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What the Watergate Road Map Might Say about a Mueller Road Map

In an interview last week, Rudy Giuliani explained that Trump had finished the open book test Mueller had given the President, but that they were withholding the answers until after tomorrow’s election, after which they’ll re-enter negotiations about whether Trump will actually answer questions on the Russian investigation in person or at all.

“I expect a day after the election we will be in serious discussions with them again, and I have a feeling they want to get it wrapped up one way or another.”

Meanwhile, one of the first of the post-election Administration shake-up stories focuses, unsurprisingly, on the likelihood that Trump will try to replace Jeff Sessions and/or Rod Rosenstein (though doesn’t headline the entire story “Trump set to try to end Mueller investigation,” as it should).

Some embattled officials, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions, are expected to be fired or actively pushed out by Trump after months of bitter recriminations.

[snip]

Among those most vulnerable to being dismissed are Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who is overseeing special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation after Sessions recused himself. Trump has routinely berated Sessions, whom he faults for the Russia investigation, but he and Rosenstein have forged an improved rapport in recent months.

As I note in my TNR piece on the subject, there are several paths that Trump might take to attempt to kill the Mueller investigation, some of which might take more time and elicit more backlash. If Trump could convince Sessions to resign, for example, he could bring in Steven Bradbury or Alex Azar to replace him right away, meaning Rosenstein would no longer be Acting Attorney General overseeing Mueller, and they could do whatever they wanted with it (and remember, Bradbury already showed himself willing to engage in legally suspect cover-ups in hopes of career advancement with torture). Whereas firing Rosenstein would put someone else — Solicitor General Noel Francisco, who already obtained an ethics waiver for matters pertaining to Trump Campaign legal firm Jones Day, though it is unclear whether that extends to the Mueller investigation — in charge of overseeing Mueller immediately.

This may well be why Rudy is sitting on Trump’s open book test: because they’ve gamed out several possible paths depending on what kind of majority, if any, Republicans retain in the Senate (aside from trying to defeat African American gubernatorial candidates in swing states, Trump has focused his campaigning on retaining the Senate; FiveThirtyEight says the two most likely outcomes are that Republicans retain the same number of seats or lose just one, net). But they could well gain a few seats. If they have the numbers to rush through a Sessions replacement quickly, they’ll fire him, but if not, perhaps Trump will appease Mueller for a few weeks by turning in the answers to his questions.

That’s the background to what I focused on in my TNR piece last week: the Mueller report that Rudy has been talking about incessantly, in an utterly successful attempt to get most journalists covering this to ignore the evidence in front of them that Mueller would prefer to speak in indictments, might, instead, be the failsafe, the means by which Mueller would convey the fruits of his investigation to the House Judiciary Committee if Trump carries out a Wednesday morning massacre. And it was with that in mind that I analyzed how the Watergate Road Map served to do just that in this post.

In this post, I’d like to push that comparison further, to see what — if Mueller and his Watergate prosecutor James Quarles team member are using the Watergate precedent as a model — that might say about Mueller’s investigation. I’ll also lay out what a Mueller Road Map, if one awaits a Wednesday Morning Massacre in a safe somewhere, might include.

The Watergate prosecutors moved from compiling evidence to issuing the Road Map in just over six months

As early as August 1973, George Frampton had sent Archibald Cox a “summary of evidence” against the President. Along with laying out the gaps prosecutors had in their evidence about about what Nixon knew (remember, investigators had only learned of the White House taping system in July), it noted that any consideration of how his actions conflicted with his claims must examine his public comments closely.

That report paid particular attention to how Nixon’s White House Counsel had created a report that created a transparently false cover story. It described how Nixon continued to express full confidence in HR Haldeman and John Ehrlichman well after he knew they had been involved in the cover-up. It examined what Nixon must have thought the risks an investigation posed.

The Archives’ Road Map materials show that in the same 10 day period from January 22 to February 1, 1974 when the Special Prosecutor’s office was negotiating with the President’s lawyers about obtaining either his in-person testimony or at least answers to interrogatories, they were also working on a draft indictment of the President, charging four counts associated with his involvement in and knowledge of the bribe to Howard Hunt in March 1973. A month later, on March 1, 1974 (and so just 37 days after the time when Leon Jaworski and Nixon’s lawyers were still discussing an open book test for that more competent president), the grand jury issued the Road Map, a request to transmit grand jury evidence implicating the President to the House Judiciary Committee so it could be used in an impeachment.

Toto we’re not in 1974 anymore … and neither is the President

Let me clear about what follows: there’s still a reasonable chance Republicans retain the House, and it’s most likely that Republicans will retain the Senate. We’re not in a position where — unless Mueller reveals truly heinous crimes — Trump is at any imminent risk of being impeached. We can revisit all this on Wednesday after tomorrow’s elections and after Trump starts doing whatever he plans to do in response, but we are in a very different place than we were in 1974.

So I am not predicting that the Mueller investigation will end up the way the Watergate one did. Trump has far less concern for his country than Nixon did — an observation John Dean just made.

And Republicans have, almost but not quite universally, shown little appetite for holding Trump to account.

So I’m not commenting on what will happen. Rather, I’m asking how advanced the Mueller investigation might be — and what it may have been doing for the last 18 months — if it followed the model of the Watergate investigation.

One more caveat: I don’t intend to argue the evidence in this thread — though I think my series on what the Sekulow questions say stands up really well even six months later. For the rest of this post, I will assume that Mueller has obtained sufficient evidence to charge a conspiracy between Trump’s closest aides and representatives of the Russian government. Even if he doesn’t have that evidence, though, he may still package up a Road Map in case he is fired.

Jaworski had a draft indictment around the same time he considered giving Nixon an open book test

Even as the Watergate team was compiling questions they might pose to the President if Jaworski chose to pursue that route, they were drafting an indictment.

If the Mueller investigation has followed a similar path, that means that by the time Mueller gave Trump his open book test in October, he may have already drafted up an indictment covering Trump’s actions. That’s pretty reasonable to imagine given Paul Manafort’s plea deal in mid-September and Trump’s past statements about how his former campaign manager could implicate him personally, though inconsistent with Rudy’s claims (if we can trust him) that Manafort has not provided evidence against Trump.

Still, if the Jaworski Road Map is a guide, then Mueller’s team may have already laid out what a Trump indictment would look like if you could indict a sitting President. That said, given the complaints that DOJ had drafted a declination with Hillary before her interview, I would assume they would keep his name off it, as the Watergate team did in editing the Nixon indictment.

Then, a month after drawing up a draft indictment, Jaworski’s grand jury had a Road Map all packaged up ready to be sent to HJC.

Another crucial lesson of this comparison: Jaworksi did not wait for, and did not need, testimony from the President to put together a Road Map for HJC. While I’m sure he’ll continue pursuing getting Trump on the record, there’s no reason to believe Mueller needs that to provide evidence that Trump was part of this conspiracy to HJC.

Given that I think a Mueller report primarily serves as a failsafe at this point, I would expect that he would have some version of that ready to go before Wednesday. And that’s consistent with the reports — enthusiastically stoked by the President’s lawyers — that Mueller is ready to issue his findings.

If a Mueller report is meant to serve as a Road Map for an HJC led by Jerrold Nadler starting in January, then it is necessarily all ready to go (and hopefully copied and safely stored in multiple different locations), even if it might be added to in coming months.

The Road Map Section I included evidence to substantiate the the conspiracy

As I laid out here, the Watergate Road Map included four sections: 

I. Material bearing on a $75,000 payment to E. Howard Hunt and related events

II. Material bearing on the President’s “investigation”

III. Material bearing on events up to and including March 17, 1973

IV. The President’s public statements and material before the grand jury related thereto

The first section maps very closely to the overt acts laid out in the February 1 draft indictment, incorporating two acts into one and leaving off or possibly redacting one, but otherwise providing the grand jury evidence — plus some interim steps in the conspiracy — that Jaworski would have used to prove all the overt acts charged in the conspiracy charge from that draft indictment.

If Mueller intended to charge a quid pro quo conspiracy — that Trump accepted a Russian offer to drop dirt, possibly emails explicitly, in response for sanctions relief (and cooperation on Syria and other things) — then we could imagine the kinds of overt acts he might use to prove that:

  • Foreknowledge of an offer of dirt and possibly even emails (Rick Gates and Omarosa might provide that)
  • Trump involvement in the decision to accept that offer (Paul Manafort had a meeting with Trump on June 7, 2016 that might be relevant, as would the immediate aftermath of the June 9 meeting)
  • Trump signaling that his continued willingness to deliver on the conspiracy (as early as the George Papadopoulos plea, Mueller laid out some evidence of this, plus there is Trump’s request for Russia to find Hillary emails, which Mueller has already shown was immediately followed by intensified Russian hacking attempts)
  • Evidence Russia tailored releases in response to Trump campaign requests (Roger Stone may play a key role in this, but Mueller appears to know that Manafort even more explicitly asked Russia for help)
  • Evidence Trump moved to pay off his side of the deal, both by immediately moving to cooperate on Syria and by assuring Russia that the Trump Administration would reverse Obama’s sanctions

Remember, to be charged, a conspiracy does not have to have succeeded (that is, it doesn’t help Trump that he hasn’t yet succeeded in paying off his debt to Russia; it is enough that he agreed to do so and then took overt acts to further the conspiracy).

In other words, if Mueller has a Road Map sitting in his safe, and if I’m right that this is the conspiracy he would charge, there might be a section that included the overt acts that would appear in a draft indictment of Trump (and might appear in an indictment of Trump’s aides and spawn and the Russian representatives they conspired with), along with citations to the grand jury evidence Mueller has collected to substantiate those overt acts.

Note, this may explain whom Mueller chooses to put before the grand jury and not: that it’s based off what evidence Mueller believes he would need to pass on in sworn form to be of use for HJC, to (among other things) help HJC avoid the protracted fights over subpoenas they’ll face if Democrats do win a majority.

The Road Map Section II described how the White House Counsel tried to invent a cover story

After substantiating what would have been the indictment against Nixon, the Watergate Road Map showed how Nixon had John Dean and others manufacture a false exonerating story. The Road Map cited things like:

  • Nixon’s public claims to have total confidence in John Dean
  • Nixon’s efforts to falsely claim to the Attorney General, Richard Kleindienst, that former AG John Mitchell might be the most culpable person among Nixon’s close aides
  • Nixon’s instructions to his top domestic political advisor, John Ehrlichman, to get involved in John Dean’s attempts to create an exculpatory story
  • Press Secretary Ron Ziegler’s public lies that no one knew about the crime
  • Nixon’s efforts to learn about what prosecutors had obtained from his close aides
  • Nixon’s private comments to his White House Counsel to try to explain away an incriminating comment
  • Nixon’s ongoing conversations with his White House Counsel about what he should say publicly to avoid admitting to the crime
  • Nixon’s multiple conversations with top DOJ official Henry Petersen, including his request that Peterson not investigate some crimes implicating the Plumbers
  • Nixon’s orders to his Chief of Staff, HR Haldeman, to research the evidence implicating himself in a crime

This is an area where there are multiple almost exact parallels with the investigation into Trump, particularly in Don McGahn’s assistance to the President to provide bogus explanations for both the Mike Flynn and Jim Comey firings — the former of which involved Press Secretary Sean Spicer and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, the latter of which involved Trump’s top domestic political advisor Stephen Miller. There are also obvious parallels between the Petersen comments and the Comey ones. Finally, Trump has made great efforts to learn via Devin Nunes and other House allies what DOJ has investigated, including specifically regarding the Flynn firing.

One key point about all this: the parallels here are almost uncanny. But so is the larger structural point. These details did not make the draft Nixon indictment. There were just additional proof of his cover-up and abuse of power. The scope of what HJC might investigate regarding presidential abuse is actually broader than what might be charged in an indictment.

The equivalent details in the Mueller investigation — particularly the Comey firing — have gotten the bulk of the press coverage (and at one point formed a plurality of the questions Jay Sekulow imagined Mueller might ask). But the obstruction was never what the case in chief is, the obstruction started when Trump found firing Flynn to be preferable to explaining why he instructed Flynn, on December 29, to tell the Russians not to worry about Obama’s sanctions. In the case of the Russia investigation, there has yet to be an adequate public explanation for Flynn’s firing, and the Trump team’s efforts to do so continue to hint at the real exposure the President faces on conspiracy charges.

In other words, I suspect that details about the Comey firing and Don McGahn’s invented explanations for it that made a Mueller Road Map might, as details of the John Dean’s Watergate investigation did in Jaworski’s Road Map, as much to be supporting details to the core evidence proving a conspiracy.

The Road Map Section III provided evidence that Nixon knew about the election conspiracy, and not just the cover-up

The third section included some of the most inflammatory stuff in Jaworski’s Road Map, showing that Nixon knew about the campaign dirty tricks and describing what happened during the 18 minute gap. Here’s where I suspect Jaworski’s Road Map may differ from Mueller’s: while much of this section provides circumstantial evidence to show that the President knew about the election crimes ahead of time, my guess is (particularly given Manafort’s plea) that Mueller has more than circumstantial evidence implicating Trump. In a case against Trump, the election conspiracy — not the cover-up, as it was for Nixon — is the conspiracy-in-chief that might implicate the President.

The Road Map Section III described Nixon’s discussions about using clemency to silence co-conspirators

One other area covered by this section, however, does have a direct parallel: in Nixon’s discussions about whether he could provide clemency to the Watergate defendants. With both Flynn and Manafort cooperating, Mueller must have direct descriptions of Trump’s pardon offers. What remains to be seen is if Mueller can substantiate (as he seems to be trying to do) Trump willingness to entertain any of the several efforts to win Julian Assange a pardon. There’s no precedent to treat offering a pardon as a crime unto itself, but it is precisely the kind of abuse of power the founders believed merited impeachment. Again, it’s another thing that might be in a Mueller Road Map that wouldn’t necessarily make an indictment.

The Road Map Section IV showed how Nixon’s public comments conflicted with his actions

We have had endless discussions about Trump’s comments about the Russian investigation on Twitter, and even by March, at least 8 of the questions Sekulow imagined Mueller wanted to ask pertained to Trump’s public statements.

  • What was the purpose of your April 11, 2017, statement to Maria Bartiromo?
  • What did you mean when you told Russian diplomats on May 10, 2017, that firing Mr. Comey had taken the pressure off?
  • What did you mean in your interview with Lester Holt about Mr. Comey and Russia?
  • What was the purpose of your May 12, 2017, tweet?
  • What was the purpose of the September and October 2017 statements, including tweets, regarding an investigation of Mr. Comey?
  • What is the reason for your continued criticism of Mr. Comey and his former deputy, Andrew G. McCabe?
  • What was the purpose of your July 2017 criticism of Mr. Sessions?
  • What involvement did you have in the communication strategy, including the release of Donald Trump Jr.’s emails?

The Watergate Road Map documents a number of public Nixon comments that, like Trump’s, are not themselves criminal, but are evidence the President was lying about his crimes and cover-up. The Watergate Road Map describes Nixon claiming that:

  • He did not know until his own investigation about efforts to pay off Watergate defendants
  • He did not know about offers of clemency
  • He did not know in March 1973 there was anything to cover up
  • His position has been to get the facts out about the crime, not cover them up
  • He ordered people to cooperate with the FBI
  • He had always pressed to get the full truth out
  • He had ordered legitimate investigations into what happened
  • He had met with Kleindienst and Peterson to review what he had learned in his investigation
  • He had not turned over evidence of a crime he knew of to prosecutors because he assumed Dean already had
  • He had learned more about the crimes between March and April 1973

Admittedly, Trump pretended to want real investigations — an internal investigation of what Flynn had told the FBI, and an external investigation into the election conspiracy — for a much briefer period than Nixon did (his comments to Maria Bartiromo, which I covered here, and Lester Holt, which I covered here, are key exceptions).

Still, there are a slew of conflicting comments Trump has made, some obviously to provide a cover story or incriminate key witnesses, that Mueller showed some interest in before turning in earnest to finalizing the conspiracy case in chief. A very central one involves the false claims that Flynn had said nothing about sanctions and that he was fired for lying to Mike Pence about that; probably at least 7 people knew those comments were false when Sean Spicer made them.  Then there are the at least 52 times he has claimed “No Collusion” or the 135 times he has complained about a “Witch Hunt” on Twitter.

Trump’s lawyers have complained that his public comments have no role in a criminal investigation (though the likelihood he spoke to Putin about how to respond as the June 9 meeting story broke surely does). But Mueller may be asking them for the same reason they were relevant to the Watergate investigation. They are evidence of abuse of power.

The Road Map included the case in chief, not all the potential crimes

Finally, there is one more important detail about the Road Map that I suspect would be matched in any Mueller Road Map: Not all the crimes the Special Prosecutor investigated made the Road Map. The Watergate team had a number of different task forces (as I suspect Mueller also does). And of those, just Watergate (and to a very limited degree, the cover-up of the Plumbers investigation) got included in the Road Map.

Here, we’ve already seen at least one crime get referred by Mueller, Trump’s campaign payoffs. I’ve long suggested that the Inauguration pay-to-play might also get referred (indeed, that may be the still-active part of the grand jury investigation that explains why SDNY refuses to release the warrants targeting Michael Cohen). Mueller might similarly refer any Saudi, Israeli, and Emirate campaign assistance to a US Attorney’s office for investigation. And while it’s virtually certain Mueller investigated the larger network of energy and other resource deals that seem to be part of what happened at the Seychelles meetings, any continuing investigation may have been referred (indeed, may have actually derived from) SDNY.

In other words, while a Mueller Road Map might include things beyond what would be necessary for a criminal indictment, it also may not include a good number of things we know Mueller to have examined, at least in passing.

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

Why Did Rebekah Mercer and Steve Bannon Start Preparing an Accusation that Hillary Had Corrupt Ties with Russia Starting on March 14, 2016?

Amid a lot of noise regarding the eight month investigation into Roger Stone (including that his assistant Jason Sullivan has been asked for the complete recordings of some conference calls he gave in 2016 and that he has passed two polygraphs that may not be asking the right questions), the WaPo has a detail of real interest. Mueller brought Steve Bannon back in for questioning Friday.

On Friday, Mueller’s team questioned Stephen K. Bannon, Trump’s former chief campaign strategist, about alleged claims Stone made privately about WikiLeaks before the group released emails allegedly hacked by Russian operatives, according to people familiar with the session.

I say that’s particularly interesting because of Bannon’s role in a series of events that come as close as anything to hint that Roger Stone and Jerome Corsi not only had advance knowledge that Wikileaks would release John Podesta’s emails, but may have known and planned for what those emails included.

Stone and Corsi seemed to expect that there would be Podesta emails relating to Joule

As I noted in these two posts, Stone’s evolving public stories explaining his knowledge of the stolen documents seem to attempt to do three things:

  • Provide non-incriminating explanations for any foreknowledge of WikiLeaks — first pointing to Randy Credico and now to James Rosen
  • Offer explanations for discussions about Podesta that he may presume Mueller has that took place around August 14
  • Shift the focus away from Joule and the remarkable prescience with which the right wing anticipated that WikiLeaks would be able to advance an attack first rolled out on August 1

Basically, over the course of August, several key events happened: Stone first started publicly claiming foreknowledge of what WikiLeaks would drop, tried to launch a counterattack against public reporting on Paul Manafort’s sleazy ties to Russian and Russian-backed Ukrainian oligarchs, and then warned that it would soon be John Podesta’s time on the barrel. Those events came amidst two separate oppo research efforts: An early one initiated by Bannon and (Clinton Cash author) Peter Schweizer that accused Hillary of corrupt ties to Russia, largely through John Podesta’s role a company called Joule Unlimited. And then a later one (starting at 39), written by Corsi, trying to impugn Hillary because her campaign manager’s brother was so corrupt he had worked with Trump’s campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and at Manafort’s instructions not properly declared the work. Stone seems to have wanted to conflate those two efforts, in part to suggest his August 21 tweet (and an August 15 one that may end up being just as interesting) referred to both brothers, not just John, and therefore not the earlier oppo effort.

What’s interesting, however, is that while Corsi claims Stone was quite interested in the Bannon/Schweizer effort and that his own report arose out of it, Stone was virtually silent about it up until the Podesta emails started dropping in October. In fact, the day before the Podesta emails dropped, Corsi renewed the focus on Joule, which in turn teed up a Stone report and then a Corsi one integrating but not linking emails released by WikiLeaks, followed four days later by a Corsi report actually showing how those WikiLeaks emails supported claims he and especially Stone had already made. While it is true that Stone doesn’t integrate evidence from the WikiLeaks emails until they were released, the analysis of those emails (Corsi’s) took place days after his first report on them.

One possible scenario to explain all that (and this is all speculative) is that Roger Stone, back when he was trying to find a way to respond to stories about Manafort, asked someone with access to the files Russia either already had or planned to share with WikiLeaks, and learned there were files in the dump pertaining to the attack already launched, focused on Joule. That is, Stone may have figured out that those emails were coming in August, and therefore held his focus on Joule until they were eventually released. In this scenario, then, when Stone predicted it would soon be Podesta’s time on the barrel, he may have been anticipating that the upcoming WikiLeaks dump would substantiate an attack his cronies had already made.

We know, for example, that in September 2016 he asked Randy Credico for help learning what Clinton emails on Libya — which Stone appears to have known or believed were in Assange’s hands but that had yet to be released — said. So it is consistent to assume that Stone tried to learn and plan for what was coming at other times. And his October 13 Joule attack is, as far as I’m aware, the one for which there is the most public evidence that he did plan the later attack.

That Joule attack was part of a report that remarkably anticipated the need to accuse Hillary of Russian ties

But all that raises another question I’ve been pondering: Why did Bannon and Schweizer already have an attack claiming Hillary had corrupt ties to Russia, ready to release on August 1? The timing was key: the report came out just over a week after the WikiLeaks DNC dump made the question of Russia’s tampering to defeat Hillary really pressing, and just days after Trump asked Russia to go find more Hillary emails. It also came as Manafort would have had the first rumors that stories of his own Russian ties would break.

The question is all the more important given that this was not a last minute report.

Indeed, according to the footnotes, the report was started in March 2016, even before John Podesta was hacked. The Obama White House fact sheet on that Administration’s attempted reset with Russia was accessed March 14, days before Podesta was hacked, and again on March 18, the day before Podesta was spearphished.

“U.S.-Russia Relations: “Reset” Fact Sheet.” The White House. June 24, 2010. Accessed March 14, 2016. https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/us-russia-relations-reset-fact-sheet.

[snip]

“U.S.-Russia Relations: ‘Reset’ Fact Sheet.” The White House. June 24, 2010. Accessed March 18, 2016. https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/us-russia-relations-reset-factsheet.

Some of the Hillary emails released by the State Department were accessed on March 28.

“Search Hillary Clinton’s Emails.” WSJ. March 1, 2016. Accessed March 28, 2016. http://graphics.wsj.com/hillary-clinton-email-documents/.

Reports on Viktor Vekselberg Silicon Valley’s initiative were accessed in March, too.

24 “Skolkovo Innovation Center.” Skolkovo Innovation Center. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://in.rbth.com/skolkovo.

25 “Cisco Commits $1 Billion for Multi-year Investment in Skolkovo.” ThinkRUSSIA. June 27, 2010. Accessed March 24, 2016. http://www.thinkrussia.com/business-economy/cisco-commits1-billion-multi-year-investment-skolkovo.

WikiLeaks Cablegate files on the Vekselberg effort going back to 2009 were accessed on April 27 (the day after George Papadopoulos learned the Russians had emails on Hillary they wanted to dump in an effort to help Trump).

“Russia Moving Into High Gear on Nanotechnology; Actively Seeking Cooperation with U.S.,” U.S. State Department Cable. February 11, 2009. Wikileaks. Accessed April 27, 2016. https://wikileaks.org/plusd/cables/09MOSCOW333_a.html.

Some of the Podesta Joule work was done in April.

Podesta, John. “Public Financial Disclosure Report.” Accessed April 20, 2016. https://s3.amazonaws.com/s3.documentcloud.org/documents/1227013/john-podesta-whitehouse-financial-disclosure-form.pdf. ”

Joule Unlimited, Inc.” Portfolio Companies. Accessed April 06, 2016

There were also a string of emails that would have come from officially released State emails (but which don’t include access dates; remember that most of those emails came in response to a Jason Leopold FOIA but WikiLeaks hosted them to great fanfare).

88 Mills, Cheryl D. “My List.” E-mail. July 27, 2009.

89 Podesta, John. “Calling.” E-mail. June 2, 2009.

90 Talbott, Strobe. “RE: Speech for Tomorrow’s Meeting.” E-mail. July 9, 2009.

91 Abedin, Huma. “Podesta.” E-mail. August 21, 2009.

92 Podesta, John. “[redacted].” E-mail. July 25, 2009;

One of the last access dates was May 10, 2016.

Nowak, David. “Key Skolkovo Partners Microsoft, Siemens, Reiterate Commitment to Project.” Skolkovo Foundation. November 13, 2014. Accessed May 10, 2016.

Unless I missed something, there are just three finishing touches added after that date, in mid-July.

“Fact Sheet-U.S.-Russia Business Summit.” Department of Commerce. June 25, 2010. Accessed July 18, 2016. http://2010-2014.commerce.gov/news/fact-sheets/2010/06/24/fact-sheet-us-russiabusiness-summit.html.

[snip]

“State in €70m Aids Partnership in Africa.” The Irish Times. October 25, 2006. Accessed July 15, 2016. http://www.irishtimes.com/news/state-in-70m-aids-partnership-in-africa-1.798426. “Press Release: President Clinton to Visit Pediatric AIDS Clinic in Mozambique, Beginning Trip to Africa to Focus on AIDS Care.” Clinton Foundation. June 17, 2005. Accessed July 15, 2016. https://www.clintonfoundation.org/main/news-and-media/press-releases-and-statements/pressrelease-president-clinton-to-visit-pediatric-aids-clinic-in-mozambique-beg.html.

All of this suggests that, by May 10, 2016, the report was just sitting there at Rebekah Mercer funded Government Accountability Institute, waiting for the right opportunity to accuse Hillary of ties to Russia; virtually the entire report was done before Democrats confirmed they had been hacked by Russia, and all the research was done before WikiLeaks dumped the DNC emails.

Ms. Mercer and a person close to her had a brief conversation regarding Mrs. Clinton’s deleted emails in June 2016, a month after Mr. Cruz had dropped out of the race, the person said. The person said they discussed whether it would make sense to try to access and release those emails, but ultimately decided that looking for them would create “major legal liabilities” and would be a “terrible idea.”

Rebekah Mercer kept trying to work with WikiLeaks on optimizing emails

That Rebekah Mercer was funding this attack (one that started long before the Mercers started backing Trump) is all the more interesting given several different efforts she or her employee made to reach out to WikiLeaks. There’s Alexander Nix’s offer to help WikiLeaks organize emails we weren’t supposed to know about yet in June 2016.

Mr. Nix responded that he had reached out to Mr. Assange two months earlier—in June 2016, before Cambridge Analytica had started working for the Trump campaign—to ask him to share Clinton-related emails so the company could aid in disseminating them, the person familiar with the email exchange said. He said Mr. Assange had turned him down. That outreach and subsequent rejection was confirmed by Mr. Assange earlier this week on Twitter.

Also in June, Ms. Mercer had a discussion about accessing Hillary’s deleted emails.

Ms. Mercer and a person close to her had a brief conversation regarding Mrs. Clinton’s deleted emails in June 2016, a month after Mr. Cruz had dropped out of the race, the person said. The person said they discussed whether it would make sense to try to access and release those emails, but ultimately decided that looking for them would create “major legal liabilities” and would be a “terrible idea.”

Then, again in August, Mercer asked Nix — or the GAI, the same outlet that did the Hillary Russia attack — about helping WikiLeaks with emails.

On Aug. 26, 2016, roughly a month after Mr. Trump formally became the Republican nominee, Ms. Mercer passed along to Mr. Nix an email she had received from a person she met at an event supporting Sen. Ted Cruz (R., Texas), whose presidential campaign she had initially supported during the GOP primaries, the person familiar with the exchange said. The email’s author suggested to Ms. Mercer that the Trump campaign or an allied super PAC ought to better index the WikiLeaks emails to make them more searchable, the person said.

Ms. Mercer forwarded the email to Mr. Nix, whose firm had started working for the Trump campaign in July 2016 after previously working for the Cruz campaign, according to the person. In the email, Ms. Mercer asked Mr. Nix whether the suggested organization of the emails was something Cambridge Analytica or the Government Accountability Institute—a conservative nonprofit that focuses on investigative research—could do, the person said. Ms. Mercer has sat on the board of the institute, which has received funding from her family.

Clearly, Mercer was thinking a lot about how to optimize the emails Russia had stolen.

Steve Bannon would know, at a minimum, about how he and Schweizer anticipated the need to project Russian corruption onto Hillary and her campaign manager way back in March 2016. But he also might know whether, in the wake of the GAI report, Stone or someone else got a preview of coming attractions, other emails they might later use to return to the Joule attack.

On Corey Lewandowski’s Big Legal Bills and Mueller’s Deadline from Rosenstein

Quarterly political spending reports are out and they provide some hints about which current or former Trump aides have been spending a lot of time with Mueller’s investigators. The NYT reported the other day that the Trump campaign has paid $173,000 in the past quarter to the law firm representing Corey Lewandowski.

The campaign also paid $173,000 to Mintz Levin, a law firm that has helped Mr. Trump’s first campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, handle inquiries related to the Russia investigations.

The suggestion that Lewandowski has spent quality time with Mueller’s team of late is particularly interesting, for several reasons. First, Lewandowski had a number of key interactions with George Papadopoulos regarding the outreach from Russia, including drafting Trump’s first foreign policy speech, which Papadopoulos reportedly told Ivan Timofeev was a sign that the campaign was interested in pursuing a Trump-Putin meeting.

April 27: Papadopoulos to Corey 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 27: Papadopoulos authored speech that he tells Timofeev is “the signal to meet”

[snip]

May 4, Papadopoulos to Lewandowski (forwarding Timofeev email):

“What do you think? Is this something we want to move forward with?”

May 14, Papadopoulos to Lewandowski:

“Russian govemment[] ha[s] also relayed to me that they are interested in hostingMr. Trump.”

[snip]

June 19: Papadopoulos to Lewandowski

“New message from Russia”: “The Russian ministry of foreign affairs messaged and said that if Mr. Trump is unable to make it to Russia, if campaign rep (me or someone else) can make it for meetings? I am willing to make the trip off the record if it’s in the interest of Mr. Trump and the campaign to meet specific people.”

Lewandowski was also the person that the House Intelligence Committee treated most curiously. HPSCI originally interviewed him in January, during the phase when HPSCI seemed to be interviewing key witnesses to be able to pass on to Trump how they would testify. At that point, Mueller had not yet contacted Lewandowski.

Even though Lewandowski never worked in the Administration, in that first appearance with HPSCI, he invoked privilege over parts of his testimony. On March 8, HPSCI brought him back, the very last witness in their so-called investigation. After his three hour appearance, Adam Schiff discussed subpoenaing Lewnadowski to compel him to answer questions he had still refused to answer (Schiff had also demanded HPSCI compel full testimony from Hope Hicks). In the same discussion of compelling Lewandowski to answer questions,  Schiff suggested the committee should subpoena Stephen Miller.

After Lewandowski’s testimony had wrapped, Schiff raised a new name he wanted to speak to: White House aide Stephen Miller.

Which is curious because WSJ reports that the legal defense fund supporting specific former campaign staffers paid Akin Gump $115,000.

The fund directed most of its third-quarter spending to legal consulting, paying nearly $115,000 to the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP and another $8,500 to Schertler & Onorato LLP. The latter firm has represented Keith Schiller, Mr. Trump’s longtime bodyguard who was interviewed by the House Intelligence Committee as part of its Russia investigation.

It’s not publicly known which former campaign staffer Akin Gump represents, but two of the few key Trump people whose lawyers have not been publicly identified are Brad Parscale (though the campaign would probably pay for his legal defense at this point) and Miller.

Miller is the person whom Papadopoulos has said he would have told about the Russian offer of emails had he actually connected by phone the day he learned of it.

Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports (possibly based on Congressional sources) that Mueller is preparing to offer “reports” on his investigation.

Mueller is close to rendering judgment on two of the most explosive aspects of his inquiry: whether there were clear incidents of collusion between Russia and Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, and whether the president took any actions that constitute obstruction of justice, according to one of the officials, who asked not to be identified speaking about the investigation.

[snip]

Rosenstein has made it clear that he wants Mueller to wrap up the investigation as expeditiously as possible, another U.S. official said.

This is actually not at all surprising. Trump is going to start firing people after the election, so Mueller’s ability to work unimpeded may be dramatically curtailed shortly after that. If he’s going to bring a big indictment, he has to do so in that time frame. Plus, after securing Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen’s cooperation, he has cooperating witnesses on all the elements of a conspiracy Mueller had identified by last March, not to mention slam dunk obstruction charges tied to floated pardons. Everyone is scheduled to start being sentenced after the election, too. With the hints he has gotten extensive Lewandowski testimony (and reports that he had obtained far more documentation pertaining to Don Jr’s actions), it would suggest that Mueller has at least tracked the game of telephone between Russians offering emails to the candidate anxious to accept that offer.

So this tells us what we might expect: the denouement of the Mueller investigation will happen, unless Trump works to undercut it, just after the election.

Update: In their plan for further investigation released in March, HPSCI Dems described that in his second committee appearance Lewandowski refused, “to answer questions regarding his communication with President Trump regarding former FBI Director Comey, Special Counsel Mueller, and Attorney General Sessions, as well as his communications with certain administration officials pertaining to the June 9, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower.” So it sounds like he’s also got evidence pertaining to the June 9 meeting.

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

The First Amendment Wall-Splat that Anticipates Any Defense of a Trump Conspiracy or WikiLeaks Charge

Last week, lawyers from Jones Day representing the Trump campaign submitted a response to a lawsuit by two Democratic donors and a DNC employee (the case is referred to as Cockrum after donor Roy Cockrum) that presents an interesting, but imperfect, preview of any defense of a Trump conspiracy and/or a WikiLeaks charge in the election hack-and-leak.

Effectively, the Democrats attempt to hold the Trump campaign responsible for having their private information (social security numbers in the case of the donors and more personal conversations in the case of DNC employee Scott Comer) posted in the emails released by WikiLeaks on July 22, 2016. They do so by arguing that the Trump campaign conspired with agents of Russia, agreeing to provide policy considerations in exchange for the assistance presented by the email release, which therefore makes them parties to the injury associated with the hack-and-leak.

The campaign isn’t responsible for information released as part of their conspiracy because the First Amendment protects it

In response, the Trump campaign (represented by Jones Day, and therefore by more competent lawyers than some of the clowns representing the president in the Mueller investigation) only secondarily deny the campaign entered into a conspiracy with the Russians as governed by the laws invoked by plaintiffs (you should not take this emphasis as admission of guilt in a conspiracy, but rather the most efficacious way of defeating the lawsuit). As a primary defense, they point to First Amendment precedent to argue two things: First, the campaign can’t be held responsible for the theft of information because they only sought the dissemination of already stolen documents — they had nothing to do with the theft of the documents, the campaign argues.

In Bartnicki v. Vopper, 532 U.S. 514 (2001), the Supreme Court held that the First Amendment protects a speaker’s right to disclose stolen information if (1) the speaker was “not involved” in the acquisition and (2) the disclosure deals with “a matter of public concern.” Id. at 529, 535. There, union leaders spoke on the phone about using violence against school-board members to influence salary negotiations. Id. at 518–19. An unknown person secretly intercepted the call and shared the illegal recording with a local radio host, who played it on his show. Id. at 519. The Court ruled that the First Amendment protected the radio broadcast, because the host “played no part in the illegal interception” and “the subject matter of the conversation was a matter of public concern.” Id. at 525. The Court reasoned that “state action to punish the publication of truthful information seldom can satisfy constitutional standards.” Id. at 527. The state has an interest in deterring theft of information, but it must pursue that goal by imposing “an appropriate punishment” on “the interceptor”—not by punishing a speaker who was “not involved in the initial illegality.” Id. at 529. The state also has an interest in protecting “privacy of communication,” but “privacy concerns give way when balanced against the interest in publishing matters of public importance.” Id. at 533–34. In short, “a stranger’s illegal conduct does not suffice to remove the First Amendment shield from speech about a matter of public concern.” Id. at 535.

“An opposite rule”—under which a speaker may be punished for truthful disclosures on account of a “defect in the chain of title”—“would be fraught with danger.” Boehner v. McDermott, 484 F.3d 573, 586 (D.C. Cir. 2007) (opinion of Sentelle, J., joined by a majority of the en banc court). “U.S. newspapers publish information stolen via digital means all the time.” Jack L. Goldsmith, Uncomfortable Questions in the Wake of Russia Indictment 2.0 (July 16, 2018).1 Indeed, they “openly solicit such information.” Id. Punishing “conspiracy to publish stolen information” “would certainly narrow protections for ‘mainstream’ journalists.” Id.

The Campaign satisfies the first part of Bartnicki’s test: It “played no part in the illegal interception.” Bartnicki, 532 U.S. at 525. That is clear from Plaintiffs’ factual theory: “Defendants entered into an agreement with other parties, including agents of Russia and WikiLeaks, to have information stolen from the DNC publicly disseminated in a strategic way.” (Am. Compl. ¶ 16) (emphasis added). The complaint reinforces that theory on every page: “the publication of hacked information pursuant to the conspiracy” (id. ¶ 20); “conspiracy … to disseminate information” (id. ¶ 78); “extracting concessions … in exchange for the dissemination of the information” (id. ¶ 149); “an agreement to disseminate the hacked DNC emails”) (id. at 42); “motive to coordinate regarding such dissemination” (id. ¶ 153); “an agreement regarding the publication” (id. ¶ 154); “agreed … to publicly disclose” (id. ¶ 296) (all emphases added).

In a key move, the response points to the chronology (they incorrectly say) the plaintiffs lay out to show that the Campaign didn’t enter into a conspiracy with the Russians until after the theft had already taken place.

That is no surprise. Given Rule 11, Plaintiffs could not have alleged the Campaign’s involvement in the initial hack. According to Plaintiffs’ own account, Russian intelligence hacked the DNC’s networks “in July 2015,” and gained access to email accounts “by March 2016.” (Id. ¶ 86.) But the Campaign supposedly became motivated to work with Russia only in “the spring and summer of 2016” (id. at 25), and supposedly entered into the agreement in “secret meetings” in “April,” “May,” “June,” and “July” 2016 (id. ¶¶ 89–104). In other words, Plaintiffs themselves say that the alleged conspiracy was formed after the hack and after the acquisition of the emails—so that the Campaign could not have participated in the initial theft.

From there, the Campaign shifts to the second part of the First Amendment argument: what they encouraged the Russians (and WikiLeaks) to publish was a matter of public concern.

The Campaign also satisfies the second part of Bartnicki’s test: the disclosure deals with “a matter of public concern.” Bartnicki, 532 U.S. at 525. Whether speech deals with issues of public concern is “a matter of law.” Snyder v. Phelps, 580 F.3d 206, 220 (4th Cir. 2009). “Speech deals with matters of public concern when it can be fairly considered as relating to any matter of political, social, or other concern to the community, or when it is a subject of legitimate news interest.” Snyder v. Phelps, 562 U.S. 443, 453 (2011) (citations and quotation marks omitted). A court applying this test must examine the “content, form, and context” of the speech. Id.

Courts judge the public character of a disclosure in the aggregate, not line by line. Regardless of whether the particular sentence complained about is itself of public concern, the disclosure is constitutionally protected if the disclosure as a whole deals with a matter of public concern. For example, in Bartnicki, leaders of a teachers’ union spoke on the phone about “blow[ing] off [school-board members’] front porches” to influence salary negotiations. 532 U.S. at 519. Even though the threat to “blow off” porches was not itself speech about public issues, the First Amendment protected the disclosure because the host made it while “engaged in debate about” teacher pay—“a matter of public concern.” Id. at 535. The “public concern” test thus turns on the broader context of the disclosure, not the nature of the specific fact disclosed.

To substantiate their “public concern” defense, the response points to (and includes as exhibits) a handful emails out of the tens of thousands dumped in just the DNC release and some bad press coverage, and argues that because WikiLeaks has a policy of not redacting emails, the information that damaged the plaintiffs just came out along with this public concern information.

These emails revealed important information about the Clinton Campaign and Democratic Party. For example:

  • The emails revealed DNC officials’ hostility toward Senator Sanders. DNC figures discussed portraying Senator Sanders as an atheist, because “my Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist.” (Ex. 1.) They suggested pushing a media narrative that Senator Sanders “never ever had his act together, that his campaign was a mess.” (Ex. 2.) They opposed his push for additional debates. (Ex. 3.) They complained that he “has no understanding” of the Democratic Party. (Ex. 4.)
  • According to The New York Times, “thousands of emails” between donors and fundraisers revealed “in rarely seen detail the elaborate, ingratiating and often bluntly transactional exchanges necessary to harvest hundreds of millions of dollars from the party’s wealthy donor class.” These emails “capture[d] a world where seating charts are arranged with dollar totals in mind, where a White House celebration of gay pride is a thinly disguised occasion for rewarding wealthy donors and where physical proximity to the president is the most precious of currencies.” (Ex. 5.)
  • The emails revealed the coziness of the relationship between the DNC and the media. For example, they showed that reporters would ask DNC to pre-approve articles before publication. (Ex. 6.) They also showed DNC staffers talking about giving a CNN reporter “questions to ask us.” (Ex. 7.)
  • The emails revealed the DNC’s attitudes toward Hispanic voters. One memo discussed ways to “acquire the Hispanic consumer,” claiming that “Hispanics are the most brand loyal consumers in the World” and that “Hispanics are the most responsive to ‘story telling.’” (Ex. 8.) Another email pitched “a new video we’d like to use to mop up some more taco bowl engagement.” (Ex. 9.)

WikiLeaks, however, did not redact the emails, so the publication also included details that Plaintiffs describe as private.

In this scenario, even assuming the Trump campaign did enter a conspiracy with the Russians, the plaintiffs in this lawsuit were just collateral damage to disclosures protected by the First Amendment.

The conspiracy to hurt individual Democratic donors defense

As noted, the defense against the claim that the campaign entered into a conspiracy with the Russians is only a secondary part of the defense here. Perhaps that’s because this part of the defense is far weaker than the First Amendment part.

As part of it, the response notes that the plaintiffs would have had to enter into a conspiracy with the goal and the state of mind laid out by the two laws primarily cited by plaintiffs, to intimidate voters and to intentionally inflict harm on plaintiffs. Once again, this part of the argument treats the plaintiffs as collateral damage to the goals of embarrassing the DNC effectuated by the publication of materials by WikiLeaks, which has a policy of not redacting anything in its releases.

Plaintiffs do not plausibly allege these states of mind. For one thing, Plaintiffs allege that the object of the purported conspiracy was to promote the Trump Campaign and to embarrass the DNC and the Clinton Campaign. (Am. Compl. ¶ 190.) They do not allege facts showing that the Campaign even knew of Mr. Comer, Mr. Cockrum, or Mr. Schoenberg, much less that Campaign officials met with Russian agents for the purpose of disclosing these individuals’ social security numbers, gossip, and stomach-flu symptoms.

For another thing, Plaintiffs fail to address (let alone refute) the “obvious alternative explanation” for the disclosure of their emails (Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 682): WikiLeaks’ “accuracy policy,” under which WikiLeaks does not redact or “tamper with” the documents it discloses. (Ex. 10.) The upshot is that Plaintiffs do not plausibly allege that the Campaign acted with the purpose of intimidating Plaintiffs; do not plausibly allege that the Campaign acted with the specific intent to disclose Plaintiffs’ allegedly private emails; and do not plausibly allege that the Campaign acted with knowledge that the WikiLeaks email collection included Plaintiffs’ allegedly private emails.

It’s the other part of the conspiracy defense where the response is dangerously weak, given the possibility that Mueller will roll out another indictment providing more detail on negotiations between the campaign and Russia (which plaintiffs could then add in an amended complaint). Here, the campaign argues only that the plaintiffs haven’t shown proof of a conspiracy because they have not yet pointed to evidence that the campaign sought the DNC emails specifically, including the details that allegedly damaged the plaintiffs.

[T]he Amended Complaint fails to plausibly allege that the Campaign conspired with or aided and abetted the publishers of the DNC emails. Plaintiffs allege a series of meetings between the Campaign and Russian agents in 2016. (Id. ¶ 15.) But Plaintiffs do not allege that any of the meetings in any way concerned the DNC emails, much less the information about Plaintiffs contained in those emails. The allegation that people met to discuss something does not raise a plausible inference that they met to discuss collaborative efforts to release specific emails hacked from the DNC to influence an election, much less to intimidate or embarrass Plaintiffs. Cf. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 567 n.12 (regular meetings do not suggest conspiracy).

This argument may be sufficient for this civil suit, but for a number of reasons, such an argument would be totally insufficient in a criminal case. For starters, there likely is evidence, not least obtained from Paul Manafort’s cooperation, that the campaign had some idea of what they might get in exchange for entering into a quid pro quo with the Russians. As it is, Jones Day is utterly silent about Don Jr’s, “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer” email, which reflects some expectation, already by June 3, 2016, of what the campaign would get for entering into a conspiracy, even though plaintiffs quote it in their complaint.

But also, the conspiracy charged in a criminal indictment would allege a different goal — in part, the embarrassment of the DNC and support of the Trump campaign that the campaign response stops far short of denying. So while with respect to the suit brought by these plaintiffs, the argument that the defendants did not have the mindset of trying to intimidate voters or damage the plaintiffs, if and when Mueller charges a conspiracy, it will argue a different mind set, to defraud the US’ election integrity, in part to obtain a thing of value from the Russians. And that mindset is going to be much easier to prove.

This response does next to nothing to deny that mindset.

Instead, much later in the response (as part of an argument that plaintiffs can’t claim a conspiracy to violate campaign finance laws because the FEC preempts it), the campaign does address what might be one defense in a criminal indictment charging that the Trump team conspired with Russia with the goal of obtaining illegal campaign donations in the form of dirt on Hillary. The response argues that such released emails do not constitute a thing of value, but are instead protected political speech.

Plaintiffs in all events fail to establish a conspiracy to violate any federal campaign-finance law. Plaintiffs assert that federal law prohibits foreign nationals from making “a contribution or donation of money or other thing of value” in connection with an election, 52 U.S.C. § 30121(a), and that “Defendant’s co-conspirators … contributed a ‘thing of value’ … in the form of the dissemination of hacked private emails” (Am. Compl. ¶ 215). This assertion is incorrect. For one, there is a fundamental difference between contributing a thing of value and engaging in pure political speech. Pure political speech constitutes “direct political expression”; in contrast, “while contributions may result in political expression if spent by a candidate or association to present views to the voters, the transformation of contributions into political debate involves speech by someone other than the contributor.” Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1, 21–22 (1976). The disclosure of information about a political party is pure political speech, not a political contribution. The disclosure itself directly expresses political messages; unlike money, it does not need to be transformed into a political message by somebody else.

For another, treating a disclosure of information as a “contribution” would violate the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has held that the First Amendment guarantees Americans the right to receive political speech from foreigners. Lamont v. Postmaster General, 381 U.S. 301, 306 (1965). Yet under Plaintiffs’ theory, it would be illegal to solicit political information from a foreign national, because the provision of such information would amount to a “contribution.” For example, “if the Clinton campaign heard that Mar-a-Lago was employing illegal immigrants in Florida and staffers went down to interview the workers, that would be a crime.” Eugene Volokh, Can it be a crime to do opposition research by asking foreigners for information? (July 27, 2017).2 “Or say that Bernie Sanders’s campaign heard rumors of some misconduct by Clinton on her trips abroad—it wouldn’t be allowed to ask any foreigners about that.” Id. The First Amendment does not tolerate such results.

This claim, if it were substantiated, would have repercussions across Mueller’s work, extending to the Internet Research Agency indictment (indeed, Concord Consulting is trying to make similar arguments, though not as brazenly suggesting that foreigners have a First Amendment right to weigh in on our elections).

Yet, as I’ve noted, Mueller has already collected evidence of how much a similar campaign to the one the Russians conducted would cost a campaign, in the form of the spooked up Psy-Group campaign offered by Israelis and Gulf supporters: $3.31 million. That is, Mueller has the evidence to show that the Russians did not just release the information, but engaged in an entire social media campaign to maximize the value of the information they released, and that information goes beyond simple publication to the stuff that political consultants charge real money for.

The other problems with this defense

There is far more to the campaign’s defense (notably, extensive arguments about whether state or federal law applies to particularly parts of the complaint, and if it’s state law, whether it’s Maryland, New Jersey, and Tennessee as plaintiffs argue, or Virginia and New York as defendants do) than what I’ve laid out, and this suit would be a challenge in any case. But there are other problems with the defense.

In a piece on this response, Floyd Abrams argues that there are key differences between the primary First Amendment precedent on which the defense relies and this case. For example, the Bartnicki case focused on material the entirety of which was in the public interest, whereas the bulk of what the Russians gave WikiLeaks is not.

[T]he entirety of the wiretapped recording in Bartnicki was of undoubted public interest while some portions of the purloined DNC documents had a special claim to being of no sustainable public interest while inflicting substantial potential privacy harm—including social security numbers sent to the DNC which WikiLeaks, as it has repeatedly chosen to do, decided to make public.

Jones Day may well realize this is a weak part of their argument, as they return to WikiLeaks’ failure to redact information that had no public interest in a number of ways. At one point, they argue that if WikiLeaks redacted information some information of public interest might get withheld as part of the process.

To establish public-disclosure liability, a plaintiff must show that the facts at issue are not “of legitimate concern to the public”—in other words, that the facts are not “of the kind customarily regarded as ‘news.’” Second Restatement § 652D & comment g. Like the First Amendment test, the tort-law test requires courts to analyze speech “on an aggregate basis.” Alvarado v. KOB-TV, LLC, 493 F.3d 1210, 1221 (10th Cir. 2007). A publisher does not have to “parse out concededly public interest information” “from allegedly private facts.” Id. That is because redactions would undermine the “credibility” of a disclosure, causing the public to doubt its accuracy. Ross v. Midwest Commc’ns, Inc., 870 F.2d 271, 275 (5th Cir. 1989). Further, requiring publishers to redact—“to sort through an inventory of facts, to deliberate, and to catalogue”—“could cause critical information of legitimate public interest to be withheld until it becomes untimely and worthless to an informed public.” Star-Telegram, Inc. v. Doe, 915 S.W.2d 471, 475 (Tex. 1995).

At another point, they argue (this is one of their most ridiculous arguments) that WikiLeaks is just an intermediary that the Russians used to post injurious messages.

Under section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (47 U.S.C. § 230), a state may impose liability on “the original culpable party who posts [tortious] messages,” but not on “companies that serve as intermediaries for other parties’ potentially injurious messages.” Zeran v. America Online, 129 F.3d 327, 330–31 (4th Cir. 1997). As a result, a website that provides a forum where “third parties can post information” is not liable for the third party’s posted information. Klayman v. Zuckerberg, 753 F.3d 1354, 1358 (D.C. Cir. 2014). Since WikiLeaks provided a forum for a third party (the unnamed “Russian actors”) to publish content developed by that third party (the hacked emails), it cannot be held liable for the publication.

And the insistence that WikiLeaks is known not to redact information may hurt the Trump campaign if it gets that far.

Abrams also points to how entering into a conspiracy might change the legal liability of the Trump campaign.

[T]he Bartnicki defendants were at all times entirely independent of the person who surreptitiously made the wiretapped recording available to it while the Trump campaign is accused in Cockrum of conspiring with its alleged Russian source after the information had been hacked to make the information public.

Even for the purpose of this lawsuit, the claim that the Trump campaign entered into a conspiracy only after the information had been hacked may not be sustainable. After all, George Papadopoulos learned the Russians were going to release emails, of some sort (even if he believed they were Hillary server emails rather than DNC ones), well before the Russians were ejected from the DNC servers a month later. The Russians first contacted the Trump campaign about this conspiracy on April 26, 2016, after they had stolen the Podesta emails in March; but the DNC emails that are the subject of this lawsuit weren’t exfiltrated, at least according to the GRU indictment, until a month later.

Between on or about May 25, 2016 and June 1, 2016, the Conspirators hacked the DNC Microsoft Exchange Server and stole thousands of emails from the work accounts of DNC employees.

So Papadopoulos’ responsiveness might be enough to sustain a claim that the Trump campaign was engaged in this conspiracy before the emails in question were stolen. Indeed, this paragraph from the response (cited above) falsely claims that the plaintiffs suggested the theft ended in March.

Plaintiffs could not have alleged the Campaign’s involvement in the initial hack. According to Plaintiffs’ own account, Russian intelligence hacked the DNC’s networks “in July 2015,” and gained access to email accounts “by March 2016.” (Id. ¶ 86.) But the Campaign supposedly became motivated to work with Russia only in “the spring and summer of 2016” (id. at 25), and supposedly entered into the agreement in “secret meetings” in “April,” “May,” “June,” and “July” 2016 (id. ¶¶ 89–104). In other words, Plaintiffs themselves say that the alleged conspiracy was formed after the hack and after the acquisition of the emails—so that the Campaign could not have participated in the initial theft.

Here’s what the complaint really says:

In order to defeat Secretary Clinton and help elect Mr. Trump, hackers working on behalf of the Russian government broke into computer networks of U.S. political actors involved in the 2016 election, including the DNC and the Clinton Campaign. Elements of Russian intelligence gained unauthorized access to DNC networks in July 2015 and maintained that access until at least June 2016. By March 2016, the Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) gained unauthorized access to DNC networks, DCCC networks, and the personal email accounts of Democratic Party officials and political figures.

By May 2016, the GRU had copied large volumes of data from DNC networks, including email accounts of DNC staffers. Much of the GRU’s activity within the DNC networks took place between March and June 2016, at the very same time its agents were intensifying their outreach to and securing meetings with agents of the Trump Campaign.

[snip]

According to the indictment, “in and around April 2016, the Conspirators began to plan the release of materials stolen from the Clinton Campaign, DCCC, and DNC.” And “in or around June 2016,” when the Trump Campaign was taking meetings with Russian agents to “get information on an opponent,” the indicted Russians and their coconspirators began to “stage[] and release[]” the stolen emails.

All that said, if the plaintiffs are relying on the June 9 meeting to establish the conspiracy, or even Don Jr’s June 3 email enthusiastically responding to Rob Goldstone’s offer, the campaign can argue in this suit that the actual theft of the emails in question — the DNC emails revealing the donors social security numbers and Comer’s embarrassing comments — were, according to the public record, already stolen by the time the campaign entered into the conspiracy.

But that’s not going to work if Mueller charges a criminal conspiracy. That’s true, in part, because the criminal conspiracy would include the social media part of the Russian assistance, which continued well after the June 9 meeting (the plaintiffs here couldn’t argue the social media exploitation hurt them because the emails including the information damaging to them wasn’t promoted by Russian social media actors). It would also include the DCCC releases, which led to the provision of opposition research to Republican operatives.

Indeed, even the hacking continued after the June 9 meeting. As the plaintiffs pointed out, on July 27, Russian hackers even seemed to respond directly to Trump’s request for assistance.

191. On July 27, 2016, during the Democratic National Convention, Mr. Trump held a press conference in Florida. During his remarks, Mr. Trump called on Russia to continue its cyberattacks, stating, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 [Secretary Clinton] emails that are missing.” Although the Trump Campaign—and later, then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer—claimed that Mr. Trump was “joking,” when Mr. Trump was asked at the time to clarify his remark and whether he was serious, Mr. Trump stated: “If Russia or China or any other country has those emails, I mean, to be honest with you, I’d love to see them.”

192. According to the July 13, 2018 indictment of twelve Russian nationals filed by the Special Counsel, agents of the Russian government attempted that same day—July 27, 2016— “to spearfish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office.” In other words, on the day that Mr. Trump publicly said that he hoped Russia would be able to find missing emails related to Secretary Clinton, Russian intelligence for the first time attempted to hack email accounts on Secretary Clinton’s own server.

That particular hack was not successful, but a hack of the Democrats’ AWS hosted analytics program in September was; see ¶34. As I understand it, the targeting of Hillary’s campaign went on in a series of waves, and those waves might be shown to correlate to Trump’s requests for assistance.

So, absent proof that someone in the campaign encouraged Papadopoulos after having learned about the emails in April, the plaintiffs in this suit will struggle to show that Russian hacking of the emails that injured them took place after Trump’s campaign entered into the conspiracy. But Mueller won’t have that problem. And all that’s before the Peter Smith operation, which asked for assistance from Guccifer 2.0 and reached out to presumed Russian hackers to obtain information from Hillary’s home server. Plus, that’s all separate from the social media campaign which continued to benefit the Trump campaign up to the election.

The ironies of a First Amendment defense

There’s a detail about this response, however, that (relying as it does on a strong First Amendment defense) deserves more attention. The response claims that the entire purpose of this suit suit is to obtain discovery on the President on a number of topics — notably his tax returns and business relationships — that Democrats have been unable to fully pursue elsewhere.

The object of this lawsuit is to launch a private investigation into the President of the United States. The Amended Complaint already foreshadows discovery into the President’s “tax returns” (Am. Compl. ¶ 238), his “business relationships” (id.), his conversations with “Director Comey” (id. ¶ 251), and on and on.

Much later, in the conspiracy section, in an argument that seems designed for Brett Kavanaugh’s review, the response argues that plaintiffs need a more plausible claim to be able to get discovery from the President.

Rule 8 requires a complaint to state a “plausible” claim for relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A complaint satisfies this standard if its “factual content” raises a “reasonable inference” that the defendant engaged in the misconduct alleged. Id. at 678. This requirement protects defendants against “costly and protracted discovery” on a “largely groundless claim.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 558 (2007). This protection is essential here, where Plaintiffs’ explicit goal is to burden the President with discovery. The President’s “unique position in the constitutional scheme” requires him to “devote his undivided time and attention to his public duties.” Clinton v. Jones, 520 U.S. 681, 697–98 (1997). Courts must thus ensure that plaintiffs do not use “civil discovery” on “meritless claims” to interfere with his responsibilities. Cheney v. U.S. District Court, 542 U.S. 367, 386 (2004).

It’s only after making the claim that this suit is all about obtaining public interest information such as the President’s tax returns that the campaign makes an argument justifying the release of all this information in the name of public interest.

According to the logic Jones Day lays out here, the Democrats’ mistake was in not finding foreign hackers to steal and then publish Trump’s tax returns.

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

The Shiny Object of the May 2017 Russian Investigation: The Evidence Mostly Came in after August 1

There’s a reason today’s NYT story so infuriates me — to say nothing of Trump’s efforts to declassify documents from the Russia investigation that, because of the personnel moves of virtually everyone involved, would mostly end by August 1, 2017.

That’s because it’s clear that — because Peter Strzok lost an August 2016 battle to investigate more aggressively in summer and fall 2016 — DOJ, FBI, and then Mueller were only obtaining key information around about August 1, 2017, a year later. It’s no surprise, then, that (as the frothy right has been obsessing about recently) Lisa Page and Strzok weren’t sure if there was evidence of “collusion” on May 17, 2017. Of course they weren’t. The government hadn’t started collecting the evidence in earnest yet.

Consider the following investigative steps:

FBI appears not to have sent a preservation request to Government Services Administration for George Papadopoulos’ material until March 9, 2017, and they appear not to have pursued his privately held call records (especially the Facebook ones that would have revealed the existence of Ivan Timofeev) until some time later.

On June 6, 2017, the Mueller team was still debating whether they would access Section 702 materials, something they otherwise do routinely with assessments, to say nothing of fully predicated national security investigations.

The John Dowd letter wrongly claiming unprecedented cooperation reveals that Mueller started to receive the documents requested by congressional committees on July 21; that would presumably be the first that the government obtained the version of the June 9 emails that included Paul Manafort’s replies.

Copies of all documents provided to the committees by the Campaign, and all search term lists and the privilege log, were also provided to the Special Counsel.

  • By letter dated May 17, 2017, the Campaign received a request for documents from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI).
  • By letter dated June 7, 2017, the Campaign received a request for documents from the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI). The records requested included records generated from June 16, 2015, to 12pm on January 20, 2017, and hence, included the transition period.
  • The Campaign voluntarily responded to these requests by providing 840 documents on July 21, 2017, and another set of 4,800 documents on July 31, 2017. By letter dated July 19, 2017, the Campaign received a request for documents from the Senate Judiciary Committee (SJC).

Mueller sent a preservation request for Transition materials on June 22. He obtained all the emails and devices from 13 transition staffers in late August.

Specifically, on August 23, 2017, the FBI sent a letter (i.e., not a subpoena) to career GSA staff requesting copies of the emails, laptops, cell phones, and other materials associated with nine PTT members responsible for national security and policy matters. On August 30, 2017, the FBI sent a letter (again, not a subpoena) to career GSA staff requesting such materials for four additional senior PTT members.

The list of documents the White House provided, organized by Bates number, show that some key documents couldn’t have come in until July 2017. Indeed, documents pertaining to Comey’s firing appear to be the last of the document sets obtained, sometime after the disclosure of the June 9, 2016 meeting in July 2017.

BuzzFeed’s big scoop on financial transfers between Aras Agalarov and Ike Kaveladze around the time of the June 9 meeting shows banks didn’t start looking for such suspicious transfers until after the June 9 meeting was disclosed on July 8, 2017.

None of these transactions was discovered until 2017, after the New York Times revealed the Trump Tower meeting. Shortly after that report, investigators asked financial institutions to look back at their accounts to learn how money flowed among the people who planned and attended the meeting: Agalarov; Kaveladze; Agalarov’s pop star son, Emin; their employee, Rob Goldstone, who sent the original email to Trump Jr.; and others.

To unearth connections between some of their accounts, banks took an extraordinary step: They invoked a provision of the Patriot Act — a post-9/11 law that included new tools to track money laundering and terrorist financing. That provision, rarely used in the Trump-Russia investigation, allowed the banks to share information about customers with one another.

Three financial institutions — Citibank, JP Morgan Chase, and Morgan Stanley — discovered the $3.3 million that flowed from Agalarov to Kaveladze.

My interview with the FBI (I believe I was the second source about one aspect of what I shared, but believe I was the first about the stuff that tied more obviously to the campaign) was July 14. I believe my materials were moved under Mueller when Ryan Dickey got moved under Mueller in November, 2017.

So the constant six-year old soccer chases by journalists trying to learn what happened in May 2017 — when things were chaotic because Trump was breaking all norms and firing people who actually weren’t investigating that aggressively — to the detriment of attention on what happened in the months thereafter really does a huge disservice to the truth. The investigation into Trump’s conspiracy with Russia started in earnest around about August 1, 2017. Once the government actually started looking for evidence, I imagine the evidence of conspiracy was pretty obvious.

As I disclosed in 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. 

Those Sexy Details in the Papadopoulos Sentencing Memo Aren’t Intended for Your Consumption

In this post, I argued that George Papadopoulos’ sentencing memo was written to make a case to Donald Trump for a pardon, not to judge Randolph Moss for no prison time (even though that’s what he asks for).

It would follow logically, then, that the details of his testimony Papapdopoulos chose to highlight in a claim that “George provided investigators with critical information” — details that have attracted much of the press coverage of this memo — also aren’t intended for our benefit, but for Trump and other co-conspirators.

Jeff Sessions lies as much as “young George” Papadopoulos

Consider the one that has attracted the most attention, revealing that (according to Papadopoulos), he told the government that Trump approved of his plan to pursue a meeting with Putin and — even more importantly — Jeff “Sessions … appeared to like the idea.”

On March 31, 2016, he joined Mr. Trump, Senator Jeff Sessions, and other campaign officials for a “National Security Meeting” at the Trump Hotel. George’s photograph at this meeting flashed around the world via Twitter. Eager to show his value to the campaign, George announced at the meeting that he had connections that could facilitate a foreign policy meeting between Mr. Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. While some in the room rebuffed George’s offer, Mr. Trump nodded with approval and deferred to Mr. Sessions who appeared to like the idea and stated that the campaign should look into it.

At a minimum, after 11 months of being prevented from sharing this detail, including it here tells all the other co-conspirators what Papadopoulos said. The allegation is not new; at least two other participants in the meeting offered a similar version to Reuters in March (and presumably to the FBI before that). Still, Papadopoulos provides the detail in such a way and at such a time that it’s sure to generate pressure on Sessions, just as Trump is trying to convince Republican members of Congress he should fire the Attorney General. Not to mention that Papadopoulos raises an example of a person who has thus far avoided all consequences for lying in official settings.

The offer of emails came during a discussion finalizing a meeting

An even more delicious mention is the specific description Papadopoulos gives of the meeting at which Joseph Mifsud told him the Russians had Hillary emails they planned to release to help Trump.

George strived to organize a meeting with the Russian government and help the Trump campaign promote its foreign policy objective: improve U.S. and Russian relations. He believed that such a meeting would be a boon for the campaign as Mr. Trump had not yet hosted any major foreign policy events with officials from other countries.

George joined Professor Mifsud for breakfast in London on April 26, 2016, with the intention of finalizing plans for the foreign policy meeting. It was during this breakfast meeting, however, that Professor Mifsud told George that individuals in Moscow possessed “dirt” on candidate Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.” Not knowing what to make of this comment, George continued his efforts to make the Trump – Russia meeting a reality. [my emphasis]

Papadopoulos’ statement of the offense had made it clear that Mifsud mentioned the emails in the context of Papadopoulos’ efforts to set up a meeting.

On or about April 25, 2016, defendant PAPADOPOULOS emailed [Stephen Miller — see this story confirming Miller as the “Senior Policy Advisor” in the document]: “The Russian government has an open invitation by Putin for Mr. Trump to meet him when he is ready []. The advantage of being in London is that these governments tends to speak more openly in “neutral” cities.

On or about April 26, 2016, defendant PAPADOPOULOS met the Professor for breakfast at a London hotel. During this meeting, the Professor told defendant PAPADOPOULOS that he had just returned from a trip to Moscow where he had met with high-level Russian government officials. The Professor told defendant PAPADOPOULOS that on that trip he (the Professor) learned that the  Russians had obtained “dirt” on then-candidate Clinton. The Professor told defendant PAPADOPOULOS, as defendant PAPADOPOULOS later described to the FBI, that “They [the Russians] have dirt on her”; “the Russians had emails of Clinton”; “they have thousands of emails.”

[snip]

[T]he day after his meeting at the hotel with the Professor, on or about April 27, 2016, defendant PAPADOPOULOS emailed [Miller]: “Have some interesting messages coming in from Moscow about a trip when the time is right.”

Also on or about April 27, 2016, defendant PAPADOPOULOS emailed a [Corey 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.”

The Schiff memo and Alexander Downer have subsequently added the detail that Mifsud specifically told Papadopoulos that, “the Russians might use material that they have on Hillary Clinton in the lead-up to the election, which may be damaging,” to assist Trump’s campaign.

Remember, Papadopoulos worked with Lewandowski to draft Trump’s first foreign policy speech, delivered on April 27, which Papadopoulos reportedly told Ivan Timofeev (whose entire existence Papadopoulos’ lies had managed to hide from the FBI at first) was a signal to meet. That speech included these lines:

I believe an easing of tensions, and improved relations with Russia from a position of strength only is possible, absolutely possible. Common sense says this cycle, this horrible cycle of hostility must end and ideally will end soon. Good for both countries.

Some say the Russians won’t be reasonable. I intend to find out. If we can’t make a deal under my administration, a deal that’s great — not good, great — for America, but also good for Russia, then we will quickly walk from the table. It’s as simple as that. We’re going to find out.

Obviously, the tie between Russia releasing stolen emails and foreign policy meetings was always implicit. But Papadopoulos has just revealed that Mifsud said Russia might release emails in the context of setting up a meeting, after having floated such a meeting with Miller the day before.

The breakfast meeting ties the release of the stolen emails to help the Trump campaign and foreign policy meetings together directly. And having just sat through such a meeting, Papadopoulos worked with Stephen Miller and Corey Lewandowski to send a message to Russian that Trump was willing to meet — and would pursue improved relations with Russia.

Papadopoulos tells the Greeks of the dirt offer just in time to pass Putin a message

I’m most interested, however, in the inclusion of Papadopoulos’ admission he told the Greek Foreign Minister about the Russian offer of dirt just before Putin came to town on May 27, 2016.

George provided investigators with critical information. George told investigators about his interactions and meetings with other members of the campaign. He detailed a meeting in late May 2016 where he revealed to the Greek Foreign Minister that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. He explained that this meeting took place days before President Vladimir Putin traveled to Greece to meet with Greek officials.

Remember, Natalia Veselnitskaya dates the idea for the June 9 meeting to a conversation she had with Aras Agalarov at “the end of May” 2016.

Around the end of May 2016, during a conversation with a good acquaintance of mine, being my client, Aras Agalarov on a topic that was not related to the United States, I shared the story faced when defending another client, Denis Katsyv, about how terribly misled the US Congress had been by the tax defrauder William Browder, convicted in Russia, who, through his lobbyists and his close-minded rank-and-file Congress staffers, succeeded in adopting the Act in the name of a person whom Browder practically hardly ever knew. I considered it my duty to inform the Congress people about it and asked Mr. Agalarov if there was any possibility of helping me or my colleagues to do this. I do not remember who of us was struck by the idea that maybe his son could talk about this with Donald Trump, Jr., who, although a businessman, was sure to have some acquaintances among Congress people.

But it’s not just the tantalizing possibility that Papadopoulos left some kind of message for Putin just before Aras Agalarov started setting up the June 9 meeting.

Papadopoulos’ statement of the offense describes him emailing Paul Manafort about Russia’s desire to set up a meeting, which Manafort forwarded to the government’s most important now cooperating witness, Rick Gates, telling him that the candidate wasn’t going to do such meetings himself — someone else in the campaign would.

On or about May 21, 2016, defendant PAPADOPOULOS emailed another high-ranking Campaign official, with the subject line “Request from Russia to meet Mr. Trump.” The email included the May 4 MFA Email and added: “Russia has been eager to meet Mr. Trump for quite sometime and have been reaching out to me to discuss.”2

2 The government notes that the official forwarded defendant PAPADOPOULOS’s email to another Campaign official (without including defendant PAPADOPOULOS) and stated:

“Let[‘]s discuss. We need someone to communicate that DT is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal.”

The House Intelligence Majority Report, however, reveals that that Papadopolous sent that email from Greece.

(U) While on a trip to Athens, Greece in May 2016, Papadopoulos sent an email to Manafort stating that he expected to soon receive “an official invitation for Mr. Trump to visit Greece sometime this summer should his schedule allow.”183 In the same email to Manafort, Papadopoulos also forwarded a meeting Invitation from Ivan Timofeev, Director or [sic] Programs for the Russian International Affairs Council, and claimed that “Russia has been eager to meet Mr. Trump for quite sometime and have been reaching out to me to discuss. thought it would be prudent to send to you.”184

(U) As of May 2016, Manafort had not yet been elevated to campaign chairman, but had a long track record of work abroad. Manafort forwarded Papadopoulos’ email to his business and campaign deputy [Rick Gates] noting that we need someone to communicate that D[onald] T[rump] is not doing these trips.” 185 Manafort and [Gates] agreed to assign a response of a “general letter” to “our correspondence coordinator.” the person responsible for “responding to all mail of non-importance.”186

While it’s clear nothing in that email could have reflected a discussion of passing a message to Putin via Papadopoulos’ Greek contacts, it does show that Papadopoulos used the opportunity of a verbal offer from Greece to raise a Russian meeting with Manafort directly. Manafort responded by saying other campaign aides would do such meetings. Papadopoulos then somehow saw reason to tell Greece’s Foreign Minister that the Russians were offering dirt to help Trump just before Putin arrived. And that’s precisely the timeframe when the June 9 meeting setting up a Russian meeting with Trump’s senior-most campaign officials, including Manafort, got born.

Maybe it’s all a big fat coinkydink, but Papadopoulos seems to believe it important enough to tell all his co-conspirators (even while it makes his repeated claims not to have told the campaign itself laughable), possibly because he knows the FBI has evidence from the Greeks as well.

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

The Mueller Investigation: What Happens on September 7?

I hesitate to write this post, partly because I think it’s a good idea to dismiss every single thing that Rudy Giuliani says, and partly because we’ve all learned that it is sheer folly to pretend anyone can anticipate what Mueller will do, much less when.

Nevertheless, I wanted to address questions about what might happen in the next two weeks, as we approach the 60-day mark before midterm elections.

Rudy G is wrong about everything

The aforementioned Rudy G, who has been saying that Mueller has to shut down his entire investigation (or even finish up and go home) on September 1 on account of DOJ’s policy against overt investigative action close to an election.

As I said, the policy only prohibits overt acts, and only 60 days before the election. Mueller might argue that it’s entirely irrelevant, given that none of his known targets (save, perhaps, Dana Rohrabacher) are on the ballot. But enough credible journalists have suggested that DOJ is taking this deadline seriously with respect to Trump’s associates (including Michael Cohen in SDNY, where DOJ actually leaks), that it’s probably correct he’ll avoid overt acts in the 60 days before the November 6 election.

But that timeline starts on September 7, not September 1.

Paul Manafort’s stall

One thing we know will dominate the press in that pre-election period is Manafort’s DC trial, scheduled to start on September 17.

Unless he flips.

While I still don’t think he will flip, he is stalling in both his trials. In EDVA, he asked for and got a 30-day deadline to move for an acquittal or mistrial. He may have done so to provide extra time to consider the complaints raised by one juror that others were deliberating before they should have, which Manafort had asked for a mistrial over. If that’s right, juror Paula Duncan’s comments, describing the one holdout and explaining that even she, a Trump supporter, found the case a slam dunk, may persuade Manafort that challenging this trial won’t bring about any other result and may mean he gets convicted on the remaining 10 counts.

In any case, however, by getting 30 days to decide, Manafort moved the deadline from (by my math) September 3 to September 21, when he’s scheduled to be deep into the DC case (and therefore too busy to submit such a motion). It did, however, move the decision date past that September 7 date.

Speaking of the DC case, after getting an extension on the pre-trial statement in that case, Manafort basically punted on many of the substantive issues, effectively saying he’ll provide the required input later.

He may not be flipping, but he’s not prepared to start this trial.

Is it Roger Stone’s time in the barrel?

The big question, for me, is whether Mueller has finished his six month effort to put together a Roger Stone indictment.

Tantalizingly, back on August 10, Mueller scheduled Randy Credico to explain to the grand jury how Stone threatened him about his testimony. That appearance is for September 7. Given how far out Mueller scheduled this, I wondered at the time whether Credico was being slated to put the finishing touches on a Stone indictment.

What might prevent Mueller from finalizing Stone’s indictment, however, is Stone associate Andrew Miller, from whom Mueller has been trying to get testimony since May 9. Miller is challenging his grand jury subpoena; he’s due to submit his opening brief in his appeal on September 7. That might mean that Mueller has to wait. But two filings (District, Circuit), the docket in his subpoena challenge, and this CNN report may suggest they can move forward without first getting Miller’s testimony.

Both the Circuit document and CNN provide more details about a May 9 interview with two FBI Agents, with no attorney present (no offense to Miller, but what the fuck kind of self-described libertarian, much less one in Roger Stone’s immediate orbit, agrees to an FBI interview without a lawyer present)?

Mr. Miller was first interviewed by two agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation who visited him unannounced on or about May 9, 2018, in Saint Louis, MO, where he resides. He was cooperative, answering all their questions for approximately two hours, and at the conclusion of the interview, was handed a subpoena to produce documents and testify as a witness before the grand jury.

CNN describes that’s what poses a perjury concern for Miller with regards to his testimony before the grand jury because of that original interview.

Miller’s case is complicated by the fact that he initially cooperated with the special counsel’s investigation. When FBI agents first approached him in May, he spoke with them at his home in St. Louis for two hours without an attorney.

[snip]

Dearn said in an interview that she was just being “carefully paranoid” and protecting her client from accidentally committing perjury if he testifies and contradicts something he told investigators back in May without a lawyer present.

As the District filing seems to suggest, Miller got not one but two subpoenas (???), just one of which called for document production:

Mr. Miller was served with two subpoenas dated June 5, 2018, both requiring his appearance before the Grand Jury on June 8, but only one of which required that he search and bring with him the documents described in the Attachment to one of the subpoenas. See Exhibits 1 and 2. After a filing a motion to quash on grounds not raised herein, this Court issued a Minute Order on June 18 requiring Mr. Miller’s appearance before the Grand Jury on June 29 and to produce the documents requested as limited by agreement of the parties by June 25.

Miller turned over 100MB of documents on June 25, but shortly thereafter, Mueller prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky asked for more.

Mr. Miller has since complied with that part of the order producing voluminous documents in a file that is 100MB in size to government counsel on Monday, June 25. In her cover email to government counsel, Aaron Zelinsky, Miller’s counsel stated in pertinent part: “Mr. Miller does not waive and hereby preserves all rights he has to object to the subpoena requiring his appearance before the Grand Jury this Friday…and from any continuing duty or obligation to supply additional documents subject to the subpoena.” See Exhibit 6. Nevertheless, Mr. Zelinsky recently informed counsel that he is not satisfied with this production and is unreasonably requesting additional documents from Mr. Miller.

CNN reported that those documents pertained to WikiLeaks and Guccifer 2.0.

After a protracted back and forth between Dearn and Mueller’s team, Miller handed over a tranche of documents. In turn, the government had agreed to limit its search to certain terms such as Stone, WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, Guccifer 2.0, DCLeaks and the Democratic National Committee, according to court filings and interview with attorneys.

So at the very least, Mueller has 100MB of documents that relate to Wikileaks and Guccifer 2.0 (which raises real questions about how Miller can say he knows nothing about the topic), and 2 hours of testimony that Miller may not want to tell the grand jury now that he has lawyers who might help him avoid doing so.

Meanwhile, there are some filings from the end of his District Court docket.

The Circuit document mostly explains what filings 33, 34, 35, and 37 are (though doesn’t explain why Mueller refused to stipulate that Miller be held in contempt): they’re the process by which he was held in contempt and therefore legally positioned to appeal.

6. Because Mr. Miller desired to appeal the order denying his motion, ensuing discussions with Special Counsel to stipulate that Mr. Miller be held in contempt for not appearing on the upcoming appearance before the grand jury on August 10, 2018, and to stay the contempt pending appeal did not succeed.

7. Consequently, two days before his appearance, on the evening of August 8, 2018, counsel emailed government counsel and Judge Howell’s clerk (and on the following morning of August 9, hand-filed with the clerk’s office), a Motion By Witness Andrew Miller To Be Held In Civil Contempt For Refusing To Testify Before The Grand Jury And To Stay Such Order To Permit Him To Appeal It To The U.S. Court Of Appeals For The District Of Columbia Circuit and citing authorities for granting a stay of contempt. ECF No. 33. The government served and a response on the evening of August 9 ( ECF. No. 35) and Mr. Miller served a reply early morning on August 10. ECF No. 37.

8. On August 10, undersigned counsel for Mr. Miller met government counsel at 9:00 a.m. as previously agreed to at the entrance to the grand jury offices, and was advised by government counsel that a motion to show cause was filed shortly before 9:00 a.m. ECF No. 34.

9. Approximately two hours later, the court held the show cause hearing, with the Mr. Miller and local counsel appearing telephonically from Saint Louis, MO.

10. The court granted Mr. Miller’s and the government’s request that he be held in contempt and stayed the order if the notice of appeal were filed by 9:00 a.m. August 14, 2018. ECF No. 36.

That doesn’t explain what Document 38 is, to which Miller didn’t respond, and in response to which Beryl Howell issued an order.

CNN’s description of Miller’s attorney’s concern seems to split his testimony into two topics: Guccifer and Wikileaks, and Stone’s PACs. Miller’s only worried about legal jeopardy in the latter of those two. (For some details on what the legal exposure might pertain to, see this post.)

[Alicia] Dearn was adamant that Miller not be forced to testify to the grand jury about one topic in specific: Stone. She asked that her client be granted immunity, “otherwise he’s going to have to take the Fifth Amendment,” she said in a court hearing in June.

Aaron Zelinsky, one of Mueller’s prosecutors, noted Miller’s lawyer was making two seemingly contradictory arguments: “On the one hand, that the witness knows nothing, has nothing to hide, and has participated in no illegal activity. On the other hand, that there is a Fifth Amendment concern there.”

In the hearing, Dearn said she was concerned Miller would be asked about his finances and transactions related to political action committees he worked on with Stone.

Miller “had absolutely no communication with anybody from Russia or with Guccifer or WikiLeaks,” Dearn said in an interview.

By process of elimination, the only thing she believes her client could get caught up on are questions about his financial entanglements with Stone and his super PAC.

The Circuit document concedes that Miller may be the subject — but not target — of this grand jury investigation.

12. Lest there be any misunderstanding, Mr. Miller was not a “target of grand jury subpoenas” (Concord Mot. at 1), but rather a fact witness or at most a subject of the grand jury; nor was he a “recalcitrant witness.” Id. at 13. As the foregoing background demonstrates, Mr. Miller has been a cooperative witness in this proceeding.

It would be really weird if Miller really did get two subpoenas, and that’s not consistent with the Circuit document. So it may be there were two topics or crimes described in the subpoena: conspiring with Russia, and running a corrupt PAC. And if Miller’s only personally legally exposed in the latter of those, then it’s possible Mueller would treat these differently.

So it’s possible Mueller got what they need to move forward on the main conspiracy case against Stone, while it has to wait on Miller’s own involvement in Stone’s corrupt PACs until after the DC Circuit reviews things.

Other September deadlines

The September 7 timing is interesting for two other reasons. First, that’s also the day that George Papadopoulos — whose plea deal covers his lies and obstuction but not any conspiracy case — is due to be sentenced.

Just 10 days later Mike Flynn (whose plea deal was also limited to his lies) has a status report due, just a 24-day extension off his previous one. That timing suggests he’s about done with his cooperation. Perhaps that shortened time frame is only due to his team’s push to get him back earning money to pay for his lawyers again. Perhaps there’s some other explanation.

Timeline

August 24: Revised deadline for Manafort pre-trial statement — Manafort punted on many issues.

August 28: Hearing in DC Manafort case.

September 3: Current deadline for motions in EDVA Manafort trial

September 4: Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings scheduled to begin (projected to last 3-4 days)

September 7: Randy Credico scheduled to testify before grand jury; George Papadopoulos scheduled for sentencing; Andrew Miller brief due before DC Circuit; 60 days before November 6 mid-terms

September 17: DC Manafort trial starts, status report due in Mike Flynn case

September 21: Requested deadline for motions in EDVA Manafort trial

September 28: Government brief due in DC Circuit appeal of Andrew Miller subpoena

October 9: Miller reply due in DC Circuit

November 6: Mid-term election

November 10: Status report due in Rick Gates case

As I disclosed in 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. 

Sometimes a Plea Is Just a Plea: The Ongoing Criminal Exposure of Mueller’s “Cooperating” Witnesses

One of the most interesting details from the government’s George Papadopoulos Sentencing Memo released last night is this passage, stating that Papadopoulos’ plea was not a standard cooperation agreement.

The plea agreement entered into by the government and the defendant was not a standard cooperation agreement, and the government did not agree to make a motion under U.S.S.G. § 5K1.1 based on cooperation by the defendant. Nevertheless, the government agreed to “bring to the Court’s attention at sentencing the defendant’s efforts to cooperate with the Government, on the condition that [the defendant] continues to respond and provide information regarding any and all matters as to which the Government deems relevant.” (Plea Agreement p. 4). Pursuant to this agreement, the Government provides the Court with the following information.

[snip]

The defendant did not provide “substantial assistance,” and much of the information provided by the defendant came only after the government confronted him with his own emails, text messages, internet search history, and other information it had obtained via search warrants and subpoenas well after the defendant’s FBI interview as the government continued its investigation. 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.

While there had been some discussion about what kind of plea deal Papadopoulos got, this statement seems to say that Papadopoulos didn’t offer up any specific cooperation against co-conspirators. Rather, the deal was simply that if he offered up his cooperation about his own actions, the government would tell the court that he did so, with no obligation to ask the court for any downward sentencing. The deal, then, was to limit his exposure to just one false statements charge, rather than the multiple false statements and obstruction charge he could have gotten for trying to confuse the FBI.

Importantly, the deal only applied to conduct specified in the offense — that is, the lies to the FBI and the obstruction of justice by hiding his Facebook and cell phone data. While his statement of offense includes much of his discussion with Russian assets about setting up a meeting, it says nothing about other conduct, such as accepting $10,000 from a suspected Israeli asset, or his ongoing negotiations with Sergei Millian, basically to spy on the Trump administration in exchange for a monthly payment (which was conditioned on getting a job in the administration, which is one of the reasons — the government suggests in the memo — why Papadopoulos may have lied to the FBI in January 2017).

That is, Papadopoulos not only faces prison time if the court accepts the government’s recommended sentence, but he may have ongoing exposure for foreign agent or conspiracy charges not covered by this plea agreement.

He made a deal to get several false statements and obstruction charges turned into one, but he didn’t even capitalize on that deal, and may still face additional legal risk tied to the Russian tampering.

That led me to compare the language for all the other plea deals Mueller’s team has made (something NYCSouthpaw started to do in this thread in February). It’s clear that Alex van der Zwaan got the least out of his plea deal (though he may have cooperated more in getting to that deal, which would have been important given his foreign status). That’s significant, because the prosecutor compared van der Zwaan to Papadopoulos in their memo.

The other three plea deals — Mike Flynn, Richard Pinedo (for identity theft tied to the Internet trolls), and Rick Gates — do obligate the government to submit a 5K statement for downward departure on sentencing if the person provides substantial cooperation.

But Pinedo and Flynn’s deals are limited just to the statement of offense. In Flynn’s case, his statement includes several lies to the FBI and his failure to register under FARA, but not a lot of other known conduct, even aside from any conspiracy involving Russia.

Only Gates’ plea includes broad forgiveness for criminal conduct (though the charges he pled to also include more significant penalties than Flynn and Papadopoulos). That’s yet another sign that he offered quite a bit in his proffer, well beyond incriminating Paul Manafort.

I’ve been nudging the attentive lawyers to explain what this means in terms of ongoing exposure. But if I were Mike Flynn, the Papadopoulos example might really incentivize me to be more cooperative.


George Papadopoulos:

In consideration of your client’s guilty plea to the above offense, your client will not be further prosecuted criminally by this Office for the conduct set forth in the attached Statement of the Offense.

No government obligation section beyond,

agreeing to bring to the Court’s attention at sentencing the defendant’s efforts to cooperate with the Government, on the condition that your client continues to respond and provide information regarding any and all matters as to which the Government deems relevant.

Mike Flynn:

In consideration of your client’s guilty plea to the above offense, your client will not be further prosecuted criminally by this Office for the conduct set forth in the attached Statement of the Offense.

5K language included.

Alex van der Zwaan:

In consideration of your client’s guilty plea to the above offense, your client will not be further prosecuted criminally by this Office for the conduct set forth in the attached Statement of the Offense, for any other false statements made by him to the Office on November 3 and December 1, 2017, any destruction, deletion, and withholding of documents and evidence in connection with requests by this Office or his law firm, and any violations of the Foreign Agent Registration Act or other law arising from the preparation and/or roll out of the Tymoshenko report for the Ukraine Ministry of Justice.

No government obligation section.

Richard Pinedo:

In consideration of your client’s guilty plea to the above offense, your client will not be further prosecuted crininally by this Office for the conduct set forth in the attached Statement of the Offense.

5K language included.

Rick Gates:

In consideration of your client’s guilty plea to the above offenses, and upon the completion of full cooperation as described herein, no additional criminal charges will be brought against the defendant for his heretofore disclosed participation in criminal activity, including money laundering, false statements, personal and corporate tax and FBAR offenses, bank fraud, and obstruction of justice. In addition, subject to the terms of this Agreement, at the time of sentence, the Government will move to dismiss the remaining counts of the Indictment in this matter. In addition, the Office will move promptly to dismiss without prejudice the charges brought against your client in the Eastern District of Virginia and your client waives venue as to such charges in the event he breaches this Agreement.

5K language included.

Government Claims George Papadopoulos Helped Joseph Mifsud Get Away

The government has released its sentencing memo for George Papadopoulos. They recommend he serve time somewhere between 0 and 6 months, with a fine of $9,500 (which is most but not all of the payment he got from a suspected Israeli spy). And given their description, he got off easy (though I do wonder whether he faces additional exposure in the conspiracy in chief).

While the most newsy bit of the memo is a footnote debunking a lot of what Simona has been telling the gullible Chuck Ross since May (which I’ll get to), the most interesting detail is that the government claims that Papadopoulos’ lies and obstruction helped Joseph Mifsud skip the country without being detained, as the government explains by way of describing the damage Papadopoulos did to the investigation.

The defendant’s lies to the FBI in January 2017 impeded the FBI’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Most immediately, those statements substantially hindered investigators’ ability to effectively question the Professor when the FBI located him in Washington, D.C. approximately two weeks after the defendant’s January 27, 2017 interview. The defendant’s lies undermined investigators’ ability to challenge the Professor or potentially detain or arrest him while he was still in the United States. The government understands that the Professor left the United States on February 11, 2017 and he has not returned to the United States since then.

This claim is overly dramatic, but it makes the frothy right’s conspiracy about Mifsud being an FBI plant all the more interesting — if he’s an FBI plant, then why did Papadopoulos cover for him while he was in the US? (Yeah, I know the premise is insane but that’s what conspiracy theories do to sanity.)

And, as the government’s debunking footnote makes clear, either because George lied to her or because she’s lying, Simona hasn’t been telling the gullible Chuck Ross the truth about Papadopoulos offering up Mifsud’s name.

In several recent media appearances, the defendant’s spouse has claimed that the defendant “voluntarily reported” to the FBI the Professor’s conversation with him about the “dirt” on Clinton. See CNN, Papadopoulos’ Wife Asks Trump to Pardon Him, Says He’s ‘Loyal to the Truth,’ June 6, 2018 (claiming at approximately 4:08 that the defendant “actually volunteered – he reported to the FBI about this meeting”); Fox News, Rethinking ‘Collusion’ and the George Papadopoulos Case, June 4, 2018, (claiming at approximately 2:11 that the defendant “voluntarily reported to the FBI at the time of their interview”); Chuck Ross, Papadopoulos’ Wife: Trump Aide Was ‘Absolutely Not’ Involved in Russian Collusion, June 4, 2018, available at http://dailycaller.com/2018/06/04/mangiante-papadopoulos-collusion/ (stating that it was the “defendant who brought up” the matter).

To the contrary, the defendant identified the Professor only after being prompted by a series of specific questions about when the defendant first learned about Russia’s disclosure of information related to the campaign and whether the defendant had ever “received any information or anything like that from a [] Russian government official.” In response, while denying he received any information from a Russian government official, the defendant identified the Professor by name – while also falsely claiming he interacted with the Professor “before I was with Trump though.” Over the next several minutes in the interview, the defendant repeatedly and falsely claimed that his interactions with the Professor occurred before he was working for the Trump campaign, and he did not mention his discussion with the Professor about the Russians possessing “dirt” on Clinton. That fact only came up after additional specific questioning from the agents. The agents asked the defendant: “going back to the WikiLeaks and maybe the Russian hacking and all that, were you ever made aware that the Russians had intent to disclose information [] ahead of time? So before it became public? Did anyone ever tell you that the Russian government plans to release some information[,]
like tell the Trump team ahead of time[,] that that was going to happen?” The defendant responded, “No.” The agents then skeptically asked, “No?” The defendant responded: “No, not on, no not the Trump [campaign], but I will tell you something and – and this is . . . actually very good that we’re, that you just brought this up because I wasn’t working with Trump at the time[.] I was working in London . . . with that guy [the Professor].” Only then, after acknowledging that the agents had “brought this up” and lying about when he received the information, did the defendant admit that the Professor had told him “the Russians had emails of Clinton.”

Interestingly, the government suggests that Papadopoulos may have lied because he was still trying to get a job in the Trump administration — a job, we’ve since learned, that might have also come with a payoff from Sergei Millian.

But the record shows that at the time of the interview, the defendant was attempting to secure a job with the Trump Administration and had an incentive to protect the Administration and minimize his own role as a witness. (PSR ¶ 50). In January 2017, the defendant had several communications with officials of the incoming Administration in an effort to obtain a high-level position with the National Security Council, the State Department, or the Energy Department. On January 27, 2017, in the hours after being interviewed by the FBI, the defendant submitted his biography and a description of work he did on the campaign in an effort to obtain a position as a Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Energy Department. (PSR ¶ 50).

And Papadopoulos didn’t provide much assistance at all — significantly, hiding a phone he used in the campaign until the last proffer session (at which point the government had probably identified it by correlating his identities).

The defendant did not provide “substantial assistance,” and much of the information provided by the defendant came only after the government confronted him with his own emails, text messages, internet search history, and other information it had obtained via search warrants
and subpoenas well after the defendant’s FBI interview as the government continued its investigation. 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 cell phone was not among the devices seized at the airport because it was already in the defendant’s family home in Chicago. Upon request, the defendant provided that phone to the government and consented to the search of that device.

And he didn’t provide much help thereafter.

Following the proffer sessions in August and September 2017, the government arranged to meet again with the defendant to ask further questions in late December 2017. However, upon learning that the defendant had participated in a media interview with a national publication concerning his case, the government canceled that meeting.

All of which leaves you with the sense that Papadopoulos would have happily served as a spy, had the FBI not come knocking on his door at precisely the same time as the White House was first dealing with the Mike Flynn investigation.

Again, the government is letting Papadopoulos off easy. Which makes me wonder whether he’s still exposed in the case in chief.

If You Have Rick Gates (and Omarosa) You Don’t Need George Papadopoulos

The Trumpian bubble — likely led by right wing legal talking head Victoria Toensing — may be about to lead a young couple to do something insanely stupid.

Yesterday, Simona Mangiante Papadopoulos, George’s wife, tweeted out a request for a pro bono lawyer for her spouse.

A few hours later, she tweeted out notice that she would follow up with those who have specific expertise.

Simona Papadopoulos wants to ditch George’s plea deal at the stupidest possible moment

As she explained to Chuck Ross, who reports from deep within that Trumpian bubble, she and George are thinking of backing out of his plea deal (at the stupidest imaginable time), and instead suing the government and taking their chances with the evidence the government had in hand when Papadopoulos pled guilty to charges that undercharged his conduct, as well as the evidence the government obtained over the course of a year of Papadopoulos pitching for and then engaging in a plea deal.

“George should drop off his plea agreement, in my opinion,” Mangiante Papadopoulos told The Daily Caller News Foundation when contacted after her tweet.

“The idea is to find a lawyer to drop off his plea agreement and sue the government,” she added, noting that she and her husband plan to wait until after a court hearing on Friday to make a final decision.

[snip]

Papadopoulos faces sentencing in the case on Sept. 7. The special counsel’s office will submit its recommendations for sentencing this Friday. While lying to the FBI carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, defendants in similar cases often receive six months or less in jail.

Remember: one reason Papadopoulos, relying on the advice of some of the more competent attorneys in this matter, pled guilty is because the FBI had evidence he had accepted payment from an Israeli asking for covert assistance. That’s on top of the lies to the FBI he already pled guilty to, not to mention the clear obstruction of deleting his Facebook account, and a key early role in setting up a conspiracy with Russia. When Stefan Halper (working for the FBI and therefore likely recording conversations) discussed these matters with Papadopoulos in September 2016, Papadopoulos admitted that being involved in them would amount to treason (it’s not treason, but his opinion that it might be makes his later actions far more damning).

This is what the Papadopouloses are reportedly entertaining, due no doubt to an entirely mistaken understanding of their status, one obtained by listening to people like Victoria Toensing and Chuck Ross.

Several things seem to have happened to get us to this point.

Mueller almost certainly has several other witnesses who can attest to knowledge Russians were offering emails

Consider: along with whatever else Rick Gates gave Mueller’s team in February when he became state’s evidence, he also probably described what Paul Manafort (and possibly, Don Jr) understood about the dirt Russians were offering to the Trump campaign when both attended the June 9 Trump Tower meeting. Indeed, one of the details included in Papadopoulos’ plea deal is that Gates and Manafort discussed how to respond to Russian (and Greek) offers for a meeting.

On or about May 21, 2016, defendant PAPADOPOULOS emailed another highranking Campaign official, with the subject line “Request from Russia to meet Mr. Trump.” The email included the May 4 MFA Email and added: “Russia has been eager to meet Mr. Trump for quite sometime and have been reaching out to me to discuss.”2

2 The government notes that the official forwarded defendant PAPADOPOULOS’s email to another Campaign official (without including defendant PAPADOPOULOS) and stated: “Let[‘]s discuss. We need someone to communicate that OT is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal.”

We’ve also just learned that Omarosa also provided evidence to Mueller’s team in February, including her claim that Don Sr knew the Russians were offering emails before WikiLeaks released them.

That detail — that the campaign knew Russians were offering emails as dirt to help Trump — was one of the things that might have helped Papadopoulos avoid a prison sentence. But since he pled, others have almost certainly provided substantially the same information, based both on what Papadopoulos told them, and on what they in turn told their superiors on the campaign or what their superiors told them.

That is, Papadopoulos has served his purpose, and there are now better placed or more credible witnesses for any conspiracy trial.

Victoria Toensing likely recruited the Papadopouloses for her propaganda mission

Then there’s the most likely explanation for how the Papadopouloses got themselves in this position, considering ditching a plea deal and instead taking their chances with the evidence George participated in the case in chief.

Back in March, Chuck Ross started a series of articles — for which one or both of the Papadopouloses, Sam Clovis, and probably Clovis’ (and briefly, Trump’s) lawyer Toensing, were sources — naming lifetime GOP operative Stefan Halper as an informant (presenting evidence he sought to find out what Papadopoulos knew about the emails, possibly cultivated Carter Page, and got a meeting with Clovis to get an introduction to Papadopoulos). If you didn’t look too closely (as Ross did not) the stories served the Devin Nunes effort to suggest the investigation into Trump’s conspiracy with the Russians was based on a rocky foundation. If you looked closely, however, Ross’ series was actually quite damning. It confirmed Adam Schiff’s revelation that the Russians had specified that they intended to leak the dirt they were dealing to help Trump and that Papadopoulos believed, at the time he lied to the FBI about his interactions with Joseph Mifsud, that if he were involved in “hacking” emails it would amount to treason.

To those trying to rescue Trump from his own conspiracy exposure, the Papadopouloses were an easy mark. Perhaps offering a promise of a pardon, they got the two to break one of the requirements of George’s plea: that he not communicate with any of a list of co-conspirators, directly or indirectly. Surely Sam Clovis was on that list, not to mention the President.

That may explain why, as Nunes and his cronies started demanding every record pertaining to Halper, the government moved towards sentencing Papadopoulos, without waiting for him to testify in any trial.

There have been signs before yesterday that the government was not going to agree that Papadopoulos fulfilled his end of the plea deal. But yesterday is a pretty good sign that George doesn’t expect to get the sweet deal he might once have gotten, probably no prison time, had Papadopoulos not bought into conspiracy theories offered by people representing other clients.

The misleading mirror Papadopoulos would see in the Trumpian bubble

Much of this seems to be driven by Simona. I don’t have any reason to credit the rampant speculation she’s actually part of Russia’s influence operation. Rather, I just think she’s naive, working in a foreign country, and vastly underestimating the legal jeopardy the life she married into is in, in part because she is consuming shitty reporting from people within the Trumpian bubble.

Of which the Chuck Ross article reporting all this is a splendid example.

On top of omitting the fact that Papadopoulos obstructed the Russian investigation by deleting his Facebook and cell phone, and omitting Papadopoulos’ very damning comment about treason, Ross spins everything so as to totally misinform the frothy right, much to Simona’s misfortune.

For example, Ross offers Simona’s explanation up, as if it helps the legal case.

Mangiante Papadopoulos told TheDCNF that Papadopoulos believed Mifsud was referring to emails Clinton deleted from her private email server.

While this line has managed to confuse the frothy right about whether, in accepting dirt leading into the June 9 meeting, it would still amount to accepting a thing of value from a foreigner, it doesn’t much matter what Papadopoulos believed, either on April 26, 2016 or on January 27, 2017 (and repeated again a month later). What matters is after having learned the Russians wanted to release some emails that would help the Trump campaign, the campaign took overt actions accordingly.

Then Ross suggests that because some late summer meetings didn’t take place, it absolves Papadopoulos of initiating an effort that led to other meetings taking place.

Papadopoulos also attempted to set up meetings between campaign officials and Russian government officials, but according to the statement of offense submitted by the special counsel’s office, the meetings never took place.

Nope! George still took overt actions as part of a conspiracy, to say nothing of agreeing to join the conspiracy over and over.

Ross then suggests that because Papadopoulos didn’t have a lawyer at the first of two meetings at which he lied to the FBI, it means he didn’t commit a crime.

Prosecutors claim that during a Jan. 26, 2017 [sic], interview, Papadopoulos, who did not have a lawyer present, falsely claimed he met Mifsud prior to joining the campaign in March 2016. But Papadopulos first met Mifsud about a week after learning he would join the Trump team.

Remember, Papadopoulos not only repeated this lie a month later, with the benefit of counsel, but also swore that it was a lie when he pled guilty.

Ross then repeats a canard he has repeated earlier, that by offering up Mifsud’s name (but hiding Ivan Timofeev, the Russian he was engaging in call and response with) it’s exonerating for George.

As evidence that Papadopoulos did not intend to deceive the FBI, Mangiante Papadopoulos claims Papadopoulos volunteered Mifsud’s name to the agents who interviewed him.

Ross pretends that Mueller has questions, regarding Alexander Downer’s testimony, that only a bunch of frothy congressmen have questions about.

Details remain vague, but Downer allegedly claimed Papadopoulos mentioned Russia had derogatory information about Clinton.

Republican lawmakers have also questioned the premise of the FBI investigation and Downer’s role in the matter. One question has been why the information from Downer took over two months to reach the FBI.

Ross then repeats a whole bunch of baseless conspiracies about Stefan Halper — the very conspiracies that contributing to likely got the Papadopouloses in trouble — as if they were true because Devin Nunes said they were.

She also believes that government officials attempted to set up her husband with a series of approaches by government informants, including former Cambridge professor Stefan Halper.

[snip]

Halper, a veteran of four Republican presidential administrations, also made contact with Trump campaign advisers Carter Page and Sam Clovis.

The FBI may use informants at an assessment level. By the time Halper approached Papadopoulos, the investigation into the Trump campaign was a predicated full investigation. Ergo, it doesn’t help Papadopoulos’ case that the FBI used an informant, because that’s what the FBI does, with the long-time explicit knowledge of Devin Nunes and everyone else who oversees the FBI.

And finally, Ross indulges Simona’s fantasy of spinning the approach from Sergei Millian (pretending this approach was out of the blue, rather than something discussed with Ivan Timofeev in one of the Facebook communications Papadopoulos tried to hide) as a second use of an informant rather than a pretty obvious part of Russia’s outreach to Trump and his surrogates, dangling a Trump Tower deal.

Millian contacted Papadopoulos out of the clear blue on LinkedIn on July 22, 2016. The pair became fast friends, meeting several times during the course of the campaign. Mangiante Papadopoulos says George claimed Millian offered him $30,000 a month to work on Russian energy issues from inside the Trump administration.

I get that Chuck Ross’ job is to feed the frothy right, to present conspiracies in isolation from the public information that would pop those conspiracies.

But it seems like these two are feeding each other, Simona giving Ross the latest scoop on his serial conspiracy theory, and Ross feeding her insane plan to ditch a plea deal and face what are likely to be foreign agent and conspiracy charges instead of whatever sentence Mueller pitches tomorrow.

I mean, George is a self-important little shit who showed willingness to sell out his country (to at least two other countries) for a bit of fast money.

But he’s being used, badly, here.

As I disclosed last month, 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.