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Trump Team’s Extortion Demands To Ukraine Started Before The April 21 Call To Zelensky

Jim here.

As we prepare for the release of the “transcript” of Donald Trump’s first phone call to Volodymyr Zelensky, it is important to put the call into perspective with events surrounding it in the overall timeline of the Ukraine events at the center of the impeachment inquiry.

Pressure on Poroshenko Administration: January-February 2019

First, it is extremely important to note that Rudy Giuliani, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman began their campaign to force Ukraine to re-open their investigation into Burisma and to expand it into an investigation of Joe and Hunter Biden, along with an “investigation” of Ukraine meddling in the 2016 US election, before Zelensky was elected. On Friday, the Washington Post filled us in on more details of that effort:

Two associates of Rudolph W. Giuliani pressed the then-president of Ukraine in February to announce investigations into former vice president Joe Biden’s son and purported Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election in exchange for a state visit, and a lawyer for one of the associates said Friday that they were doing so because Giuliani — acting on President Trump’s behalf — asked them to.

The Giuliani associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, met with then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Kyiv, said Edward B. MacMahon Jr., a lawyer for Parnas. He said they were working on behalf of Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, who was operating on orders from Trump.

“There isn’t anything that Parnas did in the Ukraine relative to the Bidens or the 2016 election that he wasn’t asked to do by Giuliani, who was acting on the direction of the president,” MacMahon said.

The article goes on to note that Ukrainian prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko was also at this meeting, and that there had even been a meeting of Giuliani, Parnas and Fruman with Lutsenko in January.

As a result of this pressure, Lutsenko announced in March that he would investigate the Bidens. This opened the door for the infamous Ken Vogel hatchet job on the Bidens, published in the New York Times on May 1. Buried deep into the article, Vogel did at least grudgingly admit the previous investigation by Ukraine found nothing and that re-opening the investigation was in response to “pressure”:

The decision to reopen the investigation into Burisma was made in March by the current Ukrainian prosecutor general, who had cleared Hunter Biden’s employer more than two years ago. The announcement came in the midst of Ukraine’s contentious presidential election, and was seen in some quarters as an effort by the prosecutor general, Yuriy Lutsenko, to curry favor from the Trump administration for his boss and ally, the incumbent president, Petro O. Poroshenko.

We now know, as described above, that the pressure was applied primarily through Giuliani, Parnas and Fruman rather that through official channels. Returning to the Post article, here is how those efforts worked out:

At the time of the February meeting, Poroshenko was seeking reelection and wanting an official visit to Washington. He ultimately lost and never announced the investigations that Parnas and Fruman asked about, nor did he get the Washington visit he wanted.

The February meeting was also attended by Ukrainian general prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko, MacMahon said. Lutsenko said in March he was investigating the Bidens, only to reverse course months later.

So, although Lutsenko announced an investigation, Poroshenko never did. Clearly, to the Trump team, the announcement had to come from the top in order to win the prize of the state visit that, at least in the opinion of the Trump team, would have tipped the election to Poroshenko. However, the Lutsenko announcement apparently was sufficient for Vogel and the Times.

Zelensky Elected April 21, 2019

The election in Ukraine took place on April 21 (although there was a preliminary round with no clear winner on March 31), with Zelensky winning in a landslide, 74% to 24% for Poroshenko. Trump’s call to Zelensky took place on April 21, shortly after Zelensky was declared the winner. Kurt Volker noted the call:


So, on the surface, one would expect a transcript of the call only to reflect congratulations on being elected. Volker didn’t specifically state anything else was covered in the call, but did note the US supports Ukraine’s territorial integrity and “counter [Russian] aggression”, sentiments Trump certainly would not have put into the call or Volker’s statement about it.

Of course, since it’s Donald Trump we’re talking about here, all bets are off on what will be in whatever Trump releases, if he does release something. Recall that Trump has called for Republicans to release their own “transcripts” of committee depositions in a very thinly veiled request for doctored transcripts:


Since Trump often operates via projection, we can’t help wondering whether he plans to do some editing on this “transcript” if it is released.

Pressure on Zelensky Administration Begins in May 2019, Before Inauguration

We must also keep in mind that the pressure on Zelensky’s Administration to investigate the Bidens began well before the July 25 phone call and that the first enticement offered in this extortion was Mike Pence attending the inauguration. From the New York Times:

Not long before the Ukrainian president was inaugurated in May, an associate of Rudolph W. Giuliani’s journeyed to Kiev to deliver a warning to the country’s new leadership, a lawyer for the associate said.

The associate, Lev Parnas, told a representative of the incoming government that it had to announce an investigation into Mr. Trump’s political rival, Joseph R. Biden Jr., and his son, or else Vice President Mike Pence would not attend the swearing-in of the new president, and the United States would freeze aid, the lawyer said.

/snip/

The meeting in Kiev in May occurred after Mr. Giuliani, with Mr. Parnas’s help, had planned a trip there to urge Mr. Zelensky to pursue the investigations. Mr. Giuliani canceled his trip at the last minute, claiming he was being “set up.”

Only three people were present at the meeting: Mr. Parnas, Mr. Fruman and Serhiy Shefir, a member of the inner circle of Mr. Zelensky, then the Ukrainian president-elect. The sit-down took place at an outdoor cafe in the days before Mr. Zelensky’s May 20 inauguration, according to a person familiar with the events. The men sipped coffee and spoke in Russian, which is widely spoken in Ukraine, the person said.

Mr. Parnas’s lawyer, Joseph A. Bondy, said the message to the Ukrainians was given at the direction of Mr. Giuliani, whom Mr. Parnas believed was acting under Mr. Trump’s instruction. Mr. Giuliani said he “never authorized such a conversation.”

Note Rudy’s non-denial: he says he never authorized such a conversation, but doesn’t dispute that it took place. Also note that Zelensky did not announce an investigation and Pence did not attend the inauguration.

Although it isn’t mentioned in this article, Rudy’s sudden decision not to attend the May meeting most likely was because he suddenly feared Igor Kolomoisky. From Buzzfeed:

The 56-year-old billionaire was not just a major supporter of Zelensky’s. He owned the television channel that had broadcast the comedy shows in which the newcomer had once played the part of the president of Ukraine, which had made him a household name.

Parnas and Fruman jetted to Israel in late April to meet Kolomoisky, who was living in self-exile after the previous administration took over a bank he founded amid accusations of fraudulent loans and money laundering. (Kolomoisky has vehemently denied the allegations.)

The meeting went badly.

In an interview, Kolomoisky said he was led to believe Parnas and Fruman wanted to talk about their new export business. Instead, he said, they pushed to meet with Zelensky. “I told them I am not going to be a middleman in anybody’s meetings with Zelensky,” he said to reporters for BuzzFeed News and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project. “I am not going to organize any meetings. Not for them, not for anybody else. They tried to say something like, ‘Hey, we are serious people here. Giuliani. Trump.’ They started throwing names at me.”

Kolomoisky called Parnas and Fruman “fraudsters” in an interview shortly after the meeting. Soon after, a lawyer for the two men filed a claim for damages and told police in Kiev that the oligarch had threatened their lives.

“It was a threat that we took seriously,” said Parnas.

Giuliani jumped into the dispute, denouncing Kolomoisky in tweets as a “notorious oligarch” who “must be held accountable for threats.”

So Rudy stayed behind on the May trip, sending Parnas and Fruman on their own.

Bottom Line

Even if a “transcript” from the April 21 call from Trump to Zelensky is released and contains no extortion demand from Trump for Zelensky to investigate the Bidens, such a demand was indeed delivered to a Zelensky associate less that a month later by Parnas and Fruman. The threat was then carried out when Pence did not attend Zelensky’s inauguration since no investigation was announced.

 

Why Did Gucciardo Pay Giuliani Partners For His “Loan” To Fraud Guarantee?

Jim here.

I’ve been troubled by the New York Times’ description of the funds provided by Charles Gucciardo that were used by Lev Parnas to pay Rudy Giuliani for his “consultation” for Fraud Guarantee. The most troubling bit is this:

Mr. Gucciardo, 62, a plaintiff’s lawyer, has not been implicated in any wrongdoing, and there is no evidence that he was involved in the Ukrainian pressure campaign.

That may well be, but there are a number of issues that simply don’t add up here. First, although Gucciardo is not accused at this time of any wrongdoing, it is clear that he engaged deeply with the same set of characters who are at the center of the Ukraine activities driving the ongoing impeachment action in the House of Representatives.

Gucciardo also had made a large donation to America First Action around the same time as the $325,000 donation from Parnas and Fruman. From the Times article, continuing about Gucciardo:

In 2018, he made his biggest donation on record to date — $50,000 to the pro-Trump super PAC America First Action — and attended an event for major donors at the Trump hotel featuring appearances by the president and Donald Trump Jr.

It was there that he met Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman, who had recently co-founded a company called Global Energy Producers that donated $325,000 to the PAC.

The next month, Mr. Parnas, Mr. Fruman and Mr. Gucciardo all went on a group trip to Israel, according to people who traveled with them.

There are even pictures from the trip, reproduced here by the Daily News. Note that in the lower of the paired photos (which is also the featured image of this post), we have from left to right, Joseph Frager, Anthony Scaramucci, Charles Gucciardo (see his profile photo at his website for comaprison) and then Parnas.

First, we are told the funds were a loan that could be converted into a stake in Fraud Guarantee. Continuing from the Times story:

Mr. Gucciardo’s lawyer, Randy Zelin, said Mr. Gucciardo invested in the company because of Mr. Giuliani’s involvement.

“He understood that he was investing in a reputable company that Rudolph Giuliani was going to be the spokesman and the face of,” Mr. Zelin said, comparing Mr. Giuliani’s role to the one he had played for the personal data-security company LifeLock, which ran commercials featuring Mr. Giuliani. “When you think of cybersecurity, you think of Rudolph Giuliani,” Mr. Zelin said.

The company being promoted by Mr. Parnas, Fraud Guarantee, was billed as a way for investors to get insurance against the risk of being defrauded. Mr. Gucciardo’s money was a loan that could be converted into a stake in the company, according to people familiar with the deal.

But, the money didn’t go to Fraud Guarantee:

In an interview, Mr. Giuliani called the arrangement a “perfectly legitimate payment” for which Mr. Gucciardo received “promissory notes that were convertible into a percentage of the company.”

Mr. Giuliani said he “verified the stock agreement” and “felt comfortable getting it from somebody as reputable as him,” adding that, after the payments, “I’ve gotten to know Charles very well. He’s a very honorable man, a very good man.”

Mr. Zelin said Mr. Gucciardo did not pay Mr. Giuliani personally, but rather made his investment by paying one of Mr. Giuliani’s consulting firms, Giuliani Partners. Mr. Gucciardo was “simply one of numerous other investors in the company and is nothing more than a passive investor,” Mr. Zelin said.

Wait. What? Why would Gucciardo have paid Giuliani directly anyway? For a loan convertible to a stake in Fraud Guarantee, the money went to Giuliani Partners instead of Fraud Guarantee?

Why?

Well, that’s where I no longer can buy into Gucciardo being an innocent swept up in the awesomeness of Parnas, Fruman and Giuliani. As has been pointed out many times, Fraud Guarantee mostly never existed. Certainly, by the time these funds changed hands in September and October of 2018, someone investing a half million dollars, and especially if that someone is a high-powered attorney, would be expected to do just a bit of due diligence. For example, here’s Roll Call giving dates for events related to Fraud Guarantee:

In the search for Fraud Guarantee, three names that all appear to have links to Parnas emerged: fraudguarantee.com, Strategic Global Assets LLC and Fraud Guarantee LLC.

Florida Department of State records show that Strategic Global Assets LLC registered fraudguarantee.com as a fictitious name in March 2013. Strategic Global Assets’ corporate filings list Parnas and Florida businessman David Correia as managers. Correia was also among the defendants in the indictment unsealed last week. He was arrested in New York on Monday.

The Florida Department of State dissolved Strategic Global Assets in September 2016 after it failed to file an annual report, records show.

/snip/

lawsuit was filed against Strategic Global Assets for failure to pay rent in Palm Beach County, Fla., in January 2015, and a default judgment in the landlord’s favor came down in July of the same year.

Strategic Global Assets’ official address on state records was changed in September 2015 to that of Correia’s apartment at the time. Correia was listed as the registered agent for Strategic Global Assets in that same filing. He is identified as Fraud Guarantee’s co-founder and chief operating officer on that company’s website.

Florida records show that another company called Fraud Guarantee LLC was dissolved in September 2014 for failing to file an annual report. It’s not clear whether that company was associated with Parnas or Correia, but it shared the same street address that appears for Strategic Global Assets and fraudguarantee.com on Florida court records and an archived copy of the company’s website.

All of that bad info should have made anyone getting ready to invest so much money run away screaming. But in putting the funds into Rudy’s consulting business, they were essentially being hidden from multiple creditors owed funds by Giuliani, Parnas and Fruman.

First, as even the Times article above notes, Giuliani is in the midst of an ugly divorce, and so funds going directly to him would be contested in that ongoing proceeding.

Further, the Parnas and Fruman donation to America First Action was almost immediately the subject of a public complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission. This filing in July was public by the first investment in September of 2018. Further, although the Campaign Legal Center did not bring further attention to it  until 2019, an attorney of Gucciardo’s caliber should have been able to find the ongoing saga of the Pues lawsuit. Here’s a description from USAToday:

A thornier case lingers from a federal judgment that Parnas owes for a movie that never got made.

The Pues Family Trust IRA filed a federal lawsuit in 2011 in New York City seeking repayment of a $350,000 loan to Parnas. The trust’s executor, Michael Pues, described the money in court documents as a bridge loan for a movie with the working title “Anatomy of an Assassin,” while Parnas found more investors.

Parnas denied in a court filing that the money was a loan. Parnas said the movie, which he said was going to be called “Memory of a Killer,” fell apart because of financing problems, including Pues not contributing $1 million as promised.

A judgment in the federal case in March 2016 ordered Parnas to pay the Pues Family Trust $510,435 for the loan and 9% annual interest.

So, Parnas had to be careful about funds flowing through entities he controlled, because the Pues Family attorneys were watching carefully (and in fact pounced on the news of the America First Action donation) and Rudy had to be careful about not having the money go directly to him or his ex-wife would seek the funds. Shouldn’t Gucciardo have asked why the money didn’t just go to Fraud Guarantee? Shouldn’t he have asked why he had to divert funds to Rudy’s consultancy? This just doesn’t add up. Given his deep involvement with these same players, it seems much more likely Gucciardo understood the winks and nudges involved in getting funds to Giuliani in return for his “pro bono” representation of Donald Trump.

After Engaging in Multiple Overt Acts Benefitting a Conspiracy, Bill Barr Had Kerri Kupec Commit the Most Overt Act

Before I get into how gullible DOJ reporters continue to be in this WaPo story relaying how Bill Barr refused to publicly announce that the President broke no law in his July 25 phone call with Volodymyr Zelensky, let me review a series of overt acts that might fairly be deemed part of what DOJ has already charged as a conspiracy.

DOJ fails to do the most basic “connect-the-dots” assessment implemented after 9/11

First, after John Demers went to the White House and discovered that his boss was implicated in a phone call that a whistleblower had complained about, when the Intelligence Community Inspector General sent a more formalized complaint to DOJ, DOJ limited the scope of their review of the complaint to one small part of it, just the TELCON, not the full complaint. This had the effect of preventing anyone from doing what the entire surveillance apparatus of FBI has been designed to do since 9/11, which is to search in their databases for all the people mentioned in a lead to find out if that lead connects to other known criminals. Here’s some of what DOJ knew when on the Ukraine investigation.

Had anyone followed the standard connect-the-dot rules in reviewing the whistleblower complaint, they would have searched on all the names in the references in the complaint, including those in this OCCRP piece, which was mentioned multiple times in the complaint.

That piece is a profile of Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas.

So if any person reviewing the whistleblower complaint had followed the approach put into place to protect the nation after 9/11, that person would have discovered:

  • Fruman and Parnas were making big donations to Republicans tied to certain policy outcomes and paying for those donations through a shell company
  • Parnas was also involved in propaganda sent, on White House stationery, to State in support of the same policy outcomes
  • The money for the shell company came from a lawyer who specializes in laundering money through real estate for foreigners
  • One policy issue Fruman and Parnas were pushing with their donations was one of the policy outcomes described in the Trump-Zelensky call, the withdrawal of Marie Yovanovitch

In short, there is no way a competent investigator would have done a connect-the-dots assessment on the whistleblower complaint and not realized it was closely related to a Full Investigation bearing down on an indictment in SDNY.

Instead of doing that marginally competent assessment, DOJ instead gave the whistleblower complaint the all-clear, in part by severing the transcript (which was damning enough) from the backup (which described OMB withholding funds, which is a separate crime, but also included the reference to the profile on suspects against whom SDNY had a fully predicated investigation into related actions). The decision to consider only the transcript affirmatively prevented DOJ from doing the kind of dot-connecting everything since 9/11 has claimed to support.

Whoever made that decision — whether willfully or unknowingly — prevented DOJ from formally realizing that the President’s call was closely tied to behavior that DOJ would indict less than two months later.

DOJ fails to share the whistleblower complaint with the FEC

At that point in late August, having decided that no crimes were committed, DOJ should have shared the whistleblower complaint — which even DOJ acknowledged raised possible election related crimes — with the Federal Election Commission under the terms of a Memorandum of Understanding they have. As of October 18, according to a letter from Ellen Weintraub responding to questions from Amy Klobuchar, DOJ had not done so.

This is the second time that you, as Ranking Member of the Senate Rules Committee with jurisdiction over federal elections, have written to commissioners of the Federal Election Commission to get a simple Yes or No answer to the question: Did the Department of Justice (DOJ) notify the FEC about or refer to the FEC a campaign finance complaint regarding potential violations of the foreign national political-spending ban by the President? Your October 2 letter specifically referenced a New York Times op-ed referring to a complaint reportedly originating with the Office of the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community.1 As noted in the Commission’s October 8 response, the FEC does not generally confirm or deny the agency’s receipt of notice or a referral from DOJ.2 However, you have asked me an important question in the exercise of your oversight authority, and commissioners should be responsive if it is legal for us to do so. It is.

For these reasons, I am answering your question: No. The FEC has not received a notification or referral from DOJ regarding the complaint you reference.

While DOJ is empowered to make any decisions about whether the call involved a crime, FEC is empowered to make decisions about whether it merits a civil penalty. And FEC might have connected the dots DOJ failed to. They would have seen that the phone call related to a campaign finance complaint plus follow-up it had already received on Parnas and Fruman, so it would have known almost as much as DOJ, had DOJ tried to connect the dots.

It turns out, it is a crime to prevent the FEC from learning information it needs to do its job. It’s not only the crime DOJ is about to charge the Russian Internet Research Agency trolls with a superseding indictment for, but it’s the crime that SDNY charged Parnas and Fruman with even before Weintraub sent her letter.

DOJ might have decided that they didn’t need to forward the complaint because Republican Matthew Petersen resigned from the FEC on the suspiciously timed August 26 and so ensured FEC couldn’t conduct any official business. But as the timing of the Parnas and Fruman indictment — which Bill Barr knew about — makes clear, DOJ still believes it can charge people for withholding information from FEC.

DOJ delays notifying Congress and hides Bill Barr’s involvement by overclassifying their OLC memo

Then, having prevented FEC from receiving information that would alert them that the President had a dodgy call that related to an existing campaign finance complaint, OLC tried to prevent Congress from learning of this — as required by whistleblower laws — by writing an OLC memo saying that this complaint did not amount to an official action.

OLC head Steve Engel wrote that memo on September 3, by which day DOJ should have alerted the Intelligence Committees of the complaint. That memo was used as an excuse to delay informing Congress. That delay included over a week during which the Administration continued to illegally withhold duly authorized security funding from Ukraine without explaining to Congress why it was doing so, a delay that Bill Taylor said (in his testimony to Congress) did real harm to Ukraine. All told, the OLC memo succeeded in delaying sharing the complaint with Congress for 23 days, something that DOJ’s own Inspector General noted (in a letter written on behalf of 70 Inspectors General) was a clear violation of the Intelligence Community Whistleblower Protection Act.

As Congress has done in every other whistleblower law passed since 1978, it entrusted IGs to play a central role in the evaluation of the information provided. Specifically, the ICWPA requires an IG to make within 14 days a factual determination as to whether an alleged urgent concern provided to the IG “appears credible.” If the IG determines that the allegation appears credible, which necessarily includes a determination by the IG that it involves an “urgent concern,” the IG is required to forward the allegation to the head of the agency and the agency head “shall” forward it to Congress within 7 days “with any comments.” The ICWPA’s use of the word “shall” makes it clear that the statute does not authorize the agency head, or any other party for that matter, to review or second-guess an IG’s good faith determination that a complaint meets the ICWPA’s statutory language.

Worse still, DOJ tried to delay informing Congress that Bill Barr was personally implicated by this call by overclassifying the OLC memo — in part by treating Barr’s implication in it, which the White House had deemed Secret, as Top Secret — and having done so, sharing a water-downed version of its own OLC memo with Congress on September 24 that hid Barr’s role and other key details.

Bill Barr continues to engage in overt acts in a conspiracy to provide John Durham propaganda to support an investigation into those who investigated Trump

And all this while — in the period while DOJ was scoping its own investigation to avoid connecting the dots and while DOJ was preventing FEC from learning of the whistleblower complaint and while DOJ was preventing Congress from receiving the complaint (the latter two acts in contravention of the law) — Bill Barr continued to engage in overt acts in the broader conspiracy to collect and provide to John Durham corroboration (no matter how sketchy or obviously coerced) that the investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia was ginned up by the Deep State.

Mind you, Barr may have already committed an overt act in the Ukrainian side of this conspiracy. By September 25, according to a DOJ statement, individual Ukrainians had already “volunteered” information to Durham.

A Department of Justice team led by U.S. Attorney John Durham is separately exploring the extent to which a number of countries, including Ukraine, played a role in the counterintelligence investigation directed at the Trump campaign during the 2016 election,” DOJ spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said Wednesday. “While the Attorney General has yet to contact Ukraine in connection with this investigation, certain Ukrainians who are not members of the government have volunteered information to Mr. Durham, which he is evaluating.”

Barr is micromanaging Durham’s investigation, so there’s little chance that these “volunteers” got from Rudy Giuliani to Durham without Barr’s own involvement.

In addition, Barr took a meeting with Victoria Toensing and Joe DiGenova to talk about their client, the mobbed up Dmitry Firtash, which was something valuable the lawyers could offer to the Firtash in exchange for him funding the Parnas and Fruman influence operation. To be sure, the Supreme Court has determined that taking a meeting does not amount to a thing of value amounting to bribery. But their ability to get such a meeting was nevertheless one of the reasons Firtash replaced Lanny Davis with Toensing and DiGenova and, in exchange, helped them feed propaganda to the Durham investigation.

The head of the Criminal Division, Brian Benczkowski, also took a meeting with Rudy in this time period (it’s unclear which client Rudy was pitching), but he claims to be unaware of the investigation into Rudy that was ongoing at SDNY, which may well be true but if so is tantamount to a confession that Benczkowski did not attempt to connect any dots on the whistleblower complaint.

But as to Barr, even as this story was breaking, Barr was in Italy pretending to be a Line FBI Agent, watching movies created by the Russian linked lawyer for Joseph Mifsud, in hopes of getting Italy to tell him and Durham that Mifsud was actually a Western intelligence asset and not the Russian one that Mueller (and abundant public evidence) suggested him to be.

In other words, by September 25, someone had already shared “evidence” with the Barr-micromanaged Durham investigation from the Ukrainian side of this information operation, and Barr was in Italy looking for more propaganda, to say nothing of how his meeting with Dmitry Firtash’s lawyers helped fund the information operation.

Barr did not publicly exonerate Trump personally — he had Kerri Kupec do it for him

I apologize for being long-winded. But all that is the necessary context that DOJ beat reporters should bring to a story on what Barr did in response to a request from Trump to make a public statement exonerating the President. Here’s the news in the WaPo piece, amid a bunch of Barr’s past PR and absent most of the details I’ve laid out above.

President Trump wanted Attorney General William P. Barr to hold a news conference declaring that the commander in chief had broken no laws during a phone call in which he pressed his Ukrainian counterpart to investigate a political rival, though Barr ultimately declined to do so, people familiar with the matter said.

The request from Trump traveled from the president to other White House officials and eventually to the Justice Department. The president has mentioned Barr’s declination to associates in recent weeks, saying he wished Barr would have held the news conference, Trump advisers say.

[snip]

The request for the news conference came sometime around Sept. 25, when the administration released a rough transcript of the president’s July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

[snip]

As the rough transcript was released, a Justice Department spokeswoman said officials had evaluated it and the whistleblower complaint to see whether campaign finance laws had been broken, determined that none had been and decided “no further action was warranted.”

It was not immediately clear why Barr would not go beyond that statement with a televised assertion that the president broke no laws, nor was it clear how forcefully the president’s desire was communicated. A Justice Department spokeswoman declined to comment. A senior administration official said, “The DOJ did in fact release a statement about the call, and the claim that it resulted in tension because it wasn’t a news conference is completely false.”

So, at a time after someone had already shared Ukrainian information with the Barr-micromanaged Durham investigation, after Barr had met with lawyers who were trading that access for propaganda to feed Durham, after Barr’s DOJ had scoped the whistleblower complaint to ensure it would not tie the complaint to the fully predicated criminal investigation in SDNY, after DOJ failed to turn over the complaint to FEC as required by a memorandum of understanding, after DOJ created an excuse to delay sharing the whistleblower complaint with Congress as mandated by law, after DOJ tried to hide Barr’s own involvement from Congress by overclassifying that fact … after all those overt acts that, depending on Barr’s understanding of what he got briefed way back in February and learned in multiple different ways since then, might amount to overt acts in the conspiracy SDNY has already charged Parnas and Fruman in, Barr declined to go out before cameras and comment on an ongoing investigation (which is, remember, what Jim Comey was ostensibly fired for) by publicly exonerating the President.

Instead, he had DOJ’s spox Kerri Kupec do so, in a statement that offered up excuses for why DOJ failed to connect the dots on a complaint that tied to a fully predicated investigation being conducted by SDNY.

Had Barr made that public comment, with his knowledge that the subject of the complaint connected to an ongoing investigation in SDNY into the underlying information operation that led up to the President’s call, his involvement in the Durham investigation that had already been fed by that information operation, and his meeting with lawyers that helped to provide a payoff for some of that information operation, it would have been an overt act that even Barr, with his abundant flair for PR (as witnessed by this WaPo article), could not deny was an overt act in a conspiracy being investigated by his subordinates.

So instead, he had a different subordinate (there is no evidence Kupec had any knowledge of these other acts) do that.

But that is not — as portrayed by the WaPo — evidence of distance between Barr and the White House. Rather, it’s evidence that Barr recognizes his own risk of becoming an active member of the conspiracy his DOJ went to great lengths to avoid investigating.

And all that’s before Barr slinked into a meeting with Rupert Murdoch as Sean Hannity was about to become part of the conspiracy.

The Mueller Report Was Neither about Collusion Nor about Completed Investigation(s)

In the days since BuzzFeed released a bunch of backup files to the Mueller Report, multiple people have asserted these 302s are proof that Robert Mueller did an inadequate investigation, either by suggesting that the information we’re now seeing is incredibly damaging and so must have merited criminal charges or by claiming we’re seeing entirely new evidence.

I’ve had my own tactical complaints about the Mueller investigation (most notably, about how he managed Mike Flynn’s cooperation, but that might be remedied depending on how Emmet Sullivan treats Sidney Powell’s theatrics).  But I have yet to see a complaint that persuades me.

You never know what you can find in the Mueller Report if you read it

Let’s start with claims about how the release revealed details we didn’t previously know. Virtually all of these instead show that people haven’t read the Mueller Report attentively (though some don’t understand that two of the six interview reports we’ve got record someone lying to Mueller, and all are interviews of human beings with imperfect memories). Take this Will Bunch column, which claims that Rick Gates’ claims made in a muddled April 10, 2018 interview reveal information — that Trump ordered his subordinates to go find Hillary emails — we didn’t know.

Rick Gates, the veteran high-level political operative who served as Donald Trump’s deputy campaign manager in 2016, told investigators he remembers exactly where he was — aboard Trump’s campaign jet — when he heard the candidate’s desires and frustrations over a scheme to defeat Hillary Clinton with hacked, stolen emails boil over. And he also remembered the future president’s exact words that day in summer 2016.

Gates’ disclosure to investigators was a key insight into the state of mind of a campaign that was willing and eager to work with electronic thieves — even with powerful foreign adversaries like Russia, if need be — to win a presidential election. Yet that critical information wasn’t revealed in Mueller’s 440-page report that was supposed to tell the American public everything we needed to know about what the president knew and when he knew it, regarding Russia’s election hacking.

The passage in question comes from an interview where a redacted section reflecting questions about what Gates knew in May 2016 leads into a section on “Campaign Response to Hacked Emails.” What follows clearly reflects a confusion in Gates’ mind — and/or perhaps a conflation on the part of the campaign — between the emails Hillary deleted from her server and the emails stolen by Russia. The passage wanders between these topics:

  • People on the campaign embracing the Seth Rich conspiracy
  • Don Jr asking about the emails in “family meetings
  • The campaign looking for Clinton Foundation emails
  • Interest in the emails in April and May, before (per public reports) anyone but George Papadopoulos knew of the stolen emails
  • The June 9 meeting
  • Trump exhibiting “healthy skepticism” about some emails
  • The anticipation about emails after Assange said they’d be coming on June 12
  • The fact that the campaign first started coordinating with the RNC because they had details of upcoming dates
  • RNC’s media campaigns after the emails started coming out
  • Trump’s order to “Get the emails” and Flynn’s efforts to do so
  • Details of who had ties to Russia and the Konstantin Kilimnik claim that Ukraine might be behind the hack
  • China, Israel, Kyrgyzstan
  • Gates never heard about emails from Papadopoulos
  • Sean Hannity

This seems to be more Gates’ stream of consciousness about emails, generally, then a directed interview. But Gates’ claim that 1) he didn’t know about emails from Papadopoulos but nevertheless 2) was party to discussions about emails in April and May is only consistent with some of these comments pertaining to Hillary’s deleted emails.

Once you realize that, then you know where to look for the “Get the emails” evidence in the Mueller Report: in the description of Mike Flynn making extensive efforts to get emails — albeit those Hillary deleted.

After candidate Trump stated on July 27, 2016, that he hoped Russia would “find the 30,000 emails that are missing,” Trump asked individuals affiliated with his Campaign to find the deleted Clinton emails.264 Michael Flynn-who would later serve as National Security Advisor in the Trump Administration- recalled that Trump made this request repeatedly, and Flynn subsequently contacted multiple people in an effort to obtain the emails.265

264 Flynn 4/25/18 302, at 5-6; Flynn 5/1/18 302, at 1-3.

265 Flynn 5/1/18 302, at l-3.

The footnotes make it clear that in the weeks after Mueller’s team heard from Gates that Flynn used his contacts to search for emails, they interviewed Flynn several times about that effort, only to learn that that incredibly damning effort to find emails involved potentially working with Russian hackers to find the deleted emails. And to be clear: Bunch is not the only one confused about this detail–several straight news reports have not been clear about what that April 10 interview was, as well.

A November 5, 2016 email from Manafort — which the newly released documents show Bannon wanting to hide that Manafort remained a campaign advisor — is another thing that actually does show up in the Mueller Report, contrary to claims.

Later, in a November 5, 2016 email to Kushner entitled “Securing the Victory,” Manafort stated that he was “really feeling good about our prospects on Tuesday and focusing on preserving the victory,” and that he was concerned the Clinton Campaign would respond to a loss by “mov[ing] immediately to discredit the [Trump] victory and claim voter fraud and cyber-fraud, including the claim that the Russians have hacked into the voting machines and tampered with the results.”937

In other words, there is little to no evidence that the most damning claims (save, perhaps, the one that RNC knew of email release dates, though that may not be reliable) didn’t make the Report.

The Mueller Report is an incredibly dense description of the details Mueller could corroborate

The FOIAed documents are perhaps more useful for giving us a sense of how dense the Mueller Report is. They show how several pages of notes might end up in just a few paragraphs of the Mueller Report. The entirety of the three Gates’ interviews released Saturday, for example, show up in just four paragraphs in the Mueller Report: two in Volume I describing how the campaign made a media campaign around the leaks and how Trump once told him on the way to the airport that more emails were coming.

And two paragraphs in Volume II repeating the same information.

Worse still, because the government has released just six of the 302s that will be aired at the Roger Stone trial starting this week, much of what is in those interviews (undoubtedly referring to how Manafort and Gates coordinated with Stone) remains redacted under Stone’s gag order, in both the 302 reports and the Mueller Report itself.

Shocked — shocked!! — to find collusion at a Trump casino

Then there are people who read the 302s and were shocked that Mueller didn’t describe what the interviews show to be “collusion” as collusion, the mirror image of an error the denialists make (up to and including Bill Barr) in claiming that the Mueller Report did not find any collusion.

As I’ve pointed out since March 2017, this investigation was never about collusion. Mueller was tasked to report on what crimes he decided to charge or not, so there was never a possibility he was going to get into whether something was or was not collusion, because that would fall outside his mandate (and the law).

Worse still, in his summary of the investigation, Barr played a neat game where he measured “collusion” exclusively in terms of coordination by the campaign itself with Russia. It was clear from that moment — even before the redacted report came out — that he was understating how damning Mueller’s results would be, because Roger Stone’s indictment (and communications of his that got reported via various channels) made it crystal clear that he at least attempted to optimize the releases, but that involved coordination — deemed legal in part out of solid First Amendment concerns — with WikiLeaks, not Russia, and so therefore wouldn’t be covered by Barr’s narrow definition of “collusion.”

Of late, I’ve found it useful to use the definition of “collusion” Mark Meadows used in a George Papadopoulos hearing in 2018. In an exchange designed to show that in an interview where George Papadopoulos lied about his ongoing efforts to cozy up to Russia his denial that Papadopoulos, the coffee boy, knew about efforts to benefit from Hillary Clinton’s stolen emails, Meadows called that — optimizing the Clinton releases — “collusion.”

Mr. Papadopoulos. And after he was throwing these allegations at me, I —

Mr. Meadows. And by allegations, allegations that the Trump campaign was benefiting from Hillary Clinton emails?

Mr. Papadopoulos. Something along those lines, sir. And I think I pushed back and I told him, I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. What you’re talking about is something along the lines of treason. I’m not involved. I don’t know anyone in the campaign who’s involved. And, you know, I really have nothing to do with Russia. That’s — something along those lines is how I think I responded to this person.

Mr. Meadows. So essentially at this point, he was suggesting that there was collusion and you pushed back very firmly is what it sounds like. [my emphasis]

One of the President’s biggest apologists has stated that if the campaign did make efforts to optimize the releases, then they did, in fact, collude.

The Roger Stone trial, which starts Tuesday, will more than meet that measure. It astounds me how significantly the previews of Stone’s trials misunderstand how damning this trial will be. WaPo measures that Mueller failed to find anything in Roger Stone’s actions, which is not what even the indictment shows, much less the Mueller Report or filings submitted in the last six months.

The Stone indictment suggests that what prosecutors found instead was a failed conspiracy among conspiracy theorists, bookended by investigative dead ends and unanswered questions for the team of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

And MoJo hilariously suggests we might only now, in the trial, establish rock solid proof that Trump lied to Mueller, and doesn’t even account for how some of its own past reporting will be aired at the trial in ways that are far more damning than it imagines.

Here’s why I’m certain these outlets are underestimating how damning this trial will be.

Along with stipulating the phone and email addresses of Erik Prince and Steve Bannon (meaning communications with them could be entered into evidence even without their testimony, though Bannon has said he expects to testify), the government plans to present evidence pertaining to four direct lines to Trump and three to his gatekeepers.

One way prosecutors will use this is to show that, when Trump told Rick Gates that more emails were coming after getting off a call he got on the way to Laguardia, he did so after speaking directly to Roger Stone. They’ll also date exactly when a call that Michael Cohen witnessed happened, after which Trump said the DNC emails would be released in upcoming days got put through Rhona Graff.

It’s not so much that we’ll get proof that Trump lied to Mueller (and not just about what he said to Stone), though we will absolutely get that, but we’ll get proof that Trump was personally involved in what Mark Meadows considers “collusion.”

The Mueller Report and the ongoing criminal investigations

Both Mueller critics and denialists are also forgetting (and, in some cases, obstinately ignorant) about what the Mueller Report actually represented.

We don’t know why Mueller submitted his report when he did — though there is evidence, albeit not yet conclusive, that Barr assumed the position of Attorney General planning to shut the investigation down (indeed, he even has argued that once Mueller decided he could not indict Trump — which was true from the start, given the OLC memo prohibiting it — he should have shut the investigation down).

A lot has been made of the investigative referrals in the Mueller Report, of which just 2 (Cohen and Greg Craig) were unredacted. We’ve seen just one more of those thus far, the prosecution of George Nader for child porn, a prosecution that may lead Nader to grow more cooperative about other issues. Some of the (IMO) most revealing details in the weekend’s dump were b7ABC FOIA exemptions for materials relating to Alexander Nix and Michael Caputo. Normally, that redaction is used for upcoming criminal prosecutions, so it could be that Nix and Caputo will have a larger role in Stone’s trial than we know. But it also may mean that there is an ongoing investigation into one or both of them.

In addition, investigations of some sort into at least three of Trump’s aides appear to be ongoing.

It is a fact, for example, that DOJ refused to release the details of Paul Manafort’s lies — covering the kickback system via which he got paid, his efforts to implement the Ukraine plan pitched in his August 2, 2016 meeting, and efforts by another Trump flunkie to save the election in the weeks before he resigned — because those investigations remained ongoing in March. There’s abundant reason to think that the investigation into Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman and Rudy Giuliani, whether it was a referral from Mueller or not, is the continuation of the investigation into Manafort’s efforts to help Russia carve up Ukraine to its liking (indeed, the NYT has a piece on how Manafort played in Petro Poroshenko’s efforts to cultivate Trump today).

It is a fact that the investigation that we know of as the Mystery Appellant started in the DC US Attorney’s office and got moved back there (and as such might not even be counted as a referral). What we know of the challenge suggests a foreign country (not Russia) was using one of its corporations to pay off bribes of someone.

It is a fact that Robert Mueller testified under oath that the counterintelligence investigation into Mike Flynn was ongoing.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Since it was outside the purview of your investigation your report did not address how Flynn’s false statements could pose a national security risk because the Russians knew the falsity of those statements, right?

MUELLER: I cannot get in to that, mainly because there are many elements of the FBI that are looking at different aspects of that issue.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Currently?

MUELLER: Currently.

That’s consistent with redaction decisions made both in the Mueller Report itself and as recently as last week.

It is a fact that when Roger Stone aide Andrew Miller testified, he did so before a non-Mueller grand jury. When Miller’s lawyer complained, Chief Judge Beryl Howell reviewed the subpoena and agreed that the government needed Miller’s testimony for either investigative subjects besides Stone or charges beyond those in his indictment. Indeed, one of the most interesting aspects of Mueller’s statement closing his investigation is the way it happened as Miller was finally agreeing to testify, effectively ensuring that it would happen under DC, not Muller.

Again, these are all facts. No matter how badly Glenn Greenwald desperately wants to — needs to — spin knowing actual facts about ongoing investigations as denial, it is instead basic familiarity with the public record (the kind of familiarity he has never bothered to acquire). At least as of earlier this year — or last week! — there has been reason to believe there are ongoing investigations into three of Trump’s closest advisors and several others who helped him get elected.

At least two of those investigations continue under grand juries, impaneled in March 2019, that Chief Judge Beryl Howell can extend beyond January 20, 2021.

Why Mueller closed up shop

Nevertheless, it is indeed the case that Mueller closed his investigation after producing a report that showed abundant obstruction by the President, but stated that his investigation “did not establish” that the Trump campaign engaged in coordination or conspiracy with Russia, including regarding a quid pro quo.

In particular, the investigation examined whether these contacts involved or resulted in coordination or a conspiracy with the Trump Campaign and Russia, including with respect to Russia providing assistance to the Campaign in exchange for any sort of favorable treatment in the future. Based on the available information, the investigation did not establish such coordination.

I’d like to end this post with speculation, one not often considered by those bitching about or claiming finality of the Mueller investigation.

In his closing press conference, Mueller emphasized two things: he saw his job as including “preserving evidence” against the President, and he noted that under existing DOJ guidelines, the President cannot be charged until after he has been impeached.

First, the opinion explicitly permits the investigation of a sitting President because it is important to preserve evidence while memories are fresh and documents are available. Among other things, that evidence could be used if there were co-conspirators who could now be charged.

And second, the opinion says that the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting President of wrongdoing.

In Mueller’s explanation of why he didn’t hold out for an interview with Trump, he said that he weighed the cost of fighting for years to get that interview versus the benefit of releasing a report  with “substantial quantity of information [allowing people] to draw relevant factual conclusions on intent and credibility” when he did.

Beginning in December 2017, this Office sought for more than a year to interview the President on topics relevant to both Russian-election interference and obstruction-of-justice. We advised counsel that the President was a ” subject” of the investigation under the definition of the Justice Manual-“a person whose conduct is within the scope of the grand jury’s investigation.” Justice Manual § 9-11.151 (2018). We also advised counsel that”[ a]n interview with the President is vital to our investigation” and that this Office had ” carefully considered the constitutional and other arguments raised by . .. counsel, and they d[id] not provide us with reason to forgo seeking an interview.” 1 We additionally stated that “it is in the interest of the Presidency and the public for an interview to take place” and offered “numerous accommodations to aid the President’s preparation and avoid surprise.”2 After extensive discussions with the Department of Justice about the Special Counsel’s objective of securing the President’s testimony, these accommodations included the submissions of written questions to the President on certain Russia-related topics. 3

[snip]

Recognizing that the President would not be interviewed voluntarily, we considered whether to issue a subpoena for his testimony. We viewed the written answers to be inadequate. But at that point, our investigation had made significant progress and had produced substantial evidence for our report. We thus weighed the costs of potentially lengthy constitutional litigation, with resulting delay in finishing our investigation, against the anticipated benefits for our investigation and report. As explained in Volume II, Section H.B., we determined that the substantial quantity of information we had obtained from other sources allowed us to draw relevant factual conclusions on intent and credibility, which are often inferred from circumstantial evidence and assessed without direct testimony from the subject of the investigation.

I take that to mean that Mueller decided to end the investigation to prevent Trump’s refusals to testify to delay the release of the report for two years.

In his testimony, Mueller agreed, after some very specific questioning from former cop Val Demings, that Trump was not truthful in his answers to Mueller.

DEMINGS: Director Mueller, isn’t it fair to say that the president’s written answers were not only inadequate and incomplete because he didn’t answer many of your questions, but where he did his answers show that he wasn’t always being truthful.

MUELLER: There — I would say generally.

She laid out what I have — that Trump refused to correct his lies about Trump Tower Moscow, as well as that he obviously lied about his coordination on WikiLeaks. So lies are one of the things the Mueller Report documents for anyone who reads it attentively.

But Trump’s obstruction extends beyond his lies. His obstruction, as described in the Report, included attempts to bribe several different witnesses with pardons, including at minimum Manafort, Flynn, Cohen, and Stone (those aren’t the only witnesses and co-conspirators the evidence shows Mueller believes Trump bribed with promises of pardons, but I’ll leave it there for now).

So here’s what I think Mueller did. I suspect he ended his investigation when he did because he was unable to get any further so long as Trump continued to obstruct the investigation with promises of pardons. So long as Trump remains President, key details about what are egregious efforts to cheat to win will remain hidden. The ongoing investigations — into Manafort and Stone, at a minimum, but possibly into others up to and including the President’s son — cannot go further so long as any prosecutorial effort can be reversed with a pardon.

That said, some of those details will be revealed for the first time starting this week, in the Stone trial. And, if the Parnas and Fruman influence operation is, indeed, related to Manafort’s own, then Trump’s personal criminal involvement in that influence operation is being revealed as part of a parallel impeachment inquiry.

Which is to say that I suspect Mueller got out of the way to allow investigations that cannot be fully prosecuted so long as Trump remains President to continue, even as Congress starts to do its job under the Constitution. And Congress has finally started doing so.

The Republican Closing Argument against Impeachment Is Personally Implicated in the Scandal

I’m waiting on the procedural votes to authorize the House impeachment inquiry. There were some nice speeches, with Speaker Pelosi lecturing the Republicans about American history, Republicans repeating the same quote from Alexander Hamilton over and over, Steve Scalise posing next to an image of the Kremlin [Correction: This is St. Basil’s Cathedral], and Eric Swalwell accusing the President of using taxpayer dollars to lead an “an extortion shakedown scheme.”

But perhaps the most telling aspect of the debate is that the Republican closing argument — yet another recital of that same Hamilton quote — came from Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

Kevin McCarthy is implicated in the scandal he doesn’t want investigated.

McCarthy received money both personally and in the guise of his Protect the House PAC from Igor Fruman and Lev Parnas, the grifters at the core of the influence operation that led to Trump’s quid pro quo conversation with Volodymyr Zelensky. He also keynoted an event with the grifters. While he has said he’d donate the money to charity (though has not yet, as far as I know, shown that he did that), there is no way to unring the bell of their support. He became Majority Leader with the support of men who have since been indicted for that support.

That is the face that is leading opposition to impeachment.

Update: Here’s the roll call.

  • Impeachment curious Republicans Will Hurd and Francis Rooney both voted against the inquiry
  • Democrats Collin Peterson and Jeff Van Drew also voted against
  • Justin Amash voted for the inquiry
  • Republicans Jody Hice, John Rose, and William Timmons, and Democrat Donald McEachin did not vote

So 98.5% of the Republican caucus voted to do nothing after another branch of government usurped Congress’ power of the purse.

Main Justice Now Looking for the Evidence in Plain Sight They Ignored in August

Along with more background about Rudy Giuliani’s legal troubles, Politico reports that Main Justice is now getting more involved in SDNY’s investigation of Rudy’s sleazy influence peddling.

According to a person close to the investigation, DOJ’s criminal division and SDNY have been pressed to more proactively work together in light of public confusion surrounding the department’s past statements on the campaign finance non-charging decision and the Giuliani meeting. This “happens all the time at DOJ, just usually not in such a high-profile case,” the person said. “It will lead to a natural decision to bring the resources together and to make sure they act at least in parallel and probably in coordination and not antagonistic to each other.”

A DOJ spokesperson declined to comment when asked about SDNY and the criminal division working in tandem.

A move to bring department headquarters — “Main Justice” as its widely known — deeper into the Giuliani probe is causing heartburn at SDNY, which is widely known for its autonomy and reputation as the “Sovereign District of New York.”

“You lose a certain amount of nimbleness and a certain amount of independence because now you are answering to someone above you,” explained a former senior SDNY official who said there’s “no way that Main Justice is not involved.”

As the quote from SDNY makes clear, this is probably partly an attempt by Bill Barr and Brian Benczkowski to limit the damage that the Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman prosecution can do to the President, even though it’s crystal clear their crimes tie to the extortion the President was engaged in on his July 25 call with Volodymyr Zelensky. The focus on Rudy suggests he may be the scapegoat, who must be aggressively prosecuted as a way to avoid prosecuting the President, which probably explains why the man who, 18 months ago, was brokering a pardon to keep Michael Cohen silent, is now publicly campaigning for his own pardon.

But Main Justice’s bigfooting into SDNY probably serves another purpose: it helps Benczkowski and others avoid obstruction charges for actions they took to ensure that the August assessment of the whistleblower complaint wouldn’t discover the obvious ties between the crimes that SDNY was about to charge and the President’s behavior.

As I have laid out, if the people at Main Justice had followed the protocols put into place after 9/11 — which includes a search of FBI’s existing holdings every time it gets a tip, particularly if the tip might indicate a tie to national security, as this one did — they would have found all the evidence of an influence campaign in DOJ’s possession.

At the time DOJ reviewed the whistleblower complaint, DOJ knew:

  • Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman were funded by big money from a lawyer who specializes in laundering money through real estate for foreigners
  • They were spending those funds, via a shell company, to make big donations to Republicans (including $325,000 to Trump’s SuperPAC)
  • Those donations were tied to specific asks about Ukraine
  • Rudy was working with Parnas and Fruman to share disinformation with multiple parts of government
  • One goal of that disinformation — a successful one — was to get Marie Yovanovitch recalled

A search on Rudy’s name (or that of Parnas and Fruman, who were not named in the complaint but were included by multiple references in it to a profile on their operation), DOJ would have found all of this evidence, making it impossible to render the verdict — that no crime had been committed — that DOJ did. There’s simply no way a marginally competent assessment could have rendered that verdict.

And finding that evidence would have made it clear that Trump’s mention of Rudy’s shenanigans and Yovanovitch on the call tie his extortion to the crime SDNY was investigating (and has now charged).

Since that is public and obvious to anyone who knows how FBI is supposed to work, Main Justice has no choice but to show some interest in these crimes now or risk being part of the conspiracy.

Which is why DOJ is now telling Politico that the things they’ve previously said (which I’ve used to show that they affirmatively avoided connecting the dots in August) didn’t really mean what they obviously did mean at the time.

Additional attention to these issues has come from DOJ headquarters, which in August was tasked with examining Trump’s phone call asking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to dig up dirt on the American leader’s political rivals. A statement released by DOJ spokeswoman Kerri Kupec in late September said the department’s criminal division reviewed the official record of the call “and determined, based on the facts and applicable law, that there was no campaign finance violation and that no further action was warranted.”

“All relevant components of the department agreed with this legal conclusion, and the department has concluded the matter,” Kupec said at the time.

A senior Justice Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity said Kupec’s Sept. 25 statement was limited to the campaign finance issue raised by a referral from the Intelligence Community Inspector General and was not intended to rule in or out the possibility of Justice officials examining any other legal issues related to the Trump-Zelensky call, if warranted.

If I were HJC, I’d submit a document request around the actions (not) taken in August — including DOJ’s failure to share the whistleblower complaint with the FEC, the same kind of conspiracy to prevent FEC from doing its job that the Russian trolls and Parnas and Fruman are being prosecuted for — and ask Michael Horowitz to review them. Because the efforts Main Justice is making now cannot undo the actions taken and not taken in August to prevent a thorough investigation of that complaint.

If the AG Is Involved in a Foreign Influence Operation, Does He Have to Register with Himself?

Way at the end of a CNN story on Rudy Giuliani’s grifters, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, this bombshell appears:

Two weeks ago when they were arrested, Parnas and Fruman were preparing to fly to Vienna, Austria, to meet Giuliani and another key figure in the impeachment investigation, Ukraine’s former prosecutor general Viktor Shokin, according to four sources familiar with their trip. Shokin is the same Ukrainian official who former Vice President Joe Biden — along with other Western leaders — had pushed to have removed over concerns he wasn’t prosecuting corruption.

While questions in Washington swirl around Shokin’s role in this controversy, Giuliani, Parnas, Fruman had specific plans for the former Ukrainian official up until the day of their arrest. According to those four sources, they told others they were headed to Vienna to help with a planned interview the next day: Shokin, they said, was scheduled to do an interview from the Austrian capital with Sean Hannity.

Through a spokesperson, Hannity said that “we never reveal our sources, potential sources, or persons they may or may not request to interview. Sean Hannity takes the first amendment seriously.”

The bullshit about how the First Amendment is why he’s not revealing his “potential source” who the TV star would have interviewed on TV got added overnight.

The news that Hannity was only saved from being a part of this influence operation by the arrest of two of its key players is news enough. But it dramatically changes the import of this news — that the night before this interview was scheduled, and after meeting with SDNY that same day, and probably after the grifters had been arrested as they tried to leave the country, the Attorney General of the United States had a meeting with Rupert Murdoch at the latter’s home.

Attorney General William P. Barr met privately Wednesday evening with Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul who is one of President Trump’s frequent confidants but whose Fox News is viewed by the president as more hostile toward him than it used to be.

The meeting was held at Mr. Murdoch’s home in New York, according to someone familiar with it. It was unclear if anyone else attended or what was discussed. Aides to both Mr. Murdoch and Mr. Barr declined requests for comment on the meeting.

So the presumed schedule for the players looks like this:

Lunch: Rudy meets with the grifters across the street from DOJ

Before the arrest: Barr informed they would be arrested (he met with SDNY that day)

Roughly 6:30: SDNY has the grifters as they prepare to fly to Vienna using one way tickets

After the arrest: Barr meets privately with Sean Hannity’s boss

This story from Parnas and Fruman’s arraignment yesterday revealed that SDNY has been monitoring twelve different phone lines.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Rebekah Donaleski told Oetken that evidence in the case that will need to be turned over to the defense was “quite voluminous.” She mentioned about 50 bank accounts and more than a dozen cell phones that were monitored in some fashion, as well as search warrants and subpoenas.

Admittedly, this number is across four different defendants (thus far), but twelve is a lot, and that word, “monitor” sure sounds like wiretapping. Which may be why Rudy is finally shopping for a defense attorney.

Wiretaps might be the kind of thing SDNY would brief Barr on if he met with prosecutors the day of the arrest. Prosecutors might also tell Barr what kind of high profile people had been caught up on the grifters’ encrypted texts, as Hannity was with Paul Manafort. In either case, it is virtually certain that Hannity was caught in the surveillance of the grifters, even if contacts between him and Rudy weren’t already obtained.

It looks bad, but given how much Barr has mainlined Fox propaganda over the last two decades, it wouldn’t be surprising if Barr attempted to protect the propaganda channels’ top entertainer.

All of which leads me back to something else: the Attorney General’s very narrow denials that he was pursuing Ukrainian dirt in the wake of the release of the Trump-Zelensky call on September 25.

At the end of August, when two top intelligence officials asked a Justice Department lawyer whether a whistle-blower’s complaint should be forwarded to Congress, they were told no, Attorney General William P. Barr and his department could handle the criminal referral against the president of the United States.

About four weeks later, the department rendered its judgment: President Trump had not violated campaign finance laws when he urged Ukraine’s president to work with Mr. Barr to investigate a political rival, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.

[snip]

The rough transcript showed that Mr. Trump believes he has that man. In a single sentence during the call with Ukraine’s leader, Mr. Trump said that he would have Rudolph W. Giuliani, his personal lawyer, and Mr. Barr reach out to help further an investigation of Mr. Biden and his younger son, Hunter Biden, who had served on the board of a Ukrainian corporation.

“I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call, and I am also going to have Attorney General Barr call, and we will get to the bottom of it,” Mr. Trump said.

A Justice Department official said that Mr. Barr had no knowledge of the call until the director of national intelligence and the intelligence community’s inspector general sent the department the whistle-blower’s criminal referral late last month, and that Mr. Trump has not spoken with the attorney general “about having Ukraine investigate anything relating to former Vice President Biden or his son.”

Mr. Trump has not asked Mr. Barr to contact Ukraine for any reason, Mr. Barr has not communicated with Ukraine on any topic, and Mr. Barr has not spoken with Mr. Giuliani about the president’s phone call “or anything relating to Ukraine,” a Justice Department spokeswoman, Kerri Kupec, said in a statement.

[snip]

But Mr. Barr is also closely overseeing a review of the intelligence community’s decision to start a counterintelligence investigation into the Trump campaign during the 2016 election, which is being led by John Durham, the United States attorney in Connecticut. As part of that review, Mr. Durham is exploring what role, if any, a number of countries including Ukraine played in the investigation of the Trump campaign.

“While the attorney general has yet to contact Ukraine in connection with this investigation, certain Ukrainians who are not members of the government have volunteered information to Mr. Durham, which he is evaluating,” Ms. Kupec said.

According to DOJ, the following is true (or was true, as of September 25):

  • Barr had no knowledge of the call until Joseph Maguire sent the whistleblower complaint “late last month” (subsequent reporting probably moves that date back to when John Demers reviewed the transcript on August 15, and not knowing about the call is not the same thing as not knowing about the extortion attempt)
  • Trump has not spoken to Barr “about having Ukraine investigate anything relating to former Vice President Biden or his son,” which doesn’t exclude Trump asking Barr to investigate 2016, which is what the transcript more directly references
  • Trump has not asked Mr. Barr to contact Ukraine for any reason, nor has Barr communicated with Ukraine (multiple reports have noted that Barr’s wild goose chase has largely bypassed official legal request channels, which would present problems regarding the admissibility of any evidence he receives, but also would be consistent with the public reporting that he is pursuing Ukrainian dirt outside of official channels)
  • Barr has not spoken with Rudy about the call “or anything relating to Ukraine,” which doesn’t address whether he has addressed other sources of disinformation with Rudy, nor does it say whether Barr has communicated to Rudy via other channels or received a dossier of disinformation on Ukraine, sent by Rudy on White House stationary, as Pompeo did
  • Certain Ukrainians who are not members of the government have volunteered information to Mr. Durham, which he is evaluating;” this does not exclude Barr speaking to these same Ukrainians, as Barr has been with so many other parts of his wild goose chase, nor does it exclude Barr learning of the Ukrainians when he took a meeting with Joseph DiGenova and Victoria Toensing to discuss the Ukrainian oligarch whose bid to beat a bribery charge involves disinformation created by Viktor Shokin, the guy Hannity was going to interview

Given this narrow denial, it would be more likely than not that Barr knew of Firtash’s effort to use Shokin’s claim that he was unfairly targeted and encouraged John Durham to reach out to Shokin, to say nothing of several other pieces of disinformation Rudy has been floating.

What is absolutely certain, though, is that DOJ’s narrow denial in no way denies that Barr’s wild goose chase has incorporated materials that Rudy obtained as a result of the extortion attempt with Ukraine.

Indeed, back in the halcyon days before the grifters were arrested, frothy right wingers — up to and including close Rudy associate Michael Mukasey — keyed on DOJ’s confirmation that Durham was reviewing materials from Ukraine, as if that validated Rudy’s efforts. Back before Parnas and Fruman were arrested, the frothy right boasted that Durham had received these Ukrainian “leads.”

Which may be why Bill Barr’s DOJ did two things — consider the call transcript, and not the full whistleblower complaint, as the referral, and not forward the complaint to FEC as required under a standing MOU — that prevented others from identifying the ties between Parnas and Fruman (whom DOJ has repeatedly said Barr knew were being investigated) and the President’s July 25 call. To say nothing of the way his OLC treated his implication by the call as Top Secret, even though the White House itself considered it less classified.

Already, we have three solid pieces of evidence that Bill Barr’s DOJ engaged in a cover-up in a failed attempt to prevent anyone from tying the Parnas and Fruman influence campaign, his own wild goose chase, and the President’s extortion of Ukraine together.

But if Barr shared information learned about an ongoing investigation to prevent Hannity from embarrassment or even legal jeopardy, that would be a far more significant step.

Update: In the wake of Mick Mulvaney’s confirmation that Trump withheld duly appropriated funding from Ukraine to coerce it to cooperate in the Durham investigation, three different outlets did articles on what Durham is up to (NYT, NBC, CNN). Although all three provided new details on the investigation generally, none provided details describing from which Ukrainians Durham has received information.

GOP Republicans Stage Brooks Brothers Riot 2.0 to Emasculate Their Own Power of the Purse

Twenty-some Republican Congressmen (and a few women) are staging a repeat Brooks Brother riot to stall the ongoing impeachment proceeding. I’ll post a picture if I find an open source one, but the riot is being led by Matt Gaetz and includes, among others:

  • Minority Whip Steve Scalise
  • Steve King
  • Louie Gohmert
  • Andy Biggs
  • Bradley Byrne
  • Mark Walker
  • Mo Brooks
  • Debbie Lesko
  • Alex Mooney
  • Michael Waltz

Some of the members stormed into the House SCIF with their cell phones, which is a violation of strict rules and may degrade the effectiveness of the SCIF. Reportedly, Republican Mike Conaway of Texas has started collecting the electronics of his colleagues.

The riot has delayed the testimony of Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper.

That’s significant–symbolic even. That’s because Cooper is expected to testify on DOD’s response to Trump’s illegal refusal to withhold funds duly appropriated by Congress.

House panels leading the impeachment inquiry are set to hear Wednesday from a Pentagon official responsible for policy toward Ukraine, who is expected to testify about the delay in nearly $400 million in security assistance to the country.

Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia, will be the first Defense Department official to testify before investigators, who have largely heard from State Department officials so far in the investigation. Ms. Cooper arrived at the Capitol on Wednesday morning.

The hold on the aid to Ukraine is at the center of the House’s impeachment inquiry into whether President Trump conditioned the funding for Ukraine on his request to Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky that Ukraine investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter Biden, as well as alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

The White House’s hold on military aid to Ukraine this summer set off alarms at the Pentagon, according to people familiar with the matter. Ms. Cooper’s exact role in the Defense Department’s effort to push back on the hold on the money, which was ultimately released in mid-September, isn’t known.

After the White House communicated the hold to the Defense and State Departments in July, the Pentagon conducted an internal review of the legality of the hold, according to three people familiar with the matter. Pentagon officials argued that the administration couldn’t block money approved by Congress, delivering their analysis to career White House budget office officials at a July meeting, according to two of the people and another person familiar with the matter.

In short, a bunch of Republican Congressmen (and a handful of women) are staging a faux riot in order to prevent DOD from telling Congress how the White House prevented them from following the law that prohibits the White House from withholding funds without a good reason that they share with Congress.

As I’ve said, even these people’s former colleague, Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, has admitted this is a crime.

I know this entire inquiry has stirred up a lot of partisan bickering. But it is stunning that Republicans in Congress, including Minority Whip Steve Scalise, are so desperate to protect Trump that they are trying to prevent Congress from asserting its power of the purse.

There could be no more symbolic self-emasculation than this faux riot. And yet, these members of Congress apparently are willing to trade away their own power like this.

Update: According to a press release released yesterday, here’s who was part of the Brooks Brothers The Farce. Those marked with asterisks are on committees conducting the inquiry, so they’re basically complaining about a process they’re a part of. Those marked with checks were around in 2017 and voted for a rule holding that such protests on the House floor (to say nothing of inside HPSCI’s SCIF) were a violation of House Rules.

  1. Matt Gaetz√
  2. Steve Scalise√
  3. Brian Babin√
  4. Andy Biggs√
  5. Mo Brooks√
  6. Ken Buck√*
  7. Bradley Byrne
  8. Buddy Carter√
  9. Ben Cline
  10. Jeff Duncan√
  11. Drew Ferguson√
  12. Russ Fulcher
  13. Louie Gohmert√
  14. Paul Gosar√*
  15. Mark Green*
  16. Vicky Hartzler√
  17. Kevin Hern
  18. Jody Hice√*
  19. Duncan Hunter√
  20. Bill Johnson√
  21. Jim Jordan√*
  22. Fred Keller*
  23. Steve King√
  24. Debbie Lesko
  25. Carol Miller*
  26. Alex Mooney√
  27. Markwayne Mullin√
  28. Ralph Norman*
  29. Mark Walker√
  30. Mark Meadows√*
  31. Greg Murphy
  32. Peter Olson√
  33. Gary Palmer√
  34. Scott Perry√*
  35. David Rouzer√
  36. Ross Spano
  37. Michael Waltz
  38. Steve Watkins
  39. Randy Weber√
  40. Ron Wright*
  41. Lee Zeldin√*

Also note that the rules Adam Schiff is using for this inquiry are similar to the rules that Mark Meadows used for the investigation of the Russian investigation that he, Gaetz,  Jordan, and Gowdy did last year.

Update: Fixed the gender references as there are a few women who participated.

Bill Barr’s DOJ Engaged in Conspiracy to Defraud the US on Trump’s July 25 Meeting

Yesterday, I wrote a long post showing that DOJ could not have followed their most basic investigative protocols when it got the whistleblower complaint in late August. Had they done so, one of the first steps would have been to see what material FBI already had on all the people named in the complaint. And because a profile of Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman was cited 4 times in the complaint (though their names did not appear in the complaint itself), the original assessment of the complaint should have discovered all the things DOJ already knew about their influence operation, which at that point would have included:

  • Parnas and Fruman were funded by a big transfer from an attorney specializing in helping foreigners launder money
  • They were using that money to provide straw donations to Republicans, most notably a $325,000 donation to a Trump SuperPAC
  • Those donations tied to meetings with the recipients and actions on Ukraine shortly thereafter
  • Parnas was involved in Rudy Giuliani’s disinformation campaign on Ukraine

This table shows what DOJ probably learned by when. Once one part of DOJ got new information on the grifters, that information would have become available to anyone doing a search on their name in FBI databases.

Thus, had DOJ done what it does in virtually all its other assessments of tips (particularly those that have a national security component), line investigators would have discovered that the July 25 call was obviously a part of the influence operation — including Parnas and Fruman, but also Rudy by that point — already under Full Investigation in SDNY.

DOJ explained how it managed to do so by claiming, falsely, that there was no firsthand knowledge reflected in the complaint itself, and so rather than using the complaint (which included that reference to Parnas and Fruman), they used the call transcript, which did not mention the Ukrainian grifters. Because it mentioned Rudy, queries on his name would still have made it clear that the call was part of an influence operation, though it’s possible and defensible that (as happened with the Trump Russian investigation, at least at first) DOJ did not do the same kind of back door searches they would do on everyone else because Rudy was a politically sensitive person.

But it turns out that’s not the only way DOJ affirmatively prevented people from connecting the dots in a national security issue.

Yesterday, MoJo reported on another way that DOJ prevented anyone from connecting the dots. Under a Memorandum of Understanding in place with the FEC, DOJ should have shared campaign finance related complaints with the FEC so they can assess whether the complaint merits civil penalties.

But under a 1978 memorandum of understanding between the department and the FEC—which, like Justice is authorized to penalize campaign finance violations—the complaint should have been passed onto the FEC even if the department declined to launch a criminal investigation, so the election watchdog can determine whether a civil penalty is called for.

Earlier this month, Klobuchar set out to uncover whether the Justice Department had honored this agreement, sending two letters to the FEC inquiring whether it had received any such referral. On October 18, the commission’s Democratic chair, Ellen Weintraub, confirmed to Klobuchar that the FEC had not been notified. “The refusal to inform the FEC and refer the matter regarding the President’s call to the FEC as required to do, as the Justice Department is required, undermines our campaign finance system and is unacceptable in a democracy,” Klobuchar said in Tuesday statement.

FEC, of course, already had the original and supplemental CLC complaint about Parnas and Fruman, so they might have connected the profile showing their work for Rudy, included in the whistleblower complaint, with the President’s demand that Volodymyr Zelensky cooperate with Rudy’s antics on the call.

By not referring the complaint, then, DOJ prevented FEC from connecting the dots, just as treating the call record instead of the complaint itself as the referral prevented Public Integrity investigators assessing the complaint from doing so.

Again: this kind of dot-connecting is what FBI and the rest of our investigative apparatus have been refocused on doing since 9/11, specifically to ensure that any threats to the United States will be identified as quickly as possible. But when such dot-connecting would have knowably implicated powerful Republicans, including the President, it magically didn’t happen in this case.

Unless DOJ can come up with a good explanation for why they failed to share the unclassified part of the complaint with FEC (I’m waiting for DOJ to say that once Matthew Petersen resigned on August 26, just as DOJ was assessing the complaint, the MOU lapsed), then the failure to do so constitutes a willful attempt to thwart FEC from doing its job, something Ellen Weintraub lays out clearly in her letter to Amy Klobuchar. As far as she knows, the MOU remains intact, and therefore DOJ was obliged to share the complaint.

As the Commission explained earlier this year, the MOU3 between the FEC and the DOJ remains active. Though some DOJ-published materials state that DOJ no longer considers the agreement to reflect its current policy,4 it has not renegotiated the agreement with the Commission.5 Indeed, the Commission confirmed in its May response to oversight queries from the Committee on House Administration that the Commission continues to rely on the MOU:

In 1977, the Commission and DOJ entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) relating to their respective law enforcement jurisdiction and responsibilities. The MOU remains the primary guidance/procedural agreement used by the Commission to assist in collaboration and consultation efforts (including referrals) between the Commission and DOJ.6

The Commission has taken no action to change its position that the MOU is the primary guidance and procedural agreement used by the Commission to assist in collaboration and consultation efforts (including referrals) between the Commission and DOJ.

It turns out that deliberately undermining FEC’s ability to do its job is a crime, one of the same crimes that Parnas and Fruman got charged with, the same crime that Bill Barr’s DOJ is vigorously prosecuting against the Russian trolls (though which a recent decision from Dabney Friedrich may put at risk): Conspiracy to Defraud the US.

There’s zero chance, of course, that Bill Barr will charge his top aides with thwarting the ability of the FEC to connect the dots on a referral that directly ties to another complaint already in their hands. But we should be clear that DOJ appears to be engaged in undermining the proper functioning of the campaign finance system in the same way Russian trolls and Parnas and Fruman have been accused of doing.

How DOJ Worked Overtime to Avoid Connecting the Dots in the Whistleblower Complaint

As the legal saga of Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman plays out against the background of an impeachment inquiry launched when DOJ tried to bury a whistleblower complaint, DOJ has been forced to offer a series of increasingly inconsistent explanations about who at DOJ knew what when. I’ve been working on a timeline examining What Did Bill Barr Know and When Did He Know It (that work in progress appears below). While I’m not ready to answer that question, one thing is clear: the personnel under Brian Benczkowski who reviewed and dismissed the complaint in August could not have followed normal process on assessing a referral if NYT’s reporting and Benczkowski’s most recent claims are true.

Benczkowski tries to prevent Rudy Giuliani from implicating him in his crimes

I’m speaking of a comment that Benczkowski had released to NYT for an October 20 story explaining why Benczkowski and fraud investigators would be willing to hear Rudy Giuliani pitch a client’s case when he was under active investigation for influence peddling in SDNY himself.

“When Mr. Benczkowski and fraud section lawyers met with Mr. Giuliani, they were not aware of any investigation of Mr. Giuliani’s associates in the Southern District of New York and would not have met with him had they known,” said Peter Carr, a department spokesman.

That comment was a response to this Rudy-sourced Ken Vogel story that revealed the meeting, though without any of the answers as to Who What When questions that normally appear in finished news stories. The story may have been Rudy’s attempt to do the same thing he did as his shenanigans at State became public, raise the costs of making him the sole scapegoat by making it clear that his activities had high level knowledge and approval by Trump officials at the agency in question. That is, Rudy may have been making sure that if he gets in trouble for influence peddling, Brian Benzckowski will be implicated as well.

Importantly, both NYT stories on the meeting say the meeting happened a few weeks before October 18, a timeline that DOJ sources may be walking back in time considerably to “earlier this summer” included in this CNN article. One of the only ways for all these descriptions of timing be true is if the meeting took place around September 20, which would make it highly likely it involved Victoria Toensing, since Rudy was pictured meeting her and Lev Parnas across the street from DOJ that same day. (h/t DK for that insight) If it did (or if the descriptions of the meeting taking place a few weeks before October 18 are correct), then it means the meeting happened after DOJ reviewed and dismissed the whistleblower complaint about Trump’s July 25 call with Volodymyr Zelensky in late August.

As I’ll show below, the Peter Carr quote to the NYT might be true. But if it is, it means that well-connected Republicans can get a meeting with the Assistant Attorney General with almost no due diligence.

But if the Carr quotation is true (and if the timing of the meeting described to NYT is correct), then it is an on-the-record admission on behalf of Benczkowski that investigators working underneath him who reviewed and dismissed the whistleblower complaint did not follow procedures designed to keep our nation safe that have been codified since 9/11.

Benczkowski’s claim he didn’t know ignores what DOJ knew

Benczkowski’s explanation in the October 20 NYT story is based on a further one that suggests the only way he could have known about the criminal investigation into Parnas, Fruman, and Rudy is if a subordinate informed him directly.

While the Southern District of New York has been investigating Mr. Giuliani’s associates — an inquiry that may be tied to a broader investigation of Mr. Giuliani himself — prosecutors there had not told Mr. Benczkowski of the Criminal Division of the case, as he does not oversee or supervise their work. The United States attorney’s offices report to the deputy attorney general, Jeffrey A. Rosen.

Prosecutors in Manhattan informed Attorney General William P. Barr about the investigation of Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman soon after he was confirmed in February, according to a Justice Department official.

DOJ has locked into a statement that Bill Barr had been briefed on this investigation shortly after he was confirmed in February and repeatedly thereafter since the day the arrest of the Ukrainian grifters became public. But Benczkowski claims he didn’t know about it because he’s not in that chain of command. SDNY reports to the Deputy Attorney General, which would have been Rod Rosenstein when Barr was initially briefed, but would be Jeffrey Rosen in any of the briefings DOJ has admitted to since.

This table attempts to summarize what DOJ learned of Parnas, Fruman, and Rudy when. It’s incomplete in at least one important respect, as I’ll show. But it captures most of the ways DOJ and FBI would have been informed about parts of the Ukrainian grift.

Remarkably, we don’t yet know how the SDNY came to open the investigation. It could have been a Mueller referral, SDNY could have discovered the grift from something that happened in NYC (though the venue that ultimately got laid out in the indictment suggests the obvious signs of corruption took place in FL), or it could have stemmed from a Campaign Legal Center complaint filed with the FEC on July 25, 2018. But by the time Barr was briefed in February, we should assume that DOJ knew at least as much as CLC knew the summer before, which is that Parnas and Fruman had set up a shell company, Global Energy Producers, that they were using to make big donations to Republicans, including a $325,000 donation to a Trump SuperPAC just days after Parnas and Fruman met with Trump at the White House. That’s what Barr would have learned when he got briefed shortly after he was confirmed on February 14: that these Ukrainian-Americans were giving straw donations to Republicans in apparent coordination with key meetings with the recipients.

Here’s where the gap in this table comes in. Someone trying to spin the CNN for its version of the Benczkowski quote claimed that Rudy was not yet a focus of the SDNY investigation at the time Barr was briefed (the claim is silent, however, about all the other times Barr was briefed, per an October 10 statement from DOJ). Nevertheless, as CNN lays out, that claim is probably not true, because a NY lawyer was already getting questions from FBI counterintelligence agents by that time.

A person familiar with the matter said that at the time, Giuliani wasn’t a central figure in the case as he is now. That emerged in recent weeks, the person said.

Still, New York federal prosecutors had their eyes set on Giuliani months ago. A New York lawyer told CNN that FBI counterintelligence agents asked him questions in February or March related to Giuliani and his associates.

The day after the Ukrainian grifters’ arrest became public, NYT reported that Rudy was under investigation for FARA (for activities that extend well beyond his Ukraine work). Particularly given that the National Security Division is setting up a unit to prosecute FARA violations, that, plus the involvement of CI agents, should involve NSD and therefore would suggest that NSD head John Demers would know of the focus on Rudy. That can’t be guaranteed, however, because SDNY often does its own thing. So that’s the gap: We don’t know when Demers would have first learned that Rudy’s under investigation for his sleazy influence peddling.

We do know, however, that sometime in May, State Department’s Inspector General Steve Linick sent FBI (we don’t know which unit) the “Rudy Dossier,” the disinformation developed as part of his Ukraine work. Among the things that dossier includes is an email via which John Solomon sent a draft of this article to Rudy, Victoria Toensing, and Lev Parnas. Whoever received that dossier should have immediately identified that Parnas and Rudy were under active criminal investigation in SDNY for influence peddling, a topic on which that email would be directly relevant. In addition to Victoria Toensing and Rudy, the packet would also directly implicate the White House and Mike Pompeo, because the packet was sent under White House imprimatur to the Secretary of State. So by May, that dossier should have been in Parnas and Rudy’s investigative file. Except that, when Linick asked FBI if they were cool with him sharing the dossier with Congress, they were, which suggests it may not have been added to the investigative file.

Assuming that the vaunted SDNY is at least as sharp as a small campaign finance NGO, then by the time CLC updated their SEC complaint on June 20, SDNY would have known what that GEP’s straw donations (including a $325,000 donation to a Trump SuperPAC) came immediately after Parnas got a $1.2 million infusion from a lawyer who helps foreigners launder money through real estate, something that should have raised further counterintelligence and foreign campaign donation concerns.

After that, the whistleblower complaint comes into DOJ, in two different forms. The first time, it comes when CIA General Counsel Courtney Simmons Elwood and White House Associate Counsel John Eisenberg inform John Demers (who, remember, may or may not know about a FARA investigation into Rudy by this point). Demers went to the White House and reviews the transcript, which would have informed him that multiple people were concerned about the call, that Trump invoked both Rudy and Demers’ boss, Bill Barr, on the call, and that Trump was soliciting dirt related to both the investigation into the Russian operation in 2016 (ongoing parts of which Demers still oversees) and Trump’s imagined 2020 opponent, Joe Biden. If Demers did know that Rudy was under investigation for FARA at this time, Trump’s request that Ukraine share dirt with Rudy would have been directly relevant to that investigation, but in a way that implicated Demers’ boss as well. In any case, a simple database search would have revealed that, along with the $1.2 million cash transfer raising additional concerns about foreign money backing those campaign efforts.

Demers’ reported response to reading the transcript was to tell Brian Benczkowski (who claims not to have known about Parnas and Fruman, but whose Peter Carr quote was silent about whether he knew of any investigation into Rudy) and Jeffrey Rosen (who was probably confirmed after Barr’s first briefing on Parnas and Fruman, but who is currently Geoffrey Berman’s supervisor and so should be in the loop in the subsequent briefings that DOJ admitted Barr had after that initial briefing.

According to public reports, DOJ did nothing with this initial complaint.

DOJ avoids (admitting to) reviewing the full whistleblower complaint based off a false claim it doesn’t include direct knowledge

But then the whistleblower tried again, going to the Intelligence Community Inspector General and writing up his complaint, which then got referred to Brian Benczkowski and some public integrity investigators. According to Kerri Kupec, here’s what happened next.

In August, the Department of Justice was referred a matter relating to a letter the director national intelligence had received from the inspector general for the intelligence community regarding a purported whistleblower complaint. The inspector general’s letter cited a conversation between the president and Ukrainian President Zelensky as a potential violation of federal campaign finance law, while acknowledging that neither the inspector general nor the complainant had firsthand knowledge of the conversation,” Kupec said.

“Relying on established procedures set forth in the justice manual, the department’s criminal division reviewed the official record of the call and determined based on the facts and applicable law that there was no campaign finance violence and that no further action was warranted. All relevant components of the department agreed with this legal conclusion, and the department has concluded this matter,” Kupec concluded.

In another statement, Kupec said that Barr had not spoken with Mr. Trump about Ukraine investigating Biden, and that the president had not asked Barr to contact Ukraine or Giuliani.

In explaining how DOJ came to dismiss this complaint, Kupec cites not from the complaint itself, but from Michael Atkinson’s letter conveying the complaint. Kupec cites from the letter, which notes the whistleblower “was not a direct witness to the President’s telephone call,” and uses that to treat only the transcript of the call — not the broader whistleblower complaint itself, which does include firsthand knowledge — as the official record. And, having referred to just the call, DOJ viewed this as exclusively a campaign finance matter, and therefore dismissed it (DOJ ignores another crime laid out in Atkinson’s letter, a crime Mick Mulvaney has now confessed to, but I’ll come back to how they managed to ignore that).

In fact, parts of the whistleblower complaint make it clear that he was a direct witness to aspects of his complaint, and so DOJ should have treated the complaint itself as an official document (this is why the frothy right invested so much energy into the goddamned whistleblower form, to rationalize DOJ’s decision not to read the actual complaint).

Had DOJ read the complaint and done the most basic investigative work on the materials included in the complaint, they (including Benczkowski) would have known that Trump’s call related directly to matters under active investigation in SDNY.

While the whistleblower complaint does not mention Parnas and Fruman by name, it repeatedly invokes this OCCRP profile (see footnotes 4, 9, 10, 11), The profile would have made it crystal clear — if DOJ’s investigators couldn’t figure it out for themselves — how the evidence that SDNY was already reviewing (including the campaign finance stuff and the Rudy dossier) connected directly with the July 25 call.

Since early last year, the men have emerged from obscurity to become major donors to Republican campaigns in the United States. They have collectively contributed over half a million dollars to candidates and outside campaign groups, the lion’s share in a single transaction that an independent watchdog has flagged as a potential violation of electoral funding law.

The men appear to enjoy a measure of access to influential figures. They’ve dined with Trump, had a “power breakfast” with his son Donald Jr., met with U.S. congressmen, and mixed with Republican elites.

Months before their earliest known work with Giuliani, Parnas and Fruman also lobbied at least one congressman — former U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican — to call for the dismissal of the United States’ ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch. She stepped down a year later after allegations in the conservative media that she had been disloyal to Trump.

While setting up meetings for Giuliani with Ukrainian officials, the men also promoted a business plan of their own: Selling American liquefied natural gas to Ukraine to replace Russian imports disrupted by war.

Three days before the call itself, OCCRP and BuzzFeed had already laid out parts of the crime that SDNY has since indicted. And that profile was part of the whistleblower complaint provided to DOJ, in which DOJ claimed they could find no evidence of a crime.

FBI’s three investigative levels are Full Investigations (opened once FBI has evidence that a crime has occurred), Preliminary Investigations (opened once FBI has reason to believe a crime has been committed), and Assessments (the work FBI does to assess the credibility of tips). FBI Agents are expected — encouraged, explicitly, as a matter of national security — to do searches of FBI’s existing investigative databases at the Assessment level. They do this not just to make sure that suspected foreign agents like Parnas and Fruman aren’t allowed to insinuate themselves into top tiers of power unnoticed, but also for deconfliction, to make sure DOJ knows precisely which part of DOJ is investigating which people.

Had FBI followed its DIOG based on the information included in the whistleblower complaint, it would have been crystal clear that the July 25 call related to an ongoing Full Investigation, and the July 25 call — and the President’s extortion — would have been made part of that investigative record.

The Criminal Division Chief has confessed it did not follow protocols in reviewing this complaint

All of which brings me full cycle to DOJ’s efforts to pretend they didn’t know that Rudy was a suspected criminal when they met with him to discuss the accused criminals he represents.

Brian Benczkowski, the head of the Criminal Division (and yet, someone who has never prosecuted a case), claims that he had no way of knowing that Rudy Giuliani’s clients and co-conspirators were about to be indicted when he met with Rudy on some date no one wants to reveal. That may be true — though if it is, it means either his staffers did almost no due diligence before setting up that meeting, or the fact that Rudy, in addition to Parnas and Fruman, was under active investigation did not dissuade Benczkowski from taking the meeting.

But, if the meeting took place after the whistleblower review, as multiple reporters at NYT seem to believe it did, for him to claim that he didn’t know about Parnas and Fruman also amounts to an explicit confession that the investigators reviewing the whistleblower complaint did not follow FBI guidelines requiring them to look up all the names in a tip to see if the FBI already knows about them.

That is, Brian Benczkowski, in trying to claim ignorance of Rudy’s own legal problems in advance of that meeting, confessed that his division, hiding behind whatever false excuses, did not properly investigate the whistleblower complaint.


February 14: Barr sworn in.

February, undated: Barr and Public Integrity lawyers reporting to Brian Benczkowski briefed on investigation into Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, though NYT reported lawyer questioned about Rudy in that time period.

March 5: Barr briefed on Mueller investigation.

March 22: Mueller investigation concludes.

March 24: Barr releases misleading “summary” of Mueller Report.

March 26: John Solomon posts column first reviewed by Joe DiGenova, Victoria Toensing, and Lev Parnas

April 19: DOJ releases redacted Mueller Report.

May, undated: State IG Steve Linick receives Rudy dossier, passes on to FBI.

May 31: Barr does interview explaining his Durham investigation without once explaining any irregularities to justify investigation.

June 20: Campaign Legal Center submits supplemental complaint to FEC.

July 18: OMB informs Departments that Trump has ordered suspension of all aide to Ukraine.

July 25: Trump-Zelensky phone call.

Week after call: Whistleblower informs CIA General counsel Courtney Simmons Elwood, who speaks several times to NSC lawyer John Eisenberg.

August 12: Date of whistleblower complaint.

August 14: Elwood and Eisenberg inform National Security Division head, John Demers.

August 15: Demers reads transcript of call. Senior DOJ officials, including Jeffrey Rosen, Brian Benczkowski, and Barr informed.

The deputy attorney general, Jeffrey A. Rosen, and Brian A. Benczkowski, the head of the department’s criminal division, were soon looped in, according to two administration officials.

Department officials began to discuss the accusations and whether and how to follow up, and Attorney General William P. Barr learned of the allegations around that time, according to a person familiar with the matter. Although Mr. Barr was briefed, he did not oversee the discussions about how to proceed, the person said.

August 26: IG Michael Atkinson hand delivers message on whistleblower complaint to Acting DNI Joseph Maguire.

September 3: Original classified OLC memo deeming the whistleblower complaint “not urgent,” treating Barr’s involvement as Top Secret.

September 20: Rudy, Parnas, Victoria Toensing and Joe DiGenova lunch at Trump International across the street from DOJ. Rudy also attends State Dinner for Australia.

September 24: Declassification of Telcon. Version of OLC memo hiding Barr’s involvement as classified issue.

September 26: Release of TelCon and whistleblower complaint. Justice Department explains non-prosecution:

In August, the Department of Justice was referred a matter relating to a letter the director national intelligence had received from the inspector general for the intelligence community regarding a purported whistleblower complaint. The inspector general’s letter cited a conversation between the president and Ukrainian President Zelensky as a potential violation of federal campaign finance law, while acknowledging that neither the inspector general nor the complainant had firsthand knowledge of the conversation,” Kupec said.

“Relying on established procedures set forth in the justice manual, the department’s criminal division reviewed the official record of the call and determined based on the facts and applicable law that there was no campaign finance violence and that no further action was warranted. All relevant components of the department agreed with this legal conclusion, and the department has concluded this matter,” Kupec concluded.

In another statement, Kupec said that Barr had not spoken with Mr. Trump about Ukraine investigating Biden, and that the president had not asked Barr to contact Ukraine or Giuliani.

September 29: AP claims Barr was “surprised and angry” when he learned he had been lumped in with Rudy. His further denials include a lot of wiggle room (including unofficial contacts).

Barr has not spoken with Trump about investigating Biden or Biden’s son Hunter, and Trump has not asked Barr to contact Ukranian officials about the matter, the department said. Barr has also not spoken with Giuliani about anything related to Ukraine, officials have said.

October 1: State IG Steve Linick briefs Congress on opposition packet routed to him from Pompeo. Preservation letters to Parnas and Fruman.

October 4: Initial rough date for Rudy meeting with Benczkowski.

October 9: Parnas and Fruman lunch with Rudy at Trump Hotel across from DOJ, later that eventing they are indicted and arrested.

October 10: Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman arrest unsealed. Anonymous DOJ sources report that Barr was briefed in February and “in recent weeks.”

Attorney General William Barr was briefed on the case in February, shortly after he was confirmed. Barr has received additional briefings in recent weeks and fully supports the case.

October 11: NYT reports that Rudy under investigation for Ukraine work.

October 18: NYT reports that Rudy was lobbying Brian Benczkowski and lawyers from Fraud section “a few weeks ago” about a very sensitive bribery case.

October 20: NYT story with on-the-record quote from Peter Carr states Benczkowski and fraud section lawyers would not have met with Giuliani if they had known of the investigation of his associates; it describes the meeting as taking place “several weeks ago.”

October 21: CNN adds DOJ clarification that Rudy was not central to investigation briefed to Barr in February, even though CI Agents were questioning witnesses by March, and that Public Integrity lawyers (who report to Benczkowski) were briefed.