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The Implications of Russia’s Identification of FBI’s Assets

Yahoo has a piece describing a series of compromises Russia inflicted on FBI — and, to a lesser degree, CIA — communications systems in the lead-up to the 2016 operation.

American officials discovered that the Russians had dramatically improved their ability to decrypt certain types of secure communications and had successfully tracked devices used by elite FBI surveillance teams. Officials also feared that the Russians may have devised other ways to monitor U.S. intelligence communications, including hacking into computers not connected to the internet.

Among the secondary damages, it appears, were some of the FBI’s assets.

Spooked by the discovery that its surveillance teams’ communications had been compromised, the FBI worried that some of its assets had been blown, said two former senior intelligence officials. The bureau consequently cut off contact with some of its Russian sources, according to one of those officials.

At the time of the compromise, some of the FBI’s other Russian assets stopped cooperating with their American handlers. “There were a couple instances where a recruited person had said, ‘I can’t meet you anymore,’” said a former senior intelligence official. In a damage assessment conducted around 2012, U.S. intelligence officials concluded the events may have been linked.

Even assuming this is the only time in recent years Russia compromised the FBI’s assets, that raises interesting possibilities given the prominence of once and former FBI assets among those who reached out to Trump flunkies during the 2016 operation. Henry Oknyansky, who first dangled damning information on Hillary to Roger Stone in May 2016, claimed on multiple occasions to be a former FBI asset. While he claimed ongoing communications with the FBI in 2013, the last time he got public benefit parole entry to the US was in 2012. Then there’s Felix Sater, an even more celebrated FBI informant. It’s not entirely clear how long he continued to work for the FBI, but his 5K1.1 letter was submitted in 2009 and the first efforts to unseal his docket date to 2012.

At the very least, former assets would know how FBI communicated, to expose or protect the Trump flunkies accordingly. But once and former assets might also still enjoy a kind of whitelist where they might otherwise be surveilled. And while the Trump flunkies have not done this with Sater (although Judicial Watch just filed a lawsuit for this), when Stone had to admit to his contact with Oknyansky, he immediately claimed it was an FBI sting and not a genuine dangle.

The Steele Dossier and the Mueller Investigation: Michael Cohen

Update: I’m reposting this on July 20 because these warrants have been re-released in less redacted form. As noted below in the update on Section C, that previously redacted section does pertain to Michael Cohen’s hush payments to Stormy Daniels, meaning the only mention of the Steele Dossier in the earliest warrant on Cohen is just to a post-dossier WSJ article used exclusively to explain Cohen’s own description of how he served as Trump’s fixer. 

Because the frothy right thinks it’s an important question but won’t actually consult the public record, I’m doing a series on what that public record says about the relationship between the allegations in the Steele dossier and the known investigative steps against Trump’s associates. In this post, I argued that the way the Steele dossier influenced the Carter Page investigation may be slightly different than generally understood: it appears that the dossier appeared to predict — just like George Papadopoulos had — the release of the DNC emails on July 22. From that point forward, Page continued to do things — such as telling people in Moscow he was representing Donald Trump in December 2016, including on Ukraine policy — that were consistent with the general theory (though not the specific facts) laid out in the Steele dossier. That is, Page kept acting like the the Steele dossier said he would. That said, the government had plenty of reason before the Steele dossier to investigate Page for his stated willingness to share information with Russian spies, and his ongoing behavior continued to give them reason.

I’m more interested in the example of Michael Cohen.

The Steele dossier eventually describes Michael Cohen as the villain of coordination with Russia

The dossier makes allegations against Cohen four times, all after the time when Steele and Fusion GPS were shopping the dossier to the press, increasing the likelihood Russia got wind of the project and were shopping disinformation.

The first three mentions came on three consecutive days (probably based on just two sub-source to Kremlin insider conversations), all apparently sourced to the same second-hand access to a Kremlin insider, and evolving significantly over those three days.  Importantly, the sub-source is also the source for the claim that Page had been offered the brokerage of the publicly announced Rosneft sale, meaning this person purportedly had access to Igor Sechin and a Kremlin insider, and if this source was intentionally feeding disinformation, it would account for the most obviously suspect claims in the dossier.

October 18, 2016 (134): A Kremlin insider tells the sub-source that Michael Cohen was playing a key role in the Trump campaign’s relationship with the Kremlin.

October 19, 2016 (135): The Kremlin insider tells his source that Cohen met with Presidential Administration officials in August 2016 to discuss how to contain Manafort’s Russia/Ukraine scandal and Page’s secret meetings with Russian leaders. Since that August meeting Trump-Russian conversations increasingly took place via pro-government policy institutes.

October 20, 2016 (136): In a communication that “had to be cryptic for security reasons,” a Kremlin insider tells a friend on October 19 that the reported meeting with Cohen took place in Prague using Rossotrudnichestvo as a cover. It involved Duma Head of Foreign Relations Committee Konstantin Kosachev. This is notably different from the PA claim made just the day before.

Then there’s the final report, which Steele has claimed was provided for “free,” dated after David Corn and Kurt Eichenwald’s exposure of the dossier, after the election, after the Obama Administration ratcheted up the investigation on December 9, and after Steele had interested John McCain in the dossier. In addition to offering a report that seems to project blame onto Webzilla for what the Internet Research Agency did, this report alleges what would be a veritable smoking gun, missing from the earlier reports: that Cohen had helped pay for the hackers.

December 13, 2016 (166): The August meeting in Prague was no longer about how to manage the Manafort and Page scandals, but instead to figure out how to make deniable cash payments to hackers (located in Europe, including Romania, where the original Guccifer had come from, not Russia), who were managed by the Presidential Administration, not GRU.

This December report is really the only one that claims Trump had a criminal role in the hack-and-leak, but the claims in the report all engage with already public claims: situating the hackers where the persona Guccifer 2.0 claimed to be from, Romania, suggesting the hackers were independent hackers who had to be paid rather than Russian military officers, and blaming Webzilla rather than Internet Research Agency for disinformation. That is, more than any other, this report looks like it was tailored to the Russian cover story.

The way this story evolved over time should have raised concerns, as should have other obvious problems with the December report. But it’s worth noting that there are two grains of truth in it. Cohen had been the key interlocutor between the Trump campaign and the Presidential Administration during the campaign, but to discuss the building of a Trump Tower in Moscow in January, not how to steal the election in October. Few people (at least in the US) should have known that he had played that interlocutor role; how many knew in Russia is something else entirely. Cohen was also someone that people who had done business with Trump Organization, like Giorgi Rtslchiladze and people associated with Aras Agalarov’s Crocus Group, would know to be Trump’s fixer. That fact would have been far more widely known.

Nevertheless, by the end of it, Cohen was the biggest Trump-associate villain in the Steele dossier. If the Steele dossier had been directing the investigative priorities of the FBI, then Cohen should have been a focus for his role in the hack-and-leak as soon as the FBI received this report. Nothing in the public record suggests that happened. Indeed, at the time the FBI briefed the Gang of Eight on March 9, 2017, Cohen was not among the people described as subjects. Just Roger Stone had been added to the initial four subjects (Page, Manafort, George Papadopoulos, and Mike Flynn) by that point. Congress, including the Devin Nunes-led House Intelligence Committee, would focus closely on Cohen more quickly than the FBI appears to have.

That’s true even though Cohen was doing some of the things he would later be investigated for, including — immediately after the election — establishing financial ties with Viktor Vekselberg even while Felix Sater pitched him on a Ukraine deal.

Suspicious Activity Reports and the investigation into Cohen

The investigation into Cohen appears to have started — given this July 18, 2017 warrant application — as an investigation into suspicious payments, both Cohen’s payments to Stormy Daniels and payments from large, often foreign companies, particularly Columbus Nova, with which Viktor Vekelsberg has close ties, but also including Novartis, Korean Airlines, and Kazkommertsnank. The investigation probably started based off a Suspicious Activity Report submitted by First Republic Bank, where Cohen had multiple accounts, including one for Essential Consulting, where those foreign payments were deposited.

Cohen opened that Essential Consultants account on October 26, 2016, ostensibly to collect fees for domestic real estate consulting work, but in fact to pay off Stormy Daniels. His use of it to accept all those foreign payments would have properly attracted attention and a SAR from the bank under Know Your Customer mandates, particularly with his political exposure through Trump. Sometime in June 2017, First Republic submitted the first of at least three SARs on this account, covering seven months of activity on the account; that SAR and a later one was subsequently made unavailable in the Treasury system as part of a sensitive investigation, which led to a big stink in 2018 and ultimately to charges against an IRS investigator who leaked the other reports. The language of the third one appears to closely match the language in the warrant applications, including a reference to Viktor Vekselberg’s donations to Trump’s inauguration.

The first warrant application against Cohen

On June 21, the FBI served a preservation request to Google for his Gmail and to Microsoft for Cohen’s Trump Organization emails (see this post for the significance of Microsoft’s role). Generally that suggests that already by that point, FBI decided they would likely want that email, but needed to put together the case to get it. The preservation order on Microsoft suggests they may have worried that people at Trump’s company might destroy damning emails. It also suggests the FBI knew that there was something damaging in those emails, which almost certainly came in part from contact information the bank had and call records showing contacts with Felix Sater and Columbus Nova; it might also suggest the NSA may have intercepted some of Cohen’s contacts with Russians in normal collection targeting those Russians.

That July 2017 warrant (confirmed in later warrants to be the first one used against Cohen) lists Acting as a Foreign Agent (18 USC 951) and false statements to a financial institution. It explains:

[T]he FBI is investigating COHEN in connection with, inter alia, statements he made to a known financial institution (hereinafter “Bank 1”) in the course of opening a bank account held in the name of Essential Consultants, LLC and controlled by COHEN. The FBI is also investigating COHEN in connection with funds he received from entities controlled by foreign governments and/or foreign principals, and the activities he engaged in in the United States on their behalf without properly disclosing such relationships to the United States government.

In other words, the predicate for the investigation was his bank account — one in conjunction with which he would eventually plead guilty to several crimes — not the dossier. Had Cohen told the truth about why he was opening that bank account (to pay off the candidate’s former sex partners!), had he not conducted his international graft with it, had he been honest he was going to be accepting large payments from foreign companies, then he might not have been investigated. It’s possible that the public reporting on the dossier made the bank pay more attention, but his actions already reached the level that the bank was required to report it.

In the unredacted parts of the application, there is one citation of the dossier, but only to the title of a WSJ report on Cohen written in the wake of the dossier release, “Intelligence Dossier Puts Longtime Trump Fixer in Spotlight.” It uses the article in a section introducing who he is to cite Cohen explaining that he’s Trump’s “fìx-it guy . . . . Anything that [then-President-elect Trump] needs to be done, any issues that concern him, I handle,” not to describe any allegations in the dossier.

From there, it introduces the bank account, Essential Consulting.

Redacted section C

Update, 7/19: These warrants have now been unsealed, and — as media outlets originally reported — this section is about the hush payment to Stormy Daniels. The section also confirms that much of this investigation came from the KYC work of Cohen’s bank. I’ve marked the paragraphs that consider the possibility this section pertains to Russia with strike-through text.

The next section, C, is six paragraphs long (¶¶13 to 18), and remains entirely redacted. If the substance of the dossier appears in the warrant application, it would appear here. But such a redacted passage does not appear at all in a search warrant application for Paul Manafort from May, and no redacted passage appears as prominently in a Manafort warrant application from ten days later — which describes his relationship with three Russian oligarchs and the June 9 meeting — though there is a six page redaction describing the investigative interest in the June 9 meeting. The difference is significant because the dossier alleged that Manafort was managing relations with Russia until he left the campaign (including during June), so if there were redacted language about the dossier on Cohen, we would expect it to play a similar role in applications on Manafort, but nothing public suggests it does.

Some background on this redacted section. We got the Mueller-related warrants on Cohen because a bunch of media outlets asked Chief Judge Beryl Howell to liberate them on March 26, the week after Mueller officially finished his investigation. At first, Jonathan Kravis, the DC AUSA who has taken the lead in much of the ongoing Mueller word, noticed an appearance to respond. But it was actually Thomas McKay, one of the SDNY AUSA who prosecuted Cohen there, who responded to the request, along with another SDNY attorney.

Although the Warrant Materials were sought and obtained by the Special Counsel’s Office (“SCO”), the Government is represented in this matter by the undersigned attorneys from the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York (“SDNY”), as the SCO’s investigation is now complete.

They argue that they’re willing to release the warrant materials under terms consistent with the terms used in SDNY, where information about the FBI affiants and information we know deals with the hush payments investigation got redacted.

Judge Pauley ruled that “the portions of the Materials relating to Cohen’s campaign finance crimes shall be redacted” to protect an ongoing law enforcement investigation, along with “the paragraphs of the search warrant affidavits describing the agents’ experience or law enforcement techniques and procedures.” Cohen, 2019 WL 472577, at *6. By contrast, Judge Pauley ordered that the portions of the materials that did not relate to the campaign finance investigation be unsealed, subject to limited redactions to protect the privacy interests of certain uncharged third parties. Id. at *6-7. Judge Pauley’s decision in these respects is also consistent with prior decisions of this Court, which have recognized the distinction between law enforcement interests in ongoing, as opposed to closed, investigations, as well as the importance of respecting privacy concerns for uncharged third parties. See, e.g., Matter of the Application of WP Company LLC, 16-mc-351 (BAH), 2016 WL 1604976, at *2 & n.2 (D.D.C. Apr. 1, 2016).

Consistent with the foregoing, the Government does not oppose the Petitioners’ request for partial unsealing, but respectfully requests that the Court authorize redactions consistent with those authorized by Judge Pauley in the SDNY litigation.

Because of this language, some people assume the redacted passage C relates to the hush payments, which were, after all, the reason Cohen opened the account in the first place. That may well be the case: if so, the logic of the warrant application would flow like this:

A: Michael Cohen

B: Essential Consultants, LLC

C: Use of Essential Consultants to pay hush payments

[Later warrants would include a new section, D, that described Cohen’s lies about his net worth to First Republic]

D: Foreign Transactions in the Essential Consultants Account with a Russian Nexus

i. Deposits by Columbus Nova, LLC

ii. Plan to Life Russian Sanctions

E: Other Foreign Transactions in the Essential Consultants Account

That would explain McKay’s role in submitting the redactions, as well as his discussion of redacting the warrant consistent with what was done in SDNY, to protect ongoing investigations. (The government will have to provide a status report in August on whether these files still need to be redacted.)

That said, it was not until April 7, 2018 that anyone first asked for a warrant to access Cohen’s email accounts in conjunction with the campaign finance crimes. And some SARs submitted in conjunction with the hush payments, such as one associated with the $130,000 payment on October 27, 2016 to then Daniels lawyer Keith Davidson and one from JP Morgan Chase reflecting the transfer from the Essentials Consulting account to Davidson’s were not restricted in May 2018 in conjunction with a sensitive investigation (nor was the third one reflecting the foreign payments described above), suggesting they weren’t the most sensitive bits in May 2018. Of note, the Elliot Broidy payments to Essential Consulting would post-date this period of the investigation.

That leaves a possibility (though not that likely of one) that Section C could describe the Russian investigation. The next passage after the redacted one describes the “foreign transactions in the Essential Consultants Account with a Russian nexus” (though, as noted, subsequent warrants describe Cohen’s lies in the following paragraph). It describes the $416,664 in payments from Columbus Nova, and describes the tie between Columbus Nova and Vekselberg. After introducing the payments, the affidavit describes the public report on a back channel peace plan pitched by Felix Sater on behalf of Ukrainian politician Andrii Artemenko.

Another possibility is that it describes Trump’s inauguration graft, which embroils Cohen and Broidy (though the investigation into Broidy is in EDNY, not SDNY).

Perhaps most likely, however, is that that section just describes other reasons why that Essential Consulting account merited a SAR. For example, it might describe how Cohen set up a shell company to register the company, something that doesn’t show up in the unredacted sections, but which is a key part of the hush payment prosecution.

If the section does not mention the Russian investigation generally (and the dossier specifically), then it means there is no substantive mention of it in the warrant at all, meaning it played at most a secondary role in the focus on Cohen.

As the timeline of the investigation into Cohen below shows, that redacted section would grow by one paragraph in the next warrant application, for Cohen’s Trump Organization emails, obtained just two weeks later. It would remain that length for all the other unsealed Mueller warrants.

Felix Sater and the investigation into Cohen

The way in which Sater is mentioned in the warrants against Cohen presents conflicting information about what might be in that redacted section. Significantly, Sater (described as Person 3) is introduced as if for the first time, in the discussion of the Ukrainian deal that appears after the redaction. That means that he doesn’t appear in the redacted material. That’s important because Sater would be one other possible focus of any introduction to why Cohen would become the focus of the Russian investigation (aside from the dossier).

The next warrant would also note numerous calls with Sater, reflecting legal process for call records not identified here (the government almost certainly had a PRTT on Cohen’s phones by then). But those calls, as described, were in early 2017 (tied to the suspected Ukrainian peace plan), not in 2015-2016 when the two men were discussing a Trump Tower Moscow.

Mueller interviewed Sater on September 19, 2017, the first of two FBI interviews (he also appeared before the grand jury on an unknown date).

One of the most interesting changes to the Mueller warrants happens after that: In warrant applications submitted on November 13, the unredacted discussion of the Ukraine peace deal gets dropped. It’s unlikely Mueller’s investigation of it was eliminated entirely, because Mike Flynn, who allegedly ultimately received that deal, is not known to have been cooperating yet (his first known proffer was three days later, on November 16), and Mueller was still interested in interviewing Andrii  Artemenko — the Ukrainian politician who pitched the deal — in June 2018.

In addition, based off the details in the Mueller Report cited to Sater’s September interview, Mueller was already investigating the Trump Tower deal. That suggests both topics — the Trump Tower deal and the Ukranian peace pitch — could appear in the redacted passage. Indeed, while the unredacted passages don’t explain it, one important reason to obtain the earlier emails would be to obtain the communications between Sater and Cohen during that period.

None of these warrants explain why Mueller became convinced that Cohen had lied to Congress, but by the second December interview of Sater, he presumably knew that Cohen had lied. But he probably didn’t have all the documents on the deal until he subpoenaed Trump Organization in March 2018.

All of which is to say, the treatment of the warrants’ Sater’s ties to Cohen, so important in any consideration of Cohen’s ties to Russia, ultimately don’t help determine what’s in that section.

If Mueller obtained Cohen’s location data, it was only second-hand

Finally, there’s one other detail not shown in the Mueller warrants you might expect to have if the Steele dossier was central to the Cohen investigation: a concerted effort to confirm his location during August 2016, when the dossier claimed he had been in Prague.

Granted, by obtaining records from Google, Mueller would get lots of information helpful to confirming location. For example, Google would have provided all the IP addresses from which Cohen accessed his account going back to January 2016. He would have obtained calendar data, if Cohen used that Google function. The warrant (as all warrants to Google would) asks for “evidence … to determine the geographic and chronological context of account access” and describes the various ways investigators can use Google to ID location (though it doesn’t specifically talk about location data in conjunction with Google Maps).

Mueller would get even more information from the Apple warrant obtained on August 7, 2017. The warrant for Cohen’s iCloud account on August 7 focused on a new iPhone (a 4s!!!) he obtained on September 28, 2016 and used for a function that gets redacted (which, again, could be the hush payments). It described his use of Dust and WhatsApp on the phone (Dust was what he used with Felix Sater), meaning one reason they were interested in the account was not for Cohen’s Apple content, but for anything associated with the apps he used on his phone (remember that Mueller got Manafort’s otherwise encrypted WhatsApp chats from Apple; the Apple specific language notes that some users back up their WhatsApp texts to iCloud). That said, the language on Apple (as all warrants on it would) specified that users sometimes capture location data with the apps on their phones.

Apple allows applications and websites to use information from cellular, Wi-Fi, Global Positioning System (“GPS”) networks, and Bluetooth, to determine a user’s approximate location.

This is a way the FBI has increasingly gotten location data in recent years, via the apps that access it from your phone. So the FBI would have gotten information that would have helped them rule out a Cohen trip to Prague in 2016.

That said, it’s not until April 7 that the government obtained the only known warrant for cell location data. That warrant focused only on the campaign finance crimes, and it obtained historical data only started on October 1, 2016 — pointedly excluding the August 2016 period when Steele’s dossier alleged Cohen was in Prague.

In short, along the way, Mueller obtained plenty of information that would help him exclude a Prague meeting (and subpoenas and other government information — such as his Homeland Security file — could have helped further exclude a meeting). But there’s no sign in the public record that Mueller investigated the Steele dossier Prague meeting itself.

To sum up: while it’s possible the redacted portions discuss Russia and therefore potentially the dossier. But there are a lot of reasons to think that’s not the case. It is hypothetically possible that between March (when FBI wasn’t investigating Cohen) and May (when Mueller took over) the FBI had done something to chase down the dossier allegations on Cohen. But, there’s no evidence that Mueller investigated them. On the contrary, it appears that the investigation into Cohen arose from the Bank Secrecy Act operating the way it is designed to — to alert the Feds to suspect activity in timely fashion.

In another world, that should placate the frothy right. After all, they complain that the dossier was used in Carter Page’s FISA application. You’d think they’d be happy that, in the eight months between the time FBI obtained that order and started investigating Cohen aggressively, they hadn’t predicated an investigation into the dossier. By that time, there were overt things — like Vekselberg’s donation to the inauguration and the Ukraine plan — that were suspect and grounded in direct evidence.

Timeline

May 18, 2017: Possible date for meeting involving Jay Sekulow, Trump, and Cohen.

May 31, 2017: Cohen and lawfirm subpoenaed by HPSCI.

June 2017: A SAR from Cohen’s bank reflects seven months of suspicious activity in conjunction with this Essential Consulting account

June 2017: Federal Agents review Cohen’s bank accounts.

June 21, 2017: FBI sends a preservation request to Microsoft for Cohen’s Trump Org account.

July 14, 2017: FBI sends a preservation request to Microsoft for all Trump Org accounts.

July 18, 2017: FBI obtains a warrant for Cohen’s Gmail account focused on FARA charges tied primarily to the Columbus Nova stuff, but also his other foreign payments). ¶¶13-18 redacted.

July 20, 2017 and July 25, 2017: Microsoft responds to grand jury subpoenas about both Cohen’s account and TrumpOrg domain generally.

August 1, 2017: FBI obtains a warrant for Cohen’s Trump Org email account (which they obtained from Microsoft), adding bank fraud, money laundering, and FARA (as distinct from 951) to potential charges. ¶¶13-19 redacted. ¶¶20 to 24 note irregularities in claims to First Republic. ¶28 details how Cohen and Andrew Intrater started texting in large amounts on November 8, 2016, showing over 230 calls and 950 texts between then and July 14, 2017. ¶30 includes email reflecting visit to Columbus Nova. ¶31 reflects probable subpoena to bank (rather than just SARs). ¶32 describes Renova paying Cohen through Columbus Nova. ¶36 reflects phone records showing 20 calls with Felix Sater between January 5, 2017 and February 20, 2017, and one with Flynn on January 11, 2017. ¶39, ¶41 include new evidence from Google search.

August 7, 2017: FBI obtains a warrant for Cohen’s Apple ID (tied to his Google email). ¶¶14-20 redacted. ¶50-54 describes Cohen obtaining a new Apple iPhone 4s on September 28, 2016 and using it for a redacted purpose. It describes Cohen downloading Dust (the same encrypted program he used with Felix Sater) the day he set up the phone, and downloading WhatsApp on February 7, 2017.

August 17, 2017: FBI obtains second warrant on Cohen’s Gmail, not publicly released, but identified in second Google warrant. It probably added wire fraud to existing charges being investigated.

August 27-28, 2017: Cohen conducts a preemptive limited hangout on the Trump Tower story feeding WaPo, WSJ, and NYT.

August 31, 2017: Cohen releases the letter his attorney had sent — two weeks earlier — along with two earlier tranches of documents for Congress.

September 19, 2017: FBI interviews Sater. Cohen attempts to preempt an interview with SSCI by releasing a partial statement before testifying, only to have SSCI balk and reschedule the interview.

October 4, 2017: Additional SAR restricted because of ongoing sensitive investigations.

October 20, 2017: Cohen included in expanded scope of investigation.

October 24, 2017: HPSCI interviews Cohen.

October 25, 2017: SSCI interviews Cohen.

November 7, 2017: Mueller extends PR/TT on Cohen Gmail.

November 13, 2017: FBI obtains Cohen’s Gmail going back to June 1, 2015 and his 1&1 email. Adds wire fraud. ¶14-20 redacted.¶23a-25 adds Taxi medallion liability. Eliminates Ukraine/sanctions plan in unredacted section. Adds section F, payments in connection with political activities (associated with AT&T, expand Novartis, add Michael D Cohen and Associates.

December 15, 2017: FBI interviews Sater.

January 4, 2018: Mueller extends PR/TT on Cohen Gmail.

February 8, 2018: Mueller provides SDNY with Gmail and 1&1 email returns.

February 16, 2018: SDNY obtains d-order for header information on 1&1 account.

February 28, 2018: SDNY obtains warrant for emails sent after November 14, 2017 and warrant for emails Mueller handed over in conjunction with different conspiracy, false statements to a bank, wire fraud, and and bank fraud charges.

March 7, 2018: Mueller provides SDNY with iCloud returns.

March 15, 2018: Press reports that Mueller subpoenaed Trump Organization.

April 5, 2018: After CLOUD Act passes, SDNY applies for Google content that had been stored overseas and withheld in February 28 warrant.

April 7, 2018: FBI obtains warrant for cell location for two cell phones, tied only to illegal campaign donation investigation (the FBI would use this to use a triggerfish to identify which room he was in at Loews). FBI obtains warrant to access prior content for use in campaign donation investigation. This is the first warrant that lists 52 USC 30116 and 30109 as crimes being investigated.

April 8, 2018: FBI obtains warrant for cell location for two cell phones, tied only to illegal campaign donation investigation.FBI obtains warrant to search Cohen’s house, office, safe deposit box, hotel room, and two iPhones.

April 9, 2018: FBI obtains a warrant to correct Cohen’s hotel room.

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

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

August 7, 2018: First Cohen proffer to Mueller.

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

September 12, 2018: Second proffer.

September 18, 2018: Third proffer.

October 8, 2018: Fourth proffer.

October 17, 2018: Fifth proffer.

November 12, 2018: Sixth proffer.

November 20, 2018: Seventh proffer.

November 29, 2018: Cohen pleads guilty to false statements charge.

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. 

Michael Cohen’s HPSCI Testimony Proves Trump Lied in his Answers to Mueller

Yesterday, the House Intelligence Committee released transcripts of Michael Cohen’s February 28 and March 6 testimony before the committee. Together they’re utterly damning for a bunch of reasons:

  • GOPers (with former US Attorney John Ratcliffe incompetently replacing Trey Gowdy as their designated “adult”) thought they could prove that Cohen hadn’t been offered a pardon, but proved the opposite; on top of looking like blithering idiots, it basically put them in the position of laying out proof of — then shrugging away — crime after Trump crime
  • As I anticipated at the time, Cohen makes clear that any Joint Defense Agreement involving him lasted only so long as Trump believed Cohen could hurt him
  • On top of providing details about the editing of his false statement, Cohen lays out how in conversations before the first draft, Jay Sekulow got him to shorten the timeframe of the Moscow Trump Tower deal
  • Cohen confirmed that — as I laid out in January — there was a gap in the documents shared with HPSCI necessary to sustain the false story

Perhaps most surprising, though, Cohen’s testimony establishes that Trump lied to Robert Mueller in his sworn answers.

Trump’s responses on Trump Tower questions were the least responsive of his many non-responsive answers

Far too little attention has been focused on Trump’s downright contemptuous responses to Mueller’s questions, many of which conflict with the testimony of numerous loyal Trump people. Worst of all were Trump’s response to seven questions on the Trump Tower deal.

a. In October 2015, a “Letter of Intent,” a copy of which is attached as Exhibit B, was signed for a proposed Trump Organization project in Moscow (the “Trump Moscow project”).

i. When were you first informed of discussions about the Trump Moscow project? By whom? What were you told about the project?

ii. Did you sign the letter of intent?

b. In a statement provided to Congress, attached as Exhibit C, Michael Cohen stated: “To the best of my knowledge, Mr. Trump was never in contact with anyone about this proposal other than me on three occasions, including signing a non-binding letter of intent in 2015.” Describe all discussions you had with Mr. Cohen, or anyone else associated with the Trump Organization, about the Trump Moscow project, including who you spoke with, when, and the substance of the discussion(s).

c. Did you learn of any communications between Michael Cohen or Felix Sater and any Russian government officials, including officials in the office of Dmitry Peskov, regarding the Trump Moscow project? If so, identify who provided this info1mation to you, when, and the substance of what you learned.

d. Did you have any discussions between June 2015 and June 2016 regarding a potential trip to Russia by you and/or Michael Cohen for reasons related to the Trump Moscow project? If yes, describe who you spoke with, when, and the substance of the discussion(s).

e. Did you at any time direct or suggest that discussions about the Trump Moscow project should cease, or were you informed at any time that the project had been abandoned? If yes, describe who you spoke with, when, the substance of the discussion(s), and why that decision was made.

f. Did you have any discussions regarding what information would be provided publicly or in response to investigative inquiries about potential or actual investments or business deals the Trump Organization had in Russia, including the Trump Moscow project? If yes, describe who you spoke with, when, and the substance of the discussion(s).

g. Aside from the Trump Moscow project, did you or the Trump Organization have any other prospective or actual business interests, investments, or arrangements with Russia or any Russian interest or Russian individual during the campaign? If yes, describe the business interests, investments, or arrangements.

In response, Trump wrote three paragraphs.

Response to Question III, Parts (a) through (g)

Sometime in 2015, Michael Cohen suggested to me the possibility of a Trump Organization project in Moscow. As I recall, Mr. Cohen described this as a proposed project of a general type we have done in the past in a variety of locations. I signed the non-binding Letter of Intent attached to your questions as Exhibit B which required no equity or expenditure on our end and was consistent with our ongoing efforts to expand into significant markets around the world.

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

I vaguely remember press inquiries and media reporting during the campaign about whether the Trump Organization had business dealings in Russia. I may have spoken with campaign staff or Trump Organization employees regarding responses to requests for information, but I have no current recollection of any particular conversation, with whom I may have spoken, when, or the substance of any conversation. As I recall, neither I nor the Trump Organization had any projects or proposed projects in Russia during the campaign other than the Letter of Intent.

The first paragraph is factually accurate. The last paragraph is correct (as far as we know) with respect to having no other proposed projects, but is utterly non-responsive to a question about the response to investigative questions (including these ones) regarding the project, in part because Trump only agreed to answer questions pertaining to the campaign period.

The middle paragraph, however, is inconsistent with the documentary record, but consistent with the false statement that Cohen is now sitting in prison for.

After Cohen pled guilty, Mueller offered Trump a chance to correct his testimony, but he refused

Because I get into why that is, consider that, in the wake of Cohen’s plea, Trump admitted to remembering that the deal may have gone through the end of the campaign (the LOI was only withdrawn after the election) and Rudy ran his mouth admitting that the project went through November. In response, Mueller asked follow-up questions.

In light of the President’s public statements following Cohen’s guilty plea that he “decided not to do the project,” this Office again sought information from the President about whether he participated in any discussions about the project being abandoned or no longer pursued, including when he “decided not to do the project,” who he spoke to about that decision, and what motivated the decision. 1057 The Office also again asked for the timing of the President’s discussions with Cohen about Trump Tower Moscow and asked him to specify “what period of the campaign” he was involved in discussions concerning the project. 1058 In response, the President’s personal counsel declined to provide additional information from the President and stated that “the President has fully answered the questions at issue.” 1059

1057 1/23/19 Letter, Special Counsel’s Office to President’s Personal Counsel.

1058 1/23/ 19 Letter, Special Counsel’s Office to President’s Personal Counsel.

1059 2/6/ l 9 Letter, President’s Personal Counsel to Special Counsel’s Office.

On this matter, then, Trump made comments to the public after submitting his responses to Mueller that made it clear his claims to not recall these matters were false. When Mueller gave him the opportunity to fix his testimony, he refused.

Part of Trump’s response exactly replicates the lies Cohen told, in a statement prepared with the input of Jay Sekulow, to Congress

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

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

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

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

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

Cohen’s testimony, however, makes these lies even more damning.

The Trump Organization withheld the documents that would have made it clear Cohen was lying from the Committees

Again, as I noted back in January, there is no way that the lies Cohen told SSCI and HPSCI would have been sustainable if the committees had gotten all the documents they asked for. Specifically, three emails referenced in Cohen’s statement of the offense could not have been turned over to the committees without them figuring out he was lying.

On or about January 14, 2016 , COHEN emailed Russian Official 1’s office asking for assistance in connection with the Moscow Project.

On or about January 16, 2016, COHEN emailed Russian Official 1’s office again , said he was trying to reach another high- level Russian official, and asked for someone who spoke English to contact him.

On or about January 20, 2016, COHEN received an email from the personal assistant to Russian Official 1 (“Assistant 1”) , stating that she had been trying to reach COHEN and requesting that he call her using a Moscow-based phone number she provided.

Cohen’s story (and the one Trump submitted as his sworn testimony) is that he tried emailing Dmitry Peskov’s office just once, and that via a public email address. But as Mueller describes it — citing three emails from Cohen and one response from Peskov’s assistant Elena Poliakova — he wrote one email in which he fat-fingered the address for Peskov’s email, one to the general press line, and a second to Peskov’s email. In response, Poliakova wrote back, stating, “I can’t get through to both your phones. Pls, call me.”

On January 11, 2016, Cohen emailed the office of Dmitry Peskov, the Russian government’s press secretary, indicating that he desired contact with Sergei Ivanov, Putin’s chief of staff. Cohen erroneously used the email address “[email protected]” instead of “Pr [email protected] .ru,” so the email apparently did not go through.346 On January 14, 2016, Cohen emailed a different address ([email protected]) with the following message:

Dear Mr. Peskov, Over the past few months, I have been working with a company based in Russia regarding the development of a Trump Tower-Moscow project in Moscow City. Without getting into lengthy specifics, the communication between our two sides has stalled. As this project is too important, I am hereby requesting your assistance. I respectfully request someone, preferably you; contact me so that I might discuss the specifics as well as arranging meetings with the appropriate individuals. I thank you in advance for your assistance and look forward to hearing from you soon.347

Two days later, Cohen sent an email to [email protected], repeating his request to speak with Sergei Ivanov.348 Cohen testified to Congress, and initially told the Office, that he did not recall receiving a response to this email inquiry and that he decided to terminate any further work on the Trump Moscow project as of January 2016. Cohen later admitted that these statements were false. In fact, Cohen had received (and recalled receiving) a response to his inquiry, and he continued to work on and update candidate Trump on the project through as late as June 2016.349

On January 20, 2016, Cohen received an email from Elena Poliakova, Peskov’s personal assistant. Writing from her personal email account, Poliakova stated that she had been trying to reach Cohen and asked that he call her on the personal number that she provided.350 Shortly after receiving Poliakova’s email, Cohen called and spoke to her for 20 minutes.351

346 1/11/16 Email, Cohen to [email protected] (9: 12 a.m.).

347 1/14/16 Email, Cohen to [email protected] (9:21 a.m.).

348 1/16/16 Email, Cohen to [email protected] (10:28 a.m.).

349 Cohen Information ,i,i 4, 7. Cohen’s interactions with President Trump and the President’s lawyers when preparing his congressional testimony are discussed further in Volume II. See Vol. II, Section 11.K.3, infra.

350 1/20/1 6 Email, Poliakova to Cohen (5 :57 a.m.) (“Mr. Cohen[,] I can’t get through to both your phones. Pis, call me.”).

351 Telephone records show a 20-minute call on January 20, 2016 between Cohen and the number Poliakova provided in her email. Call Records of Michael Cohen After the call, Cohen saved Poliakova’s contact information in his Trump Organization Outlook contact list. 1/20/16 Cohen Microsoft Outlook Entry (6:22 a.m.).

The Poliakova email, by itself, would prove all the claims that Cohen got no response to be false.

As Cohen explained it, since he was no longer at Trump Organization anymore, he had to rely on Trump Org lawyers (probably Alan Garten) to comply with discovery requests. That probably means Garten is responsible for withholding the emails — particularly the Poliakova one — not just from Congress, but from Cohen.

Q Now, in your February 28th interview before this committee you mentioned that Alan Futerfas and Alan Garten, the two lawyers who were tied to The Trump Organization, were responsible for the document production that you produced to the committee in response to this committee’s May of 2017 subpoena. ls that accurate?

A That’s accurate.

[snip]

Q Do you have any information about why The Trump Organization would have withheld from this committee production of the January 141h, 2016, email from you to Peskov’s office?

A I do not.

Q Same question as to the January 161h, 2016, email from you to Peskov’s office regarding Sergei lvanov?

A I also do not.

Q Same question with regards to the January 20th,2016, email from Elena Poliyakova (ph)?

A I do not

THE CHAIRMAN: Mr. Cohen, what Mr. Mitchell is asking about is you’ve testified that the members of the joint defense agreement were aware that the written testimony that you were going to give to this committee was false. Documents that would have contradicted that timeline, namely, the three that Mr. Mitchell just referenced, were not produced to this committee. ls there any insight you can shed as to who might have been involved in withholding documentary evidence that would have contradicted your written false testimony?

MR. COHEN: Again, it would be other members of the joint defense team, but specifically at The Trump Organization level.

For reasons I’ll return to, Cohen was one of the only Trump people who got subpoenaed and therefore whose document compliance would be legally binding. But that means that Trump Org failed to comply with a subpoena issued not by Adam Schiff, but by Devin Nunes.

Cohen didn’t talk about these emails with Joint Defense Agreement lawyers, but he talked about the Poliakova one (and the follow-up call) with Trump

All that’s damning enough, especially since Trump claimed to Mueller that the documents turned over to his office would match his story (this is not the only sworn response where Trump falsely claimed the documentary record matches his testimony).

All the more so, though, because Trump is the one person that Cohen spoke to at Trump Org about receiving this Poliakova email (in addition to Felix Sater, who wrote the next day to say Putin’s office had contacted him, seemingly in response).

Indeed, immediately after his call with Poliakova, Cohen talked to Trump about how well versed she was on issues that mattered for their deal.

Q At what time did you speak to anyone at The Trump Organization about this email?

A About this specific email? I did not

Q Never?

A No. Well, actually, I apologize, that’s not true, I spoke to Mr. Trump about it.

Q When was that?

A That was after I had spoken to Ms. Poliyakova (ph).

[snip]

THE CHAIRMAN: And did I hear you to say that you spoke to Mr. Trump about your conversation with Mr. Peskov’s office?

MR. COHEN: Yes, with Ms. Poliyakova (ph).

THE CHAIRMAN: And was the conversation you had with Mr. Trump about that conversation with Ms. Poliyakova (ph) in person or by phone?

MR. COHEN: lt was in person.

THE CHAIRMAN: And how soon after your conversation with her on the phone did that take place?

MR. COHEN: Right afterwards.

THE CHAIRMAN: Can you tell us about the conversation you had with Ms Poliyakova (ph)?

MR. COHEN: I just found that she was very professional and her questions regarding the project were insightful. As an assistant, I was impressed, and I just made mention to him that I had spoken to an assistant for Peskov, and I was, again, incredibly impressed with her line of questioning regarding the project. And I made mention how nice it would be to have an assistant who asked such pertinent questions.

[snip]

THE CHAIRMAN: And by the detailed nature of her questions, you could tell that they knew a great deal about the project?

MR. COHEN: Yes.

THE CHAIRMAN: And what kind of questions did she have for you about the project?

MR. COHEN: The areas that obviously we would want to be building in. I don’t want to try to recollect the specific questions, but there were just very profess — they were very professional, talking about like the size of the project, the scope, length of time, where the construction crews were going to come from. I mean, it was a pretty insightful conversation.

Even if you buy that Trump forgot this conversation and the other seven he claims to have forgotten about a deal he very much wanted, you still need to explain why his responses, which allegedly account for the documentary evidence, nevertheless repeat the story that Cohen told based on a documentary record that Trump lawyers ensured was incomplete.

Given the great lengths Trump went to to not answer any of Mueller’s questions, it would take some doing for him to tell a demonstrable lie.

But he did just that with regards to the Trump Tower meeting — and refused to fix his testimony after he made it clear, publicly, that he had lied.

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

Trump’s Never-Declined Invitation from Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko

In an interview with NYT last year, George Papadopoulos claimed that he had a call scheduled with Stephen Miller on April 27, 2016, when he probably would have told him that Joseph Mifsud had just told him that Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton in the form of thousands of emails they planned to drop anonymously to help Donald Trump. But the call didn’t go through.

PAPADOPOULOS: That’s all I can say. I mean, actually, and the reason why I don’t know how much wiggle room — I don’t think I’m really leaving myself any wiggle room at all because probably 99 percent of my communication with the campaign was over email. You know, I was living in London. You know, I met some officials face to face very briefly. So the place I would have potentially sent this information — I think it’s public — I mentioned to Stephen Miller I’m receiving interesting messages from Moscow about a meeting, when the time is right. That was the same day that I had received that information. I think I had a scheduled call with Miller that same day, never went through, and perhaps that’s where it went. It just stayed in my mind.

[Later in the interview.]

MAZZETTI: One of the things that seems the most puzzling out of this whole Trump-Russia story is that you’re told about this pretty explosive information. It is information that would no doubt help the Trump campaign. You wanted to help the Trump campaign. You were very eager to gain, cement, a place in the campaign. And yet, you say you didn’t tell anyone about it but you did tell the Australian diplomat and the Greek foreign minister. Seems strange for people to sort of —

PAPADOPOULOS: I allegedly told the Australian, and I certainly told the Greek foreign minister, but let’s not forget, though, at the time I was shuffling between Europe quite frequently. I wasn’t at a campaign headquarters, where I would have the opportunity to sit down and probably talk with campaign heads. So, I actually I don’t find it shocking that I wouldn’t have told them something like this, considering my interactions with the campaign was, as I stated, probably 99 percent done via email. And maybe — you never know — maybe if the call between myself and Stephen Miller occurred that day, I would have told him. But that call never went through, and we’re left with receiving interesting messages from Moscow. It’s how fate works sometimes, I guess.

According to his statement of offense, after his second interview with the FBI, he got a new phone number, suggesting he ditched his cell phone.

On or about February 23, 20 17, defendant PAPADOPOULOS ceased using his cell phone number and began using a new number.

According to the government’s sentencing memo in his case, Papadopoulos hid the existence of a different phone he used to communicate with Mifsud while in London until his fourth and final interview with the FBI.

The defendant also did not notify the government about a cellular phone he used in London during the course of the campaign – that had on it substantial communications between the defendant and the Professor – until his fourth and final proffer session.

This was a guy working pretty hard to hide his communications — including any he had on encrypted apps that would bypass his phone company.

Which is why I find details about the Trump Organization response — or rather, non-response — to an invitation from Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Sergei Prikhodko, to attend the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum, the same event Cohen was supposed to attend to arrange the Trump Tower Moscow deal.

Here’s what the timeline of that invitation looks like, according to the Mueller Report (starting at page 78 of Volume I).

December 21, 2015: Mira Duma emails Ivanka passing along Prikhodko’s invite as an attachment

January 7, 2016: Ivanka forwards email to Rhona Graff

January 14, 2016: Graff replies to Duma by email saying Trump would have to decline because of his travel schedule, asking whether she should send a formal declination

January 15, 2016: Duma replies that a formal denial note would be appropriate

March 17, 2016 (according to Trump’s written response, though no email is cited in the report): Prikhodko emails Graff again inviting Trump to SPIEF

March 31, 2016: Graff prepares a two-paragraph letter declining the invitation and forwards it to another assistant to have Trump sign it, which he doesn’t sign

March 31, 2016: Robert Foresman follows up a phone introduction by Mark Burnett with an email to Graff, explaining that he had set up a back channel between George W Bush and Putin and discussing an “approach” by “senior Kremlin officials” asking for a meeting with Lewandowski about topics he did not want to include on an unsecure email

March 31, 2016: At a meeting of Trump’s foreign policy advisors, he responds favorably to Papadopoulos’ pitch to set up a meeting between Trump and Putin

April 4, 2016: Graff forwards that email to the same assistant who had put the invitation declination on letterhead

April 26, 2016: Foresman reminds Graff

April 27, 2016: Graff forwards the initial March 31 email and the April 26 email to Lewandowski

April 27, 2016: Papadopoulos emails Miller, “Have some interesting messages coming in from Moscow about a trip when the time is right”

April 27, 2016: Papadopoulos emails Lewandowski,  “to discuss Russia’s interest in hosting Mr. Trump. Have been receiving a lot of calls over the last month about Putin wanting to host him and the team when the time is right”

April 30, 2016: Foresman reminds Graff again, suggesting a meeting with Don Jr or Eric Trump, so he could convey information that “should be conveyed to [the candidate] personally or [to] someone [the candidate] absolutely trusts”

May 2, 2016: Graff forwards the April 30 email to Stephen Miller

May 4, 2016: Cohen tells Sater he would travel before the RNC in July, and Trump would “once he becomes the nominee after the convention”

May 5, 2016: Sater extends invitation purportedly from Peskov to SPIEF

Ultimately, there’s no record Trump did decline the invitation from Prikhodko (nor does the report cite the email he purportedly sent to Graff). Nor does the report describe what happened after Foresman’s invite got sent to Miller.

But it does show that in the wake of Papadopoulos purportedly failing to tell Miller the Russians were offering dirt, he was the guy Lewandowski wanted to field an offer a possible back channel with Russia.

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

Rod Rosenstein’s Unfortunate Vocabulary: Defining a Criminal Investigation by “Links” and “Collusion”

Rod Rosenstein is the very unlikely hero of the Mueller investigation. “Rod is a survivor,” Jim Comey said after getting fired. “And you don’t get to survive that long across administrations without making compromises.”

Yet here we are, 22 months after he appointed Robert Mueller to investigate an investigation Trump tried to kill by firing Comey, awaiting the results of that investigation.

At times, I think Rosenstein didn’t imagine (and doesn’t now acknowledge) the damage his bend-don’t-break has done along the way. While based off the very sound precedent that existed until Comey’s declination speech about Hillary, it seems ridiculous for him to claim that the full results of the Mueller investigation can’t be shared with Congress, as he’s now claiming, given how he has provided unprecedented disclosure to Congress about the investigation already, including the first ever unsealed probable cause FISA application.

It will take some years to measure whether Rosenstein chose the best or perhaps only the least worst approach to the last several years.

But there’s one thing he did that really makes me uncomfortable, today, as we all await the results of the Mueller report: his mandate to Mueller.

As has been noted countless times in the last 22 months, Rosenstein asked Mueller to investigate:

    • any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and
    • any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation;
    • any other matters with the scope of 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(a).
  • if the Special Counsel believes it is necessary and appropriate, the Special Counsel is authorized to prosecute federal crimes arising from the investigation of these matters.

We actually know the answer to the first bullet, in part: As I laid out here, during five key interactions pertaining to the question of a possible conspiracy between Trump’s associates and Russia, there was direct contact between someone the government has deemed an agent of Russia and the Trump campaign:

  1. January 20, 2016, when Michael Cohen told Dmitry Peskov’s personal assistant that Trump would be willing to work with a GRU-tied broker and (soft and hard) sanctioned banks in pursuit of a $300 million Trump Tower deal in Russia.
  2. June 9, 2016, when Don Jr, knowing that currying favor with Russia could mean $300 million to the family, took a meeting offering dirt on Hillary Clinton as “part of  Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” At the end of the meeting, per the testimony of at least four attendees, Don Jr said they’d revisit Magnitsky sanctions if his dad won.
  3. August 2, 2016, when Paul Manafort and Rick Gates had a clandestine meeting with Konstantin Kilimnik at which Trump’s campaign manager walked Kilimnik through highly detailed poll data and the two discussed a “peace” plan for Ukraine understood to amount to sanctions relief.
  4. December 29, 2016, when (working on instructions relayed by KT McFarland, who was at Mar-a-Lago with Trump) Mike Flynn said something to Sergey Kislyak that led Putin not to respond to Obama’s election-related sanctions.
  5. January 11, 2017, when Erik Prince, acting as a back channel for Trump, met with sanctioned sovereign wealth fund Russian Direct Investment Fund CEO Kirill Dmitriev.

That Peskov’s assistant (and whatever representative from Putin’s office that called Felix Sater the next day), Sergey Kislyak, and Kirill Dmitriev are agents of Russia is clear. With the indictment of Natalia Veselnitskaya in December, the government deemed her to be working as an agent of Russia during the same time period she pitched sanctions relief to Trump’s campaign. And while the government hasn’t proven it beyond quoting Rick Gates acknowledging he knew of Konstantin Kilimnik’s past with the GRU and FBI’s belief that he continues to have ties, the government certainly maintains that Kilimnik does have ties to Russian intelligence.

Those are links. It’d be useful to have an official report on them. But since Mueller hasn’t charged them as a conspiracy, we may only learn what we’ve seen in plea agreements or official testimony to Congress.

Likewise Rosenstein’s invocation of “collusion” in the unredacted parts of his memo describing the scope of the investigation as it existed in August 2017 (it expanded and contracted after that point, so there are like different memos).

Allegations that Paul Manafort:

  • committed a crime or crimes by colluding with Russian government officials with respect to the Russian government’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 election for President of the United States, in violation of United States law;

Here, unlike in the initial mandate, Rosenstein at least noted that Mueller was assessing whether crimes were committed in using that squishy language. But he used the word “collusion,” which started to be politicized by March 2017, when Comey tried to correct it once and for all.

I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts. As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.

[snip]

Collusion is not a legal term. It is not one I have used today. I said we are investigating to see if there is any coordination between people associated with the campaign– [my emphasis]

Sure, “collusion” might be understood to incorporate a bunch of possible crimes, and so appropriately didn’t limit Mueller to one specific crime as he investigated Manafort (but then, so did the term, “coordination”). But I nevertheless think that using the word has confused the issue of what Rosenstein intended Mueller to be able to reveal, which would instead be conspiracy and a bunch of other crimes covering up evidence of coordination that Mueller has found necessary and appropriate to charge, and not whether there was “collusion.”

All the while, people on both sides of this debate have taken “collusion” to mean whatever minimalist or maximalist interpretation of wrong-doing that best serves their side.

There are two things at issue: whether Trump and his aides coordinated in a way that is criminal, which would be a conspiracy, and whether Trump has coordinated with Russia in a way that would be an abuse of power and/or puts the nation at risk.

Both are legitimate questions. And while Rosenstein says only crimes that are indicted are appropriate to reveal (and he may well be right about that, as a principle), he did ask Mueller to conduct an investigation of that other stuff, and Congress has deferred to Mueller even while that other stuff is squarely within their mandate.

Ideally, this weeks focus on Mueller’s discoveries would be on what the actual evidence showed, which we know to include, at a minimum, the following:

  • 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.

Instead, however, we’re still arguing about a word — collusion — that was stripped of all meaning years ago, with the result that Mueller’s presumably very measured assessment of what happened cannot serve as the arbiter of truth we need.

Rosenstein may well be the unlikely hero of preserving some semblance of rule of law in this country. But along the way, his choice of language has unfortunately twice fostered the confusion about where the line between crime and misconduct is.

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. 

Art of the Get-Screwed-in-Your-Russian-Quid-Pro-Quo Deal

Donald J. Trump, self-proclaimed Master of the Deal, just got his ass handed to him in a high stakes nuclear negotiation by Kim Jong-Un, at a time when Trump had the full power of the United States and hundreds of experts available to help him.

And yet Russian conspiracy denialists believe that any conspiracy between said deal-maker and Vladimir Putin must show evidence that Trump came away with a big win over anything but the 2016 election. They believe this, even though Trump made any such deal at a time when he was desperate to avoid a humiliating loss, relying on negotiators like his feckless son Don Jr, his attention-craving personal lawyer Michael Cohen, and his financially exposed campaign manager Paul Manafort.

That’s what I learned last night when I walked Aaron Maté through the process of first claiming the Trump Tower deal went nowhere because Cohen and Felix Sater disagreed in December 2015, then admitting that Cohen and Sater were still at it in May and June 2016. By the end, Maté was dismissing Rudy Giuliani’s admission that the deal went through the election (which is itself a limited hangout designed to hide that a Trump Tower deal was pursued in two different forms after the election, as well as abundant evidence that other financial payoffs were dangled if not made) by pointing to Dmitry Peskov’s stories, which have changed right along with Michael Cohen’s evolving story.

Because there’s no shiny tower in Moscow with Trump’s name on it, Maté appears to believe, it is proof that when Don Jr took a meeting in June 2016 at which he (according to the sworn testimony of four people who attended) committed to revisit Magnitsky sanctions if his dad got elected, the possibility of a $300 million payoff didn’t factor in to Junior’s willingness to sign away American policy considerations on behalf of his father.

That’s not how criminal conspiracy law works.

If you sign up for a deal and take steps to make good on it — as Don Jr did on June 9, 2016 and Paul Manafort appears to have done on August 2, 2016 and Mike Flynn appears to have done, on Trump’s behalf, on December 29, 2016 — then it doesn’t matter if the partner to that deal fucks you over later in the process. And, after all, the Russians did continue to supply Trump with a steady supply of dirt on Hillary Clinton all through the election. They got Trump elected, or at least did what they could to help, even if that payoff wasn’t the one Trump was most interested in.

Do you think Oleg Deripaska, a key player in both the deal-making and likely in the cover-up of it, gives a shit if Paul Manafort — who had screwed Deripaska over years earlier — had his life ruined as part of the process of compromising a President and getting sanctions relief? My suspicion is we’ll learn that Deripaska actually magnified Manafort’s hurt, once he had gotten him to compromise himself and the campaign.

Do you think Putin really cares whether Trump — to say nothing of the United States — benefits from the stupid choices Trump made during the election? Putin — a far better “deal” maker than Trump — got a win-win either way: Either Trump succeeded in compromising America’s rule of law in an effort to squelch any investigation into what happened, robbing the United States of the claim to idealism that so irks the master kleptocrat, Putin, or Trump would spend his Administration desperately trying to find a way out, all the while Putin connives Trump into dismantling the alliances that keep Russia in check.

And, too, Putin’s election year operation exacerbated the polarization between Democrats and Republicans such that most Republicans and a goodly number of Democrats have been unable to step back and say, holy shit, this country got attacked and we need to come together to do something about it. Trump’s win got Republicans to fear Trump’s base so much that they care more about those fevered hordes than doing what is right for this country. And Democrats rightly want to punish Trump for cheating, but haven’t thought about what a least-damaging off-ramp for that cheater might look like.

Putin doesn’t care if Trump benefits from all this — though he is happy to keep toying with Trump like a cat plays before he eviscerates his mouse. He cares about whether he and his cronies win. And there are multiple ways for him to get a win out of this, whether or not Trump manages to eke out any kind of real payoff past the election.

And let’s be honest, Putin isn’t the only one playing this game. Certainly, Mohammed bin Salman feels the same way, even if his record of ruthless dealmaking is shorter and sloppier than Putin’s. The truth is that Donald Trump and Jared Kushner are easy marks for a whole range of skilled operators willing to stroke their egos and dangle loot, and over and over again they’ve let themselves be bested in foreign policy negotiations, to the detriment of the interests of the United States. That they are so bad at deal making in no way disproves their culpability.

There is no Trump Tower in Moscow. But there never had to be. All that was needed was the promise of a ridiculously lucrative narcissism-stroking deal for the Trump family to agree to shit that would hurt this country. And all the evidence suggests that they did, and continue to do so.

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. 

Did Mueller Ask Manafort Any Questions about His Early May 2016 Meeting with Kilimnik?

I’ll be honest with you. The reason I did this post — showing that the polling data Paul Manafort shared with Konstantin Kilimnik on August 2, 2016 amounted to at least 75 pages — (and a whole lot of background work not shown) was because I wanted to puzzle through the NYT’s latest story on what Manafort shared with Kilimnik when. Ken Vogel (who bylined both the other stories repeating the cover story someone fed them in January), perhaps faced with mounting evidence they got lied to, now says Manafort shared polling data with Kilimnik twice, once at the May meeting they had, and again at the August one.

And around the same time that he was passing through Washington nearly three years ago — just as Mr. Trump was clinching the Republican presidential nomination — he first received polling data about the 2016 election from two top Trump campaign officials, Mr. Manafort and Rick Gates, as Russia was beginning a social media operation intended to help Mr. Trump’s campaign.

[snip]

Around the time of Mr. Kilimnik’s trip to the United States in spring 2016, Mr. Manafort directed Mr. Gates to transfer some polling data to Mr. Kilimnik, including public polling and some developed by a private polling company working for the campaign, according to a person with knowledge of the arrangement.

Mr. Manafort asked Mr. Gates to tell Mr. Kilimnik to pass the data to Mr. Lyovochkin and Mr. Akhmetov, the person said. Representatives for both Mr. Lyovochkin and Mr. Akhmetov said they neither requested nor received the data, and would have had no use for it.

Mr. Mueller’s team has focused on what appears to have been another discussion about polling data in New York on Aug. 2, 2016. A partly redacted court transcript suggests that Mr. Gates, who entered a plea agreement with the special counsel that requires his cooperation, may have told prosecutors that Mr. Manafort had walked Mr. Kilimnik through detailed polling data at a meeting that day in the cigar lounge of the Grand Havana Room in Manhattan.

The meeting also included a conversation about one Ukrainian “peace plan,” according to court filings.

I think if Vogel were more confident about this, it’d be the lede. BREAKING: suspected Russian asset got Trump’s polling data over and over.

Instead, Vogel tries to finesse the earlier report — which this coverage unambiguously marks as an error — so as to pretend that when the NYT reported that a court filing referred to Manafort sharing polling data with Kilimnik, the court filing meant that had happened in spring, not August. The court dispute — as Vogel’s reference to Mueller’s team’s focus now concedes — all pertains to August.

The publication history of the NYT “correction”

Side note: the publishing history of the original January 8 NYT article is of particular interest, especially since the Newsdiffs site apparently didn’t track this article, According to the Internet archive, the original story (bylined by Sharon LaFraniere and Ken Vogel) posted by 20:22 on January 8. The only description of the polling data comes in the lede:

Paul Manafort shared Trump campaign polling data with an associate tied to Russian intelligence during the 2016 campaign, prosecutors alleged, according to a court filing unsealed on Tuesday.

The first version of the story to include more detail posted at 3:51 on January 9. This is the first version that includes Maggie Haberman on the byline (and Scott Shane and Andrew Kramer as contributors). This is the version that said Manafort knew Kilimnik was going to share the data with Oleg Deripaska. But it also introduces two things that are inaccurate: the timing, and that the data was public.

As a top official in President Trump’s campaign, Paul Manafort shared political polling data with a business associate tied to Russian intelligence, according to a court filing unsealed on Tuesday. The document provided the clearest evidence to date that the Trump campaign may have tried to coordinate with Russians during the 2016 presidential race.

[snip]

The document gave no indication of whether Mr. Trump was aware of the data transfer or how Mr. Kilimnik might have used the information. But from March to August 2016, when Mr. Manafort worked for the Trump campaign, Russia was engaged in a full-fledged operation using social media, stolen emails and other tactics to boost Mr. Trump, attack Mrs. Clinton and play on divisive issues such as race and guns. Polling data could conceivably have helped Russia hone those messages and target audiences to help swing votes to Mr. Trump.

Both Mr. Manafort and Rick Gates, the deputy campaign manager, transferred the data to Mr. Kilimnik in the spring of 2016 as Mr. Trump clinched the Republican presidential nomination, according to a person knowledgeable about the situation. Most of the data was public, but some of it was developed by a private polling firm working for the campaign, according to the person.

Mr. Manafort asked Mr. Gates to tell Mr. Kilimnik to pass the data to Oleg V. Deripaska, a Russian oligarch who is close to the Kremlin and who has claimed that Mr. Manafort owed him money from a failed business venture, the person said. It is unclear whether Mr. Manafort was acting at the campaign’s behest or independently, trying to gain favor with someone to whom he was deeply in debt. [my emphasis]

So at that point, the story was:

  • Byline includes Maggie for the first time
  • Shared in spring
  • Mostly public
  • Intended for Deripaska

The story posts in a “corrected” form sometime before 19:23 on January 9. It retains the timing and public data claims, but changes the recipient with a “correction,” even while retaining an earlier paragraph about Deripaska that (particularly given the August handoff) should disprove the “correction.” It also adds a paragraph effectively admitting that it isn’t as obvious why two Ukrainian oligarchs would want the polling data in the way that Deripaska would have an obvious use for it.

About the same time, Mr. Manafort was also trying to curry favor with Oleg V. Deripaska, a Russian billionaire close to the Kremlin and an associate of Mr. Kilimnik. In July 2016, Mr. Manafort, then the Trump campaign chairman, told Mr. Kilimnik that he could offer Mr. Deripaska “private briefings,” according to emails reported by The Washington Post. Mr. Deripaska had claimed Mr. Manafort owed him millions from a failed business venture, and Mr. Manafort may have been trying to use his status in the campaign to hold him at bay.

[snip]

Mr. Manafort asked Mr. Gates to tell Mr. Kilimnik to pass the data to two Ukrainian oligarchs, Serhiy Lyovochkin and Rinat Akhmetov, the person said. The oligarchs, neither of whom responded to requests for comment, had financed Russian-aligned Ukrainian political parties that had hired Mr. Manafort as a political consultant.

Why Mr. Manafort wanted them to see American polling data is unclear. He might have hoped that any proof that he was managing a winning candidate would help him collect money he claimed to be owed for his work on behalf of the Ukrainian parties.

[snip]

A previous version of this article misidentified the people to whom Paul Manafort wanted a Russian associate to send polling data. Mr. Manafort wanted the data sent to two Ukrainian oligarchs, Serhiy Lyovochkin and Rinat Akhmetov, not Oleg V. Deripaska, a Russian oligarch close to the Kremlin.

There’s a part of me that wonders whether NYT was not so obstinate on the issue of this data being public and shared in spring because they’ve seen lawyers notes or even the 302 of Manafort’s testimony that Amy Berman Jackson has since ruled to be a lie. They’re still sourcing the claim to one individual in the know, which seems like pretty shaky sourcing to ignore after the plain language of the official court transcript of the February 4 hearing made it clear this was an August hand-off. So it may be they’ve got a non-public document that leads them to believe this is the case, even if that non-public document is just a record of Manafort lying.

Weissmann may have corrected the NYT in the breach determination hearing

But we know that after the NYT story, with its prominent Deripaska claim followed by its “correction,” the government submitted a declaration on January 15 in which most of the discussion of polling data was entirely redacted, then argued the point at length on February 4. In addition to Richard Westling’s comments that make it clear this wasn’t mostly public data, Andrew Weissmann argued (in passage that was mistakenly attributed to Westling in the transcript), that Manafort knew the data would be shared with two entities.

As noted, the last redaction in this passage would fit neither of the Ukrainian oligarchs named but would fit Deripaska, though that’s just one possibility. That said, given that the meeting was on August 2, in the context of Manafort “getting whole” with Deripaska, it would be inconceivable that Kilimnik would share the data only with the Ukrainians.

In addition to saying that Manafort was telling the lies he told in a bid to sustain hopes for a pardon, Weissmann also makes a reference to a lie told “three weeks ago.” Given the redaction fail, we can be certain that nothing in the Manafort filing (which was technically more than three weeks before the hearing) could be that lie. But the “correction” to the NYT could be.

Weissmann also moves directly from that discussion to an assertion that the question of sharing polling data went straight to the heart of Mueller’s mandate — investigating “witting or unwitting” coordination with Russia.

MR. WEISSMANN: So — so, first, in terms of the what it is that the special counsel is tasked with doing, as the Court knows from having that case litigated before you, is that there are different aspects to what we have to look at, and one is Russian efforts to interfere with the election, and the other is contacts, witting or unwitting, by Americans with Russia, and then whether there was — those contacts were more intentional or not. And for us, the issue of [2.5 lines redacted] is in the core of what it is that the special counsel is supposed to be investigating.

And we know from Amy Berman Jackson’s breach determination ruling that she found this was indeed a link with Russia — not Russian backed oligarchs, but Russia.

That’s circumstantial, but it seems that Weissmann was rebutting the notion that Manafort intended Kilimnik to share this information exclusively with Ukrainians, and not Russians. Whatever the case, ABJ has ruled that the sharing of this data did entail a link with the Russian government.

Manafort invokes some earlier meeting as a last ditch ploy in his final filing

Which brings me to ABJ’s mention of a totally new argument that Manafort apparently raised in their final brief.

Some background to this brief. During the debate over the polling data on February 4, Manafort’s lawyers tried to rebut the claim first by Richard Westling spinning the data, then by Kevin Downing claiming that Rick Gates had no credibility, as proven (he claimed) by Gates’ flop before the EDVA jury. ABJ then, on her own, gets the public report from a juror on the EDVA jury to prove Downing’s attacks are overblown. Through it all, the possibility that Gates might be called in to testify on this issue (which of course would allow ABJ to decide that he’s way more credible than Manafort, but then most people are). Ultimately, Manafort’s lawyers say they don’t want that to happen, but say they’ll submit one more brief.

That’s the one I cited in this post, referencing the polling data and Kilimnik’s emails about them. According to ABJ in her judgment hearing, after the entire breach determination was done, Manafort’s team tried to make a totally new argument about what Manafort was saying when he told Gates to print out the polling data.

More important to me, there’s other corroboration. There’s Exhibit 233, an [redacted — remember, this exhibit is the email with polling data attached] Now, I was told on February 8th, for the first time, in the third pleading that was filed in response to these allegations and after the hearing was over, that when Mr. Manafort said [3 lines redacted] There’s nothing provided to substantiate that, but there’s also nothing in the record to indicate one way or the other that the two men had met previously [redacted]

All Gates said to the FBI in Exhibit 236 on January 30th was that [redacted]. Is that text alone definitive? Am I relying on that solely? No. But is it corroborative of Gates’s statement that [redacted] Yes.

This seems to be an effort to suggest that the first three times Gates claimed Manafort shared polling data in proffer sessions in January and February 2018 he was saying something different than what he was saying in what they claim was a brand new claim on September 28, in testimony parallel to Manafort’s own. There’s nothing in the unredacted passages of that filing that explain this argument (though it does reference data from “prior to the Republican Convention and the start of the General Election,” which could be July 15 or could be May 2.

Ultimately, the ploy doesn’t work. ABJ goes through two different Gates 302s from January and another (which may be the stuff that had been ex parte at the February 4 hearing) from February 7, 2018 that all corroborate that Manafort ordered Gates to print out the polling data to be shared at that August 2 meeting.

I’m interested in this for two reasons. First, this new argument, made a month after someone first gave a false story to the NYT, seems to be referencing an earlier meeting between … somebody. Maybe Gates and Kilimnik?

But I do find that to be an interesting detail for two reasons. First, as noted, the NYT story, without correcting their initial outright error that the court dispute pertained to the August 2 meeting, now claims that Manafort directed Gates to deal poll data twice, once in May and once in August.

And around the same time that he was passing through Washington nearly three years ago — just as Mr. Trump was clinching the Republican presidential nomination — he first received polling data about the 2016 election from two top Trump campaign officials, Mr. Manafort and Rick Gates, as Russia was beginning a social media operation intended to help Mr. Trump’s campaign.

[snip]

Around the time of Mr. Kilimnik’s trip to the United States in spring 2016, Mr. Manafort directed Mr. Gates to transfer some polling data to Mr. Kilimnik, including public polling and some developed by a private polling company working for the campaign, according to a person with knowledge of the arrangement.

Mr. Manafort asked Mr. Gates to tell Mr. Kilimnik to pass the data to Mr. Lyovochkin and Mr. Akhmetov, the person said. Representatives for both Mr. Lyovochkin and Mr. Akhmetov said they neither requested nor received the data, and would have had no use for it.

Is that what Manafort’s team invented at this late date? A claim that the reference in the August 2 email to sharing data with Kilimnik was about a meeting that had transpired three months earlier?!?!

The May Kilimnik meeting never shows up in the breach determination

But it does raise some interesting questions. Notably, it’s not clear whether the May 2016 meeting between Manafort and Kilimnik came up at all during his cooperation.

The government’s January 15 declaration sets a start date on Manafort’s lies, “Beginning on August 2, 2016, and continuing until March 2018, Manafort and Kilimnik communicated about a [peace deal],” but that seems to relate exclusively to that peace deal. It doesn’t rule out a discussion of that earlier meeting (though it does seem to rule out Mueller knowing that Ukrainian sanctions came up, which actually is a good thing for Trump given the stink around the Ukrainian language in the Republican platform in July). 

Which leaves three possibilities, apart from Manafort’s efforts to separate the sharing of polling data from the discussions about a Ukraine peace deal.

  • Prosecutors didn’t discuss the May meeting at all with Manafort during his cooperation
  • Prosecutors discussed the May meeting with Manafort (which may have included a meeting with Trump) and he told the truth about it
  • Manafort lied about the May meeting, but prosecutors didn’t want to lay out what they really know about it

All would be interesting. I mean, even aside from the possibility that Trump met Kilimnik, the early May meeting should be of significant interest because at least two other events closely coincide with it:

  • On May 4, Ivan Timofeev tells George Papadopoulos he has been cleared to start negotiations with Papadopoulos, which leads him to forward an email discussing such an offer to multiple people on the campaign, including (on May 21), Manafort
  • After their discussions about a Trump Tower had moved to Dust between January and May, Felix Sater sends Michael Cohen texts moving to set up his and Trump’s trips to Moscow.

In other words, May 4 or thereabouts, just a week after the Russians first dangled the emails to Papadopoulos, the plot appears to start up again. That coinkydink of significant events would seem to be something prosecutors would want to discuss with Manafort.

If they did, they’re not telling us whether he told the truth.

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. 

Quid Pro Quo Redux, Part One: The Trump Tower Dangle

Last May, I wrote a series using the questions (as imagined by Jay Sekulow) Mueller had posed to Trump to lay out what theory of investigation Mueller might be pursuing — and what details we know about it. We’ve learned a lot more about the investigation and confirmed that the investigation focusing on Trump personally includes both a criminal and a counterintelligence component. I wanted to update the series. Because we know so much more about both sides of this quid pro quo, the organization of the series will be somewhat different.

November 9, 2013: During a 2013 Trip To Russia, What Communication and Relationships Did You Have with the Agalarovs and Russian Government Officials?

On November 9, 2013, Aras Agalorov helped Trump put on Miss Universe in Moscow; Trump Tower meeting attendees Rob Goldstone and Ike Kaveladze were both involved, as were Don Jr, Michael Cohen, and Keith Schiller. If the pee tape — or any kompromat involving “golden showers,” as Jim Comey claims Trump called it — exists, it was made on November 8, 2013.

The prior trip set up the 2016 quid pro quo in several ways. First, it deepened Trump’s desire for a Moscow Trump Tower — an effort the Agalrovs and Trumps pursued for years after the meeting. It established Trump’s enthusiasm for Vladimir Putin — though Putin reportedly disappointed Trump’s desire for a meeting on that prior occasion. It also introduced Trump to a bunch of other oligarchs.

Just after Trump kicked off his presidential bid, Emin invited Trump to his father’s birthday party in Moscow on November 8 (PDF 17), the first of a series of outreaches during Trump’s campaign which would continue through the election. The Agalarovs would remain the key handlers of the Trump family until shortly after the election, when first Sergei Kislyak, then Putin himself, would take over interacting with Trump and his family.

September 25, 2015 to November 2016: What Communication did you have with Michael D. Cohen, Felix Sater, and others, including foreign nationals, about Russian real estate developments during the campaign

By September 25, 2015, Felix Sater and Michael Cohen already had a Moscow design study completed for a Trump Tower in Moscow. Days later, Andrey Rozov was promising to build Donald Trump the tallest tower in Europe. In October 2015, Felix Sater (whose actions in brokering this deal seemed designed to ensure that Trump’s willingness to work with Russian military intelligence and sanctioned banks would leave a digital paper trail) started pitching the centrality of Putin to the deal. On October 28, at a time when his presidential bid was meeting unexpected success, Trump signed a Letter of Intent on a deal that stood to make him a fantastic sum of $300 million.

In the days after getting the signed letter of intent and in response to Trump publicly complimenting Putin at a press conference, Sater bizarrely tied the deal to getting Trump elected. He claimed to believe that if Putin complimented Trump’s deal-making prowess at a press conference tied to a then hypothetical Trump trip to Moscow, it would help Trump’s election chances.

Michael my next steps are very sensitive with Putins very very close people, we can pull this off. Michael lets go. 2 boys from Brooklyn getting a USA president elected.

Sater first tried to get commitments for both Cohen and Trump to travel to Moscow (with the documents to prove it) in December 2015. While Cohen was willing to share his passport, he held off on Trump’s. Perhaps as a result of Cohen’s increasing impatience with Sater’s swapping out a lightly sanctioned bank for a more compromising one, Cohen said he wanted to take more control. That led to him to reach out to Dmitry Peskov directly (who had been involved in Trump’s efforts to meet Putin in 2013), which in turn led him to have a 20 minute call with Peskov’s personal assistant on January 21, 2016. Over the course of that conversation, she would have taken notes recording Cohen committing to Trump’s willingness to work through a former GRU officer and with sanctioned banks to get his $300 million deal. By the next day, Putin’s office had that in hand, the first of many receipts he would obtain on Trump, making him susceptible to compromise regardless of what happened.

Cohen smartly shifted negotiations to the encrypted communication app Dust for a time. But when Sater renewed discussions about a trip to Russia to make this happen in May 2016, he did so on texts that would be accessible to law enforcement. And Cohen made it clear Trump had to seal the nomination before he would risk making his coziness with Putin public, making it crystal clear that the election and the Trump Tower deal remained linked in his brain.

Both Trump and Don Jr were thoroughly briefed on these negotiations. That means when Don Jr accepted a meeting offering dirt on Hillary as part of Russia’s support for Trump, he would have known that a $300 million real estate deal might depend on taking the meeting. Don Jr took the June 9, 2016 meeting and — per four sworn witnesses’ statements — agreed to revisit Magnitsky sanctions if his father won.

At almost exactly the moment that meeting broke up, Felix Sater texted Cohen to take the next step on a deal, a trip for him to St. Petersburg, potentially to meet with Putin personally. Oleg Deripaska and Sergei Millian (the latter of whom Cohen had also worked with in the past) would also have been at the event.

In the days after the Trump Tower meeting, Sater and Cohen were scrambling to put together the trip to St. Petersburg at the last minute. But they looked like they would pull it off, only to have the WaPo report, on June 14, 2016, that Russia hacked the DNC postpone the plans for the trip.

That said, Cohen only said, “he would not be traveling at that time.” The news that Russia hacked Trump’s opponent didn’t kill the deal. It just made it more difficult.

On July 22, 2016 — the day that WikiLeaks released the DNC emails — George Papadopoulos (possibly with the coaching of Ivan Timofeev) and Sergei Millian seem to have picked up keeping discussions of a deal alive from Cohen and Sater.

According to the President’s current teevee lawyer, Trump answered Mueller’s questions on this topic to allow for the possibility that the Russian deal remained active through November. He’s just not committing to any story about how long the deal remained (or remains) active.

One thing to remember about this Trump Tower deal. The deal was too good to be true (and to some degree that’s the point!). But it fed all of Trump’s character weaknesses. The promise of having the tallest tower in Europe would feed Trump’s narcissism. The fairly ridiculous claim Trump Organization stood to make $300 million off of it would have been irresistible to the highly indebted family.

And in exchange for that, Trump showed repeated and sustained willingness to deal with GRU-tied individuals and sanctioned banks. And at the June 9 meeting, his spawn made it clear he’d trade policy considerations to get the deal.

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. 

RESOURCES

These are some of the most useful resources in mapping these events.

Mueller questions as imagined by Jay Sekulow

CNN’s timeline of investigative events

Majority HPSCI Report

Minority HPSCI Report

Trump Twitter Archive

Jim Comey March 20, 2017 HPSCI testimony

Comey May 3, 2017 SJC testimony

Jim Comey June 8, 2017 SSCI testimony

Jim Comey written statement, June 8, 2017

Jim Comey memos

Sally Yates and James Clapper Senate Judiciary Committee testimony, May 8, 2017

NPR Timeline on Trump’s ties to Aras Agalarov

George Papadopoulos complaint

George Papadopoulos statement of the offense

Mike Flynn 302

Mike Flynn statement of the offense

Mike Flynn cooperation addendum

Peter Strzok 302 (describing Flynn’s interview)

Michael Cohen statement of the offense

Internet Research Agency indictment

GRU indictment

Senate Judiciary Committee materials on June 9 meeting

BuzzFeed documents on Trump Tower deal

Text of the Don Jr Trump Tower Meeting emails

Jared Kushner’s statement to Congress

Erik Prince HPSCI transcript

The WaPo Scoop on the DNC Hack (Temporarily) Killed the Trump Tower Deal

On June 14, 2016, Felix Sater was getting stressed about putting together Michael Cohen’s trip to St. Petersburg at which, on June 17, Donald Trump’s personal lawyer might meet Vladimir Putin, which would in turn lead to a $300 million real estate deal. He bugged Cohen in the morning to get back to him.

At 10:24 AM, Sater sent Cohen the invitation he would need to get a Russian visa in one day’s time.

At around 11:35 AM, the Washington Post reported that Russian hackers had hacked the DNC.

Things still seemed to be ready to go at 12:06 PM. Sater texted Cohen, “you are radio silent, please respond.” Cohen called him just after noon.

But by 2:41 PM, when Sater showed up at Trump Tower to get the paperwork, Cohen wouldn’t let him come upstairs. Instead, he met him downstairs in the snack bar.

Three days before Donald Trump’s personal lawyer would have met with Vladimir Putin to advance a $300 million Tower deal, he instead met his fixer in the lobby and told him, “he would not be traveling at that time.”

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. 

Felix Sater Promised a Putin Meeting with Michael Cohen Minutes after Don Jr Promised to Revisit Magnitsky Sanctions

BuzzFeed has posted the documents showing Michael Cohen and Felix Sater organizing a Trump Tower deal until June 14, literally as the news of the DNC hack broke. The documents show how closely those negotiations interacted with the June 9 meeting.

The Trump Tower meeting between Don Jr and Russians promising dirt was scheduled for 4PM (Rob Goldstone posted on Facebook that he was at Trump Tower at 3:57). Natalia Veselnitskaya ran a bit late, but they would have started the meeting by 4:10PM.

Four witnesses to the meeting (the four whose responses weren’t coached by Trump Organization lawyers) said that the meeting ended with Don Jr saying that his father might or would revisit Magnitsky sanctions if he became President.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The meeting lasted somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes.

At about that time, Trump tweeted out a reference to Hillary’s emails, invoking 823 staffers, which was a good ballpark estimate for how many staffers (including unpaid advisors) she really had at the time.

At that same time, Felix Sater texted Michael Cohen to tell him he was working on setting up Cohen’s trip to St. Petersburg.

At that point, Sater told Cohen there was a “very strong chance” he would meet Russia’s President, which Cohen and Don Jr would have both believed meant that the Trump Organization could make $300 million by lending Trump’s name to the tallest tower in Europe.

Quid pro quo, all executed on social media.

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.