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Lev Parnas Had A Remarkable Start On His Path To Fraud Guarantee

Jim again here.

Over the past few days, several sources of information about Lev Parnas’ history have come out. Perhaps the most complete picture of his early years came from this New Yorker interview shortly before his arrest:

Parnas was born in February, 1972, in the port city of Odessa, in southwestern Ukraine, which was then part of the Soviet Union. He was three when his family moved to the United States. “I came here as a legal immigrant, through a legal process,” he said. His family settled in Detroit, where they lived for about a year, before relocating to Brooklyn. When Parnas was sixteen, he worked at Kings Highway Realty, selling Trump Organization co-ops. “That was my first time knowing who Trump was, but, growing up in that area, you knew who Trump was, because his name was all over the place,” he said.

In 1995, when Parnas was twenty-three, he moved from Brooklyn to Florida.

I found the part about Kings Highway Realty and Trump co-ops especially useful, as I had been puzzled about one of the earlier passages from an interview with the Washington Post:

Parnas, 47, was born in Ukraine but moved with his family to the United States as a child and grew up in Brooklyn. He told The Washington Post in an interview conducted before his arrest that he got his start in real estate, selling Trump condos for Donald Trump’s father, Fred, then worked in shipping in the former Soviet Union before becoming a securities trader. He moved to Florida in the mid-1990s.

This passage had bothered me, because when we go back and look at Fred Trump’s career, condos play virtually no role. Fred built large, pedestrian apartment buildings, often with government assistance, in the outer boroughs that he retained ownership of and rented out to the middle class. Donald, as we know, concentrated early on opulent properties in Manhattan.

The one Fred Trump property that bears the Trump name is Trump Village:

The seven towers of Trump Village were designed by the architect Morris Lapidus. The two near Ocean Parkway were rental buildings and were run by the Trump Organization until recent years. The five other buildings were in the state’s Mitchell-Lama program, which allows people with incomes below certain thresholds to enter lotteries for the right to buy co-op apartments at below-market prices.

The snippet above was published in the New York Times in 2010. That begins to resolve some of the apparent discrepancies in the Parnas statements in the different interviews. If he was selling property for Fred Trump, co-ops in Trump Village make the most sense. And by this time, the Trump Organization was managing the properties as Fred’s health was starting to decline.

Remarkably, Kings Highway Realty Corp., which was incorporated in 1977, is still in business. The address listed for it now is around 8 miles from Trump Village. That seems to fit with a first job for a 16-year-old growing up in Brooklyn, although selling real estate at 16 seems pretty advanced.  Further, as we see in Fred Trump’s obituary, he had a history of taking in young men looking for a career in real estate.

By the time Parnas started selling co-ops at Trump Village, Fred Trump was 82. The obituary suggests that Alzheimers set in around 1993, five years after Parnas started, but there appears to have been a single driving force in Fred’s life in this era:

Fred Trump’s real estate empire was not just scores of apartment buildings. It was also a mountain of cash, tens of millions of dollars in profits building up inside his businesses, banking records show. In one six-year span, from 1988 through 1993, Fred Trump reported $109.7 million in total income, now equivalent to $210.7 million. It was not unusual for tens of millions in Treasury bills and certificates of deposit to flow through his personal bank accounts each month.

Fred Trump was relentless and creative in finding ways to channel this wealth to his children. He made Donald not just his salaried employee but also his property manager, landlord, banker and consultant. He gave him loan after loan, many never repaid. He provided money for his car, money for his employees, money to buy stocks, money for his first Manhattan offices and money to renovate those offices. He gave him three trust funds. He gave him shares in multiple partnerships. He gave him $10,000 Christmas checks. He gave him laundry revenue from his buildings.

Much of his giving was structured to sidestep gift and inheritance taxes using methods tax experts described to The Times as improper or possibly illegal. Although Fred Trump became wealthy with help from federal housing subsidies, he insisted that it was manifestly unfair for the government to tax his fortune as it passed to his children. When he was in his 80s and beginning to slide into dementia, evading gift and estate taxes became a family affair, with Donald Trump playing a crucial role, interviews and newly obtained documents show.

So at the very time that Parnas came onto the scene, Fred was already slipping into dementia but singularly focused on channeling as much money as he could to Donald while avoiding taxes on the transfers. Did Parnas see these schemes as they developed? Did he even perhaps play a bit role? Recall that in one of the interviews he says he worked for the Trump Organization. The ultimate vehicle for funneling cash to Fred’s offspring came into being in 1992, and likely postdated Parnas’ time with Trump Village, but we have to wonder if Parnas saw the seeds of this one being planted, or was even one of the employees used in the scheme. Continuing in the Times article above:

The most overt fraud was All County Building Supply & Maintenance, a company formed by the Trump family in 1992. All County’s ostensible purpose was to be the purchasing agent for Fred Trump’s buildings, buying everything from boilers to cleaning supplies. It did no such thing, records and interviews show. Instead All County siphoned millions of dollars from Fred Trump’s empire by simply marking up purchases already made by his employees. Those millions, effectively untaxed gifts, then flowed to All County’s owners — Donald Trump, his siblings and a cousin. Fred Trump then used the padded All County receipts to justify bigger rent increases for thousands of tenants.

Something Parnas almost certainly had to have seen just before going to work with the Trump Organization was the story of David Bogatin, one of the first Russian purchasers of a Donald Trump property:

But Bogatin wasn’t deterred by the limited availability or the sky-high prices. The Russian plunked down $6 million to buy not one or two, but five luxury condos. The big check apparently caught the attention of the owner. According to Wayne Barrett, who investigated the deal for the Village Voice, Trump personally attended the closing, along with Bogatin.

/snip/

In 1987, just three years after he attended the closing with Trump, Bogatin pleaded guilty to taking part in a massive gasoline-bootlegging scheme with Russian mobsters. After he fled the country, the government seized his five condos at Trump Tower, saying that he had purchased them to “launder money, to shelter and hide assets.” A Senate investigation into organized crime later revealed that Bogatin was a leading figure in the Russian mob in New York. His family ties, in fact, led straight to the top: His brother ran a $150 million stock scam with none other than Semion Mogilevich, whom the FBI considers the “boss of bosses” of the Russian mafia. At the time, Mogilevich—feared even by his fellow gangsters as “the most powerful mobster in the world”—was expanding his multibillion-dollar international criminal syndicate into America.

How could that not have made an impression on Parnas, going to work just months after the Bogatin story exploded?

This leads us to a murky intermediary period in Parnas’ story.  Note that the Post interview, but not the New Yorker interview, mentions that he “worked in shipping in the former Soviet Union”. Also, this biography he eventually put on the Fraud Guarantee website mentions something similar:

Notably, in this version Parnas says he shipped “the first containers of freight between the United States and the former Soviet Union”. The Gorbachev government failed in December of 1991, when Parnas would have been 19, going on 20 the next February. And yet, somehow, this teenager, who had a couple of years selling real estate, suddenly jumps into the middle of a brand new opportunity on the world scene. Even more confusing is the fact that the former Soviet Union in those early years had a horrible economy:

The first seven years of Russia’s transition from the Soviet central planned economy (1991-1998) were not easy. This [period, which coincided with most of the regime of President Boris Yeltsin were, by most accounts, a time of economic chaos, if not near collapse and failure.

During the period, Russia lost close to 30% of its real gross domestic product (GDP), a decline reminiscent of the Great Depression of the 1930s in the United States.4 Russia also suffered very high rates of inflation– over 2,000% in 1992 and over 800% in 1993– before it declined to more tolerable, but still high, levels of around 20% by the end of the 1990s. The inflation robbed Russian citizens of their savings as the value of the ruble collapsed, eventually forcing the Russian government to sharply devalue the ruble on January 1, 1998, with 1 new ruble equaling 1,000 old rubles. As a hedge against inflation, some residents, who were in a position to do so, invested in hard assets such as art works, foreign currencies, and real estate.

So what would a teenager ship? Oh, I don’t know, maybe he figured something out at a time when the rich in the former Soviet Union were looking for hard assets.

The next phase in Parnas’ career becomes really fascinating. Note that all of these narratives say he moved from shipping (or directly from real estate) to securities. Again, he seems to have had remarkable luck in jumping into a senior position at an incredibly early age. I’ve been digging into the network of Parnas’ various corporate entities (and hope to write about them soon) and the earliest entry under his name in the Florida database is for Program Trading Corp., which was incorporated on September 25, 1992 in Boca Raton. That would have made Parnas just 20 years old when he suddenly became, at least on paper, a director and President (a partner I’ll address in later posts was CEO) of a stock trading firm. The timeline here seems a bit out of order. Parnas claims not to have moved to Florida until 1995, and yet his first company there was incorporated, with him involved, in 1992. Further, when we look into Parnas’ registration as a stock broker, we see that he is listed as passing the licensing exam on December 10, 1993 and he’s first registered with a brokerage firm a few days before that on December 6. This is over a year after Program Trading Corp. was founded.

I confess to not being familiar with the detailed workings of licensing and registration of stock brokers, but the rapid succession of firms at which Parnas was registered strikes me as strange and perhaps suggestive that his early days as a broker didn’t go well. From the early firms, it appears at least possible that Parnas was indeed still in New York as he passed the first exam and sold his first securities, but it still stands out as strange that his firm in Florida was already incorporated and waiting for him when he moved there in 1995.

It’s almost as if Lev Parnas was a “made man” at 23 with experience in real estate, shipping and securities, all enterprises known to be favored by those laundering cash coming out of the former Soviet Union.

 

Do Lev Parnas and David Correia Have A Connection To Sale Of Trump Properties To Russians In South Florida?

 

Jim again here. 

Yesterday’s post about Fraud Guarantee, a company started by two of Rudy Guiliani’s clients who were indicted, was so much fun that I decided to do more noodling around in Florida corporate records for Lev Parnas and David Corrieia. As I noted on Twitter this morning, there are many corporate entities associated with Lev Parnas, and yet none of them seem to have active status with the state, including Fraud Guarantee itself:


One of these corporate entities stands out when looking at the names associated with it. Mendo Cali, LLC, near the middle of the list in the tweet, has this information on the state website:


Note the person listed along with Parnas and Correia: Inna Ponomareva. What an interesting-sounding name! When searching that name, especially with a South Florida preference, some interesting hits pop up:

It appears that there is a person by the name of Inna Ponomareva who worked for Miami Red Square Realty. I say worked for because it appears that Miami Red Square also is no longer an active company. Clicking on these links reveals that the real estate listings are no longer active, but it is clear that Ponomareva was associated with listings for these properties with Red Square.

And this is where it gets really interesting. Miami Red Square Realty features prominently in this Washington Post article from just around the 2016 election:

 The first of three identical 45-story Trump-branded condo buildings opened in this oceanfront city at a seemingly terrible time, just as the recession was dawning and the real estate market was starting to crumble.

Many other projects in South Florida floundered in the lead-up to the national housing collapse of 2008. But the Trump buildings were among those that survived, in part because the developers were able to turn to another business source seemingly immune to the factors dragging down the U.S. market: wealthy Russians looking to move their money out of the volatile ­post-Soviet economy.

Hey, that’s pretty interesting. There’s more:

Roman Bokeria, the Georgian-born chief executive of Miami Red Square Realty, said that ­Russian-speaking investors have been attracted to the Trump buildings because they see the brand as a safe place for their money.

“They don’t trust stocks or bonds,” Bokeria said. “They want real estate, something they can see and touch and feel. And for Russians, where is the best real estate? It’s Miami and South Florida. It’s Trump. That is the dream.”

Things get even more interesting from here. Note when Mendo Cali, LLC was incorporated: August of 2014. Just above the passage about Red Square in the Post article, we have this:

Trump does not own these buildings, but, like many Trump projects around the world, he licensed the use of his name and took a percentage of the profits from the initial sales of units. Real estate agents say there have been fewer Russian investors in Florida condos since U.S.-imposed sanctions on Russia took effect in 2014. They predict that the market will improve if Trump wins and reconsiders the sanctions.

Hmm. Things got difficult for Russians wanting to buy US properties in 2014 due to sanctions. But there’s one other interesting development regarding the market for selling Trump properties in South Florida to Russians in 2014. Remember when Reuters came out with their story in 2017 about Russians owning Trump properties? Here are a few snippets:

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald J. Trump downplayed his business ties with Russia. And since taking office as president, he has been even more emphatic.

“I can tell you, speaking for myself, I own nothing in Russia,” President Trump said at a news conference last month. “I have no loans in Russia. I don’t have any deals in Russia.”

But in the United States, members of the Russian elite have invested in Trump buildings. A Reuters review has found that at least 63 individuals with Russian passports or addresses have bought at least $98.4 million worth of property in seven Trump-branded luxury towers in southern Florida, according to public documents, interviews and corporate records.

The lede here is definitely buried:

The tally of investors from Russia may be conservative. The analysis found that at least 703 – or about one-third – of the owners of the 2044 units in the seven Trump buildings are limited liability companies, or LLCs, which have the ability to hide the identity of a property’s true owner. And the nationality of many buyers could not be determined. Russian-Americans who did not use a Russian address or passport in their purchases were not included in the tally.

What a coincidence! Fully a third of the Trump properties are owned by LLCs so that the identities of the true owners may be obscured. And for the three years leading up to the Reuters analysis, sanctions curtailed ownership by Russians.

The Reuters article goes on to detail one person who was particularly active in the sales of these properties [The Dezer Corporation built the properties under a license from Trump]:

Dezer and Trump got help selling the condos from Elena Baronoff, who immigrated from the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Baronoff, who grew up in Uzbekistan, had been active in Soviet cultural associations. In Miami, she soon began bringing Russian tour groups to Miami.

Gil Dezer’s father, Michael, recruited Baronoff to work alongside the Dezer corporation. She traveled to Moscow, St Petersburg, France and London to bring in Russian buyers, according to Dezer, selling apartments to them for between $1 million and $2 million. Baronoff was diagnosed with Leukemia in 2014 and died a year later.

“She was huge, she was big for them,” Dezer said, referring to Russian buyers. “No one has filled her shoes.”

Hmm. The primary mover and shaker for selling Trump properties in South Florida to Russians took ill in 2014. Although Dezer claims in the article that “No one has filled her shoes” the timing for the incorporation of Mendo Cali, LLC sure fits the window when this market opened up. And Mendo Cali, LLC just happened to have a person with a Russian name and an affiliation with Red Square Realty, which sold Trump properties to Russians. I’m sure this is just an innocent coincidence.

Update October 13

From a Washington Post article put Saturday evening, October 12:

Parnas, 47, was born in Ukraine but moved with his family to the United States as a child and grew up in Brooklyn. He told The Washington Post in an interview conducted before his arrest that he got his start in real estate, selling Trump condos for Donald Trump’s father, Fred, then worked in shipping in the former Soviet Union before becoming a securities trader. He moved to Florida in the mid-1990s.

Isn’t that interesting? We now have a connection between Parnas and the Trump family that started decades ago. And that connection is Parnas selling Trump-branded condos.

Rudy Giuliani Represents Fraud Guarantee Founder

Marcy has already hit the announced arrests of Rudy Giuliani clients Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman as they were about to leave the country. In reading the New York Times article about the arrests and indictment, I noticed that, at least at the time of that reading, David Correia,  one of the four men indicted, was still not in custody.

I hadn’t heard of Correia before, so I did some digging. It would appear that Correia’s Twitter handle is @DavidCorreia14. The account appears to have been taken down, but there was still a cached version on Google.

It would be easy to mistake his tweets for any standard Trump bot retweeting all of the usual conspiracy theories, rather than realizing he was in the middle of some of their more nefarious schemes.

A couple of weeks ago, the Miami Herald ran a story on Parnas and Fruman, where we see that they are basically con artists with a trail of lawsuits following them around. Most hilariously, Parnas had the gall to incorporate a company under the name Fraud Guarantee. Significantly, when I started searching around to find out more about David Correia, he turned out to be a co-founder of Fraud Guarantee:

Hmmm. Campaign finance indictment. Background in commercial mortgages. Founder of Fraud Guarantee. It’s not clear to me how Correia originally hooked up with Parnas and Fruman, but the commercial real estate angle and propensity for illegal activity sure seems like a good fit with the Trump organization.

It’s really hard to get over just how much outright gall it took for Parnas and Correia to name their company Fraud Guarantee. And for Parnas to be represented by Rudy Guiliani, who has been tasked with obtaining fraudulent dirt on the Biden family for Trump, the circle just keeps closing in on itself. (Note added as I was proofing the post: it appears that the Fraud Guarantee website has been scrubbed. Glad I got those screengrabs!)

As a postscript for those of us in Florida, it’s also especially juicy that the fraudulent shell company set up to funnel money to political campaigns, Global Energy Producers, also made a $50,000 contribution to the campaign to elect currentFlorida Governor Ron DeSantis.

Jared Kushner’s Pervasive Corruption Pops Up In Surprising Ways

Jim here again.

I’ve been trying to do my homework to catch up on the tremendous work done by Elijah Cumming’s House Oversight Committee on the Michael Flynn-IP3 scandal that I wrote about quite a bit back when we first learned about it. So far, I’ve found reports they issued on February 19 and July 29 of this year. One thing that stood out to me as I perused the timeline in the February report was the reminder that Westinghouse, the nuclear reactor company that was in Chapter 11 but figured prominently in IP3’s plans was purchased by Brookfield Business Partners, which is a subsidiary of Brookfield Asset Management. The Committee pointed out that while this purchase was still subject to approval, Brookfield Asset Management entered a contract to Jared Kushner’s white elephant property at 666 Fifth Avenue. Recall that Kushner owed much more on the property than it was worth, and by all rights it should have completely ruined Kushner financially.

The corruption of this situation is staggering in its brazenness. Here’s a New York Times article from July of 2018 that put it into full perspective:

Eighteen months into Jared Kushner’s White House tenure, his family’s real estate firm is deepening its financial relationships with institutions and individuals that have a lot riding on decisions made by the federal government.

In the latest example, an arm of Brookfield Asset Management is close to completing an investment of up to $700 million in the Kushner family’s tower at 666 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. The deal will be a boon to the Kushners, who are struggling to recoup their investments in their flagship building.

At the same time, another Brookfield unit is awaiting the Trump administration’s approval of its acquisition of the nuclear-power company Westinghouse Electric. The deal is being reviewed by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, made up of senior federal officials who consider the potential national security risks of transactions involving foreign companies. Brookfield’s headquarters are in Canada.

Looking further into just when each deal closed, we see the Westinghouse purchase closed on August 1 of 2018, while the Brookfield investment in 666 Fifth Avenue closed a mere two days later. Cummings’ committee obviously sees the craven corruption in the White House point person for Saudi Arabia having his largest financial failure bailed out just as soon as the government cleared the Westinghouse purchase that the folks who want to make a lot of money in Saudi Arabia through Westinghouse nuclear reactors being sold there. The Times article also sees this corruption, pointing out that the real estate deal was announced at the very time that government approval was still pending. That the real estate deal didn’t close until after Westinghouse seems to support that assistance on the approval was needed before Kushner would get bailed out.

But Kushner’s corruption is even more pervasive and more craven than that. For further background, I decided to look at the Times’ reports on Kushner’s financial statements for 2017 and 2018. The numbers that were announced were that in 2017, Kushner and Ivanka Trump declared joint income of between $82 million and $222 million. For 2018, that number “dropped” to between $29 million and $135 million. But it was when I first opened the article on the 2018 income that my jaw really dropped. Here is a partial screenshot of what I saw:

See the ad? What, you might ask, is Cadre, and how can it recruit folks who want to invest for 10 years and pay zero taxes? Well, Cadre is partially owned by none other than Jared Kushner. I had been looking at Cadre before I got to the Times article on 2018 income. So Google ads and the New York Times ad system worked together to assume I’d like to see Cadre if I’m looking into Kushner’s income. Jared Kushner’s corruption is so pervasive that even Google ads help you to see it when you look him up.

Was The Trump Phone Call With Zelensky Paused For Discussion On US Side?

It’s Jim here.

Much has been made about the apparent discrepancy between the length of the rough transcript of the Donald Trump-Volodymyr Zelensky telephone call on July 25. The best analysis I’ve seen on this topic is in today’s Washington Post, where the number of words in a transcript and the reported duration of the corresponding call were compared for this call and for another conversation where interpreters were needed on both ends of the call:

The memorandum of Trump’s call with Zelensky appears remarkably different in speed and content from the full transcripts of calls between President Trump and foreign leaders The Washington Post obtained in 2017.

The transcript of a 24-minute call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, in which both the participants spoke English, included roughly 3,200 words, or about 133 words per minute. A 53-minute call with then-Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, in which both Trump and the Mexican president spoke through interpreters, included roughly 5,500 words, or about 102 words per minute.

The White House summary of Trump’s 30-minute call with Zelensky — which included interpreters because Zelensky spoke Ukrainian while Trump spoke English — includes fewer than 2,000 words, or roughly 65 words per minute. That suggests that the rough transcript of the Zelensky call includes about half the number of words that would be expected if the call had proceeded at the same or similar pace as the previous calls.

The article also notes the presence of the ellipses and does a good job of tying each instance of the ellipses to the contexts where they appear. The first two are in Trump’s discussion of Crowdstrike and the third relates directly to Joe Biden.

The article also does a great job of debunking one White House theory put forward about the ellipses, claiming that they merely indicate that Trump’s voice trailed off. However, the article documents that past practice was to insert “[inaudible]” to mark such trailing off, so this doesn’t match what was done in the past.

Of course, the simplest explanation that many are going with here is that Trump may have said something so incriminating and outrageous that the White House simply couldn’t allow it to get out, and so they edited it out. But I began to wonder if there might be something else that happened here, in addition to eliding incriminating evidence.

Is it possible that intelligence agents monitoring the call heard something so improper that they put the call on the electronic equivalent of “hold” and communicated to Trump directly that he had gone over the line? Coupling that thought with the knowledge from the whistleblower complaint that there were other instances where Trump transcripts were hidden on the code-word server, I wondered if there had ever been a press report of a Trump phone call being briefly interrupted. Early in my searching, I hit on an article that fits into this idea incredibly well. It has the bonus that it applies to the first known phone call between Trump and Vladimir Putin. What I found was a Reuters article dated February 9, 2017:

In his first call as president with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump denounced a treaty that caps U.S. and Russian deployment of nuclear warheads as a bad deal for the United States, according to two U.S. officials and one former U.S. official with knowledge of the call.

When Putin raised the possibility of extending the 2010 treaty, known as New START, Trump paused to ask his aides in an aside what the treaty was, these sources said.

The article goes on to deliver what now seems to be an incredibly important tidbit in what would have been seen at the time as a meaningless aside from Sean Spicer:

The White House declined to comment on the details of the call. White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Trump knew what the New START treaty is but had turned to his aides for an opinion during the call with Putin. He said the notes from the call would not have conveyed that.

So, Spicer informs us that at least this once, a call was put on hold for discussions on the US side. More importantly, he states that such discussion would not have appeared in the notes from the call.

Is that what happened on July 25? Was the Trump-Zelensky call put on hold for the US side to speak privately with Trump? If so, it seems that such a discussion could account for at least part of length deficit for the rough transcript. It would also be something worthy of intense followup. Was the discussion primarily with political staff, as claimed by Spicer for the first Putin call, or were members of the intelligence community warning against where Trump had taken the conversation?

[Some of] Where Trump Wants to Go with the Server in Ukraine Story

As I emphasized in this post, before Trump pushed Volodymyr Zelensky to frame Hunter Biden, he first pressed Ukraine’s president to “get to the bottom” of the “what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine.”

The President: I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike … I guess you have one of your wealthy people… The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation. I think you are surrounding yourself with some of the same people. I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it. As you saw yesterday, that whole nonsense ended with a very poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance, but they say a lot of it started with Ukraine. Whatever you can do, it’s very important that you do it if that’s possible.

Contrary to virtually all the coverage on this, there is reason to believe that Bill Barr can get information from Ukraine that will feed the disinformation about the Russian operation. Trump has obviously been told — and not just by Rudy Giuliani (as Tom Bossert believes) — to ask for this, but some of this is probably part of the disinformation that Russia built in to the operation.

Rudy Giuliani wants to frame Alexandra Chalupa

This morning, Rudy Giuliani explained that he wants to know who in Ukraine provided information damning to Trump during the 2016 campaign.

GIULIANI: I have never peddled it. Have you ever hear me talk about Crowdstrike? I’ve never peddled it. Tom Bossert doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I have never engaged in any theory that the Ukrainians did the hacking. In fact, when this was first presented to me, I pretty clearly understood the Ukrainians didn’t do the hacking, but that doesn’t mean Ukraine didn’t do anything, and this is where Bossert…

STEPHANOPOULOS: So, why does the president keep repeating it?

GIULIANI: Let’s get on to the point…

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, this was in the phone call.

GIULIANI: I agree with Bossert on one thing, it’s clear: there’s no evidence the Ukrainians did it. I never pursued any evidence and he’s created a red herring. What the president is talking about is, however, there is a load of evidence that the Ukrainians created false information, that they were asked by the Obama White House to do it in January of 2016, information he’s never bothered to go read. There are affidavits that have been out there for five months that none of you have listened to about how there’s a Ukrainian court finding that a particular individual illegally gave the Clinton campaign information. No one wants to investigate that. Nobody cared about it. It’s a court opinion in the Ukraine. The Ukrainians came to me. I didn’t go to them. The Ukrainians came to me and said…

STEPHANOPOULOS: When did they first come to you?

GIULIANI: November of 2016, they first came to me. And they said, we have shocking evidence that the collusion that they claim happened in Russia, which didn’t happen, happened in the Ukraine, and it happened with Hillary Clinton. George Soros was behind it. George Soros’ company was funding it.

This is an effort to frame Alexandra Chalupa, who while working as a DNC consultant in 2016 raised alarms about Paul Manafort. This is an effort that Trump has pursued since 2017 in part with a story first floated to (!!) Ken Vogel, an effort that key propagandist John Solomon was pursuing in May. Remember, too, that Chalupa was hacked separately in 2016, and believed she was being followed.

Peter Smith’s operation may have asked for help from a hacker in Ukraine

But per the transcript, this is not about Rudy, it’s about Barr. And even leaving Rudy’s antics aside, there is more that Trump may be after.

First, a fairly minor point, but possibly important. According to Charles Johnson, he advised Peter Smith to reach out to Weev for help finding Hillary’s deleted emails.

Johnson said he also suggested that Smith get in touch with Andrew Auernheimer, a hacker who goes by the alias “Weev” and has collaborated with Johnson in the past. Auernheimer—who was released from federal prison in 2014 after having a conviction for fraud and hacking offenses vacated and subsequently moved to Ukraine—declined to say whether Smith contacted him, citing conditions of his employment that bar him from speaking to the press.

At the time (and still, as far as I know), Weev was living in Ukraine. The Mueller Report says that his investigators never found evidence that Smith or Barbara Ledeen (or Erik Prince or Mike Flynn, who were also key players in this effort) ever contacted Russian hackers.

Smith drafted multiple emails stating or intimating that he was in contact with Russian hackers. For example, in one such email, Smith claimed that, in August 2016, KLS Research had organized meetings with parties who had access to the deleted Clinton emails, including parties with “ties and affiliations to Russia.”286 The investigation did not identify evidence that any such meetings occurred. Associates and security experts who worked with Smith on the initiative did not believe that Smith was in contact with Russian hackers and were aware of no such connection.287 The investigation did not establish that Smith was in contact with Russian hackers or that Smith, Ledeen, or other individuals in touch with the Trump Campaign ultimately obtained the deleted Clinton emails.

Weev is a hacker, but not Russian. So if Smith had reached out to Weev — and if Weev had given him any reason for optimism in finding the emails or even the alleged emails that Ledeen obtained — it might explain why Trump would believe there was information in Ukraine that would help him.

CrowdStrike once claimed its certainty on Russian attribution related to a problematic report on Ukraine

But that’s not the CrowdStrike tie.

At least part of the CrowdStrike tie — and what Zelensky actually could feed to Trump — pertains to a report they did in December 2016. They concluded that one of the same tools that was used in the DNC hack had been covertly distributed to Ukrainian artillery units, which (CrowdStrike claimed) led to catastrophic losses in the Ukranian armed forces. When the report came out — amid the December 2016 frenzy as President Obama tried to figure out what to do with Russia given the Trump win — CrowdStrike co-founder Dmitri Alperovitch pitched it as further proof that GRU had hacked the DNC. In other words, according to CrowdStrike, their high confidence on the DNC attribution was tied to their analysis of the Ukrainian malware.

In a now deleted post, infosec researcher Jeffrey Carr raised several problems with the CrowdStrike report. He correctly noted that CrowdStrike vastly overstated the losses to the Ukranian troops, which both an outside analyst and then the Ukranian Defense Ministry corrected. CrowdStrike has since updated its report, correcting the claim about Ukrainian losses, but standing by its analysis that GRU planted this malware as a way to target Ukrainian troops.

Carr also claimed to know of two instances — one, another security company, and the other, a Ukrainian hacker — where the tool was found in the wild.

Crowdstrike, along with FireEye and other cybersecurity companies, have long propagated the claim that Fancy Bear and all of its affiliated monikers (APT28, Sednit, Sofacy, Strontium, Tsar Team, Pawn Storm, etc.) were the exclusive developers and users of X-Agent. We now know that is false.

ESET was able to obtain the complete source code for X-Agent (aka Xagent) for the Linux OS with a compilation date of July 2015. [5]

A hacker known as RUH8 aka Sean Townsend with the Ukrainian Cyber Alliance has informed me that he has also obtained the source code for X-Agent Linux. [11]

Carr argued that since CrowdStrike’s attribution of the DNC hack assumed that only GRU had access to that tool, their attribution claim could no longer be trusted. At the time I deemed Carr’s objections to be worthwhile, but not fatal for the CrowdStrike claim. It was, however, damning for CrowdStrike’s public crowing about attribution of the DNC hack.

Since that time, the denialist crowd has elaborated on theories about CrowdStrike, which BuzzFeed gets just parts of here. Something that will be very critical moving forward but which BuzzFeed did not include, is that the president of CrowdStrike, Shawn Henry, is the guy who (while he was still at FBI) ran the FBI informant who infiltrated Anonymous, Sabu. Because the FBI reportedly permitted Sabu to direct Antisec to hack other countries as a false flag, the denialist theory goes, Henry and CrowdStrike must be willing to launch false flags for their existing clients. [See update below, which makes it clear FBI did not direct this.] The reason I say this will be important going forward is that these events are likely being reexamined as we speak in the grand jury that has subpoenaed both Chelsea Manning and Jeremy Hammond.

So Trump has an incentive to damage not just CrowdStrike’s 2016 reports on GRU, but also CrowdStrike generally. In 2017, Ukraine wanted to rebut the CrowdStrike claim because it made it look bad to Ukranian citizens. But if Trump gives Zelensky reason to revisit the issue, they might up the ante, and claim that CrowdStrike’s claims did damage to Ukraine.

I also suspect Trump may have been cued to push the theory that the GRU tool in question may, indeed, have been readily available and could have been used against the DNC by someone else, perhaps trying to frame Russia.

As I’ve noted, the GRU indictment and Mueller Report list 30 other named sources of evidence implicating the GRU in the hack. That list doesn’t include Dutch hackers at AIVD, which provided information (presumably to the Intelligence Community generally, including the FBI). And it doesn’t include NSA, which Bossert suggested today attributed the hack without anything from CrowdStrike. In other words, undermining the CrowdStrike claims would do nothing to undermine the overall attribution to Russia (though it could be useful for Stone if it came out before his November 5 trial, as the four warrants tied to his false statements relied on CrowdStrike). But it would certainly feed the disinformation effort that has already focused on CrowdStrike.

That’s just part of what Trump is after.

Update: Dell Cameron, who’s one of the experts on this topic, says that public accounts significantly overstate how closely Sabu was being handled at this time. Nevertheless, the perception that FBI (and Henry) encouraged Sabu’s attacks is out there and forms a basis for the claim that CrowdStrike would engage in a false flag attack. Here’s the chatlog showing some of this activity. Hammond got to the Brazilian target by himself.

Hidden until Now: Trump Admitted 2016 Russian Interference in Lavrov-Kislyak Meeting

[NB: Note the byline, thanks!]

If you though the dam was beginning to crack after House Speaker Pelosi announced an impeachment inquiry would begin on Tuesday, or after the release of the July 25 memo on Wednesday, or the release of the whistleblower complaint followed by acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire’s testimony yesterday, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

The Washington Post published this article at 8:26 p.m.:

Trump told Russian officials in 2017 he wasn’t concerned about Moscow’s interference in U.S. election

Here’s the first two grafs:

President Trump told two senior Russian officials in a 2017 Oval Office meeting that he was unconcerned about Moscow’s interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election because the United States did the same in other countries, an assertion that prompted alarmed White House officials to limit access to the remarks to an unusually small number of people, according to three former officials with knowledge of the matter.

The comments, which have not been previously reported, were part of a now-infamous meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, in which Trump revealed highly classified information that exposed a source of intelligence on the Islamic State. He also said during the meeting that firing FBI Director James B. Comey the previous day had relieved “great pressure” on him.

Emphasis mine.

We’ve known about this particular conversation Trump had with Lavrov and Kislyak. We’ve known he damaged a source in the process while admitting to obstruction of justice.

But we didn’t know there was more to this conversation — like admitting he knew the Russians ‘aided’ his election, or airing out our dirty foreign policy to a country with which we have not had good relations. “Unconcerned,” WaPo’s team said; sure, why would Trump be worried at all about the contributions that ensured his occupation of the White House? It’s simply a matter of fact, right?

And we didn’t know Trump’s lack of concern about election interference in front of Lavrov and Kislyak, which offered an implicit permission slip to continue interference here and elsewhere.

Nor did we know that White House officials hid the rest of this Oval Office conversation, limiting its access to a very small need-to-know circle. It’s not clear whether this meant the contents of this highly-sensitive conversation were retroactively classified and squirreled away in the code-word classified system set aside for sensitive intelligence information where the July 25 Trump-Zelensky conversation transcript had been stored.

We don’t know now whether Special Counsel’s Office had any inkling the content of this particular conversation may have been hidden, or that other transcripts responsive to its investigation may have been locked away in that code-word classified system.

If Trump knew about this at all, and any of this hidden content was responsive to Mueller’s investigation, it’s yet another obstructive act.

Any of the White House officials who enabled this content sequestration process may also have obstructed justice if the hidden material was responsive to requests or subpoenas. Who knew about these material, when they learned about it, and why they didn’t come forward sooner will be a subject of the impeachment inquiry.

We also need to know what other exposures are contained within and without the code-word classified system and whatever other ad hoc retention system was employed by a small cadre of White House staff.

What else has been used as leverage against the U.S. that we the people and our representatives know nothing about?

What’s additionally worrisome: we’re learning in a rather slapdash fashion as the proverbial rats flee the sinking S.S. Trump — like the ‘three former officials with knowledge of the matter’ cited as sources for this story. How many of them have already been monitored by foreign intelligence, marked as potential assets, witting or unwitting, because they are known to have participated in this secret content sequestration process?

How many of these ‘former officials with knowledge of the matter’ have been silent because of Trump’s obsessive use of nondisclosure agreements?

How many of them have talked among themselves — neaning others under Trump’s NDAs — about this secret content sequestration process and its contents?

How many of this circle of need-to-know or in-the-know are also GOP leadership like Senator Mitch McConnell or Senator Lindsey Graham? How many of them have already been compromised because of this knowledge?

It’d certainly explain a few things like McConnell’s refusal to do anything substantive about election security. Or Graham’s about-face after a round of golf with Trump.

If you’re reading this, Speaker Pelosi, ramp up the impeachment team. Get that full House vote organized to authorize the inquiry and the necessary personnel. It’s past time.

Retroactive Classification: The Government’s Favorite Tool for Silencing Whistleblowers

First: note the byline. Yes, I have not posted in almost a year, but you just might be seeing more of me again.

One of my favorite posts from back in the days when I posted regularly was the one on retroactive classification. The really fun part was the statement from J. William Leonard that retroactive classification is a “metaphysical impossibility”:

Today, Marcy included me in an email conversation with J. William Leonard, who previously served as the Director of the National Archives’ Information Security Oversight Office and before that as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Security and Information Operations. The question posed to Mr. Leonard was whether the retroactive classification of the report was properly carried out. Leonard’s response noted that since “the purpose of classification is to preclude unauthorized disclosure”, that is “a metaphysical impossibility for information whose disclosure was authorized in the first place.”

So imagine my delight when I went to the copy of the declassified whistleblower complaint and encountered this on only the second page:

On first glance though, it might be easy to say these two situations are different. In the case of my previous post, we were talking about a document that had already been published with an “unclassified” marking and was even mentioned in the press. Here, we are talking about a report that is being submitted to the Intelligence Community Inspector General and would, at least at the beginning of the process, be closely held. But the complaint, if found credible, was destined for dissemination to Congressional committees, and so would eventually be fairly widely seen. The whistleblower rightly was working to protect against someone realizing just how embarrassing the report is to the President and our government and deciding that the report should be buried rather than widely shared.

The comparisons, though, go much deeper. My earlier post goes on to discuss the use of retroactive classification in the cases of Sybel Edmonds, Thomas Drake, Franz Gayle and Robert MacLean. What do these people have in common? They were all whistleblowers. And as soon as the government realized just how embarrassed they would be when the truth came out, they tried their best to shove it back under a rock.

It is fortunate for us that this whistleblower has such a deep understanding of the classification process. Even better, this person appears to have a thorough understanding of the history of whistleblowers and what happens to the information they aim to disclose. The bit early in the report on classification does a good job of providing justification for the body of the report to be unclassified. Perhaps the note about retroactive classification is an attempt to leave a trail once it is attempted.

Remarkably, though, that is not the most important instance of retroactive classification in the report. The part of this report that may well have the most lasting historical impact is this (in what, ironically, was originally classified and now declassified):

So, “White House officials” realized just how embarrassing the call’s full transcript would be. We had learned earlier in the report that the White House Situation Room regularly produces a “word for word” transcript of calls and puts it on a computer system accessed by people at the Cabinet level. Further, the whistleblower informs us that this time, it was “White House lawyers” who directed that the transcript be removed from this system and moved to the more secure system. Coupled with the note from the appendix, we see that Trump’s White House has decided that retroactively classifying embarrassing information is their best bet for burying information to prevent it being spread by whistleblowers. We are so fortunate that this whistleblower fully understands that process and has even documented it for us, essentially in real time.

Time will tell, but it seems to me that by telling us there are more transcripts buried on the secure computer system, the whistleblower has provided a roadmap to information that may prove even more catastrophic for the Trump Administration than the disclosure of the attempt to get Ukraine to smear Joe and Hunter Biden.

The Press Cannot Let Trump Pretend He Gives a Shit about Corruption

I’ve been on an epic road trip with June Bug the Terrorist Foster Dog and my brother (and will be for another week or so); right now I’m sitting in bmaz’s house with JB. So I haven’t followed the story about Trump’s effort to get Ukraine to invent dirt on Joe Biden as closely as I otherwise might have. But one thing is crystal clear: the press is giving Trump way too much room to claim his actions were driven by a concern about corruption, which is how Trump has been trying to justify this rather than deny it.

It’s very important to talk about corruption. If you don’t talk about corruption, why would you give money to a country that you think is corrupt?…It’s very important that on occasion you speak to somebody about corruption.

Every single report about this should start with a list of things Trump is doing to cover up his own corruption, starting with his numerous lawsuits to try to prevent anyone from reviewing his tax returns and his systematic effort to profit from the presidency.

If Trump claims it’s important to “speak to somebody about corruption,” that conversation should start with full transparency on his own corruption, and there should be no focus on his allegations about Hunter Biden until he has come clean.

Commuting Blago’s Wildly Excessive Sentence Would Be Right For Trump To Do

Another poster at the Emptywheel blog, okay, it may be Emptywheel herself, has today posted a very interesting take, and I think a good one, on the intersection of Jim Comey, Pat Fitzgerald and Rod Blagojevich.

If Trump were to commute Blago’s sentence…..it would be one of the few pardon power actions he has taken that would be justified.

The other was, obviously, the woman Kim Kardashian talked him into commuting.

Don’t get me started about governance by reality show/sex tape idiots like Kimye, but still that was good.

Here is the thing though. Hate on Rod Blagojevich all you want. Laugh at him all you want. Sure, all that is good and proper.

What was not, however, was his sentence. Judge James Zagel got a bug up his ass and sentenced Blago to twice as much time as was possibly appropriate for his purported offenses. There is a long history of Illinois Governors, criminal charges, and prison. But no sentence remotely like Zagel gave Blago.

Then there was Bob McDonnell of Virginia, who ended up not ever serving a day on things that were, mostly, more obvious pay to play corruption than Blago. Also, there was Don Siegelman, who arguably met potential charging elements, even if they were mostly innocuous acts, and who was only ever charged because of a Rove/Cheney effort to insure the same. Siegelman got just over six years.

Don’t get me started about Bob Menendez. The point being, even if Blago was corrupt, needed to be found guilty, and needed to be sentenced…..The sentence of 14 years Zagel gave Mr. Blagojevich was insane and ludicrous.

As big of a narcissistic and useless asshole as Trump is, he would be right to commute the insanely over sentenced punishment Zagel gave to Rod Blagojevich.

People, especially the more liberal than not among us, constantly scream for criminal justice reform. Abolish cash bail (a good thought, but one with far different and deeper implications than you think as Scott Greenfield at Simple Justice has noted), less incarceration, shorter sentences, better programs for those incarcerated. End the death penalty. Less solitary confinement. Etc. All good things.

But part and parcel of all of it is recognizing crazy stupid sentences too. Blago is pretty much a joke of a historical character. Fine. He was never Public Enemy Number One either. His sentence from Zagel was outrageous. If Trump is willing to commute it, he should, and that should be cheered.

But, because of pushback from the very same people that usually scream and squawk, and rightfully so, about criminal justice reform when it is not one of their pet pariahs, i.e. people on the left and, here, Blago, Trump will certainly chicken out from doing the right thing. Because Trump doesn’t know the facts, and he is a pussy that is too easily grabbed by Republicans and, in this case, bullshit liberals too.

Free Blago. It needs to be done.