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Loose Ends as the Stone Trial Moves to Closing Arguments

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

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

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

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

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

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

COUNT 6 – FALSE STATEMENT

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

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

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

 

Three Questions Not Asked of Steve Bannon

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

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

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

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

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

What was that this morning???

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

However —a load every week going forward.

Roger stone

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

He didn’t cut deal w/ clintons???

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

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

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

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

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

We need to avoid this guy like the plague

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who’s the boss?

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The royal we

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Schrodinger’s quid pro quo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gaps in the timeline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sondland’s silence about WhatsApp

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

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

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

[snip]

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

[snip]

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

[snip]

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

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

Ambassador Volker introduced me to Mr. Giuliani electronically.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jared Kushner’s Pervasive Corruption Pops Up In Surprising Ways

Jim here again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jim here again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don McGahn Is Not the Most Critical Witness on Impeachment

In the last several days, Jerry Nadler has stated more and more clearly that his committee is conducting an inquiry on whether to file articles of impeachment. Six months after gaining the majority, this feels like a slow walk perhaps intended to time any impeachment vote based on how it will impact the election.

In its press release and complaint seeking to enforce its subpoena against Don McGahn last week, the House Judiciary Committee made an alarming claim: that Don McGahn was the most important witness in its consideration of whether to file for impeachment.

McGahn is the Judiciary Committee’s most important fact witness in its consideration of whether to recommend articles of impeachment and its related investigation of misconduct by the President, including acts of obstruction of justice described in the Special Counsel’s Report.

That claim suggests that the House Judiciary Committee has a very limited conceptualization of its own inquiry and perhaps an overestimation of how good a witness McGahn will be.

McGahn’s probably not as credible as HJC Dems think

I say the latter for two reasons. First, in the early days of the Russian investigation, McGahn overstepped the role of a White House Counsel. For example, even after his office recognized they could not talk to Jeff Sessions about the Russian investigation or risk obstruction, McGahn followed Trump’s orders to pressure Dana Boente on the investigation.

At the President’s urging, McGahn contacted Boente several times on March 21, 2017, to seek Boente’s assistance in having Corney or the Department of Justice correct the misperception that the President was under investigation.326

Curiously, McGahn and Boente’s versions of what happened are among the most divergent in the entire Mueller Report, which might suggest McGahn was less than forthright in testimony that, per footnotes, came in one of his earlier interviews.

Plus, as the Mueller Report acknowledges, the NYT story that triggered one of the key events in the report — where Trump asked McGahn to publicly rebut a claim that he had asked McGahn to fire Mueller, which led him to threaten to resign — was inaccurate in its claim that McGahn had functionally threatened to resign (which was clear in real time). 

On January 26, 2018, the President’s personal counsel called McGahn ‘s attorney and said that the President wanted McGahn to put out a statement denying that he had been asked to fire the Special Counsel and that he had threatened to quit in protest.784 McGahn’s attorney spoke with McGahn about that request and then called the President’s personal counsel to relay that McGahn would not make a statement.785 McGahn ‘s attorney informed the President’s personal counsel that the Times story was accurate in reporting that the President wanted the Special Counsel removed.786 Accordingly, McGahn’s attorney said, although the article was inaccurate in some other respects, McGahn could not comply with the President’s request to dispute the story.787

Put McGahn under oath, and Republicans will ask if he was a source for that story, and if he was, why he oversold what he did. At the very least they’ll beat him up for letting the “#FakeNews NYT” spread lies.

There are far better (tactically and Constitutionally) reasons to impeach

More troubling still, asserting that McGahn is the most important witness — and stating that he’d be a witness in “criminal obstruction” — you prioritize that cause for impeachment over others, causes that might elicit some Republican support or at the very least mobilize the Democratic base.

To my mind, the best cause for impeachment — in terms of cornering Republicans and mobilizing the Democratic base — pertains to Trump’s repurposing of otherwise allocated funding for his Wall. This was an issue about which Republicans themselves had problems. It highlights Trump’s impotence to deliver on his campaign promise that Mexico would pay for his wall. It goes to issues of efficacy on national security issues. And it highlights how Trump has abused authority — authority which goes to the core of separation of powers — to facilitate his attacks on Latino immigrants. Plus, depending on when impeachment was triggered, having focused on the power of the purse would provide a tool to rein Trump in if he survived the election.

Democrats should also focus on Trump’s abuse of the Vacancy Reform Act in his appointments to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Board, DOJ, DOD, and ODNI. Violating the spirit of Consumer Financial Protection Board gave Trump a way to gut an entity meant to protect consumers, something that Elizabeth Warren will be able to magnify better than anyone (all the more so if and when the economy starts to turn south). Appointing Big Dick Toilet Salesman Matt Whitaker to fire Jeff Sessions provides a different way to get to the Russian investigation, and may (if BDTS prevented Mueller from naming Trump in the Roger Stone indictment) focus more attention on the resolution of that case (which has the potential of being both a really damaging trial or a pre-trial pardon). The appointment of Patrick Shanahan as Acting Secretary of Defense provides a way to focus on ethics complaints about his tenure, to say nothing about Trump’s tolerance for familial abuse. And Trump must be held accountable for whatever predictable problems selecting a loyalist over Sue Gordon as Acting DNI will cause — and some of the predictable problems, which might involve North Korea, Iran, or cybersecurity, could be quite damning.

Another impeachment cause that would invoke some of the same issues as the Russian investigation, but in a way that would be more awkward for the President, is Trump’s abuse of security clearances, starting with, but not limited to, Kushner’s (this is an issue where the Oversight Committee has done great work). An inquiry into why Trump gave Kushner clearance would provide a way to get to Kushner’s awkward role in foreign policy, particularly the possibility that he shared US classified information with Gulf oligarchs. If Kushner is found to have shared intelligence allowing Mohammed bin Salman to target Al-Waleed bin Talal or Jamal Khashoggi, it will invoke a slew of issues that will put Republicans in an awkward position (and have the salutary effect of focusing attention on Trump’s refusal to keep the Saudis honest).

Democrats would be idiots if they didn’t make an issue of Trump’s self-dealing, including but not limited to emoluments. It’s likely Republicans would defend the President on this point, but if they do, it can form the basis for legislation to more clearly prohibit such self-dealing going forward if Democrats do well in 2020. In addition, it goes to an issue that was absolutely key to Trump’s supporters, #DrainTheSwamp, but on which he has been (predictably) an utter failure.

Finally, Democrats should include Trump’s refusal to respond to violations of the Presidential Records Act in any impeachment inquiry. It is true that most Administrations have had problems adhering to PRA going back to Poppy Bush (Obama is to a large extent an exception, but Hillary’s avoidance of the Federal Records Act undermines that good record). But when pressed, most prior Administrations have been forced to admit the details of their failures to fulfill the law. Here, Trump has simply refused to respond to all questions about PRA violations. Some of these violations involve key players in the Russian investigation: Jared, KT McFarland, and Bannon. But these same people were involved in other scandals, such as the willingness to sacrifice US standards on nuclear security so that a bunch of Republicans can make $1 million per reactor (again, this would incorporate great work done by OGR).

This is a non-exclusive list. The point is, however, that HJC should frame their impeachment inquiry broadly, partly because some of Trump’s high crimes and misdemeanors have pissed off Republicans in the past, and partly because a failed impeachment trial can still frame Republican obstruction in a way that voters will care about.

Obviously, I think Trump’s conduct during the Russian investigation is important, and it’s all packaged up with a bow. But it’s not even just obstruction. Trump lied under oath in his written responses to Mueller. And Trump cheated to win an election. So even while pursuing impeachment on Russia, it needs to be more broadly conceived than the issues that Don McGahn can address. 

Other witnesses have more to offer than Don McGahn

So even in the emphasis on the Russia investigation, I think there is at least one better witness: Jay Sekulow. Sekulow has done a number of things that don’t qualify for attorney client privilege, such as his conversations directly with Michael Cohen to write a false statement hiding the President’s ties to Russia. That goes directly to Trump’s sworn lies.

Then there’s John Kelly. He was at DHS for the beginning of Trump’s abusive immigration policies. He knows details of Trump’s security clearance abuses (and might actually give a damn about them). He should know details of the PRA violations (and if not, should be accountable for why not). And he knows details of Kushner’s privatized foreign policy (and probably tried to control it). Kelly was a minor witness for Robert Mueller, but should be a key witness to any impeachment inquiry.

Finally, there’s the role of the Office of Legal Counsel and its head Steve Engel in all this. Some of OLC’s opinions enabling Trump’s abusive acts have been every bit as dodgy as John Yoo’s ones. It is the place of DOJ’s oversight committee to review the circumstances of those shitty opinions. While the government would likely fight this testimony particularly aggressively based on deliberative and attorney-client privileges, both John Yoo and Steven Bradbury have testified before, Yoo on an issue (torture) pertaining to abuse. Engel would still be able to testify about patterns of communication and the degree to which Trump dictated outcomes.

I’ll grant you, there are good reasons why McGahn may be a good tactical witness. I suspect that, by the time he testified, McGahn might be prepared to Bigfoot his testimony, not least in an attempt to cleanse himself of the Trump taint. So at that level, he may be a willing, damning witness.

So calling McGahn the most important witness might just be a legal tactic, a means to tie HJC’s obstruction inquiry with witnesses who have been blocked from testifying. And the White House Counsel position (to say nothing of the former White House Counsel position) is one for which there is precedent (under Clinton and Bush) for coerced testimony.

But I hope to hell HJC doesn’t really believe he’s the most important witness.

Amid Description of Kushner’s Shadow Foreign Policy, Tillerson Counters a Jared Claim to Mueller about Kirill Dmitriev’s Plan

When the FBI interviewed Mike Flynn on January 24, 2017, he offered a lame excuse for why he and other Transition officials (notably including Jared Kushner) were hiding their meetings with foreign leaders.

FLYNN explained that other meetings between the TRUMP team and various foreign countries took place prior to the inauguration, and were sensitive inasmuch as many other countries did not want the then-current administration to know about them.

In reality, the Trump Transition had provided Obama’s team reassurances they would not try to undermine Obama’s policies, but were doing so secretly.

But it wasn’t just the Obama Administration that Kushner was hiding his actions from. In a May interview with the House Foreign Relations Committee, Rex Tillerson revealed this continued to happen. He provided an example where he caught Mexico’s Foreign Minister meeting with Jared “and I don’t remember who else was at the table” without his knowledge.

Q And we’ve had concerning reports lately that Mr. Kushner has traveled to the Middle East with virtually no assistance or input of his ability from the embassy. Was that something that you experienced? You know, obviously you said that there was this exchange about a broader framework that he had worked on to develop and inform the Saudi-U.S. relationship.

Did you ever experience anything of the nature of this trip I just mentioned where diplomatic engagement occurred, whether or not it was related to that framework, but it was outside the scope of your knowledge or didn’t involve preparation by the State Department?

A Yes.

Q Could you say a little more about that?

A In Saudi Arabia particularly?

Q Or other examples that I think are similar in nature.

A Yeah. There were — on occasion the President’s senior adviser would make trips abroad and usually, you know, kind of was in charge of his own agenda.

Sr. Democratic Counsel. And just to clarify, you mean Mr. Kushner?

Mr. Tillerson. Yes. Yeah. Yes. And typically not a lot of coordination with the embassy.

Sr. Democratic Staff. Did you ever raise this phenomenon with Mr. Kushner or —

Mr. Tillerson. I did.

BY SR. DEMOCRATIC COUNSEL: Q What were those conversations like?

A He said he would try to do better.

Q Did he?

A Not much changed.

Q How did that impact your job?

A Well, I think — you know, I alluded earlier to the fact that it’s always challenging if everyone isn’t kind of working from the same playbook. And certainly there — and let me be clear — there are occasions, and it’s certainly the President’s prerogative, to have individuals undertake special assignments in a very compartmentalized way. Not using — I’m trying not to use the word “compartmentalize” relative to —

Q Not a term of art.

A Right. But in a way that, for whatever reasons, they prefer to have it carried out by an individual that way, and it’s the President’s prerogative to do that. But it — yeah, it presents special challenges to everyone if others who are trying to effect foreign policy with a country and move the agenda forward are not fully aware of other conversations that are going on that might be causing your counterparty in that country to take certain actions or behave a certain way and you’re not clear as to why, why did they do that.

Q Did you ever find yourself in one of those situations where Mr. Kushner had had a meeting or had a conversation that you weren’t aware of and it caught you off guard?

A Yes.

Q Could you be specific about that?

A Well, I’ll give you just one example and then maybe we can —

Q Yes, sir.

A — leave it at the one example. But Mexico was a situation that that occurred on a number of occasions. And I mention this one because I think it was — some of the elements of it were reported publicly that the Foreign Secretary of Mexico was engaged with Mr. Kushner on a fairly — unbeknownst to me — a fairly comprehensive plan of action.

And the Foreign Secretary came to town — unbeknownst to me — and I happened to be having a business dinner at a restaurant in town. And the owner of the restaurant, proprietor of the restaurant came around and said: Oh, Mr. Secretary, you might be interested to know the Foreign Secretary of Mexico is seated at a table near the back and in case you want to go by and say hello to him. Very innocent on his part.

And so I did. I walked back. And Mr. Kushner, and I don’t remember who else was at the table, and the Foreign Secretary were at the table having dinner. And I could see the color go out of the face of the Foreign Secretary of Mexico as I very — I smiled big, and I said: Welcome to Washington. And I said: I don’t want to interrupt what y’all are doing. I said: Give me a call next time you’re coming to town. And I left it at that.

As it turned out later, the Foreign Secretary was operating on the assumption that everything he was talking to Mr. Kushner about had been run through the State Department and that I was fully on board with it. And he was rather shocked to find out that when he started telling me all these things that were news to me, I told him this is the first time I’m hearing of it. And I don’t know that any of those things were discussing ultimately happened because there was a change of government in Mexico as well.

Earlier in the interview, staffers told Tillerson (for the first time!) that Kushner and Steve Bannon got advance notice of the Gulf blockade of Qatar, which pissed Tillerson off.

Q A couple of weeks later on May 20th, 2017, you were in Riyadh with the President in advance of the Middle East summit. And you again gave public remarks with the Saudi Foreign Minister. This is the night before the President’s speech. Did he say anything to you or did anyone else say anything to you on that same topic, regional tensions, something might be changing?

A No.

Q So that same night as we understand it, so on or about May 20th, 2017, there was apparently a private dinner that was hosted between Steve Bannon, Jared Kushner, and the rulers of Saudi Arabia and UAE, respectively. Were you aware of that dinner?

A No.

Q We understand that as part of that dinner the leaders of Saudi and UAE did lay out for Mr. Kushner and Mr. Bannon their plans for the blockade. That wasn’t something that you had heard previously?

A No.

Q And to clarify, sir, not prior to when I just said it? A Correct.

Q Okay. What’s your reaction to a meeting of that sort having taken place without your knowledge?

A You mean now?

Q Yes. A Today?

Q Well —

A It makes me angry.

Q Why is that?

A Because I didn’t have a say. The State Department’s views were never expressed.

In any case, the revelation that Jared continued to conduct shadow foreign policy even after his father-in-law took over — and the fact that his so-called “peace” “process” in Palestine has been shown instead to be a hedge fund driven excuse to turn apartheid into a profit center (See these threads on just how bad it is: one, two, three) — I’d like to point to a more subtle detail in Tillerson’s interview. He claims that — contrary to what Jared told Mueller — the President’s son-in-law did not share a plan from Kirill Dmitriev with him.

Either during the transition or early in your tenure as Secretary, did anyone ever pass you a plan or sort of a roadmap regarding policy changes in the US Russia relationship?

A Not that I can recall.

Q And as you’ll note, sir, I believe one of those was mentioned in the Mueller report and it was stated that that had gone from a Mr. Kirill Dmitriev to Mr. Kushner who I believe was said that that was passed to you. Do you have any recollection of that?

A I don’t recall ever receiving any such report as described in the Mueller report or any other.

Q Okay. And no other sort of here’s what we should do on Russia proposals from anyone else?

A No.

Q Nothing from the Trump family, the organization?

A No.

As you’ll recall, Kirill Dmitriev, whom Putin tasked to reach out to the new Administration, got to Jared via one of his hedgie friends, Rick Gerson and via George Nader. Between the three of them, they had a role in setting the agenda for the January 28 phone call between Putin and Trump (Tillerson, who was not confirmed yet, did not sit in on that meeting).  That plan included “win-win investment initiatives.” According to the Mueller Report, Jared claimed he had given that report to Bannon (who was in the meeting) and Tillerson, but neither followed up on it.

Dmitriev told Gerson that he had been tasked by Putin to develop and execute a reconciliation plan between the United States and Russia. He noted in a text message to Gerson that if Russia was “approached with respect and willingness to understand our position, we can have Major Breakthroughs quickly.”1105 Gerson and Dmitriev exchanged ideas in December 2016 about what such a reconciliation plan would include. 1106 Gerson told the Office that the Transition Team had not asked him to engage in these discussions with Dmitriev, and that he did so on his own initiative and as a private citizen.1107

[snip]

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

Gerson informed Dmitriev that he had given the document to Kushner soon after delivering it. 1118 On January 26, 2017, Dmitriev wrote to Gerson that his “boss”-an apparent reference to Putin-was asking if there had been any feedback on the proposal. 1119 Dmitriev said, ” [w]e do not want to rush things and move at a comfortable speed. At the same time, my boss asked me to try to have the key US meetings in the next two weeks if possible.”1120 He informed Gerson that Putin and President Trump would speak by phone that Saturday, and noted that that information was “very confidential.”1121

The same day, Dmitriev wrote to Nader that he had seen his “boss” again yesterday who had “emphasized that this is a great priority for us and that we need to build this communication channel to avoid bureaucracy.” 1122 On January 28, 2017, Dmitriev texted Nader that he wanted “to see if I can confirm to my boss that your friends may use some of the ideas from the 2 pager I sent you in the telephone call that will happen at 12 EST,”1123 an apparent reference to the call scheduled between President Trump and Putin. Nader replied, “Definitely paper was so submitted to Team by Rick and me. They took it seriously!”1124 After the call between President Trump and Putin occurred, Dmitriev wrote to Nader that “the call went very well. My boss wants me to continue making some public statements that us [sic] Russia cooperation is good and important.” 1125 Gerson also wrote to Dmitriev to say that the call had gone well, and Dmitriev replied that the document they had drafted together “played an important role.” 1126

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

The claim that Kushner handed over the document is sourced solely to him (Steve Bannon did testify after Kushner made this claim; it’s not clear if Tillerson ever did).

It may or may not be a big deal that Tillerson doesn’t agree with Kushner’s claim. Tillerson claims to have forgotten a lot about what happened while he was at State, so it’s possible he just forgot. But given that Kushner repeatedly kept Tillerson out of the loop, it’s certainly possible that he did so with this plan, as well.

Which would raise interesting questions if he actually made up his claim that he had kept Tillerson in the loop on this plan.

Paul Manafort Seemed Certain Mueller Would Indict Jared Kushner

Amy Berman Jackson just released texts that she used to consider sanctioning Manafort lawyer Kevin Downing for violating her gag order by speaking with Sean Hannity. They include almost a year of remarkably friendly texts between Hannity and Manafort.

There’s a whole lot to unpack in these texts, starting with how certain Manafort was that Mueller would prosecute Jared Kushner. he first raises it shortly after he got raided in summer 2017, just before he complains that “Russia is history now that they have the spec counsel.”

Then Hannity raised it in January 2018, not long before a story revealed that Trump was telling people Manafort could incriminate him.

In March, Hannity asked Manafort why he didn’t get a plea deal like Gates got. Manafort said prosecutors would expect him to give up Kushner, though claimed Kushner hadn’t done anything wrong.

After the search on Michael Cohen, Hannity said it was war. Manafort predicted Mueller would get Jared.

All this happened months before Manafort accepted a plea deal. As part of that, he agreed to cooperate in another DOJ investigation about an effort in August 2016 to save the Trump campaign. As soon as he got the plea deal, however, he changed his story to match the one being told by the target of that other investigation.

Effectively, Manafort was asked some questions in a proffer session before his plea on September 13, in response to which he offered information that implicated someone with a 7-character name. [These dates are in the government’s January 15 filing at 23.] Then, in a debriefing on October 5, he changed his story to make it less incriminating — and to match the story the subject of the investigation was telling to the FBI at the time (last fall). When pressed by his lawyers, Manafort mostly changed his story back to what it had been. But the head fake made Manafort useless as a witness against this person.

Judge Amy Berman Jackson summed up this change this way:

The allegation is that the defendant offered a version of events that downplayed [redacted; “the President’s” or “the Candidate”s might fit] role and/or his knowledge. Specifically, his knowledge of any prior involvement of the [16-17 character redaction] that was inconsistent with and less incriminating of [7 character redaction] than what he had already said during the proffer stage and now consistent with what Mr. [7 character redaction] himself was telling the FBI.

This investigation pertains to events that happened “prior to [Manafort] leaving the campaign (on August 19).” [January 15 filing at 26]

As Andrew Weissman described in the breach hearing, Manafort’s version of the story first came when prosecutors, “were asking questions about an e-mail that Mr. [5 character name] had written about a potential way of saving the candidate. That’s sort of paraphrasing it. And this was a way of explaining, or explaining away that e-mail.” In the Janaury 15 filing, this conversation arises to explain “a series of text messages.” [See 25]

Weissmann describes that the revised story Manafort told was, “quite dramatically different. This is not I forgot something or I need to augment some details of a basic core set of facts.” Manafort’s original story involved Mr. [7 character redaction] providing information about a [redacted] who was doing something. Manafort appears to have made a representation about what Mr. [7 character name] believed about that (likely important to proving intent).

But in the second session, Manafort appears to have shifted the blame, implicating Mr. [5 character name] whom, “Mr. Manafort had previously said, I did not want to be involved in this at all,” but leaving out what Mr. [7 character name] had said. Manafort’s testimony effectively left out that when Mr. [5 character name] had called previously, Manafort had said, “I’m on it, don’t get involved.”

It appears that Manafort had something very specific in mind in which he could implicate Jared.

Update: On second read, it’s clear why ABJ released these: it has taken that much time to get the two parties to weigh in. First, the government weighed sometime before May 17. It took until sometime this month for Manafort’s team to respond to ABJ’s order to decide whether it can be released. Which is why it is only now being released. Note that there’s a second set of communications that she has withheld, as it is grand jury material related to an ongoing matter.

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

Mike Flynn Assumed the FBI Agents Interviewing Him Would Be Trump Supporters

Several times in the interview recounting the early aspects of the Russia investigation, Peter Strzok made it clear that Flynn felt comfortable with FBI Agents. Strzok said Flynn was “unguarded” and “relaxed and jocular.” He “clearly saw the FBI agents as allies.” That’s consistent with a guy who — according to his own sentence memo — “had for many years been accustomed to working in cooperation with the FBI on matters of national security.”

But there’s a part of the newly unsealed 302 that makes clear an assumption Flynn clearly had. In describing what he should be pretty ashamed being caught in — clandestine meetings with foreign leaders — he explains why he and Jared Kushner had a meeting at which Kushner asked for a back channel to the Russians.

Flynn explained that other meetings between the TRUMP team and various foreign leaders took place prior to the inauguration, and were sensitive inasmuch as many countries did not want the then-current administration to know about them. There were no personal relationship between the leaders of many countries and the prior administration. FLYNN stated that he and personnel from the incoming administration met with many countries “to set expectations for them, and the expectations were set very high.”

This is a campaign speech, not an interview with the FBI. In it, he implicitly badmouths the guy whom he had worked for for six years (though who,  of course, fired Flynn).

More tellingly though, he assumed he could give this campaign speech to FBI Agents who were interviewing him about being caught undercutting the prior Administration’s efforts to hold an adversarial government accountable. He appears to have assumed they’d be cool with that.

In short, Flynn assumed he was being interviewed by partisan Republicans.

That’s telling, not just because the current Attorney General is certain that any bias in 2016 went against Trump (when there’s abundant evidence that FBI agents, including those investigating Hillary, were none too fond of her). It’s ironic because it means Mike Flynn regarded Peter Strzok — accused endlessly of anti-Trump bias — of someone who’d sympathize with his snide comments about the Obama Administration.

Update: Finally fixed the prior/incoming problem in my transcription. Thanks for your patience!

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