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But His Emails! Kushner’s Unique Exposure under the Presidential Records Act

The focus on what Trump will burn down in his final days as President has brought renewed focus on whether Trump will manage to destroy evidence on his way out. For example, Trump’s refusal to concede defeat may have delayed the normal archiving process, not to mention the instructions to White House employee that there needed to be an archiving process.

When Trump lost the November election, records staffers were in position to transfer electronic records, pack up the paper ones and move them to the National Archives by Jan. 20, as required by law. But Trump’s reluctance to concede has meant they will miss the deadline.

“Necessary funding from the (White House) Office of Management and Budget was delayed for many weeks after the election, which has caused delays in arranging for the transfer of the Trump presidential records into the National Archives’ custody,” the National Archives said in a statement to The Associated Press. “Even though the transfer of these records will not be completed until after Jan. 20, the National Archives will assume legal custody of them on Jan. 20 in accordance with the Presidential Records Act.”

White House spokesman Judd Deere said Saturday that contesting the election did not cause the delay in getting the president’s records transferred to the archives and that guidance was available to staffers on how to pack up their materials.

One person familiar with the transition said guidance typically emailed to executive branch employees explaining how to turn in equipment and pack up their offices was sent out in December, but quickly rescinded because Trump insisted on contesting the election.

With little guidance, some staffers in the White House started quietly calling records workers to find out what to do.

In early December, CREW and the National Security Archive tried to sue to preserve records, requesting a Temporary Restraining Order. While a key part of that suit — which the parties may be moving to novel litigation over — pertains to whether it’s enough to take a screen shot of an electronic communication, the suit also focuses on Jared Kushner’s well-documented habit of using private communications.

72. Notwithstanding these requests and the preservation directive, Mr. Kushner and his wife and Advisor to the President Ivanka Trump reportedly re-routed their personal email accounts to Trump Organization computers within one to two days of receiving the September 25, 2017 letters. Mar. 21, 2019 Oversight Letter, at 3.

73. In a December 2018 interview with then-House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Gowdy and Ranking Member Cummings, Mr. Kushner’s counsel “confirmed that Mr. Kushner has used—and continues to use—WhatsApp” to create or send Presidential records, including to communicate “with people outside the United States.” Mar. 21, 2019 Oversight Letter, at 6. When asked by Rep. Cummings if “Mr. Kushner has ever used WhatsApp to discuss classified information,” his counsel replied, “That’s above my pay grade.” Id.

74. WhatsApp is a non-official, encrypted electronic messaging application.

75. Mr. Kushner’s lawyer further explained that Mr. Kushner preserves Presidential records created or sent from his WhatsApp account by “tak[ing] ‘screenshots’ of these communications and forward[ing] them to his official White House email account or to the National Security Council.” Mar. 21, 2019 Oversight Letter, at 6 (emphasis added).

76. Mr. Kushner’s attorney also admitted that between January and August 2017, Mr. Kushner used his personal email account to send and receive official emails. Mar. 21, 2019 Oversight Letter, at 2-3.

The government is trying to make all this go away quickly though, arguing, in part, that the NGOs suing have no private right of action under the Presidential Records Act (meaning there’s no way for them to demand more diligent treatment of records).

Here, Plaintiffs cannot make such a showing; not only does the PRA lack any private right of action, see Judicial Watch, Inc. v. NARA, 845 F. Supp. 2d 288, 299 n.5 (D.D.C. 2012), but, as discussed above, the D.C. Circuit has concluded that it affirmatively precludes judicial review.

That’s one of the reasons I’m so interested in what happened in the last week in another lawsuit, Andrew McCabe’s lawsuit against DOJ for being fired as a result of Trump’s personal retaliation against him.

Whereas CREW and NSA sued in December, McCabe instead submitted a document subpoena to the Executive Office of the President on November 4 asking for materials relating to McCabe and his firing. Since then, the parties have been squabbling over how to deal with the subpoena and, specifically, how to make sure that relevant records stored on private accounts would be preserved.

In a mid-December hearing, Judge Randolph Moss endorsed, in principle, that such records should be preserved both by those who’ve already left government and those who remained at the White House.

That’s when things got interesting.

According to a status report submitted the day of the insurrection, even though this dispute was primarily about those still in the White House, the government tried to claim it would be too onerous to ask current White House employees — McCabe focused specifically on Hope Hicks, Dan Scavino, Stephen Miller, and Jared Kushner — to simply ask these four specifically whether they have archived their private server emails and WhatsApp chats properly and if not, to both do so and tell McCabe’s team if they haven’t.

Defendants’ position is as follows: Plaintiff asks that Defendants apply the procedure outlined in paragraph five above to four current EOP employees (Hope Hicks, Jared Kushner, Stephen Miller, and Daniel Scavino) to ensure that the individuals have copied any PRA records to an official EOP account before the end of their service at the White House. The White House has reminded all employees since the November election of their existing obligation to do just that—ensure that any official communications conducted on personal devices have been preserved on an official EOP account before the transition. Thus, there is no need to provide additional reminders to these individuals, particularly where there is no reason to presume that they have not complied with their obligations to preserve records. The benefit, if any, of requiring another reminder is outweighed by the burden on the EOP and its employees, especially given the deference owed to the White House in matters of discovery, see Cheney v. United States District Court for the District of Columbia, 542 U.S. 367, 387 (2004), and the alleged peripheral, at best, role of the four EOP employees in this litigation, as to which the White House is not even a defendant.

As McCabe’s team pointed out, it’s not enough to say these White House employees have a general obligation under the toothless PRA; these employees should also know they have a specific obligation under a lawsuit in which discovery has already been granted.

Moreover, a general post-election reminder to preserve documents does not suffice to inform the four current EOP employees of their obligation, specific to this litigation, to preserve relevant documents.

There’s no reason for DOJ to react in the way they did unless they had reason to believe the simple document retention request would cause problems. That’s particularly true given that, over the course of the Mueller investigation, DOJ has learned over and over that Jared (and people like Steve Bannon) weren’t archiving official records on specifically this topic. They already know details about what Jared (and Bannon) destroyed, which may explain why they responded in this fashion.

On January 8, Judge Moss sided with McCabe on this dispute, and ordered DOJ to give the four people specific warnings.

I assume, like everyone else, that Trump and his spawn have been lighting bonfires on their way out.

But in Jared’s case, he will now be asked, legally, whether he has done so.

The PRA still doesn’t have any teeth. But we may learn whether DOJ has been covering for Jared’s past document destruction, including on matters pertaining to the Mueller investigation and Trump’s vengeance for the investigation.

The Unaddressed Counterintelligence Threat of Rudy Giuliani

The name “Giuliani” shows up, unredacted, just five times in the SSCI Russia Report:

  • A reference to a meeting that Rudy had with Paul Manafort and Trump at 5:30 PM on August 2, 2016, the last thing on Manafort’s calendar before he met with Konstantin Kilimnik to discuss how to win the Midwest, share campaign polling data, and carve up Ukraine.
  • A citation to a Rick Gates 302 that describes that Manafort was relying on Rudy, along with Jared Kushner, in his efforts to try to place people in the new Administration.
  • A footnote citing this story describing Rudy’s meetings with Andrii Telizhenko as part of his search for dirt in support of Trump’s 2020 re-election. The footnote is one of the few unredacted passages in an 8-page section that is part of a larger section describing Manafort’s follow-up on that August 2, 2016 meeting on Ukraine.
  • A footnote describing an email — involving Rudy, Hope Hicks, Dan Scavino, and Stephen Miller — used as an example of Trump’s team incorporating stolen information released by WikiLeaks into Trump’s tweets.
  • A footnote sourcing a rather incredible claim from Psy Group’s Joel Zamel that he first met Jared Kushner via an introduction, months after inauguration, from Rudy.

I raise this not because I think there’s any direct tie between Russia and the coup this week (though I find it interesting that of those scripting WikiLeaks information into Trump tweets, all but Hicks may be seeking a pardon). This coup was an all-American affair, with roots in racist extremism that goes back before the Civil War. Someday, six months from today, we can talk about how this attack was consistent with events started over four years ago, with all the same players in starring roles. But these are American fascists running the show, not Russians.

I raise it, instead, to point out that the single most sustained review of the danger that some of Trump’s closest advisors pose to his presidency almost entirely excluded  one who played the key role in the post-election period, the purported lawyer who — at every step of the way — encouraged the President to take more and more extreme measures to hold on his power.

This coup attempt happened, in significant part, because Rudy had almost unfettered access to the President, Rudy was one of few people who never lost his trust, and Rudy always encouraged the worst decisions from Trump.

Stormy, Pee Tapes, and Pussy-Grabbing: The Three Explanations for the Cohen-Hicks-Trump Call on October 8, 2016

The warrant to search Michael Cohen’s property released yesterday revealed what the FBI Agent who wrote the affidavit supporting the application believed was a conference call between Michael Cohen, Donald Trump, and Hope Hicks on October 8, 2016.

On October 8, 2016, at approximately 7:20 p.m., Cohen received a call from Hicks. Sixteen seconds into the call, Trump joined the call, and the call continued for over four minutes. 27 Based on the toll records that the USAO has obtained to date, I believe that this was the first call Cohen had received or made to Hicks in at least multiple weeks, and that Cohen and Trump spoke about once a month prior to this date — specifically, prior to this call on October 8, 2016, Cohen and Trump had spoken once in May, once in June, once in July, zero times in August, and twice in September.

27 I believe that Trump joined the call between Cohen and Hicks based on my review of toll records. Specifically, I know that a call was initiated between Cohen’s telephone number and Trump’s telephone number at the same time the records indicate that Cohen was talking to Hicks. After the Cohen-Trump call was initiated, it lasted the same period of time as the Cohen-Hicks call. Additionally, the toll records indicate a “-1” and then Trump’s telephone number, which, based on my training and experience, means that the call was either transferred to Trump, or that Trump was added to the call as a conference or three-way call participant. In addition, based on my conversations with an FBI agent who has interviewed Hicks, I have learned that Hicks stated, in substance, that to the best of her recollection, she did not learn about the allegations made by Clifford until early November 2016. Hicks was not specifically asked about this three-way call.

The agent’s description (which was based entirely off toll records and assumed every call pertained to this scandal and not the many other scandals Trump’s campaign was juggling at the time) has led many to question Hicks’ testimony to HJC, including (in a letter to her lawyer) from Jerry Nadler. Her lawyer Robert Trout (who should be taking a victory lap from his likely imminent win in the Bijan Kian trial) says she stands by the her testimony, in which said that that call involved rumors that TMZ had found the pee tape.

Q Okay. When did you first become aware of the “Access Hollywood” tape?

A About an hour before it was made public.

Q And what was your reaction to it?

A Honestly, my reaction was, it was a Friday afternoon, and I was hoping to get home to see my family for the first time in a few months, and that wasn’t happening.

Q Did you have any other reactions?

A Look, I obviously knew that it was going to be a challenge from a communications standpoint.

Q Did you discuss it with Mr. Trump?

A I did, yes.

Q Tell me about those discussions, please. A I made him aware of the email I received from The Washington Post which described the tape. And I don’t know if the initial email did this, but certainly one of the subsequent emails and exchange provided a transcript of the tape. So, described those different components to Mr. Trump and tried to evaluate the situation.

Q And how did he react to that?

A You know, he wanted to be certain, before we engaged, that it was legitimate. And I think we all felt it was important that we request to see the actual tape or listen to the audio before responding.

Q Was he upset?

A Yes. I think everybody was in, like, a little bit of shock.

Q And did he ask you how — did he seek your advice on how to respond?

A Yes. There were quite a few of us, so it was very much a group discussion, given that this unfolded at a debate-prep session. Q And do you remember who else you discussed the tape with?

A Who else was present there?

Q Yeah, at that time. A Sure. Reince Priebus, Chris Christie, Jeff Sessions, Stephen Miller, Jason Miller, Steve Bannon, David Bossie, Kellyanne Conway. Later, Jared Kushner. I think that’s it.

Q Do you recall reaching out to Michael Cohen about the tape?

A My recollection of reaching out to Michael took place the following day. And it wasn’t about the tape; it was about — this is going to get confusing, but the day after the tape, there were rumors going around — I’m not sure exactly where — I heard it from our campaign spokesperson, Katrina Pierson, who was sort of like a — she had a lot of contacts, grassroots. And she had called to tell me that — or maybe sent me a message about rumors of a tape involving Mr. Trump in Moscow with, you know — can I say this?

[Discussion off the record.]

Ms. Hicks. — with Russian hookers, participating in some lewd activities. And so, obviously, I didn’t — I felt this was exactly how it had been described to me, which was a rumor. Nonetheless, I wanted to make sure that I stayed on top of it before it developed any further, to try to contain it from spiraling out of control. And the person that made me aware of the rumor said that TMZ might be the person that has access to this tape. I knew Michael Cohen had a good relationship with Harvey Levin, who works at TMZ. So I reached out to Michael to ask if he had heard of anything like this; if Harvey contacted him, if he could be in touch with me.

But that testimony is not entirely consistent with something in the Mueller Report, which suggested (based off FBI interviews with both Cohen and Giorgi Rtskhiladze) that the one time Trump would have heard about a pee tape was later in October, after Cohen and Rtskhiladze discussed the tapes via text.

Comey 1/7/17 Memorandum, at 1-2; Comey I 1/15/17 302, at 3. Comey’s briefing included the Steele reporting’s unverified allegation that the Russians had compromising tapes of the President involving conduct when he was a private citizen during a 2013 trip to Moscow for the Miss Universe Pageant. During the 2016 presidential campaign, a similar claim may have reached candidate Trump. On October 30, 20 I 6, Michael Cohen received a text from Russian businessman Giorgi Rtskhiladze that said, “Stopped flow of tapes from Russia but not sure if there’s anything else. Just so you know …. ” 10/30/16 Text Message, Rtskhiladze to Cohen. Rtskhiladze said “tapes” referred to compromising tapes of Trump rumored to be held by persons associated with the Russian real estate conglomerate Crocus Group, which had helped host the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Russia. Rtskhiladze 4/4/18 302, at 12. Cohen said he spoke to Trump about the issue after receiving the texts from Rtskhiladze. Cohen 9/12/18 302, at 13. Rtskhiladze said he was told the tapes were fake, but he did not communicate that to Cohen. Rtskhiladze 5/10/18 302, at 7.

It’s certainly possible that this late October exchange was the fruit of earlier concerns about the pee tape, and that as part of chasing down the TMZ rumor, Cohen would have asked Rtskhiladze to help. But you’d think Mueller would have said that, especially if he knew that Trump had been on a call where it was all discussed.

Cohen offered a slightly different story, claiming that the call was about responding to the Access Hollywood video. But his answer to Eleanor Norton in which he raised the call moves directly onto the hush payments, as if they’re connected.

Ms. NORTON. Mr. Cohen, at the center of the reasons you are going to prison is convictions for campaign finance violations, and they center around some salacious revelations. The Washington Post reported or aired an Access Hollywood video. It set a record for the number of people who watched, crashed the newspaper’s server. But this happened in early October on the cusp of the election. What was Mr. Trump’s reaction to the video becoming public at that time and was he concerned about the impact of that video on the election?

Mr. COHEN. The answer is yes. As I stated before, I was in London at the time visiting my daughter, who is studying there for a Washington semester abroad, and I received a phone call during the dinner from Hope Hicks stating that she had just spoken to Mr. Trump and we need you to start making phone calls to the various different news outlets that you have relationships with, and we need to spin this. What we want to do is just to claim that this was men locker room talk.

Ms. NORTON. Was the concern about the election in particular?

Mr. COHEN. The answer is yes. Then, couple that with Karen McDougal, which then came out around the same time. And then on top of that the Stormy Daniels matter.

Ms. NORTON. Yeah, and these things happened in the month before the election and almost one after the other. The Stormy Daniels revelation where prosecutors and officials—the prosecutors learned of that—of that matter and prosecutors stated that the officials at the magazine contacted you about the story. And the magazine, of course, is the National Enquirer. Is that correct, that they did come to you?

Mr. COHEN. Yes, ma’am.

Ms. NORTON. Were you concerned about this news story becoming public right after the Access Hollywood study in terms of impact on the election?

Mr. COHEN. I was concerned about it, but more importantly, Mr. Trump was concerned about it.

Ms. NORTON. That was my next question. What was the President’s concern about these matters becoming public in October as we were about to go into an election?

Mr. COHEN. I don’t think anybody would dispute this belief that after the wildfire that encompassed the Billy Bush tape, that a second followup to it would have been pleasant. And he was concerned with the effect that it had had on the campaign, on how women were seeing him, and ultimately whether or not he would have a shot in the general election.

Frankly, it may well be that everyone is mixing up the many sex-related scandals Trump was fighting in October 2016. Or it may be that Hicks, Cohen, and Trump responded to the Access Hollywood video by deciding that they had to try to chase down all of the potential sex scandals — the long-simmering pee tape allegations, the several hush payment demands, among others — and preemptively quash them. That would be consistent with Steve Bannon’s claim that Marc Kasowitz was chasing down hundreds of scandals. If such a discussion took place (which might explain why all three would get on the phone together), then Hicks might otherwise have forgotten knowing about the hush payments earlier, or she locked in testimony denying that knowledge in December 2017 when she testified, and continues to tell a partial truth to avoid further legal jeopardy.

I mean, maybe Hicks is outright lying to protect earlier lies she told in 2017, before the whole hush payment story broke wide open. But it is certainly possible that if you work for Donald Trump all the sex scandals merge into one, either in fact, or in years old memories.

Update: Because people are asking, this is something that Mueller could have chased down. Hicks’ testimony was December 7, 2017 and March 13, 2018; as noted above, Rtskhiladze testified on April 4 and May 10, 2018. The interviews in which Cohen is believed to have told the truth all took place on September 12, 2018 or later. But since this was referred out (for reasons that are unclear, since it was part of the Mueller investigation for 7 months), he may not have had jurisdiction anymore. But SDNY certainly may have chased it down.

The More Puzzling Inaction in SDNY: National Enquirer

As bmaz noted, SDNY released less redacted copies of warrants to search Michael Cohen’s property today, revealing many more details about Cohen’s negotiation of hush payments for Trump.

A lot of people are trying to figuring out how Trump and Hope Hicks avoided charges — the former for his very active involvement in campaign finance crimes, the latter for lying to the FBI. But an equally important question, I think, pertains to American Media Inc. AMI is a likely mention behind the first redaction in the redacted footnote where the government describes the disposition of the investigation.

After all, DOJ publicly announced in December that AMI — the parent company of the National Enquirer — had entered into a Non-Prosecution Agreement with DOJ in September 2018. And they were involved in both campaign finance crimes, the hush payments to both Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels. So they should be mentioned in precisely that spot.

But that raises questions about why the mention should be redacted. While the AMI NPA is not readily available from a search on the main DOJ website (I believe it used to be), it still remains linked on SDNY’s site. It’s public.

And, frankly, the closure of this investigation is just as suspicious with respect to AMI as it is with Trump and Hicks. That’s because Jeff Bezos published records in February showing AMI threatening to publish details that would embarrass him that raised real questions about whether AMI was in violation of its NPA.

Several days ago, an AMI leader advised us that Mr. Pecker is “apoplectic” about our investigation. For reasons still to be better understood, the Saudi angle seems to hit a particularly sensitive nerve.

A few days after hearing about Mr. Pecker’s apoplexy, we were approached, verbally at first, with an offer. They said they had more of my text messages and photos that they would publish if we didn’t stop our investigation.

My lawyers argued that AMI has no right to publish photos since any person holds the copyright to their own photos, and since the photos in themselves don’t add anything newsworthy.

There were public reports at the time that SDNY was weighing whether these threats constituted a violation of AMI’s NPA. Those reports were all the more interesting as the National Enquirer exposure of Bezos’ affair seemed like a favor to Trump, who has long targeted Bezos.

If that references is to AMI, then it shouldn’t be redacted, as the fact of the NPA is public, even on SDNY’s own website. But if the entire investigation — including into AMI’s possible follow-up violations of its DPA — it would suggest DOJ was going easy on not just Trump and Hicks, but also Trump’s favorite rag.

Questions for Robert Mueller (and His Prosecutors) that Go Beyond the Show

I generally loathe the questions that people are drafting for Robert Mueller’s July 17 testimony before the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, largely because those questions are designed for a circus and not to learn information that’s useful for understanding the Mueller investigation. Here are the questions I’d ask instead (I’ll update these before Mueller testifies).

  1. Can you describe how you chose which “links between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump” to focus your investigation on?
  2. The warrants released in Michael Cohen’s case and other public materials show that your grand jury conducted investigations of people before Rod Rosenstein formally expanded the scope to include them in October 2017. Can you explain the relationship between investigative steps and the Rosenstein scope memos?
  3. Lisa Page has explained that in its initial phase, the investigation into Trump’s aides was separate from the larger investigation(s) into Russian interference. But ultimately, your office indicted Russians in both the trolling and the hack-and-leak conspiracies. How and when did those parts of DOJ’s investigation get integrated under SCO?
  4. An FD-302 memorializing a July 19, 2017 interview with Peter Strzok was released as part of Mike Flynn’s sentencing. Can you describe what the purpose of this interview was? How did the disclosure of Strzok’s texts with Lisa Page affect the recording (or perceived credibility) of this interview? Strzok was interviewed before that disclosure, but the 302 was not finalized until he had been removed from your team. Did his removal cause any delay in finalizing this 302?
  5. At the beginning of the investigation, your team investigated the criminal conduct of subjects unrelated to ties with Russia (for example, Paul Manafort’s ties with Ukraine, Mike Flynn’s ties to Turkey). Did the approach of the investigation change later in the process to immediately refer such issues to other offices (for example, Michael Cohen’s hush payments and graft)? If the approach changed, did your team or Rod Rosenstein drive this change? Is the Mystery Appellant related to a country other than Russia?
  6. Did your integration of other prosecutors (generally from DC USAO) into your prosecution teams stem from a resourcing issue or a desire to ensure continuity? What was the role of the three prosecutors who were just detailees to your team?
  7. Your report describes how FBI personnel shared foreign intelligence and counterintelligence information with the rest of FBI. For more than a year, FBI agents were embedded with your team for this purpose. Were these agents focused just on Russian activities, or did their focus include the actions of other countries and Americans? If their focus included Americans, did it include Trump associates? Did it include Trump himself?
  8. Can you describe the relationship between your GRU indictment and the WDPA one focused on the WADA hacks, and the relationship between your IRA indictment and the complaint against a Yevgeniy Prigozhin employee in EDVA? Can you describe the relationship between the Maria Butina prosecution and your investigation?
  9. Do you regret charging Concord Management in the IRA indictment? Do you have any insight on how indictments against Russian and other state targets should best be used?
  10. In discussions of Paul Manafort’s plea deal that took place as part of his breach hearing, Andrew Weissmann revealed that prosecutors didn’t vet his testimony as they would other cooperators. What led to this lack of vetting? Did the timing of the election and the potential impact Manafort’s DC trial might have play into the decision?
  11. What communication did you receive from whom in response to the BuzzFeed story on Trump’s role in Michael Cohen’s false testimony? How big an impact did that communication have on the decision to issue a correction?
  12. Did Matt Whitaker prevent you from describing Donald Trump specifically in Roger Stone’s indictment? Did you receive any feedback — from Whitaker or anyone else — for including a description of Trump in the Michael Cohen plea?
  13. Did Whitaker, Bill Barr, or Rosenstein weigh in on whether Trump should or could be subpoenaed? If so what did they say? Did any of the three impose time constraints that would have prevented you from subpoenaing the President?
  14. Multiple public reports describe Trump allies (possibly including Mike Flynn or his son) expressing certainty that Barr would shut down your investigation once he was confirmed. Did this happen? Can you describe what happened at the March 5, 2019 meeting where Barr was first briefed? Was that meeting really the first time you informed Rosenstein you would not make a determination on obstruction?
  15. You “ended” your investigation on March 22, at a time when at least two subpoena fights (Andrew Miller and Mystery Appellant) were ongoing. You finally resigned just minutes before Andrew Miller agreed to cooperate on May 29. Were these subpoenas for information critical to your investigation?
  16. If Don Jr told you he would invoke the Fifth if subpoenaed by the grand jury, would that fact be protected by grand jury secrecy? Are you aware of evidence you received involving the President’s son that would lead him to be less willing to testify to your prosecutors than to congressional committees? Can congressional committees obtain that information?
  17. Emin Agalarov canceled a concert tour to avoid subpoena in your investigation. Can you explain efforts to obtain testimony from this key player in the June 9 meeting? What other people did you try to obtain testimony from regarding the June 9 meeting?
  18. Did your investigation consider policy actions taken while Trump was President, such as Trump’s efforts to overturn Russian sanctions or his half-hearted efforts to comply with Congressional mandates to impose new ones?
  19. Can you describe how you treated actions authorized by Article II authority — such as the conduct of foreign policy, including sanctions, and the awarding of pardons — in your considerations of any criminal actions by the President?
  20. The President did not answer any questions about sanctions, even the one regarding discussions during the period of the election. Do you have unanswered questions about the role of sanctions relief and the Russian interference effort?
  21. Your report doesn’t include several of the most alarming interactions between Trump and Russia. It mentions how he told Sergey Lavrov and Sergey Kislyak he had fired Comey because of the Russian investigation, but did not mention that he shared classified Israeli intelligence at the meeting. Your report doesn’t mention the conversations Trump had with Vladimir Putin at the G-20 in Hamburg, including one pertaining to “adoptions,” while he was working on the June 9 meeting. The report doesn’t mention the Helsinki meeting. Did your investigation consider these interactions with Russia? If not, are you aware of another part of the government that did scrutinize these events?
  22. Why did you include Trump’s efforts to mislead the public about the June 9 meeting when it didn’t fit your team’s own terms for obstructive acts?
  23. You generally do not name the Trump lawyers who had discussions, including about pardons, with subjects of the investigation. How many different lawyers are described in your report to have had such discussions?
  24. You asked — but the President provided only a partial answer — whether he had considered issuing a pardon for Julian Assange prior to the inauguration. Did you investigate the public efforts — including by Roger Stone — to pardon Assange during Trump’s Administration?
  25. The cooperation addendum in Mike Flynn’s case reveals that he participated in discussions about reaching out to WikiLeaks in the wake of the October 7 Podesta releases. But that does not appear in the unredacted parts of your report. Is the entire scope of the campaign’s interactions with WikiLeaks covered in the Roger Stone indictment?
  26. Hope Hicks has claimed to be unaware of a strategy to coordinate the WikiLeaks releases, yet even the unredacted parts of the report make it clear there was a concerted effort to optimize the releases. Is this a difference in vocabulary? Does it reflect unreliability on the part of Hicks’ testimony? Or did discussions of WikiLeaks remain partially segregated from the communications staff of the campaign?
  27. How many witnesses confirmed knowing of conversations between Roger Stone and Donald Trump about WikiLeaks’ upcoming releases?
  28. The President’s answers regarding the Trump Tower Moscow match the false story for which Michael Cohen pled guilty, meaning the President, in his sworn answers, provided responses you have determined was a false story. After Cohen pled guilty, the President and his lawyer made public claims that are wholly inconsistent with his sworn written answer to you. You offered him an opportunity to clean up his sworn answer, but he did not. Do you consider the President’s current answer on this topic to be a lie?
  29. Did Trump Organization provide all the emails pertaining to the Trump Tower Moscow deal before you subpoenaed the organization in early 2018? Did they provide those emails in response to that subpoena?
  30. In his answers to your questions, President Trump claimed that you received “an email from a Sergei Prikhodko, who identified himself as Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation … inviting me to participate in the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.” But the footnotes to your discussion of that exchange describe no email. Did your team receive any email? Does the public record — showing that Trump never signed the declination letter to that investigation — show that Trump did not decline that invitation?

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

According to Hope Hicks’s Testimony, Trump Should Applaud Paul Manafort’s Conviction

Every time I review what how dodgy (in the case of Carter Page and George Papadopoulos) or absolute sleazebags (Mike Flynn and Paul Manafort) the first subjects of the Russian investigation are, I grow more and more convinced that Trump must have something to hide, otherwise he’d spend his time beating up these guys for tainting his beautiful campaign, to say nothing of trying to monetize their association with him.

That’s all the more true given that the Trump campaign fired three of the men for the same Russian ties they got investigated for and, according to a number of Trump’s associates, had grown impatient with Flynn even before his calls to Sergey Kislyak. That said, when asked about it in her House Judiciary Committee testimony, Hope Hicks seemed like she was trying to minimize the damage of her testimony that Trump had already soured on Flynn when the former General started lying about his discussions with Sergey Kislyak.

Which is why I find this exchange between Norm Eisen and Hicks so fascinating (note: Eisen is one of the HJC staffers who has read some of the underlying materials in the Mueller investigation, and he asked a number of questions that disclosed those underlying materials, as he does here).

Q Okay. Did you hear candidate Trump tell Mr. Gates, Rick Gates, to keep an eye on Manafort at any point during the campaign?

A Yes.

Q Tell me about that incident.

A It was sometime after the Republican Convention. I think Mr. Trump was displeased with the press reports regarding the platform change, the confusion around the communications of that, Paul sort of stumbling in some interviews and then trying to clarify later and it just being messy. So he was frustrated with that. I don’t think that Mr. Trump understood the longstanding relationship between Rick and Paul. I think he, you know, obviously knew that Rick was Paul’s deputy but not maybe to the extent of — you know, didn’t understand the extent of their relationship. And he said something to the effect of — you know, I’m very much paraphrasing here, so I want to be very careful — but sort of questioned Paul’s past work with other foreign governments, foreign campaigns, and said that, you know, none of that would be appropriate to be ongoing during his service with the Trump campaign and that Rick needed to keep an eye on that and make sure Mr. Trump was aware if anything led him to believe that was ongoing.

Q What do you mean by the “platform change”?

A Whatever was reported in the press. To be honest, I had no knowledge of it during the actual convention.

Q Is it a reference to the change in the RNC platform concerning arming Ukraine?

A Again, I’m not familiar with the details.

The first concerns about the platform were raised on July 18, 2016. The interview where Manafort most famously stumbled was on July 27, 2016 (which happened to be just two days before Manafort agreed to meet with Konstantin Kilimnik about a Viktor Yanukovych plan to carve up Ukraine). According to Hope, Trump’s response to those events was to ask Rick Gates to keep an eye on Manafort.

That would date the request to around the same time as Gates attended part of the August 2, 2016 meeting between Kilimnik and Manafort where the latter briefed his former employee on how the campaign intended to win Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania while talking about how to get more work with Ukrainian oligarchs and Oleg Deripaska. That is, not only was Manafort’s past work with foreign governments continuing during his service on Trump’s campaign — precisely what (according to Hicks) Trump said would be so problematic — but Manafort was using Trump’s campaign to secure ongoing business with those foreigners.

If Trump’s concern about Manafort’s foreign ties back in 2016 were serious — and not just a reaction against bad press — then he should be furious upon the revelation that not only were Manafort’s ties to Ukrainian and Russian oligarchs ongoing during the campaign, not only was he using Trump’s campaign as a way to secure his next big gig, but that Gates knew all that.

Instead, he was and probably still is considering pardoning Paul Manafort.

Either Hicks’ claims about this exchange are spin — for example, claiming that Trump was worried about the conflict generally rather than just the bad press about it — or something happened after the fact that has brought Trump to forgive Manafort for doing precisely what he was so worried he would do, mix loyalties during the election.

It be really nice if Trump were asked why he’s so angry that Mueller discovered that his campaign manager was engaged in just the kind of disloyalty he told Hicks, in real time, he was worried about. Better still, it’d be nice if he were asked why, rather than cheering Manafort’s conviction for these divided loyalties, Trump is instead considering pardoning him.

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

Hope Hicks Had More Awareness of the Flynn-Kislyak Aftermath Than the Mueller Report Discloses

As I noted in this post, even though the reporting on Hope Hicks’ testimony last week focused on the White House’s efforts to prevent her from fully testifying, she clearly did what she could to protect Trump even regarding his actions during the election and transition.

Which is why I want to look at two of her comments on matters more central to Mueller’s investigation — in this post, her elaboration of some comments she made about Mike Flynn.

Norm Eisen walked Hicks through something that shows up in this footnote of the Mueller Report:

Several witnesses said that the President was unhappy with Flynn for other reasons at this time. Bannon said that Flynn’s standing with the President was not good by December 2016. Bannon 2/12/18 302, at 12. The President-Elect had concerns because President Obama had warned him about Flynn shortly after the election. Bannon 2/12/18 302, at 4-5; Hicks 12/8/17 302, at 7 (President Obama’s comment sat with President-Elect Trump more than Hicks expected). Priebus said that the President had become unhappy with Flynn even before the story of his calls with Kislyak broke and had become so upset with Flynn that he would not look at him during intelligence briefings. Priebus 1/18/18 302, at 8. Hicks said that the President thought Flynn had bad judgment and was angered by tweets sent by Flynn and his son, and she described Flynn as “being on thin ice” by early February 2017. Hicks 12/8/17 302, at 7, 10.

As I pointed out earlier, Eisen was hired to make sure questioning of witnesses is conducted professionally. It’s also worth noting that some House Judiciary Committee members and staffers have seen backup documents on the Mueller Report and the Hicks’ 302s were among the documents requested; both of these exchanges seem to reflect non-public information.

Eisen has Hicks describe how, even before the FBI interviewed Flynn, Trump had some concerns about him. At first, Hicks tries to spin Trump’s response to President Obama’s counterintelligence warning about Flynn as a reaction about the importance Obama assigned the warning, rather than anything having to do with Flynn himself.

Q Okay. Who was Michael Flynn?

A Michael Flynn was somebody that supported Mr. Trump. He was at one point in time considered a possible Vice Presidential candidate. And he became somebody who frequently traveled with the candidate and introduced him at rallies.

Q And are you aware that President Obama made comments about Mr. Flynn to the —

A Yes.

Q — the President-elect?

A Yes.

Q And how did the President-elect receive those comments?

Mr. Purpura. You can answer.

Ms. Hicks. I think he was a bit bewildered that, you know, of all the things that the two of them could have been discussing, that that was something that came up.

Mr. Eisen. And did you feel that President Obama’s comments sat with the President-elect more than you expected?

Ms. Hicks. I did, yes.

Mr. Eisen. Can you — go ahead. Sorry. I cut you off.

Ms. Hicks. That’s okay. I feel like it maybe tainted his view of General Flynn just a little bit.

Mr. Eisen. Did there come a time when the President formed the opinion — during the transition; I’m asking now about the transition — that Flynn had bad judgment?

White House lawyer Pat Philbin interrupts here to invite Hicks to read the footnote. (Note, I find it weird that Philbin did this, and not Hicks’ attorney Robert Trout.)

Mr. Philbin. Could you give us a moment there?

[Discussion off the record.]

Mr. Eisen. Can you read the question back, please? Okay. I’ve asked the court reporter to read the question back. [The reporter read back the record as requested.]

Ms. Hicks. Yes.

Mr. Eisen. Tell me about that.

Having just reviewed the footnote, Hicks nevertheless tries to minimize Trump’s concerns. So Philbin asks her to read the footnote again, which leads her to blame all this on Flynn’s spawn setting off a media frenzy that came to incorporate Flynn himself.

Ms. Hicks. I don’t think this was an overall characterization. I think that this was something where he felt like there were a few things that maybe caused him to think that he was capable of being a person who exercised bad judgment.

Mr. Eisen. What were those things?

Mr. Philbin. I’m sorry. Can I again suggest that, since the  question seemed to be based on footnote 155, page 32, Ms. Hicks have a chance to review that footnote?

Ms. Hicks. Yeah. I mean, primarily the comment by President Obama and the incident with General Flynn’s son concerning a fake news story and some of the tweets that were posted surrounding that.

BY MR. EISEN: Q Posted by?

A I believe they were posted by his son, and then it led to reporters also looking back at tweets that General Flynn had posted.

From here, Eisen moves on to the response to David Ignatius’ revelation that the Obama Administration had identified Flynn’s calls with Sergei Kislyak. He establishes that Hicks was on the email thread discussing the response, though she claims she wasn’t involved in the messaging surrounding it.

Q Do you recall David Ignatius writing a column about a Michael Flynn phone conversation with the Russian Ambassador during the transition?

A Yes.

Q And what do you remember about that?

A I don’t remember much about the substance of the column, to be honest, but I remember several email exchanges between the National Security Advisor, General Flynn at the time, and some of his national security staffers, a desire to perhaps have David Ignatius clarify some things in that column, and a failure to do so.

Q Were you involved in the clarification efforts?

A I was on the email thread, so I was following the discussion that ensued, but I was not involved in any kind of message development or outreach to Mr. Ignatius.

Note that the Mueller Report does not mention Hicks at all in its discussion of the Flynn-Kislyak response. In addition to KT McFarland (who called Ignatius to push back), it cites just Reince Priebus and Stephen Miller.

On January 12, 2017, a Washington Post columnist reported that Flynn and Kislyak communicated on the day the Obama Administration announced the Russia sanctions. 122 The column questioned whether Flynn had said something to “undercut the U.S. sanctions” and whether Flynn’s communications had violated the letter or spirit of the Logan Act. 123

President-Elect Trump called Priebus after the story was published and expressed anger about it. 124 Priebus recalled that the President-Elect asked, “What the hell is this all about?”125 Priebus called Flynn and told him that the President-Elect was angry about the reporting on Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak. 126 Flynn recalled that he felt a lot of pressure because Priebus had spoken to the “boss” and said Flynn needed to “kill the story.” 127 Flynn directed McFarland to call the Washington Post columnist and inform him that no discussion of sanctions had occurred. 128 McFarland recalled that Flynn said words to the effect of, “I want to kill the story.” 129 McFarland made the call as Flynn had requested although she knew she was providing false information, and the Washington Post updated the column to reflect that a “Trump official” had denied that Flynn and Kislyak discussed sanctions. 130

When Priebus and other incoming Administration officials questioned Flynn internally about the Washington Post column, Flynn maintained that he had not discussed sanctions with Kislyak.131 Flynn repeated that claim to Vice President-Elect Michael Pence and to incoming press secretary Sean Spicer. 132 In subsequent media interviews in mid-January, Pence, Priebus, and Spicer denied that Flynn and Kislyak had discussed sanctions, basing those denials on their conversations with Flynn. 133

13 1 Flynn 11117/17 302, at I, 8; Flynn 1/19/18 302, at 7; Priebus 10/13/17 302, at 7-8; S. Miller 8/3 I /17 3 02, at 8-1 I.

And that’s interesting because — as Eisen goes on to establish — Hope Hicks learned about the Flynn-Kislyak call at a minimum just days afterwards and (per her initial response) possibly the day it was made.

Q Did you have any advance knowledge of a phone call between Mr. Flynn and the Russian Ambassador that was the subject of this Ignatius reporting?

A I believe I was aware of it the day that it took place. I don’t know if it was before or after. But I recall being at Mar-a-Lago, and Flynn, I think — sorry. Off the record.

[Discussion off the record.]

Ms. Hicks. I think it was afterwards. Perhaps even several days afterwards.

Again, the Mueller Report describes a conversation Flynn had with Steve Bannon in the aftermath of the call, but not Hicks. The Report also mentions a discussion between Flynn and Trump, but Flynn doesn’t “have a specific recollection” of telling Trump about the call.

Flynn recalled discussing the sanctions issue with incoming Administration official Stephen Bannon the next day. 10° Flynn said that Bannon appeared to know about Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak, and he and Bannon agreed that they had “stopped the train on Russia’s response” to the sanctions. 101 On January 3, 2017, Flynn saw the President-Elect in person and thought they discussed the Russian reaction to the sanctions, but Flynn did not have a specific recollection of telling the President-Elect about the substance of his calls with Kislyak. 102

And that’s important because, even before Eisen started pursuing these questions, Congressman Steve Cohen had gotten Hicks to admit (after first denying it) that she had knowledge of Russian sanctions that apparently included Trump.

Mr. Cohen. All right. So with all those caveats, before January 20, 2017, did you have any knowledge of any discussions of Russian sanctions?

Ms. Hicks. No.

Mr. Cohen. There was no discussions at all with Mr. Trump and you weren’t privy to them about Russian sanctions that we had issued? You’re sure of that? Think about it.

Ms. Hicks. I am thinking. Thank you. You know, there was — there was a phone call obviously between General Flynn and the Russian ambassador. There was news reports after that where it was unclear what was discussed, but that would have been the only context in which Russian sanctions were brought up in my capacity as communications adviser. [my emphasis]

When Eisen followed up about when Hicks learned that Flynn had lied about sanctions, Hicks claimed to have no recollection of learning that during the transition.

Mr. Eisen. When did you first learn that there was an issue about — if you learned — actually, let me rephrase that question. Did Mr. Flynn talk to you after the column was published about the column?

Mr. Philbin. And we’re still asking —

Mr. Eisen. We’re asking transition. We’re about to come to the post-transition period.

Ms. Hicks. I don’t recall any direct conversations with him, only the email thread that I described.

Mr. Eisen. During the transition, did you develop any additional information about the truth or falsity of anything in the Ignatius column?

Ms. Hicks. Not to my recollection.

Predictably, when Eisen asks about how Hicks came to learn more about this after the Transition, Philbin objected.

Mr. Eisen. What about after the transition?

Mr. Philbin. Objection.

Let me be clear: even with this questioning, the record on what Hicks knew when is inconclusive (and she appears to want to keep it that way). Which may be one reason why Hicks doesn’t appear in any of the discussions in the Mueller Report about this incident, because even Mueller doesn’t find her answers completely credible. As far as is known, she was first interviewed in December 2017, after Flynn’s guilty plea would have made it clear he had relayed some of this, though some FBI interviews that happened the summer before don’t appear in the Mueller Report. So at least given the public record, Hicks would have been able to temper her answers based off what Flynn was known to have admitted in his plea.

The public record certainly sustains a version akin to the public version about Priebus: that he knew about the call to Kislyak in real time, but only came to learn that they talked about sanctions after the FBI interview.

But Hicks’ answers and evasions — and her constant access to Trump — leave open another possibility.

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

Hope Hicks’ Very Well Lawyered Efforts to Protect Trump

Last week, Hope Hicks sat for a mostly tactical interview with the House Judiciary Committee. Democrats used her testimony to establish a record of just how ridiculous the White House claims to absolutely immunity are by getting her on the record refusing to answer both utterly pertinent questions and innocuous ones, like where her desk in the White House was.

While she dutifully refused — on the orders of White House Counsel — to answer questions about her time in the White House, she actually slipped in two answers: revealing that after Trump had his own people in charge of the Intelligence Community, he “he had greater confidence in their assessments” that Russia hacked the DNC and that she learned of the Letter of Intent to build a Trump Tower Moscow in fall 2017. Those are questions White House lawyers would have otherwise prohibited; I’m not sure how it’ll change the use of this hearing as evidence in the lawsuit to get her to actually testify.

Her answers with regards to the period prior to inauguration reveal what she would (and will) be like if she ever actually testifies. In those exchanges, Hicks comes off like a very well lawyered witness who was willing to shade as aggressively as possible to protect Trump.  That was most obvious in her answers about WikiLeaks, first in response to questions from Sheila Jackson Lee. In that exchange, the press secretary of a presidential campaign claimed not to have a strategy surrounding messaging the campaign engaged in on a daily basis.

Ms. Jackson Lee. I’m going to have one or two questions and — I’ve done it again — one or two questions in a number of different areas. Let me first start with the report. According to the report, by late summer of 2016 the Trump campaign was planning a press strategy, a communications campaign and messaging, based on the possible release of Clinton emails by WikiLeaks. Who was involved in that strategy?

Ms. Hicks. I don’t recall.

Ms. Jackson Lee. I thought you were intimately involved in the campaign.

Ms. Hicks. I was. It’s not something I was aware of.

Ms. Jackson Lee. What about the communications campaign, who was involved there? Do you not recall or do you not know?

Ms. Hicks. To my recollection, it’s not something I was aware of.

[snip]

Ms. Jackson Lee. Who specifically was engaged with the Russian strategy, messaging strategy, post the convention, late summer 2016?

Ms. Hicks. I’m sorry. I don’t understand the question. I’m not aware of a Russian messaging strategy.

Side note: She would later admit that there was a group of people during the Transition responding to allegations of Russian interference and a somewhat different group of people responding to allegations they tried to make contact with Russia. But that covered the Transition and, with the exception of Jason Miller (who deleted his Twitter account the other day after attacking Jerry Nadler), didn’t include communications people.

Back to her exchange with Jackson Lee, who persisted in finding out how the campaign responded to WikiLeaks’ releases. That’s when Hicks described the campaign’s daily focus on optimizing WikiLeaks releases as using publicly available information, even while insisting it was not part of a strategy.

Ms. Jackson Lee. So specifically it goes to the release of the various WikiLeaks information. Who was engaged in that?

Ms. Hicks. So, I mean, I assume you’re talking about late July?

Ms. Jackson Lee. Late July, late summer, July, August 2016.

Ms. Hicks. So there were several people involved. It was — I think a “strategy” is a wildly generous term to describe the use of that information, but —

Ms. Jackson Lee. But you were engaged in the campaign. What names, what specific persons were involved in that strategy of the impact of Russia and the issuance of the WikiLeaks effort late summer?

Ms. Hicks. Again, you —

Ms. Jackson Lee. Were you involved? Were you part of the strategy? You have a communications emphasis.

Ms. Hicks. I’m sorry. I’m just not understanding the question. You’re talking about a Russian strategy. The campaign didn’t have a Russian strategy. There was an effort made by the campaign to use information that was publicly available, but I’m not aware of a Russian strategy, communications or otherwise.

Ms. Jackson Lee. Well, what names were engaged in the strategy that you remember, messaging based on the possible release of Clinton emails by WikiLeaks, which is what I said?

Ms. Hicks. Sorry. I’d like to confer with my counsel. Thanks.

Ms. Jackson Lee. Thank you.

[snip]

Ms. Jackson Lee. Yes. I’m going to read from my earlier comment. According to the report, by late summer of 2016 the Trump campaign was planning a press strategy, a communications campaign, and messaging based on the possible release of Clinton emails by WikiLeaks, volume 1, 54. Were you involved in deciding how the campaign would respond to press questions about WikiLeaks?

Ms. Hicks. I assume that I was. I have no recollection of the specifics that you’re raising here.

Ms. Jackson Lee. With that in mind, would you agree that the campaign benefited from the hacked information on Hillary Clinton?

Ms. Hicks. This was publicly available information.

Ms. Jackson Lee. Were you — would you agree that the campaign benefited from the hacked information on Hillary Clinton?

Ms. Hicks. I don’t know what the direct impact was of the utilization of that information.

Ms. Jackson Lee. Well, let me follow up with, did this information help you attack the opponent of Mr. Trump?

Ms. Hicks. I take issue with the phrase “attack.” I think it allowed the campaign to discuss things that would not otherwise be known but that were true.

Hicks never did answer Jackson Lee’s question about how the campaign optimized the releases, but Norm Eisen (who was hired for precisely this purpose) came back to it. Ultimately Hicks described integrating WikiLeaks releases into Trump speeches.

Q Okay. Ms. Hicks, you were asked by Ms. Jackson Lee about a statement in the Mueller report that by late summer of 2016 the Trump campaign was planning a press strategy, a communications campaign, and messaging based on the possible release of Clinton emails by WikiLeaks, and you answered to the effect that it was wildly inaccurate to call it a strategy. Do you remember that answer?

A I believe I said that I wasn’t aware of any kind of coordinated strategy like the one described in the report and quoted by Ms. Jackson Lee. Regardless, the efforts that were under way, to take publicly available information and use that to show a differentiation between Mr. Trump as a candidate and Mrs. Clinton as a candidate, I would say that it would be wildly generous to describe that as a coordinated strategy.

Q How would you describe it? A I would describe it just as I did, which is taking publicly available information to draw a contrast between the candidates.

Q What do you remember about any specific occasions when that was discussed?

[snip]

Q Tell me what you remember, everything you remember about that.

A The things I remember would be just the days that — that news was made, right? That there was a new headline based on new information that was available, and how to either incorporate that into a speech or make sure that our surrogates were aware of that information and to utilize it as talking points in any media availabilities, interviews, and what other opportunities there might be to, again, emphasize the contrast between candidates.

Q Did you ever discuss that with Mr. Trump during the campaign?

A Again, I don’t recall a — I don’t recall discussions about a coordinated strategy. But more specifically, to your last point about when there were moments that allowed for us to capitalize on new information being distributed, certainly I’m sure I had discussions with him.

She would go on to admit that the communications team discussed the WikiLeaks releases on a daily basis. But she maintained that — in spite of the evidence that Trump, with whom she spent extensive amounts of time, knew of the emails ahead of time — she did not

EISEN When is the first that you remember learning that WikiLeaks might have documents relevant to the Clinton campaign? A Whenever it became publicly available. I think my first recollection is just prior to the DNC Convention. Q And what was your reaction when you learned that?

A I don’t recall. I think before I described a general feeling surrounding this topic of not happiness, but a little bit of relief maybe that other campaigns had obstacles to face as well.

Q And I know we’ve touched on this but I just want to make sure we get it into the record. What’s your first recollection of discussing this issue with Mr. Trump?

Eisen did get her to admit that Eric Trump sent her the oppo research file on his father, though she claimed to be uncertain about when that happened. Once again, when asked a substantive question about something embarrassing to Trump, she conferred with her lawyer, Robert Trout, before answering.

Q And did Eric Trump ever discuss anything relating to WikiLeaks or other releases of hacked information with you? A May I confer with my counsel, please.

[Discussion off the record.]

Ms. Hicks. Can you repeat the question, please?

Mr. Eisen. Can I have the court reporter read back the question, please?

Reporter. Did Eric Trump ever discuss anything relating to WikiLeaks or other releases of hacked information with you?

Ms. Hicks. I believe I received an email from Eric or some written communication regarding an opposition research file that was, I guess, leaked on the internet. I believe it was publicly available when he sent it to me. It was about Donald Trump.

BY MR. EISEN: Q And do you know if it was publicly available when he sent it to you?

A I don’t recall. That’s my recollection.

Q What’s the basis for your belief that it was publicly available?

A I believe there was a link that was included, and I was able to click on that and access the information.

Q How did he transmit that to you?

A I don’t remember if it was an email or a text message.

Q Was there also a document attached to that transmission?

A I don’t remember.

Q Do you remember the date?

A Spring of 2016.

Q Spring of 2016.

Note, the oppo file was first released publicly on June 15, 2016. That’s still spring, but barely.

In any case, while most of the coverage has focused on the White House efforts to prevent Hicks from answering questions, her responses on WikiLeaks make it clear she herself was unwilling to answer basic questions as well.

Which is why this exchange about the Joint Defense Agreement as part of which her attorney got paid half a million dollars by the RNC is telling.

Ms. Scanlon. Okay. Do you now or have you had any joint defense agreements with anyone in connection with your activities either during the campaign or since then?

Mr. Trout. Objection.

Ms. Hicks. Be privileged with my counsel.

Mr. Trout. I’m not going to answer that.

Ms. Scanlon. I believe you’re not going to answer, but is she going to answer it?

Mr. Trout. No.

Ms. Scanlon. Okay. On what basis?

Mr. Trout. On privilege.

Ms. Scanlon. What kind of privilege.

Mr. Trout. Joint defense privilege.

Ms. Scanlon. The fact of having a joint defense agreement is not —

Mr. Trout. I will — it will be privileged

Hicks is absolutely entitled to keep details of her legal representation secret. But this — like some of the questions she refused to answer about her time in the White House — is public information. As such, her non-responsiveness about the degree to which she has compared answers with Trump is as obvious an obstruction tactic as the White House absolute immunity effort.

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

Why Trump Believed He Could Withhold the June 9 Email: Because He Succeeded in Withholding Moscow Trump Tower Ones

In this post, I showed that I was correct when I wrote, back in January, that the Trump Organization did not turn over all the documents requested in the House Intelligence Committee subpoena to Michael Cohen. Trump Organization withheld — from HPSCI and from Cohen — the email that shows Dmitry Peskov’s office did respond to Cohen’s request for help (as well as emails showing that he kept trying to reach Peskov’s office).

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

I also showed that Trump’s sworn response to a Mueller question about all this replicates the lies that Cohen told in his false statement to Congress.

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

All that’s important background for something explained in the Mueller Report: that it was Trump — not Hope Hicks (as Mark Corallo feared) — who planned to withhold the thread of emails setting up the June 9 meeting to hide that Don Jr had accepted dirt from the Russian government. In the weeks before the NYT learned of the emails, Trump repeatedly tried to insulate himself from being shown the emails and said that “just one lawyer should deal with the matter” to prevent them from leaking.

According to Hicks, Kushner said that he wanted to fill the President in on something that had been discovered in the documents he was to provide to the congressional committees involving a meeting with him, Manafort, and Trump Jr.678 Kushner brought a folder of documents to the meeting and tried to show them to the President, but the President stopped Kushner and said he did not want to know about it, shutting the conversation down.679

On June 28, 2017, Hicks viewed the emails at Kushner’s attorney’s office.680 She recalled being shocked by the emails because they looked “really bad.”681 The next day, Hicks spoke privately with the President to mention her concern about the emails, which she understood were soon going to be shared with Congress.682 The President seemed upset because too many people knew about the emails and he told Hicks that just one lawyer should deal with the matter.683 The President indicated that he did not think the emails would leak, but said they would leak if everyone had access to them.684

Later that day, Hicks, Kushner, and Ivanka Trump went together to talk to the President.685 Hicks recalled that Kushner told the President the June 9 meeting was not a big deal and was about Russian adoption, but that emails existed setting up the meeting.686 Hicks said she wanted to get in front of the story and have Trump Jr. release the emails as part of an interview with “softball questions.”687 The President said he did not want to know about it and they should not go to the press.688 Hicks warned the President that the emails were “really bad” and the story would be “massive” when it broke, but the President was insistent that he did not want to talk about it and said he did not want details.689 Hicks recalled that the President asked Kushner when his document production was due. 690 Kushner responded that it would be a couple of weeks and the President said, “then leave it alone.”691 Hicks also recalled that the President said Kushner’s attorney should give the emails to whomever he needed to give them to, but the President did not think they would be leaked to the press.692 Raffel later heard from Hicks that the President had directed the group not to be proactive in disclosing the emails because the President believed they would not leak.693

When the NYT reached out to the White House for the story, Trump uncharacteristically told Hicks not to comment for the story.

On July 7, 2017, while the President was overseas, Hicks and Raffel learned that the New York Times was working on a story about the June 9 meeting.695 The next day, Hicks told the President about the story and he directed her not to comment.696 Hicks thought the President’s reaction was odd because he usually considered not responding to the press to be the ultimate sin.697

Then, when Trump, who was with Hicks, was chewing Mark Corallo out for the counter-statement he released, Hicks, “channel[ed] the President” by saying that the email would never get out.

The next day, July 9, 2017, Hicks and the President called Corallo together and the President criticized Corallo for the statement he had released.721 Corallo told the President the statement had been authorized and further observed that Trump Jr. ‘s statement was inaccurate and that a document existed that would contradict it.722 Corallo said that he purposely used the term “document” to refer to the emails setting up the June 9 meeting because he did not know what the President knew about the emails.723 Corallo recalled that when he referred to the “document” on the call with the President, Hicks responded that only a few people had access to it and said “it will never get out.”724 Corallo took contemporaneous notes of the call that say: “Also mention existence of doc. Hope says ‘ only a few people have it. It will never get out.”‘725 Hicks later told investigators that she had no memory of making that comment and had always believed the emails would eventually be leaked, but she might have been channeling the President on the phone call because it was clear to her throughout her conversations with the President that he did not think the emails would leak.726

In the period when the Joint Defense Agreement was trying to respond to Congressional requests for documents on Trump’s ties to Russia, the President’s response was to argue that “just one lawyer should deal with the matter” to ensure that the emails did not get out.

That lawyer is Alan Garten.

We know that because in Cohen’s March 6 testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, he described that Alan Garten and Alan Futerfas were in charge of document collection for the Trump Organization.

THE CHAIRMAN: A number of those emails were never turned over to our committee in the document production. Do you know who was responsible for the document production and who would have withheld those documents from this committee?

MR. COHEN: Alan Futerfas and Alan Garten.

More specifically, Cohen’s February 28 testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, he described a meeting he had with Garten on document production. He was telling the story to explain that at the meeting, Garten told Cohen enough for him to figure out that Trump was the one who drafted the false statement on the June 9 meeting.

THE CHAIRMAN: You mentioned a meeting also with Alan Garten?

MR. COHEN: Yes, sir.

THE CHAIRMAN: And can you tell us who that is?

MR. COHEN: Alan Garten is now general counsel at The Trump Organization, And prior to that, he was assistant general counsel.

THE CHAIRMAN: You referenced that in the context of this also raised your suspicion of collusion. What in particular were you referring to?

MR. COHEN: My conversation with Alan Garten was in regard to, I believe, this committee’s subpoena where they wanted all of my contacts from the Trump Org server. And in order to limit the amount, because there were about 10,000, he brought to me a stack of pages and wanted me to go through each one of those email addresses to the best of my ability to mark off which ones were family, which ones were friends, which ones related to Trump Org business, which ones were just solicitations, Google alerts, et cetera. We started to engage in conversation, because at the time the news cycle was all over the allegation that the conversation going back and forth was about adoption. And I said, well, what’s going on? Tell me what happened. So he told me that he was with Don Jr. and that they were communicating back and forth with Air Force One. And he goes, you know how it gets, back and forth and back and forth. He goes, it was such a process. That was the conversation with Alan Garten.

THE CHAIRMAN: And tell me what raised your suspicion about that conversation.

MR. COHEN: lt was about how to describe the meeting, the Trump Tower meeting, as to whether it was about obtaining dirt on Hillary Clinton or it was about adoption. And what he expressed to me is that, you know, Mr. Trump drafted the first round, and it came to Don and him, and then they sent it back, and back and forth.

THE CHAIRMAN: So what he described to you was Mr. Trump’s participation in the creation of a false statement about what took place in that meeting?

MR. COHEN: Yes, that’s how he described it. Well, that’s how I understood it.

But the point of the meeting was to begin the document response process from Trump Organization that resulted in the most damning emails — emails that would prove false the story Cohen and the Trump family lawyers planned to tell about the Trump Tower Moscow deal — being withheld.

In the March 6 one, Adam Schiff got Cohen to repeat that the reason he and Garten were having this conversation in the first place is because Garten was pulling documents to reply to Congressional requests.

Q Well, let me ask it a different way. What was the purpose of him showing you your contacts and other documents?

A The Trump Organization received a subpoena in order to turn over documents, and since I had no documents, everything being in their custody and control, they wanted the contacts to be limited to, I suspect, non-business-related, you know, removal, family removal emails that are not pertaining to the investigation.

Q So the purpose of the meeting was to discuss a document production that The Trump Organization needed to provide?

A Correct.

Q And was it to provide to this committee?

A I don’t know which committee, but I suspect it was all the committees.

Q All right. And do you recall that the false statement that Don Jr. issued about the Trump Tower meeting that was discussed on Air Force One, do you recall that happened in approximately June of 2017?

A I believe so.

Garten was with Don Jr in person as they worked back and forth with Hope Hicks and Donald Trump on Air Force One to draft the June 9 meeting that Trump wanted to lie about by making sure the email didn’t leak.

There were no lawyers on Air Force One. This is the conversation that, in his appearances before Congress, Don Jr successfully avoided discussing because he was with his lawyer. But no privilege should have attached to that conversation because Garten did not represent Trump personally (Trump was supposed to be walled off from Trump Organization matters), much less Hope Hicks.

In June 2017, when Donald Trump was trying to sustain a false story about the June 9 meeting by suggesting that if just one lawyer dealt with the matter, the email disproving that story would not be “leaked,” Alan Garten was ensuring that the email disproving Michael Cohen’s false story did not get turned over to Congress.

That’s why Trump thought he’d get away with the lie. Because he almost got away with it on the Trump Tower Moscow story.

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

In a Bid to Jettison Flynn, Trump Suggests Hope Hicks and Steve Bannon Lied to the FBI

In the wake of yesterday’s disclosures in the Mike Flynn docket, Judge Emmet Sullivan issued three somewhat confusing orders demanding that the government provide transcripts and Mueller Report passages relating to Flynn

With respect, Judge Sullivan, if you’re going to order additional files released, please also ask the government to release a less redacted version of Mike Flynn’s original 302, which is docket #62-1, redacted sections of which (especially pertaining to the meeting at which Jared Kushner asked for a back channel with Russia) appear in unredacted form in the Mueller Report, and which was inexplicably not included in the WaPo request.

In any case, perhaps because Sullivan asked for files that may be very damning (especially if they include the contacts Flynn had with Kislyak before the election, which aren’t discussed in the Mueller Report), Donald Trump now claims he didn’t know Flynn was under a counterintelligence investigation and would have replaced him had he known.

Of course he knew. Obama warned Trump against hiring Flynn on November 10, 2016. And it’s no longer just three former Obama officials who say that. According to the Mueller Report, both Hope Hicks and Steve Bannon not only corroborate that Obama warned Trump, but their FBI testimony makes it clear that Trump was really bugged about Obama’s warning.

Several witnesses said that the President was unhappy with Flynn for other reasons at this time. Bannon said that Flynn’s standing with the President was not good by December 2016. Bannon 2/12/18 302, at 12. The President-Elect had concerns because President Obama had warned him about Flynn shortly after the election. Bannon 2/12/18 302, at 4-5; Hicks 12/8/17 302, at 7 (President Obama’s comment sat with President-Elect Trump more than Hicks expected). Priebus said that the President had become unhappy with Flynn even before the story of his calls with Kislyak broke and had become so upset with Flynn that he would not look at him during intelligence briefings. Priebus 1/18/18 302, at 8. Hicks said that the President thought Flynn had bad judgment and was angered by tweets sent by Flynn and his son, and she described Flynn as “being on thin ice” by early February 2017. Hicks 12/8/17 302, at 7, 10. [my emphasis]

No lesser Trump supporter than Bannon says that at the time Mike Flynn called up the Russian Ambassador and undermined the policy the President of the United States had just implemented, Trump was already concerned about the warnings that Obama gave him.

As I have noted, the evidence in the Mueller Report — as well as the silences about most earlier things Flynn did that raised counterintelligence concerns — suggest that Mueller has to believe that Flynn did what he did with Trump’s blessing. Otherwise Mueller would have had abundant evidence that Flynn, while freelancing, hiding that he was freelancing, and lying about it to the FBI, did things that directly benefitted the Russian state and undermined US policy.

Sullivan’s moves (which may be an attempt to explain why he raised such sharp questions about Flynn’s loyalty last December) may reveal evidence to substantiate that.

Which, in turn, may be why Trump is accusing two of his closest aides of lying to the FBI to pretend he didn’t get the warning from Obama they say he did.

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