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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RESOURCES

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

Mueller questions as imagined by Jay Sekulow

CNN’s timeline of investigative events

Majority HPSCI Report

Minority HPSCI Report

Trump Twitter Archive

Jim Comey March 20, 2017 HPSCI testimony

Comey May 3, 2017 SJC testimony

Jim Comey June 8, 2017 SSCI testimony

Jim Comey written statement, June 8, 2017

Jim Comey memos

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

NPR Timeline on Trump’s ties to Aras Agalarov

George Papadopoulos complaint

George Papadopoulos statement of the offense

Mike Flynn 302

Mike Flynn statement of the offense

Mike Flynn cooperation addendum

Peter Strzok 302 (describing Flynn’s interview)

Michael Cohen statement of the offense

Internet Research Agency indictment

GRU indictment

Senate Judiciary Committee materials on June 9 meeting

BuzzFeed documents on Trump Tower deal

Text of the Don Jr Trump Tower Meeting emails

Jared Kushner’s statement to Congress

Erik Prince HPSCI transcript

About the BuzzFeed Scoop: It’s Important, But It Oversells the Lying Part

BuzzFeed has an important story that fleshes out what was made clear in Michael Cohen’s allocution, sentencing memo, and the public record (including earlier BuzzFeed reports). Trump and his kids knew a lot about Cohen’s negotiations for a Trump Tower, and also knew and helped sustain his lies to Congress. BuzzFeed even suggests that all the lying came from Trump; on that issue, the story is problematic for reasons I lay out below.

The new details in the story include a price tag for the Trump Tower detail: Trump, “hoped could bring his company profits in excess of $300 million” (Mueller’s sentencing memorandum stated that the deal might be worth “hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources in licensing fees and other revenues”).  It quantifies how many times Trump and Cohen spoke about the deal: Trump, “had at least 10 face-to-face meetings with Cohen about the deal during the campaign.” It also confirms that Don Jr and Ivanka were the “family members” described in Cohen’s allocution who were apprised of the details.

Cohen gave Trump’s children “very detailed updates.”

[snip]

The two law enforcement sources disputed this characterization and said that [Don Jr] and Cohen had multiple, detailed conversations on this subject during the campaign.

It doesn’t include a number of details that would be more important for understanding how the Trump Tower deal relates to other parts of Trump’s conspiracy with Russians: who (if not Trump himself or Don Jr) was the senior campaign official who knew of Cohen’s negotiations, precisely what Don Jr knew of the negotiations on June 3 when he took a meeting described to be “part of  Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” and whether the timing of Cohen’s plans for a trip to St. Petersburg — which started on June 9 and ended on June 14 — related somehow to the June 9 Trump Tower meeting and the June 14 revelation that Russians had hacked the DNC. It’d also be useful to know whether Cohen had any 2016 dealings with Ike Kaveladze, who knew of Cohen from the 2013 business dealings between Trump and the Agalarovs, and who had a curious reaction to a video of him in the wake of the June 9 meeting story breaking. Those are the details that would advance the story of how the Trump Tower deal relates to Russia’s efforts to hack the election.

That said, I have qualms about the way the story deals with the perjury side of this. First, it makes an absurd claim that this is the first time we’ve heard that Trump told someone to lie.

Cohen’s testimony marks a significant new frontier: It is the first known example of Trump explicitly telling a subordinate to lie directly about his own dealings with Russia.

The NYT first reported that Trump floated pardons to Mike Flynn and Paul Manafort in March of last year and they also reported that Mueller had asked Trump about discussions with Flynn about his testimony by the same month. The entire story leading up to Flynn’s firing includes a series of lies, and like Cohen’s false claims about the Trump Tower story featured the kind of matching lies that require coordination (though Trump’s directions to Flynn probably did not include foreknowledge of his FBI interview, so legally the import is that he sustained Flynn’s lies). Manafort, under whatever expectation of a pardon, spent the two months leading up to the election perjuring himself about his ongoing work with Konstantin Kilimnik and communications with the White House, all while reporting back to Trump via his lawyer. Trump had Don McGahn craft a letter to Comey (who, after all, was part of the FBI when he received it) about his firing that hid that he did it because of the Russia investigation, after first writing a statement that acknowledged that clearly. And Trump himself dictated (probably in consultation with Vladimir Putin) a misleading statement about the June 9 Trump Tower meeting, only part of which got cleaned up before Don Jr repeated the misleading comments before Congress. Trump’s current defense attorney Jay Sekulow even went on teevee last August to apologize for repeating a lie Trump told about the June 9 meeting; while he told that lie publicly, the statement Don Jr told to Congress retained part of that lie. Not all of those amount to suborning perjury, but some of them do, and they’ve been public for a long time.

Buzzfeed also suggests that the lying all came from Trump:

the law enforcement sources familiar with his testimony to the special counsel said he had confirmed that Trump directed him to lie to Congress

Cohen’s own public sworn testimony on this issue is slightly different though. He said,

I made these misstatements to be consistent with Individual 1’s political messaging and out of loyalty to Individual 1,

The latter detail may be semantics. After all, Trump Organization necessarily withheld documents from Congress to sustain Cohen’s (and Don Jr’s) lies. So the directive to lie and the coordination obviously came from the top (though some of it was achieved by Cohen’s leaks to the press). And the sentencing memo’s statement that “Cohen described the circumstances of preparing and circulating his response to the congressional inquiries, while continuing to accept responsibility for the false statements contained within it,” make it clear he could have blamed others for the coordination of his lies. But Cohen is on the record suggesting he chose to lie, in contrast to his allocutions with the hush payments, where he said Trump directed him to undertake the criminal activity. The discrepancy on this issue — which could be cleared up with a few details — may otherwise subject Cohen to accusations of perjury in his allocation.

And heck, if Cohen downplayed Trump’s direction of his lies, then that is newsworthy in and of itself.

I’m more concerned that Buzzfeed claimed, on January 17, 2019, that this is the first evidence that Trump ordered someone to lie about Russia. Normally, I’d excuse this kind of exaggeration to get eyeballs as normal publicity for a story. But not coming, as it does, two days after Trump’s nominee to be Attorney General stated clearly in his confirmation hearing that suborning perjury would be clearly criminal, even if done by the President. Yes, William Barr already made that clear in his memo on the Mueller investigation. But few people besides me realized that fact until, in Tuesday’s hearing, he was asked to confirm that things we know Trump has done — such as float pardons — amount to a crime.

And the response to this story, coming two days after Barr made that statement, has been to suggest that the stuff included in it — as distinct from the long line of lies we already knew Trump suborned — would put Trump at legal jeopardy under Barr that he’s not already in.

Trump is already getting itchy upon discovering that Barr has a close relationship with Mueller.

President Donald Trump was startled Tuesday as he watched television coverage of his nominee for attorney general describing a warm relationship with the special counsel Robert Mueller in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, according to three people familiar with the matter.

During the first day of his confirmation hearing, William Barr described telling the President the first time he met him in June 2017 that he was friends with Mueller, referring to him on a first name basis.

“I told him how well I knew Bob Mueller and that the Barrs and Muellers were good friends and would be good friends when this was all over,” Barr said. “Bob is a straight-shooter and should be dealt with as such.”

While Barr said during his hearing that Trump “was interested” in hearing about the friendship, the details that emerged this week caught the President off guard, the three sources said. He bristled at Barr’s description of the close relationship, complaining to aides he didn’t realize how much their work overlapped or that they were so close.

I think Barr will be shitty on a range of issues (though he’s less of a bigot and homophobe than Jeff Sessions and the Big Dick Toilet Salesman). But there are many reasons to believe, from his testimony, that he won’t interfere with the Mueller investigation. The overhyped claims in this Buzzfeed story, however, are likely to make Trump newly aware of that fact, and could have negative and unnecessary consequences (and in that way, I worry the Buzzfeed story is like NYT’s two underreported stories about the aftermath of the Jim Comey firing, which both did significant damage that could have been avoided with more awareness of the rest of Russian story and more context).

The Buzzfeed story is important for the concrete details it adds to a story we already knew — and these reporters deserve a ton of kudos for consistently leading on this part of the story. But it has unnecessarily overhyped the uniqueness of Trump’s role in these lies, in a way that could have detrimental effect on the country’s ability to actually obtain some kind of justice for those lies.

Update: The language in Cohen’s own sentencing memorandum similarly sets up a contrast in the language used to discuss the hush payments, where his lawyers emphasize Trump’s direction.

With respect to the conduct charged in these Counts, Michael kept his client contemporaneously informed and acted on his client’s instructions. This is not an excuse, and Michael accepts that he acted wrongfully. Nevertheless, we respectfully request that the Court consider that as personal counsel to Client-1, Michael felt obligated to assist Client-1, on Client-1’s instruction, to attempt to prevent Woman-1 and Woman-2 from disseminating narratives that would adversely affect the Campaign and cause personal embarrassment to Client-1 and his family. [my emphasis]

Compare that with their discussion of his Trump Tower lies, which emphasizes his efforts to reinforce Trump’s messaging, but lacks any mention of Trump’s direction.

Michael’s false statements to Congress likewise sprung regrettably from Michael’s effort, as a loyal ally and then-champion of Client-1, to support and advance Client-1’s political messaging. At the time that he was requested to appear before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Michael was serving as personal attorney to the President, and followed daily the political messages that both Client-1 and his staff and supporters repeatedly and forcefully broadcast. Furthermore, in the weeks during which his then-counsel prepared his written response to the Congressional Committees, Michael remained in close and regular contact with White House-based staff and legal counsel to Client-1.

As such, he was (a) fully aware of Client-1’s repeated disavowals of commercial and political ties between himself and Russia, as well as the strongly voiced mantra of Client-1 that investigations of such ties were politically motivated and without evidentiary support, and (b) specifically knew, consistent with Client-1’s aim to dismiss and minimize the merit of the SCO investigation, that Client-1 and his public spokespersons were seeking to portray contact with Russian representatives in any form by Client-1, the Campaign or the Trump Organization as having effectively terminated before the Iowa caucuses of February 1, 2016.

Seeking to stay in line with this message, Michael told Congress that his communications and efforts to finalize a building project in Moscow on behalf of the Trump Organization, which he began pursuing in 2015, had come to an end in January 2016, when a general inquiry he made to the Kremlin went unanswered. [my emphasis]

Cohen’s lawyer uses clearly different language on these two issues, language that suggests in the latter case Trump’s “direction” might be what it was for Mike Flynn’s lies.

 

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

Trump’s “Official Acts” to Pay Off a Russian Bribe Should Make Impeachment a Legal Issue, Not Just a Political One

The pearl clutchers screamed about Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib saying that we need to impeach the motherfucker, Donald Trump, demeaning the presidency.* While I’m glad that she has refused to back down from her beliefs in the face of the attacks, I think her more substantial argument about impeachment deserves further attention (which I hope to return to in a later post). More important, I think that the response to Tlaib’s comments has resulted in members of both parties retreating to a debate about Trump’s impeachment using the old formulation that it’s a political, not a legal question.

It is true that impeachment is political question insofar as, so long as there’s the political will, a president can be impeached for anything, even lying about a consensual blowjob immaterial to an investigation into financial scandal. But impeachment is also a legal question. Indeed, the Constitution mandates that the President be removed from office if he is impeached and convicted not just for the unenumerated grab bag of “high crimes and misdemeanors” — where Congress exercises the political will to decide whether a blowjob merits impeachment — but also the enumerated crimes of treason and bribery.

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

In spite of Emmet Sullivan’s question — as one of the only people who has read sealed documents laying out what Trump’s transition team did — about whether Mueller’s investigators considered charging Mike Flynn with treason, there’s no chance that Trump will be named in a treason charge.

But there is very good chance he will be named in a conspiracy involving a quid pro quo trading dirt and real estate deals for sanctions relief and other policy considerations.

The other day, I realized something ironic: in precisely the same period Trump was entering in an apparent quid pro quo with Russians, John Roberts was authoring a unanimous Supreme Court decision that clarified the limits of quid pro quo bribery.

And while the Supreme Court believed that Governor Bob McDonnell had not accepted bribes for setting up meetings in exchange for gifts, the language Roberts wrote in the weeks after Trump’s son told some Russians they would revisit Magnitsky sanctions if his father won does not so narrow the definition of bribery as to make Trump’s actions legally excusable.

Roberts described an official act this way:

In sum, an “official act” is a decision or action on a “question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy.” The “question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy” must involve a formal exercise of governmental power that is similar in nature to a lawsuit before a court, a determination before an agency, or a hearing before a committee. It must also be something specific and focused that is “pending” or “may by law be brought” before a public official. To qualify as an “official act,” the public official must make a decision or take an action on that “question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy,” or agree to do so.

Notably, the bribed public official doesn’t actually have to follow through on the official act he agreed to take, so it doesn’t help Trump that Congress has repeatedly prevented him from overturning sanctions on Russia.

Under this Court’s precedents, a public official is not required to actually make a decision or take an action on a “question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy”; it is enough that the official agree to do so.

And there are a number of data points in the public record that suggest Trump did believe he had made a deal with the Russians and that Russia had what it believed was a commitment from Trump. For example, four of the people who attended the June 9 meeting testified (most under oath) that Don Jr said his father would revisit sanctions relief if he got elected.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Ike Kaveladze, in the call back to his boss to report on the meeting that witnesses observed, was happy with the outcome of the meeting.

It’s not just the Russians who seem to have acted on the meeting. Michael Cohen’s allocution seems to suggest that the meeting tied directly to the negotiations over a Trump Tower, because he took steps to travel to Russian on the day of the meeting.

From on or about June 9 to June 14, 2016, Individual 2 sent numerous messages to COHEN about the travel, including forms for COHEN to complete. However, on or about June 14 , 2016, COHEN met Individual 2 in the lobby of the Company’s headquarters to inform Individual 2 he would not be traveling at that time.

Remember: a “senior campaign official” was involved in discussions about trips to Russia. And had the President’s personal lawyer actually taken this trip to St. Petersburg, the plan was to meet Vladimir Putin (who did attend the forum that year).

While the dates provided in Cohen’s allocution also suggest the disclosure that Russia hacked the DNC halted Cohen’s plans “at that time,” we know that the plans did resume after that canceled trip into July.

The Russians certainly believed they had an agreement. They put in some effort to meet again after Trump won. While finding an appropriate communication channel failed for the Agalarovs, Flynn and Jared Kushner moved to establish a back channel via Sergey Kislyak. When Trump met with Preet Bharara and reportedly agreed to keep him on, Veselnitskaya panicked, and suggested Trump planned to keep him on so he could take him out.

In its indictment of Veselnitskaya, DOJ just established that she was actually working as part of the Russian government when she claimed to have fought to get an MLAT request in her Prevezon case. And Veselnitskaya believed that after Trump won the election, he would take out the prosecutor whom she was facing in court. Ultimately, Trump did take out Preet, firing all his US Attorneys in an effort to do so.

And details from Mike Flynn’s allocution provide one important piece of evidence that Russians believed they had received a commitment from Trump.

After Obama imposed sanctions on Russia partly in retaliation for the election year operation, Trump’s team panicked, both because they wanted to improve relations with Russia, but also because Russia’s role in his victory delegitimized the victory. That is, even those unlikely to be unaware of any quid pro quo recognized that the public accounting of Russia’s role in helping defeat Hillary would make it all the more difficult to deal with Russia.

Obama is doing three things politically:

  • discrediting Trump’s victory by saying it was due to Russian interference
  • lure trump into trap of saying something today that casts doubt on report on Russia’s culpability and then next week release report that catches Russia red handed
  • box trump in diplomatically with Russia. If there is a tit-for-tat escalation trump will have difficulty improving relations with Russia which has just thrown USA election to him.

Trump’s response, however, was to reach out to Russia and assure them they didn’t need to worry about Obama’s new policy. In response, the Russians made it very clear that Putin had decided not to respond based on the assurances that Flynn gave Kislyak.

On or about December 30, 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin released a statement indicating that Russia would not take retaliatory measures in response to the U.S. Sanctions at that time.

On or about December 31, 2016, the Russian Ambassador called FLYNN and informed him that Russia had chosen not to retaliate in response to FL YNN’s request.

Mueller, of course, has the full transcript of what Flynn said to Kislyak that successfully placated Putin. It is highly likely the transcript provides explicit evidence of an official act to pay off his side of the deal, sanctions relief.

All of which is to say that Mueller may well be finalizing a conspiracy indictment of Don Jr and Trump Org laying out a quid pro quo in which Trump agreed to provide sanctions relief (and some other stuff) in exchange for Russia’s help winning the election.

That Mueller might be able to show all this is bribery may not affect Republican willingness to take the action laid out in the Constitution, to convict Trump in an impeachment inquiry. But given that the Constitution specifically envisions impeaching a President who has accepted a bribe, commentators should stop treating impeachment exclusively as a political issue.

Update: I posted this before I had read this analysis from Jack Goldsmith raising concerns about investigating the President for foreign policy decisions. While I think Goldsmith raises key points, he focuses on actions Trump took as President. But that’s one reason I think the transition activities are so important. If I’m right that the calls to Kislyak amount to an official act, then Trump took it to undermine the official policy of the government, not set it as President. Further, The Trump team had been asked — and at least one person had agreed — to not undermine Obama’s policies during the transition. There were several efforts to hide that they were doing so: the indications they couldn’t reengage on Magnitsky sanctions using the same channels as they used during the election, the request for a back channel, and the meeting with Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan that Susan Rice discovered by unmasking the identities of those who met with him.

The actions Trump took that led to Flynn and Comey’s firings were part of an effort to hide these clandestine efforts during the transition. Yes, they were conducted while he was President. But they were conducted to cover up actions taken before he became President. This is why I keep harping on the remarkable lack of curiosity about why Trump really fired Flynn. The public story Trump is telling is assuredly false. The real reason almost certainly ties back to these transition period actions.

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

*Full disclosure: I donated to Tlaib’s campaign.

Some Important Historical Details Michael Cohen Probably Shared with Mueller’s Team

The attention since Michael Cohen pled guilty has focused largely on his role in brokering a Trump Tower deal, which was the substance of his lies to Congress as detail in his plea. But there are other things about which he was surely a really useful witness for Mueller. ABC provided some sketchy details, including the enticing detail that Cohen knew about pardon offers (possibly, even for him).

Cohen has spent more than 70 hours in interviews with Mueller’s team. The questioning has focused on contacts with Russians by Trump associates during the campaign, Trump’s business ties to Russia, obstruction of justice and talk of possible pardons, sources familiar with the discussions have told ABC News.

But I want to point to two historical details of particular interest.

It’s clear that Mueller has some interest in campaign finance irregularities, at least those of Roger Stone. But the crowd Roger rat-fucks with actually has a history with Michael Cohen. Cohen set up a 527 in 2011 into which Trump Organization funneled probably illegal cash.

As I’ve noted, in 2011, one of the people closely involved in Stone’s 2016 rat-fucking, Pamela Jensen, was involved in a 527 called ShouldTrumpRun that listed Michael Cohen as President.

The organization was apparently laundering Trump corporate cash into campaign spending. But when the issue came before the FEC, Commissioner Don McGahn helped kill an investigation into it.

During McGahn’s FEC tenure, one of those he helped save from enforcement action was Trump himself. In 2011, when the future president-elect was engaged in a high-profile process of considering whether to enter the 2012 race for the Republican presidential nomination, Trump was formally accused in an FEC complaint of violating agency regulations. The case was dismissed on a deadlocked vote of the FEC commissioners.

A four-page complaint filed by Shawn Thompson of Tampa, Fla., accused Trump of illegally funneling corporate money from his Trump Organization into an organization called ShouldTrumpRun.com. McGahn and fellow FEC Republicans Caroline Hunter and Matthew Petersen voted to block FEC staff recommendations that Trump be investigated in the matter—designated Matter Under Review (MUR) 6462.

Ultimately, Trump opted not to run for president in 2012. Nonetheless, FEC staff attorneys concluded his activities before that decision may have violated campaign finance rules regarding money raised to “test the waters” for a candidacy. A staff report from the FEC Office of General Counsel, based largely on news articles and other documents about Trump’s flirtation with running for president—including Trump’s own quoted statements— recommended that the commissioners authorize a full FEC investigation backed by subpoena power.

FEC Democrats voted to pursue the recommended probe, but the votes of McGahn and the other FEC Republicans precluded the required four-vote majority needed for the commission to act.

McGahn and Hunter issued a “ statement of reasons” explaining their votes in the Trump matter in 2013. The 11-page statement blasted FEC staff attorneys in the Office of General Counsel for reviewing volumes of published information regarding Trump’s potential 2012 candidacy in order to determine whether to recommend that the FEC commissioners vote to authorize a full investigation. McGahn and Hunter argued that the FEC counsel’s office was prohibited from examining information other than what was contained in the formal complaint submitted in the case.

The Office of General Counsel shouldn’t be allowed to pursue an “unwritten, standardless process whereby OGC can review whatever articles and other documents not contained in the complaint that they wish, and send whatever they wish to the respondent for comment,” the Republican commissioners wrote.

And this public trial balloon in 2011 is interesting for another reason. It means that when Trump set up the Miss American deal in 2013, the Russians knew he might consider running for President. Cohen was closely involved in that deal, too.

That Cohen was involved in negotiations with the Agalarovs in 2013  is interesting enough. But I’m particularly intrigued by something that happened in the wake of the disclosure of the June 9 meeting. As the Trumps and Agalarovs started getting testy about each others’ response, Ike Kaveladze called Roman Beniaminov’s attention to a picture from the Las Vegas announcement party that got leaked to the press, highlighting Cohen and Keith Schiller.

On July 13, 2017, Ike Kaveladze (who was really in charge of the meeting for his boss, Aras Agalarov) and Roman Beniaminov (Emin Agalrov’s assistant, who heard ahead of time the meeting was about dealing dirt on Hillary to the Trumps) had the following exchange by text (PDF 34).

[Kaveladze sends link]

Beniaminov: But I don’t recall taking any video. And I can’t understand why it looks so similar.

Kaveladze: I mean his trump organization employees.

By July 13, the Agalarovs and Trumps were increasingly at odds on how to respond to the story, not least after the Trumps leaked Rod Goldstone’s name to the press after saying they wouldn’t. After that, there seemed to be increasing amounts of dirt being leaked, perhaps by both sides.

It appears that Kaveladze may have phoned Beniaminov right before this to raise this CNN story, which had just been posted. Beniaminov seemed to think Kaveladze had suggested that he, Beniaminov, had taken the video, even while he seems to have been present at the Las Vegas event back in 2013.

Scott Balber, the Agalarov’s ever-present lawyer (who had actually represented Trump on a Miss Universe related issue in 2013), was quoted in the piece.

“It’s simply fiction that this was some effort to create a conduit for information from the Russian federal prosecutors to the Trump campaign,” Balber said on CNN’s “New Day.” “It’s just fantasy world because the reality is if there was something important that Mr. Agalarov wanted to communicate to the Trump campaign, I suspect he could have called Mr. Trump directly as opposed to having his son’s pop music publicist be the intermediary.”

I don’t rule out Balber having taken and leaked the video.

Or maybe not: What Kaveladze is interested in highlighting to Beniaminov is the presence of two other Trump employees in the video: Keith Schiller and Michael Cohen, shown above.

I don’t know what to make of the reference — though it’s equally possible they were involved in the 2017 response, or were viewed for some other reason as an additional concern regarding the June 9 meeting.

While Schiller actually was in the loop of the June 9 meeting (Rob Goldstone chatted with him the day of the meeting and asked about how to mail things to Trump given increased security), there’s no public evidence Cohen was.

But perhaps Kaveladze realized Cohen might know something about the 2013 events that would be of concern as the investigated heated up.

In any case, we know from Mueller’s questions he thinks the 2013 does serve as a key part of the investigation. And while Schiller — with his sinecure at the RNC — may not be talking, Michael Cohen is.

There are other aspects of Trump’s business that Cohen will explain for Mueller, including corrupt deals with Russians and related countries.

But these two past events are likely to be of particular interest for Mueller’s prosecutors.

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

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

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

Consider the following investigative steps:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Richard Burr Pretends He Has a Basis to Claim SSCI Has [Searched for and] Not Found Any Evidence of “Collusion”

Richard Burr is teeing up Tweet-bait again by going on Fox News and suggesting his committee has not found “hard evidence of collusion.”

In the interview, Burr uses some of the same squishy language he used last month with the AP, which the Fox dude raised to explain why he was asking him about the investigation when Burr’s Fox appearance was designed to boast about how well prepared the Trump Administration was for Hurricane Florence.

Fox: Sir, can you say today that there has been no evidence — no factual evidence — of collusion between the Trump campaign and any elements of the Russian government during the election of 2016?

Burr: I can say, as it relates to the Senate Intelligence Committee investigation, that we have no hard evidence of collusion. Now, we’re not over, and that leaves the opportunity that we might find something that we don’t have today. But the fact is if this is all about collusion — and our investigation encompasses more than collusion — that issue has not been finalized at all.

Fox: If that is your answer today, what is next, or how does this end, perhaps that’s the better way to ask that question.

Burr: Well, Bill, if you’d have asked me when we started this 19 months ago, if it would be over today, I would have said yes, but we found a lot of things that we didn’t anticipate that we would find, we’ve had to chase a lot of threads that needed to be chased. I hope to complete this at some point before the end of the year. It will take probably three to six months to write the final report. But we’ve got, we’ve been charged with making a determination as to what happened, and conveying that with facts to the American people, to let them make their mind up.

Fox: Okay, can you give us an idea of what the conclusion could be then Sir, if it’s not collusion? What is it?

Burr: I can’t really tell you, and maybe we find something in the next several interviews that are evidence of collusion, I don’t think so, with what we’ve seen, but clearly we were asked to look at Russian meddling. Today, once again, this Administration said we’re not going to let Russia meddle in our elections, we’re going to sanction people, they gave 45 days until after the election to report to DHS any interference, and DHS would seek sanctions against them. So the United States government, the whole of government’s taking a very tough stand on Russia. [my emphasis]

As I noted regarding the AP story last month, this statement also stops well short of claiming the Senate Intelligence Committee has looked for and not found evidence of Trump’s campaign conspiring with Russia.

It’s a squishy statement that seems designed — particularly given Burr’s newfound lassitude about ending the inquiry and his stated worries of being accused of missing something in the future — to permit him to sustain a claim he hasn’t seen any conspiracy, at least through the election, without aggressively investigating for one.

Burr is careful to make clear that he is speaking only about his committee, and the question, which seems coached, asked only about Trump’s campaign “colluding” with “elements of the Russian government.” Heck, Don Jr and Aras Agalarov employee Ike Kaveladze could have signed a pact in blood on June 10, 2016, the day after their Trump Tower meeting, and Burr’s statement would still be true, because Agalarov and his employees are not Russian officials. And both last month and today, Burr specifies that he’s talking about “factual” or “hard” evidence.

As it is, the public record of what SSCI has been focused on (and the witnesses whose dodgy comments it hasn’t tried to nail down) makes it clear it’s not looking all that aggressively for evidence of a conspiracy with Russia.

But Burr might feel comfortable making this repeated claim even if his investigators had, in the privacy of their SCIF, been told that a witness had provided Mueller evidence of a conspiracy, so long as those investigators made no effort to actually obtain the evidence. They could even have been told by a witness that she was specifically withholding inflammatory pieces of hard evidence potentially implicating Trump’s campaign, on the basis that she was waiting to see if FBI corroborated the most likely explanation for that evidence. If they never asked for that evidence, then Burr would be perfectly able to go on Fox News and claim his committee hadn’t received any evidence. No one is asking Burr whether he has sought out all the evidence of “collusion” his investigators have been informed about.

Such a scenario might also explain why, in both appearances, Burr laid the ground work to “discover” evidence in two months or so that did corroborate a conspiracy. He’s just going to make sure he doesn’t actually ask for such evidence before then.

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

It Is False to Claim There Was No Follow-Up to the June 9 Meeting

On July 15, 2017 — a week after the June 9 meeting was reported in a NYT story publishing the first of numerous White House statements attempting to explain the meeting — Rhona Graff sent Rob Goldstone an email (PDF 44). With only a garbled (perhaps autocorrected) explanation, she forwarded back to Goldstone an email Goldstone himself had sent her the previous November, attaching some talking points from Natalia Veselnitskaya about Bill Browder and the Magnitsky sanctions (for a copy of the talking points, see PDF 37 ff).

A week after the White House had first issued a statement saying, in part, “there was no follow up” on the June 9 meeting, Trump’s Executive Assistant was sharing with Goldstone a paper trail showing that there had been.

Rudy gets all the facts about the June 9 meeting wrong, again

That’s an important detail that gets missed every single time the punditocracy deals with attempts by Rudy Giuliani or his client to spin the June 9 meeting, as has happened in the wake of this TV appearance by Rudy on Meet the Press.

RUDY GIULIANI:

Well, because the meeting was originally for the purpose of getting information about, about Clinton. The meeting turned into a meeting —

CHUCK TODD:

Which in itself it’s attempted collusion. I understand —

RUDY GIULIANI:

No it’s not.

CHUCK TODD:

You just said it. The meeting was intended to get dirt on Hillary Clinton from a criminal lawyer.

(OVERTALK)

RUDY GIULIANI:

No, it wasn’t. No, no.

CHUCK TODD:

That was the intention of the meeting, you just said it.

RUDY GIULIANI:

That was the original intention of the meeting. It turned out to be a meeting about another subject and it was not pursued at all. And, of course, any meeting with regard to getting information on your opponent is something any candidate’s staff would take. If someone said, I have information about your opponent, you would take that meeting. If it happens to be a person with a Russian —

CHUCK TODD:

From the Russian government?

RUDY GIULIANI:

She didn’t represent the Russian government, she’s a private citizen. I don’t even know if they knew she was Russian at the time. All they had was her name.

CHUCK TODD:

They didn’t know she was Russian, I think they knew she was Russian, but ok.

RUDY GIULIANI:

Well, they knew it when they met with her, not when they set up the meeting. You, you told me, you, you asked me, you know, did they show an intention to do anything with Russians? Well, all they knew is that a woman with a Russian name wanted to meet with them. They didn’t know she was a representative of the Russian government and indeed, she’s not a representative of the Russian government. So, this is much ado about nothing. Plus, the President of the United States wasn’t at that meeting. He didn’t know about that meeting. He found out about it after and by the time he found out about it, it was nothing. So, I mean —

Don Jr. took a meeting expecting and accepting dirt from the Russian government

Numerous people have noted that Rudy was totally wrong about the terms on which Don Jr took the meeting in the first place. Rob Goldstone told Don Jr his boss, Aras Agalarov, would,

provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.

This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.

Whether or not that’s what Don Jr got at the meeting (or a week later, when Guccifer 2.0 started releasing stolen documents and information), it is nevertheless the case that Don Jr accepted a meeting at which he expected to be offered dirt on Hillary that was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Indeed, Don Jr specifically said he’d be willing to wait to receive that dirt until later in the summer.

If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer

The email exchange, by itself, goes a long way towards meeting the terms of a conspiracy, willfully engaging in an agreement to break the law (which includes both accepting things of value from a foreign government and, given events later in the summer, possibly conspiracy to hack a computer).

Remember: to be charged with conspiracy, the conspiracy doesn’t have to be successful. So even ignoring the “documents and information” the Russians started releasing a week later, that “it turned out to be a meeting about another subject,” as Rudy excuses, doesn’t help Jr. He took a meeting to obtain dirt.

Rudy is wrong about follow-up to the meeting as well

So the rest of that that sentence — “and it was not pursued at all” — actually isn’t necessary to an analysis of a conspiracy, because overt acts had already taken place. Still, on that point, too, Rudy is wrong.

The record shows that those behind the meeting did pursue the “it” in question — sanctions relief — fairly aggressively after the election, with some inconclusive cooperation from the Trump Administration. And even after the record on that pursuit goes dark, Russia as a state continued to pursue sanctions relief — indeed, continues even today, most recently by buttering up a series of Republican Senators visiting Moscow to lobby for it.

As I lay out below, Aras Agalarov’s US Vice President, Ike Kaveladze, pushed Goldstone to set up a second meeting, even if with lower level people. As far as we know, that meeting never got scheduled.

But even as the Agalorov effort to obtain sanctions relief fizzled, a more formal Russian effort started, then moved to a back channel.

The most important moment in any follow-up on the June 9 meeting request for sanctions relief came in the December 29, 2016 phones calls between Mike Flynn and Sergei Kislyak about sanctions, a discussion in which Flynn took close directions from KT McFarland, who was with Trump at Mar-a-Lago. Those are the phone calls Flynn lied to the FBI about, in spite of broad knowledge of the calls among transition aides. Those are the phone calls about which he got a plea deal to cooperate with the Mueller team.

Don Jr probably promised the Trumps would revisit sanctions after the election

According to most participants in the meeting who offered testimony to SJC, the Russians were right to expect a follow up discussion on Magnitsky sanctions. In fact, all the participants representing the Russian side save Goldstone (including Anatoli Samochornov, who is the only witness on either side not to have compared notes with at least some of the others before testifying) remembered Don Jr ending the June 9 meeting by saying they’d revisit the issue if or when his father won.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just two people remember it differently. In an answer that, in some respects, exactly tracks statements that were massaged elsewhere by Trump’s lawyers, Rob Goldstone said Don Jr told Veselnitskaya to raise it with Obama.

And he stopped this in its tracks and said, with respect, I suggest that you address your — what seemed very valid concerns but to the Obama administration because they actually are in power. My father is a private citizen and, as such, it has no validity, of what you’re saying. Thank you very much for coming. I appreciate all your time. You know, we have a very busy schedule, and thank you.

And Don Jr himself remembers he ended the meeting by saying his father, a private citizen, couldn’t do anything about this.

I proceeded to quickly and politely end the meeting by telling Ms. Veselnitskaya that because my father was a private citizen there did not seem to be any point for having this discussion.

Paul Manafort would have provided testimony on this point to the Senate Intelligence Committee, but stood up SJC after the raid on his condo the morning after he testified. And Jared left the room before any of this transpired.

In any case, given their impression that Don Jr, in a meeting offering dirt on Hillary, had committed to revisiting Magnitsky sanctions if his pop won the election, the Russian side of the meeting did follow-up after Trump won. And so they did.

Agalarov’s team spent ten days in November trying to get Veselnitskaya a follow-up meeting

Ten days after the election, November 18, Ike Kaveladze reported to his boss, Aras, that Rob Goldstone had already reached out to the Trump people (Kaveladze doesn’t say to whom) to follow up.

Q. Could you please take a look at the entry for November 18, 2016, at 17:45. This appears to  be a message from you to Aras Agalarov. Mr. Kaveladze, could you please translate the content of that message?

A. “Hello. Rob spoke with Trump people. They asked a short synopsis of what is she going to be discussing. Last time she produced a lot of emotions and less facts. Most of the people who took part in that meeting are moving to Washington, D. C. Some of them already fired. When they receive synopsis, they will decide who to send to that meeting.”

Goldstone apparently asked for a short synopsis of the topic presented at the meeting — what would turn out to be the Magnitsky Act — so the Trump team could figure out who should attend a follow-up meeting.

On November 23, Kaveladze sent Goldstone that synopsis.

Less than an hour later, Goldstone wrote back and noted that the synopsis was largely what Veselnitskaya had presented in June.

When Kaveladze pressed for a meeting, Goldstone got squirrelly, even while saying he’d speak to both Don [Jr] and Rhona after sending a synopsis.

When Kaveladze followed up on November 27, Goldstone claimed he had sent materials the week before. Kaveladze suggested that this meeting could happen on the assistant or lawyer level — something both Kaveladze and Goldstone had expressed regret hadn’t happened during the summer.

The next time Kaveladze followed up, Goldstone said that Emin might have to call directly (which Kaveladze took to mean making a call to Don Jr).

It appears only after that did Goldstone forward the synopsis to Rhona Graff, above. After which he told Kaveladze that he had “again” asked about a low level meeting.

After that follow-up call, Graff forwarded Goldstone’s email to Steve Bannon (who early this year argued the June 9 meeting should have been held with lawyers, not the top campaign officials, thought without objecting to the exchange in principle), explaining that Trump knew Aras well, but that she wasn’t “sure how to proceed, if at all.”

During this whole exchange, Kaveladze was juggling messages with Veselnitskaya who was in New York on Prevezon business and beginning to panic based on news reports that Trump would keep Preet Bharara on (Kaveladze would continue handling her throughout December, until handing her off to Agalarov attorney Scott Balber in January).

On November 29, he explained to Vesenitskaya that,

Robert says that logistics of organizations [sic] of meetings with Team Trump now would be difficult and lengthy. I’ve landed in Moscow. I will discuss this situation … with my boss.

Kaveladze did not explain from whom Goldstone learned that, or if it included another phone call. He had also told Goldstone he was in Moscow if he wanted to speak directly. As Kaveladze told SJC, he discusses important things with his boss face-to-face because,

Agalarov is based in Russia, and I’m pretty sure, you know, his phone is being, you know, monitored.

And that’s where, as far as we know, the Agalarov effort to follow up on the June 9 meeting, ended, with Kaveladze explaining things face-to-face to his boss. Which would make it follow-up, just unsuccessful follow-up.

At least two communications are unaccounted for

One key question about this follow-up is the role that Don Jr had in it.

None of these texts suggesting Goldstone had phone conversations with someone, probably Don Jr, as early as November 18 were turned over to SJC before Don Jr testified. Probably as a result, he was asked only about the November 28 email from Goldstone to Graff. He claims he was not aware of any part of the follow-up.

Q. It appears Mr. Goldstone continued his anti-Magnitsky effort beyond your June 9, 2016 meeting. Other than this e-mail, were you aware of any other effort he made on this issue after your meeting?

A. Not that I recall, no.

For his part, Goldstone claims he didn’t send anything before that November 28 email, in spite of telling Kaveladze, back in November 2016, that he had.

Q. So in your November 27th message to Mr. Kaveladze, you said you forwarded the information last week. The last email was an email sent on November 28th, the day after this message with Kaveladze, forwarding the document to Ms. Graff. Had you, in fact, forwarded the document the week before your November 27th message with Kaveladze?

A. I don’t recall, but because I know myself, and I know how I write , I would imagine that the minute he reminded me of it in here, I forwarded it to Rhona, probably the next day. So I don’t recall one before then, no.

Q. All right. Prior to sending that email to Ms. Graff on November 28th, 2016, did you speak with Ms. Graff or any other Trump associates about a second meeting with Veselnitskaya?

A. I don’t believe so.

Nevertheless, there are several known or reported communications unaccounted for: the one Goldstone had before November 18, any email he had the week before November 28 with the synopsis, and any follow-up call via which Goldstone would conclude that the logistics of organizing a meeting with Trump people would be difficult during the transition.

Mueller, of course, will know whether Goldstone and Don Jr communicated directly, and if so when. So he will have a sense of whether Don Jr and Goldstone’s claims, which seem to contradict contemporaneous records, are true or not.

The Russian side concludes there is no communication channel

The problem, at least as the Russian side saw it (possibly based off what Goldstone had reported back), was those logistics: a channel of communications. The next day, December 1 at 11:49AM, Kaveladze texted again (Veselnitskaya was by this point frantic because Trump had met with Preet Bharara, with her even discussing who Trump might, “Wet and not to wet” with respect to the US Attorney, which Kaveladze translated as “crush”), explaining that Aras planned on meeting with Trump to restore communications.

Unfortunately, we don’t have communication. My boss planned to meet with him. We will send a formal request. Hopefully after the meeting we will keep communication.

As far as we know, that meeting never happened. Though the Agalarov camp and the Trump camp would resume intense conversations in June 2017, as the Trump Organization began to try to understand the legal liability posed by the meeting. Trump’s lawyers would speak directly with both Kaveladze and Goldstone before Agalarov’s lawyer, Scott Balber, took over the discussions (indeed, he remained the key architect of the narrative from that point forward, probably for all sides). Those are the conversations that would lead, on July 15, Graff to remind Goldstone that he had emailed her to follow up on the June 9 meeting.

So while there was clearly follow-up, there was not a clear resolution to the June 9 meeting in which Veselnitskaya got Trump to adopt her preferred policy.

Other Russians pursue a communication channel

Unless the resolution moved to a different path.

As it happens (this may be a coincidence, or may be a sign of greater coordination that the Trump people claim they’re capable of), later on the same day after Kaveladze said his boss would seek to restore a channel of communication with Trump, Jared hosted a meeting in Don Jr’s office with Sergei Kislyak, attended by Mike Flynn. Even according to Jared’s prepared statement, that meeting was about establishing communication channels to Russia.

The meeting occurred in Trump Tower where we had our transition office, and lasted twenty-thirty minutes. Lt. General Michael Flynn (Ret.), who became the President’s National Security Advisor, also attended. During the meeting, after pleasantries were exchanged, as I had done in many of the meetings I had and would have with foreign officials, I stated our desire for a fresh start in relations. Also, as I had done in other meetings with foreign officials, I asked Ambassador Kislyak if he would identify the best person (whether the Ambassador or someone else) with whom to have direct discussions and who had contact with his President. The fact that I was asking about ways to start a dialogue after Election Day should of course be viewed as strong evidence that I was not aware of one that existed before Election Day.

The Ambassador expressed similar sentiments about relations, and then said he especially wanted to address US. policy in Syria, and that he wanted to convey information from what he called his “generals.” He said he wanted to provide information that would help inform the new administration. He said the generals could not easily come to the U.S. to convey this information and he asked if there was a secure line in the transition office to conduct a conversation. General Flynn or I explained that there were no such lines. I believed developing a thoughtful approach on Syria was a very high priority given the ongoing humanitarian crisis, and I asked if they had an existing communications channel at his embassy we could use where they would be comfortable transmitting the information they wanted to relay to General Flynn. The Ambassador said that would not be possible and so we all agreed that we would receive this information after the Inauguration. [emphasis original]

Don Jr, in his SJC testimony, is the one who revealed that this meeting took place in his own office (and therefore outside of transition space that might be more closely monitored). But he claims he didn’t attend because he was sweaty from a workout; he also claims he didn’t know about it beforehand.

Q. You mentioned during the conversation with my colleagues that you had become aware of a meeting or meetings with Ambassador Kislyak. Can you just explain like what meetings did you become aware of? When did they take place?

A. I don’t remember the exact timing of when they took place. I believe it was after we had already secured — meaning after the election, but I could be mistaken. The only reason I’m aware of it is because it occurred in my office. I came back from the gym and they were in there.

Q. So when you say after the election, you mean after November 8, 2016?

A. I believe so.

Q. Was it a meeting in December of 2016?

A. That would fit the description, yes, I believe so.

Q. So it was a meeting in Trump Tower?

A. Yes.

Q. In your office but you hadn’t known about it beforehand?

A. Correct.

Q. Do you know why they used your office?

A. It was open, I was at the gym.

Q. And who was in that meeting?

A. I believe it was Jared Kushner, the Ambassador, maybe Flynn, but I don’t remember.

Q. Anyone else, to the best of your recollection?

A. No, not that I recall.

Q. Was the meeting still ongoing when you returned?

A. I believe it was, yes.

Q. Did you go in and join the meeting?

A. No, I did not.

Q. Why not?

A. Because I didn’t know what it was about and I was sweaty from the gym.

Q. Did you ask Mr. Kushner or Lieutenant General Flynn about the meeting after?

A. No, I don’t think I did.

So Don Jr doesn’t remember any calls with Goldstone about following up on the June 9 meeting (though they likely occurred), and he says a meeting with the Russian Ambassador just happened to get scheduled into his workout window on the same day his liaison was seeking a new channel of communications.

Mind you, the subject of this attempt to set up a back channel, per Jared, would be cooperating on Syria, something I learned — from someone who played a significant role in the Russian election attack — that Trump was working on within 15 hours of the close of polls in Hawaii the day after the election.

But within short order, these very same players would shift focus of back channel communications to sanctions relief. Within weeks, Kislyak had set up a meeting with the head of a sanctioned bank, Sergey Gorkov, to meet with Jared. And shortly after that, Flynn would make a series of calls to Kislyak about delaying any response to Obama’s December 28 sanctions. This, in turn, would lead to a meeting involving Erik Prince and another sanctioned bank in Seychelles leading up to the inauguration.

Natalia Veselnitskaya never got her second meeting to pitch the end to Magnitsky sanctions, but Sergey Gorkov got a meeting.

The stakes of dissociating the June 9 meeting from any sanctions relief

By this point, Rudy’s credibility is so shot that when he makes a claim, we should assume that it (like any claim his client makes) is suspect, if not an outright lie.

As I noted above, whether or not there was follow-up on the June 9 meeting doesn’t really change whether Don Jr gleefully accepted a meeting expecting dirt from the Russian government on Hillary Clinton. He did. But in Rudy’s dodgy explanations for why the June 9 meeting isn’t criminal, he relies heavily on his claim — a claim that the Trump side has maintained since a week before Rhona Graff found the email that proved it wasn’t true — that there was no follow-up on the meeting.

But there was.

At a minimum, there were several weeks of follow-up on the Russian side, understandably trying to hold Don Jr to (what they remember as) his offer to revisit the issue of sanctions after the election. As part of that follow-up, there are hints that Don Jr was in the loop, even if both he and Goldstone can’t remember that happening.

The follow-up led by the Agalarovs was, as far as the public record indicates, inconclusive. The Agalarovs lost their communication channel (perhaps as Don Jr got sidelined), and so never did get their follow-up meeting.

But on the same day Trump’s long-time handler, Aras Agalarov, said he’d seek out a new channel of communications, Jared Kushner and Mike Flynn were sitting in Don Jr’s office, attempting to establish a back channel of communication, and solidifying a relationship that would, less than a month later, involve yet another overt act regarding sanctions relief. And that overt act — persuading Sergey Kislyak to defer any response to Obama’s new sanctions — was closely directed from Mar-a-Lago.

Update: Looks like Rudy keeps issuing bogus exonerations for Jr because Mueller is closing in on him.

Mueller may be closing in on his son Don Jr. “A lot of what Trump is doing is based on the fact [that] Mueller is going after Don Jr.,” a person close to the Trump family told me. “They’re squeezing Don Jr. right now.”

Don Jr.’s lawyer said, “I’m not going to comment.” Another person briefed on the investigation disputed the term “squeeze,” but said the Mueller team continues to ask for documents.

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

Lawfare’s Theory of L’Affaire Russe Misses the Kompromat for the Pee Glee

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

Lawfare has updated a piece they did in May 2017, laying out what they believe are the seven theories of “L’Affaire Russe,” of which just five have withstood the test of time. It’s a worthwhile backbone for discussion among people trying to sort through the evidence.

Except I believe they get one thing badly wrong. Close to the end of the long post, they argue we’ve seen no evidence of a kompromat file — which they imagine might be the pee tape described in the probably disinformation-filled Steele dossier.

On the other hand, the hard evidence to support “Theory of the Case #6: Kompromat” has not materially changed in the last 15 months, though no evidence has emerged that undermines the theory either. No direct evidence has emerged that there exists a Russian kompromat file—let alone a pee tape—involving Trump, despite a huge amount of speculation on the subject. What has changed is that Trump’s behavior at the Helsinki summit suddenly moved the possibility of kompromat into the realm of respectable discourse.

Nevertheless, along the way, they point to evidence of direct ties between Trump’s behavior and Russian response.

The candidate, after all, did make numerous positive statements about Russian relations and Vladimir Putin himself—though how much of this has anything to do with these meetings is unclear. At a minimum, it is no small thing for the Russian state to have gotten a Republican nominee for president willing to reverse decades of Republican Russia-skepticism and commitment to NATO.

[snip]

What’s more, two days before the meeting, Trump promised a crowd that he would soon be giving a “major speech” on “all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons”—but after the meeting turned out to be a dud, the speech did not take place. And notably, the hacking indictment shows that the GRU made its first effort to break into Hillary Clinton’s personal email server and the email accounts of Clinton campaign staff on the same day—July 27, 2016—that Trump declared at a campaign stop, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing” from Clinton’s email account.

For some reason, they describe Don Jr’s reported disappointment about the June 9 meeting, but not Ike Kaveladze’s testimony that his initial report to Aras Agalarov (the report made in front of witnesses) was positive. Based on Don Jr’s heavily massaged (and, public evidence makes clear, perjurious) testimony, they claim that the Trump Tower meeting was a dud. Then they go on to note that the Russians at the June 9 meeting asked for Magnitsky sanction relief, rather than offering dirt.

In June 2016, Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort met with a group of Russian visitors in Trump Tower, including attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya. In the now-infamous email exchange that preceded the meeting, Trump, Jr. wrote, “I love it, especially later in the summer” when informed that the meeting would provide him with documents that “would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.” Trump, Jr. and other representatives of the Trump campaign were reportedly disappointed when Veselnitskaya failed to provide the promised “dirt” on Clinton and discussed the issue of Russian adoptions under the Magnitsky Act instead.

[snip]

While there is evidence—most notably with respect to the Trump Tower meeting—of Trump campaign willingness to work with the Russians, there’s not a lot of evidence that any kind of deal was ever struck.

To sustain their case that “there’s not a lot of evidence that any kind of deal was ever struck,” they neglect a number of other points. They don’t mention, for example, that a week after the Trump Tower meeting, the Russians released the first of the stolen files. They don’t mention that (contrary to Don Jr’s massaged testimony and most public claims since) there was a significant effort in November 2016 to follow-up on that June 9 meeting. They don’t mention that that effort was stalled because of the difficulty of communicating given the scrutiny of being President-elect. They don’t mention that the same day the Agalarov people discussed the difficulty of communicating with the President-elect, Jared Kushner met the Russian Ambassador in Don Jr’s office (not in transition space) and raised the possibility of a back channel, a meeting which led to Jared’s meeting with the head of a sanctioned bank, which in turn led to a back channel meeting in the Seychelles with more sanctioned financiers. And inexplicably, they make no mention of the December 29, 2016 calls, during which — almost certainly on direct orders from Trump relayed by KT McFarland — Mike Flynn got the Russians to stall any response to Obama’s sanctions, a discussion Mike Flynn would later lie about to the FBI, in spite of the fact that at least six transition officials knew what he really said.

Why does Lawfare ignore the basis for the plea deal that turned Trump’s one-time National Security Advisor into state’s evidence, when laying out the evidence in this investigation?

All of which is to say that even with all the things Lawfare ignores in their summary, they nevertheless lay out the evidence that Trump and the Russians were engaged in a call-and-response, a call-and-response that appears in the Papadopoulos plea and (as Lawfare notes) the GRU indictment, one that ultimately did deal dirt and got at least efforts to undermine US sanctions (to say nothing of the Syria effort that Trump was implementing less than 14 hours after polls closed, an effort that has been a key part of both Jared Kushner and Mike Flynn’s claims about the Russian interactions).

At each stage of this romance with Russia, Russia got a Trump flunkie (first, Papadopoulos) or Trump himself to publicly engage in the call-and-response. All of that led up to the point where, on July 16, 2018, after Rod Rosenstein loaded Trump up with a carefully crafted indictment showing Putin that Mueller knew certain things that Trump wouldn’t fully understand, Trump came out of a meeting with Putin looking like he had been thoroughly owned and stood before the entire world and spoke from Putin’s script in defiance of what the US intelligence community has said.

People are looking in the entirely wrong place for the kompromat that Putin has on Trump, and missing all the evidence of it right in front of their faces.

Vladimir Putin obtained receipts at each stage of this romance of Trump’s willing engagement in a conspiracy with Russians for help getting elected. Putin knows what each of those receipts mean. Mueller has provided hints, most obviously in that GRU indictment, that he knows what some of them are.

For example, on or about July 27, 2016, the Conspirators  attempted after hours to spearphish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office. At or around the same time, they also targeted seventy-six email addresses at the domain for the Clinton Campaign.

But Mueller’s not telling whether he has obtained the actual receipts.

And that’s the kompromat. Trump knows that if Mueller can present those receipts, he’s sunk, unless he so discredits the Mueller investigation before that time as to convince voters not to give Democrats a majority in Congress, and convince Congress not to oust him as the sell-out to the country those receipts show him to be. He also knows that, on the off-chance Mueller hasn’t figured this all out yet, Putin can at any time make those receipts plain. Therein lies Trump’s uncertainty: It’s not that he has any doubt what Putin has on him. It’s that he’s not sure which path before him — placating Putin, even if it provides more evidence he’s paying off his campaign debt, or trying to end the Mueller inquiry before repaying that campaign debt, at the risk of Putin losing patience with him — holds more risk.

Trump knows he’s screwed. He’s just not sure whether Putin or Mueller presents the bigger threat.

The President’s Lawyer Had Better Review His Conspiracy Theory

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

There’s one more part of Rudy Giuliani’s hat trick yesterday that deserves closer attention. On both NBC and ABC and NBC, Rudy addressed the June 9 Trump Tower meeting. On NBC, Chuck Todd emphasized how often the story has changed about the meeting — both Trump’s own story, and the three versions of the story put out exactly a year ago. As such, Todd doesn’t talk about what crime the meeting might pertain to.

CHUCK TODD:

–Mr. Mayor, in the public record– and you and I have actually had a discussion about one of these, in the public record, we have the president admitting that he misled the New York Times on the Donald Trump Jr. statement when it came to his role in the infamous Trump Tower meeting of June of 2016. You said there’s nothing — this is a public record of the president contradicting, and I know it is not a crime for the president to lie to us in the media. However, how is that not itself probable cause for Mr. Mueller to want to question the president?

RUDY GIULIANI:

Well, because the fact is that also in the public record is the conclusion of that meeting. And that is that nothing was done about it. That the person came in under the guise of having information about, about Clinton but also to talk about adoptions. All she did was talk about adoptions —

CHUCK TODD:

Wait a minute.

RUDY GIULIANI:

— and sanctions.

CHUCK TODD:

First of all, we don’t know that. That has not been fully–

RUDY GIULIANI:

Well, we do know that because–

CHUCK TODD:

–established. The story changed three times, Mr. Mayor. So if the story changed, how are we–

RUDY GIULIANI:

No, no, no, no.

CHUCK TODD:

–so sure? Look, your own legal partner here in the president’s team, Jay Sekulow, misled me. Now, you had said he didn’t intentionally do that. I take your word.

RUDY GIULIANI:

He didn’t.

CHUCK TODD:

I take your word at that. But somebody misled him then. Your client may have misled him.

RUDY GIULIANI:

They already have all these facts. They can do with them what they want. They don’t need – I, I can tell them that the president’s testimony will be exactly the same as he said about this.

CHUCK TODD:

Which part? What he said in the public record or when he– we don’t know what he said–

RUDY GIULIANI:

What he has said–

CHUCK TODD:

–privately.

In the very last line of the exchange, however, Rudy gives away the game. He says “there was no discussion with [Trump] about this and there were no” and right here, he corrects himself and says, instead of whatever he almost said, “that nothing happened from it.”

RUDY GIULIANI:

He has had an opportunity to think about it, to refresh his recollection. He’s given a statement about it. And it’s clear that there was no discussion with him about this and there were no – that nothing happened from it.

That is, Rudy isn’t talking about what Todd might be — obstruction. Rather, he’s talking about whether anything came of the meeting, at which dirt was promised and sanctions relief was requested.

Rudy reveals even more to Stephanopoulos over on ABC. In addition to claiming that he, Rudy, doesn’t believe Trump knew about the meeting, he twice says the meeting amounts to different recollections (and attributes those recollections to the campaign that four of the participants weren’t contesting).

STEPHANOPOULOS: There was another question that came up in my interview with Michael Cohen and it had to do with the Trump Tower meeting, that famous (inaudible) Trump Tower meeting, Don Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort all met with these Russians who had indicated they had some dirt on Hillary Clinton.

When I asked Michael Cohen did the president know about that meeting ahead of time, again he refused to answer in advice of counsel. What is the answer to that question?

GIULIANI: Don’t believe he did know about it, don’t believe he knew about it afterwards, I think that you could have very, very different recollections on that because it was right — right in the heat of the campaign.

And I — I was probably there that day. I don’t — I don’t remember it. Did somebody say something to me? I don’t know, it goes off in your — you know what a campaign is like, it’s complete helter skelter.

Again, it doesn’t mean anything because it resulted in nothing. That went nowhere, she tried to get back in, she didn’t, they never did anything with it (ph).

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well what it could mean is that — that the president, as Tina (ph) said, he didn’t know about in advance. If it turns out that he did, then at least he hadn’t been telling the truth —

(CROSS TALK)

GIULIANI: Well I think — I think — I think you end up there with at most differing recollection. Since nothing happened with it, there’d be no reason to hide it. I mean he could have said yes, they did tell me about it, and what happened? Nothing.

Given the context, it’s pretty clear what recollections Rudy might have in mind: whether Don Jr said his father would revisit sanctions if he won the election. But on that front, among the six people who submitted testimony to SJC on the topic (Jared would have left before this), there’s not actually much disagreement.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just two people remember it differently. In an answer that, in some respects, exactly tracks statements that were massaged elsewhere by Trump’s lawyers, Rob Goldstone said Don Jr told Veselnitskaya to raise it with Obama.

And he stopped this in its tracks and said, with respect, I suggest that you address your — what seemed very valid concerns but to the Obama administration because they actually are in power. My father is a private citizen and, as such, it has no validity, of what you’re saying. Thank you very much for coming. I appreciate all your time. You know, we have a very busy schedule, and thank you.

And Don Jr himself remembers he ended the meeting by saying his father, a private citizen, couldn’t do anything about this.

I proceeded to quickly and politely end the meeting by telling Ms. Veselnitskaya that because my father was a private citizen there did not seem to be any point for having this discussion.

Which is to say everyone whose statement wasn’t massaged by Don Jr’s lawyer says he did suggest Trump would revisit the issue after the election, which is surely why half of the people at the meeting worked on setting up such a meeting.

Now, Rudy suggests that’s all good because nothing actually came of it. There are several problems with that. 52 U.S.C. §§ 30121 makes it a crime to solicit or offer support from a foreign national, which is one of the crimes that NSD has already said might be charged in this case. Arguably, that’s what the meeting did. All the more so if the emails that got dumped a 6 days later were tied to Don Jr’s agreement to revisit sanctions.

But Rudy doesn’t consider whether Mueller could charge a conspiracy to do same. There, it doesn’t so much matter whether the conspiracy was successful (and there’s abundant evidence showing both sides continued to try to deliver on this detail). It matters whether two or more people made an agreement to conspire to violate US regulatory functions.

(1) two or more persons formed an agreement to defraud the United States;

(2) [each] defendant knowingly participated in the conspiracy with the intent to defraud the United States; and

(3) at least one overt act was committed in furtherance of the common scheme.

Rudy has already admitted to the substance of a ConFraudUs case.

Ike Kaveladze’s Missing Suit

I’ve been puzzling through something from the June 9 materials for some time: what happened with Ike Kaveladze’s missing suit? Or rather, what does the exchange about his missing suit with his daughter suggest?

I’ll get to the suit in a bit, but first some background. Back in January, I suggested the well-orchestrated public narrative about the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting was a limited hangout. The public narrative fed by defense attorneys (above all, Agalarov lawyer Scott Balber, representing Ike Kaveladze and with him the Agalarovs) never explained why Crocus Group Vice President Kaveladze jumped on a plane from LA to NY — with just two days advance warning — for the meeting. Additionally, the public narrative at least hinted that there was a later part of the meeting not covered by the public narrative.

The materials released by the Senate Judiciary Committee are crystal clear on the first point: Kaveladze, not Rob Goldstone, was actually in charge. Kaveladze describes meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya before the meeting, and vetting her presentation for his boss, Aras Agalarov.

My purpose [in attending the meeting] was to read that longer synopsis, whatever she had over there, and my understanding was that longer synopsis contained something which I could alarm Mr. Agalarov about — you know, I would alarm him, and he would call off the meeting. That synopsis was about same thing [Magnitsky], so there was no alarm or nothing.

Kaveladze would again be managing Vesenitskaya later in the year, in a bid to get the second meeting Don Jr had tacitly offered, until he finally handed her off to Balber in January 2017. And a year later, when things started to blow up, Emin Agalarov described that “the meeting happened through Ike and my dad,” something Rob Goldstone — who has always gotten public credit for arranging the meeting — happily agreed with.

It was always clear (indeed, Vesenitskaya said so explicitly) that Aras was really the one behind the meeting. Kaveladze’s role in the meeting only reinforces the point. Yet that’s a point that the public narratives — the narratives fed by those who set up the meeting — have all obscured.

As for the second question, whether there was a second part of the meeting, the materials allow for the possibility of either Goldstone staying behind or Kaveladze returning upstairs for a follow-up.

In his testimony, Kaveladze provides a clear description of Goldstone staying behind, and even suggests that’s the only possible time VKontakte, which Goldstone described discussing with Don Jr and Trump in a June 29 follow-up (PDF 20), could have come up. In any case, by Kaveladze’s account, Goldstone did not accompany the rest of the group when they went to the lobby bar for a drink afterwards.

Q: To the best of your recollection, did Mr. Goldstone discuss this VK proposal during the June 9, 2016, meeting?

A: No, unless he stayed after the meeting.

Q: Did you not leave the building with him? Did he remain behind?

A: No, I left the building with Natalia Veselnitskaya, Anatoli Akhmetshin — Anatoli Samochornov and Rinat Akhmetshin.

Q: To the best

A: Correction, correction. We didn’t leave the building. We walked into a Trump bar which was located inside of the building, and after a round o f drinks, I left the building myself. They stayed in the bar .

Goldstone claims he proposed the VK pitch just as the meeting broke up, then took the elevator down with the others, but didn’t stop for a drink because he hopped into an Uber and headed home (a detail that, because of Uber’s data retention, Mueller would easily be able to check). Veselnitskaya’s translator, Anatoli Samochornov isn’t sure, sometimes saying Goldstone went down, sometimes saying he was there, but ultimately saying he didn’t join for drinks. “[T]here were four people. I do not remember Mr . Goldstone being there. So he left at some point, either upstairs or downstairs.” Akhmetshin agrees with Kaveladze that Goldstone wasn’t there. “I don’t think Mr. Goldstone with us — was with us.”

Goldstone’s account deviates from the others’ in another way: he doesn’t mention Ivanka’s presence in the upstairs lobby as the group was leaving, even though his December 15 interview took place after all the others’, which were in November (this is a topic that Mueller brought some witnesses back in for second interviews about). Kavleadze lays this all out very clearly, thanks to the intervention of Balber, who scripted so much of this story.

MR . BALBER : One more question before you leave this topic. Was there anybody you met in the kind of reception area as you were leaving the meeting?

MR . KAVELADZE : Yeah. We were greeted by Ivanka Trump .

BY MR . PRIVOR :
Q. Was she ever present in the meeting?

A: No . She was at the reception. She said hello to us, and we said hello, how are you, and we had, like, polite conversation for maybe 1 minute. And then she told us to have a good day, and we left.

Akhmetshin reports that they spoke “for like 3 seconds.” Samochornov describes only seeing her pass through the lobby without stopping.

That says that if someone stayed behind, it’d have been Goldstone, by himself.

All that said, given that the meeting after the event took place at the bar in the Trump Tower lobby, it’s possible Kaveladze went back upstairs after speaking to Aras by phone. Kaveladze’s narrative has him going to the lobby bar with Veselnitskaya, Samochornov, and Akhmetshin for 15 minutes, receiving a call from Aras, and then leaving.

MR . FOSTER: Okay. So after the June 9th meeting, you talked about how you went downstairs to the bar on the lobby  level of the Trump Tower, and you were there with three other people — Ms. Veselnitskaya, Rinat Akhmetshin, and Mr. Samochornov.

A . Yeah, uh-huh.

Q. Do I have that right?

A . I think Samochornov left slightly earlier, like – – but I’m not sure about Samochornov because — or maybe he stayed, but,  yeah , those — we walked all together and then some of them — and I left in 15 minutes.

Q. And you had a round of drinks with them, we saw. Do you recall what conversation you had during that round of drinks?

A. Mostly about meeting, and out of that 15 minutes, probably 5 minutes I spoke with Mr. Agalarov, and for 10 minutes it was I think they were satisfied with the fact that Mr. Junior has suggested that it might be a second meeting if they win. And so they were talking about that, you know, to prepare for that second meeting.

[snip]

Q. What did you discuss with Mr. Agalarov?

A. In general , the meeting went well. Oh good. Then Natalia asked for the phone, and I passed the phone to her, and she kind of thanked him for helping to organize that meeting.

Q. Did you say anything to Mr. Agalarov about the matter that had given you some concern earlier, the potential information about Hillary Clinton?

A . No, I didn’t discuss it over the phone.

[snip]

Q. Is there anything else you can remember from the conversation other than the two topics that you noted — the theater coming up as well as some happiness about a potential second–

A. I stayed there for, like I said, 15 minutes. No, I don’t think we discussed anything else.

Q. Did you all leave simultaneously?

A. No. I left first.

This would have been around 5:20, given that Agalarov somehow knew the meeting would be done and called to check in at 5:14.

BY MR . PRIVOR:

Q. You stated that when you went to the bar after the June 9th meeting and you were downstairs, that you called Mr. Agalarov

A. No. He called me.

Q. He called you? Okay. I’m sorry. He called you. How did he know — do you know how he knew to call you after the meeting? How would he have known the meeting ended?

A. He gave it a try.

So Kaveladze leaves around 5:20 PM. That means Kaveladze’s estimate that he stayed only for 15 minutes is inaccurate, which is not surprising given that he paid the bill for the drinks, and service in Manhattan is never quick enough to order, get served, and pay in 15 minutes, much less at a Trump facility. Kaveladze’s narrative about general satisfaction with the meeting also matches no one else’s story, which given the claimed content of his call to Agalarov is important

What he does for the next 24 hours is of interest for several reasons. Most of all, it’s interesting because in his first appearance before SJC, Kaveladze neglected to tell the committee that he went from his trip to NYC (for which he got 2 days warning, remember) directly to Moscow to meet with Agalarov, with whom he discusses matters of import face-to-face because, “Agalarov is based in Russia, and I’m pretty sure, you know, his phone is being, you know, monitored.” So his original story is he flew to NY for the meeting, then returned to his home in LA the next day. 

Q. What was your itinerary while in New York during this trip?

A. I stayed for one day, and I returned back home on June 10. My itinerary included only one item as a meeting actually, two items. There was lunch with Natalia Veselnitskaya prior to the meeting and then meeting itself .

[snip]

Q. And so you left the next day on June 10th?

A. Yeah, June 10.

Q. Where did you fly to?

A. Los Angeles.

After some questions about both his phone records and email traffic from SJC questioners, Kaveladze admits that he might have traveled elsewhere in June, but would need to check his records for travel reservations (he claims he doesn’t keep a calendar). In February, as part of submitting errata to the transcript, Balber would alert the committee that Kaveladze had actually traveled to Moscow for over a month-long trip on June 10 (though even after consulting travel records, couldn’t reveal when he had returned).

Before he did that, though, this was this explanation (save his phone traffic, which I’ll get to) from his first appearance that Kaveladze offered for the balance of his time in NYC.

Q. So I believe you said you left on the morning of the 10th; is that correct?

A. Correct.

Q. After leaving the Trump Bar, what did you do with the rest of the day?

A. I do not recall. I might have some meetings with my friends, but nothing business related.

Q. Did you discuss the Trump Tower meeting with any of those friends, to the best of your recollection?

A. I don’t even remember if I had a meeting with friends, so I definitely don’t remember discussing it with them. I think I was kind of tired because of a jet lag, because it was a red eye flight I arrived on, and I went to bed really early.

Given that Kaveladze flew through Frankfurt, and flights from NYC to Frankfurt start after 4PM, he probably remained in NYC through the afternoon of June 10, a full 24 hours after the Trump Tower meeting.

Is it correct that you departed New York City for Russia on June 10th, 2016, the day after the Trump Tower meeting?

A. To be more specific, I departed — on June 10, I have left New York City for Frankfurt, Germany, and I believe I arrive to Moscow on June 11.

One thing we know he did in that 24 hour period was talk to Goldstone. After some dodging, he admits that a call placed to him at around 6:51PM on June 9 must have come from Goldstone, but he doesn’t recall what was said.

Q. Okay. Do you recall whether you did speak to Mr . Goldstone after the June 9th meeting by telephone?

A. I don’t have a recollection, but

MR . BALBER: If you don’t have a recollection —

MR . KAVELADZE: I don’t have a recollection of that phone call.

Goldstone, however, remembers calling him in an angered state.

Q. Did you have any other conversation with him after the meeting, in the immediate time after the meeting that day?

A. I — I believe I would’ve spoken to him by phone later that day, in a sort of angered state.

So Kaveladze spoke to Agalarov right after the meeting, and then sometime two hours later, spoke with Goldstone, who was probably working on the letter he’d send Rhona Graff the next day at 3:41 (PDF 30), a follow-up on the exchange he had with Keith Schiller at Trump Tower about how to send Trump a gift the next week. According to the version presented at his first appearance, Kaveladze then spoke to Agalarov again.

Curiously, even within that first appearance, he offers conflicting evidence about whether he spoke with Agalarov by phone once or twice on June 9.

Q. Okay. So you didn’t do any sort of report after the meeting back to your boss, “Here’s what I did”? You didn’t write a memo?

A. No.

Q. Send an email?

A. No. Just a phone conversation. Two of them, to be specific.

Q. And do you recall when those were?

A. One was within 30 minutes after the meeting ended, and the other one was within 2 to 3 hours after the meeting ended.

Q. Can you describe them to the best of your recollection?

A. As I mentioned before, the first one was basically me reporting that the meeting went well, and the reason I said that because Natalia Veselnitskaya was right next to me. And the next one I said it was complete loss of time.

MR . FOSTER: Okay.

This comes up again later in the interview and Balber carefully coaches Kaveladze to distinguish the first conversation, for which there would have been witnesses, at which he said the meeting went great, and the second, when he said it was a “loss of time,” using the same exact phrase both times.

Q. Did you report back to Aras Agalarov about the meeting?

A. Yes, I did.

Q. How did you describe it to him?

A. That it was complete loss of time and it was useless meeting. But —

MR. BALBER : Was there a prior conversation, though?

MR. KAVELADZE: Yeah.

MR. BALBER: Why don’t you run through both the conversations.

MR . KAVELADZE: Okay. Well, when we walked out of the meeting room and went down to the bar, he called me , and Natalia was present there, and I said, oh, well, everything is fine, we had a great meeting and stuff, because I didn’t want to upset her. But then I believe 2 hours later we had another conversation where I gave details of the meeting, and at that conversation I explained that it was loss of time

The thing is, I don’t believe the second phone call shows up in Kaveladze’s phone log (they’re totally redacted, starting at PDF 50, but there’s no discussion of a second call while he’s in NY as they review his call logs). Though if a call or other communication occurred two hours after the meeting, it may have shortly followed the call from Goldstone. Goldstone, incidentally, also says they exchanged a WhatsApp or other text during the meeting which remained, as of his testimony, undiscovered.

In Kaveladze’s second appearance, he changes his testimony and says no recollection of “that” phone call (which given his imperfect English could mean either the phone call he had described previously, or the notion of an additional phone call).

Q. When you were before the committee a couple months ago and testified previously, we had asked you about a telephone conversation with Aras Agalarov, and we had shown you a telephone bill that showed the time of the call was 5:14 p.m. on June 9th after the meeting . In between that telephone call and your arrival in Moscow, did you have any other conversations that you can recall with Mr. Agalarov?

A. I have no recollection of that, conversations.

But Kaveladze does admit a face-to-face meeting in Moscow.

Q. Was anyone else present for that meeting?

A. Not for that topic. I mean, I had met we had like a private meeting, but you know how there is like — there is like a big room, and there is like people getting in for different issues, and I had like — I had 2 minutes o f his privacy and had this quick conversation.

Q. And with respect to that conversation, as it pertained to the June 9th meeting, was anyone else participating by telephone? Or was it just you and Mr. Agalarov?

A. Just me and Mr. Agalarov.

Q. Do you recall anything else from that conversation, other than having reiterated your belief that it would’ve been better to have Ms. Veselnitskaya meet with lawyers?

A. No, I do not.

So that’s the story: he oversees a meeting, has a short round of drinks, gets a call from his boss, whom he tells everything went swimmingly in spite of the disappointment around the table. Goldstone calls him later that night, he may have another chat with his boss. And then the next day — a day he originally didn’t admit to — he hops on an initially undisclosed flight to Moscow, where he can explain what went on in the meeting to Agalarov face-to-face.

Before he leaves, though, he makes three more phone calls, one to (we learn later) somewhere in NY, and two more, at least one to a Russian mobile phone.

Q. So let’s take a look now at Bates page 282, and you’ll see that this is showing call details for your telephone number. Do you see that?

A. Yes.

Q. At the top of the page, it your telephone number. So I want to point you to June 10th, and you can see the first call on June 10th is at 10:34 in the morning.

A. Uh-huh. Yes.

Q. 10:34. Two numbers down below that, 12:36 and 12:48, do you recognize either of those telephone numbers?

A. No, I do not.

Q. You can see that the destination for the first one, the one that ends in [redacted], says “Russia MOB.” Do you know what that means?

A. Mobile number.

Q. Mobile. And the number immediately below it, the [redacted] number, do you recognize that number?

A. I do not.

Kaveladze dodges a bit until Balber weighs in and asks if he knows the numbers.

MR. BALBER: Okay . The only question is: Do you know the numbers?

MR. KAVELADZE: No.

MR. BALBER: Okay. Then that’s it.

MR. KAVELADZE: I don’t recognize the numbers.

BY MR. PRIVOR:

Q. Would you be able to match the numbers to names in your phone book or your electronic directory?

A. I could try. It’s in my phone book.

When Kaveladze testifies again in March, however, he has not yet checked any of those numbers. He also remains unsure about who he called from Russia, on June 15 and 16, at least one of which was back to New York (apparently a four character name).

That, by itself, isn’t all that interesting. I probably wouldn’t be able to ID the phone numbers I called 15 months ago, cold. Though it does seem that Balber is less than excited about doing the quick check to ID these numbers given that, in spite of a request from the committee, he hadn’t done so for the second appearance.

Anyway, did I say that this post was about Kaveladze’s missing suit?

With all this as background I want to look at what happens overnight on June 14 and 15, when Kaveladze is in Russia, making those calls to people whose identity he won’t ID. As has gotten some press, on June 14, at around 1:08 PM, Goldstone sent Kaveladze this article, citing Trump’s relationship with Putin,  in an email, calling it “eerily weird based on our Trump meeting last with with the Russian lawyers.” Kaveladze replies from Russia at 1:22 ET, 10:22AM PT, or 8:22PM in Moscow.

Nine hours (overnight) later, Kaveladze has a curious email exchange with this daughter, starting at PDF 15.

First some background. Recall that after Agalarov told Kaveladze to hop a plane to NY, and after Kaveladze learned that Paul Manafort, Don Jr, and Jared Kushner would be at the meeting, Kaveladze called Roman Beniaminov, Emin Agalarov’s business assistant in NJ. He asked, “Do you know anything about that meeting? Do you know anything about the fact that we’re going to be meeting with three top political electoral campaign representatives to discuss Magnitsky Act?” To which Beniaminov responded that, as far as he had heard, “attorney had some negative information on Hillary Clinton.” That’s a story, incidentally, telegraphed to the press by Balber after Kaveladze had testified, and after Goldstone had published his rough draft of what he’d testify to, but before he actually testified.

Anyway, later that day, Kaveladze had a conversation with his daughter and probably also his son and told them, with reported concern, that the meeting was going to be about negative information on Hillary.”

Which is how this exchange between Kaveladze and his teenage daughter, taking place 6 days after he left, came about:

June 14, 10:48PM ET IK to daughter: How are you? Could you imagine, I have  left iPad on the plain to New York, and then left my suit in the hotel. Crazy (7:48PM Los Angeles time, June 15, 5:48AM Moscow time)

10:49PM daughter to IK: 1. It’s plane 2. AHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAH 3. Did u get the iPad and suite back?

11:19PM IK to daughter: They have sent iPad to my New Jersey office. Suite is gone.

11:20PM daughter to IK: What about the suite

11:23PM IK to daughter: hotel can’t find it

11:23PM daughter to IK: That seems weird, tomorrow I’m going with [redacted] to six flags

11:23PM IK to daughter: Nice. who is driving u?

11:24PM daughter to IK: [redacted] is getting a big van for me [redacted] and friends

11:25PM IK to daughter: are u gonna do all crazy rides?

11:27PM daughter to IK: Yup how was meeting with Trump people what happened

11:29PM IK to daughter: meeting was boring. The Russians did not have any bad info in Hillary

At a minimum, what this exchange did was sustain a conversation long enough such that Kaveladze could leave a record of telling the one family member he was sure (given his other testimony) he had told he was dealing dirt that in fact no dirt got dealt. While Kaveladze may have been swamped once he got to Moscow, I find it interesting that the exchange didn’t happen until six days after he left, and only after Goldstone had raised concerns that just after their meeting, the press reported that dirt on Hillary got stolen by Russia. That is, I think it likely that after Goldstone alerted him, Kaveladze (who is smart enough to know he shouldn’t say anything sensitive to his boss on the phone because it’s probably surveilled) to create a contemporaneous record saying no dirt got dealt — whether it did or not.

Which brings us to the missing suit.

As best as I can tell, Kaveladze is admitting to his daughter that first he forgot his iPad on the red-eye to NYC on June 8-9, and then admitting he left his “suite” in the hotel room when he left — in no rush at all, because he was in NYC at least until 1PM — June 10. The airline would be able to verify  to Mueller that they did, in fact, find Kaveladze’s iPad forgotten in the seat back of his airplane seat and sent it on to the NJ office. That claim is further corroborated (sort of) by the fact that Kaveladze went to a Staples for something on June 9.

But the suit?

The reason I find the missing suit as suspicious as his daughter does is because he wasn’t actually, as he originally claimed, flying to NYC for an overnight. I mean, that by itself is sketchy, because if you’re flying an overnight, you bring a change of shirt and underwear and wear the same suit home.

But Kaveladze was in fact traveling on to Moscow for a month, with presumably a number of suits. Making it likely you had a hanging bag in the closet right there next to the suit you wore on June 9. If Kaveladze really did have an early morning flight on June 10, I can get how you’d overlook that suit hanging by itself (perhaps you had no reason to don a suit on the 10th, and so wore comfys for the second red eye in three days and left the spare suit in the hotel room?). But he was still on his phone at 12:48, which (even given NYC’s abysmal airport transport options) would allow a quite leisurely trip to the airport. And all that’s assuming that a hotel of the caliber Kaveladze would stay at (with his last minute trips to NYC and then Moscow) wouldn’t make a point of putting the suit aside for safe delivery.

So yeah, I’m with Kaveladze’s daughter. The missing suit is weird.