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Donald Trump’s Bubble May Be Robert Mueller’s Greatest Weapon

Robert Mueller has a slew of really good lawyers working for him. But I think his biggest asset is Donald Trump’s bubble.

Consider this NYT story, in which a bunch of lawyers anonymously blame each other for getting 16 months into the Special Counsel investigation without ever figuring out what the President did.

The lawyers have only a limited sense of what many witnesses — including senior administration officials and the president’s business associates — have told investigators and what the Justice Department plans to do with any incriminating information it has about Mr. Trump, according to interviews with more than a dozen people close to the president.

What is more, it is not clear if Mr. Trump has given his lawyers a full account of some key events in which he has been involved as president or during his decades running the Trump Organization.

[snip]

Mr. Dowd took Mr. Trump at his word that he had done nothing wrong and never conducted a full internal investigation to determine the president’s true legal exposure.

[snip]

And once Mr. Dowd was gone, the new legal team had to spend at least 20 hours interviewing the president about the episodes under investigation, another necessary step Mr. Dowd and his associates had apparently not completed.

In spite of the effort to blame all this on Dowd, the NYT article provides abundant evidence (which they, in typical Maggie and Mike fashion, don’t seem aware of) that Trump’s lawyers continue to be clueless.

There’s the notion that just 20 hours of Trump interviews would be sufficient for nailing down the actual story. Don McGahn, after all, has had 30 hours of interviews with Mueller’s team, and while he has played several central roles, he’s not the principal. And, unlike Trump, he can and presumably did tell a mostly consistent story.

There’s the admission that Trump’s lawyers actually don’t know how ten senior officials testified.

During Mr. Dowd’s tenure, prosecutors interviewed at least 10 senior administration officials without Mr. Trump’s lawyers first learning what the witnesses planned to say, or debriefing their lawyers afterward — a basic step that could have given the president’s lawyers a view into what Mr. Mueller had learned.

Complain all you want that Dowd didn’t obstruct competently. But the Joint Defense Agreement (the one that gave Rudy no advance warning that Paul Manafort had flipped on the President) is what Rudy has always pointed to to justify his confidence that Trump is not at any risk. So Rudy is, by the standards of the anonymous people leaking to Maggie and Mike, just as incompetent.

Perhaps best of all is the claim of an anonymous Maggie and Mike source that poor Jay Sekulow was left to clean up after Dowd’s, and only Dowd’s, mistakes.

In March, Mr. Dowd resigned, telling associates that he disagreed with the president’s desire to sit for an interview with Mr. Mueller — one form of cooperation he opposed — and leaving Mr. Sekulow with the task of rebuilding the legal team from scratch, and without knowing many of the details of the case. Mr. Dowd left few notes or files about the case, which had to be recreated months after the fact.

Somehow, Ty Cobb, the guy brought in after Marc Kasowitz left amid concerns that Trump was obstructing justice, who oversaw responding to discovery requests and who was initially celebrated as being very aggressive, gets no blame. Cobb was the guy who put McGahn in a defensive crouch — leading directly to 20 of his 30 hours of testimony — after blabbing in public about him hiding documents.

Crazier still, Jay Sekulow gets no blame in this narrative, even though Sekulow was around during all of Dowd’s purportedly mistaken decisions. As recently as March, Sekulow was quite confident that his undeniable expertise in litigating the right wing’s ressentiment prepared him to deal with the challenges of a Special Counsel investigation.

When Jay Sekulow joined President Donald Trump’s legal team for the Russia investigation last summer, he was largely expected to serve as the public face of the group. But after former lead attorney John Dowd resigned last week, and with other top lawyers reportedly reluctant to join the team, Sekulow is now the key player in one of the most high-stakes investigations in the world.

“I have maintained since the beginning of the representation that my interest is representing the client,” Sekulow tells TIME. “And it may take different forms at different times, and we’re just right now in a different phase.”

[snip]

Peter Flaherty, who worked for Romney on both campaigns and has known Sekulow for more than a decade, offers effusive praise for Sekulow that draws on the world of Boston sports.

“Jay is a combination of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, wrapped into one super-lawyer,” Flaherty says, citing the New England Patriots’ coach and quarterback. “He is capable of both devising successful strategy in a conference room, as well as being able to execute it in a courtroom.”

Critics say that legal expertise in high-minded constitutional issues won’t translate well to the guts of a criminal case. But Sekulow says he feels his “broad background” in the law has prepared him for the current challenge, citing a recent case he worked on in which the IRS admitted to unfairly scrutinizing tax forms of conservative groups.

In the wake of Manafort’s plea deal, Sekulow seems less certain he’s got control of the situation.

Here’s the thing though. This is a 2,100-word story presented as truth, disclosing evidence (albeit unacknowledged) that the lawyers who have serially managed press outreach (Sekulow, then Rudy) are clueless. It repeats, as Maggie and Mike always do, two key threads of the spin from these men: that Trump’s only exposure is obstruction and that the end result will be a report.

[Manafort’s] plea brings to four the number of former close associates of Mr. Trump who have agreed to cooperate with Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the election and obstruction of justice by the president.

And while Mr. Trump’s lawyers insist Mr. Mueller has nothing on their client about colluding with Russia, they are bracing for him to write a damaging report to Congress about whether the president obstructed justice.

[snip]

The sense of unease among the president’s lawyers can be traced, in part, to their client. Mr. Trump has repeatedly undermined his position by posting on Twitter or taking other actions that could add to the obstruction case against him.

[snip]

Even after Mr. Mueller’s appointment, Mr. Trump did things like ask witnesses about what they told Mr. Mueller’s investigators and put out misleading statements about contacts between his campaign and Russia, which appear to have deepened the special counsel’s examination of possible obstruction.

A mere review of Jay Sekulow’s own list, drafted in March, of questions Mueller might ask Trump, should make it clear to anyone exercising a tiny degree of skepticism that the claim Mueller is exclusively focused on obstruction is utter nonsense. And after the speaking criminal information released with Manafort’s plea, the expectation of a report should be treated far more critically.

But it’s not.

In an article about how Trump’s lawyers, generally, are clueless, and demonstrating though not reporting that the lawyers providing information to the press are part of that general cluelessness, Maggie and Mike don’t pause to reflect on whether that leaves them, too, clueless.

So when Trump tries to understand his plight by reading Maggie and Mike, he would believe a fiction largely created by the lies he has already told his lawyers and his preference for PR rather than solid legal advice.

Of course, it gets worse from there. Trump has benefitted from nine months of Devin Nunes-led intelligence, fed both via staffers and through a stable of incompetent right wing stenographers, about the investigation. I know for a fact that the most competent Republicans who have read the most investigative documents do not have a grasp about either the scope of the investigation or how it evolved (though someone at least understands that after August 1, 2017, the investigation got far more risky for the President).

But when you take that misunderstanding about the investigation and launder it through incompetent hacks like John Solomon, then the picture it provides is even more misleading.

Which led us to Trump’s decision on Monday to declassify a bunch of stuff.

That led Mark Warner, who has a better though still incomplete understanding of the potential risk to Trump, to quip, “Be careful what you wish for,” suggesting that the documents might be very incriminating to Trump.

Batshit crazier still, Trump went on to do an interview with the aforementioned John Solomon. (The Hill, unlike the NYT and virtually all other outlets, has the dignity to label interviews where Trump tells reporters a bunch of bullshit “opinion.”) In it, Trump suggests he had the authority and should have fired Jim Comey they day he won the primaries (an interesting suggestion by itself as Mueller appears to be investigating Roger Stone’s activities from that time period), which would likely have resulted in a Hillary win.

“If I did one mistake with Comey, I should have fired him before I got here. I should have fired him the day I won the primaries,” Trump said. “I should have fired him right after the convention, say I don’t want that guy. Or at least fired him the first day on the job. … I would have been better off firing him or putting out a statement that I don’t want him there when I get there.”

Crazier still, Trump admits that he has no idea what is included in the vast swath of documents he has already ordered to be released.

Trump said he had not read the documents he ordered declassified but said he expected to show they would prove the FBI case started as a political “hoax.”

“I have had many people ask me to release them. Not that I didn’t like the idea but I wanted to wait, I wanted to see where it was all going,” he said.

In the end, he said, his goal was to let the public decide by seeing the documents that have been kept secret for more than two years. “All I want to do is be transparent,” he said.

As I’ve noted here and elsewhere, even careful readers, to say nothing of the frothy right, have little visibility on how this investigation evolved (even the tiny bit more visibility I have makes me aware of how much I don’t know). If the smartest Republican upstream of Trump’s concerns about the genesis of the investigation doesn’t understand it, then far stupider Congressmen like Mark Meadows, who hasn’t reviewed all the documents, is surely misrepresenting it.

And yet Trump, from within the bubble of sycophants, clueless lawyers, and credulous reporters is blindly taking action in the hope of undercutting the pardon-proof plea deal of his campaign manager.

Update: Thanks to those who corrected my error in the bracketed description of the fourth plea.

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

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

EUREKA!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

April: Jared testifies for seven hours

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

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

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

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

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

August 17: Paul Manafort seeks a plea deal

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

Manafort would be able to answer the following questions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump Tweets a Confession, Then Sekulow Admits His Client Has Been Lying about His Involvement

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

Maybe the President and his lawyers think the best way to avoid an interview with Robert Mueller is to confess to everything before noon on Sunday morning?

Amid a series of batshit tweets just now, in an attempt to rebut reporting in this story, Trump admitted that his spawn took a meeting with people described as “part of Russia and its government’s support” for his father to obtain dirt on his opponent.

Set aside, for the moment, Trump’s claims that the meeting went nowhere (for which there’s abundant contrary evidence) and that he didn’t know about it. Consider simply that this means Trump sat down with Vladimir Putin last July at the G-20, and came up with a lie to avoid admitting the fact Pops just admitted, the lie that Junior took a meeting to learn about Russian adoptions.

That’s some pretty damning admission of a conspiracy right there.

Even as the President was admitting to entering into a conspiracy with the Russian President and his envoys, his less incompetent lawyer, Jay Sekulow, went on ABC news and said,

I had bad information at that time and made a mistake in my statement, I talked about that before, that happens when you have cases like this … in a situation like this, over time facts develop.

What he means by “cases like this” and “a situation like this” are “cases and situations where your client is a pathological liar.”

Sure, Sekulow didn’t use the word liar, but he made it clear that Trump lied to him at the start, but that it was only after time (and the realization they couldn’t pull off the lie) that the White House settled on some version of the truth (stopping short, of course, of admitting that Putin helped to craft the statement).

So, at almost the same time the President’s less incompetent lawyer was on TV admitting his client lies, the President was tweeting that he did not know about the June 9 meeting.

This conspiracy trial is going to be awesome.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Twenty Comey Questions Do Not Eliminate Trump’s Obstruction Exposure

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

By my count there are:

Comey obstruction: 17

Other obstruction: 13

Collusion: 14

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

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

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

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

Yesterday, Roger Stone Answered, then Backtracked, on a Question Mueller Has Already Posed to Trump

As I laid out last week, 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. 

Contrary to Trump’s squeals about the hack indictment yesterday, it’s utterly damning for him. It shows:

  • Russian hackers responded to his plea for more Hillary emails by targeting her office that same day
  • Trump’s lifelong political advisor, Roger Stone, was described directly communicating with a GRU-run persona
  • Stone’s own advisor on these matters, then Breitbart and current Sputnik journalist Lee Stranahan, asked for and obtained files from the same GRU-run persona
  • GRU stole Hillary’s analytics in September, the heart of the general election, and did … the indictment doesn’t say what GRU did with the data
  • The same GRU persona made available information helping some of Trump’s most vocal defenders in Congress, ones he has discussed pushback strategies with on Air Force One

Like my own testimony, because this investigation started in Pittsburgh, and only later got moved under Mueller sometime last fall (I know one key witness who was about to speak to prosecutors when I saw him in October), it minimally overlaps with Peter Strzok’s involvement in the case, if at all.

In this post, I want to look at the second bullet: Roger Stone.

Since Stone got described in an indictment of those who helped Trump win the election, he has  (as is his habit) provided conflicting explanations, first suggesting it wasn’t him, then suggesting it couldn’t be him because he wasn’t “a person who was in regular contact with senior members of the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump,” as the indictment described.

My contact with the campaign in 2016 was Donald Trump. I was not in regular contact with campaign officials.

Only, this morning (as Ryan Goodman noted), Stone has changed his tune, admitting that he did talk to Trump campaign officials and probably is the person described in the indictment who said all the things he said in his DMs to Guccifer 2.0.

I certainly acknowledge that I was in touch with Trump campaign officials.

Here’s why Stone’s changing story about whether he only spoke with Trump or in fact spoke with other campaign officials. Among the questions (as interpreted by Jay Sekulow) that Mueller has already posed to Trump is this one:

What did you know about communication between Roger Stone, his associates, Julian Assange or Wikileaks?

Mueller wants to know how much of Stone’s discussions with election operation participants Trump knew about. And Stone’s first instinct when seeing himself mentioned in an indictment of those participants was to say he only spoke to Trump.

I guess it’s clear why he’s backtracking from that.

By January, Trump Believed Manafort Could Flip on Him; Since Then, Trump Learned Mueller Wanted to Know about Manafort’s Requests to Russia for Help

I don’t pretend to know Paul Manafort’s psyche or the many competing pressures he is experiencing right now. So I will not pretend to know whether Manafort will seek a plea deal with Mueller, either now or after sitting in the pokey for some time, or after Judge Ellis rules on the last remaining challenges to Mueller’s authority, which is likely the only way short of pardon Manafort will avoid conviction and imprisonment on his corruption charges.

But I agree that the chances he will seek a plea deal increase now that he is in jail.

In the wake of his jailing yesterday, I’ve seen some discussion about whether he (and Michael Cohen, who is openly telegraphing he’d like to start plea negotiations) can flip. That is, smart people are raising real questions whether Paul Manafort has anything to offer Mueller in a plea deal.

I don’t pretend to know what Mueller’s view on that is, either, or whether it changed in the wake of Rick Gates pleading guilty back in February (though I did entertain the question last month).

But I do think this story, from January, deserves reconsideration. In it Howard Fineman laid out the strategy with respect to the Russian investigation Trump has been pursuing ever since, culminating in his claims over the last few days about the DOJ IG Report. He planned then and has set out since to discredit the FBI and the Mueller investigation rather than to fire anyone else.

Trump — who trusts no one, or at least no one for long — has now decided that he must have an alternative strategy that does not involve having Justice Department officials fire Mueller.

“I think he’s been convinced that firing Mueller would not only create a firestorm, it would play right into Mueller’s hands,” said another friend, “because it would give Mueller the moral high ground.”

Instead, as is now becoming plain, the Trump strategy is to discredit the investigation and the FBI without officially removing the leadership. Trump is even talking to friends about the possibility of asking Attorney General Jeff Sessions to consider prosecuting Mueller and his team.

We now know Fineman’s story came in the immediate wake of a letter to Mueller making fairly absurd arguments about why Trump couldn’t be interviewed and, more importantly, providing illogical explanations for some of the actions he had taken. The letter is important because whereas an earlier June 2017 letter imagined any investigation into Trump constituted “a preliminary inquiry into whether the President’s termination of former FBI Director James Comey constituted obstruction of justice,” by January Trump’s lawyers recognized Mueller needed to ask Trump about both “collusion” and obstruction of justice.

As I noted at the time Fineman’s piece came out, though, the far more interesting detail than Trump’s strategy to beat back a “collusion” investigation is that multiple Fineman sources (Chris Ruddy, who I think serves as Trump’s more rational brain, was a source for this story) report that Trump had considered whether Manafort would flip on him and had concluded that he would not.

He’s decided that a key witness in the Russia probe, Paul Manafort, isn’t going to “flip” and sell him out, friends and aides say.

We have since learned that Trump had John Dowd offer pardons to both Mike Flynn and Manafort and there’s reason to believe that Manafort remains in a joint defense agreement with Trump. So Trump’s belief that Manafort wouldn’t flip on him likely derived from tangible discussions and not just gut feel.

At the time he was telling people Manafort wouldn’t flip, Trump would have known that Mueller was interested in his involvement in “the statement of July 8, 2017, concerning Donald Trump, Jr.’s meeting in Trump Tower;” Trump’s lawyers believed that Mueller had seen evidence that would lead him to conclude that, he “dictated a short but accurate response to the New York Times article on behalf of his son.” Trump also worked hard (and has been assisted consistently by the press in doing so) to spin the question of his involvement in the June 9 meeting as being about “a private matter with the New York Times,” and not a question about his conversations with Vladimir Putin about the statement.

But nothing else that Mueller had communicated to Trump’s lawyers (if we can believe Jay Sekulow and John Dowd’s understanding of their January 8 conversation with Mueller’s team) indicated an interest in matters even remotely related to Paul Manafort.

Which is to say in January, Trump had reason to believe that Manafort might have information that incriminated him independent of anything Mueller’s team had told him.

Of course, since then, Trump has far more reason to fear Manafort seeking a cooperation agreement. That’s because Mueller has since told Trump’s team things that confirm they know things that implicate Trump’s interactions with Manafort directly — and therefore place a premium on any testimony he’d give. Piggy-backing off the questions (Jay Sekulow thinks) Mueller wants to ask Trump, here are a bunch of questions that Mueller likely would like Manafort to explain about Trump.

  • Whether, like Mike Flynn, Trump offered Manafort a pardon in exchange for his refusal to cooperate.
  • Whether Trump discussed the Trump Tower meeting, and the offer of dirt, with Manafort during their meeting on June 7, 2016, and whether that led Trump to promise, “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.”
  • Whether Trump had a role in how Don Jr’s emails about the June 9 meeting got released, including that he withheld Manafort’s side of that communication.
  • Whether Manafort discussed with Trump his strategy on how to entertain meetings with Putin without sending any public signs about it.
  • Whether, contrary to the account laid out in the HPSCI report, Manafort had a role in the defeat of an effort to make the RNC platform harsher on Ukraine, and if so, whether Manafort looped him in on it.
  • Whether Manafort, who had discussed campaign updates with the Russian oligarch at risk of sanctions to whom he owed millions, Oleg Deripaska, discussed ending sanctions on other Russian oligarchs.

Those are all damning enough. But the most damning question that we know Mueller wants to ask both Manafort and Trump is about the former’s outreach to Russia asking for help with the election. According to Sekulow, Mueller wants to know, “What knowledge did [Trump] have of any outreach by [his] campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign?”

Manafort knows the answer to that question.

Trump learned three months ago that Mueller had reason to believe Manafort had reached out to Russia for help and wanted to know if Manafort had shared details about that effort with Trump (or if Trump learned about it via some other means).

But at least two months before he formally learned that, Trump was telling his aides and friends that Manafort had information that could incriminate him.

What Got Added to Sekulow’s List: Further Obstruction (Including Consideration of Firing Mueller), and “Collusion”

As bmaz noted, the NYT just published the most batshit letter, written on January 29 by John Dowd and Jay Sekulow, trying to dodge testimony for Trump. Here’s what, according to Dowd and Sekulow, Mueller had told them on January 8 he wanted to ask about.

  1. Former National Security Advisor Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn — information regarding his contacts with Ambassador Kislyak about sanctions during the transition process;
  2. Lt. Gen. Flynn’s communications with Vice President Michael Pence regarding those contacts;
  3. Lt. Gen. Flynn’s interview with the FBI regarding the same;
  4. Then-Acting Attorney General Sally Yates coming to the White House to discuss same;
  5. The President’s meeting on February 14, 2017, with then-Director James Comey;
  6. Any other relevant information regarding former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn;
  7. The President’s awareness of and reaction to investigations by the FBI, the House and the Senate into possible collusion;
  8. The President’s reaction to Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recusal from the Russia investigation;
  9. The President’s reaction to Former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony on March 20, 2017, before the House Intelligence Committee;
  10. Information related to conversations with intelligence officials generally regarding ongoing investigations;
  11. Information regarding who the President had had conversations with concerning Mr. Comey’s performance;
  12. Whether or not Mr. Comey’s May 3, 2017, testimony lead to his termination;
  13. Information regarding communications with Ambassador Kislyak, Minister Lavrov, and Lester Holt;
  14. The President’s reaction to the appointment of Robert Mueller as Special Counsel;
  15. The President’s interaction with Attorney General Sessions as it relates to the appointment of Special Counsel; and,
  16. The statement of July 8, 2017, concerning Donald Trump, Jr.’s meeting in Trump Tower.

On March 5, Trump’s lawyers had a heated meeting with Mueller’s team, where Mueller floated a subpoena. In the wake of that meeting, Mueller provided a new list of topics of interest, which resulted in the Sekulow list leaked a month ago.

In the wake of the testy March 5 meeting, Mueller’s team agreed to provide the president’s lawyers with more specific information about the subjects that prosecutors wished to discuss with the president. With those details in hand, Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow compiled a list of 49 questions that the team believed the president would be asked,

Here’s that list, as presented by the NYT (there are fewer than the 49 described by the NYT because of how they combined questions). I’ve bolded the ones that appear to be entirely new in the later list.

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

The additions are instructive. The one new bit on Flynn involves Trump’s offer of a pardon.

The new bits on obstruction pertain to ongoing efforts to obstruct the investigation, including consideration of firing Mueller and ongoing efforts to discredit Jim Comey and Andrew McCabe.

But the most interesting are the 14 or so questions on Trump’s involvement in and awareness of election tampering. Given the timing of Rick Gates’ plea on February 23 and the subsequent focus on Roger Stone and Michael Cohen, I’m particularly interested in the addition of questions involving both of them (as well as the question about Manafort’s efforts to get Russia’s help).

Trump would have been far better off having an interview in January. Because the questions are getting harder — and Mueller’s interest in his involvement in “collusion” is getting more apparent.

The NY Times, Sekulow and Dowd’s Sophistry and Trump’s King Like Viewpoint

I have obligations that I seriously must run out the door for, but this need to be posted so that it can be dissected. The inestimable crew of Haberman, Schmidt et. al have posted a rather amazing letter 20 page letter issued on behalf of Trump by his attorneys at the time, Jay Sekulow and John Dowd. There is a minimum of mockery of the effort, which I will attribute to the contributions of Charlie Savage and Matt Apuzzo, who have the curious, too often for the Times, habit of actually appropriately reading legal things with an eye to what they really represent.

This “letter” is one of the most ridiculous pieces of legal sophistry I have ever seen in my life. It, without an iota of shame or self reflection, brazenly place Trump as not just a King, but a God like entity that far outstrips the importance of the rule of law or separation of powers the Founders intended.

So, I am leaving this here until either Marcy or I come back to it later. Read the damn thing. Weep for your country and the shreds of its Constitution before Trump and his lackeys burn what’s left.

The White House Hid Paul Manafort’s Enthusiasm for the June 9 Meeting When Leaking Don Jr’s Email

Among the most intriguing questions Robert Mueller wants to ask the President — as interpreted by Jay Sekulow — is a subset of the one asking about Trump’s involvement in the statement about the June 9 meeting. In addition to asking about that, Mueller specifically wants to know whether Trump was involved in releasing Don Jr’s emails with Rob Goldstone setting up the meeting. Here’s how I wrote up that question in my series.

JULY 7, 2017: WHAT INVOLVEMENT DID YOU HAVE IN THE COMMUNICATION STRATEGY, INCLUDING THE RELEASE OF DONALD TRUMP JR.’S EMAILS?

I’ve laid out that I believe the evolving June 9 story is a limited hangout orchestrated by Agalarov lawyer Scott Balber. The strategy would have begun when Jared Kushner wrestled with the need to disclose the meeting, both in response to congressional investigations and for his clearance. Manafort, too, turned over emails backing the event about a month before the story came out publicly. This post talks about the response the weekend of the G-20 in Hamburg, including Ivanka sitting in on a meeting so Trump could strategize, and Hope Hicks suggesting the emails would never come out.

As a reminder, on the same day Trump had a second hour long meeting with Putin, he dictated Putin’s propaganda line that the meeting pertained to adoptions. Importantly, he hid what I’ve suggested was the quo in the quid pro quo, sanctions relief. Mueller undoubtedly would like to know if Putin helped him come up with that message, which would be really damning.

Mueller also wants to know about the decision to leak Don Jr’s emails. Bannon suspects that a Jared aide leaked the emails (his then lawyer Jamie Gorelick would cut back her work with him shortly thereafter). But remember: in a DM, Assange proposed that he give Wikileaks the email.

There’s clearly far more back story to the leaked email we don’t know yet.

If Trump’s involvement here involves coordination with Russians (like the Agalrovs, to say nothing of Putin) or Assange, it would provide damning evidence not of obstruction, but of collusion, an effort to coordinate a story about a key meeting. Trump’s lawyers have always suggested questions about Trump’s role in this statement are improper, which is itself a telling indicator that they don’t understand (or want to spin) the risk of the original June 9 meeting.

I’ve now done a first pass at all the Senate Judiciary Committee testimony released a few weeks back relating to the June 9 meeting and will update my limited hangout post hopefully over the weekend. Even assuming all witnesses were fully forthcoming (they weren’t), the SJC materials provide abundant evidence that the White House worked with the other attendees of the June 9 meeting — including the Agalarov representatives, and through them, the Agalarov family itself — to minimize the damage of the meeting. And they did it over a longer period of time than previously known.

Of particular interest, however, is a detail revealed about the email that Don Jr released last summer. Effectively, the email thread setting up the meeting appears in two places in the exhibits introduced with Don Jr’s testimony. The thread appearing at PDF 26 to 29 is for all intents and purposes the set he released over two tweets last July 11. That bears Bates stamp DJTJR 485 to 487, which designates that it was the version that Don Jr himself turned over. There’s another version of that thread, though, bearing Bates stamp DJTFP 11895 to 11897, which appears at PDF 1 to 3 in Don Jr’s exhibits (and is used for all the other witnesses). The Bates stamp abbreviation DJTFP, Donald J Trump for President, indicates that that’s the version turned over by the campaign. The exhibit shows the same thread, only with this addition.

That is, after Don Jr informed Jared and Paul Manafort that the meeting would be at 4 instead of 3, Manafort responded, “See you then.”

That — and the fact that Don Jr chose to suppress it when publicly releasing his email — is not by itself damning. Nor is the fact that Don Jr tried to suggest that both Jared and Manafort had no idea what the meeting was about in his public statement.

I told Rob that Jared Kushner and our newly hired campaign manager Paul Manafort would likely also attend . I then asked Jared and Paul if they could attend, but told them none of the substance or who was going to be there since I did not know myself. Because we were in the same building Paul, Jared, and I would routinely invite one another to attend meetings at a moment’s notice.

When Democratic Chief Oversight Counsel Heather Sawyer asked Don Jr about which version he released publicly, Don Jr’s (actually, the Trump Organization’s) lawyer Alan Futerfas immediately butted in to offer an excuse about multiple custodians.

MR. FUTERFAS: Just so the record’s clear, there were multiple custodians to this e-mail. So if the campaign  produced an e-mail the campaign may have because different custodians were being searched. We have found that there was — I think there was a few words that are additional to Exhibit 10, including the “See you then,” and I think we also found earlier one there was another again, another similar kind of brief exchange, but I think that was a function of the different custodians that were participating in this little dialogue .

After which Sawyer first noted that that other change might be discussed off the record, then questioned the President’s son about how he chose which email to release. Futerfas interrupted again to note that counsel had been involved.

BY MS . SAWYER: Q. We can talk off the record about the other change, but with regard to the document that was produced to the committee, Exhibit 10, to the best of your knowledge, is that the full exchange?

A . Well, whichever one is the longer I believe is the full exchange. I don’t know, but I’m not aware of anything else.

Q. Has it been altered in any way?

A. No.

Q. Have any of the communications been removed by anyone?

A. Not that I’m aware of, no.

Q. You released a version of the e-mail by Twitter. How did you decide what version of the e-mail chain to release?

A. I don ‘t know. It’s the version I pulled up.

Q. And did you consult with anyone in deciding to do that?

MR . FUTERFAS: Aside from counsel?

MS. SAWYER : Yes, aside from counsel.

BY THE WITNESS: A. All those conversations counsel was involved.

Interjection: note that Don Jr doesn’t claim that only counsel was involved? Continuing …

Q. Okay. And did you seek their advice?

A. Counsel?

Q. Yes.

A. Yes.

Q. And who was representing you?

A. The two gentlemen here, Alan Garten and Alan Futerfas.

Q. And they were representing you personally?

A. Yes, I believe so.

MR. FUTERFAS: Yes .

BY MS . SAWYER: Q. And they were involved in all the conversations you had about release of that e-mail?

A. Yes, they were.

In other words, Don Jr and Futerfas suggested — Hope Hicks’ publicly reported central role as a go-between notwithstanding — that any conversations he had about which version of the email to release were protected by Attorney-Client privilege.

Don Jr’s decision, taken on the advice of his counsel, to withhold the Manafort email is why I find it very interesting that Don Jr twice testified that he only discussed the meeting with Jared and Manafort via email, and repeatedly denied talking to Manafort directly about it.

Q. You got an e-mail with a title “Russia- Clinton, private and confidential,” you didn’t mention that to Paul Manafort?

A . Other that I forwarded the e-mail to him to invite them to the meet ing, I didn’t discuss it with him to my recollection, no.

Q. And you said you forwarded it. That was the only time you recall discussing it with him?

A . That’s the only time I recall , yes.

Q. And Exhibit 1 which you reviewed with my colleagues indicates that you forwarded it on June 8, 201 6 . At that point there’s just a reference to “Meeting got moved to 4:00 tomorrow at my office,” Mr . Manafort responds ” See you then.” Had you not discussed the meeting with him before that time?

A. I don ‘t recall discussing it with him at that time, but I may have.

Q. How would he have known what this meeting was about i f you had not discussed it with him?

A. I don ‘t know.

Q. Did he ever ask you about it?

A. Not that I recall.

[snip]

Q. Did you tell Mr . Manafort [about the ultra-sensitive email]?

A. As I said, I don’t recall telling him anything about it other than the exchange as it relates to setting up the meeting.

After having denied talking to Kushner and Manafort about the meeting (and forgetting another call from Emin Agalarov), Don Jr tried to play dumb about a phone call he had with Manafort on June 7, between the time he had that forgotten call with Agalarov and the time Rob Goldstone wrote to schedule the meeting at 4:20PM.

Q. The next unblocked — unredacted call is a call at 4:07 p.m., it says “Arlington , VA” and has a 703 number. You indicated to my colleagues you didn’t recall who that was. Is that the case?

A. I don’t know who it is now, no, I don’t.

Q. Would you be surprised if I told you that a Google search shows that’s Paul Manafort’s number?

A. I don’t know. It may be.

Q. You don’t recall speaking with him on June 7th?

A. No, I don’t recall that.

Q. You don’t recall speaking to him that day about this meeting?

A. No, I don’t.

Q. Or the e-mail from Mr. Goldstone ?

A. No. I spoke to Paul quite often.

Nor did Don Jr remember calls he had with Jared and Manafort on June 5, the day before he spoke with Emin about the meeting by phone.

Q. Then just to take you back a page on this same exhibit to [Bates stamp] 854, just go back one page.

A. Okay.

Q. You’ll see “Sunday, 6/5” at the bottom of that page.

A. Yes.

Q. And as I indicated to you earlier, you got the e-mail from Mr. Goldstone on a Friday.

On Sunday there are two calls that have been unredacted. One’s at 4:28 to Arlington, Virginia, same number, Mr. Manafort’s number. Do you recall speaking to him on that Sunday?

A. I don’t, no.

Q. Do you know if you spoke to him possibly on that Sunday about Mr. Goldstone’s e-mail or that meeting?

A. No. I don’t recall having those conversations.

Q. About 15 minutes later there’s another call to New York, New York, 917. Do you know whose number that is?

A . I could probably find out, but I don’t know off the top of my head.

Q. If I told you that a search of — a Google search of that indicates that it’s Mr. Kushner’s number, would that surprise you?

A . No.

Q. And do you recall speaking with him on that Sunday?

A. No, I don’t.

As a reminder, Mueller’s team raided Paul Manafort’s house between the time he testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee and the day he was supposed to testify before SJC; the warrant for that raid covered materials about the June 9 meeting. The raid gave Manafort an excuse not to answer questions about whether he remembers the substance of those calls. Remember, too, that Manafort is trying to suppress the seizure of devices — like iPods — that can be used to record meetings.

And Robert Mueller wants to know whether the President was involved in the decision to hide Paul Manafort’s enthusiasm for this meeting.