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Before Trump Did Nothing When Mohammed bin Salman Went After Jamal Khashoggi, He Did Nothing When MBS Went After Alwaleed bin Talal

There are a number of stories suggesting that the Trump administration will do nothing in response to the evidence that Mohammed bin Salman lured journalist Jamal Khashoggi to the Saudi consulate in Turkey to have him murdered and dismembered.

Trump has made a show of pretending to get to the bottom of things, while saying doing anything about it would hurt US-Saudi relations (meaning arms sales).

As outrage started to grow, MBS called Jared Kushner, with whom he has a close relationship sealed over all night conversations.

The White House said Wednesday that the powerful Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, had spoken about Khashoggi the previous day with White House national security adviser John Bolton and Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner. Kushner and the crown prince, who is commonly referred to as MBS, are known to be close.

A former administration official told POLITICO that MBS had demanded the call earlier in the week after the top official at the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh asked MBS directly about the Khashoggi case. The crown prince denied any wrongdoing in his conversation with that embassy official, the former official said.

Neither the White House nor the State Department would comment on the Saudi crown prince’s demand or most other aspects of this story. But the former official said the crown prince’s insistence on talking directly to the White House indicates he is hoping to leverage his close ties with Kushner and others in Trump’s inner circle to avoid repercussions.

And the business community — including close Trump allies — seem prepared to head for an investors conference in Saudi Arabia in spite of the assassination.

But if it becomes clear that the prince ordered the assassination of Mr. Khashoggi or was connected to it in some way, it will provoke an outcry on Capitol Hill; embarrass American executives, dozens of whom are flocking to Riyadh for a conference next week where the crown prince is scheduled to speak; and put Mr. Kushner, who was once himself a newspaper publisher, in an extremely awkward position.

Among the prominent figures scheduled to take part are Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase; Stephen A. Schwarzman, the chief executive of the Blackstone Group; and Dara Khosrowshahi, the chief executive of Uber.

Two other scheduled attendees have ties to Mr. Trump: Thomas J. Barrack Jr., a financier who is a friend of the president’s; and Dina H. Powell, a Goldman Sachs executive and former deputy national security adviser who worked closely with Mr. Kushner on Saudi Arabia and is a leading candidate to replace Nikki R. Haley as ambassador to the United Nations.

The Treasury Department said Mr. Mnuchin was still planning to attend.

While Congress has responded to this assassination by leveraging the Magnitsky Act, it seems the Administration would just like attention to the killing to fade.

Which really shouldn’t be a surprise.

The Administration did nothing last year when MBS targeted an even more prominent western-connected Saudi, Alwaleed bin Talal. Alwaleed was detained for 83 days by MBS until such time as he agreed to some kind of deal with the government, which may have involved handing over a substantial part of his fortune and acceptance of greater involvement in his business decisions.

Did you have to pay the government any money, did you have to hand over any land, did you have to surrender any shares?

When I say it’s a confidential and secret agreement, an arrangement based on a confirmed understanding between me and the government of Saudi Arabia, you have to respect that.

I’m a Saudi citizen. But I’m also a member of the royal family. The king is my uncle. Mohammed bin Salman is my cousin. So my interest is in maintaining the relationship between us and keeping it unscratched.

While Alwaleed is in no way a Saudi dissident, as Khashoggi was, he was a crucial cog not only in Saudi-US relations, but by virtue of his substantial investments in key US companies, in the US economy.

And western observers watched as MBS exerted some kind of influence over Alwaleed with only hushed complaints.

Far from criticizing the crackdown, Trump (and Jared, before the fact) appeared to sanction it.

Trump might do so not just because he has a fondness for authoritarianism. Starting fairly early in his presidential campaign, Trump had responded to Alwaleed’s criticisms of him with public mockery.

The Alwaleed-Trump tiff began in 2015, when candidate Trump called for curbing Muslim travel to the US in a bid to prevent terrorist attacks. Because of that, Alwaleed tweeted that the Republican front-runner was a “disgrace” and should bow out of the race. Mr. Trump responded that the prince was “dopey” and was seeking to “control our US politicians with daddy’s money.”

At one point, the future president tweeted a photo of Alwaleed alongside Megyn Kelly, then a Fox News correspondent who had clashed with Mr. Trump. It turned out that the image was a fake, and Mr. Trump falsely claimed that Alwaleed was “the co-owner of Fox News.” In fact, the prince had a stake in Fox’s (FOXA) sibling company, News Corp. (NWS), amounting to about 7 percent. He since has cut it drastically.

Alwaleed has countered Mr. Trump’s attacks by pointing out that he helped bail out the New York developer when the highly indebted Trump empire teetered on collapse in the early 1990s. First, the prince bought Mr. Trump’s 283-foot yacht for a bargain price of $18 million and with a partner bought out the Plaza, a storied New York hotel, which the Trump Organization owned.

Indeed, the Intercept reported that Jared provided intelligence from the Presidential Daily Brief to MBS on people he deemed disloyal to the regime.

In late October, Jared Kushner made an unannounced trip to Riyadh, catching some intelligence officials off guard. “The two princes are said to have stayed up until nearly 4 a.m. several nights, swapping stories and planning strategy,” the Washington Post’s David Ignatius reported at the time.

What exactly Kushner and the Saudi royal talked about in Riyadh may be known only to them, but after the meeting, Crown Prince Mohammed told confidants that Kushner had discussed the names of Saudis disloyal to the crown prince, according to three sources who have been in contact with members of the Saudi and Emirati royal families since the crackdown. Kushner, through his attorney’s spokesperson, denies having done so.

“Some questions by the media are so obviously false and ridiculous that they merit no response. This is one. The Intercept should know better,” said Peter Mirijanian, a spokesperson for Kushner’s lawyer Abbe Lowell.

On November 4, a week after Kushner returned to the U.S., the crown prince, known in official Washington by his initials MBS, launched what he called an anti-corruption crackdown. The Saudi government arrested dozens of members of the Saudi royal family and imprisoned them in the Ritz-Carlton Riyadh, which was first reported in English by The Intercept. The Saudi figures named in the President’s Daily Brief were among those rounded up; at least one was reportedly tortured.

While that story line of Trump’s response to the persecution was largely dropped as Alwaleed’s detention drew on early this year, I don’t doubt that Trump’s personal animosity to Alwaleed made him, if anything, at least comfortable if not enthusiastic about MBS’s power grab at Alwaleed’s expense. If so, MBS would have played to Trump’s own penchant for revenge to undercut what otherwise might have been more vocal criticism of the arbitrary treatment of a key international businessman (that said, the US made surprisingly little noise when MBS sidelined Mohammed bin Nayef, either).

And at that moment, MBS established that Trump would not interfere with any crackdown on opposition — because Trump has already bought into it.

The Christie Ouster and the Flynn Hiring

The Guardian has an excerpt from Michael Lewis’ new book, The Fifth Risk, which happens to be the chapter focusing on Trump’s transition team. On top of describing how Trump believed spending money, as required by law, to pay a transition team amounted to stealing his own money, the excerpt includes this account of Chris Christie’s firing.

Not long after the people on TV announced that Trump had won Pennsylvania, Jared Kushner grabbed Christie anxiously and said: “We have to have a transition meeting tomorrow morning!” Even before that meeting, Christie had made sure that Trump knew the protocol for his discussions with foreign leaders. The transition team had prepared a document to let him know how these were meant to go. The first few calls were easy – the very first was always with the prime minister of Great Britain – but two dozen calls in you were talking to some kleptocrat and tiptoeing around sensitive security issues. Before any of the calls could be made, however, the president of Egypt called in to the switchboard at Trump Tower and somehow got the operator to put him straight through to Trump. “Trump was like … I love the Bangles! You know that song Walk Like an Egyptian?” recalled one of his advisers on the scene.

That had been the first hint Christie had of trouble. He had asked Kushner what that was about, and Kushner had simply said, Trump ran a very unconventional campaign, and he’s not going to follow any of the protocols.

[snip]

Christie was scheduled to brief the Trump children, Kushner and the other members of Trump’s inner circle. He was surprised to find, suddenly included in this group, retired army lieutenant general Michael Flynn. Flynn was a jobseeker the transition team had found reasons to be extremely wary of. Now he wanted to be named Trump’s national security adviser, which was maybe the most important job in the entire national security apparatus. The national security team inside the Trump transition – staffed with senior former military and intelligence officials – had thought that was an especially bad idea. Flynn’s name was not on the list. But here he was, in the meeting to decide who would do what in the Trump administration, and Ivanka was asking him which job he would like to have.

Before Christie could intercede, Bannon grabbed him and asked to see him privately. Christie followed Bannon to his office impatiently. Hey, this is going to have to be quick, said Christie.

It’s really quick, said Bannon. You’re out.

Why? asked Christie, stunned.

We’re making a change.

“OkayOK, what are we changing?

You.

Why?

It’s really not important.

A week after Christie, along with former HPSCI Chair Mike Rogers, got purged from the Transition Team, I wrote a post that concluded this way.

One of the first things Trump has done has been to ensure agreement in its national security team on this point: that by letting our Middle Eastern allies arm al Qaeda-allied fighters, the Obama Administration created the mess that is in Syria.

And unanimity on that point — accompanied by what is sure to be a very ugly campaign of recriminations against the Obama Administration for cooking intelligence (even aside from the merit of this claim, Flynn has been bitter about his firing for what he sees as objecting to this cooked intelligence) — will provide the basis for Trump to work with Putin on ending the civil war in Syria to Bashar al-Assad’s advantage.

When I wrote that post, this text I received less than 15 hours after the polls closed, from someone I later came to conclude was involved in the election attack, was in my mind.

The text continued, in part, “clearly this confirms key role for Trump admin.”

As I surmised two years ago, there was a close tie between the moment Christie and other Republican realists got fired and when Flynn got picked.

According to this Michael Lewis account, though, the tie is far more direct than I imagined. The moment that Flynn got hired is the moment that Chris Christie got fired.

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

Paul Manafort Is One of 37 People in an Omertà with the President

Apparently, Bob Woodward committed some journalism along with canonizing racist John Kelly and wife-beater Rob Porter in his book: he got a number for how many people are included the Joint Defense Agreement that gives Rudy Giuliani such confidence the President is not at risk: 37.

And Politico committed still more journalism and answered the question we’ve all been asking: yes, Paul Manafort is among those 37.

Giuliani also confirmed that Trump’s lawyers and Manafort’s have been in regular contact and that they are part of a joint defense agreement that allows confidential information sharing.

“All during the investigation we have an open communication with them,” he said. “Defense lawyers talk to each other all the time where as long as our clients authorize it therefore we have a better idea of what’s going to happen. That’s very common.”

Giuliani confirmed he spoke with Manafort’s lead defense lawyer Kevin Downing shortly before and after the verdicts were returned in the Virginia trial, but the former mayor wouldn’t say what he discusses with the Manafort team. “It’d all be attorney-client privilege not just from our point of view but from theirs,” he said.

That means when John Dowd complained that the raid of Manafort’s condo (where his eight iPods were seized), that was based on privileged conversations between lawyers. And when, in January, Trump confidently said he was sure Manafort would protect him, that was based on privileged conversations between lawyers.  And when, just before the EDVA trial, Kevin Downing was ostentatiously saying there was no way Manafort was flipping, and when he was balking on a plea with Mueller immediately after the trial, he was also talking to Rudy Giuliani.

Mind you, Rudy G will learn right away if Manafort starts considering cooperating, rather than just pleading, because Manafort will have to (finally!) drop out of the JDA before those discussions start.

And while I suspect Mueller has slowly been peeling away people like Sam Patten, that the JDA is so big likely means some or most of the following people are part of the omertà (and Michael Cohen, Rick Gates, and Mike Flynn were part of it):

  • Paul Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik
  • Jared Kushner
  • The Trump Org defendants: Don Jr, Rhonna Graff
  • Bill Burck’s clients: Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, Don McGahn (and up to three more)
  • Victoria Toensing’s clients: Mark Corallo, Erik Prince, Sam Clovis
  • The hush payment recipients: Hope Hicks, Brad Parscale, Keith Schiller
  • Roger Stone and his buddies: Stone, Michael Caputo, Sam Nunberg, Andrew Miller, plus some (probably)

That’s 20. Some other likely (and enticing) JDA members are: Devin Nunes, Jeff Sessions, Tom Barrack, Keith Kellogg, John Mashburn, KT McFarland, JD Gordon, Walid Phares, Stephen Miller, Sean Spicer, Rob Porter, Corey Lewandowski, John Kelly. Heck, it’s not even clear that George Papadopoulos is not part of the JDA.

But that still leaves space in the JDA for people who were already comparing notes with known members of the JDA, including Rinat Akhmetshin, Rob Goldstone, and Ike Kaveladze (along with Emin and Aras Agalarov, who are all represented by Scott Balber).

No wonder Rudy thinks he knows everything that Mueller has.

That’s why the collective panic on the discovery that Stone’s phone was likely among the ~10 or so that Mueller got warrants for in the wake of Rick Gates’ cooperation agreement is so interesting, and also why Manafort, playing his part as point, tried so hard to find out who the other four AT&T users whose phones were obtained with his own.

These guys may be good at omertà. But every single one we’ve seen so far has shitty OpSec; they’ve been saying their co-conspiracy communications on their phones and on iCloud. Plus there are people like Omarosa wandering among them, dismissed as irrelevant even while they record everything they hear. And meanwhile, Mueller is chipping away at the edges, people they haven’t considered (like Patten). And all the while he’s been building his case against Stone and Don Jr.

Mueller Ready to Get Trump on the Record on His Involvement in the Russian Conspiracy

EUREKA!!!

The NYT finally has a story that admits Trump is at risk under conspiracy charges!

It reports that Mueller told Trump’s lawyers last Friday that he’d be willing to start with written answers about his involvement in the election conspiracy, while bracketing obstruction questions as privileged.

The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, will accept written answers from President Trump on questions about whether his campaign conspired with Russia’s election interference, Mr. Mueller’s office told Mr. Trump’s lawyers in a letter, two people briefed on it said on Tuesday.

But on another significant aspect of the investigation — whether the president tried to obstruct the inquiry itself — Mr. Mueller and his investigators understood that issues of executive privilege could complicate their pursuit of a presidential interview and did not ask for written responses on that matter, according to the letter, which was sent on Friday.

Mr. Mueller did not say that he was giving up on an interview altogether, including on questions of obstruction of justice. But the tone of the letter and the fact that the special counsel did not ask for written responses on obstruction prompted some Trump allies to conclude that if an interview takes place, its scope will be more limited than Mr. Trump’s legal team initially believed, the people said.

For the moment, I’m not going to say what I think this means (I’ve got some ideas, but will hold those for now).

Instead, consider what questions will be included in Trump’s take-home test, from the list the NYT first published (though it has presumably grown since March when Jay Sekulow wrote it up). I’m going to group them, here, under things we know Mueller has been up to in recent months.

November 30, 2017: Mike Flynn pleads guilty as part of a cooperation deal

Last year, Mike Flynn pled guilty as part of a cooperation deal; he has a status hearing — scheduled on a 24 day interval — on September 17. Flynn has spent the last nine months answering these questions:

  • What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding Russian sanctions?
  • During the campaign, what did you know about Russian hacking, use of social media or other acts aimed at the campaign?
  • What did you know during the transition about an attempt to establish back-channel communication to Russia, and Jared Kushner’s efforts?
  • What do you know about a 2017 meeting in Seychelles involving Erik Prince?
  • What do you know about a Ukrainian peace proposal provided to Mr. Cohen in 2017?

February 23: Rick Gates pleads guilty as part of a cooperation deal

On February 23, Rick Gates pled guilty as part of a big cooperation agreement. Two weeks later, Mueller obtained search warrants for 5 AT&T phones (and probably an equivalent number of Verizon phones), at least one of which is Paul Manafort’s and one of which may be Roger Stone’s. Gates can surely help answer the following questions:

  • What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding any meeting with Mr. Putin? Did you discuss it with others?
  • What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding Russian sanctions?
  • What involvement did you have concerning platform changes regarding arming Ukraine?
  • During the campaign, what did you know about Russian hacking, use of social media or other acts aimed at the campaign?
  • What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign?

April: Jared testifies for seven hours

Sometime in April, Jared testified for seven hours. Jared is likely to be able to provide some answers about the following questions:

  • What did you know during the transition about an attempt to establish back-channel communication to Russia, and Jared Kushner’s efforts?
  • What do you know about a 2017 meeting in Seychelles involving Erik Prince?
  • When did you become aware of the Trump Tower meeting?
  • What involvement did you have in the communication strategy, including the release of Donald Trump Jr.’s emails?
  • During the campaign, what did you know about Russian hacking, use of social media or other acts aimed at the campaign?

May 22: Sam Patten makes his first proffer for a cooperation deal

On August 31, Sam Patten pled guilty to FARA violations in the context of a cooperation agreement for which he made his first proffer back on May 22. Patten may know some of the answers to these questions:

  • What do you know about a Ukrainian peace proposal provided to Mr. Cohen in 2017?
  • What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding Russian sanctions?
  • What involvement did you have concerning platform changes regarding arming Ukraine?

August 17: Paul Manafort seeks a plea deal

During jury watch in his first trial, Manafort and Mueller’s lawyers had aborted discussions about a plea deal, at least to resolve his second trial. Manafort’s lawyers are only belatedly preparing for the second trial, jury selection for which begins on September 17.

Manafort would be able to answer the following questions:

  • During the campaign, what did you know about Russian hacking, use of social media or other acts aimed at the campaign?
  • What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding any meeting with Mr. Putin? Did you discuss it with others?
  • What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding Russian sanctions?
  • What involvement did you have concerning platform changes regarding arming Ukraine?
  • During the campaign, what did you know about Russian hacking, use of social media or other acts aimed at the campaign?
  • What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign?

August 21: “They’re squeezing Don Jr. right now”

On August 21, Vanity Fair reported that Mueller has been making document follow-up requests pertaining to Jr.

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

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

These questions would directly pertain to Don Jr and the documents he has been turning over:

  • During a 2013 trip to Russia, what communication and relationships did you have with the Agalarovs and Russian government officials?
  • When did you become aware of the Trump Tower meeting?
  • What involvement did you have in the communication strategy, including the release of Donald Trump Jr.’s emails?
  • What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding any meeting with Mr. Putin? Did you discuss it with others?
  • What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding Russian sanctions?
  • During the campaign, what did you know about Russian hacking, use of social media or other acts aimed at the campaign?

August 21: Michael Cohen pleads guilty to eight charges while begging to cooperate

On August 21, Michael Cohen pled guilty to eight charges; both before and after he has desperately shopped a plea deal (though he has gone quiet in recent days). Cohen’s cooperation might help answer these questions:

  • During a 2013 trip to Russia, what communication and relationships did you have with the Agalarovs and Russian government officials?
  • What communication did you have with Michael D. Cohen, Felix Sater and others, including foreign nationals, about Russian real estate developments during the campaign?
  • What do you know about a Ukrainian peace proposal provided to Mr. Cohen in 2017?

September 7: The second-to-last known witness against Roger Stone testifies before the grand jury

On Friday, Randy Credico will bring his dog to visit the grand jury and describe how Roger Stone tried to convince him to claim he was Stone’s back channel to Assange (he has already interviewed with Mueller’s team, so they know what he’s going to say). Mueller has been questioning witnesses about Stone since February, and just one — Andrew Miller — remains to testify (assuming the sealed order Beryl Howell signed on August 13) didn’t immunize him for part of his testimony).

That long line of witnesses likely provided information relevant to these questions:

  • During the campaign, what did you know about Russian hacking, use of social media or other acts aimed at the campaign?
  • What did you know about communication between Roger Stone, his associates, Julian Assange or WikiLeaks?

In short, while the NYT has been reporting incessantly about the obstruction charges against Trump, Mueller has accumulated a good deal of evidence to answer the questions about the Russian conspiracy that Trump’s lawyers have in the past said they’d be willing to answer.

I’d say Mueller’s ready to get Trump’s answers — which will not be truthful — on the record. You don’t need obstruction charges involving Jim Comey when you’re guaranteed the President will lie on the record about conspiracy.

Update: In their version of this story, WaPo notes they’ll return to obstruction discussions later.

On potential obstruction-of-justice issues, “he said he’d assess it down the road,” said one person familiar with Mueller’s letter who requested anonymity to discuss private communications. “They’re essentially saying, ‘We’ll deal with this at a later date.’”

That makes sense. There’s bound to be more obstruction to discuss later down the road, whether it’s lies in response to these questions or attempted pardons.

Update: One other thing this does. This letter, inviting Trump to answer questions in writing, came a day after the first detailed story on Rudy’s counter-report came out. Rudy’s blabbing about how they’re going to release a report that purportedly addresses all of Mueller’s concerns will make it hard (but never impossible) to refuse to comply. And it will also give Rudy a hobby that will distract from inventing conspiracy theories about Mueller conflict.

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

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

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

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

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

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

RUDY GIULIANI:

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

CHUCK TODD:

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

RUDY GIULIANI:

No it’s not.

CHUCK TODD:

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

(OVERTALK)

RUDY GIULIANI:

No, it wasn’t. No, no.

CHUCK TODD:

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

RUDY GIULIANI:

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

CHUCK TODD:

From the Russian government?

RUDY GIULIANI:

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

CHUCK TODD:

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

RUDY GIULIANI:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On November 23, Kaveladze sent Goldstone that synopsis.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On November 29, he explained to Vesenitskaya that,

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

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

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

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

At least two communications are unaccounted for

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

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

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

A. Not that I recall, no.

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

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

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

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

A. I don’t believe so.

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

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

The Russian side concludes there is no communication channel

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

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

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

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

Other Russians pursue a communication channel

Unless the resolution moved to a different path.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A. I believe so.

Q. Was it a meeting in December of 2016?

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

Q. So it was a meeting in Trump Tower?

A. Yes.

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

A. Correct.

Q. Do you know why they used your office?

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

Q. And who was in that meeting?

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

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

A. No, not that I recall.

Q. Was the meeting still ongoing when you returned?

A. I believe it was, yes.

Q. Did you go in and join the meeting?

A. No, I did not.

Q. Why not?

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

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

A. No, I don’t think I did.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But there was.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How ABC Broke a Story about Mueller LIMITING Questions on Obstruction and Claimed It Showed a Focus on Obstruction

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

On Monday, Rudy Giuliani revealed that Robert Mueller had gone ten days without responding to the White House’s latest set of conditions under which President Trump would be willing to sit for an interview.

We have an offer to [Mueller] — by now, like, the fifth offer back and forth, so you’d have to call it a counter-counter-counteroffer. And, where it stands is, they haven’t replied to it and it’s been there about 10 days,” he said. “Despite the fact that we’re getting more and more convinced that maybe he shouldn’t do it, we still have that offer outstanding, and in good faith, if they came back and accepted it, or if they came back and modified it in a way that we can accept, we would consider it.

By yesterday afternoon, ABC, showing unbelievable credulity, reported that Mueller wanted to ask Trump questions about obstruction.

Special counsel Mueller wants to ask Trump about obstruction of justice: Sources

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office wants to ask President Donald Trump about obstruction of justice, among other topics, sources close to the White House tell ABC News. According to sources, the president learned within the last day that the special counsel will limit the scope of questioning and would like to ask questions both orally and written for the President to respond to.

This left the impression — not just among readers who aren’t paid to know better, but among journalists who are — that the focus of any interview would be obstruction, not the President’s role in a conspiracy with the Russians.

By the end of the day, more responsible reporting revealed that pretty much the opposite of what ABC reported had occurred. In his latest proposal, Mueller offered to drop half the obstruction questions.

In a letter sent Monday, Mueller’s team suggested that investigators would reduce by nearly half the number of questions they would ask about potential obstruction of justice, the two people said.

That would, of course, mean that a greater proportion of the questions would be on that conspiracy with Russia, not on obstruction. That’s not surprising. Between January and March, after all, the focus of Mueller’s questions (as interpreted by Jay Sekulow) shifted more towards that conspiracy than obstruction.

Meanwhile, the President’s favorite scribes pushed another bullshit line he has been pushing for over six months: in spite of what you might conclude given his increasing attacks on Mueller on Twitter, the NYT would have you believe, Trump wants to do an interview, against his lawyers’ better judgment, and isn’t just stalling while trying to claim he’s not obsessed with and afraid of this investigation.

President Trump pushed his lawyers in recent days to try once again to reach an agreement with the special counsel’s office about his sitting for an interview, flouting their advice that he should not answer investigators’ questions, three people briefed on the matter said on Wednesday.

Mr. Trump has told advisers he is eager to meet with investigators to clear himself of wrongdoing, the people said. In effect, he believes he can convince the investigators for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, of his belief that their own inquiry is a “witch hunt.”

[snip]

Mr. Trump has put his lawyers in the vexing position of trying to follow the desires of their client while seeking to protect him from legal jeopardy at the same time.

Here’s CNN showing Rudy planting the bullshit line, as well as another bullshit line the press continues to repeat uncritically, that this inquiry is leading towards a report to Congress and not another set of indictments.

He added that Trump has “always been interested in testifying. It’s us, meaning the team of lawyers, including me, that have the most reservations about that.”

Giuliani also sent a message to Mueller: It’s time for the special counsel to “put up or shut up.”

“They should render their report. Put up — I mean I guess if we were playing poker (you would say) ‘Put up or shut up.’ What do you got?” Giuliani said. “We have every reason to believe they don’t have anything of the President doing anything wrong. I don’t think they have any evidence he did anything wrong.”

Why is it that the press can easily identify outright bullshit when it comes directly from Trump or Rudy’s mouth, but when they tell you equally obvious bullshit on terms that they’re telling you a secret, it somehow gets reported as if it’s true, all the evidence notwithstanding?

Ferfecksake, people. Trump and his legal team have spent weeks claiming that “collusion” is not a crime. He stood next to Vladimir Putin as the latter replayed the June 9 script, looking like a whipped puppy, and denied he got elected thanks to Putin’s assistance, siding with a hostile foreign leader over the United States’ intelligence community. The last indictment Mueller released included a paragraph nodding vigorously towards GRU’s hackers responding to requests from Trump, as if responding to a signal (a practice for which Mueller has already shown evidence).

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

Do you really think Mueller would put Donald Trump right there on page 8 of the GRU indictment and be focused primarily on obstruction? Do you really think Mueller doesn’t have the conspiracy to defraud the US (and conspiracy to commit CFAA) indictment that has been clear since February planned out, where even without an interview he could include Trump as “Male 1” to indicate how he communicated acceptance of a Russian deal over and over? Do you really think people with a significant role in the conspiracy would know that Trump was moving within 14 hours of the polls closing to pay off his debts to Russia if there weren’t more evidence that Donald J Trump willingly joined a conspiracy with Russia?

I even got asked the other day, by a self-described expert on this case, why so many witnesses are talking about being asked questions about obstruction. I noted that the only witnesses we’ve heard from recently — close associates of Roger Stone — were instead describing questions about meetings attended and Russian deals floated and social media campaigns launched. That is, they were asked about conspiracy, not obstruction. We don’t even know what Jared Kushner was asked in his lengthy April questioning, but I assure you it wasn’t focused primarily on obstruction.

I get it. Mueller isn’t leaking and readers want more Russia stories so any time the White House seeds one, all secret like except that CNN films it, you gotta tell it in such a way that you’ll get those cable-televised secrets the next time. But please please please treat those claims with the same skepticism you treat Trump and Rudy bullshit when it is delivered where the public can see it. If Trump and Rudy are lying in public, there is zero reason to believe they’re telling you the truth when they claim to be feeding you secrets.

Robert Mueller is investigating the President of the United States for willfully entering a conspiracy with Russians offering to help him get elected, I believe in exchange for certain policy considerations, including changes to US Syria policy. Yes, Mueller obtained evidence demonstrating that conspiracy in large part because, in an effort to thwart any investigation into how he got elected, Trump fired the last guy who was investigating it (and investigating it less aggressively). Yes, that means obstruction is one of the crimes that Mueller believes Trump may have committed (if you’re going to harp on obstruction, then please focus on Trump’s pre-emptive offers of pardons to Mike Flynn and Paul Manafort, because it’s one of the most grave examples of obstruction and it’s critical to understanding what is going on now in EDVA).

I can’t predict how this will end — whether Mueller will decide he has enough evidence to implicate a sitting president, if so, how Mueller might lay out Trump’s involvement along with that of his family and aides, what Congress will do in response, what the long term impact on the country will be.

But that doesn’t mean the press is doing its readers any favors by playing dumb about what Mueller is really pursuing.

The Non-EDVA Manafort Thread: Paulie Continues to Work for His Pardon

Today, a bunch of stalwart journalists are fighting the back-asswards conditions in Alexandria’s courthouse to bring breaking news from the first day of Paul Manafort’s tax evasion trial. In this post, I’m going to look at a few details that have happened outside of the courthouse

Yesterday, The Daily Beast provided some kind of an explanation for Rudy Giuliani’s weird TV meltdown yesterday. It turns out Rudy was (successfully) pre-empting a NYT story.

The day began with a morning interview with Fox & Friends, during which Giuliani insisted that “collusion [with Russian election-meddlers] is not a crime” in the first place. He then headed to CNN where he proceeded to, ostensibly, break a bit of news about the infamous Trump Tower meeting that the president’s son took with a Russian lawyer reportedly tied to Kremlin officials.

Two days before that meeting, Giuliani relayed, former Trump attorney and fixer Michael Cohen claimed that there was a separate meeting; this one, involving five people, including Cohen himself. According to Giuliani, three of the five people in that supposed meeting told him “it didn’t take place.” Not only that, they had done so “under oath on it and the other two couldn’t possibly reveal it because [Special Counsel Robert] Mueller never asked us about it.”

“You get to the other meeting he says he was at, that the president wasn’t at…with Donald [Trump] Jr., Jared [Kushner], [Paul] Manafort…[Rick] Gates and one other person. Cohen also now says that—he says too much—that two days before he was participating in a meeting with roughly the same group of people—but not the president, definitely not the president—in which they were talking about the strategy of the meeting with the Russians,” Giuliani continued. “The people in that meeting deny it, the people who we’ve been able to interview. The people we’ve not been able to interview have never said that about that meeting.”

[snip]

In subsequent interviews on Monday, the president’s lawyer claimed that, in fact, he was only speaking off of as-yet unverified details from reporters who had contacted Team Trump to ask about the planning meeting.

Giuliani told The Daily Beast that this included reporters from The New York Times, such as the paper’s star Trump reporter Maggie Haberman, who had reached out about the alleged pre-meeting meeting. So, he added, “Jay [Sekulow] and I spent a great deal of [Sunday] trying to run it down.”

Giuliani said that he believes they managed to “shut it down” and help kill the story, and speculated the journalists had also found other reasons not to run the item. Giuliani and Sekulow—according to Giuliani—had to “go to [alleged participants’] lawyers, and they had to go back to their notes, because nowadays no one wants to be inaccurate”—a rather ironic statement.

As others have noted, this explanation may be most interesting for the glimpse it offers on the Joint Defense Agreement, in which Rudy can call up other potential defendants’ lawyers and agree on a story. And, after consulting with these other lawyers, Rudy appears to claim the following:

  • At a June 7 meeting attended by Jr, Jared, Manafort, Gates, one other person, and Cohen, strategizing the Russian meeting did not come up.
  • At another meeting, reportedly including the President and four of the six who attended the June 7 meeting, he was not told about the Russian meeting.

Also, collusion is not a crime because only hacking is.

Rudy provides us some clues here. Rudy’s says that three of five people in the meeting including Trump told Mueller it didn’t happen and the other two weren’t asked about it by Mueller. Those other two must be Don and his spawn, because they haven’t been interviewed by Mueller. But if that’s the case, the math actually works out to just two people telling Mueller it didn’t happen, because Cohen also hasn’t been interviewed. There’s a 66% chance that Manafort and Gates are the ones who told Mueller it didn’t happen.

Then there’s the June 7 meeting — a meeting on the same day that Manafort also had a meeting with Trump, and the day that Trump promised a report on Hillary in the upcoming days (so a day when the campaign would have been strategizing a Hillary attack of one sort or another). Rudy suggests that meeting was attended by someone or someones who they haven’t been able to interview, but who nevertheless have never said anything about strategizing the Russia meeting. Perhaps this is just a reference to Cohen, a way of claiming he never said this before. Or perhaps there’s someone else who’s not part of the JDA.

Notice how this story, thus far, relies on Junior (who has not been interviewed and clearly is a target) and Gates (who has subsequently flipped) and Manafort (whose first trial just started)?

Given the centrality of Manafort in this story — and Trump’s prior admission that Manafort could incriminate him — I’m particularly interested in this other bit from Rudy, suggesting the possibility that Manafort has flipped and “lied.” (h/t CH)

They’re putting Manafort in solitary confinement — which sounds more like Russian than the US — in order to get him to break. And maybe they’ve succeeded in cracking this guy, and getting him to lie. I don’t know. I’m not sure of that.

So Cohen may (or may not) be blabbing about stories that greatly incriminate Trump. To rebut them, his lawyer is taking to the cable shows to reveal multiple previously undisclosed meetings, and assuring the public that those who either were or maybe just the people who remain in a JDA with the President say it didn’t happen. Which leaves Gates, who has flipped, and Manafort, whom Rudy is obviously worried might flip.

Meanwhile, as he was heading into his client’s trial this morning, Manafort lawyer Kevin Downing apparently said there was “no chance” his client would flip to avoid trial. From whence Downing proceeded to go spend much of his opening argument blaming Gates for Manafort’s epic corruption. Here’s HuffPo.

An attorney for former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort told jurors during opening arguments in his tax and bank fraud trial on Tuesday that Manafort’s longtime aide Rick Gates ― now a witness for special counsel Robert Mueller ― is a liar who can’t be trusted.

Manafort, attorney Tom Zehnle told jurors, made a mistake in “placing his trust in the wrong person” who was now willing to say anything to keep himself out of trouble. Zehnle told jurors that Manafort “rendered a valuable service to our system of government” because of his involvement in multiple presidential campaigns.

And here’s Reuters.

“Rick Gates had his hand in the cookie jar,” defense attorney Thomas Zehnle said in opening statements at Manafort’s trial in federal court in Virginia. “Little did Paul know that Rick was lining his own pockets.”

Meanwhile, several developments in Manafort’s cases happened outside the courtroom. First, he dropped his challenge to Mueller’s authority in the DC Circuit. The DC Circuit denied his bid to get out of jail during this and while awaiting his DC trial, based primarily on the additional witness tampering charges that followed Amy Berman Jackson’s warnings about violating her gag order.

Most interesting however, was this exchange. Last night, Manafort asked for a 25-day delay in a pre-trial report he has to submit jointly with the prosecution in his DC case, citing his ongoing EDVA trial. But as the scathing response made clear, he brought that on himself when he refused to waive venue for these tax charges and instead took his chances with two trials.

[T]he Court’s August 1, 2018, deadline is no surprise; it has been in place for five months, when this Court entered its Scheduling Order on March 1, 2018. (Doc. 217). Nor was it a surprise that Manafort (like the government) would need to prepare for two trials when Manafort elected to have two trials. Indeed, this Court advised the defense that the defendant’s choice to have two trials might well result in “a trial in the Eastern District of Virginia before this one. So you may want to keep that in mind.”

More interesting, the Mueller team described how Manafort has spent the last two weeks accepting details of the government’s plan in the DC case, without reciprocating or warning them he was going to ask for a delay.

[T]he government spent the last two weeks making disclosures to Manafort of all of the different components required by the joint pretrial statement. The government furnished to the defense: (a) a proposed joint statement of the case; (b) an estimate of the length of the government’s case-in-chief; (c) proposed jury instructions; (d) a notice of intended expert witnesses; (e) an exhibit list; (f) all proposed stipulations; (g) a proposed special jury instruction (in lieu of a list of matters for the Court to take judicial notice); and (h) a proposed verdict form.1 Notably, the government identified a list of hundreds of exhibits—with Bates numbers and descriptions—it intends to use at trial, giving the defense a roadmap of its case. With each submission to the defense, the government asked the defense to alert it to its position, so the government could inform the Court in the joint statement due on August 1, 2018. Not once did Manafort respond, in any way, to any of the government’s disclosures. Similarly, the defense produced no reciprocal materials to the government.

When Manafort dropped his challenge to Mueller’s authority, some wondered whether that was a sign he’s about to flip. But this ploy with the DC schedule makes it clear he continues to do what he has been doing from the start: using his trials as an effort to discredit Mueller as much as possible, while obtaining as much information about the case in chief — the conspiracy with Russia.

As I’ve said repeatedly, that seems to be the terms of his pardon deal with Trump: he spends his time discrediting the Russian conspiracy case, and in the future, Trump may reward him in kind.

Given that Gates may actually have already told Mueller about the meetings Rudy is trying to deny, I expect more attacks in Rick Gates in the coming weeks, then.

Twenty Comey Questions Do Not Eliminate Trump’s Obstruction Exposure

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

As Trump’s legal teams shift their efforts to stall Mueller’s investigation, the press is shifting their problematic reporting on what legal exposure Trump has. As part of its report that Trump’s legal team has made a “counteroffer” to have Trump sit for an interview covering just collusion, the WSJ repeats Rudy Giuliani’s bullshit that Trump’s obstruction only covers the Comey firing.

The president’s legal team is open to him answering questions about possible collusion with Moscow, Mr. Giuliani said, but is less willing to have Mr. Trump discuss questions about obstruction of justice. “We think the obstruction of it is handled by Article 2 of the Constitution,” Mr. Giuliani said, referring to the provision that gives the president executive authority to appoint and dismiss members of his administration.

Mr. Mueller is investigating whether Trump associates colluded with Russia’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election, and whether Mr. Trump sought to obstruct justice in the firing of former Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey in May 2017, while the FBI’s Russia probe was under way. Mr. Trump has repeatedly denied collusion and obstruction, and Moscow has denied election interference.

[snip]

Mr. Giuliani said in an interview Monday that the reasons Mr. Trump has given for firing the former FBI director are “more than sufficient” and that as president, he had the power to fire any member of his administration.

This is just more parroting of Rudy’s spin, just as the old line that Trump was primarily at risk for obstruction.

Here’s the list of questions Jay Sekulow understood Mueller wanting to ask sometime in March, as presented by the NYT. I’ve bolded what I consider collusion questions (including the June 9 statement, as abundant evidence suggests that reflects direct collusion with Putin on the framing of their quid pro quo). I’ve italicized the questions that exclusive address Comey.

  1. What did you know about phone calls that Mr. Flynn made with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, in late December 2016?
  2. What was your reaction to news reports on Jan. 12, 2017, and Feb. 8-9, 2017?
  3. What did you know about Sally Yates’s meetings about Mr. Flynn?
  4. How was the decision made to fire Mr. Flynn on Feb. 13, 2017?
  5. After the resignations, what efforts were made to reach out to Mr. Flynn about seeking immunity or possible pardon?
  6. What was your opinion of Mr. Comey during the transition?
  7. What did you think about Mr. Comey’s intelligence briefing on Jan. 6, 2017, about Russian election interference?
  8. What was your reaction to Mr. Comey’s briefing that day about other intelligence matters?
  9. What was the purpose of your Jan. 27, 2017, dinner with Mr. Comey, and what was said?
  10. What was the purpose of your Feb. 14, 2017, meeting with Mr. Comey, and what was said?
  11. What did you know about the F.B.I.’s investigation into Mr. Flynn and Russia in the days leading up to Mr. Comey’s testimony on March 20, 2017?
  12. What did you do in reaction to the March 20 testimony? Describe your contacts with intelligence officials.
  13. What did you think and do in reaction to the news that the special counsel was speaking to Mr. Rogers, Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Coats?
  14. What was the purpose of your calls to Mr. Comey on March 30 and April 11, 2017?
  15. What was the purpose of your April 11, 2017, statement to Maria Bartiromo?
  16. What did you think and do about Mr. Comey’s May 3, 2017, testimony?
  17. Regarding the decision to fire Mr. Comey: When was it made? Why? Who played a role?
  18. What did you mean when you told Russian diplomats on May 10, 2017, that firing Mr. Comey had taken the pressure off?
  19. What did you mean in your interview with Lester Holt about Mr. Comey and Russia?
  20. What was the purpose of your May 12, 2017, tweet?
  21. What did you think about Mr. Comey’s June 8, 2017, testimony regarding Mr. Flynn, and what did you do about it?
  22. What was the purpose of the September and October 2017 statements, including tweets, regarding an investigation of Mr. Comey?
  23. What is the reason for your continued criticism of Mr. Comey and his former deputy, Andrew G. McCabe?
  24. What did you think and do regarding the recusal of Mr. Sessions?
  25. What efforts did you make to try to get him to change his mind?
  26. Did you discuss whether Mr. Sessions would protect you, and reference past attorneys general?
  27. What did you think and what did you do in reaction to the news of the appointment of the special counsel?
  28. Why did you hold Mr. Sessions’s resignation until May 31, 2017, and with whom did you discuss it?
  29. What discussions did you have with Reince Priebus in July 2017 about obtaining the Sessions resignation? With whom did you discuss it?
  30. What discussions did you have regarding terminating the special counsel, and what did you do when that consideration was reported in January 2018?
  31. What was the purpose of your July 2017 criticism of Mr. Sessions?
  32. When did you become aware of the Trump Tower meeting?
  33. What involvement did you have in the communication strategy, including the release of Donald Trump Jr.’s emails?
  34. During a 2013 trip to Russia, what communication and relationships did you have with the Agalarovs and Russian government officials?
  35. What communication did you have with Michael D. Cohen, Felix Sater and others, including foreign nationals, about Russian real estate developments during the campaign?
  36. What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding any meeting with Mr. Putin? Did you discuss it with others?
  37. What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding Russian sanctions?
  38. What involvement did you have concerning platform changes regarding arming Ukraine?
  39. During the campaign, what did you know about Russian hacking, use of social media or other acts aimed at the campaign?
  40. What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign?
  41. What did you know about communication between Roger Stone, his associates, Julian Assange or WikiLeaks?
  42. What did you know during the transition about an attempt to establish back-channel communication to Russia, and Jared Kushner’s efforts?
  43. What do you know about a 2017 meeting in Seychelles involving Erik Prince?
  44. What do you know about a Ukrainian peace proposal provided to Mr. Cohen in 2017?

By my count there are:

Comey obstruction: 17

Other obstruction: 13

Collusion: 14

There aren’t quite 20 Comey questions, but it’s close.

By getting a journalist to uncritically parrot Rudy’s claim that all the obstruction questions pertain to Comey, the White House has buried some of the more egregious examples of obstruction, including (offering pre-emptive pardons to Flynn and Manafort, and whoever else) the gross abuse of the pardon power, and threatening the Attorney General. It also obscures the obstruction for which there are now cooperating witnesses (including, but not limited to, Flynn).

Probably, Trump is trying this ploy because a range of things — Manafort’s imminent trial, Cohen’s likely imminent cooperation, Mueller’s acute focus on Stone, and whatever else Putin told him — give him an incentive to have an up-to-date understanding of the current status of the collusion investigation. If he can do that in a way that makes it harder to charge some of the egregious obstruction Trump has been engaged in, all the better.

Whatever it is, it is malpractice to credulously repeat Rudy’s claim that Trump is only on the hook for obstruction for firing Comey.

Three Things: Still Active Measures

[Note the byline. This post contains some speculative content. / ~Rayne]

Whether counter-arguments or conspiracy theories, it’s interesting how certain narratives are pushed when tensions rise. But are they really theories or conditioning? And if conditioning, could other media infrastructure changes create more successful conditioning?

~ 3 ~

In an interview with Fox News post-Helsinki summit, Vladmir Putin made a point of blaming the Democratic Party for “manipulations of their party.”

…“The idea was about hacking an email account of a Democratic candidate. Was it some rigging of facts? Was it some forgery of facts? That’s the important thing that I am trying to — point that I’m trying to make. Was this — any false information planted? No. It wasn’t.”

The hackers, he said, entered “a certain email account and there was information about manipulations conducted within the Democratic Party to incline the process in favor of one candidate.” …

Have to give Putin props for sticking with a game plan — increase friction within the American left and fragment Democratic Party support to the benefit of Trump and the Republican Party at the polls and ultimately Putin himself if sanctions are lifted. Christopher Steele indicated in the Trump-Russia dossier that the Kremlin was using active measures to this effect in 2016 to widen the divide between Sanders and Clinton supporters; apparently left-splitting active measures continue.

But this is only part of an attack on the Democratic Party; another narrative undermines both the DNC and the FBI by questioning the investigation into the DNC’s hacking. Why didn’t the FBI take possession of the server itself rather than settle for an image of the system? A key technical reason is that any RAM-resident malware used by hackers will disappear into the ether if the machine is turned off; other digital footprints found only in RAM memory would likewise disappear. “The server” isn’t one machine with a single hard drive, either, but 140 devices — some of which were cloud-based. Not exactly something the FBI can power down and take back to a forensic lab with ease, especially during the hottest part of a campaign season.

But these points are never effectively made as a counter narrative, though some have tried with explainers, and certainly not featured in broadcast or cable news programs. The doubt is left to hang in the public’s consciousness, conditioning them to question FBI’s competence and the validity of their investigative work.

If Putin is still using active measures to divide Democratic Party voters, is it possible this narrative about the hacked DNC server is also an ongoing active measure? What if the active measure isn’t meant to undermine the FBI by questioning its actions? What if instead the lingering doubt is intended to shape future investigations into hacked materials which may also rely on server images rather than physical possession of the hardware? What if this active measure is pre-crime, intended to tamper with future evidence collection?

~ 2 ~

I’d begun drafting this post more than a week ago, but came to a halt when FCC chair Ajit Pai did something surprisingly uncorrupt by putting the brakes on the Sinclair-Tribune merger.

Sinclair Broadcast Group is a propaganda outlet masquerading as a broadcast media company. The mandatory airing of Boris Epsteyn’s program across all Sinclair stations offers evidence of Sinclair’s true raison d’etre; Epsteyn is a Russian-born former GOP political strategist who has been responsible for messaging in both the McCain-Palin campaign and the Trump administration, including the egregious 2017 Holocaust Remembrance Day statement which omitted any mention of Jews. The mandatory statement Sinclair management forced its TV stations to air earlier this year about “fake news” is yet another. The forced ubiquity and uniformity of messaging is a new element at Sinclair, which already had a history of right-wing messaging including the attempt to run a Kerry-bashing political movie to “swiftboat” the candidate just before the 2004 elections.

Sinclair and Tribune Media announced a proposed acquisition deal last May. If approved, the completed acquisition would give Sinclair access to 72% of U.S. homes — an insanely large percentage of the local broadcast TV market effectively creating a monopoly. There was bipartisan Congressional pushback about this deal because of this perceived potential monopoly.

FCC’s Ajit Pai wanted to relax regulations covering UHF stations — they would be counted as less than a full VHF station and therefore appear to reduce ownership of marketshare. Democrats protested this move as it offered Sinclair unfavorable advantage when evaluating stations it would acquire or be forced to sell during its Tribune acquisition.

Fortunately, Pai had “serious concerns” about the Sinclair-Tribune deal:

We have no idea to which administrative judge this deal may be handed, let alone their sentiments on media consolidation. We don’t know if this judge might be Trump-friendly and rule in favor of Sinclair, taking this horror off Ajit Pai’s back — which might be the real reason Pai punted after his egregious handling of net neutrality and the pummeling he’s received for it, including the hacking of the FCC’s comments leading up to his decision to end Obama-era net neutrality regulations and subsequent “misleading” statements to the media about the hack. New York State is currently investigating misuse of NY residents’ identities in the hack; one might wonder if Pai is worried about any personal exposure arising from this investigation.

BUT WAIT…the reason I started this post began not in New York but in the UK, after reading that Remain turnout may have been suppressed by news reports about “travel chaos,” bad weather, and long lines at the polls. Had the traditional media played a role in shaping turnout with its reporting?

I went looking for similar reports in the U.S. — and yes, news reports of long lines may have discouraged hundreds of thousands of voters in Florida in 2012. This wasn’t the only location with such reports in the U.S. during the last three general elections; minority voters are also far more likely to experience these waits than voters in majority white areas.

Probabilistic reports about a candidate’s win/loss may also suppress turnout, according to a Pew Research study.

Think about low-income voters who can’t afford cable TV or broadband internet, or live in a rural location where cable TV and broadband internet isn’t available. What news source are they likely to rely upon for news about candidates and voting, especially local polling places?

Hello, local broadcast network television station.

Imagine how voter turnout could be manipulated with reports of long lines and not-quite-accurate probabilistic reports about candidates and initiatives.

Imagine how a nationwide vote could be manipulated by a mandatory company-wide series of reports across a system of broadcast TV stations accessing 72% of U.S. homes.

How else might a media company with monopolistic access to American households condition the public’s response to issues?

~ 1 ~

There was all kinds of hullabaloo about the intersection of retiring Justice Anthony Kennedy, his son Justin, and Justin’s employment at Deutsche Bank at the same time DB extended financing to Donald Trump. It looks bad on the face of it.

And of course one prominent defense-cum-fact-check portrays Justin’s relationship to DB’s loans to Trump as merely administrative:

The extent to which Kennedy worked with Trump on this loan, or possibly on other Deutsche Bank matters, is unclear. “In that role, as the trader, he would have no contact with Trump … unless Eric [Schwartz] was trying to get Justin in front of Trump for schmoozing reasons,” Offit said, adding that he had recently spoken with former colleagues at the bank about Kennedy’s work.

Seems odd there has been little note made of Jared Kushner’s relationship with LNR Partners LLC — a company which Manta says has only 17 employees — and its subsidiary LNR Property which financed the Kushner 666 Fifth Avenue property in 2012. There was a report in Medium and another on DailyKos but little note made in mainstream news media.

I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that along with his business partner, Justin Kennedy was named 26th on the 50 Most Important People in Commercial Real Estate Finance in 2013 by the Commercial Observer — a publication of Observer Media, then owned by Jared Kushner.

I wonder what Justin’s rank was on this list while he worked at Deutsche Bank (also with current business partner Toby Cobb).

How odd this deal and the relationship wasn’t defended. I guess it’s just coincidence all the amphibians and reptiles know each other well in the swamp.

~ 0 ~

Let’s not forget:

587 Puerto Rican homes still don’t have electricity.

All asylum seeking families haven’t been reunited. Children may still be in danger due to poor care and lack of adequate tracking. As of yesterday only 364 children of more than 2500 torn from their families were reunited.

Treat this as an open thread.