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A Month after Trump Learned that Mueller Knew of the Pardon Deal, Cassandra Fairbanks Learned the Pardon Was Off

Cassandra Fairbanks gave a statement in the Julian Assange extradition hearing yesterday that WikiLeaks supporters seem to believe will help Assange.

Mostly it reveals that Don Jr’s buddy, Arthur Schwartz, knew and shared highly classified details about the WikiLeaks investigation with a known WikiLeaks associate, one who had recently worked for Russia’s Sputnik and was visibly close with Guccifer 2.0 during the election operation. (Fairbanks rather pointedly avoided disclosing that she used to work for the Russian propaganda outlet, saying only she had been “involved in similar areas of work” as the propaganda she does for Gateway Pundit). Fairbanks’ statement reveals that she repeatedly shared the information she learned with Assange, but not publicly. She didn’t do so immediately. Rather, she did so around January 7, 2019, just  weeks before Roger Stone was indicted (Fairbanks met Stone in 2016 through far right channels), and then again on March 25, after Bill Barr revealed that Trump and his failson had avoided conspiracy charges.

Fairbanks’ statement further reveals that after Fairbanks had exposed Schwartz (and his source for the information) legally for sharing the information, Schwartz reacted like a lot of right wing men do when put in danger, by espousing violence, in this case, the death penalty for WikiLeaks associates. Fairbanks also described how both Schwartz and Ric Grenell are assholes who throw around their power, which might make Fairbanks reconsider the right wing nutjobs she chooses to hang out with, but likely won’t help Assange avoid extradition.

So far, that doesn’t help Assange all that much. It says that a former propagandist for Russia shared non-public information with Julian Assange and in response, her source for that information responded furiously.

Fairbanks also repeats Grenell’s name a lot, though without corroborating that he — and not Don Jr — was Schwartz’s source. Indeed, at one point, Fairbanks suggested that Schwartz, in October 2018, implied that “lifelong friends” might be affected, which she seems to have taken to mean Jr.

Fairbanks did one more thing. DOJ charged Assange on December 21, 2017. Fairbanks, by her own description, was lobbying for WikiLeaks in her right wing chat room in that period, but Schwartz didn’t reveal the charges then. Assange was indicted on March 6, 2018. By her own description, Fairbanks was still lobbying for Assange in that right wing chatroom, but Schwartz didn’t reveal the charges.

But on October 30, 2018, when Fairbanks lobbied for Assange, Schwarz not only revealed the charges (in great detail), but he also told Fairbanks, “a pardon is not going to fucking happen.”

Just over a month earlier, on September 17, 2018, by submitting questions to be answered, Robert Mueller had revealed to Donald Trump that he knew of the pardon discussions for Assange (it’s unclear whether that was the first Trump learned Mueller had this question, but it wasn’t in the set posed earlier in 2018). Trump would eventually answer — after the election — without even denying that those pardon discussions happened, but only denying that he recalled them starting prior to the 2016 election.

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.

This is a pardon discussion that Roger Stone appears to have kicked off. But it is also one that WikiLeaks has, twice, nudged Don Jr about. The second of those times, Julian Assange implicitly threatened — with the hashtag #Vault 8 — further leaks of CIA hacking tools.

It may be the case that the US government didn’t move to provide concrete assurances to the UK that Assange wouldn’t be executed until that time, though Fairbanks doesn’t specifically tie Schwartz’ knowledge to the agreement, and the ABC news article she claims does so would actually place it a month earlier, in September.

It may in fact be the case that Trump didn’t take concrete steps to facilitate the arrest that his DOJ had already put in motion until after he realized that providing the pardon offered so long before would put him, Trump, in concrete legal danger, to say nothing of his failson, Schwartz’s buddy.

Roger Stone (and possibly Don Jr) pursued a pardon for a guy who at that very time was burning the CIA to the ground. That’s, at the very least, politically awkward. It likely exposed Jr in ways that made Schwartz furious and defensive.

But this is, by Fairbanks’ own account, still about that pardon — the one that WikiLeaks keeps pretending doesn’t exist.

Running Thread of emptywheel’s Running Threads on the SSCI Report

I’ve been doing running Twitter threads on each chapter of the SSCI Russia Report. It has gotten too unwieldy for Twitter, so I’ll collect all those threads here:

Here are the posts I’ve written so far:

SSCI Confirms that Mueller Considered CFAA Charges for Don Jr.

One of the most useful things about the SSCI Report is how much content from the interviews and redacted portions of the Mueller Report it made public.

I’ll have several follow-ups talking about what it shows (beyond that DOJ is badly abusing the FOIA process to suppress damaging information) and what the difference choices about story-lines say about the investigation into Trump.

But for now, this disclosure is predictable, but important. Mueller considered CFAA charges for Don Jr’s use of a password obtained from WikiLeaks to access a non-public website.

WikiLeaks contacted the Trump Campaign directly, through Donald Trump Jr., on sev:eral occasions. On September 21, WikiLeaks used a direct message on Twitter to reach out to Trump Jr. for a comment about a website, “putintrump.org,” and provided Trump Jr. a password to access the website before it launched.1725 Trump Jr. responded, “Off the record I don’t know who that is, but I’ll ask around.”1726 He then forwarded the message to senior Campaign officials in an email, and asked for their thoughts, indicating that he had visited the website:

Guys I got a weird Twitter DM.from wikileaks. See below. I tried the password and it works and the about section they reference contains the next pie in terms of who is behind it. Not sure if this is anything but it seems like it’s really wikileaks asking me as /follow them and itis a DM Do you know the people mentioned and what the conspiracy they are looking for could be? These are just screen shots but it’s a fully built out page claiming to be a PAC let me know your thoughts and if we want to look into it. 1727

Trump Jr. expressed concern about the webpage, though not about WikiLeaks itself: “The way they asked the question it almost seemed like there was some connection we should be aware of though. Do any of the political people recognize the names there?”1728 Some members of the Campaign responded to Trump Jr., but he did not communicate further with Wik1Leaks on the topic. 1729

(U) Email, Trump Jr. to Conway, Bannon, Kushner, Bossie, and Parscale, September 21, 2016 (DJTFP00023909-23911) (attaching screenshots of Twitter direct message from WikiLeaks). The email garnered some responses. Brad Parscale suggested setting up a competing website so that “searches come to us.” Email, Parscale to Trump Jr. et al., September 21, 2016 (DJTFP00023912). Jared Kushner forwarded the email to Hope Hicks without comment. Email, Kushner to Hicks, September 21, 2016 (DJTFP00023916-23918). The SCO declined to charge Trump Jr. for violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act based on his unauthorized use of the password to access the website. See SCO Report, Vol. I, p. 179.

Let me be clear: It would have been a gross abuse of the CFAA to charge this, the kind of thing DOJ has tried in rare instances, to be rightly rebuked in legal commentary. Mueller made the right decision not to charge this.

But, as SSCI’s success at releasing this information makes clear, there’s no reason to redact this information (or other information discussing the various criminal theories used with the failson). Don Jr is not — as Billy Barr claimed when he described his privacy redactions — in any way a tangential third party to his father’s campaign. And the underlying conduct here has long been public. There’s no reason to hide the discussion of why Mueller (correctly) decided not to charge this conduct.

There’s Lots of Reason to Think Steve Bannon Lied; But He May Also Have Told the Truth, Once

The LAT has a big scoop on some criminal referrals the Senate Intelligence Committee made on July 19, 2019. The biggest news is that SSCI referred Steve Bannon for his unconvincing story about his Russian back channel — though it’s likely that Bannon cleaned up that testimony in January 2019.

Don Jr

The LAT describes that the Committee believed that the Trump spawn lied about when they learned about the Aras Agalarov meeting.

In the two page-letter, the committee raised concerns that testimony given to it by the president’s family and advisors contradicted what Rick Gates, the former deputy campaign chairman, told the Special Counsel about when people within the Trump campaign knew about a June 9 meeting at Trump tower with a Russian lawyer.

This conflict in stories was previously known; it shows up in the Mueller Report.

It’s interesting primarily because the referral took place after Don Jr’s second SSCI interview, which was on June 12, 2019. It stands to reason that the failson’s willingness to sit for a second interview with SSCI — but not any interview with Mueller — strongly suggests that he had reason to know that Mueller had evidence that SSCI did not. If the only thing that SSCI believed Don Jr lied about was the June 9 meeting, then it suggests they did not know Mueller’s full focus.

Sam Clovis

LAT also says that SSCI believes Clovis lied about his relationship with Peter Smith, the old Republican rat-fucker who made considerable effort to find Hillary’s deleted emails.

The committee also asked the Justice Department to investigate Sam Clovis, a former co-chairman of the Trump campaign, for possibly lying about his interactions with Peter W. Smith, a Republican donor who led a secret effort to obtain former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s missing emails.

Clovis could not be reached.

That Clovis lied is not surprising — it’s obvious from the interview reports released thus far in the BuzzFeed FOIA that his story changed radically over the course of a few hours. Notably, however, SSCI only referred Clovis for lying about Peter Smith. It’s pretty clear that Clovis also lied, at least at first, about the campaign’s willingness to cozy up to Russia.

There are four redacted descriptions of people who lied to Mueller in the Report; one of those may explain why Clovis was not charged.

Note that Clovis’ lack of candor about other topics makes his denials that George Papadopoulos told him about the email warning equally dubious.

Erik Prince and Steve Bannon

Finally, the story says SSCI referred Erik Prince and Steve Bannon for their conflicting stories about their back channel to Kirill Dmitriev.

According to the letter, the committee believed Bannon may have lied about his interactions with Erik Prince, a private security contractor; Rick Gerson, a hedge fund manager; and Kirill Dmitriev, the head of a Russian sovereign fund.

It is well-established that Prince lied (indeed, HPSCI also referred his testimony). His lawyer made similar denials to the LAT as he has made elsewhere.

Matthew L. Schwartz, a lawyer for Prince, defended his client’s cooperation with Capitol Hill and Mueller’s office.

“There is nothing new for the Department of Justice to consider, nor is there any reason to question the Special Counsel’s decision to credit Mr. Prince and rely on him in drafting its report,” he said.

Given that DOJ turned over an email from Schwartz to Aaron Zelinsky in response to a FOIA in the Stone case, it’s clear both that Prince was being investigated for issues beyond just his lies about the Russian back channel, but also that it’s likely that Billy Barr interfered with that investigation while he was “fixing” the Mike Flynn and Roger Stone ones, as well.

That’s interesting because SSCI referred Bannon as well.

Like everyone else, it’s not news that he shaded the truth at first. Bannon was scripted by the White House to deny discussing sanctions prior to Mike Flynn’s call to Sergei Kislyak. Bannon’s efforts to shade the trute were apparent from one of his early 302s. A Stone warrant affidavit describes Bannon denying his conversations with Roger Stone about WikiLeaks before he admitted at least one.

When BANNON spoke with investigators during a voluntary proffer on February 14, 201’8, he initially denied knowing whether the October 4, 2016 email to STONE was about WikiLeaks. Upon further questioning, BANNON acknowledged that he was asking STONE about WikiLeaks, because he had heard that STONE had a channel to ASSANGE, and BANNON had been hoping for releases of damaging information that morning.

And for Bannon’s fourth known Mueller interview, he got a proffer, suggesting his testimony changed in ways that might have implicated him in a crime.

What’s most interesting, given how everyone agrees his testimony and Prince’s materially differ, is that he testified to things before the grand jury he subsequently tried to back off. More interesting still, only the relevant parts of Bannon’s grand jury testify got shared with Stone. That means other parts — presumably, given the proffer agreement, the more legally damning parts — remain secret.

SSCI believes that Bannon may have lied to the committee.

But unlike all the others listed here, there’s reason to believe Bannon may also have told the truth to the grand jury, once, possibly relating to his actions involving Erik Prince.

That all may be moot if Barr managed to squelch any Prince investigation while he was negating the Stone and Flynn prosecutions. But he can’t entirely eliminate grand jury testimony.

Reggie Walton Seems Interested Revealing Some of Mueller’s Referrals

I made at least one error in this post. I surmised, based on the exemptions DOJ had claimed in a reprocessed version of the Mueller Report released last month, that there might be ongoing investigations into Rudy Giuliani’s grifters reflected in it.

But the sentencing of George Nader a week later reminded me that it cannot be the case that DOJ did a full reprocessing of the Mueller Report. Warrants made it clear that Nader’s prosecution for child porn — which developed into a prosecution for sexually abusing a boy — was a referral from the Mueller team.

Yet the reprocessed Mueller Report continues to redact all the referrals in Appendix D not previously unsealed (that is, all but the Michael Cohen and Greg Craig ones), including one that must be the Nader prosecution, under b7A redactions signaling an ongoing investigation, quite possibly this one.

The Nader referral, because it was prosecuted, should not be redacted under any exemption. Well before this reprocessing, Nader’s prosecution was public (meaning the privacy exemptions are improper), and by the time of this reprocessing, his conviction had been entered, so was no longer ongoing.

The reprocessing did change two Stone-related referrals to the same privacy exemption used for most other referrals — b(6)/b(7)(C-4) instead of b(6)/b(7)(C-3). (These are the newly reprocessed redactions; compare with pages 240-241 of the initial FOIA release.)

The change from C-3 to C-4 signifies that the person involved was only mentioned in the report, but that category is unrelated to whether or not the person remains under a separate investigation. But all referrals still use the b7(A) exemption, even though we know at least one — that of George Nader — is no longer ongoing.

That’s a very complicated way of saying that we can be certain DOJ is claiming some of these referrals are ongoing investigations even though no investigation is ongoing, whether because — like Nader — the investigation has been completed, because the investigation was properly closed, or because Billy Barr intervened and improperly closed them (as might be the case for investigations known to be targeting Erik Prince and Jared Kushner).

And that’s why some filings this week in this lawsuit are so interesting.

A month ago, Judge Reggie Walton, after having reviewed an unredacted copy of the Mueller Report, canceled a public status conference and instead scheduled an ex parte hearing on July 20 at which DOJ would have to answer his questions about the redactions.

Knowing that it would have to answer Walton’s questions, yet claiming to respond to an earlier BuzzFeed/EPIC filing, DOJ offered up that it was preparing to reissue the report in light of the completion of the Roger Stone prosecution. It released that copy — the one that claims at least one investigation that has been completed is ongoing — on June 19.

Which brings us to this week. On Monday, Judge Walton ordered the government to answer questions he raised in an Excel spreadsheet addressing the redactions.

To accord the Department knowledge of the questions that the Court has regarding some of the redactions prior to the ex parte hearing, the Court has prepared an Excel spreadsheet that catalogues these questions, which is attached as Exhibit A to this Order. 1 To the extent that the Department is able to respond to the Court’s questions in writing, it is hereby

ORDERED that, on or before July 14, 2020, at 5:00 p.m., the Department shall file2 under seal its responses to the Court’s questions by completing Column G of Exhibit A. 3

SO ORDERED this 6th day of July, 2020.

1 Exhibit A will be issued under seal and will remain under seal unless otherwise ordered by this Court.

2 The Department shall coordinate with chambers regarding the delivery of a hard copy of its submission.

3 The Court will advise the Department as to whether the Department’s written explanations obviate the need for the ex parte hearing currently scheduled for July 20, 2020.

Judge Walton gave DOJ just over a week to answer the questions.

Yesterday, DOJ asked for more time. DOJ described that they needed to consult with other entities to respond to Walton’s questions, and explained that they had not yet gotten answers from some of the “entities” they needed to hear from.

The Department has been diligently working to comply with the Court’s Order. That work has involved consultations with numerous Department components, including the Office of Information Privacy, the National Security Division, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and U.S. Attorney’s Offices. However, the Department requires one additional week—until 5:00 PM on July 21, 2020—to coordinate and provide responses to all of the Court’s questions. This additional time is necessary because the majority of Court’s inquiries concerning the redactions require the Department to consult with various entities with equities in the information at issue, both within and outside the Department. The Department has received information from some, but not all, of the entities. Once the Department has completed its consultation with these entities, the Department needs time to compile information received from those entities into a detailed response that addresses all of the Court’s questions. Those entities then need time to review the compiled draft responses before the responses are filed under seal with the Court.2 The Department’s goal with this process is to ensure fulsome responses to the Court’s questions that would obviate the need for a hearing. [my emphasis]

This paragraph is fairly dense, but two things are worth noting. First, after describing “Department components” it would need to consult, the filing then notes that the entities with which DOJ must consult aren’t all inside the Department. This reference may be innocent. After all, any investigations into Russians or other foreigners might implicate foreign intelligence agencies, and Treasury has an ongoing sanctions process working against Oleg Deripaska, another possible referral. So those non-departmental entities could be CIA, NSA, and Treasury, among others.

Or, those non-departmental entities could be the White House.

There has already been abundant evidence that DOJ is consulting with the White House on its response to the BuzzFeed/EPIC FOIA (or at least deferring to their goals), particularly with regards to the 302 releases. Perhaps they’re doing so in the guise of honoring executive privilege claims that Trump never claimed during the investigation. But particularly if this involves hiding details about the investigation into Don Jr and/or Jared, it would be particularly abusive here.

Meanwhile, the reference to US Attorney’s Offices, plural, strongly suggests that these questions get into b7(A) redactions, because the primary reason to need to ask US Attorney’s Offices about these redactions is if they’re investigating or prosecuting cases.

We know of Mueller referrals to, at least, DC, SDNY, and EDVA. The GRU indictment was sent back to WDPA, where it started. And there were reports that investigations into Jared, Tom Barrack, and Elliot Broidy were in EDNY (though it’s unclear which of those, if any, were referrals from Mueller).

That doesn’t necessarily mean these consultations are about unknown referrals. But a footnote to the DOJ filing strongly suggests they are.

2 Although “the question in FOIA cases is typically whether an agency improperly withheld documents at the time that it processed a FOIA request,” in the interest of saving resources and promoting efficiency, if the Department determines during its review that there no longer exists a basis for a redaction, the Department plans to indicate as such in its response to the Court’s questions, withdraw the redaction, and reprocess the Report with the redaction lifted at the appropriate time. ACLU v. Dep’t of Justice, 640 F. App’x 9, 13 (D.C. Cir. 2016) (unpublished); see also Bonner v. Dep’t of State, 928 F.2d 1148, 1152 (D.C. Cir. 1991) (“To require an agency to adjust or modify its FOIA responses based on post-response occurrences could create an endless cycle of judicially mandated reprocessing.”). The Report was originally processed in spring 2019. A basis may no longer exist for a redaction if, for example, material was redacted concerning a prosecution that had been ongoing at the time of the redaction that has now been completed. See Citizens for Responsibility & Ethics in Wash. v. Dep’t of Justice, 746 F.3d 1082, 1097 (D.C. Cir. 2014) (stating that because a “proceeding must remain pending at the time of our decision,” an agency’s “reliance on Exemption 7(A) may become outdated when the proceeding at issue comes to a close”).[my emphasis]

DOJ directly addresses b7(A) redactions, claiming that if the investigation was ongoing when it originally did the FOIA review, it is not in violation of FOIA if it hasn’t since released the information (the filing is silent on the reprocessing done last month).

Mind you, DOJ will argue that all of these redactions are still proper under privacy protections. But on that point, DOJ (and Billy Barr personally) has outright lied publicly, claiming that these redactions only protect tangential third parties and not people like the President’s son or son-in-law.

Having looked at Walton’s questions, DOJ directly addressed redactions that originally protected ongoing investigations and contacted more than one US Attorney’s Office for consultations. That says he may consider ordering DOJ to release information about investigations that were started but did not end in prosecution.

Which makes the delay more interesting. It may be totally innocent, the slow pace of bureaucracy, particularly as offices still recover from COVID shut-downs. But one US Attorney’s Office of interest has undergone a sudden change of leadership between the time Judge Walton asked for this information and the time DOJ will respond. Last night, Billy Barr swapped EDNY US Attorney Richard Donoghue with PDAAG Seth DuCharme. While Barr has shown trust in both (he put Donoghue in charge of reviewing Ukraine related allegations), DuCharme has been one of the people who has orchestrated his efforts to undermine the Russian investigation. Whatever answers DOJ provides to Walton, then, will be answers that Barr’s newly appointed flunky will oversee. That’s by no means the most suspicious part of DuCharme’s appointment, but it is something DuCharme will review in his first week on the job.

DOJ may successfully argue that all of this should remain redacted for privacy reasons. And, with the possible exception of an Erik Prince referral, if they’re disclosed as closed investigations, it would not necessarily indicate whether they were closed through more Barr interference. But it certainly suggests Walton may be thinking that some of this should be public.

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.