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Mueller’s 302s: The Apparent Referral of Rick Gerson’s 302s May Be as Interesting as Kushner’s

Last week, CNN explained why, even though DOJ had promised to release a certain set of FBI interview reports (302s) in the CNN/BuzzFeed FOIA for the underlying materials from the Mueller Report, Jared Kushner’s April 2018 interview report has not yet been released: An intelligence agency is reviewing the memo.

The Justice Department did not hand over the FBI’s summary of Jared Kushner’s interviews with special counsel Robert Mueller last week — despite a judge’s order to do so — because “a member of the intelligence community” needs to ensure the material has been properly redacted, a department attorney said Wednesday.

DOJ lawyer Courtney Enlow informed CNN as part of an ongoing lawsuit that Kushner’s memo, also known as a “302, will be released with the appropriate redactions” after the intelligence agency has finished its review.

Earlier this month, DOJ gave the plaintiffs in this FOIA suit a table that may provide useful background to it. Vast swaths of virtually all of these 302s have been withheld under a b5 exemption, which is broadly known as the deliberative privilege exemption. This table (“b5 table”) purports to explain which 302s have been withheld under which form of b5 exemption:

  • AWP: Attorney Work Product, basically a specious claim that because attorneys were present at an interview, the report produced by non-attorney FBI agents gets covered as a result
  • DPP: Deliberative Process Privilege, which is supposed to mean that the redacted material involves government officials trying to decide what to do about a policy or, in this case, prosecutorial decisions
  • PCP: Presidential Communications Privilege, meaning the redacted material includes discussions directly involving the President

The litigation over these b5 Exemptions was always going to be heated, given that DOJ is using them to hide details of what the President and his flunkies did in 2016. All the more so now that DOJ has adopted a broader invocation of b5 exemptions than they did earlier in this lawsuit, when they were limited to just discussions of law and charging decisions.

Still, the b5 table is useful in other ways.

Mary McCord interview purportedly includes Presidential Communications

For example, it shows that the government redacted parts of Acting NSD Director Mary McCord‘s interview report, which focused closely on her interactions with the White House Counsel about Mike Flynn’s lies to the FBI, as a Presidential Communication.

This claim  is probably fairly sketchy. She is not known, herself, to have spoken directly to Trump. And while much of her interview was withheld under b1 and b3 (at least partly on classification grounds pertaining to the FISA on which Flynn was captured, but also grand jury information with respect to the investigation into Mike Flynn) and b7E (law enforcement methods), the parts that were withheld under b5 appear to be her speaking to Don McGahn, including bringing information to him, rather than the reverse.

Crazier still, we’ve all been pretending that Flynn lied about his calls with Sergey Kislyak of his own accord; the Mueller Report remained pointedly non-committal on whether Flynn undercut Obama’s sanctions on Trump’s orders or not. Protecting these conversations as a Presidential Communication seems tacit admission that Don McGahn’s interactions with McCord were significantly about Trump, not Flynn.

Chris Ruddy’s interview unsurprisingly includes Presidential Communications

It is thoroughly unsurprising that DOJ is withholding parts of Chris Ruddy’s interview as Presidential Communications. After all, during the period about which the unredacted parts of the interview show he was interviewed (summer 2017), Ruddy served as Trump’s rational brain, so it would be unsurprising if Ruddy told Mueller’s team certain things he said to Trump.

Though even there, there are passages that seem like may be an improper assertion of Presidential Communications, such as what appears to be a meeting at the White House with Reince Priebus and Steve Bannon — neither of whom is the President — asking for his help to go make a public statement mind-melding him into not firing Mueller.

As the Mueller Report passages sourced to this interview make clear, this is a PR request, not a presidential communication.

On Monday, June 12, 2017, Christopher Ruddy, the chief executive of Newsmax Media and a longtime friend of the President’s, met at the White House with Priebus and Bannon.547 Ruddy recalled that they told him the President was strongly considering firing the Special Counsel and that he would do so precipitously, without vetting the decision through Administration officials.548 Ruddy asked Priebus if Ruddy could talk publicly about the discussion they had about the Special Counsel, and Priebus said he could.549 Priebus told Ruddy he hoped another blow up like the one that followed the termination of Comey did not happen.550 Later that day, Ruddy stated in a televised interview that the President was “considering perhaps terminating the Special Counsel” based on purported conflicts of interest.551 Ruddy later told another news outlet that “Trump is definitely considering” terminating the Special Counsel and “it’s not something that’s being dismissed.”552 Ruddy’s comments led to extensive coverage in the media that the President was considering firing the Special Counsel.553

White House officials were unhappy with that press coverage and Ruddy heard from friends that the President was upset with him.554

Still, the fact that DOJ maintains that some of this interview involves Presidential Communications is interesting because of the point I made in this post: Passages currently redacted for an ongoing criminal proceeding suggest Ruddy’s other communications, possibly with Manafort or his lawyer, are part of an ongoing criminal proceeding.

I’m interested in Ruddys’ 302 because four paragraphs that show a b7ABC redaction, which mostly has been used to hide stuff pertaining to Roger Stone.

I doubt this redaction pertains to Stone, though, at least not exclusively.

As I noted last June when Amy Berman Jackson liberated the Sean Hannity texts with Manafort, she withheld another set of communications (probably showing Kevin Downing reached out to the media, as he had done with Hannity, which is why they were submitted as part of Manafort’s sentencing). She withheld the other texts because of an ongoing proceeding.

At the time, I suggested that the other proceeding might pertain to Chris Ruddy because:

  • Ruddy was a key source for a key Howard Fineman story in the same time frame as Kevin Downing had reached out to Hannity
  • Prosecutors probably obtained all of Manafort’s WhatsApp texts after learning he had been witness tampering using that account
  • Ruddy testified to Mueller the day after they had extracted the Manafort-Hannity texts, suggesting he was a likely candidate to be the other person whose texts showed ongoing communication with the media

DOJ may be withholding discrete paragraphs in Ruddy’s interview both because they are a Presidential Communication and because they are part of an ongoing investigation. Which seems like something CNN and BuzzFeed might want to clarify.

Hiding the most damning Sater and Bannon and (possibly) KT McFarland interviews?

Then there are three interviews DOJ claims to have turned over for which the interviewee’s name has been withheld.

One of those, for an interview on August 15, 2017, happened on a day when Mueller’s team conducted five interviews (or, given the 1-page length of three of them, more likely phone calls setting up interviews). One of those is of Andrej Krickovic, a Carter Page associate who is not listed on the master list of interviews but whose name was identified in his 302. But the interview in question is being withheld under a Presidential Communications exemption, so surely is not Krickovic. There’s a 6-page interview from that date reflected in the DOJ list of all interviews (“Mueller interview list”) that is likely the one in question. And given that the earliest released interview of KT McFarland, dated September 14, 2017, describes her being “acquainted with the interviewing agents from a previous interview,” given reports that her first most egregious lies about Flynn’s calls to Kislyak came during the summer (before it was clear that Mueller’s team was going to obtain a warrant to get Transition emails from GSA), and given the September 302 reflects her attempt to clear up several existing untruths, I’m guessing that’s hers.

There’s more evidence regarding the subjects of two other 302s from which the names have purportedly been withheld. The b5 table includes a December 15, 2017 interview being withheld exclusively as Attorney Work Product. It seems likely that this is the December 15, 2017 Felix Sater interview reflected in the Mueller interview list. Immediately before the September 19, 2017 Sater interview are 7 pages that were entirely withheld (1394 through 1400) under b3 (grand jury or classification), b6 and b7C (collectively, privacy), b7E (law enforcement sources and methods), b7F (likely risk of death), and b5. Sater is one of — if not the only — person whose interviews have been protected under b7F (which makes sense, given that he was a high level informant for years).  Plus, there’s reason to believe that Sater’s story evolved after he was interviewed by HPSCI on December 14, 2017, and DOJ seems especially interested in hiding how some of these stories changed over time. In other words, DOJ seems to be hiding the entirety of a Sater interview the existence of which they already acknowledged under a whole slew of exemptions, including Attorney Work Privilege. That would be particularly egregious, given that Mueller relied on that interview to support the following details about Trump Tower:

Given the size of the Trump Moscow project, Sater and Cohen believed the project required approval (whether express or implicit) from the Russian national government, including from the Presidential Administration of Russia.330 Sater stated that he therefore began to contact the Presidential Administration through another Russian business contact.331

[snip]

The day after this exchange, Sater tied Cohen’s travel to Russia to the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (“Forum”), an annual event attended by prominent Russian politicians and businessmen. Sater told the Office that he was informed by a business associate that Peskov wanted to invite Cohen to the Forum.367

In a follow-up, I’ll explain why DOJ’s attempt to withhold this interview by hiding the existence of it even though they’ve already acknowledged it is fairly damning.

In addition, the b5 table lists a January 18, 2019 interview withheld under Presidential Communication and Deliberative Process Privilege, but not Attorney Work Product (which might suggest it was an interview FBI agents conducted with no prosecutor present). While there was stuff pending in the Jerome Corsi investigation at the time (which might explain the lack of lawyers but probably not a Presidential Communication Privilege), the only interview on that date included in the Mueller interview list involves Steve Bannon. That’s interesting because while his proffer agreement (signed by Andrew Goldstein, so seemingly reflecting Goldstein’s presence at the interview of that date) shows in the batch of 302s in which this withheld one is supposed to have appeared, his interview of that date (which is 4 pages long) does not appear. There’s not an obvious set of withheld pages that might be that interview (there are 6-page withholdings that might include it). But Bannon’s January 18, 2019 was, given some comments at the Stone trial, particularly damning and conflicts with the one (of three) Bannon 302 that has been made public. Just one sentence of the Mueller Report — pertaining to the campaign’s discussions about upcoming WikiLeaks releases but still redacted for Stone’s trial — relies on this Bannon interview, but since it does, the interview itself should not be entirely redacted. (That said, the entirety of Bannon’s 16-page October 26, 2018 302 has also been hidden in plain sight in these releases.)

There is, admittedly, varying degrees of certainty about these hypotheses. But if they are correct, it would suggest that DOJ is systematically withholding 302s that would show significant changes in testimony among people who were not charged for lying in the earlier ones. Of particularly note, they may be hiding one each that BuzzFeed (which had the lead in reporting the Felix Sater story) and CNN (which was one of the few outlets that reported how KT McFarland had to clean up her testimony) have an institutional stake in.

Rick Gerson disappeared into the same Agency review as Jared Kushner?

Finally, the b5 table reveals DOJ has “released” the two interviews from Rick Gerson, even though we’ve seen no hint of them.

You might be forgiven for forgetting who Rick Gerson is — Steven Bannon even claimed to have in his first, least forthcoming interview. He’s a hedgie who is close to Jared Kushner who actually had a key role in setting US-Russian policy from the start of the Trump Administration. George Nader introduced him to the CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund, Kirill Dmitriev, after which Gerson (who had no official role in the Transition or Administration so presumably had no security clearance) and Dmitriev put together a reconciliation plan between Russian and the US.

In addition, the UAE national security advisor introduced Dmitriev to a hedge fund manager and friend of Jared Kushner, Rick Gerson, in late November 2016. In December 2016 and January 2017, Dmitriev and Gerson worked on a proposal for reconciliation between the United States and Russia, which Dmitriev implied he cleared through Putin. Gerson provided that proposal to Kushner before the inauguration, and Kushner later gave copies to Bannon and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Gerson’s two interviews are cited 17 times in the Mueller Report and cover topics including:

  • Gerson’s ties to Jared and non-existent role on the campaign
  • Gerson’s role setting up meetings with Tony Blair and Mohammed bin Zayed
  • How Nader introduced him to Dmitriev
  • How Dmitriev pitched Gerson on a potential joint venture
  • How Gerson, having been promised a business deal, then worked to figure out from Jared and Mike Flynn who was running “reconciliation” on the Transition
  • What Dmitriev claimed his relationship to Putin was
  • How Gerson, “on his own initiative and as a private citizen,” worked with Dmitriev during December 2016 to craft this “reconciliation” plan
  • How Gerson got that plan into Kushner’s hands and it formed a key part of the discussion between Trump and Putin on their January 28, 2017 call
  • How Dmitriev seemed to lose interest in doing business with Gerson once he had finished using him

A key part of this discussion relies on both Gerson’s interviews and the Kushner one that is being reviewed by an Agency.

On January 16, 2017, Dmitriev consolidated the ideas for U.S.-Russia reconciliation that he and Gerson had been discussing into a two-page document that listed five main points: (1) jointly fighting terrorism; (2) jointly engaging in anti-weapons of mass destruction efforts; (3) developing “win-win” economic and investment initiatives; (4) maintaining an honest, open, and continual dialogue regarding issues of disagreement; and (5) ensuring proper communication and trust by “key people” from each country. 1111 On January 18, 2017, Gerson gave a copy of the document to Kushner. 1112 Kushner had not heard of Dmitriev at that time. 1113 Gerson explained that Dmitriev was the head of RDIF, and Gerson may have alluded to Dmitriev’s being well connected. 1114 Kushner placed the document in a file and said he would get it to the right people. 1115 Kushner ultimately gave one copy of the document to Bannon and another to Rex Tillerson; according to Kushner, neither of them followed up with Kushner about it. 1116 On January 19, 2017, Dmitriev sent Nader a copy of the two-page document, telling him that this was “a view from our side that I discussed in my meeting on the islands and with you and with our friends. Please share with them – we believe this is a good foundation to start from.” 1117

1111 1/16/17 Text Messages; Dmitriev & Gerson.

1112 Gerson 6/5/18 302, at 3; Gerson 6/15/18 302, at 2.

1113 Gerson 6/5/18 302, at 3.

1114 Gerson 6/5/18 302, at 3; Gerson 6/15/18.302, at 1-2; Kushner 4/11/ 18 302, at 22.

1115 Gerson 6/5/18 302, at 3.

1116 Kushner 4/11/18 302, at 32.

1117 1/19/17 Text Message, Dmitriev to Nader (11: 11 :56 a.m.).

There are roughly 62 pages referred to another agency in the January 2 release (which is understood to include Kushner’s April 11, 2018 interview) is an 11-page series (1216-1226), which might be Gerson’s two interviews. That suggests we can’t even get the 302s that show how Putin’s selected envoy to the US managed to plan out the first phone call between Putin and Trump with a hedgie who went to college with Kushner with not formal ties to the Transition or Administration and no security clearance because they’re so sensitive — more sensitive than KT McFarland’s discussion of Transition national security discussions, for example — that some Agency like the CIA has to give us permission first.

Steve Bannon’s 302 of Laughter and Forgetting

I want to wade through some half truths Steve Bannon told in his second Mueller interview, because it serves as a useful baseline to understand what has happened since, including Bannon’s testimony in Roger Stone’s trial.

Bannon had, according to the unredacted entries on a list of all Mueller FBI 302s, interviews with Mueller’s team on four days:

  • February 12, 2018 (26 pages)
  • February 14, 2018 (37 pages)
  • October 26, 2018 (16 pages; the interview list lists three different interviews, but they are likely just copies of the same one)
  • January 18, 2019 (4 pages)

The report (called a 302), notes, and backup for the February 14, 2018 interview were released via FOIA just before the Stone trial.

I knew — when this interview was first released — that he was shading the truth, because there was already public evidence that contradicted the story he told back in it and prosecutors caught him in a number of forgetfulness and omissions even within the interview. His Stone testimony and some other 302s released since that time make that even more clear. Which makes how he told the original half truths particularly interesting, as it points to several topics, at least some of which remain under investigation, where Bannon tried to obscure the truth.

Finding the line between false statements and being ousted from the right wing

Consider the background to the interview. Through the entire time he worked on the campaign and in the White House, Bannon was at odds with Jared Kushner, which ultimately led to his ouster from the White House in August 2017. In early January 2018, Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury, which rather obviously relied heavily on Bannon as a source, came out. Among the incendiary claims Bannon was described as making in the book was that Don Jr’s acceptance of the June 9 meeting was “treasonous.” Even though he issued a sort of apology, Bannon was still ousted from Breitbart, cut off from the wingnut gravy train that is key to his power. Days later, Mueller used Bannon’s comments as an opportunity to subpoena him, long after obtaining testimony from similarly situated people in the investigation (Mueller may have waited because of the evidence Bannon had been part of some back channels during the transition). Between the time Mueller subpoenaed Bannon and he testified with Mueller, he testified to HPSCI, effectively previewing a story he knew would be shared with the White House. All those events likely made Bannon want to tell a story that backed off the inflammatory claims he shared with Wolff, while still hewing closely enough to the truth to avoid prison.

This was a long interview. The report extends 37 pages, the longest of any Mueller interview report noted.

The beginning focuses on obstruction. After five redacted pages, the interview discusses Trump’s disdain for Jeff Sessions. Five pages later, the interview remained focused on Trump’s obstruction, having moved onto his efforts to fire Mueller.

Several pages later, it moved to the June 9 meeting. Bannon said he had no knowledge of the meeting at the time it happened (remember, he joined the campaign in August 2016), which made it easy for him to accuse Jared of treason, since he was uninvolved.

Bannon can’t decide whether he got Manafort fired or tried to protect him

But Bannon’s response to and insulation from the June 9 meeting is important background to where things start to get interesting, an apparent attempt to get Kushner fired in the wake of the June 9 meeting revelations.

On page 14 of the interview, Bannon got shown a July 24 email (PDF 174), which shows him forwarding a July 24, 2017 story implicating Jared in Russian money laundering to someone at Breitbart, telling them not to touch it yet. But the subsequent conversation makes it clear that Bannon was preparing to try to get Jared fired in the wake of the June 9 meeting revelation.

Bannon’s explanation to Mueller’s team was totally nonsensical, not least because he doesn’t appear to address the article at all, but important for everything that came after. He talks about what happened when he joined the campaign.

Bannon knew Kushner was on vacation off the coast of Croatia with a Russian billionaire when Bannon took over the campaign. Kushner was with Wendy Deng, the Russian billionaire, and the Russian’s girlfriend. Bannon said his friends in the intelligence community said the girlfriend was “questionable.” Bannon called Kushner and told him to come back from vacation. They had 85 days to go, no money and they needed Kushner to come back and fire Paul Manafort.

Both by date — 85 days before the election would be — and by public reporting, Bannon is referring to something that happened in mid-August 2016, when Ivanka and Jared were pictured on David Geffen’s boat off of Dubrovnik, probably a hit piece meant to suggest that Kushner was really a Democrat. Later, the frothy left had, in 2017, made much of the fact that Dmitry Rybolovlev was in Dubrovnik at the same time Kushner was. But in his interview, Bannon was basically answering a question about a hit piece from the weeks before he was ousted by making a claim that he had had to recall Kushner from that vacation in Dubrovnik at a time the campaign was failing to fire Paul Manafort.

Two pages later, the interview turns to how Bannon get set up with Trump in the first place — both how he had earlier been aligned with other outsider candidates and then swooped in in August 2016 to take over the campaign. The notes, but not the report itself, reveals that he got to know Sam Nunberg pretty well. The narrative loops through discussions of Cruz and Lewandowski, includes discussions from June 2016, then turns back to where Bannon anachronistically put his answer to the previous question: to what sorry shape the campaign was in when he took over in mid-August.

At the time Trump was 16 points down, the campaign had no organization, no money, 75% of the population through the country was in decline, they were working with the “deplorables,” and  Bannon had a 100% certitude that they would win. Bannon believed that the big task was to give people permission to vote for Trump as commander in chief.

Bannon’s story shifts immediately back to how he ousted Manafort, but this time he tells a story that differs from what he told Mueller just pages earlier.

The next day Bannon met with Manafort, which was the same time that the news about the “Black Ledger” was breaking. Bannon was at campaign headquarters when Manafort told Bannon to come up to Trump Tower. When Bannon arrived, Manafort showed him something about a NY Times story about the “Black Ledger” and $15 million dollars from the Ukraine. Bannon asked when this story was coming out. Manafort replied that he had known about the story coming out for approximately 2 months and had not gotten involved in it. Bannon subsequently told Trump to keep Manafort, to not fire him, and to keep him around for a couple of weeks. Bannon called Kushner, and asked him to get back in order to do something publicity wise to counteract the negative press surrounding the story. Trump had asked Bannon at one time about “what was this thing with Manafort out of the Ukraine,” and they talked for approximately 15 minutes on it. Trump was never linked with other Russian news stories at the time, and he believed Manafort was a promoter. Trump was more worried about how they [sic] story made them look. Bannon believed that Trump talked with Manafort about the story.

Just pages earlier, Bannon had claimed he called Kushner back to fire Manafort; here he said he called Kushner back to do publicity to make it feasible to keep him on.

Bannon claims not to remember how Prince scripted Trump’s answers on Russia for the last debate

Then the interview moves to Erik Prince.

Remember, this interview takes place against he background of Mueller’s efforts to figure out Bannon’s role in sending Prince to set up a back channel with Kirill Dmitriev in the Seychelles. But rather than go there, the interview focuses on whether whether Prince had scripted the answers on Russia that Trump used in the final debate on October 19, 2016.

Bannon explained that he had never had a conversation with Prince about foreign policy with respect to the Trump campaign. Then, prosecutors asked him about a series of documents that proved him wrong:

  • Some talking points Prince sent on September 8, 2015 (PDF 181), effectively pitching his services, which Bannon forwarded to Corey Lewandowski
  • An email exchange showing Bannon forwarding those talking points, Bannon following up (after just having spoken to Prince) asking whether Lewandowski had read the Prince brief, Lewandowski responding they were meeting with Flynn shortly, followed by Bannon offering Prince to brief Trump
  • An email showing Bannon setting up an interview (possibly with Prince) regarding the GOP spat over Section 215 in December 2015
  • A January 14, 2016 where Bannon gave Prince a reference for someone he described as Muslim who was living in India, possibly suggesting Prince should hire him
  • A March 17, 2016 email showing Bannon inviting Prince on his show and trying to set up another Prince-Trump meeting
  • A May 23, 2016 email with Prince suggesting Trump meet with Oleg Hladkovskyy, then the National Security Advisor of Ukraine, who was being hosted by a Prince friend who was in the aerospace business
  • An October 18, 2016 email (PDF 196) from Prince suggesting that, “Mr. T should introduce, an alternative narrative” on Russian election interference by arguing that Putin and Lavrov, “know your weaknesses and your penchant for recklessness, ignoring rules and regulations, which has provided a treasure trove of sensitive information while you were Secretary of State” (!!!)
  • A November 16, 2016 email from Mark Corallo that Prince forwarded to Bannon showing that Corallo was fluffing Bannon with reporters, with the explanation, “We are getting you more PR help”

In response to seeing these documents, Bannon claimed to forget almost all of it.

He professed to not remembering whether Prince had briefed Trump in September 2015, and claimed — the written record notwithstanding — that he spoke to Prince infrequently. He then claimed to not remember whether Prince had come on his show but excused it because Prince was “on the right;” he doesn’t appear to have answered whether Prince briefed Trump. Bannon did not remember the Hladkovskyy pitch, but explained that by saying Prince “as someone with a good relationship with Trump.” Bannon appears to have responded to the Prince advice on how to change the Russian narrative — what the original question was directed towards — by suggesting that campaign headquarters were “loosey goosey” meaning Prince may have come in with free reign during the period Bannon was the campaign CEO (meaning that Bannon couldn’t be pinned down as the exclusive via which Prince scripted that question). Bannon claimed not to remember Prince going out of his way to help Bannon get good PR.

In other words, Mueller’s team first asked Bannon if he had been the channel for Prince to inject policy views — specifically the view that the US should partner with Russia to go after ISIS — into the campaign. Bannon said no. And then prosecutors showed him a bunch of emails showing that’s probably what happened, including Prince offering a scripted answer about Russia for the last debate.

The MBZ back channel

Mueller’s prosecutors then moved to another of the sensitive things Bannon had a role in: the meeting with Mohammed bin Zayed during the transition.

The story goes back to a meeting Trump had with Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, something George Papadopoulos had claimed credit for. Bannon gave Kushner the credit. He claimed he didn’t know if they talked about Russia. He also claimed that if he met George Nader, they did little more than shake hands (Bannon would retain ties with Nader for quite some time after this).

There’s a heavily redacted paragraph that, in the notes, clearly involves George Nader. Given his role in brokering the meeting between Prince and Dmitriev, that may be what the passage is about.

Bannon then claims that he last heard from Nader two or three months earlier (that is, late 2017), but that Nader hadn’t reached out to him about being forced to testify to Mueller the month earlier.

Bannon remembers Rick Gerson

Immediately after catching Bannon forgetting how central he was to channeling Prince into the campaign (above), he was asked about Rick Gerson, who would play a key role, with Kirill Dmitriev, in scripting the initial phone call between Trump and Putin. When he was first asked, Bannon said he didn’t remember him.

Then, after the Nader discussion, he was shown a picture, and Bannon recognized that he was Kushner’s hedge fund buddy whom he had referenced earlier. There are two redacted paragraphs, after which Bannon is again asked whether he spoke to Nader about his testimony. Bannon claimed to have learned of Nader’s testimony from the newspaper, “but then said that he could be wrong.” It seems like prosecutors knew it was wrong.

Bannon disclaims any knowledge of Trump’s Russian business ties

After over two redacted pages, the interview then turns to the Trump Tower Russia deal. Bannon started by blaming Michael Cohen for the shit he protected Trump from (a particularly notable comment since Wolff had reported him claiming that Cohen had “taken care of” a “hundred women” during the campaign).

Bannon described Cohen as the kind of guy who thought it would be a good idea to send $130,000 to Stormy Daniels.

Bannon was then shown a document about Trump Tower (which was not released in the FOIA). In response, he tried to claim he had no knowledge of Trump having any business deals.

Bannon was told “zero” deals involving Russia and the Trump Organization. Candidate Trump would say he didn’t know any Russians and there was no collusion. This came up during the campaign a couple of times. Bannon never asked Trump about any Russian business deals. In regard to the emails [sic] reference to Felix Sater, Bannon stated that this went back to the House Intelligence Committee, that they had a signed term sheet in December 2015 on Trump Tower Moscow. This was a big deal to Bannon, and Bannon described it as a “big reveal.”

Mostly, they’re asking Bannon about the cover story that wouldn’t be exposed as such for months after this interview. But it’s significant because before and after the question, Bannon claimed that when Manafort’s Russian ties were creating problems in August 2016, he had no knowledge that Trump had ties to Russia.

After a number of redacted paragraphs, the interview turns to Bannon’s knowledge — which he had reportedly bragged about to Wolff — of the Stormy Daniels payment. Bannon claimed, dubiously, to have spoken to Breitbart people about the payment (which happened while he was CEO of the campaign), but not anyone on the campaign. This dubious claim is of particular interest given that, shortly after Cohen was raided two months after this interview, Bannon started pushing to fire Rod Rosenstein to end the investigation.

Then the discussion returns to Trump’s Russian business deals. After twice already claiming that he had no knowledge of Trump’s Russian business ties, Bannon then admitted:

  • Having read stories from March and April in 2016 on the topic, but not discussing them with anyone on the campaign
  • Learning, while he was on the campaign, of the Dmitry Rybolovlev purchase of Trump’s mansion, but accepting Trump’s “plausible” explanation for it
  • Learning the limited hangout Trump Tower story, but reaching out to people at The Intercept, Fox, the Guardian, and ABC, and because they had no knowledge of it, thinking no further of it
  • Claiming to have “never talked to Trump on how he thought all these stories on his business dealings with Russia was absurd”

Bannon was then shown an email (this is out of order, in the back-up section starting at PDF 234) where he had asked Cohen about claims about Sergey Millian, which he didn’t remember getting, nor does he remember discussing it with the campaign, even though he included Kellyanne Conway, Jared, Stephen Miller, and two other people in his question to Cohen about it. It consisted of a September 22, 2016, response from Sergei Millian to an FT reporter on how sanctions affected deals with Russia, a follow-up four days later, followed by a specific disavowal on September 27 that he had worked, personally, for Trump. Millian forwarded it to Cohen that same day, and Cohen forwarded it to the campaign, misstating what Millian said as a disavowal of any relationship. When Bannon asked what the context was, Jared responded by explaining that Hillary was playing commercials claiming that Trump wasn’t releasing his taxes to hide his ties to Russian oligarchs.

Effectively, Bannon made a not very credible case, one undermined by the documentary record, that he never learned — and never asked about — the Russian business ties of his boss.

But her emails and those other emails and other emails still

Much of the rest of the interview focuses on at least five different uses of emails, oppo research, and social media during the campaign: Cambridge Analytica, Bannon’s own oppo research, Hillary 33,0000 emails, Papadopoulos’ advance notice of the Russian operation, and Stone’s activities. One interesting aspect of this is the way the interview seems to shift back and forth between these seemingly distinct issues, starting with Sam Nunberg, going through Cambridge Analytica and the 33,000 emails, then returning to Stone. That may be because this section is heavily redacted (much of it for ongoing investigative reasons, and not just the parts pertaining to Stone), but it also may have to do with the fact that Bannon’s role went from outside purveyor of junk oppo research and lackey of the Mercers to the guy leading the campaign. Remember, the Mercers funded both Bannon’s Government Accountability Institute and CA. While it’s not yet clear why, the way in which these two streams collapsed in August 2016 remains important.

First, Bannon was asked about a June 5, 2015 email from Barbara Ledeen (PDF 199) sharing her proposal to find Hillary’s missing 33,000 emails (which was specifically pitched in terms of opposition research, not — in Ledeen’s function on SJC — as an oversight goal). The Bates stamp on it suggests it came from his response to subpoena. Bannon said that was part of his work on Government Accountability Institute, and was part of his effort to package allegations about the Clinton Foundation into the book, Clinton Cash, that would go on to be the basis of an FBI investigation during the campaign.

Next, Bannon explained an August 4, 2015 email to Bannon saying that Lewandowski had “just confirmed green light on Trump :-)))”. It pertained to voter targeting, but the data operation people were not retained.  Bannon seems to have responded to this 2015 email by explaining that someone from Cambridge Analytica introduced Bannon to Ivanka and Jared after Ted Cruz withdrew in May 2016, which was the first time he met them.

Next, Bannon was asked about a June 12, 2016 email from someone in the UK (PDF 226). Based on the length of some of the redactions, Alexander Nix was almost certainly involved. The email pitched Bannon meeting with someone while on a trip to the UK in the next two weeks to discuss the Super PAC. Bannon responded “Love it,” but in the interview he claimed not remembering talking to what is almost certainly Nix about this meeting. Parts of this email are redacted under the b7ABC exemption, reflecting an ongoing investigation in November when it was released.

Then Bannon was asked whether he had worked with George Papadopoulos on setting up the meeting with al-Sisi as a way to ask if he had heard Papadopoulos’ information about Russian dirt. Bannon claimed that Flynn would be on the hook for the al-Sisi meetings Papadopoulos was floating, so he didn’t need to interact with Papadopoulos.

Importantly, Bannon said he “had all the dirt he needed from Clinton Cash and Uranium One,” so he didn’t need “any more dirt from ‘clowns’ like Papadopoulos and Clovis.” This is an important issue: Bannon claimed, back in February 2018, that he believed there was a finite amount of dirt needed between the dirt he had invented and the dirt others — the Russians — were offering. By saying he already had his own dirt, he was effectively disavowing an interest in dirt that came from Russia and suggesting they were separate. Note, too, that the answer is particularly interesting because when Papadopoulos told Alexander Downer about the Russian offer, he mentioned that the campaign already had a ton of dirt, which presumably would have been Bannon’s.

It appears, given his name appearing in the notes but not in unredacted form in the 302, that the discussion then turned to Sam Nunberg, who may have sent Bannon an email on January 7, 2016 — long before Bannon joined the campaign — referring to the “Data Guy in Trump Tower.” Bannon thought the name in the email was wrong though did remember meeting a “data guy” there in January 2016. He thought Nunberg did a great job running the campaign by himself for a year (which is interesting because he seemed to have a good relationship with Lewandowski, who was nominally running it).

Bannon is then shown two emails which were not released in FOIA, at least one of which pertains to CA. His responses are redacted under ongoing investigation exemptions.

Bannon then explained that in August 2016, Kushner was in charge of the digital campaign and fundraising, and “the campaign had almost no cash and they were receiving only a small amount from online contributions.” Thus, he repeats the refrain he used at the beginning of the interview, but this time in the specific context of social media and online fundraising.

The interview then turns to an April 20, 2016 email (this is out of order at PDF 239) showing what may be Bannon following up on a meeting by referring to someone else, with the interlocutor asking to call the next day. Bannon claimed not to remember that email.

Bannon is then shown a May 4, 2016 email (which seems to be an automatically forwarded text) that came from Cambridge Analytica. The CA sender described someone — either Ken Cuccinelli or someone who worked for him — being a “total pretender,” because “We worked on our very first pilot program with him in 2013.” Bannon believed that this pertained to an earlier email he had been shown (one of the ones not released under FOIA), and explained that “Cambridge Analytica claimed they could help micro-target voters on Facebook.” He goes on to discuss a project for CA.

The interview turns to two more emails, not provided under FOIA, withheld under the ongoing investigations exemptions.

The next refers to an email to someone dated August 26, 2016, asking if the recipient (by redaction length, this could be Stone) could talk because Bannon Had some ideas.

Bannon claimed not to remember what the ideas in question were. As noted, it was withheld as part of an ongoing investigation.

The next document was from Ted Malloch, dated August 30, 2016, who offered up the idea that Trump should hand Hillary an indictment during the first debate. Malloch said he’d been “in constant touch with the campaign” though the rest is redacted. Bannon claimed to have no contact, apparently with Malloch though possibly with Jerome Corsi (who was in contact with him at the time).

Bannon was shown another email, about which there was a short entirely redacted description. Then the interviewers took a 10 minute break. He was asked about the email again, and there was an extensive description, per the notes, possibly integrating two more issues. Whatever the email was, it is a significant part of this interview, redacted for ongoing investigations.

But it likely pertains to Stone, because Bannon claimed he was interested in the 33,000 emails, but not the John Podesta information.

Bannon was always interested in the missing 33,000 emails, but was not interested in the John Podesta information since he believed it was not going to impact the election. Bannon clarified that he was talking to [several sentences redacted] Bannon was interested in the verified 33,000 emails and how it related to Uranium One. Bannon might have talked with [redacted] at one time, about the 33,0000 emails. After Bannon came onto the campaign, it got into Candidate Trump’s “head” that the 33,000 emails might be important. Trump was focused on “crooked Hillary” and the Uranium One story, and thought the 33,000 missing emails might unlock it. They never discussed that the Russians might have them. Bannon thought that some hackers in Bulgarian might have them. There was not much of a response from Trump and every now and then he would bring up the 33,000 emails. One time when the Podesta emails were released, Trump asked if it was a big deal. Bannon [redacted] with Trump. Flynn or Kellogg might have had a disc on finding the 33,000 emails. Bannon though Flynn might have had an idea about using an outside company and finding the 33,000 missing emails. If it was anything cyber related, Bannon would always refer to Bannon and the cyber guys. Bannon did not think the WikiLeaks releases were that big of a deal, the important information was the 33,000 missing emails. Kellogg thought the same thing, and he was not a cyber guy. Priebus and Miller had talked about the 33,000 missing emails.

There’s a lot that’s obvious invention here (notably that no one thought Russia might have the 33,000 emails and that Bannon wasn’t interested in the WikiLeaks releases). But I’m particularly interested in the degree to which Bannon again pitches these things as unrelated — the 33,000 emails are one thing, the WikiLeaks releases are another. When Bannon joined the campaign, after all, Roger Stone was bragging about how the following dumps would be the missing emails.

The interview then turned to a discussion of the way the Podesta emails came out jut as the Billy Bush tape came out, with Bannon claiming that he “never thought the Podesta releases were a big deal.”

The interview then reviews three more emails, the discussion of one of which is redacted for ongoing investigations but the email itself appears largely unredacted in the backup.

This is, then, an email about debate prep for the same October 19 debate where Erik Prince appears to have scripted Trump’s answer on Russia, though this time there’s a reference to “Our friend in FL,” which might be Stone.

The next email and discussion is not redacted. It pertains to a Prince fundraiser, which leads Bannon to disavow any coordination issue. As I’ll discuss in a follow-up, we know that Prince was fundraising for Stone at this time, which did pose coordination problems. The issue was supposed to come up at Stone’s trial, but did not.

Then Bannon is asked about the September 21 email via which Trump Jr sends a link to a WikiLeaks site (though Bannon was forwarded the email — he didn’t get it directly). The discussion of the email is not interesting. But Bannon’s disavowals on WikiLeaks, again, have been refuted by his subsequent testimony, including during Stone’s trial.

Bannon did not remember anyone else in contact with WikiLeaks. There was discussion during the campaign on how WikiLeaks could impact the race. Bannon did not think anyone had any ideas on where WikiLeaks had got their information. Bannon did not remember anyone reaching out to [redacted, almost certainly Stone], WikiLeaks, or any other intermediary to see what information might be coming.

Indeed, Bannon’s claims were almost immediately challenged in the interview, when Bannon was asked about the November 5, 2016 thread that started with Paul Manafort sending Jared a memo warning that Hillary would,

move immediately to discredit the [Trump] victory and claim voter fraud and cyber-fraud, including the claim that the Russians have hacked into the voting machines and tampered with the results.

Jared forwarded it to Bannon and David Bossie, in response to which Bannon said,

We need to avoid this guy like the plague.

They are going to try and say the Russians worked with wiki leaks to give this victory to us.

Paul is a nice guy but can’t let word get out he is advising us.

In response to being shown an email where he suggests Manafort was advising the campaign (the Mueller Report reveals that Rick Gates, in an interview just two days before this one, had revealed that Manafort told Gates he was still speaking with Trump, Kushner, and Bannon himself), Bannon claimed he,

was not aware of any instances of Manafort advising, or being involved in the campaign after his ouster.

Then, Bannon claimed that,

Candidate Trump never said to Bannon that he was in contact with [redacted, almost certainly Stone] or Manafort.

The substantive part of the interview ends, then, with Bannon making a tie between Manafort and (almost certainly) Stone that admits a tie between Stone and WikiLeaks that Bannon would later testify to, repeatedly, under oath, even while disclaiming any tie to Stone, even though emails would prove that false.

Bannon tells Mueller want to obtain warrants for

The last major paragraph of the interview lays out Bannon’s claims about his communications habits, including:

  • Bannon had three cell phones but did not use either the campaign one or the “secure” one provided by the Federal government to ensure his communications remained secure
  • He didn’t use the campaign iPad much
  • He had no idea that his cell phone had been set up to not archive text messages (which is pertinent because his messages with Prince got deleted)
  • He claimed not to use secure apps during the campaign and transition, but got ProtonMail and Signal not long before leaving the White House
  • Bannon never used Slack, though Breitbart did
  • Bannon got Wickr on Prince’s recommendation, but used Signal with other people
  • He claimed not to know of all the people using secure apps
  • After having just said he primarily used his personal cell phone, Bannon claimed not to have used his personal phone for White House business
  • Bannon several times disclaimed any discussion of the importance of keeping his text messages to comply with the Federal Records Act
  • Bannon said he primarily used his White House email to do business, but then described using his “arc-ent” one, but claimed they got archived a the White House

This language would be particularly useful for prosecutors to use in warrants.

But it’s also important for another reason. Most, if not all, of the referenced Bates stamps in this interview were clearly Steve Bannon’s own production, what he turned over himself. But we know of at least two key emails that don’t appear in this interview, either because they’re redacted, or because Bannon didn’t turn them over. One is an August 18, 2016 email from Stone, sent immediately after Bannon was publicly announced to be joining the campaign, promising Bannon he knew how to win the election. Another is an exchange from October 4 2016, showing Bannon showing great interest in WikiLeaks, in contradiction to the unredacted parts of his testimony. Plus, there’s a text from Bannon’s assistant, Andrea Preate, congratulating Stone after WikiLeaks stomped on the Access Hollywood tape.

To the extent that Mueller relied in this interview (and the earlier one, two days earlier) on Bannon’s production — and it’s not clear whether that’s what happened or not — it would leave the possibility that Bannon didn’t turn over things that were clearly responsive to any Mueller subpoena.

Again, we don’t know whether that happened or not. But Bannon’s unredacted testimony is inconsistent with exchanges with Stone we know were documented. And, as mentioned above, when Cohen was raided, Bannon lost it, pushing to fire Rosenstein after he had told Jared that firing Comey was the stupidest political decision in modern history.

As I disclosed in 2018, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation. And as a reminder, a significant part of my PhD work involved Czech literature. 

How Paul Manafort Lied to Mueller to Protect Jared Kushner

Paul Manafort appears to have saved the President’s son-in-law by lying to Mueller’s prosecutors.

That’s what his 302 from September 13, 2018, released yesterday under FOIA, appears to show.

The 302 records the last interview before he sealed his plea deal (starting at PDF 223). Much of it focuses on how the campaign dealt with WikiLeaks. The 302 includes the following topics:

  1. A reminder that on the previous two days, Manafort had lied about meeting Konstantin Kilimnik in February 2017, but after being shown travel records in this interview he admitted it.
  2. Mostly redacted (for ongoing investigation likely tied to Roger Stone’s prosecution) discussions about how Manafort didn’t want Trump “distracted by the titillation of a WikiLeaks release.”
  3. A claim that the RNC would handle press on the WikiLeaks release, even though three Trump staffers had been strategizing just that for weeks.
  4. Manafort’s claim he was surprised by the “Russia are you listening” comment, which is consistent with other people’s claims, if unbelievable.
  5. Language designed to sustain a claim that Manafort had no idea why Trump attributed the stolen emails to Russia in his “Russia are you listening” comment.
  6. A claim that no one suspected Trump of “colluding” with Russian before Robbie Mook made the allegation.
  7. A discussion that ties the two October 7 events (the release of the Podesta emails and the Access Hollywood tape) with details of his own crimes in Ukraine, along with an admission that Manafort spoke to Trump about all that.
  8. Manafort’s claims to be absolutely ignorant about whether Trump had any entanglements with Russia.
  9. Lies about (almost certainly) Steve Calk’s awareness that his bank loan paperwork submission was false.

Between topic 8 and 9, the 302 also captures the basis for one of Mueller’s claims that Manafort lied during his cooperation agreement, an allegation (that Judge Amy Berman Jackson upheld) that Manafort lied about another DOJ investigation to protect someone.

I laid out what the breach determination disclosed about the investigation here. Basically, shortly before Manafort left the campaign, someone (which it’s now clear is almost certainly Roger Stone and indeed appears to have come up in Stone’s trial) offered up a way to save the candidate. The question is how closely involved someone else — someone with a 7-character name — got involved in this effort to save the candidate. According to the breach proceedings, Manafort told one story that incriminated the person with a 7-character name when first interviewed, prior to getting his plea deal, on September 13 (that is, in this 302). But when Mueller’s team brought prosecutors from another investigation in to hear the story on October 5, Manafort at first gave a very different version, one that was much less incriminating to that 7-character name person, a version that aligned with the story that person was telling the FBI at the time, and that put more of the blame on the 5-character name person, presumably Stone.

It appears highly likely that the person he was protecting was Jared Kushner.

In the breach hearing (discussion starts on page 110), the names of both people involved are redacted.

But in the 302 released yesterday, Kushner’s name is not redacted.

Numerous times in Paul Manafort’s texts with Sean Hannity (who, in another of the 302s released yesterday, he admitted to treating as a back channel to Trump), Manafort talked about his certainty that Mueller would go after Kushner. Indeed, he claimed that’s who he would have to give up to get a plea deal.

We now know he discussed Kushner the day before he got a plea deal. And then he reneged on telling that story.

As I disclosed in 2018, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation. 

The Persistence of Jared in the WikiLeaks Operation

As I noted repeatedly (one, two), there were a number of provocative loose threads left in Roger Stone’s trial. I want to look at one more: Roger Stone’s effort to involve Kushner in WikiLeaks related stuff.

Rick Gates testified that in the weeks before WikiLeaks dropped the DNC emails in July 2016, a group including Stephen Miller, Jason Miller, Paul Manafort, and him brainstormed how they would respond to emails that — according to Roger Stone (as well as other public reporting) — would soon be released.

Jared Kushner was pointedly not named as participating in that group.

That’s interesting because, just before 10PM on June 14, 2016 — the day that the DNC first announced it had been hacked — Stone had two phone calls with Trump on his home line, lasting a total of 4:18 minutes. The government admits they don’t know what happened on those calls, but for some reason they seem to be certain it had to do with the DNC emails. Late afternoon the next day, after Guccifer 2.0 first released documents billed as DNC documents, Stone wrote Gates asking first for Jared Kushner’s contact info, then his email. There were also a number of texts that day (the trial exhibit doesn’t clarify whether these are ET or UTC, so it’s unclear whether they happen around 4 and 12 PM, which is most likely, or 8PM and 4AM the next day).

Stone: Call me. Important

Gates: On con call but will call right after. Thanks.

Stone: Please

Stone: Awake ?

Gates: Yep.

Stone: Call me?

Gates said that Stone wanted Jared’s contact info to debrief him on the hacked materials. Which is one reason it’s weird that Kushner was not named in the group that prepared for new emails to drop.

Especially since, late in the campaign, Kushner is the one Paul Manafort advised on how to capitalize on WikiLeaks’ releases. On October 21, for example, Manafort told him to use WikiLeaks to demonstrate Hillary’s alleged corruption.

For example, on October 21, 2016, Manafort sent Kushner an email and attached a strategy memorandum proposing that the Campaign make the case against Clinton “as the failed and corrupt champion of the establishment” and that “Wikileaks provides the Trump campaign the ability to make the case in a very credible way – by using the words of Clinton, its campaign officials and DNC members.”936

When, on November 5, Manafort sent Kushner an email warning that Hillary would blame any win on hacked voting machines, Steve Bannon responded by linking Manafort, Russia, and the WikiLeaks releases. (PDF 258)

We need to avoid this guy like the plague

They are going to try and say the Russian worked with wiki leaks to give this victory to us

Paul is nice guy but can’t let word out he is advising us

That suggests that Bannon was a lot warier of continuing to accept Manafort’s counsel than Kushner was — and Bannon was wary because it linked a campaign win to Russia’s help.

When Bannon was asked about this in an early, not entirely truthful, interview, he in turn linked Manafort to someone else who, given the name length and redaction purpose, is likely Stone.

Candidate Trump never said to Bannon that he was in contact with [5 letter name redacted for ongoing proceeding] or Manafort. Bannon knew they were going to win, and in this email he wanted to avoid Manafort because Bannon believed that if people could link them to Manafort, they could then try to link them to Russia.

Now go back to something else introduced in the trial. On August 18, the day after Bannon was first hired onto the campaign (but the day before Manafort would resign), Stone emailed him and explained, “I do know how to win this but it ain’t pretty.”

That appears to be the “other investigation” that Paul Manafort was supposed to, but reneged, on helping DOJ investigate last year, one where Manafort first implicated (to get his plea deal), then tried to exonerate (after he got it) someone with a seven-letter name. Even at the time, a different part of DOJ was investigating it.

Finally, consider one other detail. Back in March 2018, when Sean Hannity was grilling Paul Manafort about whether he might flip, Manafort explained that he would be expected to give up Kushner.

These are just data points.

But they are consistent with there being two strands of WikiLeaks discussions on the campaign. One — involving Gates, Stephen Miller, and Jason Miller — doing little more than optimizing the releases. And another — involving Manafort and Kushner, one that Bannon didn’t want any tie to — involving something more.

Loose Ends as the Stone Trial Moves to Closing Arguments

Somewhat unexpectedly, the government announced this morning it would rest after testimony from Rick Gates and the FBI Agent, Michelle Taylor. My overall take is that Stone is likely to be found guilty on a number of the false statements charges, though may skate on witness tampering. But that nevertheless will be a win for him, because he has been playing for a pardon, not acquittal, and he retreated to a new cover story — that he had no intermediary with WikiLeaks — which is what Trump needed him to say. I think the smartest thing Stone has done in the last several years was not to take the stand and I half wonder whether prosecutors tried to bait him to do so by finishing early.

Stone filed for an acquittal, which is fairly normal. By my read, it misstated the indictment, pretending that Stone was accused of lying about having an interlocutor with WikiLeaks rather than lying about who his was (which, again, serves his goal of getting a pardon). Amy Berman Jackson seemed to adhere to my reading as well, noting that none of the charges require that Stone actually have an interlocutor (though she did warn prosecutors they need to be very specific about what language in the transcript they’re saying are lies). Nevertheless, ABJ reserved judgment on that motion.

I’ll say more about what I think really went down once the final exhibits are released to journalists and after closing arguments tomorrow.

But I wanted to capture a number of loose threads from the trial (and this is based off live tweeting, so it’s more vague than I would wish):

  • Prosecutors made sure to get Steve Bannon to explain the relationship between Ted Malloch and Erik Prince and the campaign, yet Prince did not testify and Malloch’s testimony wasn’t entered. So why include that detail?
  • The government tried to enter Bannon’s grand jury testimony, unsuccessfully, after he had to be held to his prior testimony. Was there a discrepancy or a different articulation prosecutors were trying to hold him to?
  • Footnote 989 of Volume I of the Mueller Report seems to suggest that Bannon’s testimony came in under a proffer agreement (and his first interview clearly stretched the truth). But that proffer did not get introduced into evidence. Why not?
  • The defense did not raise the most obvious challenge to Gates’ testimony, that his claim Stone knew of hacked emails in April 2016 might represent a confusion with Hillary’s FOIAed emails. Since they could only make this argument with Gates’ testimony, I’m curious why they didn’t raise it.
  • The defense spent a lot of time talking to Gates about Stone’s role in compiling voter rolls. Why?
  • Prosecutors named a bunch of Stone’s flunkies as witnesses, and subpoenaed and flew in Andrew Miller. They seem to have first informed Miller he’d be testifying at what would be the end of a full week trial (what they initially said they expected), then held him through Stone’s defense, suggesting they might use him as a rebuttal witness. But he never testified. Why not?
  • The government never presented something they had planned to as 404b information — that Stone also lied about whether the campaign knew of his campaign finance shenanigans. They didn’t do so. Why not? (This may related to the Miller question.)
  • Prosecutors made a point of having Gates describe Stone asking for Jared Kushner’s contact so he could brief him on stolen emails. But that point was dropped. That loose end is particularly interesting given that they had Bannon testify about the July 18 email Stone sent him, which probably pertains to an investigation that was ongoing in March.

Update: I’ve reviewed the acquittal motion and actually think Stone may win on this point:

COUNT 6 – FALSE STATEMENT

STONE testified falsely that he had never discussed his conversations with the person he referred to as his “go-between,” “mutual friend,” and “intermediary” with anyone involved in the Trump Campaign.

Evidence as to Count 6 suffers from the same infirmity as Counts 4 and 5. The count fails because of the government’s failure to prove the conversations with the Trump Campaign contained, or specifically related to, information Mr. Stone received from Mr. Credico. There was no evidence presented that any of the information was not already available in the public domain. Furthermore, there was no evidence presented that the conversation were about, or relating to, Russian interference. “And did you discuss your conversations with the intermediary with anyone involved in the Trump campaign?” HPSCI transcript, at 102 (emphasis added). No, the conversation had nothing to do with Randy Credico. Even if, arguendo, Stone spoke to a Campaign official, Bannon, Trump, or if Stone had non-public information from an intermediary, but did not cite to Credico in those communications, then the answer is not false. The government must live with the imprecise wording of Count VI.

Stone absolutely did lie about speaking to Trump people about what he knew about WikiLeaks. But in doing so, as far as we know, he always attributed his information to Assange directly, not to Credico or Corsi (though I’m fairly certain he could prove that he gave Corsi credit). So I actually think that’s why ABJ reserved on this front: because Stone is right. The government fucked up the wording on this.

 

Three Questions Not Asked of Steve Bannon

The Roger Stone trial is done for the week, with Randy Credico getting through his testimony (though probably without substantiating the witness tampering charge tied to him), with Margaret Kunstler confirming that Credico had never provided information from Assange to Stone through her, and with a very short appearance from Steve Bannon.

Bannon’s appearance was most interesting, in my opinion, for what he wasn’t asked. Here’s CNN’s coverage.

Prosecutor Michael Marando asked Bannon what he made of Stone’s August 18 email — introduced in Aaron Zelinsky’s opening — telling Bannon, ““I do know how to win this but it ain’t pretty.” Bannon responded by calling Stone some lame euphemism for “rat-fucker,” and observed that Stone is highly experienced in such things. But Bannon was not asked whether there was any follow-up to the email. That’s particularly interesting given the possibility that it pertains to another investigation, albeit one not related to the core Russian issues.

As expected, Marando asked Bannon about his emails to Roger Stone on October 4, 2016.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016
FROM: Steve Bannon
TO: Roger Stone
EMAIL:

What was that this morning???

Tuesday, October 4, 2016
FROM: Roger Stone
TO: Steve Bannon
EMAIL:
Fear. Serious security concern. He thinks they are going to kill him and the London police are standing done.

However —a load every week going forward.

Roger stone

Tuesday, October 4, 2016
FROM: Steve Bannon
TO: Roger Stone
EMAIL:

He didn’t cut deal w/ clintons???

Marando used Bannon’s request to Stone as a way to premise that Bannon believed that Stone was the campaign point person on any outreach to WikiLeaks.

But Bannon wasn’t asked about the last email in that thread, which asked Bannon to tell Rebecca Mercer to send him some money. That’s significant, because the government wants to show that Stone lied to HPSCI about discussing his dark money shenanigans with the campaign (but that he cleaned that lie up). Since that exchange amounts to Stone telling Trump’s campaign manager what he was up to, I had thought Bannon might be asked to elaborate on that. He was not.

Finally, Bannon was not asked about his response to an email Paul Manafort sent to Jared Kushner and David Bossie on November 5, 2016 about how to “secure the victory.”

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

Bannon responded to that email by saying, (PDF 258)

We need to avoid this guy like the plague

They are going to try and say the Russian worked with wiki leaks to give this victory to us

Paul is nice guy but can’t let word out he is advising us

Of course, this is the Roger Stone trial, not any of Paul Manafort’s multiple trials. So it’s unsurprising that this didn’t come up. But, particularly given the way it reflected a tie between Russia, WikiLeaks, and Manafort, it might have.

Especially given that, when Bannon was asked about this on a February 14, 2018, he appears to have invoked Stone in his not entirely truthful answer.

Candidate Trump never said to Bannon that he was in contact with [5 letter name redacted for ongoing proceeding] or Manafort. Bannon knew they were going to win, and in this email he wanted to avoid Manafort because Bannon believed that if people could link them to Manafort, they could then try to link them to Russia.

That redacted name could not be Gates, the other 5-letter name associated with Manafort, because he remained on the campaign after Manafort left. And the FOIA exemption is most consistent with a Stone redaction.

In other words, a month after Bannon had the exchange about WikiLeaks with Roger Stone that did show up in the trial, he tied Stone, Manafort, WikiLeaks, and Russia together in his mind.

None of this (besides, I guess, the lack of follow-up on the August 18 email) is particularly surprising. But it is notable that Bannon wasn’t asked about a range of tangential issues, even issues that will be aired in different ways at the trial.

Gordon Sondland’s Statement Protects, Does Not Break with, Trump

Gordon Sondland is behind closed doors right now, trying to talk his way out of implication in crimes (he is represented, it should be noted, by the same lawyer who helped Karl Rove talk his way out of crimes in Valerie Plame’s outing, Robert Luskin).

But if Congressional staffers are doing their job, he’s going to have a hard job to spin what he did as anything but criminal. That’s true, in part, because his statement is full of obvious contradictions and evasions. But contrary to what many in the press (fed in advance with deceptive claims about his testimony) have claimed, the statement does not break with Trump, it protects him.

Who’s the boss?

Sondland’s first inconsistency pertains to one of the most important issues: why he was in charge of Ukrainian policy when Ukraine isn’t even in the EU. His general explanation for it is bullshit — and also should raise questions about what he has been doing in Georgia, Venezuela, and Iran. He studiously avoids explaining who ordered him to focus on Ukraine (as other testimony has made clear, the answer is because Trump ordered him to).

From my very first days as Ambassador, Ukraine has been a part of my broader work pursuing U.S. national interests. Ukraine’s political and economic development are critical to the long-lasting stability of Europe. Moreover, the conflict in Eastern Ukraine and Crimea, which began nearly five years ago, continues as one of the most significant security crises for Europe and the United States. As the U.S. Ambassador to the EU, I have always viewed my Ukraine work as central to advancing U.S.-EU foreign policy. Indeed, for decades, under both Republican and Democrat Administrations, the United States has viewed Ukraine with strategic importance, in part to counter Russian aggression in Europe and to support Ukraine energy independence. My involvement in issues concerning Ukraine, while a small part of my overall portfolio, was nevertheless central to my ambassadorial responsibilities. In this sense, Ukraine is similar to other non-EU countries, such as Venezuela, Iran, and Georgia, with respect to which my Mission and I coordinate closely with our EU partners to promote policies that reflect our common values and interests. I always endeavoured [sic] to keep my State Department and National Security Council colleagues informed of my actions and to seek their input.

But the logistics of it are more interesting, particularly as it pertains to coordinating with Rudy Giuliani.

At times (at both the very beginning, after his description of the July 10 meeting, and again to explain away the July 10 meeting), he emphasizes that Mike Pompeo has approved of all this.

I understand that all my actions involving Ukraine had the blessing of Secretary Pompeo as my work was consistent with long-standing U.S. foreign policy objectives. Indeed, very recently, Secretary Pompeo sent me a congratulatory note that I was doing great work, and he encouraged me to keep banging away.

[snip]

We had regular communications with the NSC about Ukraine, both before and after the July meeting; and neither Ambassador Bolton, Dr. Hill, nor anyone else on the NSC staff ever expressed any concerns to me about our efforts, any complaints about coordination between State and the NSC, or, most importantly, any concerns that we were acting improperly.

Furthermore, my boss Secretary Pompeo was very supportive of our Ukraine strategy.

[snip]

While I have not seen Dr. Hill’s testimony, I am surprised and disappointed by the media reports of her critical comments. To put it clearly: Neither she nor Ambassador Bolton shared any critical comments with me, even after our July 10, 2019 White House meeting. And so, I have to view her testimony — if the media reports are accurate — as the product of hindsight and in the context of the widely known tensions between the NSC, on the one hand, and the State Department, on the other hand, which had ultimate responsibility for executing U.S. policy overseas. Again, I took my direction from Secretary Pompeo and have had his consistent support in dealing with our nation’s most sensitive secrets to this very day.

Again, the public record makes it clear he was put in this role by Trump, not Pompeo. And while I’m sure Pompeo knew of what he was doing (his suggestion that Pompeo was “supportive of it” seems most clearly on point), he was reporting directly, via a third channel of authority, directly to Trump.

That said, his suggestion that Pompeo — a former CIA Director but now in charge of diplomacy, which is not supposed to be the realm of utmost secrecy — trusts him “with our nation’s most sensitive secrets,” suggests there’s something else going on here, something about which he’s reassuring Pompeo he’ll remain silent.

The claim that he took his direction from Pompeo, bolded above, is contradicted on the matter of Rudy Giuliani’s involvement.  His description of why Rudy was involved varies slightly over time. Initially, he says he coordinated with Rudy because the Three Amigos, collectively, decided they had to involve Rudy to achieve other diplomatic objectives.

Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker, and I were disappointed by our May 23, 2019 White House debriefing. We strongly believed that a call and White House meeting between Presidents Trump and Zelensky was important and that these should be scheduled promptly and without any pre-conditions. We were also disappointed by the President’s direction that we involve Mr. Giuliani. Our view was that the men and women of the State Department, not the President’s personal lawyer, should take responsibility for all aspects of U.S. foreign policy towards Ukraine. However, based on the President’s direction, we were faced with a choice: We could abandon the goal of a White House meeting for President Zelensky, which we all believed was crucial to strengthening U.S.-Ukrainian ties and furthering long-held U.S. foreign policy goals in the region; or we could do as President Trump directed and talk to Mr. Giuliani to address the President’s concerns.

We chose the latter path, which seemed to all of us – Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker, and myself – to be the better alternative.

Later, he claims that “his understanding” is that Trump ordered Rudy’s involvement, as if he didn’t get that order directly.

Mr. Giuliani does not work for me or my Mission and I do not know what official or unofficial role, if any, he has with the State Department. To my knowledge, he is one of the President’s personal lawyers. However, my understanding was that the President directed Mr. Giuliani’s participation, that Mr. Giuliani was expressing the concerns of the President, and that Mr. Giuliani had already spoken with Secretary Perry and Ambassador Volker.

Still later, he strengthens that, suggesting he was “taking direction from the President” directly.

As I stated earlier, I understood from President Trump, at the May 23, 2019 White House debriefing, that he wanted the Inaugural Delegation to talk with Mr. Giuliani concerning our efforts to arrange a White House meeting for President Zelensky. Taking direction from the President, as I must, I spoke with Mr. Giuliani for that limited purpose.

If he was taking orders from Trump on involving Rudy (which is almost certainly the case), then the claims of Pompeo’s role are just cover.

Sondland is obfuscating on both these issues: why the EU Ambassador was put in charge of Ukraine policy, and why Rudy was allowed to dictate Ukraine policy. While the press thinks Sondland has taken a big break from Trump, he has not on the key issue: that Sondland was taking orders from Trump and doing precisely what the President ordered him to.

The royal we

There are really telling passages in this statement where Sondland slips into the first person plural. Generally, he does so when describing something that he, Rick Perry, and Kurt Volker jointly believe. As noted, he does so is to explain why he and Rick Perry and Kurt Volker coordinated with Rudy.

It was apparent to all of us that the key to changing the President’s mind on Ukraine was Mr. Giuliani. It is my understanding that Energy Secretary Perry and Special Envoy Volker took the lead on reaching out to Mr. Giuliani, as the President had directed.

Indeed, Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker, and I were disappointed by our May 23, 2019 White House debriefing. We strongly believed that a call and White House meeting between Presidents Trump and Zelensky was important and that these should be scheduled promptly and without any pre-conditions. We were also disappointed by the President’s direction that we involve Mr. Giuliani. Our view was that the men and women of the State Department, not the President’s personal lawyer, should take responsibility for all aspects of U.S. foreign policy towards Ukraine. However, based on the President’s direction, we were faced with a choice: We could abandon the goal of a White House meeting for President Zelensky, which we all believed was crucial to strengthening U.S.-Ukrainian ties and furthering long-held U.S. foreign policy goals in the region; or we could do as President Trump directed and talk to Mr. Giuliani to address the President’s concerns.

We chose the latter path, which seemed to all of us – Secretary Perry, Ambassador Volker, and myself – to be the better alternative.

Another place he does so is to explain why the Three Amigos moved forward on scheduling the July 25 call when John Bolton and Fiona Hill were opposed (he’s utterly silent about the second half of his July 10 meeting with the Ukrainians).

We three favored promptly scheduling a call and meeting between Presidents Trump and Zelensky; the NSC did not.

He also uses it to describe his meeting with Zelensky on July 26, after Zelensky had delivered on the quid pro quo, where he set up the White House meeting.

During this July 26, 2019 meeting in Kiev, we were able to promote further engagement, including discussions about a future Zelensky visit to the White House.

This is Gordon Sondland’s testimony, remember, not the Three Amigos’ testimony. But in these key passages, he claims — without explaining how he can do so — to speak for all three. He doesn’t explain if they had conversations (or WhatsApp threads) agreeing on all these issues, he just suggests he can speak for all three.

And his denials that he shared this statement with State or White House would not extend to these other people he invokes as “we.”

Perhaps a more interesting invocation of the third person plural comes where he claims that Bill Taylor, along with him and Volker, had no concerns about the push to get to Ukraine to publicly commit to an investigation that would deliver part of a quid pro quo.

First, I knew that a public embrace of anti-corruption reforms by Ukraine was one of the pre-conditions for securing a White House meeting with President Zelensky. My view was, and has always been, that such Western reforms are consistent with U.S. support for rule of law in Ukraine going back decades, under both Republican and Democrat administrations. Nothing about that request raised any red flags for me, Ambassador Volker, or Ambassador Taylor.

Taylor is still with State, so if Sondland is being honest when he says he hasn’t shared his statement, then Taylor has not bought off on this claim. I look forward to seeing whether he backs it when he testifies.

[Update, 11/20: I now believe that some of this use of royal “we” is meant to invoke Trump but not necessarily the other Amigos.]

Schrodinger’s quid pro quo

The press has been most excited about the fact that Sondland claims Trump may have had a quid pro quo, but he was ignorant of it.

But in fact, Sondland does not deny a quid pro quo. In fact, his carefully written statement admitting he knew the quid pro quo involved Burisma (which he claims he had no idea meant Biden) admits that the 2016 ask was part of it.

Mr. Giuliani emphasized that the President wanted a public statement from President Zelensky committing Ukraine to look into anticorruption issues. Mr. Giuliani specifically mentioned the 2016 election (including the DNC server) and Burisma as two anticorruption investigatory topics of importance for the President.

And his denials about knowing that the quid pro quo involved the 2020 elections are laughable. His first such denial claims he only learned later about the specific nature of (part of) Rudy’s quid pro quo, but he doesn’t describe when he learned of it, either there or later.

I did not understand, until much later, that Mr. Giuliani’s agenda might have also included an effort to prompt the Ukrainians to investigate Vice President Biden or his son or to involve Ukrainians, directly or indirectly, in the President’s 2020 reelection campaign.

Later, he denies recalling having any conversations about these aspects of the quid pro quo with 1) Rudy, 2) State, and 3) any “White House official” (does that description include the President?).

Third, given many inaccurate press reports, let me be clear about the following: I do not recall that Mr. Giuliani discussed Former Vice President Biden or his son Hunter Biden with me. Like many of you, I read the transcript of the Trump-Zelensky call for the first time when it was released publicly by the White House on September 25, 2019.

[snip]

Again, I recall no discussions with any State Department or White House official about Former Vice President Biden or his son, nor do I recall taking part in any effort to encourage an investigation into the Bidens.

But he doesn’t deny talking about the nature of the quid pro quo with Volker (who’s not technically a State Department employee), Rick Perry (ditto), or the Ukrainian officials that Fiona Hill saw him discussing Burisma with on July 10.

When he denies Trump’s extortion of Ukraine, he denies only that the quid pro quo involved the 2020 election (and not Naftogaz considerations or claims about what happened in 2016 or, perhaps even more tellingly, Russian help in 2020).

Sixth, to the best of my recollection, I do not recall any discussions with the White House on withholding U.S. security assistance from Ukraine in return for assistance with the President’s 2020 re-election campaign.

In denying Bill Taylor’s concern about a quid pro quo, he dismisses it as a concern about the appearance of a quid pro quo, rather than the actuality of one.

On September 9, 2019, Acting Charge de Affairs/Ambassador William Taylor raised concerns about the possibility that Ukrainians could perceive a linkage between U.S. security assistance and the President’s 2020 reelection campaign.

Taking the issue seriously, and given the many versions of speculation that had been circulating about the security aid, I called President Trump directly. I asked the President: “What do you want from Ukraine?” The President responded, “Nothing. There is no quid pro quo.” The President repeated: “no quid pro quo” multiple times. This was a very short call. And I recall the President was in a bad mood.

Sondland here credits Trump’s statements, as if any Trump statement ever had any veracity, as true, even though they came at a time when the White House already knew about the whistleblower complaint, which makes what would already be unreliable outright laughable, if indeed Trump actually said that at all.

But the bigger point is this: Sondland doesn’t deny a quid pro quo. Just that he knew it was the quid pro quo that the House is currently most closely focused on early on in the process.

Gaps in the timeline

Given the way he is protecting Trump in all this, there are notable key gaps in his timeline.

Sondland doesn’t answer two obvious questions: why the Ambassador to the EU was part of the delegation to Volodymyr Zelensky’s inauguration, and why the inauguration delegation flew back to DC, almost immediately, to brief the President on it.

On May 20, 2019, given the significance of this election, I attended the inauguration of President Zelensky as part of the U.S. delegation led by U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry, along with Senator Ron Johnson, Special Envoy Volker, and Alex Vindman from the NSC. During this visit, we developed positive views of the new Ukraine President and his desire to promote a stronger relationship between Kiev and Washington, to make reforms necessary to attract Western economic investment, and to address Ukraine’s well-known and longstanding corruption issues.

On May 23, 2019, three days after the Zelensky inauguration, we in the U.S. delegation debriefed President Trump and key aides at the White House. We emphasized the strategic importance of Ukraine and the strengthening relationship with President Zelensky, a reformer who received a strong mandate from the Ukrainian people to fight corruption and pursue greater economic prosperity. We asked the White House to arrange a working phone call from President Trump and a working Oval Office visit. However, President Trump was skeptical that Ukraine was serious about reforms and anti-corruption, and he directed those of us present at the meeting to talk to Mr. Giuliani, his personal attorney, about his concerns.

One reason those players would have flown to DC to debrief Trump is because of the scheme to take over Naftogaz led by Perry, something Sondland doesn’t mention at all.

He also plays games with his antecedent in trying to claim that a June 4 meeting involving Zelensky, Rick Perry, and Ulrich Brechbuhl (where they discussed natural gas, among other things) had been long planned.

Following my return to Brussels and continuing my focus on stronger U.S.-EU ties, my Mission hosted a U.S. Independence Day event on June 4, 2019. Despite press reports, this event was planned months in advance and involved approximately 700 guests from government, the diplomatic corps, the media, business, and civil society. The night featured remarks by the Ambassador and High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs. Following the main event, we hosted a smaller, separate dinner for about 30 people. President Zelensky and several other leaders of EU and non-EU member states attended the dinner, along with Secretary Perry, U.S. State Department Counselor Ulrich Brechbuhl on behalf of Secretary Pompeo, and numerous other key U.S. and EU officials. Though planned long in advance with the focus on improving transatlantic relations, we also viewed this event as an opportunity to present President Zelensky to various EU and U.S. officials and to build upon the enhanced government ties.

He uses “this event” to refer both to the larger 700 person event and the smaller 30 person meeting, effectively making a claim — that the larger event had been long-planned — that he tries to apply to the smaller one. He also is curiously silent about Jared Kushner’s involvement.

In addition to being silent about the second part of his July 10 meeting — the part that got John Bolton worried about what drug deals he was doing — Sondland is also silent about his pre-call briefing to Trump on July 25, after Bolton’s prep.

I was not on that July 25, 2019 call and I did not see a transcript of that call until September 25, 2019, when the White House publicly released it. None of the brief and general call summaries I received contained any mention of Burisma or former Vice President Biden, nor even suggested that President Trump had made any kind of request of President Zelensky.

And his denials about the post-call summaries mentioning Burisma or Biden do not amount to a denial that his prep did. Nor does that denial address his July 26 conversation with Trump (which he addresses in a different section), which he describes as nonsubstantive without addressing whether Trump mentioned the quid pro quo.

I do recall a brief discussion with President Trump before my visit to Kiev. That call was very short, nonsubstantive, and did not encompass any of the substance of the July 25, 2019 White House call with President Zelensky.

In other words, even where denies talking about the quid pro quo, the denials don’t amount to denials in the most important conversations.

Sondland’s silence about WhatsApp

Finally, Sondland is playing games regarding what communications he has had. With the exception of his July 26 and September 9 calls, doesn’t describe what direct communications with Trump he has had.

Just as key, he is mostly silent about his conduct of diplomacy on WhatsApp, precisely the crime (doing official business on private accounts) Trump accused Hillary of to get elected (though his lawyers wrote a letter claiming that they’re helpless in the face of State’s refusal to share his comms). That’s all the more telling given the structure of Sondland’s denials of extensive comms with Rudy. His statement deals with three different kind of comms. He focuses on in-person meetings and phone calls.

To the best of my recollection, I met Mr. Giuliani in person only once at a reception when I briefly shook his hand in 2016. This was before I became Ambassador to the EU. In contrast, during my time as Ambassador, I do not recall having ever met with Mr. Giuliani in person, and I only spoke with him a few times.

[snip]

My best recollection is that I spoke with Mr. Giuliani for the first time in early August 2019, after the congratulatory phone call from President Trump on July 25, 2019 and after the bilateral meeting with President Zelensky on July 26, 2019 in Kiev. My recollection is that Mr. Giuliani and I actually spoke no more than two or three times by phone, for about a few minutes each time.

[snip]

As I stated earlier, I understood from President Trump, at the May 23, 2019 White House debriefing, that he wanted the Inaugural Delegation to talk with Mr. Giuliani concerning our efforts to arrange a White House meeting for President Zelensky. Taking direction from the President, as I must, I spoke with Mr. Giuliani for that limited purpose. In these short conversations, Mr. Giuliani emphasized that the President wanted a public statement from President Zelensky committing Ukraine to look into anticorruption issues.

[snip]

Ten weeks after the President on May 23, 2019 directed the Inaugural Delegation to talk with Mr. Giuliani, I had my first phone conversation with him in early August 2019. I listened to Mr. Giuliani’s concerns

But he acknowledges that Volker introduced him to Rudy “electronically.”

Ambassador Volker introduced me to Mr. Giuliani electronically.

Nowhere in his statement does he explain what form of electronic communication this introduction took place over, and nowhere does he deny having WhatsApp (or any other kind of texting) communications with Rudy.

That’s all the more curious given that he claims — ridiculously — that his statements to Bill Taylor to avoid talking about a quid pro quo on WhatsApp were not an attempt to avoid leaving a record.

Fifth, certain media outlets have misinterpreted my text messages where I say “stop texting” or “call me.” Any implication that I was trying to avoid making a record of our conversation is completely false. In my view, diplomacy is best handled through back-and-forth conversation. The complexity of international relations cannot be adequately expressed in cryptic text messages. I simply prefer to talk rather than to text. I do this all the time with family, friends, and former business associates. That is how I most effectively get things done. My text message comments were an invitation to talk more, not to conceal the substance of our communications.

Immediately after saying those WhatsApp texts no not really record the truth, he points to some emails that, he says, show that he truthfully did not want a quid pro quo.

I recall that, in late July 2019, Ambassadors Volker and Taylor and I exchanged emails in which we all agreed that President Zelensky should have no involvement in 2020 U.S. Presidential election politics.

Remember: State is withholding all of Sondland’s electronic comms from the impeachment inquiry (even assuming he turned them all over to State). So his games with phone calls and texts should be assumed to be just that, claims made from the temporary security of believing the comms to check his claims will never be turned over.

Which is to say that Sondland says quite a bit in this statement. But the most important things are his silences.

Update: On November 5, Sondland unforgot some stuff laid out in Bill Taylor and Tim Morrison’s testimony. But many of the holes laid out above remain.

Jared Kushner’s Pervasive Corruption Pops Up In Surprising Ways

Jim here again.

I’ve been trying to do my homework to catch up on the tremendous work done by Elijah Cumming’s House Oversight Committee on the Michael Flynn-IP3 scandal that I wrote about quite a bit back when we first learned about it. So far, I’ve found reports they issued on February 19 and July 29 of this year. One thing that stood out to me as I perused the timeline in the February report was the reminder that Westinghouse, the nuclear reactor company that was in Chapter 11 but figured prominently in IP3’s plans was purchased by Brookfield Business Partners, which is a subsidiary of Brookfield Asset Management. The Committee pointed out that while this purchase was still subject to approval, Brookfield Asset Management entered a contract to Jared Kushner’s white elephant property at 666 Fifth Avenue. Recall that Kushner owed much more on the property than it was worth, and by all rights it should have completely ruined Kushner financially.

The corruption of this situation is staggering in its brazenness. Here’s a New York Times article from July of 2018 that put it into full perspective:

Eighteen months into Jared Kushner’s White House tenure, his family’s real estate firm is deepening its financial relationships with institutions and individuals that have a lot riding on decisions made by the federal government.

In the latest example, an arm of Brookfield Asset Management is close to completing an investment of up to $700 million in the Kushner family’s tower at 666 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. The deal will be a boon to the Kushners, who are struggling to recoup their investments in their flagship building.

At the same time, another Brookfield unit is awaiting the Trump administration’s approval of its acquisition of the nuclear-power company Westinghouse Electric. The deal is being reviewed by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, made up of senior federal officials who consider the potential national security risks of transactions involving foreign companies. Brookfield’s headquarters are in Canada.

Looking further into just when each deal closed, we see the Westinghouse purchase closed on August 1 of 2018, while the Brookfield investment in 666 Fifth Avenue closed a mere two days later. Cummings’ committee obviously sees the craven corruption in the White House point person for Saudi Arabia having his largest financial failure bailed out just as soon as the government cleared the Westinghouse purchase that the folks who want to make a lot of money in Saudi Arabia through Westinghouse nuclear reactors being sold there. The Times article also sees this corruption, pointing out that the real estate deal was announced at the very time that government approval was still pending. That the real estate deal didn’t close until after Westinghouse seems to support that assistance on the approval was needed before Kushner would get bailed out.

But Kushner’s corruption is even more pervasive and more craven than that. For further background, I decided to look at the Times’ reports on Kushner’s financial statements for 2017 and 2018. The numbers that were announced were that in 2017, Kushner and Ivanka Trump declared joint income of between $82 million and $222 million. For 2018, that number “dropped” to between $29 million and $135 million. But it was when I first opened the article on the 2018 income that my jaw really dropped. Here is a partial screenshot of what I saw:

See the ad? What, you might ask, is Cadre, and how can it recruit folks who want to invest for 10 years and pay zero taxes? Well, Cadre is partially owned by none other than Jared Kushner. I had been looking at Cadre before I got to the Times article on 2018 income. So Google ads and the New York Times ad system worked together to assume I’d like to see Cadre if I’m looking into Kushner’s income. Jared Kushner’s corruption is so pervasive that even Google ads help you to see it when you look him up.

ODNI GC Klitenic: President Has Sole Authority Over Security Clearances, But Is Not Member Of Intelligence Community

Jim here again.

I want to go all the way back to September 13 in the Ukraine whistleblower saga. Recall that at this time, we strongly suspected but did not yet know that the complaint centered on President Trump. Congress was clamoring for the report from the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community to be released and for testimony from ICIG Michael Atkinson and/or Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire. In response to those Congressional demands, the General Counsel of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Jason Klitenic, issued a letter in which he provided the rationale for his decision that Atkinson was not required to pass the complaint along to Congress even though Atkinson had come to the conclusion that the report was credible and represented an urgent concern that merited sharing with Congress. Because Trump eventually relented on the issue of the report and released it, the narrative has moved quickly beyond Klitenic’s actions. But let’s look at his primary justification for ruling that this report should not be disclosed:

Yesterday, Marcy went into the details of what transpired within DOJ in the Office of Legal Counsel during these deliberations, but here I want to concentrate just on how Klitenic relied on OLC’s interpretation to come to the conclusion that one of the two most important determining factors in stating that Atkinson could not forward the complaint to Congress was that it applied to “someone outside the Intelligence Community”. Knowing as we do now that the complaint did indeed focus on Trump’s words and actions, Klitenic is stating clearly that the President is outside the Intelligence Community. This is really rich coming from Klitenic, because just about two weeks before the Trump-Zelensky phone call, Klitenic had helped to shut down the Congressional investigation of the scandal surrounding the issuance of security clearances within the Trump White House.

I’ve not yet found Klitenic’s letter of July 10, 2019 that was sent in response to a letter from Senators Warner, Feinstein, Menendez and Reed on March 8, 2019 demanding that then-Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Atkinson “review compliance by the Executive Office of the President (EOP) with policies and procedures governing security clearances and access to secure compartmented information (SCI)”. Note that Klitenic’s response is well past the 60 day window the Senators granted for a response. Here is Atkinson on July 22, where he cites Klitenic’s letter and interpretation:

So, on July 10, 2019, Klitenic ruled that the President alone has authority of who is granted a security clearance and even who gets access to SCI. Recall that one of the central figures of this security clearance scandal was none other that Jared Kushner. His clearance was originally denied and Trump overruled the denial. One whistleblower on the security clearances, Tricia Newbold,was so incensed over Trump’s actions that she went public, as noted in this April 1 article in the Washington Post.

Lucky for Kushner that he still has SCI access since it appears that records of Trump conversation’s with Jared’s BFF Mohammad bin Salman have been stashed at that level of classification. It is even more lucky for Kushner that although his father-in-law is not a member of the Intelligence Community, many of his most important conversations live well-buried within it.

Finally, many of you know that I am a diehard fan of college baseball. So of course when I looked at Klitenic’s biography, I couldn’t help noticing that he claims to have been an All-American baseball pitcher in college. That claim does indeed check out, although in true trash talk fashion I would add the asterisk that Johns Hopkins competes in Division III in baseball. One can’t help wondering at this point when Chief Justice John Roberts, who at his confirmation stated his job is to “call balls and strikes” will be ruling on pitches made by Klitenic.

Mike Flynn and Jared Kushner Had Remarkable Success at Avoiding the CIA Asset

About ten days ago, my mom died, two months after a health setback that we thought she was on the rebound from. As you can imagine, I have been and will be focused on that for another ten days or so. While I’ve been watching the imminent “FISA Abuse” IG Report (which I was working closely on before and in the days after mom’s death), the Russian defector, and the DNI whistleblower dispute closely, I haven’t had time to do deep dives. (I plan to write a post about mom, soon, but I’m not ready yet.)

I’d like to make a small point about the story of the Russian defector, Oleg Smolenkov. There seems to be a fierce contest going on — as Trump permits Bill Barr to declassify information to embarrass his opponents — to pitch Smolenkov as one or another thing.

One thing that’s not contested, though, is that he was close to Yuri Ushakov, a key foreign policy advisor to Putin. And that’s interesting for the way Ushakov figures in the Mueller Report. Both Jared Kushner and Mike Flynn got told, by two different people, that Ushakov, and not Sergey Kislyak, was the guy they should liaise with on important issues.

On November 16, 2016, Catherine Vargas, an executive assistant to Kushner, received a request for a meeting with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. 1128 That same day, Vargas sent Kushner an email with the subject, “MISSED CALL: Russian Ambassador to the US, Sergey Ivanovich Kislyak …. ” 1129 The text of the email read, “RE: setting up a time to meet w/you on 12/1. LMK how to proceed.” Kushner responded in relevant part, “I think I do this one — confirm with Dimitri [Simes of CNI] that this is the right guy .” 1130 After reaching out to a colleague of Simes at CNI, Vargas reported back to Kushner that Kislyak was “the best go-to guy for routine matters in the US,” while Yuri Ushakov, a Russian foreign policy advisor, was the contact for “more direct/substantial matters.” 11 31

Bob Foresman, the UBS investment bank executive who had previously tried to transmit to candidate Trump an invitation to speak at an economic forum in Russia, see Volume I, Section IV.A.l.d.ii, supra, may have provided similar information to the Transition Team. According to Foresman, at the end of an early December 2016 meeting with incoming National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and his designated deputy (K.T. McFarland) in New York, Flynn asked Foresman for his thoughts on Kislyak. Foresman had not met Kislyak but told Flynn that, while Kislyak was an important person, Kislyak did not have a direct line to Putin. 1132 Foresman subsequently traveled to Moscow, inquired of a source he believed to be close to Putin, and heard back from that source that Ushakov would be the official channel for the incoming U.S. national security advisor. 1133 Foresman acknowledged that Flynn had not asked him to undertake that inquiry in Russia but told the Office that he nonetheless felt obligated to report the information back to Flynn, and that he worked to get a face-to-face meeting with Flynn in January 2017 so that he could do so.1134 Email correspondence suggests that the meeting ultimately went forward, 1135 but Flynn has no recollection of it or of the earlier December meeting.1136 (The investigation did not identify evidence of Flynn or Kushner meeting with Ushakov after being given his name. 1137)

In the meantime, although he had already formed the impression that Kislyak was not necessarily the right point of contact, 1138 Kushner went forward with the meeting that Kislyak had requested on November 16. It took place at Trump Tower on November 30, 2016. 1139 At Kushner’ s invitation, Flynn also attended; Bannon was invited but did not attend.1140 During the meeting, which lasted approximately 30 minutes, Kushner expressed a desire on the part of the incoming Administration to start afresh with U.S.-Russian relations. 1141 Kushner also asked Kislyak to identify the best person (whether Kislyak or someone else) with whom to direct future discussions-someone who had contact with Putin and the ability to speak for him. 1142

The three men also discussed U.S. policy toward Syria, and Kislyak floated the idea of having Russian generals brief the Transition Team on the topic using a secure communications line. 1143 After Flynn explained that there was no secure line in the Transition Team offices, Kushner asked Kislyak if they could communicate using secure facilities at the Russian Embassy. 1144 Kislyak quickly rejected that idea. 1145

In spite of being told to contact Ushakov twice, neither did that. They continued to communicate via Sergey Kisylak.

While it’s true that NSA was collecting Kislyak’s comms — and therefore discovered Trump’s efforts to undermine official US policy after the fact — because Kushner and Flynn did not (apparently) communicate with Ushakov, they did not alert CIA in real time.