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Paul Manafort Violated Campaign Policy in Risking a Meeting with Konstantin Kilimnik on August 2, 2016

When Don Jr testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he defended accepting a meeting from a bunch of Russians offering dirt, in part, by noting that he took the meeting before there was such a focus on “Russian activities.”

Nonetheless, at the time I thought I should listen to what Rob and his colleagues had to say. To the extent that they had information concerning the fitness, character, or qualifications of any presidential candidate, I believed that I should at least hear them out. Depending on what, if any, information that they had, I could then consult with counsel to make an informed decision as to whether to give it any further consideration. I also note at this time  there was no focus on Russian activities that there is today.

The guy who Mueller decided was too stupid to be charged with a campaign finance violation basically explained away doing so (as he has elsewhere): that because the public wasn’t yet aware of the efforts Russia was making to get his dad elected — and the suspicious ties between key campaign figures and Russians — it was reasonable for him to take dirt from Russians.

And the Mueller Report actually does show that the campaign passed up offers from Russians they otherwise seemed to find attractive later in the summer, after the release of the DNC emails made Russia’s intentions clear.

For example, after Sergei Millian reached out to George Papadopoulos promising to help him reach leaders of the Russian-American community, the “Coffee Boy” was instructed to decline the offer because too many stories were accurately telling voters how pro-Russian both the campaign and — especially — Paul Manafort was.

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

Similarly when, after JD Gordon twice emphasized with Sergei Kislyak at the Convention that he had meant what he said in his speech — that the US should have better relations with Russia (see pages 123-4) — Kislyak invited Gordon to breakfast at his residence. Gordon would have been happy to take the invite, according to an email he sent in response to the invitation. But he said he’d take a raincheck for when “things quiet down a bit.”

On August 3, 2016, an official from the Embassy of the Russian Federation in the United States wrote to Gordon ” [o]n behalf of’ Ambassador Kislyak inviting Gordon “to have breakfast/tea with the Ambassador at his residence” in Washington, D.C. the following week.818 Gordon responded five days later to decline the invitation. He wrote, “[t]hese days are not optimal for us, as we are busily knocking down a constant stream of false media stories while also preparing for the first debate with HRC. Hope to take a raincheck for another time when things quiet down a bit. Please pass along my regards to the Ambassador.” 819

While Gordon doesn’t say the “false media stories” were explicitly about Russia, that is where the focus was at the time (indeed, the defeat of the Ukraine amendment in the platform that Gordon himself had carried out was one focus of that media attention). Update: In the obstruction section, the report confirms this was about Russia:

For example, in August 2016, foreign policy advisor J.D. Gordon declined an invitation to Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak’s residence because the timing was “not optimal” in view of media reports about Russian interference.46

46 DJTFP00004953 (8/8/16 Email, Gordon to Pchelyakov) (stating that “[t]hese days are not optimal for us, as we are busily knocking down a stream of false media stories”).

So it seems clear that in the wake of the DNC dump and revelations about the platform, Carter Page, and Manafort, the campaign did make a conscious effort to “take a raincheck” on any more approaches from Russia.

It’s against that background that the August 2 meeting between Manafort, Rick Gates, and someone Gates believed was a Russian spy, Konstantin Kilimnik, is all the more remarkable.

As the report describes, at the same time other campaign staffers were being told to turn down approaches from Russia, the campaign manager set up a late night meeting with the same Russian employee who was involved in so much of the scandal (and to whom he had been sending internal polling data since the spring). At the meeting, the campaign manager discussed at least three things: how Trump planned to win the three states that would ultimately make the difference in the election — Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Michigan (along with Minnesota, which also was unexpectedly close), a plan that required Manafort and Trump’s buy-off to give Russia part of Ukraine, and a way for Manafort (who was working for Trump for “free”) to get paid by Ukrainian oligarchs and to get Oleg Deripaska to forgive a huge debt.

The events leading to the meeting are as follows. On July 28, 2016, Kilimnik flew from Kiev to Moscow.912 The next day, Kilimnik wrote to Manafort requesting that they meet, using coded language about a conversation he had that day.913 In an email with a subject line “Black Caviar,” Kilimnik wrote:

I met today with the guy who gave you your biggest black caviar jar several years ago. We spent about 5 hours talking about his story, and I have several important messages from him to you. He asked me to go and brief you on our conversation. I said I have to run it by you first, but in principle I am prepared to do it. … It has to do about the future of his country, and is quite interesting.914

Manafort identified “the guy who gave you your biggest black caviar jar” as Yanukovych. He explained that, in 2010, he and Y anukovych had lunch to celebrate the recent presidential election. Yanukovych gave Manafort a large jar of black caviar that was worth approximately $30,000 to $40,000.915 Manafort’s identification of Yanukovych as “the guy who gave you your biggest black caviar jar” is consistent with Kilimnik being in Moscow-where Yanukovych resided-when Kilimnik wrote “I met today with~ a December 2016 email in which Kilimnik referred to Yanukovych as “BG,”-916 Manafort replied to Kilimnik’s July 29 email, “Tuesday [August 2] is best . .. Tues or weds in NYC.”917

Three days later, on July 31, 2016, Kilimnik flew back to Kiev from Moscow, and on that same day, wrote to Manafort that he needed “about 2 hours” for their meeting “because it is a long caviar story to tell.”918 Kilimnik wrote that he would arrive at JFK on August 2 at 7:30 p.m., and he and Manafort agreed to a late dinner that night.919 Documentary evidence- including flight, phone, and hotel records, and the timing of text messages exchanged920-confirms the dinner took place as planned on August 2.921

As to the contents of the meeting itself, the accounts of Manafort and Gates — who arrived late to the dinner — differ in certain respects. But their versions of events, when assessed alongside available documentary evidence and what Kilimnik told business associate Sam Patten, indicate that at least three principal topics were discussed.

First, Manafort and Kilimnik discussed a plan to resolve the ongoing political problems in Ukraine by creating an autonomous republic in its more industrialized eastern region of Donbas,922 and having Yanukovych, the Ukrainian President ousted in 2014, elected to head that republic.923 That plan, Manafort later acknowledged, constituted a “backdoor” means for Russia to control eastern Ukraine.924 Manafort initially said that, if he had not cut off the discussion, Kilimnik would have asked Manafort in the August 2 meeting to convince Trump to come out in favor of the peace plan, and Yanukovych would have expected Manafort to use his connections in Europe and Ukraine to support the plan.925 Manafort also initially told the Office that he had said to Kilimnik that the plan was crazy, that the discussion ended, and that he did not recall Kilimnik asking Manafort to reconsider the plan after their August 2 meeting.926 Manafort said [redacted] that he reacted negatively to Yanukovych sending — years later — an “urgent” request when Yanukovych needed him.927 When confronted with an email written by Kilimnik on or about December 8, 2016, however, Manafort acknowledged Kilimnik raised the peace plan again in that email.928 Manafort ultimately acknowled ed Kilimnik also raised the eace Ian in ~ary 2017 meetings with Manafort [grand jury redaction] 929

Second, Manafort briefed Kilimnik on the state of the Trump Campaign and Manafort’s plan to win the election.930 That briefing encompassed the Campaign’s messaging and its internal polling data. According to Gates, it also included discussion of “battleground” states, which Manafort identified as Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Minnesota.931 Manafort did not refer explicitly to “battleground” states in his telling of the August 2 discussion, [grand jury redaction]

Third, according to Gates and what Kilimnik told Patten, Manafort and Kilimnik discussed two sets of financial disputes related to Manafort’s previous work in the region. Those consisted of the unresolved Deripaska lawsuit and the funds that the Opposition Bloc owed to Manafort for his political consulting work and how Manafort might be able to obtain payment.933

Eight days after that meeting at which Manafort described how they might win Rust Belt swing states, where Kilimnik pitched a plan to break up Ukraine, and where Kilimnik also explained what Manafort would have to do to get paid by his Ukrainian paymasters, Manafort told his accountant to book that Ukrainian money, which he said would be paid in November.

Here’s the thing about this meeting, which Trump’s campaign manager and his deputy attended even while the campaign was telling other associates to “take a rain check” on outreach from Russia. They, too, recognized the problem of being caught accepting such outreach. They just tried to avoid getting caught.

After the meeting, Gates and Manafort both. stated that they left separately from Kilimnik because they knew the media was tracking Manafort and wanted to avoid media reporting on his connections to Kilimnik.934

This is a point Amy Berman Jackson made when she ruled that Manafort had lied about this meeting (and the sharing of polling data).

If he was, as he told me, so single-mindedly focused on the campaign, then the meeting he took time to attend and had [redacted] had a purpose [redacted]. Or, if it was just part of his effort to [redacted], well, in that case he’s not being straight with me about how single-minded he was. It’s not good either way.

Plus, his asserted inability to remember rings hollow when the event we are discussing involving [redacted] not only [redacted] but he’s [redacted] with a specific understanding and intent that [redacted] at a meeting in which the participants made it a point of leaving separate because of the media attention focused at that very time on Manafort’ relationships with Ukraine.

Manafort had claimed he was so busy trying to win a campaign that he forgot the meeting at which he discussed carving up Ukraine in the same two hour discussion where he talked about the import of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin in winning that campaign. And to attend the meeting, he risked public scrutiny on precisely the Russian ties that every other member of the campaign was being told to discourage.

Update: This Amy Berman Jackson order reveals a little more about how Rick Gates’ updated testimony changes the story. It sounds like when Gates heard that prosecutors used Manafort’s order to Gates to print out polling data on August 2 to prove that he had shared it with Kilimnik, he contacted prosecutors and told them that they had, in fact, used it at the staff meeting that morning, which is the explanation Manafort gave for the order. He says he arrived late so doesn’t know if Manafort shared that particular polling data with Kilimnik.

But ABJ refused Manafort’s request for reconsideration of her judgment that he lied about that for several reasons:

  • He still lied about sharing polling data to be passed on to Ukrainian and Russian oligarchs
  • He still lied about the Ukraine “peace” deals
  • She still gave him credit for his plea

Given those details, the Manafort bid for reconsideration must just be an attempt to discredit what is one of the most damning details in the Mueller Report.

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. 

What if Julian Assange Flipped?

I’ve said this before, I’ll say it again: I hope to hell Chelsea Manning’s advisors are cognizant of the ways her attempts to avoid testifying against Julian Assange may put her in unforeseen legal jeopardy.

I’m thinking of that anew given my consideration of what I consider to be a distant, but real, possibility: that the US government would offer Assange a plea deal on the current charge he faces in exchange for testimony in a range of other issues. The idea is crazy, but perhaps not as crazy as it sounds.

As I laid out in this post, it seems the US government has been carefully orchestrating the Assange arrest since Ecuador first applied for diplomatic status for him in 2017 in an attempt to exfiltrate him, possibly to Russia. They’re now on the clock, with (depending on which expert you ask) just 44 more days to lard on the additional charges multiple outlets have reported are coming. Meanwhile, he’s being held at Belmarsh, with conflicting stories about what kind of visitors he’s been permitted — though the UN Special Rapporteur for Privacy did visit him this week. Though I’ve asked some top experts, it’s not entirely clear whether, if he were being interrogated right now, that’d be under UK law or US law; the former has fewer protections against self-incrimination for people being detained.

One passage of the Mueller Report may provide an explanation for why his prosecutors didn’t obtain Julian Assange’s testimony.

The Office limited its pursuit of other witnesses and information-such as information known to attorneys or individuals claiming to be members of the media-in light of internal Department of Justice policies. See, e.g., Justice Manual §§ 9-13.400, 13.410.

Assange would fall squarely within DOJ policy covering people who are subjects or targets of an investigation for activities related to their news-gathering activities.

Member of the news media as subject or target. In matters in which a member of the Department determines that a member of the news media is a subject or target of an investigation relating to an offense committed in the course of, or arising out of, newsgathering activities, the member of the Department requesting Attorney General authorization to use a subpoena, 2703(d) order, or 3123 order to obtain from a third party the communications records or business records of a member of the news media shall provide all facts necessary to a determination by the Attorney General regarding both whether the member of the news media is a subject or target of the investigation and whether to authorize the use of such subpoena or court order. 28 C.F.R. 50.10(c)(5)(i). If the Attorney General determines that the member of the news media is a subject or target of an investigation relating to an offense committed in the course of, or arising out of, newsgathering activities, the Attorney General’s determination should take into account the principles reflected in 28 C.F.R. 50.10(a), but need not take into account the considerations identified in 28 C.F.R. 50.10(c)(5)(ii) – (viii). Id. Members of the Department must consult with the PSEU regarding whether a member of the news media is a subject or target of an investigation related to an offense committed in the course of, or arising out of, newsgathering activities.

The EDVA case appears to have gotten over this policy (perhaps by distinguishing the assistance on cracking a password from newsgathering activities); but it’s not clear Mueller did (especially given the discussion of First Amendment considerations in passages relating to WikiLeaks). In any case, this calculus may change given that he’s in British, not US custody.

And there has been very little reporting on what’s going on with him — or with US investigations into him.

There are a number of investigations the government would love to get his testimony on, including:

Testimony against Joshua Schulte

Schulte is the accused Vault 7 leaker. WikiLeaks has been far less circumspect about the possibility he’s their source than with other leakers (while also engaging in far less of an effort to lay the case that he’s a whistleblower). Plus, the government has video evidence of Schulte attempting to leak classified information.

But thus far, Schulte’s prosecution has been slowed by CIA’s reluctance to share the classified information Schulte needs to defend himself. Plus, the FBI apparently bolloxed up the initial search warrants for Schulte (in what I suspect was a sloppy effort at parallel construction), which Schulte has been trying to win the ability to speak publicly about for over a year; he recently appealed a decision denying him a request to exempt those initial warrants from his protective order.

To the extent that Assange and Schulte (if he is really the Vault 7 source) communicated — and there’s good reason to believe WikiLeaks did communicate in advance of this publication — then Assange might be able to provide testimony that would get beyond the classification problems.

Testimony about the response to his pardon requests (including Roger Stone’s role in it)

I also believe that DOJ continues to investigate the long effort — an effort that includes Roger Stone, whom prosecutors say is still under investigation — in brokering a pardon for Assange, possibly in part for Assange providing disinformation about where the Democratic documents came from. Consider that, as recently as November, Mueller was trying to learn whether Trump had discussed pardoning Assange before his inauguration, a question about which Trump was especially contemptuous, even given his overall contempt for responding to questions.

Then there’s a subtle point I find really interesting. When the Mueller Report lays out all the times Don Jr magnified Russian trolls, it noted that the failson’s fondness for Russian propaganda continued after the election.

96 See, e.g., @DonaldJTrumpJr 10/26/16 Tweet (“RT @TEN_GOP: BREAKING Thousands of names changed on voter rolls in Indiana. Police investigating #VoterFraud. #DrainTheSwamp.”); @DonaldJTrumpJr 11/2/16 Tweet (“RT @TEN_GOP: BREAKING: #VoterFraud by counting tens of thousands of ineligible mail in Hillary votes being reported in Broward County, Florida.”); @DonaldJTrumpJr 11/8/16 Tweet CRT @TEN_GOP: This vet passed away last month before he could vote for Trump. Here he is in his #MAGA hat. #voted #ElectionDay.”). Trump Jr. retweeted additional @TEN_GOP content subsequent to the election.

[snip]

103 @DonaldJTrumpJr 11/7/16 Tweet (“RT @Pamela jetonc13. Detroit residents speak out against the failed policies of Obama, Hillary & democrats . . . . “) [my emphasis]

The page-long section (page 60) that lays out Don Jr’s innocuous pre-election interactions (which is how I described them when they were first published) does not, similarly, note the President’s son’s more damning interactions with WikiLeaks that took place after the election, where Assange once privately

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

And then publicly asked for an Ambassadorship that would amount to a pardon.

Given the thoroughness of the report, I find the silence about these exchanges to be notable.

Admittedly, one aspect of the pardon campaign implicates Assange far more than (at least given the public details) it does Trump: his seeming attempt at extortion using the CIA’s hacking tools. But that doesn’t mean the government wouldn’t like his testimony about the larger effort, and I have reason to suspect that is something they were pursuing via other channels as well.

WikiLeaks’ ongoing interactions with Russia

Finally, I’m sure the US government would be willing to give Assange some consideration if he offered to describe his interactions with Russia over the years. The most public aspect of that was the WikiLeaks effort to get Snowden safely out of Hong Kong, which ended unexpectedly in Russia. But there are also credible allegations WikiLeaks engaged in some catch-and-kill of damning documents, most publicly with an incriminating document from the Syria Files. Emma Best looks more closely at that incident in a longer profile of a Russian hacker, Maksym Igor Popov, who seemed to shift loyalties back and forth from the US to Russia even while cultivating Anonymous.

Simultaneously, Sabu, who had been boasting about an alleged breach of Iranian systems, pivoted to the then-pending Syria files. “We owned central syrian bank and got all their emails,” he told Popov. There were “a lot of scandals” in those emails. In the 2012 exchange, Popov is told about an alleged email revealing that Syria had secretly sent Russia billions of Euros. Sabu appears to confuse the amount, which was 2 billion, with an amount from a similar transfer involving an Austrian bank. Reporting by The Daily Dot implies that the two emails were often discussed in the same conversation, while also revealing that the email Sabu was describing to the alleged Russian contractor was omitted from WikiLeaks’ eventual release.

WikiLeaks responded to the reporting by claiming that they “either never had the data or [that it was] in some strange MIME format so it isn’t indexed,” and that the reporting was an attack on WikiLeaks that was meant “to help HRC.”

Popov was impressed by Sabu’s description of the Syria emails, though he briefly confused them with another, unspecified cache that Sabu hinted Popov helped release. “If you want real access to the emails, I can [give it to you],” Sabu offered. Popov responded ecstatically, saying he could use it to create disinformation and fabricate conspiracies. Undaunted by Popov’s intended use for the emails, Sabu said he’d “try to set it all up soon.”

This exchange occurred several months after WikiLeaks received the first batch of the Syria files and several weeks after WikiLeaks gave the LulzSec hackers private access to a search engine to help parse the Stratfor emails which the group had also provided to WikiLeaks.

19:16 <Sabu> though we did very well on syria.. we owned central syrian bank and got all their emails 19:16 <LoD> and Nepalese hack 19:16 <Sabu> a lot of scandals ... like syria sending russia 5 billion euros before civil unrest and when russia sent warsip to trait of whateves its called 19:16 <LoD> Ive actually checked it RESPECT syria gave me some things to mastermind my next operations those email accounts were of much help to improve our strategy 19:17 <LoD> i give you thumbs up 19:17 <Sabu> well we didn't realease it yet ... that was another small hack you released. if you want real access to emails I can ive you 19:17 <LoD> really? 19:17 <LoD> can you? 19:17 <LoD> man I WILL BE in DEBT 19:17 <LoD> I can utilize it in my release 19:18 <LoD> to create a conspiracy 19:18 <Sabu> ya I'll try to set it all up soon

If Popov acquired early access to the Syria files, it would have been the score of a lifetime, giving him an exclusive early inside look at corporations and governments. However, as any later logs of discussions between Popov and Sabu aren’t part of the leaked file, it’s unclear if Popov actually received early access to the Syria files.

Already by this time period in 2011, some former Anons were expressing concern that their operations were being facilitated by Russian infrastructure.

Some followers came to believe that the leaders sought only personal aggrandisement or were effectively in cahoots with the organised criminals who may have raided Sony’s credit-card hoard after Anonymous knocked down the door. Even stalwarts such as Housh are unhappy that much of Anonymous’s infrastructure is now housed on computers used by Russian criminals. “It’s not like the Russians wanted us to get HBGary, but I want to know personally why they are doing this,” he says of the chat hosts. “Where is the money coming from?”

To be sure: a tie with Anonymous is different than a tie directly with WikiLeaks, even if Anonymous was serving as one of WikiLeaks’ important source streams at the time. Further, Best notes that there’s no evidence in available files that Popov interacted directly with WikiLeaks — nor would there be, given the scope of the publicly available chat logs.

But, particularly given the allegations that Assange fed the Seth Rich hoax as part of an effort to deny that he knew he had gotten the Democratic files from Russia, I’m sure the US government would love to know from him about any ties between WikiLeaks and Russia.

Offering Assange a plea deal might be one way to close the book on WikiLeaks without the political controversy of a trial.

The question, of course, is whether Assange would take one. Admittedly, it’s highly unlikely.

Still, as noted, he repeatedly claimed he’d love to tell all if he could avoid prison altogether. But even in a best case scenario, he’s looking at a long extradition fight from Belmarsh in conditions that are reportedly pretty shitty. A plea deal might be one way to limit how much more time in custody he faces.

Which could bode poorly for people like Chelsea Manning, making significant sacrifices to protect Assange.

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 Did Mueller Include the June 9 Meeting Statement in His Obstruction Case?

I’ve got a bunch more posts on the Mueller Report I’m going to eventually write; I’ve still got a slew of theories and observations to share. But there’s one topic I just have guesses on, one I’d love to have more people weigh in on.

Why did Mueller’s team include Donald Trump’s statement on the June 9 meeting — which is described not as a false statement, but an effort to prevent the disclosure of Don Jr’s emails setting up the meeting — in his obstruction analysis?

The obstruction analysis on the June 9 meeting shows it’s not itself obstruction

As a number of reviews of the Mueller Report obstruction analysis show, the June 9 meeting cover-up is the one obstructive act where the report concludes the evidence did not establish it as an act of obstruction for all three factors:

As the obstruction analysis lays out, Trump talked hopefully about ensuring the emails didn’t get out, but there’s no evidence he took action, beyond lying publicly, to suppress them.

Each of these efforts by the President involved his communications team and was directed at the press. They would amount to obstructive acts only if the President, by taking these actions, sought to withhold information from or mislead congressional investigators or the Special Counsel. On May 17, 2017, the President’s campaign received a document request from SSCI that clearly covered the June 9 meeting and underlying emails, and those documents also plainly would have been relevant to the Special Counsel’s investigation.

But the evidence does not establish that the President took steps to prevent the emails or other information about the June 9 meeting from being provided to Congress or the Special Counsel. The series of discussions in which the President sought to limit access to the emails and prevent their public release occurred in the context of developing a press strategy.

It then repeats that analysis by showing that while withholding the emails might amount to obstruction, he did not withhold emails.

As noted above, the evidence does not establish that the President sought to prevent disclosure of the emails in those official proceedings.

Then, in the intent section, it shows Trump’s central role in crafting the adoptions statement, while again concluding that the statement doesn’t amount to withholding the email.

The evidence establishes the President’s substantial involvement in the communications strategy related to information about his campaign’s connections to Russia and his desire to minimize public disclosures about those connections. The President became aware of the emails no later than June 29, 2017, when he discussed them with Hicks and Kushner, and he could have been aware of them as early as June 2, 2017, when lawyers for the Trump Organization began interviewing witnesses who participated in the June 9 meeting. The President thereafter repeatedly rejected the advice of Hicks and other staffers to publicly release information about the June 9 meeting. The President expressed concern that multiple people had access to the emails and instructed Hicks that only one lawyer should deal with the matter. And the President dictated a statement to be released by Trump Jr. in response to the first press accounts of the June 9 meeting that said the meeting was about adoption.

But as described above, the evidence does not establish that the President intended to prevent the Special Counsel’s Office or Congress from obtaining the emails setting up the June 9 meeting or other information about that meeting.

Curiously, this analysis of intent doesn’t talk about why Trump may have wanted to hide the truth about the June 9 meeting, even though elsewhere the report suggests that, overall, one motive for Trump obstructing the investigation might be because he thought the June 9 meeting would be found to be criminal.

So Mueller spent over eight pages laying out whether Trump’s role in crafting a deceitful statement about the June 9 meeting was obstruction of justice when, according to the report’s analysis of obstruction of justice, it was not even a close call.

So why — in a report that might better be understood as an impeachment referral — did they include that?

Trump’s statement on the June 9 meeting as evidence of corrupt intent for other obstructive acts

I’ve commented elsewhere that one of the posts I’ll eventually do is a narratological analysis of the report. I said that, in part, for the way the report intersperses several acts of potential Trump obstruction that all happened during the same time period in summer 2017. While the report only mentions this in passing, Trump’s lies about the June 9 meeting occur during the same time frame as three other potential obstructive acts that the report shows do amount to obstruction: the effort to get Don McGahn to get Rod Rosenstein to fire Mueller, the request that Corey Lewandowski (!!) fire Jeff Sessions, and the effort to get Sessions to unrecuse.

And, as noted, the June 9 meeting is one of three things — along with the Trump Tower Moscow deal and Trump’s push to have Roger Stone optimize the release of the stolen emails — that the report posits might be the underlying facts Trump was attempting to hide with his other obstruction (note that the report never focuses on Mike Flynn’s discussion on sanctions, which I’ll return to in a later post).

Which suggests Trump’s involvement in the June 9 statement is there not for those actions themselves, but for the way his actions prove corrupt intent for other obstructive actions.

A story describing Trump’s unique actions that nevertheless leaves out the biggest detail

Still, the specific story the report tells is damning. It includes details that suggest this was a unique event, with Trump trying to retain plausible deniability even though several witnesses say he knew about the meeting, and describing Trump preferring to break his cardinal sin, remaining silent on a story. But note that the story leaves out one of the most important details: Vladimir Putin’s interactions with the President during the day Trump wrote his deceitful statement.

Here’s the story, as told in the obstruction section.

Trump claims he didn’t know about the meeting ahead of time, contrary to what several witnesses said.

According to written answers submitted by the President in response to questions from this Office, the President had no recollection of learning of the meeting or the emails setting it up at the time the meeting occurred or at any other time before the election 668

The Chief of Staff learns about the meeting from Sean Hannity, which is just crazy train.

[Reince] Priebus recalled learning about the June 9 meeting from Fox News host Sean Hannity in late June 2017.672

Trump tells Jared not to share details of the meeting with him, according to Hope Hicks.

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.’

[snip]

On June 28, 2017, Hicks viewed the emails at Kushner’s attorney’s office 68° She recalled being shocked by the emails because they looked “really bad.”68′ 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.”‘ 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!'” Hicks recalled that the President asked Kushner when his document production was due.699 Kushner responded that it would be a couple of weeks and the President said, “then leave it alone.”‘ 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

But Jared claims that didn’t happen. This narrative is largely sourced to interviews with Hope Hicks. Even in his second interview, Jared said it didn’t happen this way.

Hicks 12/7/17 302, at 7; Hicks 3/13/18 302, at I. Counsel for Ivanka Trump provided an attorney proffer that is consistent with Hicks’s account and with the other events involving Ivanka Trump set forth in this section of the report. Kushner said that he did not recall talking to the President at this time about the June 9 meeting or the underlying emails. Kushner 4/11/18 302, at 30.

Hicks is confused about why Trump wants to commit his ultimate sin.

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 Later that day, Hicks and the President again spoke about the story.698 Hicks recalled that the President asked her what the meeting had been about, and she said that she had been told the meeting was about Russian adoption.699 The President responded, “then just say that.”706

The Report neglects to mention the Putin meeting where he and Trump talked about the subject of the statement.

[see this post]

Trump edits Jr’s statement because it admits they were offered dirt and discussed sanctions relief, defaulting on Putinesque spin.

On the flight home from the G20 on July 8, 2017, Hicks obtained a draft statement about the meeting to be released by Trump Jr. and brought it to the President.701 The draft statement began with a reference to the information that was offered by the Russians in setting up the meeting: “I was asked to have a meeting by an acquaintance I knew from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant with an individual who I was told might have information helpful to the campaign.”702 Hicks again wanted to disclose the entire story, but the President directed that the statement not be issued because it said too much.703 The President told Hicks to say only that Trump Jr. took a brief meeting and it was about Russian adoption.704 After speaking with the President, Hicks texted Trump Jr. a revised statement on the June 9 meeting that read:

It was a short meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. We discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at that time and there was no follow up. 705

Hicks’s text concluded, “Are you ok with this? Attributed to you.”706 Trump Jr. responded by text message that he wanted to add the word “primarily” before “discussed” so that the statement would read, “We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children.”707 Trump Jr. texted that he wanted the change because “[t]hey started with some Hillary thing which was bs and some other nonsense which we shot down fast. “708 Hicks texted back, “I think that’s right too but boss man worried it invites a lot of questions[.) [U]ltimately [d]efer to you and [your attorney] on that word Be I know it’s important and I think the mention of a campaign issue adds something to it in case we have to go further.” 709 Trump Jr. responded, “lfl don’t have it in there it appears as though I’m lying later when they inevitably leak something.” 710

Hope Hicks channels the President hoping the damning emails would never leak.

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 emaiis would leak.726

Trump’s flunkies deny that the guy who met Vladimir Putin twice during the drafting of the statement wrote the statement.

Over the next several days, the President’s personal counsel repeatedly and inaccurately denied that the President played any role in drafting Trump Jr. ‘s statement.729 After consulting with the President on the issue, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told the media that the President “certainly didn’t dictate” the statement, but that “he weighed in, offered suggestions like any father would do.”730

The Report again neglects to mention the Putin meeting where he and Trump spoke about the subject of the statement.

On July 19, 2017, the President had his follow-up meeting with Lewandowski and then met with reporters for the New York Times. In addition to criticizing Sessions in his Times interview, the President addressed the June 9, 2016 meeting and said he “didn’t know anything about the meeting” at the time.734 The President added, “As I’ve said-most other people, you know, when they call up and say, ‘By the way, we have information on your opponent,’ I think most politicians – I was just with a lot of people, they said … , ‘Who wouldn’ t have taken a meeting like that?”‘735

[see this post]

Providing the framework for the Putin involvement

As I’ve said, I think it remarkable — though perhaps explicable on constitutional grounds — that the report does not mention Putin’s role in all of this, and Trump’s bizarre behavior at the G20 (where he had Ivanka sit in on a meeting while he worked on the statement) more generally. Trump’s interactions with Putin — and his efforts to keep them secret even from staffers — is the subject of other congressional investigation. Which is why this passage from the beginning of the obstruction section sticks out.

Given those considerations, the facts known to us, and the strong public interest in safeguarding the integrity of the criminal justice system, we conducted a thorough factual investigation in order to preserve the evidence when memories were fresh and documentary materials were available.

As noted, I think Mueller included the June 9 meeting statement not because it, by itself, amounts to obstruction, but because the evidence laid out — plus evidence available publicly or via separate congressional investigation — provides an important motivational explanation for the rest of it. Trump made three separate attempts to gut the Mueller investigation in this period, all at a time he was acting unusually (for him) in his efforts to bury the June 9 meeting.

This is the lie he was telling while using his office to try to stop the investigation. Or rather, this is the lie he and Vladimir Putin were telling.

EMPTYWHEEL’S MUELLER REPORT COVERAGE

Two Exceptions to Trump’s “Do Not Recall” Responses: A Limited Answer on an Assange Pardon and a Non-Answer on Sanctions Relief

The Significance of Trump’s Obstruction of Investigation of His Family’s Campaign Finance Crimes, Plural

How “Collusion” Appears in the Mueller Report

Putin’s Ghost: The Counterintelligence Calculus Not Included in the Obstruction Analysis

Working Twitter Threads on the Mueller Report

The Trump Men and the Grand Jury Redactions

Mueller’s Language about “Collusion,” Coordination, and Conspiracy

The Many Lies and Prevarications of Bill Barr

Giorgi Rtslchiladze’s Honor Has Been Sullied because He Can’t Decide Whether He Knows the Tapes He Suppressed Exist or Not

Why Did Mueller Include the June 9 Meeting Statement in His Obstruction Case?

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. 

Putin’s Ghost: The Counterintelligence Calculus Not Included in the Obstruction Analysis

The Mueller Report does not include the investigation’s counterintelligence analysis. It says that explicitly here (see also this Ben Wittes report, though I think he gets a few things wrong).

From its inception, the Office recognized that its investigation could identify foreign intelligence and counterintelligence information relevant to the FBI’s broader national security mission. FBI personnel who assisted the Office established procedures to identify and convey such information to the FBI. The FBI’s Counterintelligence Division met with the Office regularly for that purpose for most of the Office’s tenure. For more than the past year, the FBI also embedded personnel at the Office who did not work on the Special Counsel’s investigation, but whose purpose was to review the results of the investigation and to send-in writing-summaries of foreign intelligence and counterintelligence information to FBIHQ and FBI Field Offices. Those communications and other correspondence between the Office and the FBI contain information derived from the investigation, not all of which is contained in this Volume. This Volume is a summary. It contains, in the Office’s judgment, that information necessary to account for the Special Counsel’s prosecution and declination decisions and to describe the investigation’s main factual results. [my emphasis]

These FBI Agents were only co-located for part of Mueller’s tenure, perhaps around the same time as the IRA indictment? And this description does not include the three NSD prosecutors described as detailees, Heather Alpino, Ryan Dickey, and Jessica Romero, as distinct from prosecutors originally assigned to Mueller.

Plus, we know there was always a counterintelligence focus to this investigation; all the initial subjects of it (Manafort, Page, Papadopoulos, and Flynn) were counterintelligence concerns. Other Trump associates got added in October 2017, but even there, the investigation into Michael Cohen started as a FARA investigation and Gates and probably others were brought in along with Manafort’s counterintelligence concerns. Then there’s Trump (who must have been brought in for obstruction, but I don’t think the report says how).

But the most significant thing that doesn’t show up in this report is whether Trump was undercutting the investigation as a favor to Russia, reportedly one of the concerns Rod Rosenstein had when he first hired Mueller. This report does not explicitly treat that concern, at all (to significant detriment to one area of its analysis, as I’ll show in a follow-up post).

That’s most evident in the way the report deals with Vladimir Putin in the post-inauguration period. The report itself invokes Putin at least 163 times, often describing the many different efforts to set up a meeting between Putin and Trump. But when Trump actually started meeting with top Russian officials — and Putin specifically — the report gets quiet.

We finally get a read-out of the January 28 phone call

Start with the phone call between Trump and Putin on January 28, 2017. The report describes that setting up this call was among the things Mike Flynn spoke to Sergey Kislyak about.

Flynn discussed multiple topics with Kislyak, including the sanctions, scheduling a video teleconference between President-Elect Trump and Putin, an upcoming terrorism conference, and Russia’s views about the Middle East.

That Kislyak asked him to set up the call was actually something Flynn told the FBI the truth about in his interview with the FBI. More importantly, the report reveals several details that previous reporting about the George Nader channel did not: first, the role of Jared Kushner’s hedge fund buddy Rick Gerson in that back channel with Kirill Dmitriev, and the role that a “reconciliation plan” that Dmitriev got to Kushner via Gerson played in that January 28 meeting.

On January 16, 2017, Dmitriev consolidated the ideas for U.S.-Russia reconciliation that he and Gerson had been discussing into a two-page document that listed five main points: (1) jointly fighting terrorism; (2) jointly engaging in anti-weapons of mass destruction efforts; (3) developing “win-win” economic and investment initiatives; (4) maintaining an honest, open, and continual dialogue regarding issues of disagreement; and (5) ensuring proper communication and trust by “key people” from each country. 1111 On January 18, 2017, Gerson gave a copy of the document to Kushner. 1112 Kushner had not heard of Dmitriev at that time. 1113 Gerson explained that Dmitriev was the head of RDIF, and Gerson may have alluded to Dmitriev’s being well connected. 1114 Kushner placed the document in a file and said he would get it to the right people. 1115 Kushner ultimately gave one copy of the document to Bannon and another to Rex Tillerson; according to Kushner, neither of them followed up with Kushner about it. 1116 On January 19, 2017, Dmitriev sent Nader a copy of the two-page document, telling him that this was “a view from our side that I discussed in my meeting on the islands and with you and with our friends. Please share with them – we believe this is a good foundation to start from.” 1117

Gerson informed Dmitriev that he had given the document to Kushner soon after delivering it. 1118 On January 26, 2017, Dmitriev wrote to Gerson that his “boss”-an apparent reference to Putin-was asking if there had been any feedback on the proposal. 1119 Dmitriev said, ” [w]e do not want to rush things and move at a comfortable speed. At the same time, my boss asked me to try to have the key US meetings in the next two weeks if possible.”1120 He informed Gerson that Putin and President Trump would speak by phone that Saturday, and noted that that information was “very confidential.”1121

The same day, Dmitriev wrote to Nader that he had seen his “boss” again yesterday who had “emphasized that this is a great priority for us and that we need to build this communication channel to avoid bureaucracy.” 1122 On January 28, 2017, Dmitriev texted Nader that he wanted “to see if I can confirm to my boss that your friends may use some of the ideas from the 2 pager I sent you in the telephone call that will happen at 12 EST,”1123 an apparent reference to the call scheduled between President Trump and Putin. Nader replied, “Definitely paper was so submitted to Team by Rick and me. They took it seriously!”1124 After the call between President Trump and Putin occurred, Dmitriev wrote to Nader that “the call went very well. My boss wants me to continue making some public statements that us [sic] Russia cooperation is good and important.” 1125 Gerson also wrote to Dmitriev to say that the call had gone well, and Dmitriev replied that the document they had drafted together “played an important role.” 1126 [my emphasis]

This was a meeting that the US side provided just a terse readout of (and, if I remember correctly, only after Russia released its readout). 27 months later, we’re learning that Dmitriev (whose bank was of questionable status because of sanctions) and convicted pedophile Nader were prepping the meeting less than an hour before it began (the report cites text messages between them from 11:05 and 11:11 AM the morning of the 12PM meeting, as well as texts involving Gerson). Between them, the two of them plus Gerson (none of whom had clearance) had a better sense of how the meeting went than the American public. Among the things they learned — but we did not — was that part of the reconciliation plan included “win-win” economic and investment initiatives pitched by the head of RDIF.

The lead-up to this meeting is the subject about which Steve Bannon and Erik Prince mysteriously lost the encrypted texts they exchanged discussing it.

While the report does describe this meeting in its assessment of links between Russians and Trump associates, it doesn’t focus on how it lines up with questions about firing Mike Flynn.

The correlation of Trump’s decision to fire Comey and his conversation with Putin

The report gets still more coy when it describes the role of a meeting with Sergey Lavrov and Sergey Kislyak the day after Trump fired Jim Comey. One of the most pregnant footnotes in the report (h/t Laura Rozen) notes that the May 10, 2017 meeting was planned in a call between Putin and Trump and confirmed the day Trump first dictated the Comey termination at Bedminster Golf Course.

468 SCR08_000353 (5/9/17 White House Document, “Working Visit with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov of Russia”); SCR08_001274 (5/10/17 Email, Ciaramella to Kelly et al.). The meeting had been planned on May 2, 2017, during a telephone call between the President and Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the meeting date was confirmed on May 5, 2017, the same day the President dictated ideas for the Comey termination letter to Stephen Miller. SCR08_001274 (5/10/17 Email, Ciaramella to Kelly et al.).

According to Don McGahn, in the leadup to Comey’s May 3 testimony to Congress, Trump told him that if Comey did not confirm that Trump was not under investigation it would “be the last straw” because it was “hurting his ability to … deal with foreign leaders.”

McGahn recalled that in the week leading up to the hearing, the President said that it would be the last straw if Comey did not take the opportunity to set the record straight by publicly announcing that the President was not under investigation.384 The President had previously told McGahn that the perception that the President was under investigation was hurting his ability to carry out his presidential duties and deal with foreign leaders.385

Trump brought up Comey at least 8 times with Bannon in the following two days, and Bannon warned Trump not to fire Comey.

Bannon recalled that the President brought Comey up with him at least eight times on May 3 and May 4, 2017 .399 According to Bannon, the President said the same thing each time: “He told me three times I’m not under investigation. He’s a showboater. He’s a grandstander. I don’t know any Russians. There was no collusion.”400 Bannon told the President that he could not fire Comey because “that ship had sailed.”401 Bannon also told the President that firing Comey was not going to stop the investigation, cautioning him that he could fire the FBI director but could not fire the FBI.402

On the 5th — the day (the report helpfully notes) the Russian meeting was confirmed — Trump dictated to Stephen Miller to start Comey’s termination letter by stating that the Trump-Russia story was fabricated.

[T]he President told Miller that the letter should start, “While I greatly appreciate you informing me that I am not under investigation concerning what I have often stated is a fabricated story on a Trump-Russia relationship – pertaining to the 2016 presidential election, please be informed that I, and I believe the American public – including Ds and Rs – have lost faith in you as Director of the FBI.”

Trump prohibited Miller from telling anyone at the White House about his plan to fire Comey.

All that would lead you to believe the report might make further note about this correlation, about the appearance (which had already been suggested, but the report makes far more clear) that Trump took action in advance of that meeting.

It doesn’t really. The description of the meeting does make clear that, in the wake of Trump’s comments to Lavrov boasting about firing Comey, the White House released a statement that incorporated and expanded on the language about Comey’s grandstanding from finalized Miller letter drafted at Bedminster.

In the morning on May 10, 2017, President Trump met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in the Oval Office.468 The media subsequently reported that during the May 10 meeting the President brought up his decision the prior day to terminate Comey, telling Lavrov and Kislyak: “T just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off. … I’m not under investigation.”469 The President never denied making those statements, and the White House did not dispute the account, instead issuing a statement that said: “By grandstanding and politicizing the investigation into Russia’s actions, James Comey created unnecessary pressure on our ability to engage and negotiate with Russia. The investigation would have always continued, and obviously, the termination of Comey would not have ended it. Once again, the real story is that our national security has been undermined by the leaking of private and highly classified information.”470 Hicks said that when she told the President about the reports on his meeting with Lavrov, he did not look concerned and said of Comey, “he is crazy.”471 When McGahn asked the President about his comments to Lavrov, the President said it was good that Comey was fired because that took the pressure off by making it clear that he was not under investigation so he could get more work done.472 [my emphasis]

What the report doesn’t mention, at all, is that Trump shared sensitive Israeli intelligence with the Russians at this meeting, an obvious counterintelligence concern.

Trump’s secret co-author on the June 9 meeting statement

An even more remarkable silence in the report pertains to the conversation Trump had with Putin at the G20 while his team was working on drafting the statement about the June 9 meeting.

The description of Trump’s actions on this matter are fairly superlative, with Hope Hicks describing Trump in what is best described as denial, refusing to be included in conversations about it, yet strongly suggesting that it was Trump making the comment — suggesting they could withhold the damning emails — that Mark Corallo later attributed to her. Hicks even describes Trump as committing what he considered the ultimate sin, not commenting on a 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

The report then describes how (in what would have been in the wake of Trump’s first face-to-face meeting with Putin) Trump instructed her to claim the meeting was just about adoptions. It then describes Trump dictating a statement, watering down the offer of dirt to just adoptions, something that not even Don Jr was willing to put out.

Later that day, Hicks and the President again spoke about the story.698 Hicks recalled that the President asked her what the meeting had been about, and she said that she had been told the meeting was about Russian adoption.699 The President responded, “then just say that.”700

On the flight home from the G20 on July 8, 2017, Hicks obtained a draft statement about the meeting to be released by Trump Jr. and brought it to the President.701 The draft statement began with a reference to the information that was offered by the Russians in setting up the meeting: “I was asked to have a meeting by an acquaintance I knew from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant with an individual who I was told might have information helpful to the campaign.”702 Hicks again wanted to disclose the entire story, but the President directed that the statement not be issued because it said too much.703 The President told Hicks to say only that Trump Jr. took a brief meeting and it was about Russian adoption.704 After speaking with the President, Hicks texted Trump Jr. a revised statement on the June 9 meeting that read:

It was a short meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. We discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at that time and there was no follow up. 705

Hicks’s text concluded, “Are you ok with this? Attributed to you.”706 Trump Jr. responded by text message that he wanted to add the word “primarily” before “discussed” so that the statement would read, “We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children.”707 Trump Jr. texted that he wanted the change because “[t]hey started with some Hillary thing which was bs and some other nonsense which we shot down fast. “708 Hicks texted back, “I think that’s right too but boss man worried it invites a lot of questions[.) [U]ltimately [d]efer to you and [your attorney] on that word Be I know it’s important and I think the mention of a campaign issue adds something to it in case we have to go further.” 709 Trump Jr. responded, “lfl don’t have it in there it appears as though I’m lying later when they inevitably leak something.” 710

The passage mentions nothing about Trump’s meeting, with no American aides, with Putin at the G20 dinner in between the first discussion of a statement about adoptions and the one Trump drafted personally.

Nor does the report, in repeated discussions of Trump’s unplanned interview with the NYT at which he admitted discussing adoptions with Putin that night, mention that admission.

Within hours of the President’s meeting with Lewandowski on July 19, 2017, the President gave an unplanned interview to the New York Times in which he criticized Sessions’s decision to recuse from the Russia investigation.630 The President said that “Sessions should have never recused himself, and if he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me before he took the job, and I would have picked somebody else.”631 Sessions’s recusal, the President said, was “very unfair to the president. How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks, Jeff, but I can’t, you know, I’m not going to take you.’ It’s extremely unfair, and that’s a mild word, to the president.”632 Hicks, who was present for the interview, recalled trying to “throw [herself] between the reporters and [the President]” to stop parts of the interview, but the President “loved the interview.”633

[snip]

On July 19, 2017, the President had his follow-up meeting with Lewandowski and then met with reporters for the New York Times. In addition to criticizing Sessions in his Times interview, the President addressed the June 9, 2016 meeting and said he “didn’t know anything about the meeting” at the time.734 The President added, “As I’ve said-most other people, you know, when they call up and say, ‘By the way, we have information on your opponent,’ I think most politicians – I was just with a lot of people, they said … , ‘Who wouldn’t have taken a meeting like that?”‘735

Trump’s admission that he spoke to Putin about adoptions in the same interview where he prepared the ground to fire Sessions and insisted that everyone would take a meeting with foreigners offering dirt on your opponent would seem important to the discussion of whether in attempting to fire Sessions, Trump was obstructing not a criminal investigation into his own conduct, but a counterintelligence investigation into his own ties with Putin.

But the report not only doesn’t consider it, the report doesn’t mention it.

Nor does the report discuss some of the other bizarre Trump interactions with Putin, most of all the Helsinki meeting that took place in the wake of the release of the GRU indictment, leading Trump to yet again very publicly deny Russia’s role in the attack, that time in the presence of Putin himself.

Now, there may be very good constitutional reasons why the analysis of Trump’s weird relationship with Putin as President is not part of this report. The President is empowered with fairly unlimited authority to conduct foreign policy and to declassify information, which would cover these instances.

Plus, if Mueller conducted this analysis, you wouldn’t want to share that publicly so the Russians could read it.

But it must be noted that the report doesn’t answer what a lot of people think it does: whether Trump has been compromised by Russia, leading him to pursue policies damaging to US interests. Let me very clear: I don’t think Trump is a puppet being managed by Vladimir Putin. But contrary to a great number of claims that this report puts those concerns to rest, the report does the opposite. With the limited exception of the suggestion of a tie between firing Comey and the meeting with Lavrov, the report doesn’t even mention the key incidents that would be the subject of such analysis.

If anything, new details released in this report provide even further reason to think Trump obstructed the Russian investigation to halt the counterintelligence analysis of his ties with Russia. But the report itself doesn’t ever explicitly consider whether that’s why Trump obstructed this investigation.

Update: As TC noted, one thing the report does include is the detail that during a period he was trying to fire Sessions, Trump wanted him to limit Mueller’s mandate to future elections, which would have the effect of limiting the investigation into Russia’s crime as well as any potential exposure of his own.

During the June 19 meeting, Lewandowski recalled that, after some small talk, the President brought up Sessions and criticized his recusal from the Russia investigation.605

The President told Lewandowski that Sessions was weak and that if the President had known about the likelihood of recusal in advance, he would not have appointed Sessions.606 The President then asked Lewandowski to deliver a message to Sessions and said “write this down.” 607 This was the first time the President had asked Lewandowski to take dictation, and Lewandowski wrote as fast as possible to make sure he captured the content correctly.608 The President directed that Sessions should give a speech publicly announcing: I know that I recused myself from certain things having to do with specific areas. But our POTUS . .. is being treated very unfairly. He shouldn’t have a Special Prosecutor/Counsel b/c he hasn’t done anything wrong. I was on the campaign w/ him for nine months, there were no Russians involved with him. I know it for a fact b/c I was there. He didn’t do anything wrong except he ran the greatest campaign in American history.609

The dictated message went on to state that Sessions would meet with the Special Counsel to limit his jurisdiction to future election interference:

Now a group of people want to subvert the Constitution of the United States. T am going to meet with the Special Prosecutor to explain this is very unfair and let the Special Prosecutor move forward with investigating election meddling for future elections so that nothing can happen in future elections.610

emptywheel’s Mueller Report coverage

The Significance of Trump’s Obstruction of Investigation of His Family’s Campaign Finance Crimes, Plural

How “Collusion” Appears in the Mueller Report

Putin’s Ghost: The Counterintelligence Calculus Not Included in the Obstruction Analysis

Working Twitter Threads on the Mueller Report

The Trump Men and the Grand Jury Redactions

Mueller’s Language about “Collusion,” Coordination, and Conspiracy

The Many Lies and Prevarications of Bill Barr

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 Trump Men and the Grand Jury Redactions

Much of the discussion over the Mueller Report in the last day has centered on two questions: Why didn’t Mueller force both Donald Trumps to testify?

That discussion, however, has largely not taken notice of two redactions of grand jury materials. The first comes on page 117, at the beginning of the discussion of the June 9 meeting. After saying that the office had spoken with every participant of the meeting save Natalia Veselnitskaya and Don Jr, it explains that the President’s son would not testify voluntarily, which is followed by a grand jury redaction.

Update: Here’s a second instance where discussion of Jr’s testimony is redacted for grand jury reasons.

One likely explanation for these redactions is that they explain the Special Counsel’s consideration of subpoenaing the failson to appear before the grand jury. They might say, for example, that the grand jury did subpoena him, but that he invoked the Fifth. They might say they considered it but decided not to upon being told that he would invoke the Fifth.

The report does say (page 5 of Volume I) that some people invoked the Fifth but weren’t given immunity.

Some individuals invoked their Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination and were not, in the Office’s judgment, appropriate candidates for grants of immunity.

There’s one other possible explanation for the redaction: It might say they decided against subpoenaing him since he was a target of the investigation (and given the very narrow statements about findings of criminal conspiracy, it’s possible his later conduct is still under investigation).

The second redaction comes on page 13 of the obstruction volume, in the discussion of attempts to get the President to provide testimony. After stating that the Special Counsel tried to get Trump to sit for a voluntary interview, only to have Trump stall for more than a year, there’s a redacted sentence or two.

The discussion explaining that the office had the authority and legal justification to call the President is not redacted. That suggests the redacted line must pertain to something actually involving the grand jury itself — perhaps a characterization of the discussion with the grand jurors about the issue or maybe even something noting that the grand jurors did want to subpoena the President.

Update: Here’s a second instance of a redacted grand jury discussion.

In other words, for both the Trump men, there remains an open question about how they dodged testifying about their actions. These two redactions are two of the things Bill Barr is protecting by refusing to ask Chief Judge Beryl Howell to approve sharing of grand jury material with the House Judiciary Committee, as is constitutionally proper. Given how little grand jury material we’re actually discussing, it is all the more problematic that Barr is hiding these two passages even while claiming — as he did yesterday — that the President fully cooperated with the investigation.

We don’t know why Mueller didn’t call Don Jr to testify, and we don’t know whether the grand jury wanted to force the President to testify.

Those are two questions, however, that House Judiciary Committee is in a constitutionally proper position to demand to know.

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 Debate We May Be Having Tomorrow: If Trump Obstructed Justice to Hide Compromise by Russia, Could that Be a Crime?

In my How to Read the Mueller Report post, I said that if Bill Barr’s memo (which claims the report is broken into just two sections, one on the trolls and hack-and-leak activities, and one on the obstruction question) is to be believed, the report won’t provide much detail about the second half of Mueller’s mandate: to figure out the nature of links between Trump’s flunkies and various Russians.

But we have good reason to believe Barr’s memo is not reliable.

Plus, there’s this passage that came out during the pushback from Mueller’s team.

According to a senior law enforcement official who has spoken to members of Mueller’s team, Mueller team members say it includes detailed accounts of Trump campaign contacts with Russia. While Mueller found no coordination or criminal conspiracy, the official said, some on the special counsel’s team say his findings paint a picture of a campaign whose members were manipulated by a sophisticated Russian intelligence operation. Some of that information may be classified, the official said, so it’s not clear whether it will be released in a few weeks when Barr makes public a redacted version of the Mueller report.

At the time Mueller’s prosecutors were leaking to correct Barr’s misleading portrayal of their report, a story said that the report actually shows that Trump’s team was susceptible to the manipulation of people working for Russia.

That is, it may not so much be that Mueller’s team found Trump and his flunkies’ conduct criminal. Rather, maybe they found their conduct naive — susceptible to compromise by Russia.

Their venality likely contributed to their vulnerability as well.

Such a conclusion is what I was pointing to when I suggested one question the report will answer is, “Did Mueller decide Don Jr is simply too stupid to enter into a conspiracy?” The evidence already in the public record, after all, shows that Don Jr took a meeting offering dirt at a time when he believed that cozying up to Russia could help the family business land a ridiculously lucrative $300 million real estate deal. At the end of the meeting, he told Russians who might be deemed agents of the government that the Trumps would revisit sanctions relief if his dad got elected. And contrary to the Trump camp’s public claims, there not only was follow-up after Trump won, but Trump himself did make moves towards giving Russia that sanctions relief.

That exchange could fit all the elements of a conspiracy charge: an agreement to trade dirt and real estate for sanctions relief and overt acts to further the conspiracy. Unless you figured the key player at the center of the agreement to enter into a conspiracy, Don Jr, is too stupid to know what he’s doing.

The leaked conclusion that Trump’s flunkies were manipulated by a sophisticated intelligence operation sure seems to support the “too stupid to enter into a conspiracy” conclusion.

All that said, the only way that such analysis would be consistent with both the regulatory mandate of the report (limiting the report to a discussion of prosecutions and declinations) and Barr’s description of it (saying it was split into the hack-and-leak and trolling section, and the obstruction section) would be if that analysis appeared in the obstruction section. (Frankly, I suspect Barr’s memo is wrong on this point, as Mueller would need to explain that Don Jr is too stupid to enter into a conspiracy, if that’s why he decided not to charge him in one).

That is, it may be that what Trump was obstructing was not criminal conduct, a knowingly engaged conspiracy, but stupid conduct, his failson saying all the words that amount to entering into a conspiracy, without realizing he was entering into one.

The reason Trump may have fired Mike Flynn and Jim Comey and pushed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress may be to hide that he got badly used by Putin’s envoys who appealed to Trump’s narcissism and greed to get him (in the form of his especially stupid son) to agree to sanctions relief.

Such a conclusion would be consistent with the reason Barr exonerated Trump, in usurping Congress’ authority to make that judgment: Trump and his failson didn’t so much knowingly commit a crime — they didn’t mean to enter into a conspiracy with the Russians, it just happened because they’re too weak to resist. Under such analysis, because Trump didn’t commit a crime, he had no crime to obstruct, and therefore did not obstruct.

Again, this is all hypothesis based on the known outlines of the report, at least as presented by an Attorney General who can’t be trusted.

Given that it’s a possibility, however, I want to prepare for the possibility that tomorrow we’ll be debating whether a President can obstruct justice to prevent voters from learning how badly he and his dumb son compromised themselves in an foreign intelligence operation in the course of running a presidential election to get rich.

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. 

How to Read the Mueller Report

Politico has a piece describing how key players will read the Mueller report that starts by admitting the usual workaround — reading the index — won’t work.

The capital has already evolved one model for processing a big tell-all book: “the Washington read,” where you scan the index (assuming there is one) to find everything it says about you, your boss and your enemies and then fake like you’ve read the rest. But this time that won’t be enough. The goods might not come easily. They might be buried in an obscure subsection. And there’s way more at stake than in the typical gossipy memoir.

Further down, David Litt graciously included me on a list of legal and analytical voices he’ll turn to to help understand the report.

Former Obama White House speechwriter David Litt will have Twitter open while he’s making his way through the report, watching in particular for posts from several of the more prominent legal and analytical voices who have narrated the story’s plot twists as it evolved: Ken White (@popehat), Mimi Rocah (@Mimirocah1), Renato Mariotti (@Renato_Mariotti), Marcy Wheeler (@emptywheel), Neal Katyal (@neal_katyal) “for the definitive word on special-counsel regs” and Nate Silver and FiveThirtyEight “to think through the political implications.”

Since most of the methods described by Politico’s sources actually will be counterproductive for anything but rushing a self-serving message to the press, I thought I’d lay out some tips for how I’ll read it.

Understand what the report is and is not

Even before Barr releases the report, those planning on reading it would do well to reflect on what it is — and what it is not. It is, by regulation, a report on the prosecutions and declinations the Mueller team took during their tenure.

It is not supposed to be, contrary to many claims, a report on everything that Mueller discovered. Already there have been hints that it will not include the second half of Rod Rosenstein’s mandate to Mueller — to figure out the nature of links between Trump’s team and Russia. If that stuff is excluded, then it probably will get reported, secretly, to the Intelligence Committees and no further. That’s important because the stuff that would compromise Trump — but would not necessarily implicate him in a crime — may by definition not show up in this report (though the stuff specifically relating to Trump may show up in the obstruction case).

Finally, it’s unclear how much Mueller will include about referrals and ongoing investigations. I expect he’ll include descriptions of the things he and Rosenstein decided deserved further prosecutorial scrutiny but did not fit under the narrow rubric of whether Trump’s team coordinated or conspired with the Russian government on the hack-and-leak. But with the sole exception of three known referrals: the hush payments negotiated by Michael Cohen, the prosecution of Mike Flynn partner Bijan Kian, and the prosecution of Sam Patten, I expect any discussion of these matters to be redacted — appropriately so.

Map out what we already know about prosecutorial decisions

Since the report is by regulation supposed to describe the prosecutorial and declination decisions, we already know much of what will show up in the report, because Mueller has helpfully showed his prosecutorial decisions right here on his webpage. Here are some questions we should expect the report to answer (working from the bottom):

Papadopoulos

  • Why did Mueller consider George Papadopoulos’ lies to the FBI material to the investigation? [Note, Mueller has already answered this in Papadopoulos’ sentencing memo.]
  • Did Mueller find any evidence that Papadopoulos had passed on news that Russia was planning to dump emails pertaining to Hillary in an effort to help Trump? What did those people do with that information?
  • What did the investigation of Sergei Millian, who started pitching a Trump Tower deal and other seeming intelligence dangles to Papadopoulos in July 2016 reveal? [This is a subject that may either be redacted, referred, or treated as counterintelligence saved for the Intelligence Committees.]

Mike Flynn

  • Why were Flynn’s lies about assuring Sergey Kislyak that Trump would revisit sanctions deemed material to the investigation? [Note, Mueller has already answered this in Flynn’s sentencing memo, but it is significantly redacted]
  • Why did Mueller give Flynn such a sweet plea deal, as compared to his partner Bijan Kian, who was named a foreign agent? What information did he trade to get it? [Some of this is included in his sentencing memo — because he flipped early, it led others to correct their lies — but key parts of it remain redacted.]
  • What other Trump aides (like KT McFarland) lied about the same topics, and why were their attempts to clean that up before being charged deemed sufficient to avoid prosecution?

There’s likely a great deal pertaining to Flynn — likely including the third topic on which he cooperated — that will be deemed counterintelligence information that will be briefed to the Intelligence Committees.

Richard Pinedo

  • Why did Mueller prosecute Pinedo as part of his investigation?
  • How did Mueller determine that Pinedo had not wittingly worked with Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s trolls?

There’s likely some counterintelligence information about how the trolls duped Pinedo and how the US might shore up that vulnerability, but given the focus on the trolls, I expect FBI has already briefed that to the Intelligence Committees in substantial part.

The Internet Research Agency

  • Given that Russia’s activities weren’t under the original scope of Mueller’s investigation; why did the trolls get moved under him? [The answer may be because of the Trump people found to have interacted with the trolls.]
  • Why did Mueller consider prosecuting Concord Management worth the headache?
  • How much of the relationship between Yevgeniy Prigozhin and Putin impacted this prosecution?
  • What did the three Trump campaign officials in Florida described in the indictment do after being contacted by the trolls about events in August 2016? Did any other people in the campaign join in the efforts to coordinate with the trolls? Why weren’t they prosecuted? [Whether the names of these three people are unredacted will be one of the more interesting redaction questions.]
  • Why weren’t the Trump and other political activists prosecuted?

We already know the answer to why Americans (save Richard Pinedo) were not prosecuted in this indictment: because they did not realize they were coordinating with Russian-operated trolls, and because, unlike Pinedo, nothing about their activities was by itself illegal.

There’s likely to be a lot of counterintelligence information on this effort that has been shared with the Intelligence Committees in ongoing fashion.

Alex van der Zwaan

  • Why did Mueller prosecute van der Zwaan himself, rather than referring it (as he did with Greg Craig and the other Manafort-related corruption)? Did that have to do with van der Zwaan’s independent ties with either Konstantin Kilimnik or his father in law, German Khan?

Rick Gates and Paul Manafort

  • Why did Mueller keep both Gates and Manafort prosecutions (the tax fraud prosecuted in EDVA and the FARA and money laundering violations in DC) himself? Was this just an effort to flip both of them, or did it pertain to an effort to understand the nature of their relationship with Kilimnik and a bunch of Ukrainian and Russian oligarchs?
  • What continuity is there between the methods and relationships involved in Manafort’s work in Ukraine with that he did for Trump?
  • What did Mueller get out of the cooperation agreements with Gates? This will be extensive! But a lot of it may be redacted because it pertains to counterintelligence or ongoing investigations.
  • What did Mueller get out of the failed cooperation agreement with Manafort? Part of this, too, is counterintelligence, plus Manafort appears to have made it through one grand jury appearance on November 2 without lying. But that topic may be redacted as either as part of either counterintelligence or ongoing investigations.

Konstantin Kilimnik

Because he charged Kilimnik and Kilimnik was so central to so much of his investigation, Mueller could describe why the government believes Kilimnik has a tie with the GRU. He likely won’t.

GRU hack indictment

  • Russia’s activities weren’t under the original scope of Mueller’s investigation; why did the GRU hack get moved under him? [The answer may be because Roger Stone and Lee Stranahan and Trump — in his encouragement — were implicated.]
  • Why weren’t WikiLeaks and/or Assange charged in the indictment?
  • What was the nature of Stone’s ties to Guccifer 2.0?
  • Was there reason to believe Trump knew GRU would respond to his encouragement?
  • How did the GRU operation link up with the activities of other people suspected to have ties to GRU, like the broker on the Trump Tower deal, Kilimnik, and a Mike Flynn interlocutor?
  • How did Mueller assess whether and how Russia used the data stolen from the Democrats, especially the analytics data stolen in September?
  • Did the data Kilimnik received from Manafort and shared with others make its way into GRU’s hands?

Michael Cohen

  • Why were Cohen’s lies about the Trump Tower deal deemed material to the investigation? [Unlike with Flynn and Papadopoulos, Mueller didn’t really explain this in the sentencing memo.]
  • Why was Cohen charged with lying, but not those he conspired to lie with, including Jay Sekulow, Don Jr,  and the President?
  • What other details of Trump’s business dealings did Cohen share?

Roger Stone

  • Why were Roger Stone’s lies to Congress deemed material to the Mueller investigation?
  • From whom did Stone and Jerome Corsi learn what GRU and WikiLeaks were planning to release?
  • Did Stone succeed in holding the release of the Podesta emails to dampen the Access Hollywood video release, as Corsi alleges?
  • What was Stone trying to hide when he had Corsi write a cover story for him on August 30, 2016?
  • Why didn’t Stone’s coordination to optimize WikiLeaks’ releases amount to coordination with Russia?
  • Why weren’t Corsi and Randy Credico (the latter of whom Stone accuses of lying to the grand jury) charged?
  • Why wasn’t Assange charged in conjunction with Stone?

Stone is still awaiting trial and prosecutors have just told the press that Stone remains under active investigation. So I expect virtually all the Stone section to be redacted.

Map out the big questions about declinations

Mueller will also need to explain why he didn’t charge people he investigated closely. This is another section where the fight over redactions is likely to be really heated.

Trump on obstruction and conspiracy

  • Did Mueller consider Trump’s enthusiastic encouragement of Russia’s operation and his move to offer Russia sanctions relief from a prosecutorial standpoint (that is, a quid pro quo trading the Trump Tower deal and election assistance for sanctions relief)? If so, what were the considerations about potential criminality of it, including considerations of presidential power? If not, was any part of this referred?
  • What was the consideration on Trump and obstruction? Did Mueller intend to leave this decision to Congress? [The report will not answer the second question; if Mueller did intend to leave the decision to Congress, as his predecessors Leon Jaworski and Ken Starr did for good Constitutional reasons, he will not have said so in the report.]

Paul Manafort on quid pro quo

  • Was Mueller able to determine why Manafort shared polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik on August 2, 2016? Did he know it would be shared with Russians close to the election interference operation? Did he agree to a quid pro quo involving the Ukrainian peace deal as sanctions relief he pursued for another 20 months? Did Manafort’s lies prevent Mueller from answering these questions?
  • What was the nature of and what was ultimately done with that polling data?
  • Why didn’t Mueller charge this as conspiracy or coordination? Did it have to do with Manafort’s lies and Gates’ limited credibility?

The June 9 meeting and follow-up

  • What consideration did prosecutors give to charging this as an instance of conspiracy or coordination?
  • What consideration did prosecutors give to charging the public claims about this meeting as an instance of false statements?
  • Did Trump know about this meeting and if so did that change the calculus (because of presidential equities) on a quid pro quo?
  • Did Mueller decide Don Jr is simply too stupid to enter into a conspiracy?
  • Did Mueller consider (and is DOJ still pursuing) prosecutions of some of the members of the Russian side of this meeting? [Note that Barr did not clear all US persons of conspiracy on the hack-and-leak; Emin Agalarov canceled his concert tour this year because his lawyer said he’d be detained, SDNY’s indictment of Natalia Veselnitskaya treats her as a Russian agent, and Rinat Akhmetshin and Ike Kaveladze may both have exposure that the Trump flunkies would not.]

The Seychelles meeting and related graft

  • Did Mueller decide the graft he uncovered was not criminal, not prosecutable, or did he refer it?

Carter Page

I, frankly, am not that interested in why Mueller didn’t prosecute Carter Page, and this section might be redacted for his privacy. But I am interested in whether leaks played a part of it, or whether Russians used him as a decoy to distract from where the really interesting conversations were happening.

Understand referrals and ongoing investigations, to the extent they’re included

As noted above, Mueller may have included a description of the referrals he made and the ongoing investigations that reside with some of his prosecutors and/or the DC AUSAs brought in to pick up his work. This includes, at a minimum:

  • Inauguration graft
  • Potential Don Jr and Jared Kushner graft
  • Mystery Appellant
  • Ongoing Stone investigations
  • The Cohen hush payments
  • Bijan Kian’s prosecution
  • Sam Patten’s prosecution
  • Other Manafort graft, including potential coordination with states
  • Tom Barrack’s graft
  • Greg Craig, Tony Podesta, Vin Weber, Steve Calk
  • Konstantin Kilimnik (which is likely a counterintelligence investigation, not a criminal one)

One big question I have is whether any criminal conduct with Russia that doesn’t involve the election would be covered by this report, referred, or considered an ongoing investigation??

While we should expect details of the decision to refer the Cohen, Bijan Kian, and Sam Patten prosecutions, most of the rest of this would likely be redacted (including the Craig prosecution, since it only just got indicted).

Understand the structure of the report

Having prepped yourself for what to expect in the report (and what won’t be there, like the counterintelligence stuff), you can now start by reviewing the structure of the report. Bill Barr claims the report is split into two sections, the Russian interference and Mueller’s thinking on obstruction. That may or may not be true — it’s one thing to assess when first reviewing the report.

One particularly interesting question will be the extent to which Mueller included stuff that might otherwise be counterintelligence information — things Russia did that would compromise or embarrass Trump — in the obstruction section.

Another thing to do while understanding the structure of the report is to see where all the things that must be in there appear. This will be particularly helpful, for example, in figuring out where what is sure to be a lot of redacted content on Roger Stone appears.

Do a first read of the report, paying particular attention to the footnotes

I find it really useful to share screen caps of what I’m finding in a first read, either on Twitter (for crowd sourcing) or in a working thread. The press flacks will do the work of finding the key takeaways and running to the cable news about them. Better to spend the time finding the details that add nuance to claimed takeaways, if only because adding nuance to claimed takeaways quickly helps avoid an erroneous conventional wisdom from forming.

Develop theories for redacted content

You’re not going to be able to prove what lies behind a redaction unless Mueller and DOJ commit redaction fail (they’re not Paul Manafort trying to signal to co-conspirators, so that won’t happen) or unless they accidentally leave one reference out. But based on the grammar of sentences and the structure of the report and — hopefully — Barr’s promised color coding of redactions, you should be able to develop theories about what generally is behind a redaction.

Identify big redacted sections

There may be sections that are both entirely redacted about which no clues as to the content exist. At the very least, identify these, and at least note where, structurally, they appear, as that may help to explain what big questions about the Mueller report are outstanding.

Read it again

I know most editors in DC won’t pay for this, which is why reporting on documents is often less rigorous than journalism involving talking to people. But for documents like this, you really need to read iteratively, in part because you won’t fully understand what you’re looking at until reading the whole thing a first time. So after you read it the first time, read it again.

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

Rod Rosenstein Didn’t Even Clear Trump on All the Topics He Hired Mueller to Investigate

As I have noted, the William Barr memo everyone is reading to clear Trump and his flunkies of a conspiracy with Russia actually only clears the Trump campaign and those associated with it of conspiring or coordinating with the Russian government in its efforts to hack into computers and disseminate emails for purposes of influencing the election. The exoneration doesn’t even extend to coordinating with WikiLeaks, as Roger Stone is alleged to have done (though that, by itself, is not a crime).

More significantly, it is silent about whether Trump and his flunkies conspired with Russia in a quid pro quo trading election assistance and a real estate deal for policy considerations, the very same kind of election year shenanigans Barr has covered up once before with Iran-Contra.

And that’s important, because it means Barr and Rod Rosenstein haven’t even cleared Trump of what Rosenstein hired Mueller to investigate.

Jim Comey first described the investigation to include:

  1. The Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election
  2. The nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government
  3. Whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts

When Rosenstein appointed Mueller, he referenced Comey’s statement, but specifically mentioned just bullets 2 and 3 in his mandate, combining those two bullets into one that (unlike Comey’s original statement) was limited to just the Russian government, not Russia’s efforts generally.

  • any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and

In May 2017 when Rosenstein hired Mueller (and, according to public reports, through November 2017), the investigation into the hack-and-leak remained elsewhere at DOJ (significantly, but not entirely, in Pittsburgh and San Francisco).

When the FBI raided Paul Manafort on July 27, 2017 — a raid Rosenstein almost certainly approved personally —  they were looking for evidence (among other things) on the June 9, 2016 meeting in support of an investigation into accepting campaign contributions from a foreigners or a conspiracy to do so; there was no mention whatsoever of probable cause that Manafort had helped Russia hack Hillary Clinton. Six months after that raid, Mueller would learn that two months after the June 9 meeting, on August 2, 2016, Manafort shared Trump’s polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik at a meeting where he also discussed a Ukrainian peace deal that would amount to sanctions relief. Manafort lied about what happened at that meeting. In Andrew Weissmann’s opinion, he lied in hopes of getting a Trump pardon.

When the Mueller Report states, “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” it does so after Manafort refused to explain why he shared that polling data, or whether he knew whom Konstantin Kilimnik was sharing it with, and significantly, whether he had reason to believe that either Kilimnik himself or Oleg Deripaska — neither themselves part of the Russian government but Deripaska unquestioningly with close ties to it — would share the data with the GRU hackers who were still hacking Hillary Clinton.

And yet the only “links and/or coordination” that Barr and Rosenstein addressed involved  an, “agreement–tacit or express–between the Trump Campaign and the Russian government on election interference.”

Because of Trump’s obstruction, we don’t know whether Manafort entered into an agreement with Kilimnik to trade sanctions relief for election assistance, but even if he did, it would not qualify as “coordination with the Russian government.” It would qualify as coordination with a cut-out for the Russian government.

Likewise, we know if Don Jr agreed to revisit sanctions relief after Natalia Veselnitskaya and the Agalarov family offered dirt on Hillary. But Don Jr wasn’t even officially part of the campaign, and while Veselnitskaya and Agalarov both have almost inseparable from the Russian government, they are not the Russian government and therefore would not qualify under this standard.

The nature of Manafort’s links to the Russian government via Kilimnik and Don Jr’s links to the Russian government via Veselnitskaya and Agalarov are squarely within Mueller’s mandate as laid out by Rosenstein. And those links are pretty fucking sketchy and possibly criminal, but quite possibly for reasons distant from the hack-and-leak. But by limiting the evaluation of the memo to whether the campaign coordinated directly with Russia on the hack-and-leak and not whether the links to Russia that Mueller discovered were criminally suspect, Rosenstein, with Barr, is not addressing one part of the job he hired Mueller to do.

That’s all the more true given the way that Barr, in consultation with Rosenstein, determined that Trump did not obstruct justice. An explicit part of Mueller’s mandate was to investigate the links between his campaign and Russia, including the link through Kilimnik to Deripaska and through him the Russian government. According to Weissmann, Trump’s actions led Manafort to refuse to explain those links.

In “conspiring” with Barr to give Trump the all-clear, Rosenstein didn’t address a significant part of the job he gave Mueller.

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

After Mueller: An Off-Ramp on Russia for the Venal Fucks

We don’t know what the Mueller report says, though given William Barr’s promise to brief the Judiciary Committee leaders this weekend and follow it with a public summary, it’s not likely to be that damning to Trump. But I can think of five mutually non-exclusive possibilities for the report:

  • Mueller ultimately found there was little fire behind the considerable amounts of smoke generated by Trump’s paranoia
  • The report will be very damning — showing a great deal of corruption — which nevertheless doesn’t amount to criminal behavior
  • Evidence that Manafort and Stone conspired with Russia to affect the election, but Mueller decided not to prosecute conspiracy itself because they’re both on the hook for the same prison sentence a conspiracy would net anyway, with far less evidentiary exposure
  • There’s evidence that others entered into a conspiracy with Russia to affect the election, but that couldn’t be charged because of evidentiary reasons that include classification concerns and presidential prerogatives over foreign policy, pardons, and firing employees
  • Mueller found strong evidence of a conspiracy with Russia, but Corsi, Manafort, and Stone’s lies (and Trump’s limited cooperation) prevented charging it

As many people have pointed out, this doesn’t mean Trump and his kin are out of jeopardy. This NYT piece summarizes a breathtaking number of known investigations, spanning at least four US Attorneys offices plus New York state, but I believe even it is not comprehensive.

All that said, we can anticipate a great deal of what the Mueller report will say by unpacking the lies Trump’s aides told to hide various ties to Russia: The report will show:

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

We know all of these things — save the Stone optimization detail, which will be litigated at trial unless Trump pardons him first — to be true, either because Trump’s aides and others have already sworn they are true, and/or because we’ve seen documentary evidence proving it.

That’s a great deal of evidence of a quid pro quo — of Trump trading campaign assistance for sanctions relief. All the reasons above may explain why Mueller didn’t charge it, with the added important detail that Trump has long been a fan of Putin. Trump ran openly on sanctions relief and Presidents get broad authority to set their own foreign policy, and that may be why all this coziness didn’t amount to criminal behavior: because a majority of the electoral college voted (with Russia’s involvement) to support those policies.

Whatever reason this didn’t get charged as a crime (it may well have been for several involved, including Trump), several things are clear.

First, consider all this from the perspective of Russia: over and over, they exploited Trump’s epic narcissism and venality. Particularly with regards to the Trump Tower deal, they did so in a way that would be especially damaging, particularly given that even while a former GRU officer was brokering the deal, the GRU was hacking Trump’s opponent. They often did so in ways that would be readily discovered, once the FBI decided to check Kilimnik’s Gmail account. Russia did this in ways that would make it especially difficult for Trump to come clean about it, even if he were an upstanding honest person.

Partly as a result, partly because he’s a narcissist who wanted to deny that he had illicit help to win, and partly because he’s a compulsive liar, Trump and his aides all lied about what they’ve now sworn to be true. Over and over again.

And that raised the stakes of the Russian investigation, which in turn further polarized the country.

As I noted here, that only added to the value of Russia’s intervention. Not only did Trump’s defensiveness make him prefer what Putin told him to what American Russian experts and his intelligence community would tell him, but he set about destroying the FBI in an effort to deny the facts that his aides ultimately swore were true. Sure, Russia hasn’t gotten its sanctions relief, yet. But it has gotten the President himself to attack the American justice system, something Putin loves to do.

We don’t know what the Mueller report will say about Trump’s role in all this, and how that will affect the rest of his presidency. We do know he remains under investigation for his cheating (as an unindicted co-conspirator in the ongoing hush money investigation) and his venality (in the inauguration investigation, at a minimum).

We do know, however, that whatever is in that report is what Mueller wants in it; none of the (Acting) Attorneys General supervising him thwarted his work, though Trump’s refusal to be interviewed may have.

But we also know that Russia succeeded wildly with its attack in 2016 and since.

Democrats and Republicans are going to continue being at each other’s throats over Trump’s policies and judges. Trump will continue to be a venal narcissist who obstructs legitimate oversight into his mismanagement of government.

Both sides, however, would do well to take this report — whatever it says — as the final word on this part of the Russian attack in 2016, and set about protecting the country from the next attack it will launch.

An unbelievable swath of this country — including the denialists who say all those things that Trump’s own aides swore to doesn’t amount to evidence of wrongdoing — have chosen for tribal reasons (and sometimes venal ones) to side with kleptocratic Russians over the protection of America. Now that the report is done, it’s time to focus on protecting the United States again.

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 My Post Predicting the Mueller End Game Won’t Predict Anything

The DOJ beat reporters are on tenterhooks this week, having been led to believe that The Mueller Report will be delivered today, tomorrow, or soon thereafter. That has intensified the already fever pitch around what will happen next.

Given that there is great confidence the conclusion is imminent, here’s why such speculation is misplaced.

We have no idea, and there are many possible options.

Those options include:

  1. A request for a conspiracy indictment naming Trump as a defendant, which would be denied, therefore triggering a report of that denial to the Judiciary Committees (but which would also presumably result in an indictment of others).
  2. An overarching conspiracy indictment including Don Jr and other players, with Trump named as an unindicted co-conspirator.
  3. A Road Map akin to the Watergate one, sharing grand jury material with the House Judiciary Committee; this would be a strong possibility in case of option 2.
  4. No further indictment, but a report showing a great deal of evidence a conspiracy took place, with The Report explaining why (including Presidential prerogative on foreign policy) it can’t be indicted, with or without an accompanying HJC Road Map.
  5. Some kind of report submitted as a counterintelligence report, in addition to indictments (a possibility some have floated but which I believe to utterly misunderstand the nature of Mueller’s task).
  6. The Report showing much ado about nothing.

I happen to think there’s a great deal of evidence a quid pro quo conspiracy took place, but certainly entertain the possibility that Mueller thinks he wouldn’t have an 85% chance of conviction, which DOJ would likely require before he indicted it. But even if I’m right, it still leaves open most of these options.

And the aftermath of every single one of these options is contingent. Meaning it is way premature to get into debates about what William Barr will include in his report and whether Trump can quash the report by invoking privilege until we know whether the The Report is what the regulations require them to be — with the really important details in either an indictment and/or Road Map, or in fact something more comprehensive.

Which is why I think, given the promise that Mueller’s end game is imminent, doing anything but admitting that we don’t know is a waste of air.

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.