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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. 

Trump’s Excuse for His Promised Speech on Hillary Clinton

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

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

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

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

i. Why did you make that statement?

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Did Mueller Include the June 9 Meeting Statement in His Obstruction Case?

I’ve got a bunch more posts on the Mueller Report I’m going to eventually write; I’ve still got a slew of theories and observations to share. But there’s one topic I just have guesses on, one I’d love to have more people weigh in on.

Why did Mueller’s team include Donald Trump’s statement on the June 9 meeting — which is described not as a false statement, but an effort to prevent the disclosure of Don Jr’s emails setting up the meeting — in his obstruction analysis?

The obstruction analysis on the June 9 meeting shows it’s not itself obstruction

As a number of reviews of the Mueller Report obstruction analysis show, the June 9 meeting cover-up is the one obstructive act where the report concludes the evidence did not establish it as an act of obstruction for all three factors:

As the obstruction analysis lays out, Trump talked hopefully about ensuring the emails didn’t get out, but there’s no evidence he took action, beyond lying publicly, to suppress them.

Each of these efforts by the President involved his communications team and was directed at the press. They would amount to obstructive acts only if the President, by taking these actions, sought to withhold information from or mislead congressional investigators or the Special Counsel. On May 17, 2017, the President’s campaign received a document request from SSCI that clearly covered the June 9 meeting and underlying emails, and those documents also plainly would have been relevant to the Special Counsel’s investigation.

But the evidence does not establish that the President took steps to prevent the emails or other information about the June 9 meeting from being provided to Congress or the Special Counsel. The series of discussions in which the President sought to limit access to the emails and prevent their public release occurred in the context of developing a press strategy.

It then repeats that analysis by showing that while withholding the emails might amount to obstruction, he did not withhold emails.

As noted above, the evidence does not establish that the President sought to prevent disclosure of the emails in those official proceedings.

Then, in the intent section, it shows Trump’s central role in crafting the adoptions statement, while again concluding that the statement doesn’t amount to withholding the email.

The evidence establishes the President’s substantial involvement in the communications strategy related to information about his campaign’s connections to Russia and his desire to minimize public disclosures about those connections. The President became aware of the emails no later than June 29, 2017, when he discussed them with Hicks and Kushner, and he could have been aware of them as early as June 2, 2017, when lawyers for the Trump Organization began interviewing witnesses who participated in the June 9 meeting. The President thereafter repeatedly rejected the advice of Hicks and other staffers to publicly release information about the June 9 meeting. The President expressed concern that multiple people had access to the emails and instructed Hicks that only one lawyer should deal with the matter. And the President dictated a statement to be released by Trump Jr. in response to the first press accounts of the June 9 meeting that said the meeting was about adoption.

But as described above, the evidence does not establish that the President intended to prevent the Special Counsel’s Office or Congress from obtaining the emails setting up the June 9 meeting or other information about that meeting.

Curiously, this analysis of intent doesn’t talk about why Trump may have wanted to hide the truth about the June 9 meeting, even though elsewhere the report suggests that, overall, one motive for Trump obstructing the investigation might be because he thought the June 9 meeting would be found to be criminal.

So Mueller spent over eight pages laying out whether Trump’s role in crafting a deceitful statement about the June 9 meeting was obstruction of justice when, according to the report’s analysis of obstruction of justice, it was not even a close call.

So why — in a report that might better be understood as an impeachment referral — did they include that?

Trump’s statement on the June 9 meeting as evidence of corrupt intent for other obstructive acts

I’ve commented elsewhere that one of the posts I’ll eventually do is a narratological analysis of the report. I said that, in part, for the way the report intersperses several acts of potential Trump obstruction that all happened during the same time period in summer 2017. While the report only mentions this in passing, Trump’s lies about the June 9 meeting occur during the same time frame as three other potential obstructive acts that the report shows do amount to obstruction: the effort to get Don McGahn to get Rod Rosenstein to fire Mueller, the request that Corey Lewandowski (!!) fire Jeff Sessions, and the effort to get Sessions to unrecuse.

And, as noted, the June 9 meeting is one of three things — along with the Trump Tower Moscow deal and Trump’s push to have Roger Stone optimize the release of the stolen emails — that the report posits might be the underlying facts Trump was attempting to hide with his other obstruction (note that the report never focuses on Mike Flynn’s discussion on sanctions, which I’ll return to in a later post).

Which suggests Trump’s involvement in the June 9 statement is there not for those actions themselves, but for the way his actions prove corrupt intent for other obstructive actions.

A story describing Trump’s unique actions that nevertheless leaves out the biggest detail

Still, the specific story the report tells is damning. It includes details that suggest this was a unique event, with Trump trying to retain plausible deniability even though several witnesses say he knew about the meeting, and describing Trump preferring to break his cardinal sin, remaining silent on a story. But note that the story leaves out one of the most important details: Vladimir Putin’s interactions with the President during the day Trump wrote his deceitful statement.

Here’s the story, as told in the obstruction section.

Trump claims he didn’t know about the meeting ahead of time, contrary to what several witnesses said.

According to written answers submitted by the President in response to questions from this Office, the President had no recollection of learning of the meeting or the emails setting it up at the time the meeting occurred or at any other time before the election 668

The Chief of Staff learns about the meeting from Sean Hannity, which is just crazy train.

[Reince] Priebus recalled learning about the June 9 meeting from Fox News host Sean Hannity in late June 2017.672

Trump tells Jared not to share details of the meeting with him, according to Hope Hicks.

According to Hicks, Kushner said that he wanted to fill the President in on something that had been discovered in the documents he was to provide to the congressional committees involving a meeting with him, Manafort, and Trump Jr.678 Kushner brought a folder of documents to the meeting and tried to show them to the President, but the President stopped Kushner and said he did not want to know about it, shutting the conversation down.’

[snip]

On June 28, 2017, Hicks viewed the emails at Kushner’s attorney’s office 68° She recalled being shocked by the emails because they looked “really bad.”68′ The next day, Hicks spoke privately with the President to mention her concern about the emails, which she understood were soon going to be shared with Congress.682 The President seemed upset because too many people knew about the emails and he told Hicks that just one lawyer should deal with the matter.”‘ The President indicated that he did not think the emails would leak, but said they would leak if everyone had access to them.684

Later that day, Hicks, Kushner, and Ivanka Trump went together to talk to the President.685 Hicks recalled that Kushner told the President the June 9 meeting was not a big deal and was about Russian adoption, but that emails existed setting up the meeting.686 Hicks said she wanted to get in front of the story and have Trump Jr. release the emails as part of an interview with “softball questions.”687 The President said he did not want to know about it and they should not go to the press 688 Hicks warned the President that the emails were “really bad” and the story would be “massive” when it broke, but the President was insistent that he did not want to talk about it and said he did not want details!'” Hicks recalled that the President asked Kushner when his document production was due.699 Kushner responded that it would be a couple of weeks and the President said, “then leave it alone.”‘ Hicks also recalled that the President said Kushner’s attorney should give the emails to whomever he needed to give them to, but the President did not think they would be leaked to the press.692 Raffel later heard from Hicks that the President had directed the group not to be proactive in disclosing the emails because the President believed they would not leak.693

But Jared claims that didn’t happen. This narrative is largely sourced to interviews with Hope Hicks. Even in his second interview, Jared said it didn’t happen this way.

Hicks 12/7/17 302, at 7; Hicks 3/13/18 302, at I. Counsel for Ivanka Trump provided an attorney proffer that is consistent with Hicks’s account and with the other events involving Ivanka Trump set forth in this section of the report. Kushner said that he did not recall talking to the President at this time about the June 9 meeting or the underlying emails. Kushner 4/11/18 302, at 30.

Hicks is confused about why Trump wants to commit his ultimate sin.

On July 7, 2017, while the President was overseas, Hicks and Raffel learned that the New York Times was working on a story about the June 9 meeting.695 The next day, Hicks told the President about the story and he directed her not to comment.696 Hicks thought the President’s reaction was odd because he usually considered not responding to the press to be the ultimate sin.697 Later that day, Hicks and the President again spoke about the story.698 Hicks recalled that the President asked her what the meeting had been about, and she said that she had been told the meeting was about Russian adoption.699 The President responded, “then just say that.”706

The Report neglects to mention the Putin meeting where he and Trump talked about the subject of the statement.

[see this post]

Trump edits Jr’s statement because it admits they were offered dirt and discussed sanctions relief, defaulting on Putinesque spin.

On the flight home from the G20 on July 8, 2017, Hicks obtained a draft statement about the meeting to be released by Trump Jr. and brought it to the President.701 The draft statement began with a reference to the information that was offered by the Russians in setting up the meeting: “I was asked to have a meeting by an acquaintance I knew from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant with an individual who I was told might have information helpful to the campaign.”702 Hicks again wanted to disclose the entire story, but the President directed that the statement not be issued because it said too much.703 The President told Hicks to say only that Trump Jr. took a brief meeting and it was about Russian adoption.704 After speaking with the President, Hicks texted Trump Jr. a revised statement on the June 9 meeting that read:

It was a short meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. We discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at that time and there was no follow up. 705

Hicks’s text concluded, “Are you ok with this? Attributed to you.”706 Trump Jr. responded by text message that he wanted to add the word “primarily” before “discussed” so that the statement would read, “We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children.”707 Trump Jr. texted that he wanted the change because “[t]hey started with some Hillary thing which was bs and some other nonsense which we shot down fast. “708 Hicks texted back, “I think that’s right too but boss man worried it invites a lot of questions[.) [U]ltimately [d]efer to you and [your attorney] on that word Be I know it’s important and I think the mention of a campaign issue adds something to it in case we have to go further.” 709 Trump Jr. responded, “lfl don’t have it in there it appears as though I’m lying later when they inevitably leak something.” 710

Hope Hicks channels the President hoping the damning emails would never leak.

Corallo told the President the statement had been authorized and further observed that Trump Jr. ‘s statement was inaccurate and that a document existed that would contradict it.722 Corallo said that he purposely used the term “document” to refer to the emails setting up the June 9 meeting because he did not know what the President knew about the emails.723 Corallo recalled that when he referred to the “document” on the call with the President, Hicks responded that only a few people had access to it and said “it will never get out.”724 Corallo took contemporaneous notes of the call that say: “Also mention existence of doc. Hope says ‘ only a few people have it. It will never get out.”‘725 Hicks later told investigators that she had no memory of making that comment and had always believed the emails would eventually be leaked, but she might have been channeling the President on the phone call because it was clear to her throughout her conversations with the President that he did not think the emaiis would leak.726

Trump’s flunkies deny that the guy who met Vladimir Putin twice during the drafting of the statement wrote the statement.

Over the next several days, the President’s personal counsel repeatedly and inaccurately denied that the President played any role in drafting Trump Jr. ‘s statement.729 After consulting with the President on the issue, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told the media that the President “certainly didn’t dictate” the statement, but that “he weighed in, offered suggestions like any father would do.”730

The Report again neglects to mention the Putin meeting where he and Trump spoke about the subject of the statement.

On July 19, 2017, the President had his follow-up meeting with Lewandowski and then met with reporters for the New York Times. In addition to criticizing Sessions in his Times interview, the President addressed the June 9, 2016 meeting and said he “didn’t know anything about the meeting” at the time.734 The President added, “As I’ve said-most other people, you know, when they call up and say, ‘By the way, we have information on your opponent,’ I think most politicians – I was just with a lot of people, they said … , ‘Who wouldn’ t have taken a meeting like that?”‘735

[see this post]

Providing the framework for the Putin involvement

As I’ve said, I think it remarkable — though perhaps explicable on constitutional grounds — that the report does not mention Putin’s role in all of this, and Trump’s bizarre behavior at the G20 (where he had Ivanka sit in on a meeting while he worked on the statement) more generally. Trump’s interactions with Putin — and his efforts to keep them secret even from staffers — is the subject of other congressional investigation. Which is why this passage from the beginning of the obstruction section sticks out.

Given those considerations, the facts known to us, and the strong public interest in safeguarding the integrity of the criminal justice system, we conducted a thorough factual investigation in order to preserve the evidence when memories were fresh and documentary materials were available.

As noted, I think Mueller included the June 9 meeting statement not because it, by itself, amounts to obstruction, but because the evidence laid out — plus evidence available publicly or via separate congressional investigation — provides an important motivational explanation for the rest of it. Trump made three separate attempts to gut the Mueller investigation in this period, all at a time he was acting unusually (for him) in his efforts to bury the June 9 meeting.

This is the lie he was telling while using his office to try to stop the investigation. Or rather, this is the lie he and Vladimir Putin were telling.

EMPTYWHEEL’S MUELLER REPORT COVERAGE

Two Exceptions to Trump’s “Do Not Recall” Responses: A Limited Answer on an Assange Pardon and a Non-Answer on Sanctions Relief

The Significance of Trump’s Obstruction of Investigation of His Family’s Campaign Finance Crimes, Plural

How “Collusion” Appears in the Mueller Report

Putin’s Ghost: The Counterintelligence Calculus Not Included in the Obstruction Analysis

Working Twitter Threads on the Mueller Report

The Trump Men and the Grand Jury Redactions

Mueller’s Language about “Collusion,” Coordination, and Conspiracy

The Many Lies and Prevarications of Bill Barr

Giorgi Rtslchiladze’s Honor Has Been Sullied because He Can’t Decide Whether He Knows the Tapes He Suppressed Exist or Not

Why Did Mueller Include the June 9 Meeting Statement in His Obstruction Case?

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. 

Hell Hath No Fury Like a Self-Promoting Republican Lawyer Scorned

Yesterday, Jerry Nadler subpoenaed Don McGahn, both to appear and testify on May 21, but also to turn over a slew of documents pertaining to 36 topics, the two most interesting of which are:

23. President Trump’s exposure in the Special Counsel Investigation relating to “other contacts,” calls,” or “ask re Flynn” as mentioned in Volume II, page 82 of the Report.

[snip]

34.  Communications relating to United States imposed sanctions or potential sanctions against the Russian Federation from June 16, 2015 to October 18, 2018, including but not limited to the sanctions imposed pursuant to the Magnitsky Act.

I suspect this is a friendly subpoena — a subpoena giving the witness an excuse for testifying. I say that not just because McGahn is a self-promoter who likes to pretend he’s the hero of saving Trump from prison, but also because McGahn got noticeably more chatty with Mueller’s office as Trump grew more unmanageable and the risk to McGahn’s future increased. Indeed, because he leaked his heroic role to the press, he ended up getting called in for further interviews.

At least as described by its footnotes, the Mueller Report revealed that McGahn testified five times. The first three seem to be largely sequential interviews covering three big events:

  • November 30, 2017: Flynn’s firing
  • December 12, 2017: Sessions’ recusal and Comey’s firing
  • December 14, 2017: Mueller’s appointment and Trump’s efforts to fire him, both directly (through McGahn) and indirectly (by firing Sessions)

Then, after the NYT and WaPo reported two versions of the story, in January of last year, that Trump asked McGahn to fire Mueller, McGahn was interviewed at more length about that.

  • March 8, 2018: Trump’s order to fire Mueller and attempt to force McGahn to correct the NYT story

Then, this year, after he had been fired for cooperating with Mueller, he was interviewed again, apparently to clarify some timing related issues (the interview apparently focused on his private phone records), and to explain why he didn’t tell Anne Donaldson, Reince Priebus, and others about the order to fire Mueller.

  • February 28, 2019

There are signs that, during the first set of interviews, McGahn was shading the truth. As expected, his story about the Flynn firing (and the CYA memo he drafted the day after Flynn’s firing) is dodgy — some of which I’ll return to, For example, his CYA memo claimed that, “Yates was unwilling to confirm or deny that there was an ongoing investigation but did indicate that the Department of Justice would not object to the White House taking action against Flynn,” when in fact she had told him she alerted him to Flynn’s lies precisely so the White House could take action. At times, it was clear McGahn was trying to put a less damning spin on things, especially notes taken by Anne Donaldson or Sessions Chief of Staff Jody Hunt. For example, he claimed a note that said “No comms, / Serious concerns about obstruction” didn’t mean that his office had tried to set a rule not to speak to Sessions about the investigation, reflected instead a concern about the press spin; that spin might reflect his own concern about his efforts to convince Sessions not to recuse.

In those initial interviews, too, McGahn’s story about his effort to get DOJ to issue a statement claiming the President wasn’t being investigated differs significantly from Dana Boente’s, which is useful to his story as it provides an excuse for his orchestration of blaming the Jim Comey firing on Rod Rosenstein. Perhaps the most ridiculous claim, from the initial meetings, is that Trump insisted on emphasizing Comey’s refusal to say he wasn’t under investigation because he didn’t want everyone to know Comey was fired over the Russia investigation. “McGahn said he believed the President wanted the language included so that people would not think that the President had terminated Comey because the President was under investigation” — this, even in spite of the fact that Trump told McGahn that he had told Sergey Lavrov he fired Comey because of the Russian investigation to take the pressure off.

McGahn,  and to a lesser degree Donaldson, both invented a bullshit story for why they were asking Richard Burr which Trump aides were targeted by the investigation, which a footnote dismantles.

The week after Comey’s briefing, the White House Counsel’s Office was in contact with SSCI Chairman Senator Richard Burr about the Russia investigations and appears to have received information about the status of the FBI investigation.309

309 Donaldson 11/6/17 302, at 14-15. On March 16, 2017, the White House Counsel’s Office was briefed by Senator Burr on the existence of “4-5 targets.” Donaldson 11 /6/17 302, at 15. The “targets” were identified in notes taken by Donaldson as “Flynn (FBI was ~ooking for phone records”; “Comey~Manafort (Ukr + Russia, not campaign)”; [redacted] “Carter Page ($ game)”; and “Greek Guy” (potentially referring to George Papadopoulos, later charged with violating 18 U.S.C. § 1001 for lying to the FBI). SC_AD_00l98 (Donaldson 3/16/17 Notes). Donaldson and McGahn both said they believed these were targets ofSSCI. Donaldson 11/6/17 302, at 15; McGahn 12/ 12/17 302, at 4. But SSCI does not formally investigate individuals as “targets”; the notes on their face reference the FBI, the Department of Justice, and Corney; and the notes track the background materials prepared by the FBI for Comey’s briefing to the Gang of8 on March 9. See SNS-Classified-0000140-44 (3/8/17 Email, Gauhar to Page et al.); see also Donaldson 11 /6/17 302, at 15 (Donaldson could not rule out that Burr had told McGahn those individuals were the FBI’s targets).

Perhaps most tellingly, the first time McGahn got asked about Trump’s efforts to fire Mueller, he was not all that forthcoming.

When this Office first interviewed McGahn about this topic, he was reluctant to share detailed information about what had occurred and only did so after continued questioning.

From the footnotes, it appears that Mueller’s office went back to Don McGahn in March 2018, after flattering stories about his heroic role showed up in NYT, WaPo, and CNN and got more clarification about how McGahn prevented Trump from firing Mueller (basically, by ignoring him). That interview, too, gathered information about how Trump tried to bully McGahn into correcting the NYT story, which falsely claimed that McGahn had told Trump he would quit. (Truthfully, McGahn’s threats to quit are as pathetic as I expected when the stories first came out, and the NYT story is as misleadingly flattering as I expected.)

It’s at that March 2018 meeting where McGahn admitted his real motivation: he envisioned himself as an esteemed judicial ideologue and not a historic hack.

McGahn also had made clear to the President that the White House Counsel’s Office should not be involved in any effort to press the issue of conflicts.578 McGahn was concerned about having any role in asking the Acting Attorney General to fire the Special Counsel because he had grown up in the Reagan era and wanted to be more like Judge Robert Bork and not ” Saturday Night Massacre Bork.”579

Finally, after being fired himself for cooperating with Mueller (and, probably, for seeding so many self-serving stories with the NYT), Mueller interviewed McGahn once more, this February, one of the very last interviews that appears in the report. It appears they were cleaning up two discrepancies: the dates of the calls (it appears McGahn may have said one happened later than it did to separate it from coverage that Trump was under investigation for obstruction), and to get McGahn to explain why he didn’t tell Donaldson or Priebus and Bannon that he had been ordered to get Rosenstein to fire Mueller.

Incidentally, while self-proclaimed Mueller investigation hero McGahn appears to have been happy to tell Mueller’s team that Trump’s claims that Mueller had a conflict, he never told the press, not even in any of those seeded stories to the NYT.

There’s one detail about the Mueller report of particular interest, however, given the subpoena to testify. That note Donaldson took, recording that “McGahn told the President that his ‘biggest exposure’ was not his act of firing Comey but his ‘other contacts’ and ‘calls,’ and his ‘ask re: Flynn”?

Nowhere is his explanation for that comment cited to an interview report from him.

Which brings us to the subpoena, which (as I said) I suspect is a friendly one.

McGahn is almost certainly one of the people who sourced stories (including with his favorite reporters at the NYT) saying they were worried about all the damning things they said exposed in the Mueller Report. In McGahn’s case, he was right to be worried. The other day, Politico revealed that Trump replaced Jones Day as his 2020 campaign firm, in a move that was attributed to cost-cutting but that Politico’s sources say is retaliation not just for McGahn’s cooperation with Mueller but also a story (written by McGahn’s favorite NYT journos the same day he last interviewed with Mueller) on Jared Kushner’s inappropriate security clearance.

[C]lose Trump advisers say the decision also stems from disappointment with the White House’s former top attorney and current Jones Day partner, Don McGahn, whose behavior has irked the president and some of his family members.

Taking business away from Jones Day is payback, these advisers say, for McGahn’s soured relationship with the Trump family and a handful articles in high-profile newspapers that the family blames, unfairly or not, on the former White House counsel.

“Why in the world would you want to put your enemy on the payroll?” said one adviser close to the White House. “They do not want to reward his firm. Trump arrived at that point long ago, but the security clearance memo stories put a fine point on it.”

One February 2019 story, in particular, caught the White House’s attention, when The New York Times reported that the president ordered John Kelly, his chief of staff at the time, to grant a security clearance to Jared Kushner. Kelly had written an internal memo on it, according to the Times. That fact was closely held inside the White House, and few officials other than Kelly and McGahn knew, say two close White House advisers — and the administration blamed McGahn for the leak.

One other thing HJC is asking for are “communications with the Executive Office of the President regarding your response to the March 4, 2019 document request” by HJC.

Which, I’m sure they have reason to know, reflect White House opposition to his public testimony.

Don McGahn apparently imagined working for a corrupt asshole like Trump would get him named to the Supreme Court.

Instead, his firm has a lost a very lucrative client. He appears to be upping the ante by further distancing himself from Trump’s corruption. That may get ugly, because Don McGahn knows where a whole lot of Donald Trump’s bodies are buried. And given that McGahn, not Trump, is the one who packed the courts, the Republicans may have really divided loyalties over this fight.

Update: The White House is fighting McGahn’s subpoena.

How to Read the Mueller Report

Politico has a piece describing how key players will read the Mueller report that starts by admitting the usual workaround — reading the index — won’t work.

The capital has already evolved one model for processing a big tell-all book: “the Washington read,” where you scan the index (assuming there is one) to find everything it says about you, your boss and your enemies and then fake like you’ve read the rest. But this time that won’t be enough. The goods might not come easily. They might be buried in an obscure subsection. And there’s way more at stake than in the typical gossipy memoir.

Further down, David Litt graciously included me on a list of legal and analytical voices he’ll turn to to help understand the report.

Former Obama White House speechwriter David Litt will have Twitter open while he’s making his way through the report, watching in particular for posts from several of the more prominent legal and analytical voices who have narrated the story’s plot twists as it evolved: Ken White (@popehat), Mimi Rocah (@Mimirocah1), Renato Mariotti (@Renato_Mariotti), Marcy Wheeler (@emptywheel), Neal Katyal (@neal_katyal) “for the definitive word on special-counsel regs” and Nate Silver and FiveThirtyEight “to think through the political implications.”

Since most of the methods described by Politico’s sources actually will be counterproductive for anything but rushing a self-serving message to the press, I thought I’d lay out some tips for how I’ll read it.

Understand what the report is and is not

Even before Barr releases the report, those planning on reading it would do well to reflect on what it is — and what it is not. It is, by regulation, a report on the prosecutions and declinations the Mueller team took during their tenure.

It is not supposed to be, contrary to many claims, a report on everything that Mueller discovered. Already there have been hints that it will not include the second half of Rod Rosenstein’s mandate to Mueller — to figure out the nature of links between Trump’s team and Russia. If that stuff is excluded, then it probably will get reported, secretly, to the Intelligence Committees and no further. That’s important because the stuff that would compromise Trump — but would not necessarily implicate him in a crime — may by definition not show up in this report (though the stuff specifically relating to Trump may show up in the obstruction case).

Finally, it’s unclear how much Mueller will include about referrals and ongoing investigations. I expect he’ll include descriptions of the things he and Rosenstein decided deserved further prosecutorial scrutiny but did not fit under the narrow rubric of whether Trump’s team coordinated or conspired with the Russian government on the hack-and-leak. But with the sole exception of three known referrals: the hush payments negotiated by Michael Cohen, the prosecution of Mike Flynn partner Bijan Kian, and the prosecution of Sam Patten, I expect any discussion of these matters to be redacted — appropriately so.

Map out what we already know about prosecutorial decisions

Since the report is by regulation supposed to describe the prosecutorial and declination decisions, we already know much of what will show up in the report, because Mueller has helpfully showed his prosecutorial decisions right here on his webpage. Here are some questions we should expect the report to answer (working from the bottom):

Papadopoulos

  • Why did Mueller consider George Papadopoulos’ lies to the FBI material to the investigation? [Note, Mueller has already answered this in Papadopoulos’ sentencing memo.]
  • Did Mueller find any evidence that Papadopoulos had passed on news that Russia was planning to dump emails pertaining to Hillary in an effort to help Trump? What did those people do with that information?
  • What did the investigation of Sergei Millian, who started pitching a Trump Tower deal and other seeming intelligence dangles to Papadopoulos in July 2016 reveal? [This is a subject that may either be redacted, referred, or treated as counterintelligence saved for the Intelligence Committees.]

Mike Flynn

  • Why were Flynn’s lies about assuring Sergey Kislyak that Trump would revisit sanctions deemed material to the investigation? [Note, Mueller has already answered this in Flynn’s sentencing memo, but it is significantly redacted]
  • Why did Mueller give Flynn such a sweet plea deal, as compared to his partner Bijan Kian, who was named a foreign agent? What information did he trade to get it? [Some of this is included in his sentencing memo — because he flipped early, it led others to correct their lies — but key parts of it remain redacted.]
  • What other Trump aides (like KT McFarland) lied about the same topics, and why were their attempts to clean that up before being charged deemed sufficient to avoid prosecution?

There’s likely a great deal pertaining to Flynn — likely including the third topic on which he cooperated — that will be deemed counterintelligence information that will be briefed to the Intelligence Committees.

Richard Pinedo

  • Why did Mueller prosecute Pinedo as part of his investigation?
  • How did Mueller determine that Pinedo had not wittingly worked with Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s trolls?

There’s likely some counterintelligence information about how the trolls duped Pinedo and how the US might shore up that vulnerability, but given the focus on the trolls, I expect FBI has already briefed that to the Intelligence Committees in substantial part.

The Internet Research Agency

  • Given that Russia’s activities weren’t under the original scope of Mueller’s investigation; why did the trolls get moved under him? [The answer may be because of the Trump people found to have interacted with the trolls.]
  • Why did Mueller consider prosecuting Concord Management worth the headache?
  • How much of the relationship between Yevgeniy Prigozhin and Putin impacted this prosecution?
  • What did the three Trump campaign officials in Florida described in the indictment do after being contacted by the trolls about events in August 2016? Did any other people in the campaign join in the efforts to coordinate with the trolls? Why weren’t they prosecuted? [Whether the names of these three people are unredacted will be one of the more interesting redaction questions.]
  • Why weren’t the Trump and other political activists prosecuted?

We already know the answer to why Americans (save Richard Pinedo) were not prosecuted in this indictment: because they did not realize they were coordinating with Russian-operated trolls, and because, unlike Pinedo, nothing about their activities was by itself illegal.

There’s likely to be a lot of counterintelligence information on this effort that has been shared with the Intelligence Committees in ongoing fashion.

Alex van der Zwaan

  • Why did Mueller prosecute van der Zwaan himself, rather than referring it (as he did with Greg Craig and the other Manafort-related corruption)? Did that have to do with van der Zwaan’s independent ties with either Konstantin Kilimnik or his father in law, German Khan?

Rick Gates and Paul Manafort

  • Why did Mueller keep both Gates and Manafort prosecutions (the tax fraud prosecuted in EDVA and the FARA and money laundering violations in DC) himself? Was this just an effort to flip both of them, or did it pertain to an effort to understand the nature of their relationship with Kilimnik and a bunch of Ukrainian and Russian oligarchs?
  • What continuity is there between the methods and relationships involved in Manafort’s work in Ukraine with that he did for Trump?
  • What did Mueller get out of the cooperation agreements with Gates? This will be extensive! But a lot of it may be redacted because it pertains to counterintelligence or ongoing investigations.
  • What did Mueller get out of the failed cooperation agreement with Manafort? Part of this, too, is counterintelligence, plus Manafort appears to have made it through one grand jury appearance on November 2 without lying. But that topic may be redacted as either as part of either counterintelligence or ongoing investigations.

Konstantin Kilimnik

Because he charged Kilimnik and Kilimnik was so central to so much of his investigation, Mueller could describe why the government believes Kilimnik has a tie with the GRU. He likely won’t.

GRU hack indictment

  • Russia’s activities weren’t under the original scope of Mueller’s investigation; why did the GRU hack get moved under him? [The answer may be because Roger Stone and Lee Stranahan and Trump — in his encouragement — were implicated.]
  • Why weren’t WikiLeaks and/or Assange charged in the indictment?
  • What was the nature of Stone’s ties to Guccifer 2.0?
  • Was there reason to believe Trump knew GRU would respond to his encouragement?
  • How did the GRU operation link up with the activities of other people suspected to have ties to GRU, like the broker on the Trump Tower deal, Kilimnik, and a Mike Flynn interlocutor?
  • How did Mueller assess whether and how Russia used the data stolen from the Democrats, especially the analytics data stolen in September?
  • Did the data Kilimnik received from Manafort and shared with others make its way into GRU’s hands?

Michael Cohen

  • Why were Cohen’s lies about the Trump Tower deal deemed material to the investigation? [Unlike with Flynn and Papadopoulos, Mueller didn’t really explain this in the sentencing memo.]
  • Why was Cohen charged with lying, but not those he conspired to lie with, including Jay Sekulow, Don Jr,  and the President?
  • What other details of Trump’s business dealings did Cohen share?

Roger Stone

  • Why were Roger Stone’s lies to Congress deemed material to the Mueller investigation?
  • From whom did Stone and Jerome Corsi learn what GRU and WikiLeaks were planning to release?
  • Did Stone succeed in holding the release of the Podesta emails to dampen the Access Hollywood video release, as Corsi alleges?
  • What was Stone trying to hide when he had Corsi write a cover story for him on August 30, 2016?
  • Why didn’t Stone’s coordination to optimize WikiLeaks’ releases amount to coordination with Russia?
  • Why weren’t Corsi and Randy Credico (the latter of whom Stone accuses of lying to the grand jury) charged?
  • Why wasn’t Assange charged in conjunction with Stone?

Stone is still awaiting trial and prosecutors have just told the press that Stone remains under active investigation. So I expect virtually all the Stone section to be redacted.

Map out the big questions about declinations

Mueller will also need to explain why he didn’t charge people he investigated closely. This is another section where the fight over redactions is likely to be really heated.

Trump on obstruction and conspiracy

  • Did Mueller consider Trump’s enthusiastic encouragement of Russia’s operation and his move to offer Russia sanctions relief from a prosecutorial standpoint (that is, a quid pro quo trading the Trump Tower deal and election assistance for sanctions relief)? If so, what were the considerations about potential criminality of it, including considerations of presidential power? If not, was any part of this referred?
  • What was the consideration on Trump and obstruction? Did Mueller intend to leave this decision to Congress? [The report will not answer the second question; if Mueller did intend to leave the decision to Congress, as his predecessors Leon Jaworski and Ken Starr did for good Constitutional reasons, he will not have said so in the report.]

Paul Manafort on quid pro quo

  • Was Mueller able to determine why Manafort shared polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik on August 2, 2016? Did he know it would be shared with Russians close to the election interference operation? Did he agree to a quid pro quo involving the Ukrainian peace deal as sanctions relief he pursued for another 20 months? Did Manafort’s lies prevent Mueller from answering these questions?
  • What was the nature of and what was ultimately done with that polling data?
  • Why didn’t Mueller charge this as conspiracy or coordination? Did it have to do with Manafort’s lies and Gates’ limited credibility?

The June 9 meeting and follow-up

  • What consideration did prosecutors give to charging this as an instance of conspiracy or coordination?
  • What consideration did prosecutors give to charging the public claims about this meeting as an instance of false statements?
  • Did Trump know about this meeting and if so did that change the calculus (because of presidential equities) on a quid pro quo?
  • Did Mueller decide Don Jr is simply too stupid to enter into a conspiracy?
  • Did Mueller consider (and is DOJ still pursuing) prosecutions of some of the members of the Russian side of this meeting? [Note that Barr did not clear all US persons of conspiracy on the hack-and-leak; Emin Agalarov canceled his concert tour this year because his lawyer said he’d be detained, SDNY’s indictment of Natalia Veselnitskaya treats her as a Russian agent, and Rinat Akhmetshin and Ike Kaveladze may both have exposure that the Trump flunkies would not.]

The Seychelles meeting and related graft

  • Did Mueller decide the graft he uncovered was not criminal, not prosecutable, or did he refer it?

Carter Page

I, frankly, am not that interested in why Mueller didn’t prosecute Carter Page, and this section might be redacted for his privacy. But I am interested in whether leaks played a part of it, or whether Russians used him as a decoy to distract from where the really interesting conversations were happening.

Understand referrals and ongoing investigations, to the extent they’re included

As noted above, Mueller may have included a description of the referrals he made and the ongoing investigations that reside with some of his prosecutors and/or the DC AUSAs brought in to pick up his work. This includes, at a minimum:

  • Inauguration graft
  • Potential Don Jr and Jared Kushner graft
  • Mystery Appellant
  • Ongoing Stone investigations
  • The Cohen hush payments
  • Bijan Kian’s prosecution
  • Sam Patten’s prosecution
  • Other Manafort graft, including potential coordination with states
  • Tom Barrack’s graft
  • Greg Craig, Tony Podesta, Vin Weber, Steve Calk
  • Konstantin Kilimnik (which is likely a counterintelligence investigation, not a criminal one)

One big question I have is whether any criminal conduct with Russia that doesn’t involve the election would be covered by this report, referred, or considered an ongoing investigation??

While we should expect details of the decision to refer the Cohen, Bijan Kian, and Sam Patten prosecutions, most of the rest of this would likely be redacted (including the Craig prosecution, since it only just got indicted).

Understand the structure of the report

Having prepped yourself for what to expect in the report (and what won’t be there, like the counterintelligence stuff), you can now start by reviewing the structure of the report. Bill Barr claims the report is split into two sections, the Russian interference and Mueller’s thinking on obstruction. That may or may not be true — it’s one thing to assess when first reviewing the report.

One particularly interesting question will be the extent to which Mueller included stuff that might otherwise be counterintelligence information — things Russia did that would compromise or embarrass Trump — in the obstruction section.

Another thing to do while understanding the structure of the report is to see where all the things that must be in there appear. This will be particularly helpful, for example, in figuring out where what is sure to be a lot of redacted content on Roger Stone appears.

Do a first read of the report, paying particular attention to the footnotes

I find it really useful to share screen caps of what I’m finding in a first read, either on Twitter (for crowd sourcing) or in a working thread. The press flacks will do the work of finding the key takeaways and running to the cable news about them. Better to spend the time finding the details that add nuance to claimed takeaways, if only because adding nuance to claimed takeaways quickly helps avoid an erroneous conventional wisdom from forming.

Develop theories for redacted content

You’re not going to be able to prove what lies behind a redaction unless Mueller and DOJ commit redaction fail (they’re not Paul Manafort trying to signal to co-conspirators, so that won’t happen) or unless they accidentally leave one reference out. But based on the grammar of sentences and the structure of the report and — hopefully — Barr’s promised color coding of redactions, you should be able to develop theories about what generally is behind a redaction.

Identify big redacted sections

There may be sections that are both entirely redacted about which no clues as to the content exist. At the very least, identify these, and at least note where, structurally, they appear, as that may help to explain what big questions about the Mueller report are outstanding.

Read it again

I know most editors in DC won’t pay for this, which is why reporting on documents is often less rigorous than journalism involving talking to people. But for documents like this, you really need to read iteratively, in part because you won’t fully understand what you’re looking at until reading the whole thing a first time. So after you read it the first time, read it again.

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. 

By July 18, 2017, Mueller Had Probable Cause Michael Cohen Was an Unregistered Foreign Agent

SDNY has released the warrants behind his April 9 raid, which are here. They actually include a series of warrants, showing how first Mueller got warrants, then handed parts of the investigation over to SDNY, which then obtained its own warrants tied to the crimes they were investigating. These two affidavits (one, two) are the ones showing that hand-off — basically SDNY asking, on February 28, 2018, for access to email accounts and storage devices that Mueller had already accessed. The second one describes Mueller’s first warrant on Cohen to be dated July 18, 2017.

The same affidavit describes the crimes listed in the earlier warrants. Among those crimes — unsurprisingly — was conspiracy to defraud the US. More surprising, however, are 18 USC §§ 951 (acting as an unregistered foreign agent) and 611 (FARA).

The latter may be tied to Cohen’s work with a Kazakhstan bank (BTA Bank) and Korean airspace company (Korea Aerospace Industries) — which were basically his efforts to monetize his ties to Trump after the election. These were the deals that Republicans made such a big deal about when Cohen testified to the Oversight Committee.

In addition, Cohen was working for Columbus Nova, which was ultimately controlled by Victor Vekselberg. That would be of immediate concern for the question of Russian influence.

The 951 charge, however, is more interesting. It could relate to the same thing (basically arguing that because he was working for instrumentalities of foreign countries, he was their agent — basically a “soft” spy). Or it could relate to his efforts to negotiate a Trump Tower deal for Trump. Note that the November 13 warrant basically extended the first warrant back to June 1, 2015, which would we know would cover the Trump Tower deal (and precede any tie to BTA or KAI).

951 is a charge I always suspected might be used with Paul Manafort (it still might), or even Jared Kushner. But it appears that Mueller’s worries about Trump’s closest associates acting as spies wasn’t limited to Manafort and Flynn, but extended, too, to his personal lawyer. And Mueller already had evidence of that fact by July 18, 2017.

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. 

Art of the Get-Screwed-in-Your-Russian-Quid-Pro-Quo Deal

Donald J. Trump, self-proclaimed Master of the Deal, just got his ass handed to him in a high stakes nuclear negotiation by Kim Jong-Un, at a time when Trump had the full power of the United States and hundreds of experts available to help him.

And yet Russian conspiracy denialists believe that any conspiracy between said deal-maker and Vladimir Putin must show evidence that Trump came away with a big win over anything but the 2016 election. They believe this, even though Trump made any such deal at a time when he was desperate to avoid a humiliating loss, relying on negotiators like his feckless son Don Jr, his attention-craving personal lawyer Michael Cohen, and his financially exposed campaign manager Paul Manafort.

That’s what I learned last night when I walked Aaron Maté through the process of first claiming the Trump Tower deal went nowhere because Cohen and Felix Sater disagreed in December 2015, then admitting that Cohen and Sater were still at it in May and June 2016. By the end, Maté was dismissing Rudy Giuliani’s admission that the deal went through the election (which is itself a limited hangout designed to hide that a Trump Tower deal was pursued in two different forms after the election, as well as abundant evidence that other financial payoffs were dangled if not made) by pointing to Dmitry Peskov’s stories, which have changed right along with Michael Cohen’s evolving story.

Because there’s no shiny tower in Moscow with Trump’s name on it, Maté appears to believe, it is proof that when Don Jr took a meeting in June 2016 at which he (according to the sworn testimony of four people who attended) committed to revisit Magnitsky sanctions if his dad got elected, the possibility of a $300 million payoff didn’t factor in to Junior’s willingness to sign away American policy considerations on behalf of his father.

That’s not how criminal conspiracy law works.

If you sign up for a deal and take steps to make good on it — as Don Jr did on June 9, 2016 and Paul Manafort appears to have done on August 2, 2016 and Mike Flynn appears to have done, on Trump’s behalf, on December 29, 2016 — then it doesn’t matter if the partner to that deal fucks you over later in the process. And, after all, the Russians did continue to supply Trump with a steady supply of dirt on Hillary Clinton all through the election. They got Trump elected, or at least did what they could to help, even if that payoff wasn’t the one Trump was most interested in.

Do you think Oleg Deripaska, a key player in both the deal-making and likely in the cover-up of it, gives a shit if Paul Manafort — who had screwed Deripaska over years earlier — had his life ruined as part of the process of compromising a President and getting sanctions relief? My suspicion is we’ll learn that Deripaska actually magnified Manafort’s hurt, once he had gotten him to compromise himself and the campaign.

Do you think Putin really cares whether Trump — to say nothing of the United States — benefits from the stupid choices Trump made during the election? Putin — a far better “deal” maker than Trump — got a win-win either way: Either Trump succeeded in compromising America’s rule of law in an effort to squelch any investigation into what happened, robbing the United States of the claim to idealism that so irks the master kleptocrat, Putin, or Trump would spend his Administration desperately trying to find a way out, all the while Putin connives Trump into dismantling the alliances that keep Russia in check.

And, too, Putin’s election year operation exacerbated the polarization between Democrats and Republicans such that most Republicans and a goodly number of Democrats have been unable to step back and say, holy shit, this country got attacked and we need to come together to do something about it. Trump’s win got Republicans to fear Trump’s base so much that they care more about those fevered hordes than doing what is right for this country. And Democrats rightly want to punish Trump for cheating, but haven’t thought about what a least-damaging off-ramp for that cheater might look like.

Putin doesn’t care if Trump benefits from all this — though he is happy to keep toying with Trump like a cat plays before he eviscerates his mouse. He cares about whether he and his cronies win. And there are multiple ways for him to get a win out of this, whether or not Trump manages to eke out any kind of real payoff past the election.

And let’s be honest, Putin isn’t the only one playing this game. Certainly, Mohammed bin Salman feels the same way, even if his record of ruthless dealmaking is shorter and sloppier than Putin’s. The truth is that Donald Trump and Jared Kushner are easy marks for a whole range of skilled operators willing to stroke their egos and dangle loot, and over and over again they’ve let themselves be bested in foreign policy negotiations, to the detriment of the interests of the United States. That they are so bad at deal making in no way disproves their culpability.

There is no Trump Tower in Moscow. But there never had to be. All that was needed was the promise of a ridiculously lucrative narcissism-stroking deal for the Trump family to agree to shit that would hurt this country. And all the evidence suggests that they did, and continue to do so.

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

The Metadata of the HJC Requests

While the rest of us were looking at the content of the letters the House Judiciary Committee was sending out to witnesses yesterday, @zedster was looking at the metadata. The requests have dates and times reflecting three different production days: towards end of the work day on March 1 (Friday), a slew starting just after 3PM on March 3 (Sunday), with some individualized documents between then and Sunday evening, with a ton of work being done until 1:30 AM March 4 (Monday morning), and four more trickling in after that.

I think the production dates likely reflect a number of different factors.

First, the letters are boilerplate, which may explain why most of those were done first. Three things might explain a delay on any of those letters: either a late decision to include them in the request, delayed approval by SDNY or Mueller for the request, or some difficulty finding the proper addressee for the letter (usually, but not always, the person’s counsel of record). Not all of these addresses are correct: as one example, Erik Prince reportedly has gotten a new lawyer since Victoria Toensing first represented him, but has refused to tell reporters who represents him now; his letter is addressed to Toensing.

One other possible explanation for late dates on the letters is that the decision to call them came out of Michael Cohen’s testimony last week (and some of those witnesses would have had to have been approved by SDNY as well). As an example, the last document in this set is the one to Viktor Vekelsberg, which clearly relates to Michael Cohen (though interest in him may have come out of Cohen’s HPSCI testimony).

The other two late letters are Cambridge Analytica and Donald Trump Revocable Trust. Both appear to be revisions — a third revision for the former and a second for the latter.

That said, the letters completed after March 1 are interesting: Aside from some institutional letters (like FBI and GSA), they appear to be likely subjects of ongoing investigative interest, whether because of the investigation into Trump’s inauguration, Roger Stone’s prosecution, Maria Butina’s cooperation, ongoing sensitivities relating to Paul Manafort, or the National Enquirer.

Some of these topics happen to be the last topics listed on the Schedule As (I got this from Jared Kushner’s Schedule A which is one of if not the most extensive), including WikiLeaks, Manafort’s sharing of polling data (with the Ukrainian oligarchs, but no Oleg Deripaska), Michael Cohen’s Russian-related graft, and Transition graft, including with the Gulf States. There’s no separate category of documents tied to the NRA.

The Schedule As were based off boilerplate and tailored very loosely based on the recipient; this may have been an area where prosecutors weighed in. These later approvals include a slew of Cambridge Analytica people (remember, Sam Patten, who had ties to the organization, was not included in this request at all). Alexander Nix’s Schedule A is a revision. So is Trump Organization lawyer Alan Garten’s. Some of the people central to any obstruction inquiry — Don McGahn, Jeff Sessions, former McGahn Chief of Staff Annie Donaldson, and Jay Sekulow — were among the last Schedule As printed out.

All of this is just reading tea leaves.

But it does seem to reflect some ongoing sensitivities (the Gulf States, Cambridge Analytica, and obstruction) that got approved last, with some areas (Oleg Deripaska) being significantly excluded.

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. 

Yesterday Noel Francisco Raised the Stakes on the Mystery Appellant

Back when President Trump fired Jeff Sessions, there was a CNN report describing how two competing groups of people discussed what to do in response. It described that Solicitor General Noel Francisco was in the Sessions huddle, a huddle focused, in part, on how to protect the Mueller investigation.

Eventually, there were two huddles in separate offices. Among those in Sessions’ office was Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, his deputy Ed O’Callaghan, Solicitor General Noel Francisco and Steven Engel, who heads the Office of Legal Counsel.

[snip]

The fact that Whitaker would become acting attorney general, passing over Rosenstein suddenly raised concerns about the impact on the most high-profile investigation in the Justice Department, the Russia probe led by Mueller.

The Mueller probe has been at the center of Trump’s ire directed at Sessions and the Justice Department. Whitaker has made comments criticizing Mueller’s investigation and Rosenstein’s oversight of it, and has questioned the allegations of Russian interference.

Rosenstein and O’Callaghan, the highest-ranked officials handling day-to-day oversight of Mueller’s investigation, urged Sessions to delay the effective date of his resignation.

Francisco’s presence in the Sessions/Rosenstein huddle was significant for a number of reasons: If Rosenstein had been fired while Big Dick Toilet Salesman was Acting Attorney General, he would be the next superior officer, confirmed by the Senate, in the chain of command reviewing Mueller’s activities. As Michael Dreeben testified in the days after the firing, Francisco would have (and has had) to approve any appeals taken by Mueller’s team. In addition, it was significant that someone who is pretty fucking conservative was huddling with those who were trying to protect the investigation.

That’s why I’m interested in several details from the Mueller response to the Mystery Appellant challenge to a Muller subpoena submitted to SCOTUS yesterday.

First, as I expected, the government strongly rebuts Mystery Appellant’s claim that they are a foreign government (which was the spin in their own brief). Rather they are a commercial enterprise that a foreign government owns.

As the petition acknowledges (Pet. 1 n.1), petitioner is not itself a foreign government, but is a separate commercial enterprise that a foreign government owns.

That makes a ton of difference to the analysis, because the government has a much greater leeway in regulating businesses in this country than it does foreign governments.

Indeed, in one of the key parts of the brief, the government lays out the import of that: because if foreign owned companies were immune from subpoena, then on top of whatever problems it would create for regulating the foreign-owned corporation, it would also mean American citizens could deliberately use those foreign-owned corporations to shield their own criminal behavior.

Petitioner’s interpretation would, as the court of appeals recognized, lead to a result that Congress could not have intended—i.e., that “purely commercial enterprise[s] operating within the United States,” if majority- owned by a foreign government, could “flagrantly violate criminal laws” and ignore criminal process, no matter how domestic the conduct or egregious the violation. Supp. App. 10a. Banks, airlines, software companies, and similar commercial businesses could wittingly or unwittingly provide a haven for criminal activity and would be shielded against providing evidence even of domestic criminal conduct by U.S. citizens. See id. at 10a-11a. Although petitioner declares that result to be “precisely what Congress intended,” Pet. 25, it cannot plausibly be maintained that Congress and the Executive Branch—which drafted the FSIA—would have adopted such a rule “without so much as a whisper” to that effect in the Act’s extensive legislative history, Samantar, 560 U.S. at 319.8

In an unbelievably pregnant footnote to that passage, the government then notes that Mystery Appellant’s suggestion that the President could retaliate if foreign-owned corporations engaged in crime via something like sanctions ignores what tools are available if foreign-owned corporations don’t themselves engage in crime, but instead serve as a shield for the criminal activity of US citizens.

8 Petitioner suggests (Pet. 26) that Congress would not have been troubled by barring federal criminal jurisdiction over foreign state-owned enterprises because the President could use tools such as economic sanctions to address foreign instrumentalities “that commit crimes in the United States.” That overlooks not only the legal and practical limits on sanctions, but also the threshold need to acquire evidence through grand jury subpoenas in order to determine whether a crime has been committed—including by U.S. citizens.

Consider: There is significant evidence to believe that a foreign country — Russia — bribed Trump to give them sanctions relief by floating a $300 million business deal. There is also evidence that, after a series of back channel meetings we know Zainab Ahmed was investigating, such funds may have come through a Middle Eastern proxy, like Qatar. There is not just evidence that Qatar did provide funds no one in their right mind would have provided to the President’s family, in the form of a bailout to Jared Kushner’s albatross investment in 666 Fifth Avenue. But they’re already laying the groundwork to claim they accidentally bailed him out, without realizing what they were doing.

So if Russia paid off a bribe to Trump via Qatar, and Qatar is trying to hide that fact by claiming Qatar Investment Authority is a foreign government that can only be regulated in this country by sanctions imposed by the guy who is trading sanctions to get rich … well, you can see why that’s a non-starter.

Finally — going back to why I’m so interested that Francisco was in the Sessions/Rosenstein huddle — just Francisco’s name is on the brief, even though Dreeben and Scott Meisler surely had a role in drafting it.

This was noted to me by Chimene Keitner, who is an actual expert in all this (and did her own very interesting thread on the response).

I’m sure I understand only a fraction of the significance that just Francisco signed the brief. But two things I do understand: One, Francisco is giving this argument a great deal of weight with SCOTUS, signaling the import of winning this argument.

Additionally, however, it means he stands as a shield for Mueller’s work on this appeal. If Trump wants to retaliate against DOJ for exposing the payoff to a quid pro quo, the President is going to have to fire another Senate-confirmed officer to do it, and fire one against whom he hasn’t laid a claim of partisanship. As I’ve already noted, by dint of this company being a foreign company, Mueller likely already knows what he’s getting via SIGINT. This subpoena is likely significantly an attempt to parallel construct evidence for use at trial. And the brief seems to make it clear that Mueller suspects some US citizen used this foreign-owned corporation to shield his own criminal behavior.

Which might explain why Francisco sees the need and import of shielding Mueller in this step.

Update: I’m seeing people misunderstanding the significance of my point (which, again, was suggested by someone more expert than me and most journalists on this). It’s not just that Francisco appears — that’s normal. It’s that only he appears, when we know that several other people had to have worked on the brief. That is, it’s the fact that Dreeben is not named.

As comparison, here’s the signature line for another brief that DOJ submitted (as amicus) today:

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. 

Questions to Ask before Reporting a BREAKING Mueller Report

Update: CNN is matching NBC’s reporting on this. It also backs its report with real details from their superb stakeout.

On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday last week, special counsel’s office employees carried boxes and pushed a cart full of files out of their office — an unusual move that could foreshadow a hand-off of legal work.

At the same time, the Mueller prosecutors’ workload appears to be dwindling. Four of Mueller’s 17 prosecutors have ended their tenures with the office, with most returning to other roles in the Justice Department.

And the grand jury that Mueller’s prosecutors used to return indictments of longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and several Russians hasn’t apparently convened since January 24 the day it approved the criminal charges against Stone.

I take from that I’m wrong about Mueller waiting for the two appeals (he knows what he’ll get from them) before he delivers his verdict. 

Pete Williams did the NBC circuit yesterday claiming that the Mueller report may be submitted to DOJ as soon as next week.

Pete Williams on MSNBC says the Mueller report may go to DOJ as early as next week

Because a lot of people have asked me about this and because Williams (and some other journalists) don’t appear to know enough about the Mueller investigation to ask the proper questions to assess that claim, I’d like to lay out a little logic and a few facts. It’s certainly possible that a Mueller report is coming next week — I’d argue that one is assuredly coming on Friday. But I doubt that means what Williams thinks it does.

The conclusory report is not coming next week

When most people think of “the Mueller report,” they mean this report, dictated by the Special Counsel regulations.

At the conclusion of the Special Counsel’s work, he or she shall provide the Attorney General with a confidential report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions reached by the Special Counsel.

When Mueller is done, he has to submit a confidential report to the Attorney General (who is now Mueller’s friend William Barr) telling him what he did and didn’t do. Given everything Barr said as part of his confirmation process, we’re unlikely to see this report.

To assess whether this report is what Pete Williams thinks is coming, we should assess whether public evidence is consistent with Mueller being done.

The answer to that is clearly no. He’s still chasing testimony from Roger Stone flunkie Andrew Miller and from some foreign owned corporation (and has been chasing that, in the case of Miller, since last May).

Given that Miller already interviewed with the FBI for two hours and the foreign company is, by dint of being foreign, a no-brainer target for NSA, it’s quite likely Mueller knows what he’s getting from both of these entities. He just needs Miller on the record, so he can’t change his story to protect Stone, and needs to parallel construct the information from the foreign company. So it’s possible that as soon as Mueller gets both of these things, he’ll finish up quickly (meaning The Report could be soon). But there is no way that’ll happen by next week, in part because whatever the DC Appeals Court says in the Andrew Miller case, the loser will appeal that decision.

So it’s virtually certain that The Report is not coming by next week.

A report talking about “collusion” is coming this week

But maybe NBC’s sources are speaking metaphorically, and mean something else that isn’t the conclusory report but that will more closely resemble what everyone thinks of when they talk about The Report.

That’s likely to happen, but if it does, it’ll just be a partial report.

That’s because both Mueller and the defense have to submit a sentencing memo in Paul Manafort’s DC case Friday. As I noted back in November when Mueller’s prosecutors declared Manafort to have breached his plea agreement, this sentencing memo presents an opportunity for Mueller to “report” what they’ve found — at least with respect to all the criminal actions they know Manafort committed, including those he lied about while he was supposed to be cooperating — without anyone at DOJ or the White House suppressing the most damning bits. DOJ won’t be able to weigh in because a sentencing memo is not a major action requiring an urgent memo to the Attorney General. And the White House will get no advance warning because Big Dick Toilet Salesman Matt Whitaker is no longer in the reporting chain.

So, as noted, Mueller will have an opportunity to lay out:

  1. The details of Manafort’s sleazy influence peddling, including his modus operandi of projecting his own client’s corruption onto his opponents
  2. The fact that Manafort already pled guilty to conspiring with a suspected Russian intelligence asset
  3. The details about how Manafort — ostensibly working for “free” — got paid in 2016, in part via kickbacks from a Super PAC that violated campaign finance law, possibly in part by Tom Barrack who was using Manafort and Trump as a loss-leader to Middle Eastern graft, and in part by deferred payments or debt relief from Russian-backed oligarchs
  4. Manafort’s role and understanding of the June 9 meeting, which is a prelude of sorts to the August 2 one
  5. The dates and substance of Manafort’s ongoing communications with suspected Russian intelligence asset Konstantin Kilimnik, including the reasons why Manafort shared highly detailed polling data on August 2, 2016 that he knew would be passed on to his paymasters who just happened to be (in the case of Oleg Deripaska) a central player in the election year operation
  6. The ongoing efforts to win Russia relief from the American Ukrainian-related sanctions by pushing a “peace” plan that would effectively give Russia everything it wants
  7. Manafort’s ongoing discussions with Trump and the Administration, up to and including discussions laying out how if Manafort remains silent about items two through six, Trump will pardon him

Because those items are all within the substance of the crimes Manafort pled guilty to or lied about during his failed cooperation, they’re all squarely within the legitimate content of a sentencing memo. And we should expect the sentencing memo in DC to be at least as detailed as the EDVA one; I expect it, like the EDVA one and like Manafort’s plea deal, will be accompanied by exhibits such as the EDVA one showing that Manafort had bank accounts to the tune of $25,704,669.72 for which suspected Russian intelligence asset Konstantin Kilimnik was listed as a beneficial owner in 2012. Heck, we might even get to see the polling data Manafort shared, knowing it was going to Russia, which was an exhibit to Manafort’s breach determination.

The only thing limiting how much detail we’ll get about these things (as well as about how Manafort served as a secret agent of Russian backed Ukrainian oligarchs for years) is the ongoing sensitivities of the material, whether because it’s grand jury testimony, SIGINT collection, or a secret Mueller intends to spring on other defendants down the road.

It’s the latter point that will be most telling. As I noted, thus far, the silences about Manafort’s cooperation are — amazingly — even more provocative than the snippets we learned via the breach determination. We’ll likely get a read on Friday whether Mueller has ongoing equities that would lead him to want to keep these details secret. And the only thing that would lead Mueller to keep details of the conspiracy secret is if he plans to charge it in an overarching conspiracy indictment.

We may also get information, however, that will make it far more difficult for Trump to pardon Manafort.

So, yeah, there’s a report coming out this week. But it’s not The Report.

Any overarching conspiracy indictment will not be coming this week

It’s possible Mueller is close to charging an overarching conspiracy indictment, laying out how Trump and his spawn entered into a quid quo pro with various representatives of the Russian government, getting dirt on Hillary and either a Trump Tower or maybe a bailout for the very same building in which Manafort met with Konstantin Kilimnik on August 2, 2016. In exchange for all that, Trump agreed to — and took steps to deliver on, with some success in the case of election plot participant Deripaska — reversing the sanctions that were such a headache to Russia’s oligarchs.

Such an indictment, if Mueller ever charges it, will look like what Trump opponents would like The Report to look like. In addition to naming Don Jr and Jared Kushner and Trump Organization and a bunch of other sleazeballs, it would also describe the actions of Individual-1 in adequate detail to launch an impeachment proceeding.

But that indictment, if Mueller ever charges it, won’t be coming on Friday or Monday, as Williams predicts, because it likely requires whatever it is Mueller is trying to parallel construct from that foreign-owned company. And even if SCOTUS denies its appeal today, it’s unlikely that evidence will be in hand in time for a Friday indictment.

Mueller could ensure a report gets delivered to Jerry Nadler next week … but that’s unlikely

There’s one other possibility that would make Williams’ prediction true: if Mueller deliberately triggered the one other way to deliver a report, by asking to take an action William Barr is unlikely to approve, and if Mueller was willing to close up shop as a result, then a report would go to Congress and — if Barr thought it in the public interest — to the public.

Upon conclusion of the Special Counsels investigation, including, to the extent consistent with applicable law, a description and explanation of instances (if any) in which the Attorney General concluded that a proposed action by a Special Counsel was so inappropriate or unwarranted under established Departmental practices that it should not be pursued.

[snip]

The Attorney General may determine that public release of these reports would be in the public interest, to the extent that release would comply with applicable legal restrictions.

The only thing that Mueller might try to do that Barr would not approve (though who knows? maybe what Mueller has is so egregious Barr will surprise us?) is to indict the President.

I think this is unlikely, for all the reasons the first possibility laid out here is unlikely: that is, Mueller is still waiting on two details he has been chasing for quite some time, and I doubt he’d be willing to forgo that evidence just to trigger a report. It’s also unlikely because Mueller is a DOJ guy, and he’s unlikely to ask to do what he knows OLC says he should not do.

Still, it’s hypothetically possible that Mueller believes Trump is such an egregious criminal and national security risk he needs to try to accelerate the process of holding him accountable by stopping his investigation early (perhaps having the DC AUSAs named on the Miller and Mystery Appellant challenges take over those pursuits) and asking to indict the President.

But if that’s what Williams is reporting, he sure as hell better get more clarity about that fact, because, boy would it be news.

All of which is the lesson of this post: If you’re being told — or telling others — that Mueller’s report is imminent, then you’re either being told very very big news, or bullshit. Do yourself and us a favor of learning the base level regulations to understand which it is.

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.