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Are There Other Emails about the June 9 Meeting?

Something has been bugging me about this NYT story from last week reporting that, in a conference call with Mark Corallo on July 9, 2017 (see the timeline of events below), Hope Hicks told him emails on the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Don Jr, Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner and Natalia Veselnitskaya, Rinat Akhmetshin, Ike Kaveladze, and Rob Goldstone would never come out.

Corallo is planning to tell Mr. Mueller about a previously undisclosed conference call with Mr. Trump and Hope Hicks, the White House communications director, according to the three people. Mr. Corallo planned to tell investigators that Ms. Hicks said during the call that emails written by Donald Trump Jr. before the Trump Tower meeting — in which the younger Mr. Trump said he was eager to receive political dirt about Mrs. Clinton from the Russians — “will never get out.” That left Mr. Corallo with concerns that Ms. Hicks could be contemplating obstructing justice, the people said.

[snip]

In Mr. Corallo’s account — which he provided contemporaneously to three colleagues who later gave it to The Times — he told both Mr. Trump and Ms. Hicks that the statement drafted aboard Air Force One would backfire because documents would eventually surface showing that the meeting had been set up for the Trump campaign to get political dirt about Mrs. Clinton from the Russians.

According to his account, Ms. Hicks responded that the emails “will never get out” because only a few people had access to them.

As the story describes, the emails in question were already prepped (by the lawyers with whom Corallo worked on a day to day basis) to send to Congress, which would have made it really hard for anyone to withhold the emails.

Congress had requested records from Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman; Mr. Kushner; and other Trump campaign officials about meetings with Russians. And lawyers had already copied and stamped the emails for delivery to Capitol Hill.

But elsewhere in the story, the NYT admits that even as (or shortly after) that meeting transpired it already had the emails Don Jr released that day and was going to publish them itself.

The younger Mr. Trump ultimately released the emails after being told The Times was about to publish them.

The original story (as well as the second one) described that the meeting was discovered when Kushner disclosed it on one of his many revisions to his security clearance application and in a response from Paul Manafort to congressional inquiries.

The Trump Tower meeting was not disclosed to government officials until recently, when Mr. Kushner, who is also a senior White House aide, filed a revised version of a form required to obtain a security clearance.

[snip]

Manafort, the former campaign chairman, also recently disclosed the meeting, and Donald Trump Jr.’s role in organizing it, to congressional investigators who had questions about his foreign contacts, according to people familiar with the events.

But nothing in that description would mean Congress would have gotten the emails yet, which is where investigative materials normally get leaked to the press (though it’s possible Manafort had already turned them over).

Michael Wolff’s book reports the Bannon suspicion that a Jared aide (presumably Josh Raffel), who was in the initial meeting where Trump forced everyone else to say the June 9 meeting dealt primarily with adoptions, leaked the emails to the NYT.

Indeed, the best guess by many in the West Wing was that the details of the meeting had been leaked by the Kushner side, thus sacrificing Don Jr. in an attempt to deflect responsibility away from themselves.

[snip]

The lawyers, and spokesperson Mark Corallo, had been working to manage this news. But while in Hamburg, the president’s staff learned that the Times was developing a story that had far more details about the meeting—quite possibly supplied by the Kushner side—which it would publish on Saturday, July 8.

But it describes the Jared team as leaking details, not the emails themselves. Plus, it’s hard to see how the emails don’t also implicate Jared, unless he’s going to bank on having left the meeting as his means to defend himself even in light of all the other damning evidence he was willing to chat up Russians later in the year.

Furthermore, given that Jared was an active player in that first meeting, it’s hard to understand how Hicks wouldn’t have known that Jared would have to disclose any emails that involved him personally.

There’s one other detail of note. The NYT makes it clear that the lawyers (and Corallo) in DC were kept out of the loop on the panic on Air Force One and that they didn’t know the NYT was working on a story. Though it’s unclear where the Circa story that those lawyers (and Corallo) did contribute to came from, then, as it feels like an effort to pre-empt the NYT with a friendly outlet.

Significantly, the Circa story is the source of the claim that Trump didn’t know about the meeting that I noted here (which the lawyers are said to have believed, which is why the Trump and his family weren’t consulting with the lawyers).

President Trump was not aware of the meeting and did not attend it, according to the lawyers.

It’s also significant, though, because it adopts the line Paul Manafort seems to have convinced Reince Priebus to adopt, pointing to problems with the dossier and Fusion GPS as a way to discredit the entire investigation.

“We have learned from both our own investigation and public reports that the participants in the meeting misrepresented who they were and who they worked for,” said Mark Corallo, a spokesman for President Trump’s legal team. “Specifically, we have learned that the person who sought the meeting is associated with Fusion GPS, a firm which according to public reports, was retained by Democratic operatives to develop opposition research on the President and which commissioned the phony Steele dossier. ”

“These developments raise serious issues as to exactly who authorized and participated in any effort by Russian nationals to influence our election in any manner,” Corallo said.

I raise all this to highlight two possibilities: that the emails are all that exist, but that they were leaked by someone — Manafort? Bannon? Corallo? — to punish the White House for its first misleading lies about the meeting. Perhaps Gorelick leaked them, which might explain why she stopped representing Jared days later?

But there’s another possibility: that more emails exist, between Don Jr and Rob Goldstone (indeed, we know Goldstone sent follow-up emails involving Vkontakte). Or that there are communications between other players. In which case the release of the current emails might serve to distract from a fuller set that Hicks did succeed in burying.

In any case, not only is Corallo prepping his meeting with Mueller’s team, but Steve Bannon seems intent on meeting with Mueller before HPSCI has an opportunity to run interference with him.

A source familiar with the matter added that Bannon would instead answer all of special counsel Robert Mueller’s questions as part of his investigation.

So whatever particular complaints the Corallo/Kasowitz/Bannon/Priebus crowd has about the way things went down may soon be shared with Mueller.


Early July 7: NYT approaches WH officials and lawyers; WH schedules a conference call w/NYT for next morning.

July 7: Trump chats up Putin at dinner. (Note, whenever Melania decides it’s time to get revenge on Trump for treating her like shit, she can go tell Mueller what she overheard of this conversation.)

July 8, morning: Conference call doesn’t happen. NYT submits 14 questions about the meeting to the WH and lawyers of Trump campaign aides who attended the meeting (do these aides include all of Don Jr, Kushner, and Manafort?); Trump and his aides develop a response on Air Force One, with Hicks coordinating with Don Jr and his lawyer Alan Garten, who were both in NY, via text message.

July 8, afternoon: Jamie Gorelick provides a statement describing his revisions to his security clearance forms.

He has since submitted this information, including that during the campaign and transition, he had over 100 calls or meetings with representatives of more than 20 countries, most of which were during transition. Mr. Kushner has submitted additional updates and included, out of an abundance of caution, this meeting with a Russian person, which he briefly attended at the request of his brother-in-law Donald Trump Jr. As Mr. Kushner has consistently stated, he is eager to cooperate and share what he knows.

July 8, evening: Garten issues a statement in Don Jr’s name stating,

It was a short introductory meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at that time and there was no follow up. I was asked to attend the meeting by an acquaintance, but was not told the name of the person I would be meeting with beforehand.

July 8, 5PM: NYT publishes story.

July 8, slightly later: Circa publishes different story based on Mark Corallo’s statement, admitting Magnitsky Act discussion.

July 9, morning: Hope Hicks calls Corallo, with Trump in the room, accusing him of trafficking in conspiracy theories. It is this call, according to the NYT, where Hicks said the emails would never come out.

July 9: Don Jr issues a new statement.

After pleasantries were exchanged, the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Mrs. Clinton. Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information.

July 14: Jamie Gorelick quits representing Kushner on Russian issues.

July 20: Mark Corallo quits.

July 21: Marc Kasowitz quits.

 

Some lawyers and witnesses who have sat in or been briefed on the interviews have puzzled over Mr. Mueller’s interest in the episode. Lying to federal investigators is a crime; lying to the news media is not. For that reason, some of Mr. Trump’s advisers argue that Mr. Mueller has no grounds to ask the president about the statement and say he should refuse to discuss it.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Shorter Jared: “It Depends upon What the Meaning of the Word ‘Collude’ Is”

Given that he’s already appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee, it’s a bit late to analyze Jared Kushner’s public statement denying any collusion with the Russians who interfered in last year’s election. But the statement is too nifty to let it pass.

Jared’s lawyers would have you believe he is:

  • A young naif in the ways of the world
  • Who nevertheless has recall problems
  • Who asked to use Russian communications facilities but that’s not a back channel
  • And who was undone by his assistant
  • But what matters is really the collusion shiny object

A young naif in the ways of the world

Kushner starts by emphasizing over and over how inexperienced he is in the way of politics. Media has never been his job.

First in my business and now in public service, I have worked on achieving goals, and have left it to others to work on media and public perception.

Building companies has been his job, said the guy who is actually better at building debt, with all the possible compromise that might entail.

Before joining the administration, I worked in the private sector, building and managing companies. My experience was in business, not politics, and it was not my initial intent to play a large role in my father-in-law’s campaign when he decided to run for President.

Even in spite of this claimed total inexperience, Kushner came to run key parts of the campaign.

Over the course of the primaries and general election campaign, my role continued to evolve. I ultimately worked with the finance, scheduling, communications, speechwriting, polling, data and digital teams, as well as becoming a point of contact for foreign government officials.

Note how he mentions — but does not emphasize — the data analytics now suspected of helping Russians target voters in MI and WI “as well as” meeting a bunch of foreigners trying to influence pop-in-law’s campaign.

Kushner repeats, again, how inexperienced he is, implicitly blaming those “incredibly talented people” this utterly inexperienced naif reached out to for help.

All of these were tasks that I had never performed on a campaign previously. When I was faced with a new challenge, I would reach out to contacts, ask advice, find the right person to manage the specific challenge, and work with that person to develop and execute a plan of action. I was lucky to work with some incredibly talented people along the way, all of whom made significant contributions toward the campaign’s ultimate success.

In the last paragraph of this section, Kushner turns. This utterly inexperienced campaign kicked the collective ass of 16 other experienced politicians. It did so, Kushner adds just before pivoting to the (Russian) foreigners trying to help the campaign, because Trump’s utterly inexperienced son-in-law nevertheless managed to run one of the best campaigns in history!

Not only did President Trump defeat sixteen skilled and experienced primary opponents and win the presidency; he did so spending a fraction of what his opponent spent in the general election. He outworked his opponent and ran one of the best campaigns in history using both modern technology and traditional methods to bring his message to the American people.

Who nevertheless has recall problems

As Kushner turns to conversations with foreigners, he starts having recall problems — a word used nine different times.

The first, for his brief meeting with Sergey Kislyak and 3 other unnamed Ambassadors at the Mayflower. [all recall emphasis my own]

The first that I can recall was at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. in April 2016.

The second, for two calls Reuters has reported that Kushner insists never took place (which I’ll return to).

Reuters news service has reported that I had two calls with Ambassador Kislyak at some time between April and November of 2016. While I participated in thousands of calls during this period, I do not recall any such calls with the Russian Ambassador.

I hope to return to Kushner’s hunt through his own metadata to find these calls.

The third is Kislyak again, whom Kushner remembered but whose name he couldn’t recall five months later.

When the campaign received an email purporting to be an official note of congratulations from President Putin, I was asked how we could verify it was real. To do so I thought the best way would be to ask the only contact I recalled meeting from the Russian government, which was the Ambassador I had met months earlier,

Four, five, and six: the now infamous June meeting that Kushner only recalled when he reviewed the emails with his lawyers.

The only other Russian contact during the campaign is one I did not recall at all until I was reviewing documents and emails in response to congressional requests for information. In June 2016, my brother-in-law, Donald Trump Jr. asked if I was free to stop by a meeting on June 9 at 3:00 p.m.

[snip]

I did not read or recall this email exchange before it was shown to me by my lawyers when reviewing documents for submission to the committees. No part of the meeting I attended included anything about the campaign, there was no follow up to the meeting that I am aware of, I do not recall how many people were there (or their names), and I have no knowledge of any documents being offered or accepted.

The [read and] recall problems here are legally necessary, of course, given that Kushner had not disclosed this meeting on earlier sworn disclosures. So Kushner needs his past lack of recall to be even more credible than his claims not to recall any more meetings.

Number seven is odd. Kushner claims to “recall” meetings with fifty foreigners.

During this period, I recall having over fifty contacts with people from over fifteen countries. Two of those meetings were with Russians, neither of which I solicited.

These fifty contacts, of course, are the ones he failed to disclose on at least the first round of his security clearance form.

In the very next paragraph, Kushner reminds us: the same guy who can recall contacts with fifty foreigners couldn’t recall Kislyak’s name. Number eight.

As I mentioned before, previous to receiving this request, I could not even recall the Russian Ambassador’s name, and had to ask for the name of the individual I had seen at the Mayflower Hotel almost seven months earlier.

All these recalls and failed to recalls lead up to the ninth: the four contacts with Russians revealed in this statement are all that he recalls.

I have disclosed these contacts and described them as fully as I can recall.

Who asked to use Russian communications facilities but that’s not a back channel

Again: Kushner admits to four meetings. In the first he met with a guy whose name he didn’t recall. The second was a meeting that he entirely didn’t recall. Kushner’s failure to recall allows him to make this claim, which (CNN helpfully tells us) was emphasized in the original.

During the meeting, after pleasantries were exchanged, as I had done in many of the meetings I had and would have with foreign officials, I stated our desire for a fresh start in relations. Also, as I had done in other meetings with foreign officials, I asked Ambassador Kislyak if he would identify the best person (whether the Ambassador or someone else) with whom to have direct discussions and who had contact with his President. The fact that I was asking about ways to start a dialogue after Election Day should of course be viewed as strong evidence that I was not aware of one that existed before Election Day. [emphasis original]

Kushner’s failure of recall, then (as well as his claimed ignorance about the recall of any other people, including Mike Flynn and Don Jr), is a key break in the nonsensical chain that divorces any election discussions (which might be proof of a quid pro quo tying Russia’s election season activities to discussions afterwards) from transition discussions.

Consider how implausible it is that Kushner had no — zero!!! — forward-looking policy discussions with foreign officials during the campaign. He’s making this claim not just about Russia, but about all countries: Taiwan, the Emirates, Israel! He’s claiming all of these conversations were about fresh starts, all of them, but none of those fresh starts started before November 8.

Bollocks.

Nevertheless, that bollocks statement allows Kushner to give virgin birth to the conversation — started days after the election — that has now borne fruit, Russia convincing the Trump administration to stop funding the CIA backed rebels and (tacitly, so far) leaving Russia’s client Bashar al-Assad in place.

This is the conversation that Kushner wanted to conduct using Russian, not American, facilities.

Oh, sure. Kushner claims they considered using Russian facilities because there was no “secure line” in the transition office.

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

I assume someone has already disproved this statement, the claim there was a SCIF but no secure line in the transition office. It’s absurd in any case: Kushner and Flynn could just get Signal to conduct secret conversations with Russian generals!

Which suggests by “secure” Kushner means a line secure from our own intelligence officials.

You know? A back channel?

I did not suggest a “secret back channel.” I did not suggest an on-going secret form of communication for then or for when the administration took office. I did not raise the possibility of using the embassy or any other Russian facility for any purpose other than this one possible conversation in the transition period.

Uh huh. In any case, Kislyak got the message: while they might have to delay, Kushner and Flynn were willing to carry on that kind of communications with Russian generals. Which Kushner doesn’t seem to connect to the meeting with Sergey Gorkov.

Kushner’s claims about that meeting are even more nonsensical — so much so I’ll have to leave them for their very own post. Suffice it to say Kushner claims a discussion about a bank involved no conversation about banking.

And who was undone by his assistant

Having provided descriptions of the two conversations he had with Russians during the campaign and then provided allegedly dissociated conversations he had with Russians during the transition, Kushner turned to blaming his assistant for all of his disclosure failures on his SF-86.

Except, this explanation only covers his first two SF-86 forms, not the incomplete third form, the one that didn’t include the June 9 meeting.

In the week before the Inauguration, amid the scramble of finalizing the unwinding of my involvement from my company, moving my family to Washington, completing the paper work to divest assets and resign from my outside positions and complete my security and financial disclosure forms, people at my New York office were helping me find the information, organize it, review it and put it into the electronic form. They sent an email to my assistant in Washington, communicating that the changes to one particular section were complete; my assistant interpreted that message as meaning that the entire form was completed. At that point, the form was a rough draft and still had many omissions including not listing any foreign government contacts and even omitted the address of my father-in-law (which was obviously well known). Because of this miscommunication, my assistant submitted the draft on January 18, 2017.

That evening, when we realized the form had been submitted prematurely, we informed the transition team that we needed to make changes and additions to the form. The very next day, January 19, 2017, we submitted supplemental information to the transition, which confirmed receipt and said they would immediately transmit it to the FBI. The supplement disclosed that I had “numerous contacts with foreign officials” and that we were going through my records to provide an accurate and complete list. I provided a list of those contacts in the normal course, before my background investigation interview and prior to any inquiries or media reports about my form.

Between the time difference and more travel within Oz, I’m not sure whether NYT has fact-checked this claim yet, which I believe to be false given their reporting.

What’s certainly true is this statement makes it clear that Kushner didn’t get the June 9 meeting on his form before his first security clearance interview.

A good example is the June 9 meeting. For reasons that should be clear from the explanation of that meeting I have provided, I did not remember the meeting and certainly did not remember it as one with anyone who had to be included on an SF-86. When documents reviewed for production in connection with committee requests reminded me that meeting had occurred, and because of the language in the email chain that I then read for the first time, I included that meeting on a supplement.

What’s also true is Kushner pretends it is normal to have someone playing a key foreign policy role for six months with nothing but an interim clearance.

That is, what Kushner doesn’t address here is that his inability to disclose who he spoke with and why has left the US exposed to potentially unaccounted influence operations.

But what matters is really the collusion shiny object

In short, Kushner’s narrative is not only unconvincing, but it is internally inconsistent.

Which may be why Kushner ends his statement with another big bolded passage, this one disclaiming any knowledge of “collusion.”

It has been my practice not to appear in the media or leak information in my own defense. I have tried to focus on the important work at hand and serve this President and this country to the best of my abilities. I hope that through my answers to questions, written statements and documents I have now been able to demonstrate the entirety of my limited contacts with Russian representatives during the campaign and transition. I did not collude, nor know of anyone else in the campaign who colluded, with any foreign government. I had no improper contacts. I have not relied on Russian funds to finance my business activities in the private sector. I have tried to be fully transparent with regard to the filing of my SF-86 form, above and beyond what is required. Hopefully, this puts these matters to rest.

It’s very earnest, this paragraph from a guy whose statement makes himself look totally unqualified for his role in the White House, hoping to put this matter behind him so he can get on with providing those inadequate skills to the country.

Three times in the paragraph to supplement the nine invocations of his limited recall, Kushner expresses hope, but no confidence, he has covered everything.

I hope … I have now been able to demonstrate the entirety of my limited contacts

I have tried to be fully transparent

Hopefully, this puts these matters to rest.

Amid this message of service and hope, however, Kushner is offering a great big shiny object.

As Jim Comey (a far more qualified civil servant than Kushner, whom Kushner personally pushed to be fired for that service) said months ago, FBI is not assessing whether there was “collusion” here. The term is legally meaningless. What they’re looking for is “coordination,” the kind of coordination you might find in a discussion about capitulating to Russian policy in Syria — even setting up a back channel to do so — in the immediate wake of an election decided with the help of those same Russians.

There’s plenty of evidence to support that kind of coordination in this statement.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Akhmetshin’s Involvement and the Trump Dossier

Over the course of the slow reveal of details about the meeting Don Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort had on June 9, 2016 with Natalia Veselnitskaya, the focus has rightly been on the changing stories of the initially identified players.

It was about adoption, maybe she made some vague statements, oh yeah, those vague statements were oppo research, yes, yes, here are the emails showing that oppo research came from an affirmative effort in Russia to elect Dad, how can a ‘good boy‘ be expected to remember all the Russians involved in a meeting? Don Jr. blathered until, perhaps, his newly-hired lawyer shut him up.

I have no ties to the Russian government, I had no damaging information and if I did I had no intention of leaving it, well, maybe I did get information directly from a top Russian prosecutor, explained Veselnitskaya over the course of the week.

I accidentally hit send, I met with no foreigners, maybe there were Russians, but not Veselnitskaya, oh yeah, maybe her too, my lawyers told Pop’s lawyers, well maybe I never got around to mentioning it to him personally, the tale of Kushner’s difficulties identifying all the Russians he met with evolved over the week, at which point Jamie Gorelick removed herself from any responsibility criminally defending the guy.

All of which climaxed in the news that former Russian intelligence officer Rinat Akhmetshin and accused (before the accusation was withdrawn) hacker also attended the meeting.

Akhmetshin has boasted to associates that he had served in the military with a group known as the Osoby Otdel, or Special Section, which in the Soviet period was a division of the K.G.B. The group was distinct from the G.R.U., or Main Intelligence Directorate of the defense ministry, an organization with which he has denied any affiliation.

[snip]

The Justice Department contacted Mr. Akhmetshin in March and asked him why he did not register his work for the nonprofit group under the Foreign Agent Registration Act, which requires anyone who lobbies in the United States on behalf of foreign interests to disclose their work to the Justice Department. Mr. Akhmetshin responded to the Justice Department in April, saying he had properly registered under congressional lobbying rules.

In 2015, International Mineral Resources, a mining company based in the Netherlands, accused Mr. Akhmetshin of hacking into its computer systems, stealing confidential information and unlawfully disseminating it as part of a smear campaign orchestrated by a rival Russian mining firm.

All of which, given that the meeting took place a week before hacked emails started coming out, sure makes it look like the principals were deliberately hiding Akhmetshin’s participation in the meeting, though Akhmetshin claims he got pulled into the meeting that day, still wearing his jeans and t-shirt.

He said he had learned about the meeting only that day when Veselnitskaya asked him to attend. He said he showed up in jeans and a T-shirt.

Given all these changing stories and what they might hide I’d like to return to Don Sr.’s initial response. Way back on Sunday, the spox for Trump’s lawyers (who reportedly had known of these emails for three weeks) claimed the meeting had been a set-up by the same intelligence firm, Fusion GPS, that put together the Trump dossier.

“We have learned from both our own investigation and public reports that the participants in the meeting misrepresented who they were and who they worked for,” Mark Corallo, spokesperson for Trump’s outside counsel, said in a statement released a few hours after the original New York Times story published.

“Specifically, we have learned that the person who sought the meeting is associated with Fusion GPS, a firm which according to public reports, was retained by Democratic operatives to develop opposition research on the president and which commissioned the phony Steele dossier,” Corallo continued, referring to the strategic intelligence firm hired by anti-Trump Republicans, then by Democrats, to do opposition research on the candidate.

(Fusion GPS eventually retained former MI-6 agent Christopher Steele to research potential connections between Trump and Russia, an investigation that resulted in a dossier that alleged financial, political, and personal connections between the then-president-elect and the Kremlin—a dossier that Trump’s communications team might have preferred to go unmentioned.)

“These developments raise serious issues as to exactly who authorized and participated in any effort by Russian nationals to influence our election in any manner,” Corallo concluded.

Even as all this was happening, Chuck Grassley released a testimony list suggesting the head of Fusion GPS, Glenn Simpson, would testify aside the key player accusing Akhmetshin of unlawfully lobbying for Russia, William Browder. But Simpson continues, as he started in June, to refuse to testify willingly.

The insinuation this meeting was all a set-up by a Clinton-surrogate was absolutely a cheap attempt, worthy of Corallo, to flip this story. But as I said earlier in this week, it’s more clever than first assumed. As I noted, a full eleven days after the meeting (and five days after the first stolen documents appeared), Fusion was still presenting conflicting details about whether Russian-derived Clinton dirt had been shared with Trump’s campaign, ultimately claiming, however, that it hadn’t.

The report, dated 11 days after the Veselnitskaya meeting, states that the Kremlin has a dossier on Clinton, but that it has not as yet been distributed abroad.

That claim is seemingly contradicted by the claims of Source A (a senior Russian Foreign Ministry figure) and Source D. Indeed, Source D appears to have claimed, in June, that dirt from Russia was helpful.

Ultimately, though, the memo seems to credit Source B, “a former top level Russian intelligence officer” and Source G, a senior Kremlin official, who said the dossier, attributed here to the FSB, had not yet been shared with Trump or anyone else in America.

Consider: First, Akhmetshin himself qualifies as a former intelligence officer (though it’s not clear how senior he was). He might have reason to deny that intelligence he tried to pass was the intelligence in question. And he’d likely be right, given that the Clinton dossier was purportedly a FSB, not a GRU, product. But it’s even possible that he didn’t want Hillary to know that he or a colleague was dealing dirt, however bad.

Nevertheless, the senior-most Russian quoted in the dossier compiled for Hillary Clinton claimed — and Steele appears to have believed — that Russia’s dirt on Hillary Clinton had not yet been released.

As I noted (and others have expanded elsewhere) some of these sources could be people who attended the meeting, particularly once we learn which Agalarov was involved and how closely.

It is definitely cheap to suggest that having three principals from Trump’s campaign meet with Russians claiming to represent the wishes of the Russian government is just an opposition plot invented by a Hillary surrogate. But the feedback loop within Fusion and the narrow circle of key Russian sources on Trump’s campaign is definitely worth considering.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Three Things: Lawyer Dumps Kushner, Hot at Fox, Dimon’s Douchery

Can’t keep up with the amount of crap in the news today. It’s a Friday smack in the middle of summer, for god’s sake; can’t the news-making weasels give the treadmill a rest? Go to the beach already. Chris Christie can give you directions. Sheesh.

– 1 –

Jamie Gorelick put on her boots made for walking. She’s “wrapping up,” they say. Yeah, like rotting fish in news paper, wrapping up. The ~100 names added to Kushner’s SF-86 must have been the last straw — or perhaps the baloney fib about a staffer hitting Enter too soon on a correction to the SF-86 (which is supposed to be a paper form?).

With Team Trump, watch the women. When they leave it’s a sign, just like with The Donald’s ex-wives

– 2 –

Fox News’ too-few journalists are struggling with the crap Team Trump is shoveling. Check out Shepard Smith’s southern accent unleashed while talking with Chris Wallace about all the lies from the White House. Wallace is nearly without words at one point.

– 3 –

JPMorgan’s CEO Jamie Dimon went off on a rant about the U.S. today. Depending on which outlet you read you’ll find completely different takes on what he said. Sadly, it’s more of the same crap which both caused the 2008 crash and put us in this lie-filled quagmire today (too much litigation, complex non-competitive taxes, blah-blah-blah). The jerk-offs on Wall Street don’t realize that regulations they bitch about are what makes the U.S. a safe place to live and do business. China has envied our clean skies and our banking system assures businesses will see their money all their money at the end of the day.

If anything is fucked up with the U.S. it’s that its workers don’t make a living wage and are sandwiched between outrageous college tuition payments and rising rents — and guys like Dimon (who should have been perp walked) think coastal real estate is pricey?

– 4 –

Okay, a fourth thing: Corey Lewandowski tried to give Donald Trump cover for his whereabouts on June 9th last year. WHY? We know now there were EIGHT people in the meeting room though it’s not clear who the last person was. Paul Manafort? Or Donald Trump?

Treat this like an open thread — and treat each other gently, you’ve only just started the weekend!

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

The Story About Judicial Dysfunction Behind the Comey Whiplash

I’ve been home from Europe for less than a day and already I’m thinking of sporting a neck collar for the whiplash I’ve gotten watching the wildly varying Jim Comey opinions.

I’m speaking, of course, of the response to Jim Comey’s highly unusual announcement to sixteen Chairs and Ranking Members of congressional committees (at least some of which Comey did not testify to) that the investigative team — presumably on the Clinton case — briefed him Thursday that FBI discovered additional emails in an unrelated case — now known to be the investigation into Anthony Weiner allegedly sexting a 15 year old — and he approved their request to take the steps necessary to be able to review those emails.

Effectively, the Weiner investigators, in reviewing the content from devices seized in that investigation, found emails from Huma Abedin, told the Hillary investigative team, and they’re now obtaining a warrant to be able to review those emails.

So of course the Republicans that had been claiming Comey had corruptly fixed the investigation for Hillary immediately started proclaiming his valor and Democrats that had been pointing confidently to his exoneration of Hillary immediately resumed their criticism of his highly unusual statements on this investigation. Make up your minds, people!

For the record, I think his initial, completely inappropriate statements made this inevitable. He excuses Friday’s statement as formally correcting the record of his testimony. The claim is undermined by the fact that not all recipients of the letter had him testify. But I think once you start the process of blabbing about investigations, more blabbing likely follows. I don’t mean to excuse this disclosure, but the real sin comes in the first one, which was totally inappropriate by any measure. I’m also very unsympathetic with the claim —  persistently offered by people who otherwise cheer Comey — that he released his initial statement to help Loretta Lynch out of the jam created by her inappropriate meeting with Bill Clinton; I think those explanations stem from a willful blindness about what a self-righteous moralist Comey is.

Of course I’ve been critical of Comey since long before it was cool (and our late great commenter Mary Perdue was critical years before that).

But I’d like to take a step back and talk about what this says about our judicial system.

Jim Comey doesn’t play by the rules

Jamie Gorelick (who worked with Comey when she was in DOJ) and Larry Thompson (who worked with Comey when Comey was US Attorney and he was Deputy Attorney General, until Comey replaced him) wrote a scathing piece attacking Comey for violating the long-standing prohibition on doing anything in an investigation pertaining to a political candidate in the 60 days leading up to an election. The op-ed insinuates that Comey is a “self-aggrandizing crusader[] on [a] high horse” before it goes on to slam him for making himself the judge on both the case and Hillary’s actions.

James B. Comey, put himself enthusiastically forward as the arbiter of not only whether to prosecute a criminal case — which is not the job of the FBI — but also best practices in the handling of email and other matters. Now, he has chosen personally to restrike the balance between transparency and fairness, departing from the department’s traditions. As former deputy attorney general George Terwilliger aptly put it, “There’s a difference between being independent and flying solo.”

But the real meat is that there’s a rule against statements like the one Comey made, and Comey broke it.

Decades ago, the department decided that in the 60-day period before an election, the balance should be struck against even returning indictments involving individuals running for office, as well as against the disclosure of any investigative steps. The reasoning was that, however important it might be for Justice to do its job, and however important it might be for the public to know what Justice knows, because such allegations could not be adjudicated, such actions or disclosures risked undermining the political process. A memorandum reflecting this choice has been issued every four years by multiple attorneys general for a very long time, including in 2016.

If Comey is willing to break this rule in such a high profile case, then what other rules is he breaking? What other judgements has Comey made himself arbiter of? Particularly given Comey’s persistent discussion of FBI’s work in terms of “good guys” and “bad guys” — as opposed to criminal behavior — that seems a really pertinent question.

As with James Clapper, Loretta Lynch can’t control Comey

Gorelick (who has been suggested among potential Clinton appointees) and Thompson go easier on Lynch, however, noting that she didn’t order him to stand down here, but ultimately blaming Comey for needing to be ordered.

Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch — nominally Comey’s boss — has apparently been satisfied with advising Comey but not ordering him to abide by the rules. She, no doubt, did not want to override the FBI director in such a highly political matter, but she should not have needed to. He should have abided by the policy on his own.

But since John Cornyn confronted Lynch in March about who would make decisions in this case — “Everyone in the Department of Justice works for me, including the FBI, sir,” Lynch forcefully reminded Cornyn — it has been clear that there’s a lot more tension than the org chart would suggest there should be.

The NYT provides more details on how much tension there is.

The day before the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, sent a letter to Congress announcing that new evidence had been discovered that might be related to the completed Hillary Clinton email investigation, the Justice Department strongly discouraged the step and told him that he would be breaking with longstanding policy, three law enforcement officials said on Saturday.

Senior Justice Department officials did not move to stop him from sending the letter, officials said, but they did everything short of it, pointing to policies against talking about current criminal investigations or being seen as meddling in elections.

And it’s not just Lynch that has problems managing FBI.

In a response to a question from me in 2014 (after 56:00), Bob Litt explained that FBI’s dual role creates “a whole lot of complications” and went on to admit that the office of Director of National Intelligence — which is supposed to oversee the intelligence community — doesn’t oversee the FBI as directly.

Because FBI is part of the Department of Justice, I don’t have the same visibility into oversight there than I do with respect to the NSA, but the problems are much more complicated because of the dual functions of the FBI.

Litt said something similar to me in May when we discussed why FBI can continue to present bogus numbers in its legally mandated NSL reporting.

Now these are separate issues (though the Clinton investigation is, after all, a national security investigation into whether she or her aides mishandled classified information). But if neither the DNI nor the AG really has control over the FBI Director, it creates a real void of accountability that has repercussions for a whole lot of issues and, more importantly, people who don’t have the visibility or power of Hillary Clinton.

The FBI breaks the rules all the time by leaking like a sieve

Underlying this entire controversy is another rule that DOJ and FBI claim to abide by but don’t, at all: FBI is not supposed to reveal details of ongoing investigations.

Indeed, according to the NYT, Comey pointed to the certainty that this would leak to justify his Friday letter.

But although Mr. Comey told Congress this summer that the Clinton investigation was complete, he believed that if word of the new emails leaked out — and it was sure to leak out, he concluded — he risked being accused of misleading Congress and the public ahead of an election, colleagues said.

Yet the US Attorney’s Manual, starting with this language on prejudicial information and continuing into several more clauses, makes it clear that these kinds of leaks are impermissible.

At no time shall any component or personnel of the Department of Justice furnish any statement or information that he or she knows or reasonably should know will have a substantial likelihood of materially prejudicing an adjudicative proceeding.

Comey, the boss of all the FBI Agents investigating this case, had another alternative, one he should have exercised months ago when it was clear those investigating this case were leaking promiscuously: demand that they shut up, conduct investigations of who was leaking, and discipline those who were doing so. Those leaks were already affecting election year concerns, but there has been little commentary about how they, too, break DOJ rules.

But instead of trying to get FBI Agents to follow DOJ guidelines, Comey instead decided to violate them himself.

Again, that’s absolutely toxic when discussing an investigation that might affect the presidential election, but FBI’s habitual blabbing is equally toxic for a bunch of less powerful people whose investigative details get leaked by the FBI all the time.

[Update: Jeffrey Toobin addresses the role of leaks more generally here, though he seems to forget that the Hillary investigation is technically a national security investigation. I think it’s important to remember that, especially given Hillary’s campaign focus on why FBI isn’t leaking about the investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia, which would also be a national security investigation.]

Warrantless back door searches do tremendous amounts of damage

Finally, think about the circumstances of the emails behind this latest disclosure.

Reports are currently unclear how much the FBI knows about these emails. The NYT describes that the FBI seized multiple devices in conjunction with the Weiner investigation, including the laptop on which they found these emails.

On Oct. 3, F.B.I. agents seized several electronic devices from Mr. Weiner: a laptop, his iPhone and an iPad that was in large measure used by his 4-year-old son to watch cartoons, a person with knowledge of the matter said. Days later, F.B.I. agents also confiscated a Wi-Fi router that could identify any other devices that had been used, the person said.

While searching the laptop, the agents discovered the existence of tens of thousands of emails, some of them sent between Ms. Abedin and other Clinton aides, according to senior law enforcement officials. It is not clear if Ms. Abedin downloaded the emails to the laptop or if they were automatically backed up there. The emails dated back years, the officials said. Ms. Abedin has testified that she did not routinely delete her emails.

Presumably, the warrant to seize those devices permits the FBI agents to go find any evidence of Weiner sexting women (or perhaps just the young woman in question).

And admittedly, the details NYT’s sources describe involve just metadata: addressing information and dates.

But then, Comey told Congress these emails were “pertinent” to the Clinton investigation, and other details in reports, such as they might be duplicates of emails already reviewed by the FBI, suggest the Weiner investigators may have seen enough to believe they might pertain to the inquiry into whether Clinton and her aides (including Huma) mishandled classified information. Moreover, the FBI at least thinks they will be able to prove there is probable cause to believe these emails may show the mishandling of classified information.

Similarly, there are conflicting stories about whether the Hillary investigation was ever closed, which may arise from the fact that if it were (as Comey had suggested in his first blabby statements), seeking these emails would require further approval to continue the investigation.

The point, though, is that FBI would have had no idea these emails existed were it not for FBI investigators who were aware of the other investigation alerting their colleagues to these emails. This has been an issue of intense litigation in recent years, and I’d love for Huma, after the election, to submit a serious legal challenge if any warrant is issued.

But then, in this case, Huma is being provided far more protection than people swept up in FISA searches, where any content with a target can be searched years into the future without any probable cause or even evidence of wrong-doing. Here, Huma’s emails won’t be accessible for investigative purpose without a warrant (in part because of recent prior litigation in the 2nd Circuit), whereas in the case of emails acquired via FISA, FBI can access the information — pulling it up not just by metadata but by content — with no warrant at all.

[Update: Orin Kerr shares my concerns on this point — with the added benefit that he discusses all the recent legal precedents that may prohibit accessing these emails.]

This is a good example of the cost of such investigations. Because the FBI can and does sweep so widely in searches of electronic communications, evidence from one set of data collection can be used to taint others unrelated to the crime under investigation.

All the people writing scathing emails about Comey’s behavior in this particular matter would like you to believe that this issue doesn’t reflect on larger issues at DOJ. They would like you to believe that DOJ was all pure and good and FBI was well-controlled except for this particular investigation. But that’s simply not the case, and some of these issues go well beyond Comey.

Update: Minor changes were made to this post after it was initially posted.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

“We all benefited” from Margolis’ tenure

A bunch of former DOJ bigwigs just wrote a seemingly pointless letter to Pat Leahy to assure him that David Margolis does not have a partisan–and they mean Left-Right partisan–bias. (h/t Main Justice)

I say “pointless,” to begin with, because after last Friday’s flaccid hearing on the OPR report, is anyone actually imagining that Pat Leahy is going to make a stink because the OPR Report got spiked?

And besides, no one thinks Margolis is a flaming political partisan. He’s a DOJ partisan, always putting the Department first, even ahead of justice. Hearing from a bunch of former DOJ bigwigs claiming he has no bias isn’t going to allay those concerns.

What’s particularly pathetic about this document, though, is the number people with a vested interest making the following weak claims:

we all benefited during our tenures from the wise counsel and good judgment of David Margolis

[snip]

While we do not comment here on the merits of the decision regarding the discipline of John Y00 and Jay Bybee, we are certain that it was reached conscientiously and wholly without partisan purposes.

[snip]

As those who have benefited from David Margolis’s counsel, we know he remains a great asset to the Department and the country for the present and future.

Let’s start with Alberto Gonzales, who gave approval for the use of torture techniques long before OLC did, and who was therefore perhaps the person most in need of the Get Out of Jail Free card that John Yoo wrote him. He signed this document.

So did George Terwilliger, Alberto Gonzales’ defense attorney, representing him on a number of ethical and potentially criminal issues, and therefore, presumably, on torture, if it ever came to that.

There’s Michael Mukasey, about whom Mary wrote a 2,000 word post describing his many conflicts on this issue. And Mark Filip, who helped Mukasey try to spike this report from the start. And Craig Morford, who was Acting DAG when Mukasey reviewed the Steven Bradbury memos and found them reasonable, which was itself a key part of spiking this investigation.

And how about John Ashcroft, huh? He wants you to know that he’s sure that Margolis judged correctly when Margolis determined that Ashcroft’s subordinates did not willfully do wrong when they shredded the Constitution eight years ago under Ashcroft’s inattentive watch. The same Ashcroft who reportedly pushed for some kind of “advance pardon” for the torturers. I sure trust him to tell me whether Margolis judged rightly or wrongly.

Then there’s Paul McNulty who, as US Attorney for Eastern District of VA, declined to charge people who engaged in torture and murder pursuant to these memos. The same guy whose decision to decline prosecution was reconsidered, given all the damning evidence in the OPR Report. Do you honestly believe that McNulty doesn’t want to have his decisions–which shortly preceded his promotion to be Deputy Attorney General–scrutinized that closely?

There’s Jim Comey, who may be one of those refusing to comment on the merits of the decision here (well then, why comment?), but who, when he lost the battle on the torture memos, expressed sadness “for the Department and the AG.” But not, it should be said, for the rule of law.

Add in Larry Thompson, who is another of the lawyers who, at least according to the OPR Report, reviewed and approved of the Bybee Memos. He thinks Margolis did the right thing too.

And, finally, David Ogden, who got fired not long ago, perhaps because he was happy to put politics above the law.

Now I’ll leave it for comments to unpack why people like lobbyist hack Jamie Gorelick wants to boost Margolis. But for now, just know that when at least 10 of these 17 bigwigs say they benefited from Margolis’ “wise counsel and good judgment,” they may well be talking about personal–and significant–benefit.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.