defended Roger Stone’s Campaign Finance Shenanigans Did Not Testify to the Grand Jury

In response to an order from DC Chief Judge Beryl Howell, the government has revealed the two witnesses of interest to Congress who did not testify to the grand jury. The first, Don Jr, should not surprise anyone who has been following closely, as that was clear as soon as the Mueller Report came out.

The other–Don McGahn–is far more interesting, especially since he was interviewed on five different occasions: November 30, December 12, December 14, 2017; March 8, 2018; and February 28, 2019.

Most likely, the reason has to do with privilege, as McGahn’s testimony, more than almost anyone else’s, implicated privilege (in part because many witnesses’ testimony cut off at the transition). McGahn ended up testifying far more than Trump knew, and it’s possible he did that by avoiding a subpoena, but had he been subpoenaed, it would provide the White House opportunity to object.

Elizabeth De la Vega said on Twitter it likely had to do with how valuable McGahn was in his five interviews. By not making him testify to the grand jury, she argued, you avoid creating a transcript that might undermine his credibility in the future. That’s certainly consistent with the Mueller Report statement finding McGahn to be “a credible witness with no motive to lie or exaggerate given the position he held in the White House.” But that reference is footnoted to say, “When this Office first interviewed McGahn about this topic, he was reluctant to share detailed information about what had occurred and only did so after continued questioning.” Plus, while McGahn testified more than any other witness not under a cooperation agreement, Steve Bannon and Hope Hicks testified a bunch of times, too (four and three times respectively), but were almost certainly put before the grand jury.

But there is a different, far more intriguing possibility.

First, remember that Roger Stone was investigated for more than lying to Congress (indeed, just the last four warrants against him, all dating to this year, mentioned just false statements and obstruction). Which crimes got named in which warrants is not entirely clear (this government filing and this Amy Berman Jackson opinion seem to conflict somewhat). Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1030(a)(2)(C), was named in all Stone’s warrants before this year. But at least by August 3, 2018, the warrants against Stone listed a slew of other crimes:

  • 18 U.S.C. § 3 (accessory after the fact)
  • 18 U.S.C. § 4 (misprision of a felony)
  • 18 U.S.C. § 371 (conspiracy)
  • 18 U.S.C. §§ 1505 and 1512 (obstruction of justice)
  • 18 U.S.C. § 1513 (witness tampering)
  • 18 U.S.C. § 1343 (wire fraud)
  • 18 U.S.C. § 1349 (attempt and conspiracy to commit wire fraud)
  • 52 U.S.C. § 30121 (foreign contribution ban)

For whatever reason, the government seems to have decided not to charge CFAA (if, indeed, Stone was the actual target of that investigation). They may have given up trying to charge him for encouraging or acting as an accessory after the fact.

The Mueller Report explains — albeit in mostly redacted form — what happened with the 52 U.S.C. § 30121 investigation. First Amendment and valuation concerns about a prosecution led Mueller not to charge it, even though he clearly seemed to think the stolen emails amounted to an illegal foreign campaign donation.

But that leaves wire fraud and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. During the month of August 2018, DOJ obtained at least 8 warrants relating to Stone including wire fraud. Beryl Howell — who in her order requiring the government unseal McGahn’s name, expressed puzzlement about why Don McGahn didn’t testify before the grand jury — approved at least five of those warrants. Rudolph Contreras approved one and James Boasberg approved two. So apparently, very late in the Stone investigation, three different judges thought there was probable cause Stone and others engaged in wire fraud (or tried to!).

And it’s not just those judges. Roger Stone’s aide, Andrew Miller, was happy to testify about WikiLeaks and Guccifer 2.0. But at least when his subpoena first became public, he wanted immunity to testify about the campaign finance stuff he had done for Stone.

Miller had asked for “some grant of immunity” regarding financial transactions involving political action committees for which he assisted Stone, according to Alicia Dearn, an attorney for Miller.

On that issue, Miller “would be asserting” his Fifth Amendment right to refuse to answer questions, Dearn said.

I’d like to consider the possibility that McGahn, Donald Trump’s campaign finance lawyer before he became White House counsel, was happy to testify about Trump’s attempt to obstruct justice, but less happy to testify about campaign finance issues.

Mind you, McGahn is not one of the personal injury lawyer types that Stone runs his campaign finance shenanigans with. Whatever else he is, McGahn is a professional, albeit an incredibly aggressive one.

That said, there are reasons it’s possible McGahn limited what he was willing to testify about with regards to work with Stone.

At Roger Stone’s trial the government plans (and has gotten permission) to introduce evidence that Stone lied about one additional thing in his HPSCI testimony, one that wasn’t charged but that like one of the charged lies, involves hiding that Stone kept the campaign in the loop on something.

At the pretrial conference held on September 25, 2019, the Court deferred ruling on that portion of the Government’s Notice of Intention to Introduce Rule 404(b) evidence [Dkt. # 140] that sought the introduction of evidence related to another alleged false statement to the HPSCI, which, like the statement charged in Count Six, relates to the defendant’s communications with the Trump campaign. After further review of the arguments made by the parties and the relevant authorities, and considering both the fact that the defendant has stated publicly that his alleged false statements were merely accidental, and that he is charged not only with making individual false statements, but also with corruptly endeavoring to obstruct the proceedings in general, the evidence will be admitted, with an appropriate limiting instruction. See Lavelle v. United States, 751 F.2d 1266, 1276 (D.C. Cir. 1985), citing United States v. DeLoach, 654 F.2d 763 (D.C. Cir. 1980) (given the defendant’s claim that she was simply confused and did not intend to deceive Congress, evidence of false testimony in other instances was relevant to her intent and passed the threshold under Rule 404(b)). The Court further finds that the probative value of the evidence is not substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice.

A September hearing about this topic made clear that it pertains to what Stone’s PACs were doing.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael J. Marando argued that Stone falsely denied communicating with Trump’s campaign about his political-action-committee-related activities, and that the lie revealed his calculated plan to cover up his ties to the campaign and obstruct the committee’s work.

It sounds like Stone cleared up this testimony (Stone sent two letters to HPSCI in 2018, and one of those would have come after Steve Bannon testified about emails that included a Stone demand that Rebekah Mercer provide him funding), which may be why he didn’t get charged on that front.

As I’ve suggested, if Stone was actively trying to deny that the work of his PACs had any interaction with the Trump campaign, it might explain why he threatened to sue me when I laid out how McGahn’s continued work for Trump related to Stone’s voter suppression efforts in 2016.

And remember: when Stone aide Andrew Miller did finally testify — after agreeing to at virtually the moment Mueller announced he was closing up shop — he did so before a new grand jury, after Beryl Howell agreed with prosecutors that they were in search of evidence for charges beyond what Stone had already been indicted on or against different defendants.

McGahn’s campaign finance work for Stone and Trump is one of the things he’d have no Executive Privilege claims to protect (though barring a showing of crime-fraud exception, he would have attorney-client privilege), since it all happened before inauguration.

Again, there are lot of more obvious explanations for why he didn’t testify before the grand jury. But we know that Mueller investigated these campaign finance issues, and we know McGahn was right in the thick of them.

What I Would Do with the Mueller Report If I Were Reggie Walton

According to Politico, a hearing in the EPIC/BuzzFeed effort to liberate the Mueller Report went unexpectedly well today. It seems that Bill Barr’s propaganda effort to spin the results of the Mueller Report got Walton’s hackles up, leading him to believe that Barr’s effort covered up the degree to which Trump “colluded” with Russia.

Walton said he had “some concerns” about trying to reconcile public statements Trump and Attorney General William Barr have made about the report with the content of the report itself.

The judge pointed to Trump’s claims that Mueller found “no collusion” between his campaign and Russia and the president’s insistence that he had been exonerated from a possible obstruction of justice charge. These comments, Walton said, appeared bolstered by Barr’s description of Mueller’s findings during a DOJ news conference — before the public and media could read the document for themselves.

“It’d seem to be inconsistent with what the report itself said,” Walton said. The judge also cited a letter Mueller’s office sent to Barr questioning the attorney general’s decision to release a four-page summary of the investigation’s conclusions that “did not fully capture the context, nature and substance” of the report.

Separately on Monday, Walton raised questions about a DOJ submission defending the agency’s decision to black out large portions of the Mueller report.

“I also worked for the department,” Walton said. “Sometimes the body does what the head wants.”

I thought I’d lay out what I would do if I were Judge Walton. I’d make different decisions if I were a judge, but having covered some of his biggest confrontations with an expansive Executive, I’m pretending I can imagine how he’d think.

I’m doing this not because I think he’ll follow my guidance, but to establish what I think might be reasonable things to imagine he’ll review for unsealing.

Unseal the discussions of how Donald Trump père and fils avoided testifying to the grand jury

As I have noted, there are two passages apiece that describe how Donald Trump Sr and Donald Trump Jr avoided testifying to the grand jury. While they might discuss the grand jury’s interest in subpoenaing the men, and while they might (both!) say that the men would invoke the Fifth if forced to show up and invoke it, those passages likely don’t describe that the men did so.

Particularly given Jr’s willingness to testify to Congressional committees that likely don’t have all the documents from Trump Organization that Mueller had, those passages should be unsealed unless they involve real grand jury decisions.

Unseal the names of Trump flunkies against whom investigations were opened in October 2017

The most obviously dishonest thing Bill Barr did in releasing the Mueller Report is claim that those against whom prosecutions were declined were peripheral people. At least one person (and up to three people) in this passage is not: Don Jr. Walton should unseal these names, especially given that Barr lied about how peripheral, at least, the President’s son is.

Review the longer descriptions of those who lied but weren’t charged

There are up to three people that Mueller appears to have considered for perjury charges (page 194 and two people on page 199) and at least one more whom he considered charging for false statements. Some of the discussion of the people in the former category include non grand jury material as well.

If I were Walton, I’d review this entire section and (treating Roger Stone separately) would unseal at least the names of the senior Trump officials not charged (one is KT McFarland). Given the treatment of Jeff Sessions — whose prosecution declination was not sealed — DOJ has already treated people inconsistently in this section.

Review the declinations starting on page 176, page 179, and page 188 for possible unsealing

There are three declinations that are candidates for unsealing. The most important — which describes the office’s consideration of charging WikiLeaks’ releases of stolen emails as an illegal campaign donation — is the last one. It raises real campaign finance questions and would feed right into impeachment.

The charging decision on page 179 may explain why Don Jr wasn’t charged for sharing a link to a non-public site releasing stolen emails (but it could also pertain to someone no one knows who tried to hack Guccifer 2.0). If it’s the former, if I were Walton, I might consider unsealing that.

The most interesting charging decision, starting on page 176, may explain why WikiLeaks wasn’t charged, why Stone wasn’t or why others were not. If it’s WikiLeaks, it’s the kind of decision already made public in the recent SDNY decision and could be released. In any case, that’s a redaction that likely would be worth Walton’s judicial consideration.

Order that Roger Stone sections be unsealed if there’s a substantive change in his gag order

A huge chunk of the remaining redactions pertain to Roger Stone or his trial. They also are among the most damning to Trump, as they implicate him personally in trying to make the most of Russia’s effort to help him. I, as Marcy Wheeler, would love to see them, today.

But Reggie Walton, who presumably eats lunch with Amy Berman Jackson in the DC District Judges cafeteria, will also recognize the difficulties she faces in seating a jury for the trial of the President’s rat-fucker in November. So unless something changes to the status quo — in which ABJ has imposed a strict gag on Stone — then I suspect he’ll cede to her judgment.

And, frankly, anyone who’d like to see Stone face some kind of repercussions for his rat-fuckery should also support him getting a fair trial, meaning they should support the continued sealing.

That doesn’t stop Walton from ordering that if something changes — if Stone wins an appeal he announced today to get his gag overturned, if Trump pardons Stone, or if Stone pleads — then the sections will automatically become unsealed. One of the biggest ways Trump can avoid all repercussion for his efforts to optimize the release of stolen information is to have Stone avoid trial (either by pleading or being pardoned) but preventing a reconsideration of redactions done to protect his right to a fair trial.

Leave national security sections sealed because I’m Reggie Walton

I and many others would love to see more of the IRA and GRU sections (though there’s a gag in the IRA case now too), especially those sections about how GRU passed on materials to WikiLeaks.

But I’m not Reggie Walton. While he’s very happy to take on an expansive Executive, he generally shows significant deference for claims of national security. Thus, I expect he’ll likely leave this stuff sealed.

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. 

Democrats Are Setting Themselves Up to Fail on Mueller Hearings

In a House Judiciary Committee hearing about the most controversial topic of the day 12 years ago, Robert Mueller provided testimony that sharply contradicted the sworn testimony of the Attorney General. He confirmed that the March 10, 2004 hospital confrontation between Jim Comey and the White House concerned a disagreement about the legality of the Stellar Wind warrantless wiretapping program, contrary to the earlier claims of Alberto Gonzales.

“I had an understanding that the discussion was on a N.S.A. program,” Mr. Mueller said in answer to a question from Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, Democrat of Texas, in a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee.

Asked whether he was referring to the Terrorist Surveillance Program, or T.S.P., he replied, “The discussion was on a national N.S.A. program that has been much discussed, yes.”

Mr. Mueller said he had taken notes of some of his conversations about the issue, and after the hearing the committee asked him to produce them.

[snip]

In a four-hour appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, Mr. Gonzales denied that the dispute arose over the Terrorist Surveillance Program, whose existence was confirmed by President Bush in December 2005 after it had been disclosed by The New York Times. Mr. Gonzales said it centered on “other intelligence activities.”

That event, like Russian investigation, involved a constitutional crisis and uncertain matters of law. It involved issues made more controversial by Jim Comey’s at times imperfect efforts to uphold principle. Mueller’s testimony specifically confirmed suspicions about the deceit and criminal exposure of the Attorney General, possibly contributing to his resignation a month later.

Sheila Jackson Lee — who remains on HJC — asked the question, and Mueller answered truthfully, and then provided evidence to back up his testimony.

And yet, even after studying Mueller’s past testimony to Congress (presumably including that hearing), House Democrats have themselves convinced that Mueller won’t be all that forthcoming in his hearing next week.

“I don’t think Mr. Mueller, based on everything I know about him, that anyone should expect any major departure from the contents of the report,” said Rep. David Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. “I do think the contents of the report are so significant and so damning that when Mr. Mueller brings them to life and actually tells the American people … it will have an impact.”

The committees recognize that Mueller is a reluctant witness, and has stated he does not intend to answer questions beyond the contents of his report. The committee aides said they planned to respect Mueller’s desires but noted Congress isn’t bound by such limits. The aides anticipate questions will go beyond what’s written in the report, such as asking Mueller whether certain episodes detailed would have been crimes had they not involved the President — after Mueller said that his office followed Justice Department legal opinion that a sitting president cannot be indicted.

[snip]

Mueller’s long government career has given the two committees plenty of material to study from Mueller’s past congressional appearances. The bottom line is they don’t expect Mueller to readily volunteer information, aides say, particularly given that he doesn’t want to testify before Congress.

As Jackson Lee demonstrated years ago, a properly phrased question will elicit an honest answer from Mueller.

But that’s not my main complaint about the reported preparations for Mueller’s testimony next week: it’s that Democrats have locked themselves into a division of labor — with HJC focusing on the evidence showing Trump obstructed justice and the House Intelligence Committee focusing on details of Trump’s enthusiasm for the Russian attack — that leaves out the larger framework of the investigation (and aftermath), may not touch on the area that, given the focus of his press conference, Mueller’s likely to be most forthcoming about (the extent of the Russian operation), and threatens to make a weaker case for both obstruction and “collusion.”

I hope to finally write my narratology of the Mueller Report to lay out the latter point. My questions for Mueller (which I’ll update before next Wednesday) include some that — like the Jackson Lee question twelve years ago — are factual questions that may do more to illuminate the actions of others than questions designed solely to get Mueller to recapitulate what’s already in the report.

But one of the biggest reasons I’m concerned about this approach is that Democrats are adopting a structure Mueller did –separating Trump associates’ efforts to obstruct an investigation into a possible conspiracy from Trump’s own efforts to obstruct an investigation into a conspiracy — that serves to water down the impact of the report.

This report was not, as most people commenting on it seem to believe, a report “of what Mueller found.” Rather, it is strictly limited to prosecutorial decisions, and as such doesn’t include evidence Mueller obtained that’s not important to explain why he chose to charge people or not.

His report produced the following prosecutorial decisions: 

As noted with the shading the break between Volume I and Volume II is not actually a break between the conspiracy investigation (Russia’s interference in the election and Trump Associates’ ties with Russia) and the obstruction investigation (matters arising from the investigation). Prosecutorial decisions relating to the cover-up appear in both Volume I and Volume II. It’s unclear why Mueller organized it like that (this would actually be an interesting question); perhaps he did it because he didn’t reach a prosecutorial decision about Trump or perhaps because he wanted to provide an impeachment referral for Congress.

But the effect of the organization is that it severs the discussion of the suspicious actions from the efforts to cover up those actions.

To illustrate why this is important, consider the June 9 meeting. The actual events behind that are:

  • Don Jr willingly accepted dirt on Hillary offered as part of the Russian government’s support for Trump
  • According to two witnesses, Trump probably knew about the meeting ahead of time (but did not plan a speech around it, as some suspected)
  • Don Jr and Emin Agalarov had several conversations about what the meeting would be
  • At the meeting, Don Jr agreed to consider sanctions relief even after he grew fed up that the dirt wasn’t very interesting
  • When the Trump team identified this meeting as an area of focus for Congressional and other investigations, Trump repeatedly responded in a way that — according to Hope Hicks — was totally uncharacteristic; either he or she also considered withholding the evidence from investigators
  • Trump personally issued a blatantly misleading statement on the meeting (after talking with Putin about that cover story, though that detail doesn’t show up in the report, which is another thing worth asking about)
  • Although he willingly sat for interviews with three Congressional committees — even after the report came out — Don Jr refused to appear before the grand jury
  • Emin Agalarov canceled an entire concert tour to avoid being questioned about the meeting or — more importantly — what he told Don Jr on those phone calls

From the point of view of the crime of obstruction of justice, the June 9 meeting is the weakest case, in part because Don Jr avoided getting caught in a lie about it (and so was not charged in parallel with Flynn and Stone). Given their focus on treating Volume II as an obstruction of justice impeachment referral rather than the complete cover-up, HJC is not treating this incident. But it’s one of the most damning examples showing that Trump and his family acted to accept Russian help.

And consider how Manafort’s sharing of polling data will get watered down with this approach to questioning. One of the most obvious ways to illustrate the impact of Trump’s obstruction is to lay out that Mueller was never able to establish why Manafort was trading Ukraine away at a meeting where he also discussed how to win MI and WI. It looks like a smoking gun, but Mueller was never able to fully investigate it (Manafort’s use of encryption helped things along here, too). And one key reason why he was never able to investigate it is because Manafort believed Trump would pardon him if he lied, and he did lie.

Note, too, that while Mueller notes that Manafort lied in footnotes, unless he’s the redacted person who lied to the grand jury in the prosecutions section, Mueller did not describe his prosecutorial decision not to charge Manafort for lying to the grand jury in that section.

As laid out (according to these reports), HPSCI is going to investigate the equivalent of the Watergate burglary, while HJC will investigate the cover-up of the burglary. Worse, HJC will go first, so it’s not like people watching the entire day will have been reminded about the burglary before HJC delves into the cover-up of it.

In other words, dividing the questioning the way reports say the committees will separates a discussion of the cover-up from the actions Trump covered up. That, in turn, makes it a lot harder to show that one reason Mueller didn’t collect enough evidence to charge a conspiracy is because of that cover up.

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. 

Questions for Robert Mueller (and His Prosecutors) that Go Beyond the Show

I generally loathe the questions that people are drafting for Robert Mueller’s July 17 testimony before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, largely because those questions are designed for a circus and not to learn information that’s useful for understanding the Mueller investigation. Here are the questions I’d ask instead (I’ll update these before Mueller testifies).

  1. Can you describe how you chose which “links between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump” to focus your investigation on?
  2. The warrants released in Michael Cohen’s case and other public materials show that your grand jury conducted investigations of people before Rod Rosenstein formally expanded the scope to include them in October 2017. Can you explain the relationship between investigative steps and the Rosenstein scope memos?
  3. Lisa Page has explained that in its initial phase, the investigation into Trump’s aides was separate from the larger investigation(s) into Russian interference. But ultimately, your office indicted Russians in both the trolling and the hack-and-leak conspiracies. How and when did those parts of DOJ’s investigation get integrated under SCO?
  4. An FD-302 memorializing a July 19, 2017 interview with Peter Strzok was released as part of Mike Flynn’s sentencing. Can you describe what the purpose of this interview was? How did the disclosure of Strzok’s texts with Lisa Page affect the recording (or perceived credibility) of this interview? Strzok was interviewed before that disclosure, but the 302 was not finalized until he had been removed from your team. Did his removal cause any delay in finalizing this 302?
  5. At the beginning of the investigation, your team investigated the criminal conduct of subjects unrelated to ties with Russia (for example, Paul Manafort’s ties with Ukraine, Mike Flynn’s ties to Turkey). Did the approach of the investigation change later in the process to immediately refer such issues to other offices (for example, Michael Cohen’s hush payments and graft)? If the approach changed, did your team or Rod Rosenstein drive this change? Is the Mystery Appellant related to a country other than Russia?
  6. Did your integration of other prosecutors (generally from DC USAO) into your prosecution teams stem from a resourcing issue or a desire to ensure continuity? What was the role of the three prosecutors who were just detailees to your team?
  7. Your report describes how FBI personnel shared foreign intelligence and counterintelligence information with the rest of FBI. For more than a year, FBI agents were embedded with your team for this purpose. Were these agents focused just on Russian activities, or did their focus include the actions of other countries and Americans? If their focus included Americans, did it include Trump associates? Did it include Trump himself?
  8. Can you describe the relationship between your GRU indictment and the WDPA one focused on the WADA hacks, and the relationship between your IRA indictment and the complaint against a Yevgeniy Prigozhin employee in EDVA? Can you describe the relationship between the Maria Butina prosecution and your investigation?
  9. Do you regret charging Concord Management in the IRA indictment? Do you have any insight on how indictments against Russian and other state targets should best be used?
  10. In discussions of Paul Manafort’s plea deal that took place as part of his breach hearing, Andrew Weissmann revealed that prosecutors didn’t vet his testimony as they would other cooperators. What led to this lack of vetting? Did the timing of the election and the potential impact Manafort’s DC trial might have play into the decision?
  11. What communication did you receive from whom in response to the BuzzFeed story on Trump’s role in Michael Cohen’s false testimony? How big an impact did that communication have on the decision to issue a correction?
  12. Did Matt Whitaker prevent you from describing Donald Trump specifically in Roger Stone’s indictment? Did you receive any feedback — from Whitaker or anyone else — for including a description of Trump in the Michael Cohen plea?
  13. Did Whitaker, Bill Barr, or Rosenstein weigh in on whether Trump should or could be subpoenaed? If so what did they say? Did any of the three impose time constraints that would have prevented you from subpoenaing the President?
  14. Multiple public reports describe Trump allies (possibly including Mike Flynn or his son) expressing certainty that Barr would shut down your investigation once he was confirmed. Did this happen? Can you describe what happened at the March 5, 2019 meeting where Barr was first briefed? Was that meeting really the first time you informed Rosenstein you would not make a determination on obstruction?
  15. You “ended” your investigation on March 22, at a time when at least two subpoena fights (Andrew Miller and Mystery Appellant) were ongoing. You finally resigned just minutes before Andrew Miller agreed to cooperate on May 29. Were these subpoenas for information critical to your investigation?
  16. If Don Jr told you he would invoke the Fifth if subpoenaed by the grand jury, would that fact be protected by grand jury secrecy? Are you aware of evidence you received involving the President’s son that would lead him to be less willing to testify to your prosecutors than to congressional committees? Can congressional committees obtain that information?
  17. Emin Agalarov canceled a concert tour to avoid subpoena in your investigation. Can you explain efforts to obtain testimony from this key player in the June 9 meeting? What other people did you try to obtain testimony from regarding the June 9 meeting?
  18. Did your investigation consider policy actions taken while Trump was President, such as Trump’s efforts to overturn Russian sanctions or his half-hearted efforts to comply with Congressional mandates to impose new ones?
  19. Can you describe how you treated actions authorized by Article II authority — such as the conduct of foreign policy, including sanctions, and the awarding of pardons — in your considerations of any criminal actions by the President?
  20. The President did not answer any questions about sanctions, even the one regarding discussions during the period of the election. Do you have unanswered questions about the role of sanctions relief and the Russian interference effort?
  21. Your report doesn’t include several of the most alarming interactions between Trump and Russia. It mentions how he told Sergey Lavrov and Sergey Kislyak he had fired Comey because of the Russian investigation, but did not mention that he shared classified Israeli intelligence at the meeting. Your report doesn’t mention the conversations Trump had with Vladimir Putin at the G-20 in Hamburg, including one pertaining to “adoptions,” while he was working on the June 9 meeting. The report doesn’t mention the Helsinki meeting. Did your investigation consider these interactions with Russia? If not, are you aware of another part of the government that did scrutinize these events?
  22. Why did you include Trump’s efforts to mislead the public about the June 9 meeting when it didn’t fit your team’s own terms for obstructive acts?
  23. You generally do not name the Trump lawyers who had discussions, including about pardons, with subjects of the investigation. How many different lawyers are described in your report to have had such discussions?
  24. You asked — but the President provided only a partial answer — whether he had considered issuing a pardon for Julian Assange prior to the inauguration. Did you investigate the public efforts — including by Roger Stone — to pardon Assange during Trump’s Administration?
  25. The cooperation addendum in Mike Flynn’s case reveals that he participated in discussions about reaching out to WikiLeaks in the wake of the October 7 Podesta releases. But that does not appear in the unredacted parts of your report. Is the entire scope of the campaign’s interactions with WikiLeaks covered in the Roger Stone indictment?
  26. Hope Hicks has claimed to be unaware of a strategy to coordinate the WikiLeaks releases, yet even the unredacted parts of the report make it clear there was a concerted effort to optimize the releases. Is this a difference in vocabulary? Does it reflect unreliability on the part of Hicks’ testimony? Or did discussions of WikiLeaks remain partially segregated from the communications staff of the campaign?
  27. How many witnesses confirmed knowing of conversations between Roger Stone and Donald Trump about WikiLeaks’ upcoming releases?
  28. The President’s answers regarding the Trump Tower Moscow match the false story for which Michael Cohen pled guilty, meaning the President, in his sworn answers, provided responses you have determined was a false story. After Cohen pled guilty, the President and his lawyer made public claims that are wholly inconsistent with his sworn written answer to you. You offered him an opportunity to clean up his sworn answer, but he did not. Do you consider the President’s current answer on this topic to be a lie?
  29. Did Trump Organization provide all the emails pertaining to the Trump Tower Moscow deal before you subpoenaed the organization in early 2018? Did they provide those emails in response to that subpoena?
  30. In his answers to your questions, President Trump claimed that you received “an email from a Sergei Prikhodko, who identified himself as Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation … inviting me to participate in the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.” But the footnotes to your discussion of that exchange describe no email. Did your team receive any email? Does the public record — showing that Trump never signed the declination letter to that investigation — show that Trump did not decline that invitation?

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 FBI Went to Microsoft, not Trump Organization, for Emails Incriminating Individual-1

I’m working on a post showing how slow the investigation into Donald Trump and his associates was, contrary to the President’s squeals. That led me to realize something about this August 1 search warrant application for Michael Cohen’s Trump Organization email.

Trump Organization used Microsoft to host their email.

54. On or about July 14,2017, the Federal Bureau of Investigation sent a request, pursuant to l8 U.S.C. $ 2703(f), to Microsoft, requesting that Microsoft preserve all content for all email accounts associated with the domain “trumporg.com,” which included the Target Account.

55. On or about July 20,2017 and again on or about July 25,2017,in response to a grand jury subpoena, Microsoft confirmed that the Target Account was an active account associated with the domain trumporg.com. Microsoft also provided records indicating that email accounts associated with the domain “trumporg.com” are being operated on a Microsoft Exchange server. According to publicly available information on Microsoft’s website, Microsoft hosts emails for clients on Microsoft Exchange servers, while allowing customers to use their own domain (as opposed to the publicly available email domains supplied by Microsoft, such as hotmail.com). According to information supplied by Microsoft, the domain trumporg.com continues to operate approximately 150 active email accounts through Microsoft Exchange, meaning that data associated with trumporg.com still exists on Microsoft’s servers.

[snip]

62. On or about June 21, 2017, the Federal Bureau of Investigation sent a request, pursuant to 18 U.S.C. $ 2703(f), to Microsoft, requesting that Microsoft preserve all content associated with the Target Account.

That means Microsoft — and not (just) Trump Organization — controlled access to these accounts.

This is something that has long been an unrecognized problem. If the government wants your email and your business or university has Microsoft or Gmail host email for them, the tech giants will get and respond to a law enforcement request, not the entity that might make privilege or First Amendment legal challenges to the subpoena. For example, the government would have gotten Xiaoxiang Xi and Ally Watkins’ Temple University email from Google, not the University, preventing both from making a First Amendment challenge to the warrant.

Microsoft sued over the sheer number of gags on such subpoenas in 2016; few people realized that they were concerned primarily about businesses like Trump Organization, not individual customers. That suit settled on October 24, 2017 after DOJ agreed to provide Microsoft more leeway to notice its customers.

But that agreement would have come too late for Michael Cohen and anyone else at Trump Organization who might have been investigated by DOJ. Since June 21, 2017, Cohen’s emails were preserved, and since July 14, 2017 — just after the June 9 meeting arranged via what appears to be Don Jr’s Trump Organization email became public — all Trump Organization emails have been preserved.

In DOJ’s opposition to Michael Cohen’s efforts to get a restraining order on the materials seized in the April 9, 2018 raid on him, there was a redacted reference suggesting that some materials may have gotten destroyed.

Mueller didn’t subpoena documents from Trump Organization directly until March 2018. So if they discovered documents via email searches direct from Microsoft that were withheld in that March subpoena — such as the emails that Cohen received on Trump Tower Moscow — it might explain this redaction.

This is the kind of thing that Trump might make a big stink about, if he ever figures it out (or if it gets Trump Organization lawyer Alan Garten in trouble for blowing off subpoenas — they were already non-responsive in response to the May HPSCI subpoena). But it’s the kind of thing that businesses and universities everywhere are exposed by.

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to Hicks, Kushner said that he wanted to fill the President in on something that had been discovered in the documents he was to provide to the congressional committees involving a meeting with him, Manafort, and Trump Jr.678 Kushner brought a folder of documents to the meeting and tried to show them to the President, but the President stopped Kushner and said he did not want to know about it, shutting the conversation down.679

On June 28, 2017, Hicks viewed the emails at Kushner’s attorney’s office.680 She recalled being shocked by the emails because they looked “really bad.”681 The next day, Hicks spoke privately with the President to mention her concern about the emails, which she understood were soon going to be shared with Congress.682 The President seemed upset because too many people knew about the emails and he told Hicks that just one lawyer should deal with the matter.683 The President indicated that he did not think the emails would leak, but said they would leak if everyone had access to them.684

Later that day, Hicks, Kushner, and Ivanka Trump went together to talk to the President.685 Hicks recalled that Kushner told the President the June 9 meeting was not a big deal and was about Russian adoption, but that emails existed setting up the meeting.686 Hicks said she wanted to get in front of the story and have Trump Jr. release the emails as part of an interview with “softball questions.”687 The President said he did not want to know about it and they should not go to the press.688 Hicks warned the President that the emails were “really bad” and the story would be “massive” when it broke, but the President was insistent that he did not want to talk about it and said he did not want details.689 Hicks recalled that the President asked Kushner when his document production was due. 690 Kushner responded that it would be a couple of weeks and the President said, “then leave it alone.”691 Hicks also recalled that the President said Kushner’s attorney should give the emails to whomever he needed to give them to, but the President did not think they would be leaked to the press.692 Raffel later heard from Hicks that the President had directed the group not to be proactive in disclosing the emails because the President believed they would not leak.693

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

On July 7, 2017, while the President was overseas, Hicks and Raffel learned that the New York Times was working on a story about the June 9 meeting.695 The next day, Hicks told the President about the story and he directed her not to comment.696 Hicks thought the President’s reaction was odd because he usually considered not responding to the press to be the ultimate sin.697

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

The next day, July 9, 2017, Hicks and the President called Corallo together and the President criticized Corallo for the statement he had released.721 Corallo told the President the statement had been authorized and further observed that Trump Jr. ‘s statement was inaccurate and that a document existed that would contradict it.722 Corallo said that he purposely used the term “document” to refer to the emails setting up the June 9 meeting because he did not know what the President knew about the emails.723 Corallo recalled that when he referred to the “document” on the call with the President, Hicks responded that only a few people had access to it and said “it will never get out.”724 Corallo took contemporaneous notes of the call that say: “Also mention existence of doc. Hope says ‘ only a few people have it. It will never get out.”‘725 Hicks later told investigators that she had no memory of making that comment and had always believed the emails would eventually be leaked, but she might have been channeling the President on the phone call because it was clear to her throughout her conversations with the President that he did not think the emails would leak.726

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

That lawyer is Alan Garten.

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

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

MR. COHEN: Alan Futerfas and Alan Garten.

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

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

MR. COHEN: Yes, sir.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Correct.

Q And was it to provide to this committee?

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

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

A I believe so.

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

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

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

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

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