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Sedition Is the Foundation on Which the Trump Associate Investigation Builds

As I laid out in this post, I’m impatient with those who claim the government has taken a new direction in the January 6 investigation with subpoenas to people like — most audibly — Ali Alexander. Alexander got a number of journalists who know better to repeat his claim that he was “cooperating” with the investigation rather than merely “complying” with a subpoena. Few of those journalists pointed out real holes in his cover story — including his silence about Roger Stone and Alex Jones, his disavowal of communications with militias before he arrived at the Capitol, his use of cover organizations to get his permits, and his seeming message to co-conspirators that if he once had evidence, it is no longer in his possession.

In his statement, Alexander sought to separate himself from the substance of the investigation, saying he did not coordinate with the Proud Boys and suggesting his contact with the Oath Keepers was limited to accepting an offer for them to act as ushers at an event that never took place: his own permitted event near the Capitol, which didn’t occur because of the mob attack on the Capitol. The Oath Keepers are the subject of conspiracy charges for their roles in breaching the Capitol that day.

“I did not finance the Ellipse equipment. I did not ever talk with the White House about security groups. Any militia working security at the Ellipse belonged to “Women for America First,” not us,” Alexander said. “I did not coordinate any movements with the Proud Boys or even see them that day. I did take Oath Keepers offer to act as ushers for the Area 8 event but all of that was lost in the chaos. I wasn’t in communication with any of the aforementioned groups while I was near the Capitol working to get people away from the building. Lastly, I’m not willing to presume anyone’s guilt.”

“I did nothing wrong and I am not in possession of evidence that anyone else had plans to commit unlawful acts,” Alexander said. “I denounce anyone who planned to subvert my permitted event and the other permitted events of that day on Capitol grounds to stage any counterproductive activities.”

This is classic Roger Stone-schooled disinformation and should be treated as such.

Reporters have, undoubtedly based on really good sourcing, emphasized the existence of a new grand jury focusing on Trump’s associates, and from that, argued it’s a new direction — though as I’ve documented, DOJ has availed themselves of at least six grand juries thus far in this investigation.

But how could an investigation of Alexander’s actions be new if DOJ successfully debunked much of his current cover story — that he was “working to get people away from the building” — last November? Alexander co-traveler Owen Shroyer attempted to offer the same false claim in an attempt to throw out charges — filed in August — against him, but Judge Tim Kelly rejected that attempt on January 20. How could this be a totally new direction if prosecutors would have obtained Alexander’s Stop the Steal listserv as a result of Brandon Straka’s “cooperation” in early 2021? How could it be a new direction if DOJ has gotten guilty pleas from those who went first to the Capitol, then to the East front, and finally breached the building in response to lies about Alexander’s rally permits told by Alex Jones? DOJ has, demonstrably, been laying the groundwork for a subpoena to Alexander for over year.

And it’s not just Alexander. Steps DOJ took over the past year were undoubtedly necessary preconditions to going after Trump’s close associates. Those include:

These are efforts that started in January 2021. Some of the most important — the way DOJ seized Rudy’s comms and got a privilege review without revealing a January 6 warrant — started on Lisa Monaco’s first day in office.

But there’s a more important thing that DOJ probably believed they needed before going after Trump and his close associates: compelling proof that Trump wielded the mob in his effort to obstruct the vote count, obtaining the proof in the yellow boxes, below. That was one of the things I was trying to lay out in this post.

While there are specific things Trump and his associates did that were illegal — the call to Brad Raffensperger, the fake elector certificates, the illegal demand of Mike Pence — many of the rest are only illegal (at least under the framework DOJ is using) if they are tied to Trump’s successful effort to target the mob at American democracy. You first have to prove that Trump fired the murder weapon, and once you’ve established that proof, you can investigate who helped Trump buy the weapon, who helped him aim it, who loaded the gun for him, who was standing behind him with four more weapons to fire if his own shot failed to work.

And this is why I’m interested in the apparent two month process it appears to have taken DOJ to shift its main focus from the work of the January 8, 2021 grand jury, whose work culminated in the January 12, 2022 seditious conspiracy indictment against Stewart Rhodes, and the February 14, 2022 grand jury, the foundational overt act of which was the March 7 conspiracy charge against Enrique Tarrio.

The first grand jury proved that the vast majority of the rioters, whether trespassers or assault defendants, got there via one of three methods:

  • Responding to Trump and Alex Jones’ lies about Trump accompanying the marchers and giving a second speech
  • Acting directly on Trump’s “orders,” especially his December 19 tweet, often bypassing the Ellipse rally altogether
  • Coordinating with one of the militias, especially the Proud Boys

Judge Amit Mehta also seems to believe that the grand jury developed proof that many of those who assaulted cops were aided and abetted by Donald Trump. The first grand jury also proved that of those who — having been led to believe false claims about vote fraud based on over three months of propaganda — had the intent of obstructing the vote count, a great number had the specific goal of pressuring or punishing Mike Pence. While the intent of pressuring Pence came, for some rioters, from militia hierarchies, for most others, it came directly from Trump.

This is my hypothesis about the seeming shift from using the January 8 grand jury as the primary investigative grand jury to launching a new one on February 14. The January 8 grand jury has largely completed its investigation into what caused the riot, how it was orchestrated, who participated; the remaining prosecutions that don’t require and affect the larger picture will be and have been charged via the November 10 grand jury. But by indicting Tarrio and showing, with Charles Donohoe’s cooperation, that everything the Proud Boys did emanated from Tarrio’s orders and, by association, from whatever understanding Tarrio had about the purpose of the riot from his communications with people close to Trump, DOJ and the Valentine’s Day grand jury will move onto the next level of the conspiracy to obstruct the vote count. Again, that’s just a hypothesis — we’ll see whether that’s an accurate read in the weeks ahead. But it’s not a new direction at all. It is the direction that the investigation has demonstrably been headed for over a year.

Update: In a statement pretending the stories about his cooperation were leaked by DOJ, Alexander insists he is not cooperating, but complying.

After consultation with counsel, we provided a statement that established that I was not a target of this grand jury; I haven’t been accused of any criminal wrongdoing; and that I was complying, as required by law, with their probe.

[snip]

Useful idiots on the right, clinging to a New York Times headline that sensationalizes my compliance with a subpoena, will empower the Deep State which planted these stories to give their political investigation more legs to hurt our election integrity movement and Trump’s 2024 prospects. [my emphasis]

The rest of the statement should convince anyone that this is a replay of the same bullshit we saw from Stone and Jerome Corsi in the Mueller investigation.

“Problem:” SDNY Charges Elena Branson as Unregistered Agent of Russia

Back in 2013, the Senior Vice President of the Russian American Chamber of Commerce (Sergei Millian’s organization) sent Elena Branson language from FARA with the subject line, “Problem.”

a. On or about January 30, 2013, BRANSON received an email from an individual using an email address ending in “mail.ru.” Based on my review of publicly available information, I have learned that this individual was a Senior Vice President of the Russian American Chamber of Commerce in the USA. This email had the subject line “Problem.” and the text of the email included, among other things, a portion of the FARA Unit’s website with background on FARA. In response, BRANSON wrote, in part, “I am interested in the number of the law, its text in English[.]” The sender then responded with “Lena, read …” and copied into the email background on FARA and portions of the statute.

Branson, who the prior year had founded the Russian Center of New York and subsequently became the Chair of Russian Community Council of the USA (KSORS), apparently didn’t think it was an urgent problem. It wasn’t until 2019 that she appears to have considered — but then, after asking Russian Ambassador Anatoly Antonov for guidance, decided not to — register under FARA.

b. On or about December 10, 2019, BRANSON received an email indicating that BRANSON had requested a new FARA “eFile” account.21 That day, a member of the FARA Unit emailed the Branson RCNY Account with an eFile account number and temporary password to log in to the FARA eFile system. Later that day, a user logged in to the FARA eFile system using that account number and temporary password, and entered the registration name “Russian Center, Inc.” and the RCNY Office as the address. The user did not submit a FARA registration for the account. A user then accessed the account again on or about December 11, 2019, but, again, the individual did not submit a FARA registration. The internet protocol addresses connected to both log-ins of this account resolve to the same zip code as the RCNY Office.

c. On or about December 26, 2019, BRANSON emailed the Embassy Email Account. In the cover email, BRANSON wrote, in part, “[A] letter is in the attachment. Respectfully, Elena.” In the attached letter, BRANSON wrote, in part, that she had been asked questions from “compatriots” about “whether it is necessary to register their public organizations as a foreign agent.” BRANSON further wrote “[t]hese questions began to arise after the arrest of Maria Butina in Washington in July 2018 on charges of working as a foreign agent in the United States without registration.” BRANSON concluded the letter by asking the Embassy to advise such Russian compatriot groups, writing, “I am asking you to provide legal advice regarding registration as a foreign agent . . . for public organizations of Russian compatriots in the United States.” The letter was addressed to Ambassador-1.

Branson’s failure to register lies at the core of a 6-count complaint unveiled by SDNY yesterday, charging Branson in several conspiracies, under both FARA and 18 USC 951, as well as for visa fraud.

Branson won’t be arrested off this complaint. She’s long gone.

A month after the FBI interviewed her and searched her office in September 2020, she fled the country. Not long after Biden was inaugurated, Branson sold her NYC apartment.

During this investigation, the FBI has, among other things, executed judicially authorized search warrants for (i) approximately eight of BRANSON’s electronic accounts (the “Branson Accounts”3); (ii) the RCNY office (which was also BRANSON’s residence) in Manhattan, New York (the “RCNY Office”); and (iii) BRANSON’s person, for all electronics and other materials in her possession at the time of the search. From the RCNY Office and the search of BRANSON’s person, the FBI recovered a total of approximately 34 electronic devices (the “Branson Electronics”), including approximately 11 cellular phones. The FBI also conducted a voluntary interview of BRANSON on the same day as the search of the RCNY Office (the “Branson Interview”) and has interviewed other individuals living in the United States in connection with the investigation.

The searches of the RCNY Office (the “RCNY Search”) and BRANSON’s person, as well as the Branson Interview, took place on or about September 29, 2020. BRANSON flew to Moscow, Russia, on or about October 20, 2020, and BRANSON does not appear to have returned to the United States since that date. In or about March 2021, BRANSON sold the RCNY Office, which had been her residence in New York City. During in or about October and November 2020, BRANSON’s then boyfriend 9 (“Boyfriend-1”) wired approximately $197,000 to two of BRANSON’s bank accounts at Russian banks.4 On or about October 15, 2021, RT, formerly known as Russia Today, a Russian state-controlled television station, published an interview conducted by Maria Butina5 of BRANSON. During this interview, BRANSON told Butina, in substance and in part, that BRANSON left the United States for Moscow approximately one month after the Branson Interview because BRANSON was “scared” and thought the “probability was very high” that she would be arrested if she stayed in the United States.6

3 The Branson Accounts include four email accounts and four social media accounts, including BRANSON’s Facebook account (the “Branson Facebook Account”).

So Branson will only be arrested if she decides to flee Putin’s increasingly totalitarian regime.

Unlike the prosecution of Jack Hanick, then, whose indictment may have been timed to tolling statutes of limitation last November and in which the US is working on getting him extradited from the UK, this complaint seems to be more about messaging in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

As a messaging vehicle, it shows how Russia has committed to the “consolidation” of Russian diaspora, cultivating a Russian identity that can be used to mobilize political pressure (and, in Ukraine and the Baltics, justifications for imperialism).

In or about November 2015, Lavrov published an article titled “Russian World: Steering Towards Consolidation.” In this article, Lavrov wrote, in part, “The provision of support to the Russian world is an unconditional foreign-policy priority for Russia, as formalized by Russia’s Foreign Policy Concept. . . . Over the years, we have managed to elevate our work in this area to an entirely new level and to create effective cooperation mechanisms in close contact with representatives of foreign communities.”

Some of Branson’s activities are mundane cultural exchanges paid for by Russian government entities. Some sprinkle the names of likely spies or handlers in the description.

Perhaps most interesting, the complaint provides an interesting addition to this passage from the Mueller Report.

Later [on November 9, 2016, the day after Trump’s victory, Kirill] Dmitriev flew to New York, where Peskov was separately traveling to attend the chess tournament. 1020 Dmitriev invited Nader to the opening of the tournament and noted that, if there was “a chance to see anyone key from Trump camp,” he “would love to start building for the future.” 1021 Dmitriev also asked Nader to invite Kushner to the event so that he (Dmitriev) could meet him. 1022 Nader did not pass along Dmitriev’s invitation to anyone connected with the incoming Administration. 1023 Although one World Chess Federation official recalled hearing from an attendee that President-Elect Trump had stopped by the tournament, the investigation did not establish that Trump or any Campaign or Transition Team official attended the event. 1024 And the President’s written answers denied that he had. 1025

The complaint describes how Branson had been instructed to arrange a meeting with Trump or Ivanka in March 2016, around the same time Russia was hacking John Podesta, though the complaint is remarkably coy about whether Branson ever sent her draft letter to Trump Organization (and if so, whether it was among the documents showing direct ties to Russia that Trump Organization withheld from Mueller’s inquiry and SSCI).

In or about March 2016, BRANSON exchanged a series of emails with Minister-2. During these messages, in part, Minister-2 asked BRANSON to organize a meeting with CC-2 and the now-former President of the United States, who was then a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, or his daughter, in New York. On or about March 23, 2016, BRANSON received an email from Minister-2 with the subject line “additional meetings of [CC-2].” The email stated, in part, that the author was requesting BRANSON’s assistance in organizing meetings for CC-2 with “the management” of certain specified U.S. companies. On or about March 16, 2016, BRANSON sent an individual, who was then-chair of KSORS, a draft letter addressed to the now-former President, inviting him to the Russia Forum New York in April 2016 and suggesting that if his “busy schedule will not permit your attending our forum, perhaps you can suggest one of your children . . . who have followed in your footsteps.” The draft invitation included BRANSON’s name and contact information in the signature block. There is no indication that the now-former President or his children attended the referenced meeting.

Branson’s complaint describes what would be a second attempt to get Trump to attend the Chess Championship, in addition to Kirill’s attempt to extend an invite through George Nader. Branson sent her invite to an unnamed Trump Advisor.

BRANSON also attempted to arrange meetings for Russian officials at the 2016 World Chess Championship, which was held in Manhattan, New York:

1. On or about November 9, 2016, CC-6 emailed BRANSON with the subject line “Chess business.” CC-6 wrote to BRANSON, in part, “as discussed we will try to get Kirsan online after tomorrow’s official press-conference is over around noon at Fulton Street Market Building, South Street Seaport NY[.]”20 On or about that same day, BRANSON responded to CC-6 and wrote “[CC-6], good evening! I can bring the ipad for a Skype session. I will contact the media. Need them at noon?”

2. On or about November 10, 2016, BRANSON emailed an advisor to the now-former President of the United States (“Advisor-1”), expressing congratulations for their victory in the presidential election and attaching an invitation to the World Chess Championship addressed to the then-President- elect. The invitation was signed by “President of the International Chess Federation (FIDE-FIDE).” There is no indication that the now-former President attended the referenced event.

3. On or about November 11, 2016, BRANSON was photographed at the World Chess Championship with CC-6 and a second individual who I recognize, based on my review of publicly available photographs, to be the current Press Secretary for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

20 Based on my training and experience, including my review of publicly available material, I have learned that Kirsan Ilyumzhinov is the former President of the Republic of Kalmykia in the Russian Federation and the former president of FIDE, the International Chess Federation. I have further learned that, on or about November 25, 2015, the United States Department of the Treasury designated Ilyumzhinov as a Specially Designated National for his involvement with the Government of Syria and related entities.

Here, the complaint reiterates the Mueller conclusion: there’s no evidence Trump attended the event. But it does raise questions about the completeness of the response Trump offered to Mueller’s questions, pertaining to whether Trump was asked to attend.

Were you asked to attend the World Chess Championship gala on November 10, 2016? If yes, who asked you to attend, when were you asked, and what were you told about about [sic] why your presence was requested? 1. Did you attend any part of the event? If yes, describe any interactions you had with any Russians or representatives of the Russian government at the event.

Were you asked to attend the World Chess Championship gala on November 10, 2016? If yes, who asked you to attend, when were you asked, and what were you told about about [sic] why your presence was requested? 1. Did you attend any part of the event? If yes, describe any interactions you had with any Russians or representatives of the Russian government at the event.

Response to Question V, Part (a)

I do not remember having been asked to attend the World Chess Championship gala, and I did not attend the event. During the course of preparing to respond to these questions, I have become aware of documents indicating that in March of 2016, the president of the World Chess Federation invited the Trump Organization to host, at Trump Tower, the 2016 World Chess Championship Match to be held in New York in November 2016. I have also become aware that in November 2016, there were press inquiries to my staff regarding whether I had plans to attend the tournament, which was not being held at Trump Tower. I understand these documents have already been provided to you.

Trump describes a March 2016 discussion about hosting the event and November press inquiries about whether he would attend it. But there’s no mention of a November 2016 invitation asking him to attend.

Yet the Branson complaint suggests there would have been an invitation to Trump, signed by the sanctioned Kirsan Ilyumzhinov, sent through an unnamed advisor. His response reflects only earlier (in March) communications about the chess championship, not anything sent on November 10 bearing Ilyumzhinov’s signature.

This is a signaling complaint, one that likely won’t lead to anyone’s arrest. But it should raise more questions about Donald Trump’s candor with Mueller back in 2018.

And we should expect more of the same. On Twitter, Brandon Van Grack, who would have been involved in Branson’s investigation when he ran the National Security Division’s FARA office and likely knows what else might be in the pipeline, suggested there’s probably more of the same to come.

American Patriots Deleting Presidential Records: Ivanka’s Destruction of Evidence about an Ongoing Conspiracy

Yesterday, the Archives sent House Oversight Chair Carolyn Maloney a letter on all the gaps in the production of social media records under Donald Trump’s White House. It describes that the efforts to capture the former President’s tweets were inadequate. It then explains that there was no effort to capture the deleted social media content from other White House staffers until 2018, and even then, some people were not enrolled until just before the end of the Administration.

The Trump White House did not take any steps to capture deleted content from any Trump Administration social media account other than @realDonaldTrump or @POTUS prior to enrolling them with ArchiveSocial. As with @realDonaldTrump, many other Trump Administration social media accounts were not enrolled until the summer or fall of 2018, even though these accounts were active for over a year prior to enrollment, during which time deleted or modified Presidential record content was not captured. Other accounts were not enrolled until just prior to the end of the administration.

It then lists seven people whose Twitter traffic was not captured by the White House. Ivanka was among those seven.

NARA identified seven Twitter accounts that we think contain presidential record information, but were not captured by the Trump Administration. These accounts belonged to Andrew Giuliani, Chad Gilmartin, Ivanka Trump, Kayleigh McEnany, Kellyanne Conway, Mark Meadows, and Peter Navarro. After the end of the administration, NARA obtained the publicly available tweets from these accounts in order to supplement its archival collection.

That’s important because Ivanka tweeted things on January 6 that are central to both the FBI and Select Committee investigations into that day, including a tweet in which she encouraged the rioters, but called on them to avoid violence.

This is the tweet she cited in a statement released after the Select Committee invited her to formally disavow the agreement her father entered into with multiple charged conspiracies.

Ivanka Trump just learned that the Jan. 6 Committee issued a public letter asking her to appear. As the Committee already knows, Ivanka did not speak at the January 6 rally. As she publicly stated that day at 3:15pm, “any security breach or disrespect to our law enforcement is unacceptable. The violence must stop immediately. Please be peaceful.”

But as CNN reported the day of the riot, Ivanka deleted the tweet minutes after sending it, thereby violating the Presidential Records Act. (h/t SB for reminding me she had deleted tweets)

As the Guardian reported Thursday, the Select Committee is considering subpoenaing Ivanka.

The House select committee investigating the Capitol attack is considering issuing a subpoena to Ivanka Trump to force her cooperation with the inquiry into Donald Trump’s efforts to return himself to power on 6 January, according to a source familiar with the matter.

Any move to subpoena Ivanka Trump and, for the first time, force a member of Trump’s own family to testify against him, would mark a dramatic escalation in the 6 January inquiry that could amount to a treacherous legal and political moment for the former president.

The panel is not expected to take the crucial step for the time being, the source said, and the prospect of a subpoena to the former president’s daughter emerged in discussions about what options remained available after she appeared to refuse a request for voluntary cooperation.

But the fact that members on the select committee have started to discuss a subpoena suggests they believe it may ultimately take such a measure – and the threat of prosecution should she defy it – to ensure her appearance at a deposition on Capitol Hill.

If they subpoena her, she will be obligated, by law, to turn over all the records pertinent to that day, including that tweet she sent, hailing the rioters who had obstructed the vote certification, but disclaiming violence.

The Archives seems to believe she may be unable to produce an original copy of that tweet. (This would be the case if she was among the people whose tweets “were not enrolled [in the archiving system] until just prior to the end of the administration.”)

The Presidential Records Act has no legal teeth. Ivanka will not get in legal trouble for the act of deleting that tweet itself. But given that she (and the White House) had an affirmative obligation to ensure that did get archived, having deleted it may pose other kinds of legal jeopardy for her.

Relatedly, as you’ve likely heard, Judge Amit Mehta upheld part of the conspiracy lawsuits against the former President based, in part, on a reading that Trump’s later tweets encouraging rioters could be seen as ratifying the violence. Here’s that decision, which I’ll return to.

Updated to clarify that this may have automatically been archived, depending on whether and when her tweets were enrolled in the automatic archiving system.

Bennie Thompson to Ivanka: Come In from the Conspiracy

Even though you read this site, you may not recognize the names Brad Smith or Marshall Neefe. Even though I’ve focused some attention to his case, you may not remember the significance of Ronnie Sandlin. You might not even remember that the Oath Keeper conspiracy was named after retired Navy officer Thomas Caldwell before he was spun off into the sedition conspiracy named after Stewart Rhodes.

But those are all references of import to understand this footnote in the letter Bennie Thompson sent to Ivanka Trump, inviting her to testify voluntarily.

The Select Committee is aware of the motivation of many of the violent rioters from their posts on social media, from their contemporaneous statements on video, and from the hundreds of filings in federal court.11

11 For example, many defendants in pending criminal cases identified President Trump’s allegations about the “stolen election” as a motivation for their activities at the Capitol; a number also specifically cited President Trump’s tweets asking that supporters come to Washington, D.C. on January 6th. See, e.g., United States of America v. Ronald L. Sandlin https://www.justice.gov/opa/page/file/1362396/download: “I’m going to be there to show support for our president and to do my part to stop the steal and stand behind Trump when he decides to cross the rubicon.” United States of America v. Marshall Neefe and Charles Bradford Smith https://www.justice.gov/usao-dc/case-multi-defendant/file/1432686/download: “Trump is literally calling people to DC in a show of force. Militias will be there and if there’s enough people they may fucking storm the buildings and take out the trash right there.” United States of America v. Caldwell et al. https://www.justice.gov/usao-dc/case-multi-defendant/file/1369071/download: “Trump said It’s gonna be wild!!!!!!! It’s gonna be wild!!!!!!! He wants us to make it WILD that’s what he’s saying. He called us all to the Capitol and wants us to make it wild!! ! Sir Yes Sir!!! Gentlemen we are heading to DC pack your shit!!”

The Select Committee could have chosen any number of individual defendants to support the claim that Trump was the motivating force for the participants of the mob that stormed the Capitol on January 6.

It did not.

Instead, without saying that it had, it cited three conspiracy indictments: a conspiracy that involved totally random guys who met online coming armed to DC and assaulting officers to break open the East doors and break into the Senate chamber, a conspiracy where guys armed themselves to come to DC based on a motivation that, “Why shouldn’t we be the ones” to kick off war, and a conspiracy that has now officially been charged as sedition.

What the Select Committee just said to Ivanka, very subtly (and without the hotlinks to these court filings to make it easy) is that multiple organizers across multiple conspiracies — all involving arming themselves before traveling to DC — acted on Trump’s comments in December and January as instructions.

What the Select Committee has laid out in this footnote is that key members of conspiracies that led to violent assaults on January 6 entered into an agreement with Donald Trump to engage in violence.

Other coverage of this letter has focused on the many other scathing details included in it:

  • Proof that Trump knew he was making an illegal request of Mike Pence (and that Ivanka knew such pressure was wrong)
  • Proof that multiple people attempted to get Trump to call off the violence (and that staffers repeatedly asked Ivanka to intercede to get him to do so)
  • Proof that advisors including Kaleigh McEnany and Sean Hannity attempted to get Trump to disavow these efforts

In response to the letter, Ivanka issued a statement making it clear that on January 6 she disavowed the violence caused by her father.

Ivanka Trump just learned that the Jan. 6 Committee issued a public letter asking her to appear. As the Committee already knows, Ivanka did not speak at the January 6 rally. As she publicly stated that day at 3:15pm, “any security breach or disrespect to our law enforcement is unacceptable. The violence must stop immediately. Please be peaceful.”

But that doesn’t account for another detail of the letter that has gotten far less attention than the eye-popping new details about Trump’s actions: Chairman Thompson reminded Ivanka (in a paragraph that seemingly addresses another topic) not just of the requirements of the Presidential Records Act, but also that she got formal notice of those requirements in 2017.

The Select Committee would like to discuss this effort after January 6th to persuade President Trump not to associate himself with certain people, and to avoid further discussion regarding election fraud allegations. We also wish to share with you a memorandum from former White House Counsel Donald McGahn (attached), regarding the legal requirements on White House personnel to turn over to the National Archives any work-related messages from personal devices. We wish to be certain that former White House staff are fully aware of these obligations.

Ivanka, of course, is not just the former President’s daughter. She’s also someone legally obliged to share all the communications conducted while performing whatever role it is she played in the White House — up to and including begging her Daddy to call off a violent mob — with the National Archives.

Thompson would not have mentioned this if the committee had been able to obtain Ivanka’s side of many of these communications from the Archives (or at least seen them in documents Trump was attempting to claim privilege over). Thompson seems to know that Ivanka is not in compliance with the Presidential Records Act specifically as it pertains to her role on January 6.

Here’s the thing about conspiracies. Once you join them, you’re in them — you’re on the hook for what all other co-conspirators do, from acquiring weapons to bring to DC, to assaulting cops, to planning to overthrow the government — unless you make an affirmative effort to leave the conspiracy.

Ivanka might well point to that comment in her statement — The violence must stop immediately — as an effort to leave a conspiracy.

Except if she is covering up some of the things she knows by withholding records from the Archives, she’s going to have a hard time arguing that she didn’t remain in the conspiracy with all those people plotting violence by helping to cover it up.

Trump’s Excuse for His Promised Speech on Hillary Clinton

On June 21, 2016, the day after Christopher Steele submitted the first installment in his dossier, Guccifer 2.0 published what the persona deemed a dossier on Hillary Clinton. It included a bunch of files — many dating to April 2015 — that summarized potential attacks on Hillary, often providing rebuttals. These documents appear to be the kind of reports campaigns do to prepare for attacks they expect to be hit with.

The “dossier” included four files relating to the Clinton Foundation (two of which were responses to the Peter Schweizer book Clinton Cash), one on defenses to attacks on her email server, another on attacks on Bill and Chelsea, and a summary of the attacks GOP primary candidates had made on her, a number of which focused on national security. While the files were definitely dated (and the financial records, in particular, worthless), it is the closest thing to a “dossier” of “kompromat” released during the entire Russian operation.

The timing of that release and its focus — including on Schweizer’s book — is worth revisiting given the explanation Trump gave Mueller (starting on PDF 427) for his aborted promise, on June 7, 2016 to, “give a major speech on probably Monday of next week and we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons.”

g. On June 7, 2016, you gave a speech in which you said, in part, “I am going to give a major speech on probably Monday of next week and we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons.”

i. Why did you make that statement?

ii. What information did you plan to share with respect to the Clintons?

iii. What did you believe the source(s) of that information would be?

iv. Did you expect any of the information to have come from the June 9 meeting?

v. Did anyone help draft the speech that you were referring to? If so, who?

v. Why did you ultimately not give the speech you referenced on June 7, 2016?

[snip]

In remarks I delivered the night I won the California, New Jersey, New Mexico, Montana, and South Dakota Republican primaries, I said, “I am going to give a major speech on probably Monday of next week and we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons.” In general, l expected to give a speech referencing the publicly available, negative information about the Clintons, including, for example, Mrs. Clinton’s failed policies, the Clintons’ use of the State Department to further their interests and the interests of the Clinton Foundation, Mrs. Clinton’s improper use of a private server for State Department business, the destruction of 33,000 emails on that server, and Mrs. Clinton’s temperamental unsuitability for the office of President.

In the course of preparing to respond to your questions, I have become aware that the Campaign documents already produced to you reflect the drafting, evolution, and sources of information for the speech I expected to give “probably” on the Monday following my June 7, 2016 comments. These documents generally show that the text of the speech was initially drafted by Campaign staff with input from various outside advisors and was based on publicly available material, including, in particular, information from the book Clinton Cash by Peter Schweizer.

The Pulse Nightclub terrorist attack took place in the early morning hours of Sunday, June 12, 2016. In light of that tragedy, I gave a speech directed more specifically to national security and terrorism than to the Clintons. That speech was delivered at the Saint Anselm College Institute of Politics in Manchester, New Hampshire, and, as reported, opened with the following:

This was going to be a speech on Hillary Clinton and how bad a President, especially in these times of Radical Islamic Terrorism, she would be. Even her former Secret Service Agent, who has seen her under pressure and in times of stress, has stated that she lacks the temperament and integrity to be president. There will be plenty of opportunity to discuss these important issues at a later time, and I will deliver that speech soon. But today there is only one thing to discuss: the growing threat of terrorism inside of our borders.

I continued to speak about Mrs. Clinton’s failings throughout the campaign, using the information prepared for inclusion in the speech to which I referred on June 7, 2016.

If the documents submitted to Mueller do back his claims that the speech was in preparation ahead of time, then Trump’s answer is one of the most responsive ones he gave Mueller. But we’ve already seen one instance — whether Trump ever declined an invitation to St. Petersburg from Russian Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Prikhodko (if footnotes are understood to be comprehensive, Trump submitted an unsigned letter, but not a signed copy or the emails that supposedly extended the invitation) — where Trump’s written responses claimed that documentation submitted to Mueller substantiated more than they appear to have.

And Trump didn’t really answer the question why he didn’t give a designated speech focused on those topics; he instead simply suggested he covered those topics along the way, generally.

Elsewhere, the report describes a discussion at a meeting that Mueller believes happened on June 6 relayed by Rick Gates at which Don Jr promised damaging information about the Clinton Foundation which — though vague — appears to reference an upcoming meeting.

Rick Gates, who was the deputy campaign chairman, stated during interviews with the Office that in the days before June 9, 2016 Trump Jr. announced at a regular morning meeting of senior campaign staff and Trump family members that he had a lead on negative information about the Clinton Foundation.703 Gates believed that Trump Jr. said the information was coming from a group in Kyrgyzstan and that he was introduced to the group by a friend. 704 Gates recalled that the meeting was attended by Trump Jr., Eric Trump, Paul Manafort, Hope Hicks, and, joining late, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. According to Gates, Manafort warned the group that the meeting likely would not yield vital information and they should be careful.705 Hicks denied any knowledge of the June 9 meeting before 2017,706 and Kushner did not recall if the planned June 9 meeting came up at all earlier that week.707 [my emphasis]

Which is why I find it interesting that Guccifer 2.0 released a set of documents that — while not all that exciting, were nevertheless directly on point regarding the topics Trump claimed were already being drafted into a speech he’d give.

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

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

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

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

[Later in the interview.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

January 7, 2016: Ivanka forwards email to Rhona Graff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April 26, 2016: Foresman reminds Graff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. 

The Sekulow Questions, Part Five: Attempting a Cover-Up by Firing Comey

In this series, I have been showing a framework for the investigation that the Mueller questions, as imagined by Jay Sekulow, maps out. Thus far I have shown:

  • Russians, led by the Aras Agalarov and his son, cultivated Trump for years by dangling two things: real estate deals and close ties with Vladimir Putin.
  • During the election, the Russians and Trump appear to have danced towards a quid pro quo agreement, with the Russians offering dirt on Hillary Clinton in exchange for a commitment to sanctions relief, with some policy considerations thrown in.
  • During the transition period, Trump’s team took a series of actions that moved towards consummating the deal they had made with Russia, both in terms of policy concessions, particularly sanctions relief, and funding from Russian sources that could only be tapped if sanctions were lifted. The Trump team took measures to keep those actions secret.
  • Starting in January 2017, Trump came to learn that FBI was investigating Mike Flynn. His real reasons for firing Flynn remain unreported, but it appears he had some concerns that the investigation into Flynn would expose him.

This post lays out the questions on obstruction that lead up to Comey’s firing on May 9, 2017.

February 14, 2017: What was the purpose of your Feb. 14, 2017, meeting with Mr. Comey, and what was said?

On February 13, Trump fired Mike Flynn. The explanation he gave was one of the concerns Sally Yates had given to Don McGahn when she told him about the interview, that Flynn had lied to Mike Pence about having discussed sanctions relief with Sergey Kislyak on December 29, 2016. Except, coming from Trump, that excuse makes no sense, both because he had already shown he didn’t care about the counterintelligence implications of that lie by including Flynn in the January 28 phone call with Putin and other sensitive meetings. But also because at least seven people in the White House knew what occurred in Flynn’s calls, and Pence probably did too.

Against that backdrop, the next day, Trump had Jim Comey stay late after an oval office meeting so he could ask him to drop the investigation into Flynn. Leading up to this meeting, Trump had already:

  • Asked Comey to investigate the pee tape allegations so he could exonerate the President
  • Asked if FBI leaks
  • Asked if Comey was loyal shortly after asking him, for the third time, if he wanted to keep his job
  • Claimed he distrusted Flynn’s judgment because he had delayed telling Trump about a congratulatory call from Putin

After Trump asked everyone in the meeting to leave him and Comey alone, both Jeff Sessions and Jared Kushner lingered.

While the description of this meeting usually focuses on the Flynn discussion, according to Comey’s discussion, it also focused closely on leaks, which shows how Trump linked the two in his mind.

Here’s what Comey claims Trump said about Flynn:

He began by saying he wanted to “talk about Mike Flynn.” He then said that, although Flynn “hadn’t done anything wrong” in his call with the Russians (a point he made at least two more times in the conversation), he had to let him go because he misled the Vice President, whom he described as “a good guy.” He explained that he just couldn’t have Flynn misleading the vice President and, in any event, he had other concerns about Flynn, and had a great guy coming in, so he had to let Flynn go.

[a discussion of Sean Spicer’s presser explaining the firing and another about the leaks of his calls to Mexican and Australian leaders]

He then referred at length to the leaks relating to Mike Flynn’s call with the Russians, which he stressed was not wrong in any way (“he made lots of calls”), but that the leaks were terrible.

[Comey’s agreement with Trump about the problem with leaks, but also his explanation that the leaks may not have been FBI; Reince Priebus tries to interrupt but Trump sends him away for a minute or two]

He then returned to the topic of Mike Flynn, saying that Flynn is a good guy, and has been through a lot. He misled the Vice President but he didn’t do anything wrong on the call. He said, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” I replied by saying, “I agree he is a good guy,” but said no more.

In addition to providing Trump an opportunity to rebut Comey, asking this question might aim to understand the real reason Trump fired Flynn.

March 2, 2017: What did you think and do regarding the recusal of Mr. Sessions?  What efforts did you make to try to get him to change his mind? Did you discuss whether Mr. Sessions would protect you, and reference past attorneys general?

On March 2, citing consultations with senior department officials, Sessions recused himself “from any existing or future investigations of any matters related in any way to the campaigns for President of the United States,” while noting that, “This announcement should not be interpreted as confirmation of the existence of any investigation or suggestive of the scope of any such investigation.” At that point, Dana Boente became Acting Attorney General for the investigation.

Note that this question isn’t just about Trump’s response to Sessions’ recusal — it’s also about what he did in advance of it. That’s likely because even before Sessions recused, Trump got Don McGahn to try to pressure the Attorney General not to do so. He also called Comey the night before and “talked about Sessions a bit.” When Sessions ultimately did recuse, Trump had a blow-up in which he expressed a belief that Attorneys General should protect their president.

[T]he president erupted in anger in front of numerous White House officials, saying he needed his attorney general to protect him. Mr. Trump said he had expected his top law enforcement official to safeguard him the way he believed Robert F. Kennedy, as attorney general, had done for his brother John F. Kennedy and Eric H. Holder Jr. had for Barack Obama.

Mr. Trump then asked, “Where’s my Roy Cohn?”

In the days after the Sessions recusal, Trump also kicked off the year-long panic about being wiretapped.

On Thursday, Jeff Sessions recused from the election-related parts of this investigation. In response, Trump went on a rant (inside the White House) reported to be as angry as any since he became President. The next morning, Trump responded to a Breitbart article alleging a coup by making accusations that suggest any wiretaps involved in this investigation would be improper. Having reframed wiretaps that would be targeted at Russian spies as illegitimate, Trump then invited Nunes to explore any surveillance of campaign officials, even that not directly tied to Trump himself.

And Nunes obliged.

Don McGahn and Jeff Sessions, among others, have already provided their side of this story to Mueller’s team.

March 2 to March 20, 2017: What did you know about the F.B.I.’s investigation into Mr. Flynn and Russia in the days leading up to Mr. Comey’s testimony on March 20, 2017?

As Sekulow has recorded Mueller’s question, the special counsel wants to know what Trump already knew of the investigation into Mike Flynn before Comey publicly confirmed it in Congressional testimony. This may be a baseline question, to measure how much of Trump’s response was a reaction to the investigation becoming public.

But there are other things that went down in the weeks leading up to Comey’s testimony. Devin Nunes had already made considerable efforts to undermine the investigation; he would have been briefed on the investigation on March 2 (see footnote 75), the same day as Sessions recused.Trump went into a panic on March 4, just days after Sessions recusal, about being wiretapped; I’m wondering if there’s any evidence that Trump or Steven Bannon seeded the Breitbart story that kicked off the claim of a coup against Trump. Also of note is Don McGahn’s delay in conveying the records retention request about the investigation to the White House, even as Sean Spicer conducted a device search to learn who was using encrypted messengers.

March 20, 2017: What did you do in reaction to the March 20 testimony? Describe your contacts with intelligence officials.

On March 20, in testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, Comey publicly confirmed the counterintelligence investigation into Trump’s campaign.

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

In addition to questions about the investigation (including the revelation that FBI had not briefed the Gang of Eight on it until recently; we now know the briefing took place the day Jeff Sessions recused which suggests FBI avoided letting both Flynn and Sessions know details of it), Republicans used the hearing to delegitimize unmasking and the IC conclusion that Putin had affirmatively supported Trump.

Sekulow’s questions (or NYT’s rendition of them) lump the hearing, at which Admiral Mike Rogers also testified, in with Trump’s pressure on his spooks to issue a statement that he wasn’t under investigation. Two days after the hearing, Trump pressured Mike Pompeo and Dan Coats to intervene with Comey to stop the investigation.

It’s possible that the term “intelligence officials” includes HPSCI Chair Devin Nunes. On March 21, Nunes made his nighttime trip to the White House to accelerate the unmasking panic. Significantly, the panic didn’t just pertain to Flynn’s conversations with Sergey Kislyak; it also focused on the revelation of Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan’s secret trip to New York and probably other conversations with the Middle Eastern partners that have become part of this scandal.

The day after Nunes’ nighttime trip, Trump called Coats and Rogers (and probably Pompeo) and asked them to publicly deny any evidence of a conspiracy between Trump’s campaign and Russia; NSA documented the call to Rogers.

It’s now clear that the calls Nunes complained about being unmasked actually are evidence of a conspiracy (and as such, they probably provided an easy roadmap for Mueller to find the non-Russian conversations).

March 30, 2017: What was the purpose of your call to Mr. Comey on March 30?

On March 30, Trump called Comey on official phone lines and asked him to exonerate him on the Russia investigation. According to Comey, the conversation included the following:

He then said he was trying to run the country and the cloud of this Russia business was making that difficult. He said he thinks he would have won the health care vote but for the cloud. He then went on at great length, explaining that he has nothing to do with Russia (has a letter from the largest law firm in DC saying he has gotten no income from Russia). was not involved with hookers in Russia (can you imagine me, hookers? I have a beautiful wife, and it has been very painful). is bringing a personal lawsuit against Christopher Steele, always advised people to assume they were being recorded in Russia. has accounts now from those who travelled with him to Miss Universe pageant that he didn’t do anything, etc.

He asked what he could do to lift the cloud. I explained that we were running it down as quickly as possible and that there would be great benefit, if we didn’t find anything, to our Good Housekeeping seal of approval, but we had to do our work. He agreed, but then returned to the problems this was causing him, went on at great length about how bad he was for Russia because of his commitment to more oil and more nukes (ours are 40 years old).

He said something about the hearing last week. I responded by telling him I wasn’t there as a volunteer and he asked who was driving that, was it Nunes who wanted it? I said all the leadership wanted to know what was going on and mentioned that Grassley had even held up the DAG nominee to demand information. I said we had briefed the leadership on exactly what we were doing and who we were investigating.

I reminded him that I had told him we weren’t investigating him and that I had told the Congressional leadership the same thing. He said it would be great if that could get out and several times asked me to find a way to get that out.

He talked about the guy he read about in the Washington Post today (NOTE: I think he meant Sergei Millian) and said he didn’t know him at all. He said that if there was “some satellite” (NOTE: I took this to mean some associate of his or his campaign) that did something, it would be good to find that out, but that he hadn’t done anything and hoped I would find a way to get out that we weren’t investigating him.

Trump also raised “McCabe thing,” yet another apparent attempt to tie the retention of McCabe to public exoneration from Comey.

Given the news that Sergei Millian had been pitching George Papadopoulos on a Trump Tower deal in the post-election period, I wonder whether Trump’s invocation of him in conjunction with “some satellite” is a reference to Papadopoulos, who had already been interviewed twice by this time. Nunes would have learned of his inclusion in the investigation in the March 2 CI briefing.

On top of the clear evidence that this call represented a (well-documented, including a contemporaneous call to Dana Boente) effort to quash the investigation and get public exoneration, the conversation as presented by Comey also includes several bogus statements designed to exonerate him. For example, Millian had actually worked with Trump in past years selling condos to rich Russians. Trump never did sue Steele (Michael Cohen sued BuzzFeed and Fusion early this year, but he dropped it in the wake of the FBI raid on him). And the March 8 letter from Morgan Lewis certifying he didn’t get income from Russia is unrelated to whether he has been utterly reliant on investment from Russia (to say nothing of the huge sums raised from Russian oligarchs for his inauguration). In other words, like the earlier false claim that Trump hadn’t stayed overnight in Moscow during the Miss Universe pageant and therefore couldn’t have been compromised, even at this point, Trump’s attempts to persuade the FBI he was innocent were based off false claims.

March 30, 2017: Flynn asks for immunity

Mike Flynn first asked Congress for immunity on March 30, 2017, with Trump backing the effort in a tweet.

A later question deals with this topic — and suggests Trump may have contacted Flynn directly about immunity at this time, but that contact is not public, if it occurred.

April 11, 2017: What was the purpose of your call to Mr. Comey on April 11, 2017?

At 8:26AM on April 11, Comey returned a call to Trump. Trump asked again for Comey to lift the cloud on him.

He said he was following up to see if I did what he had asked last time–getting out that he personally is not under investigation. I relied that I had passed the request to the Acting AG and had not heard back from him. He spoke for a bit about why it was so important. He is trying to do work for the country, visit with foreign leaders, and any cloud, even a little cloud gets in the way of that. They keep bringing up the Russia thing as an excuse for losing the election.

[snip]

He then added, “Because I have been very loyal to you, very loyal, we had that thing, you know.”

[snip]

He then said that I was doing a great job and wished me well.

April 11, 2017: What was the purpose of your April 11, 2017, statement to Maria Bartiromo?

On April 12, Fox Business News broadcast an interview with Maria Bartiromo (Mueller must know it was recorded on April 11, so presumably after the call with Comey). There are three key aspects of the interview. First, in the context of Trump’s failures to staff his agencies, Bartiromo asks why Comey is still around [note, I bet in Hope Hicks’ several days of interviews, they asked her if these questions were planted]. Given public reports, Trump may have already been thinking about firing Comey, though Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, and Don McGahn staved off the firing for weeks.

TRUMP:  I wish it would be explained better, the obstructionist nature, though, because a lot of times I’ll say why doesn’t so and so have people under him or her?

The reason is because we can’t get them approved.

BARTIROMO:  Well, people are still wondering, though, they’re scratching their heads, right, so many Obama-era staffers are still here.

For example, was it a mistake not to ask Jim Comey to step down from the FBI at the outset of your presidency?

Is it too late now to ask him to step down?

TRUMP:  No, it’s not too late, but, you know, I have confidence in him.  We’ll see what happens.  You know, it’s going to be interesting.

On the same day he had asked Comey to publicly state he wasn’t being interviewed, Trump said he still had confidence in Comey, even while suggesting a lot of other people were angling for the job (something he had also said in an earlier exchange with Comey).  Trump immediately pivoted to claiming Comey had kept Hillary from being charged.

TRUMP: But, you know, we have to just — look, I have so many people that want to come into this administration.  They’re so excited about this administration and what’s happening — bankers, law enforcement — everybody wants to come into this administration.  Don’t forget, when Jim Comey came out, he saved Hillary Clinton.  People don’t realize that.  He saved her life, because — I call it Comey [one].  And I joke about it a little bit.

When he was reading those charges, she was guilty on every charge.  And then he said, she was essentially OK.  But he — she wasn’t OK, because she was guilty on every charge.

And then you had two and then you had three.

But Hillary Clinton won — or Comey won.  She was guilty on every charge.

BARTIROMO:  Yes.

TRUMP:  So Director Comey…

BARTIROMO:  Well, that’s (INAUDIBLE)…

TRUMP:  No, I’m just saying…

BARTIROMO:  (INAUDIBLE)?

TRUMP:  Well, because I want to give everybody a good, fair chance.  Director Comey was very, very good to Hillary Clinton, that I can tell you.  If he weren’t, she would be, right now, going to trial.

From there, Bartiromo asks Trump why President Obama had changed the rules on sharing EO 12333 data. Trump suggests it is so his administration could be spied on, using the Susan Rice unmasking pseudo scandal as shorthand for spying on his team.

BARTIROMO:  Mr. President, just a final question for you.

In the last weeks of the Obama presidency, he changed all the rules in terms of the intelligence agencies, allowing them to share raw data.

TRUMP:  Terrible.

BARTIROMO:  Why do you think he did this?

TRUMP:  Well, I’m going to let you figure that one out.  But it’s so obvious.  When you look at Susan Rice and what’s going on, and so many people are coming up to me and apologizing now.  They’re saying you know, you were right when you said that.

Perhaps I didn’t know how right I was, because nobody knew the extent of it.

Undoubtedly, Mueller wants to know whether these comments relate to his comments to Comey (and, as I suggested, Hope Hicks may have helped elucidate that). The invocation of Hillary sets up one rationale for firing Comey, but one that contradicts with the official reason.

But the conversation also reflects Trump’s consistent panic that his actions (and those of his aides) will be captured by wiretaps.

May 3, 2017: What did you think and do about Mr. Comey’s May 3, 2017, testimony?

On May 3, Comey testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee. It covered leaks (including whether he had ever authorized any, a question implicated in the Andrew McCabe firing), and the hacked email raising questions about whether Lynch could investigate Hillary. Comey described his actions in the Hillary investigation at length. This testimony would be cited by Rod Rosenstein in his letter supporting the firing of Comey. In addition, there were a number of questions about the Russia investigation, including questions focused on Trump, that would have driven Trump nuts.

Along with getting a reaction to the differences between what Comey said in testimony and Trump’s own version (which by this point he had shared several times), Mueller likely wants to know what Trump thinks of Comey’s claim that FBI treated the Russian investigation just like the Hillary one.

With respect to the Russian investigation, we treated it like we did with the Clinton investigation. We didn’t say a word about it until months into it and then the only thing we’ve confirmed so far about this is the same thing with the Clinton investigation. That we are investigating. And I would expect, we’re not going to say another peep about it until we’re done. And I don’t know what will be said when we’re done, but that’s the way we handled the Clinton investigation as well.

In a series of questions that were likely developed in conjunction with Trump, Lindsey Graham asked whether Comey stood by his earlier claim that there was an active investigation.

GRAHAM: Did you ever talk to Sally Yates about her concerns about General Flynn being compromised?

COMEY: I did, I don’t whether I can talk about it in this forum. But the answer is yes.

GRAHAM: That she had concerns about General Flynn and she expressed those concerns to you?

COMEY: Correct.

GRAHAM: We’ll talk about that later. Do you stand by your house testimony of March 20 that there was no surveillance of the Trump campaign that you’re aware of?

COMEY: Correct.

GRAHAM: You would know about it if they were, is that correct?

COMEY: I think so, yes.

GRAHAM: OK, Carter Page; was there a FISA warrant issued regarding Carter Page’s activity with the Russians.

COMEY: I can’t answer that here.

GRAHAM: Did you consider Carter page a agent of the campaign?

COMEY: Same answer, I can’t answer that here.

GRAHAM: OK. Do you stand by your testimony that there is an active investigation counterintelligence investigation regarding Trump campaign individuals in the Russian government as to whether not to collaborate? You said that in March…

COMEY: To see if there was any coordination between the Russian effort and peoples…

GRAHAM: Is that still going on?

COMEY: Yes.

GRAHAM: OK. So nothing’s changed. You stand by those two statements?

Curiously (not least because of certain investigative dates), Sheldon Whitehouse asked some pointed questions about whether Comey could reveal if an investigation was being starved by inaction.

WHITEHOUSE: Let’s say you’ve got a hypothetically, a RICO investigation and it has to go through procedures within the department necessary to allow a RICO investigation proceed if none of those have ever been invoked or implicated that would send a signal that maybe not much effort has been dedicated to it.

Would that be a legitimate question to ask? Have these — again, you’d have to know that it was a RICO investigation. But assuming that we knew that that was the case with those staging elements as an investigation moves forward and the internal department approvals be appropriate for us to ask about and you to answer about?

COMEY: Yes, that’s a harder question. I’m not sure it would be appropriate to answer it because it would give away what we were looking at potentially.

WHITEHOUSE: Would it be appropriate to ask if — whether any — any witnesses have been interviewed or whether any documents have been obtained pursuant to the investigation?

Richard Blumenthal asked Comey whether he could rule Trump in or out as a target of the investigation and specifically within that context, suggested appointing a special counsel (Patrick Leahy had already made the suggestion for a special counsel).

BLUMENTHAL: Have you — have you ruled out the president of the United States?

COMEY: I don’t — I don’t want people to over interpret this answer, I’m not going to comment on anyone in particular, because that puts me down a slope of — because if I say no to that then I have to answer succeeding questions. So what we’ve done is brief the chair and ranking on who the U.S. persons are that we’ve opened investigations on. And that’s — that’s as far as we’re going to go, at this point.

BLUMENTHAL: But as a former prosecutor, you know that when there’s an investigation into several potentially culpable individuals, the evidence from those individuals and the investigation can lead to others, correct?

COMEY: Correct. We’re always open-minded about — and we follow the evidence wherever it takes us.

BLUMENTHAL: So potentially, the president of the United States could be a target of your ongoing investigation into the Trump campaign’s involvement with Russian interference in our election, correct?

COMEY: I just worry — I don’t want to answer that — that — that seems to be unfair speculation. We will follow the evidence, we’ll try and find as much as we can and we’ll follow the evidence wherever it leads.

BLUMENTHAL: Wouldn’t this situation be ideal for the appointment of a special prosecutor, an independent counsel, in light of the fact that the attorney general has recused himself and, so far as your answers indicate today, no one has been ruled out publicly in your ongoing investigation. I understand the reasons that you want to avoid ruling out anyone publicly. But for exactly that reason, because of the appearance of a potential conflict of interest, isn’t this situation absolutely crying out for a special prosecutor?

Chuck Grassley asked Comey the first questions about what would become the year-long focus on Christopher Steele’s involvement in the FISA application on Carter Page.

GRASSLEY: On — on March 6, I wrote to you asking about the FBI’s relationship with the author of the trip — Trump-Russia dossier Christopher Steele. Most of these questions have not been answered, so I’m going to ask them now. Prior to the bureau launching the investigation of alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, did anyone from the FBI have interactions with Mr. Steele regarding the issue?

COMEY: That’s not a question that I can answer in this forum. As you know, I — I briefed you privately on this and if there’s more that’s necessary then I’d be happy to do it privately.

GRASSLEY: Have you ever represented to a judge that the FBI had interaction with Mr. Steele whether by name or not regarding alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia prior to the Bureau launching its investigation of the matter?

COMEY: I have to give you the same answer Mr. Chairman.

In a second round, Whitehouse asked about a Trump tweet suggesting Comey had given Hillary a free pass.

WHITEHOUSE: Thank you.

A couple of quick matters, for starters. Did you give Hillary Clinton quote, “a free pass for many bad deeds?” There was a tweet to that effect from the president.

COMEY: Oh, no, not — that was not my intention, certainly.

WHITEHOUSE: Well, did you give her a free pass for many bad deeds, whatever your intention may have been?

COMEY: We conducted a competent, honest and independent investigation, closed it while offering transparency to the American people. I believed what I said, there was not a prosecutable case, there.

Al Franken asked Comey whether the investigation might access Trump’s tax returns.

FRANKEN: I just want to clarify something — some of the answers that you gave me for example in response to director — I asked you would President Trump’s tax returns be material to the — such an investigation — the Russian investigation and does the investigation have access to President Trump’s tax returns and some other questions you answered I can’t say. And I’d like to get a clarification on that. Is it that you cant say or that you can’t say in this setting?

COMEY: That I won’t answer questions about the contours of the investigation. As I sit here I don’t know whether I would do it in a closed setting either. But for sure — I don’t want to begin answering questions about what we’re looking at and how.

Update: Contemporaneous reporting makes it clear that Trump was particularly irked by Comey’s admission that “It makes me mildly nauseous to think that we might have had some impact on the election,” as that diminished Trump’s win. (h/t TC)

May 9, 2017: Regarding the decision to fire Mr. Comey: When was it made? Why? Who played a role?

The May 3 hearing is reportedly the precipitating event for Trump heading to Bedminster with Ivanka, Jared, and Stephen Miller on May 4 and deciding to fire Comey. Trump had Miller draft a letter explaining the firing, which Don McGahn would significantly edit when he saw it on May 8. McGahn also got Sessions and Rosenstein, who were peeved about different aspects of the hearing (those focused on Comey’s actions with regards to Hillary), to write letters supporting Comey’s firing.

Given that Mueller has the original draft of the firing letter and testimony from McGahn, Rosenstein, and Sessions, this question will largely allow Trump to refute evidence Mueller has already confirmed.

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 statement of the offense

Internet Research Agency indictment

Text of the Don Jr Trump Tower Meeting emails

Jared Kushner’s statement to Congress

Erik Prince HPSCI transcript

THE SERIES

Part One: The Mueller Questions Map Out Cultivation, a Quid Pro Quo, and a Cover-Up

Part Two: The Quid Pro Quo: a Putin Meeting and Election Assistance, in Exchange for Sanctions Relief

Part Three: The Quo: Policy and Real Estate Payoffs to Russia

Part Four: The Quest: Trump Learns of the Investigation

Part Five: Attempting a Cover-Up by Firing Comey

Part Six: Trump Exacerbates His Woes

Kushner Floats! Was Trump’s Witch Hunt Outburst about Jared Losing Clearance?

President Trump had one of his regular tweetbursts this morning about the Mueller investigation, culminating in an all caps tweet WITCH HUNT!

These outbursts are admittedly routine. But there was something unusual about this one. As MMFA’s Lis Starr noted, the three tweets leading up to this, citing Judge Napolitano, Johnathan Turley, and Ken Starr, were all reruns of Fox coverage from the last several days.

In other words, Trump resorted to the DVR to be able to justify his rant this morning. Clearly, he’s even more obsessed today than normal.

That, plus one more detail, makes me wonder whether Trump was reacting to new approaches put in place after Jared (and probably Ivanka) had his clearance downgraded to Secret on Friday.

A memo sent Friday downgraded the presidential son-in-law and adviser and other White House aides who had been working on interim clearances.

Presidential son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner has had his security clearance downgraded — a move that will prevent him from viewing many of the sensitive documents to which he once had unfettered access.

Kushner is not alone. All White House aides working on the highest-level interim clearances — at the Top Secret/SCI-level — were informed in a memo sent Friday that their clearances would be downgraded to the Secret level, according to three people with knowledge of the situation.

The SCI acronym stands for sensitive compartmentalized information, a category of information that comes from sensitive intelligence sources and must be walled off.

The memo was not signed by chief of staff John Kelly, but it comes as the retired Marine general and other top White House aides are grappling with the fallout of a scandal involving former White House staff secretary Rob Porter, which revealed that dozens of White House aides had yet to receive permanent clearances but nonetheless had access to some of the country’s deepest secrets.

There are several interesting tidbits about the Politico story reporting that Jared has finally been stripped of his TS/SCI interim clearance. First, John Kelly didn’t sign the memo, even though that’s who Trump put in charge of over-riding typical clearance process to protect his spawn. If Don McGahn signed it, it might mean Friday’s memo came after a follow-up to Robert Mueller’s boss, Rod Rosenstein, informing him, back on February 9, of significant new information that required review before he could be cleared.

Also, Politico cites a statement from Abbe Lowell, Jared’s defense attorney.

Kushner’s attorney Abbe Lowell said in a statement that Kushner “has done more than what is expected of him in this process.”

Lowell added that the changes would “not affect Mr. Kushner’s ability to continue to do the very important work he has been assigned by the president.”

But the statement is just the same one he used back on February 16, when news of Jared’s impending clearance problems first came out. Lowell still has yet to issue any new bravado since he went silent in the face of last week’s more serious reports.

Meanwhile, Jared is not staying out of trouble. The Trump 2020 campaign announced that Brad Parscale — one of the people most suspect for coordinating data analysis with the Russians — would run his 2020 re-election campaign. The announcement included this quote from Kushner.

Jared Kushner, Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President, and President Trump’s son-in-law, said, “Brady was essential in bringing a disciplined technology and data-driven approach to how the 2016 campaign was run. His leadership and expertise will be help [sic] build a best-in-class campaign.”

Even aside from the typo, this is a no-no, as it ties Kushner’s official White House role to a campaign document.

I almost wonder whether all their fundraising is about paying lawyers at this point. On Friday, CNBC reported that when RNC stopped paying the legal defense of people like Don Jr, it started paying rent at Trump Tower. And the legal defense to pay Trump aides’ legal fees also just went active. Increasingly, it seems, the Trump “campaign” is all about staying out of prison.

Meanwhile, the Kushner family’s partner on the underwater 666 Fifth Avenue is negotiating to get out.

Kushner Cos. says it’s negotiating to buy the 49.5 percent of a debt-laden office tower on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue that it doesn’t already own from partner Vornado Realty Trust.

Christine Taylor, a spokeswoman for Kushner Cos., declined to elaborate on terms for either the purchase or a restructuring of the building’s debt. A Vornado representative didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The talks were first reported Tuesday by the Wall Street Journal.

Earlier this month, Vornado recategorized how it accounts for the property, 666 Fifth Ave., because “we do not intend to hold this asset on a long-term basis,” it said in an annual report. That language typically means the company plans to unload an asset within a year, a person familiar with Vornado’s thinking said at the time.

That’s going to shine a lot more light on Kushner’s finances, and his efforts to abuse his position as his father-in-law’s “peace” negotiator to get bailed out by any number of slimy foreign oligarchs.

Jared’s in real trouble. It’s a wonder he can stay afloat amid this witch hunt.

Update: Bingo.

Officials in at least four countries have privately discussed ways they can manipulate Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, by taking advantage of his complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience, according to current and former U.S. officials familiar with intelligence reports on the matter.

Among those nations discussing ways to influence Kushner to their advantage were the United Arab Emirates, China, Israel and Mexico, the current and former officials said.

It is unclear if any of those countries acted on the discussions, but Kushner’s contacts with certain foreign government officials have raised concerns inside the White House and are a reason he has been unable to obtain a permanent security clearance, the officials said.

[snip]

White House officials said [National Security Advisor HR] McMaster was taken aback by some of Kushner’s foreign contacts.

“When he learned about it, it surprised him,” one official said. “He thought that was weird…It was an unusual thing. I don’t know that any White House has done it this way before.”

Meanwhile, the normally loquacious Abbe Lowell is outsourcing the no-commenting to a spokesperson.

“We will not respond substantively to unnamed sources peddling second-hand hearsay with rank speculation that continue to leak inaccurate information,” said Peter Mirijanian, a spokesman for Kushner’s lawyer.

Update: Let’s look more closely at something loquacious Abbe Lowell had to say the last time he wanted to go on the record about his client, on February 16.

Lowell said Kushner’s job is “to talk with foreign officials, which he has done and continues to do properly.”

He was denying, 11 days ago, something only now being aired: that Kushner wasn’t properly alerting the NSC of his contacts with foreign leaders. But now we know, he wasn’t properly alerting the National Security Advisor — the one that replaced the one who lied to the FBI about his contacts with foreigners, I mean.

No wonder Lowell has gone silent.

Trump Transition Team Outraged To Be Treated as Transition Team!!

This is a general post on the GOP claim Mueller improperly obtained emails from ~13 Transition officials, updated as new news comes available. This post explains what is really going on: the Transition appears to have withheld emails — including the KT McFarland one referring to the election as having been “thrown” — and Mueller obtained proof they were withholding things. 

Both Fox News and Axios have pieces reflecting the outrage!!! among Trump people that they got asked questions about emails they thought they had hidden from Mueller’s investigation. Axios reveals that Mueller obtained the full contents of 12 accounts (Reuters says 13), one including 7,000 emails, from people on the “political leadership” and “foreign-policy team;” it says it includes “sensitive emails of Jared Kushner.”

Fox reveals that a transition lawyer wrote Congress today claiming that it was unlawful for government employees to turn over emails hosted on government servers for a criminal investigation.

A lawyer for the Trump presidential transition team is accusing Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office of inappropriately obtaining transition documents as part of its Russia probe, including confidential attorney-client communications and privileged communications.

In a letter obtained by Fox News and sent to House and Senate committees on Saturday, the transition team’s attorney alleges “unlawful conduct” by the career staff at the General Services Administration in handing over transition documents to the special counsel’s office.

Officials familiar with the case argue Mueller could have a problem relating to the 4th Amendment – which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Kory Langhofer, the counsel to Trump for America, wrote in the letter that the the GSA “did not own or control the records in question.”

But, Langhofer says, Mueller’s team has “extensively used the materials in question, including portions that are susceptible to claims of privilege.”

And Axios explains that the Trump people actually sorted through this stuff. “The sources say that transition officials assumed that Mueller would come calling, and had sifted through the emails and separated the ones they considered privileged.”

I’m really looking forward to hearing the full story about this, rather than just this partisan spin. For example, I’m interested in whether Mueller realized via some means (perhaps from someone like Reince Priebus or Sean Spicer — update, or George Papadopoulos) that the White House had withheld stuff that was clearly responsive to his requests, so he used that to ask GSA to turn over the full set.

I’m also interested in how they’ll claim any of this was privileged. The top 13 political and foreign policy people on the Trump team might include (asterisks mark people confirmed to be among those whose accounts were obtained):

  1. Pence
  2. Bannon
  3. Jared*
  4. Flynn*
  5. KT McFarland
  6. Spicer
  7. Priebus
  8. Nunes
  9. Sessions
  10. Seb Gorka
  11. Stephen Miller
  12. Hope Hicks
  13. Ivanka
  14. Don Jr
  15. Rebekah Mercer
  16. Kelly Anne Conway
  17. Rudy Giuliani
  18. Steven Mnuchin
  19. Rick Gates
  20. Corey Lewandowski
  21. Tom Bossert

Just one of those people — Sessions — is a practicing lawyer (and he wasn’t, then), and he wasn’t playing a legal role in the transition (though both Sessions and Nunes may have been using their congressional email, in which case Mueller likely would show far more deference; update: I’ve added Rudy 911 to the list, and he’d obviously qualify as a practicing lawyer). Though I suppose they might have been talking with a lawyer. But I would bet Mueller’s legal whiz, Michael Dreeben, would point to the Clinton White House Counsel precedent and say that transition lawyers don’t get privilege.

Furthermore, Trump wasn’t President yet! This has come up repeatedly in congressional hearings. You don’t get privilege until after you’re president, in part to prevent you from doing things like — say — undermining existing foreign policy efforts of the actually still serving President. So even if these people were repeating things Trump said, it wouldn’t be entitled to privilege yet.

Finally, consider that some of these people were testifying to the grand jury months and months ago. But we’re only seeing this complaint today. That’s probably true for two reasons. One, because Mueller used the emails in question (most notably, the emails between McFarland and Flynn from December 29 where they discussed Russian sanctions) to obtain a guilty plea from Flynn. And, second, because Republicans are pushing to get Trump to fire Mueller.

Update: I’ve added Pence, Don Jr., Ivanka, Hope Hicks, Kelly Anne Conway, Rudy Giuliani, Steven Mnuchin back in here.

Update: Here’s more from Reuters.

Langhofer, the Trump transition team lawyer, wrote in his letter that the GSA’s transfer of materials was discovered on Dec. 12 and 13.

The FBI had requested the materials from GSA staff last Aug. 23, asking for copies of the emails, laptops, cell phones and other materials associated with nine members of the Trump transition team response for national security and policy matters, the letter said.

On Aug. 30, the FBI requested the materials of four additional senior members of the Trump transition team, it said.

The GSA transfer may only have been discovered this week (probably as a result of Congress’ investigation). But the witnesses had to have known these emails went beyond the scope of what the transition turned over. And the request date definitely is late enough for Mueller to have discovered not everything got turned over, perhaps even from George Papadopoulos, who flipped in late July.

Update: One more thing. Remember that there were worries that transition officials were copying files out of a SCIF. That, by itself, would create an Insider Threat concern that would merit FBI obtaining these emails directly.

Update: Here’s a report dated June 15 on a transition lawyer instructing aides and volunteers to save anything relating to Russia, Ukraine, or known targets (Flynn, Manafort, Page, Gates, and Stone).

Update: AP reports that Flynn was (unsurprisingly) among those whose email was obtained.

Update: Here’s the letter. I unpacked it here. It’s a load of — I believe this is the technical term — shite. First, it stakes everything on PTT not being an agency. That doesn’t matter at all for a criminal investigation — Robert Mueller was no FOIAing this stuff. It then later invokes a bunch of privileges (the exception is the attorney client one) that only come with the consequent responsibilities. It then complains that Mueller’s team didn’t use a taint team.

Perhaps the craziest thing is they call for a law that would only permit someone to access such emails for a national security purpose — as if an espionage related investigation isn’t national security purpose!

Update: Chris Geidner got GSA’s side of the story. Turns out they claim the now dead cover up GC didn’t make the agreement the TFA lawyer says he did. In any case, GSA device users agreed their devices could be monitored.

“Beckler never made that commitment,” he said of the claim that any requests for transition records would be routed to the Trump campaign’s counsel.

Specifically, Loewentritt said, “in using our devices,” transition team members were informed that materials “would not be held back in any law enforcement” actions.

Loewentritt read to BuzzFeed News a series of agreements that anyone had to agree to when using GSA materials during the transition, including that there could be monitoring and auditing of devices and that, “Therefore, no expectation of privacy can be assumed.”

Update: Mueller’s spox, Peter Carr, issued a statement saying, “When we have obtained emails in the course of our ongoing criminal investigation, we have secured either the account owner’s consent or appropriate criminal process.”