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Ann Donaldson’s Code Makes Richard Burr’s Tip-Off to the White House Far More Damning

The House Judiciary Committee released Ann Donaldson’s responses to their questions yesterday. In general, she was directed not to answer even more questions than Hope Hicks was. But her answers are interesting on several counts.

First, she offers a range of answers that sometimes confirm she was part of a discussion (and that it happened in Don McGahn’s office or via telephone), sometimes suggest she was part of such a conversation but often claims she does not have an independent memory of whether she was part of it, and sometimes make clear that she was not present. Generally, her answers suggest she learned of most of the events covered by the Mueller Report either by listening in on a phone call or by acting as a sounding board for Don McGahn. She states, “I was in meetings directly with President Trump fewer than ten times” (though she was clearly on McGahn’s side of phone calls more times than that).

But Donaldson’s answers are also interesting for the way in which she applies a series of pat answers to certain questions. Here’s the “code” she uses to answer the questions:

The White House has directed that I not provide any further answer to this question because of the constitutionally-based Executive Branch confidentiality interests that are implicated. These are obviously questions for which a truthful answer would be especially damning to the President.

I have no reason to question the accuracy of the Special Counsel’s Office’s description of my handwritten notes. Donaldson answers this way for many questions about her notes, effectively confirming that the Mueller Report’s citations of her notes are accurate.

Any characterization of my notes set forth in the Report is that of the Special Counsel’s Office and may be derived, in part, from sources other than my notes. One time, she adds this to a description of something in her notes, in response to this question:

Page 72 of the Report recount a meeting that occurred the morning of May 10, 2017 at the White House involving former acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe and the President in which the President said he “received ‘hundreds’ of messages from FBI employees indicating their support for terminating Comey” and “asked McCabe who he had voted for in the 2016 Presidential election.” Footnote 477 notes that the account of the meeting is consistent with your notes at Bates Number SC_AD_00347.

She also answers similarly — suggesting things attributed to her in the Mueller Report may involve her relaying something she learned or other Mueller sources — in response to several questions about her interviews with Mueller.

I affirm the accuracy of the voluntary statements I made when being interviewed by the Special Counsel’s Office. Eight times, she affirms the accuracy of something the report says she said. Those are:

  1. Footnote 279 on page 49 of the Mueller Report references an entry in your notes (SC_AD_00123) stating, “just in the middle of another Russia Fiasco.” The footnote cites back to a discussion on March 2, 2017 between the President and Mr. McGahn, during which “McGahn understood the President to be concerned that a recusal would make Sessions look guilty for omitting details in his confirmation hearing; leave the President unprotected from an investigation that could hobble the presidency and derail his policy objectives; and detract from favorable press coverage of a Presidential Address to Congress the President had delivered earlier in the week.” (15)
  2. Page 51-52 of the Report states that on March 5, 2017, President Trump “told advisors he wanted to call the Acting Attorney General [Dana Boente] to find out whether the White House or the President was being investigated.” The accompanying citation (footnote 306) cites to an entry in your notes, Bates Number SC_AD_000168, stating “POTUS wants to call Dana/Is investigation/No/We know something on Flynn/GSA got contacted by FBI/There’s something hot.” (28)
  3. Page 54 of the Report indicates that on March 21, 2017 “[t]he President called McGahn repeatedly that day to ask him to intervene with the Department of Justice, and, according to the notes, the President was ‘getting hotter and hotter, get rid?’” (40)
  4. Footnote 385 of Page 62 of the Report references an entry in your notes at SC_AD_00265 that states “P called Comey – Day we told him not to? ‘You are not under investigation’ NK/China/Sapping Credibility.” (46)
  5. Page 68 of the Report states, “Notes taken by Donaldson on May 9 reflected the view of the White House Counsel’s Office that the President’s original termination letter should ‘[n]ot [see the] light of day’ and that it would be better to offer “[n]o other rationales” for the firing than what was in Rosenstein’s and Sessions’ memoranda.” The accompanying citation (footnote 442) cites your notes, Bates Number SC_AD_00342. (51)
  6. The Report, on pages 81 and 82 citing to your notes at Bates Number SC_AD_00361, states (footnote 541) that Mr. McGahn “advised that the President could discuss the issue [of whether Mr. Mueller had conflicts of interest] with his personal attorney but it would “‘look like still trying to meddle in [the] investigation’ and ‘knocking out Mueller’ would be ‘[a]nother fact used to claim obst[ruction] of justice.’” (63)
  7. Page 82 of the Report states that Mr. McGahn also “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.’” The accompanying citation (footnote 542) refers to your notes, SC_AD_00361. (64)
  8. Page 113 of the Report states that on January 25, 2018, the New York Times reported that in June 2017, the President had ordered Mr. McGahn to have the Department of Justice fire the Special Counsel. Page 114 of the Report states that on January 26, 2018, the President’s personal counsel called Mr. McGahn’s personal attorney and said that the President wanted Mr. McGahn to put out a statement denying that he had been asked to fire the Special Counsel and that he had threatened to quit in protest. (77)

I have no reason to question the accuracy of the Special Counsel’s Office’s description of my voluntary statements to it, although I do not have access to its records of my statements. For a number of other questions, however, she answers (as she does for many questions about her notes) that she has no reason to question the accuracy of what the report writes. It’s unclear what the difference is (though the answers she affirms generally make McGahn look smart as compared to Trump.)

Given that code, I’m particularly interested in her responses to question 30, which is about Richard Burr informing the White House about the targets of the FBI investigation, because it suggests Trump may have learned of the list.

In response to the first question on it, Donaldson provides most of her regular coded answers. She can’t speak to the accuracy of Jim Comey’s briefing of the Gang of Eight, she doesn’t dispute Mueller’s characterization of her notes and comments, but some of what is included may be from other people.

Page 52 of the Report indicates that the week after Mr. Comey briefed congressional leaders “about the FBI’s investigation of Russian interference, including the identification of the principal U.S. subjects of the investigation” on March 9, 2017, one of the leaders briefed, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Senator Richard Burr, was in contact with the White House Counsel’s office, which “appears to have received information about the status of the FBI investigation.” You are quoted in Footnote 309 as saying that Senator Burr identified “4-5 targets.”

a. Is this statement accurate?

RESPONSE: I was not present for Mr. Comey’s briefing to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and therefore I cannot confirm whether the description of his briefing to congressional leaders is accurate.

I have no reason to question the accuracy of the Special Counsel’s Office’s quotation of “4-5 targets” from my notes.

I have no reason to question the accuracy of the Special Counsel’s Office’s description of the voluntary statements I made to it, although I do not have access to its records of my statements.

Any characterization of my voluntary statements set forth in the Report is that of the Special Counsel’s Office and may be derived, in part, from sources other than my statements.

But then, to that same question, she endorses the characterization relayed in the Mueller Report more strongly than she does elsewhere. She didn’t take this to be Burr tipping off the White House — though she specifies that that was her belief “at the time,” suggesting she now realizes that’s not true.

As stated by the Special Counsel’s Office in the Report, at the time, I “believed these were targets of [the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence].”

When asked who initiated this contact, she provides the answer the White House has instructed her to give regarding damaging information pertaining to the President.

Who initiated the contact between the White House Counsel’s office and Senator Burr?

RESPONSE: The White House has directed that I not respond to this question because of the constitutionally-based Executive Branch confidentiality interests that are implicated.

In the course of explaining that this Burr tipoff happened via phone, she pushes back on the characterization that this was a formal briefing, which is the one time she disputes a characterization made by Mueller.

Where did the March 16, 2017 briefing from Senator Burr take place?

RESPONSE: To the extent this question refers to contact between Senator Burr and the Office of the White House Counsel on or about March 16, 2017 (I would not characterize this contact as a formal “briefing”), that conversation took place by telephone.

When asked why Burr tipped off the White House, Donaldson blames the decision on Burr, suggesting that it was done on his initiative (even in spite of her earlier answer refusing to answer just that question).

Why did Senator Burr provide this briefing to the White House Counsel’s office about the investigation into Russian election interference?

RESPONSE: I do not know. I cannot speak to Senator Burr’s state of mind.

Then Donaldson reaffirms that the conversation happened via a call to McGahn, which she was present for (note, I’m not really sure by what she means when she says she was not a participant on calls, but I wonder both whether it was via speaker phone and whether the other party was told she was listening).

Were you present for Senator Burr’s March 16, 2017 briefing to the White House Counsel’s office?

RESPONSE: To the extent this question refers to a telephone call between Senator Burr and the Office of the White House Counsel on or about March 16, 2017, I was in Mr. McGahn’s office during, but not a participant on, the telephone call.

Here’s where it gets interesting. In a series of three more questions about the call — including whether the President learned about it — Donaldson provides the answer the White House made her give regarding things that were damning to the President.

Who else was present?

RESPONSE: The White House has directed that I not respond to this question because of the constitutionally-based Executive Branch confidentiality interests that are implicated.

Describe the substance of Senator Burr’s March 16, 2017 briefing to the White House Counsel’s office.

RESPONSE: The White House has directed that I not respond to this question because of the constitutionally-based Executive Branch confidentiality interests that are implicated.

Were the contents of Senator Burr’s briefing shared with the President? If so, describe who shared the contents of the meeting and if you were present for those discussions.

RESPONSE: The White House has directed that I not respond to this question because of the constitutionally-based Executive Branch confidentiality interests that are implicated.

If no one else was present, she could have just answered that. And unless someone else was present, she should be able to answer about the substance of the question. Ditto the question about passing this information on to Trump: if there were a non-damning answer, given her other practice, she could answer it.

If McGahn passed on the list of people being investigated to Trump, it would make the conversation between Comey and Trump that took place on March 30, two weeks later, more significant. Trump starts by raising Comey’s public testimony on March 20, where he confirmed the investigation. But then Comey raises the Gang of Eight briefing.

After Comey raises the Gang of Eight briefing, Trump requests that Comey clear him publicly. But then Trump makes the comment about wanting to know if “some satellite” to his campaign did something, he would want that to be public. Remember, here’s what Burr told McGahn, with Donaldson present:

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 reference to Roger Stone] “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_00198 (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 Corney’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).

If McGahn passed on this information, Trump would have believed that the Mike Flynn investigation would soon be over, and that Paul Manafort was not being investigated for behavior related to his campaign. Trump never gave a shit about George Papadopoulos and Carter Page.

But Roger Stone was his life-long rat-fucker. And during the campaign, Stone spoke repeatedly with Trump to inform him about what he had learned of WikiLeaks’ plans.

It’s one thing if this was a comment about Sergei Millian, as Comey thought it was. But if Trump knew at this point that Roger Stone was under investigation, that would be a very different thing.

Especially because March 2017 is when Stone ratcheted up his efforts to cover up his discussions with WikiLeaks.

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 Claimed To Be Angry Flynn Didn’t Make Good on Putin’s January 21 Requested Phone Call

As I noted, newly unsealed parts of Mike Flynn’s January 24, 2017 302 make it clear that he explained away his calls with Sergey Kislyak on December 29, 2016, in part, by claiming that Kislyak asked Flynn to set up a videoconference between Trump and Putin on January 21, 2017, the day after Trump would be inaugurated.

During the call, KISLYAK asked FLYNN to set-up a VTC between President-elect TRUMP and Russian President PUTIN on January 21st.

[snip]

The interviewing agents asked FLYNN if he recalled any []ation with KISLYAK surrounding the expulsion of Russian diplomats or closing of Russian properties in response to Russian hacking activities surrounding the election. FLYNN stated that he did not. FLYNN reiterated his conversation was about the PUTIN/TRUMP VTC…

That’s damning enough: Putin wanted to capitalize on his investment right away.

But it’s still more damning given a detail from the Comey memos. During the January 27, 2017 dinner that Trump invited Comey to that same day to demand loyalty, Trump suggested he believed Flynn was unreliable. The basis for that unreliability is that Flynn didn’t tell Trump that Putin — and not Theresa May — was the first foreign leader to give him a congratulatory call after the inauguration.

He then went on to explain that he has serious reservations about Mike Flynn’s judgement and illustrated with a story from that day in which the President apparently discovered during his toast to Teresa May that [Putin] had called four days ago. Apparently, as the President was toasting PM May, he was explaining that she had been the first to call him after his inauguration and Flynn interrupted to say that [Putin] had called (first, apparently). It was then that the President learned of [Putin’s call] and he confronted Flynn about it (not clear whether that was in the moment or after the lunch with PM May). Flynn said the return call was scheduled for Saturday, which prompted a heated reply from the President that six days was not an appropriate period of time to return a call from the [President] of a country like [Russia]. This isn’t [redacted] we are talking about.”) He said that if he called [redacted] and didn’t get a return call for six days he would be very upset. In telling the story, the President pointed his fingers at his head and said “the guy has serious judgment issues.”

This was, remember, the day that Don McGahn and Sally Yates had their second conversation about the FBI investigation into Flynn for lying about his December 29, 2016 conversation with Kislyak. I’ve had mixed opinions about this passage, originally thinking it was an attempt to distance himself from Flynn, but later noting that it fit the (largely chronologically undated) observations by Trump aides that Trump really was fed up by Flynn by the time he was forced to resign.

Here’s the thing, though. At least according to the White House record of Trump’s toast to May, the claim is a lie. That’s because Trump never claimed that May was the first to call Trump after his inauguration. Rather, he applauded her because she was the first to visit Trump after inauguration.

Thank you very much. I am honored to have Prime Minister Theresa May here for our first official visit from a foreign leader. This is our first visit, so — great honor.

It is true that May called Trump sometime on January 21.

It’s also true that in the first question after their comments on January 27, Trump was asked about the phone call with Putin the following day (and he feigned uncertainty whether it would happen).

STEVE HOLLAND, REUTERS: Thank you. You’re going to be speaking tomorrow with the Russian president. What message would you like to convey to him? How close are you to lifting some of the sanctions imposed on Russia over its Ukraine incursion? What would you expect in return?

And Prime Minister May, do you foresee any changes in British attitudes towards sanctions on Russia?

TRUMP: Well, I hear a call was set up, Steve, and we’ll see what happens. As far as the sanctions, very early to be talking about that. But we look to have a great relationship with all countries, ideally. That won’t necessarily happen, unfortunately probably won’t happen with many countries.

But if we can have, as we do with Prime Minister May and the relationship that we’ve all developed and even in the short relationship that we just developed just by being with each other and have lunch and — we’ve really had some very interesting talks and very productive talks. But if we can have a great relationship with Russia and with China and with all countries, I’m all for that. That would be a tremendous asset.

If nothing else, it means Trump knew of the call before lunch, which was scheduled after the press conference, so could not have been surprised to learn of call timing by then.

But now consider the comment after considering that Trump had at least one conversation with Don McGahn about the substance of Flynn’s lies before this meeting, and — given McGahn’s request to have the underlying materials — may have asked to know specifically what Flynn said.

On January 26, 2017, Acting Attorney General Sally Yates contacted White House Counsel Donald McGahn and informed him that she needed to discuss a sensitive matter with him in person. 142 Later that day, Yates and Mary McCord, a senior national security official at the Department of Justice, met at the White House with McGahn and White House Counsel’s Office attorney James Burnham. 143 Yates said that the public statements made by the Vice President denying that Flynn and Kislyak discussed sanctions were not true and put Flynn in a potentially compromised position because the Russians would know he had lied. 144 Yates disclosed that Flynn had been interviewed by the FBI. 145 She declined to answer a specific question about how Flynn had performed during that interview, 146 but she indicated that Flynn’s statements to the FBI were similar to the statements he had made to Pence and Spicer denying that he had discussed sanctions.147 McGahn came away from the meeting with the impression that the FBI had not pinned Flynn down in lies, 148 but he asked John Eisenberg, who served as legal advisor to the National Security Council, to examine potential legal issues raised by Flynn’s FBI interview and his contacts with Kislyak. 149

That afternoon, McGahn notified the President that Yates had come to the White House to discuss concerns about Flynn.150 McGahn described what Yates had told him, and the President asked him to repeat it, so he did. 151 McGahn recalled that when he described the FBI interview of Flynn, he said that Flynn did not disclose having discussed sanctions with Kislyak, but that there may not have been a clear violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001. 152 The President asked about Section 1001, and McGahn explained the law to him, and also explained the Logan Act. 153 The President instructed McGahn to work with Priebus and Bannon to look into the matter further and directed that they not discuss it with any other officials. 154 Priebus recalled that the President was angry with Flynn in light of what Yates had told the White House and said, “not again, this guy, this stuff.” I 55

[snip]

The next day, January 27, 2017, McGahn and Eisenberg discussed the results of Eisenberg’s initial legal research into Flynn’s conduct, and specifically whether Flynn may have violated the Espionage Act, the Logan Act, or 18 U.S.C. § 1001. 160 Based on his preliminary research, Eisenberg informed McGahn that there was a possibility that Flynn had violated 18 U.S.C. § 1001 and the Logan Act. 16 1 Eisenberg noted that the United States had never successfully prosecuted an individual under the Logan Act and that Flynn could have possible defenses, and told McGahn that he believed it was unlikely that a prosecutor would pursue a Logan Act charge under the circumstances. 162

That same morning, McGahn asked Yates to return to the White House to discuss Flynn again. I63 In that second meeting, McGahn expressed doubts that the Department of Justice would bring a Logan Act prosecution against Flynn, but stated that the White House did not want to take action that would interfere with an ongoing FBI investigation of Flynn. 164 Yates responded that Department ofJustice had notified the White House so that it could take action in response to the infonnation provided.165 McGahn ended the meeting by asking Yates for access to the underlying information the Department of Justice possessed pertaining to Flynn’s discussions with Kislyak. 166

In other words, by the time Trump claimed to the FBI Director that he didn’t know Putin called him on January 21, he already knew that the FBI had interviewed Flynn about a conversation where (he claimed) Kislyak had asked to set up a call on January 21, and he may have had more specificity about whether or not the request for a January 21 call came up.

We can’t tell, given the kind of liars we’re dealing with, what is true. These are some of the possibilities:

  • Kislyak never asked for a January 21 meeting but Flynn used the actual call on January 21 as an excuse
  • In response to Kislyak’s request, Flynn did set up the meeting, but Trump was trying to claim he didn’t listen in that day
  • Kislyak asked for a January 21 meeting and Putin did call, but Flynn somehow intercepted the call and kept it a secret from the President

Whichever it is, the centrality of setting up a January 21 call with Putin — as opposed to the January 28 call we already knew about — really raises the import of Trump’s claimed reason to be pissed at Flynn in a meeting where he was already thinking about how to end an investigation into his ties with Russia.

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. 

Bill Barr’s Bullshit Claim that Trump Obstructed the Investigation Out of Frustration and Anger

I’ve grown increasingly bothered by the justification William Barr made for Trump’s obstruction of the Russian investigation. Basically, the Attorney General of the United States argued that because the President was “frustrated and angered” about the investigation into the Russian ties he kept lying about, his obstruction was not corrupt.

In assessing the President’s actions discussed in the report, it is important to bear in mind the context.  President Trump faced an unprecedented situation.  As he entered into office, and sought to perform his responsibilities as President, [1] federal agents and prosecutors were scrutinizing his conduct before and after taking office, and the conduct of some of his associates.  At the same time, there was relentless speculation in the news media about the President’s personal culpability.  Yet, as he said from the beginning, [2] there was in fact no collusion.  And as the Special Counsel’s report acknowledges, there is substantial evidence to show that the President was frustrated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, [3] propelled by his political opponents, and [4] fueled by illegal leaks.  Nonetheless, [5] the White House fully cooperated with the Special Counsel’s investigation, providing unfettered access to campaign and White House documents, [6] directing senior aides to testify freely, and asserting no privilege claims.  And at the same time, [7] the President took no act that in fact deprived the Special Counsel of the documents and witnesses necessary to complete his investigation. Apart from whether the acts were obstructive, this evidence of non-corrupt motives weighs heavily against any allegation that the President had a corrupt intent to obstruct the investigation.

There are, of course, a slew of errors in this passage, which I address by number.

  1. Federal Agents and prosecutors weren’t investigating the President until after he had committed several acts of obstruction
  2. The report doesn’t address collusion, it addresses a criminal conspiracy; Roger Stone’s actions, done at the behest of Trump, probably reach any measure for “collusion”
  3. There’s no evidence that the Steele dossier drove the FBI investigation — and certainly not the Mueller investigation that Trump obstructed
  4. The only leak that had a substantial effect on this investigation was the one about Flynn being picked on Sergei Kislyak’s FISA intercept, but it may not have been illegal (if John Brennan authorized the leak, for example, it would have been done with the consent of an original classification authority), and Flynn’s actions would have been included as part of the already-predicated counterintelligence investigation into him in any case
  5. Trump personally refused to cooperate with the investigation; his responses to Mueller’s questions are outright contemptuous
  6. Trump knew several of his aides were lying and encouraged that
  7. Trump was probably involved in withholding key emails about the Moscow Trump Tower project and probably had a role in attempts to withhold Transition emails possessed by GSA

But the thing that has really begun to irk me is the Attorney General’s claim that, “as the Special Counsel’s report acknowledges, there is substantial evidence to show that the President was frustrated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency,” which is the core of Barr’s excuse for the President’s obstructive acts: the President was frustrated and so it’s cool that he totally undermined rule of law.

Barr is largely wrong about what the report says about the President’s anger and frustration, though, and to the extent he’s not, he’s basically arguing it’s cool for the President to be angry that the system worked as it should.

To show how much he exaggerates that, I reviewed below what the Mueller Report says about the President’s:

  • Frustrations
  • Anger
  • Motivations for obstructing the investigation

There are several categories of references that are on-point to Trump’s feelings about the investigation. In the two most persistent cases, Trump was angry that people engaged in ethical behavior. He was angry and frustrated that Jeff Sessions followed ethics guidelines and recused from the investigation.  He was angry that Comey adhered to DOJ guidelines (both general and specific with respect to this investigation) about confirming or denying targets of an investigation (though the report also describes Trump denying he was angry). So one category of evidence that shows Trump was angry or frustrated — which the Attorney General claims justifies his obstruction — involves Trump reacting emotionally because people did the ethically correct thing.

In one case, he was angry that his administration got caught doing something improper. Trump was angry that Mike Flynn’s totally inappropriate secret efforts to undermine Obama’s policy towards Russia got exposed. He also was angry at Flynn for other reasons, though. Yes, Trump may be right to be angry if this was illegally leaked (something that hasn’t yet been proven), but ultimately he’s pissed that he got caught doing something wrong.

In the sections that deal with Trump’s motives for obstructive acts, the report describes what might be described as frustration about two things. First, that the focus on Russia (both the investigation and the press coverage of it) delegitimized his victory. If Barr thinks this justifies obstruction of justice, it suggests that he thinks Trump is entitled — after having cheered Russia’s hacks of his opponent — not to have it reflect on his own victory. Effectively, the Attorney General seems to think Trump should be able to benefit from help from a foreign adversary — with his encouragement!! — and then have no one mention that, which is an alarming prospect.

The report also describes how Trump was frustrated that he was stymied in foreign policy, most especially in his desire to work with Russia, by the focus on the Russian investigation. This is particularly interesting, as some of the policies Trump was thwarted in pursuing — reversing sanctions on Russia — might have been proof of a quid pro quo (remember, Trump refused to answer all questions about sanctions, even one covering the election period). Given the report’s silence on the most alarming interactions with Trump (such as Putin’s involvement in writing the June 9 statement), there could be more to Trump’s frustrations, which any Attorney General pretending to care about American national security should attend to. In any case, while the Constitution permits the President great leeway to set the country’s foreign policy, it does expect the President will be subject to political pressure on those decisions. That Trump is frustrated that the manner in which he won — plus his encouragement of it and his subsequent lies about it — has constrained his ability to work with Russia is not something that should justify obstruction of justice.

Some of the other descriptions of Trump’s response to the investigation describe him making false claims — denying that Russia did the hack, preferred him, and also denying he had business with Russia. That is, Trump was not denying the allegations in the dossier, but was denying other things that were, in fact, true. That’s also not a basis to obstruct an investigation, that it will expose your lies.

For most of the instances after Trump himself became the subject of the investigation, the Mueller Report concludes Trump was motivated out of a desire to shield his own conduct — that is, pure corrupt obstruction.

In short, even to the extent that the Mueller Report confirms Barr’s claim that Trump was motivated out of frustration, in the most justifiable case (that Trump was prevented from working closely with Russia), Barr is excusing obstruction of justice because Trump got political pressure he deserved for his actions. But in most cases, Trump was frustrated by the ethical actions of others, that he got caught doing something wrong, that winning while cheering the interference of a hostile power aiming to help you undermines your legitimacy. That any lawyer would think such things — which basically amount to a democracy holding someone accountable — would justify obstruction of justice is downright insane.

Nevertheless, that’s where Attorney General Barr has taken us.


Frustration

Four of six references to frustration in the report describe Trump directly.

In the context of reaching out to WikiLeaks, one described Trump’s frustration that Hillary’s deleted emails had not been found.

Gates recalled candidate Trump being generally frustrated that the Clinton emails had not been found.

Chris Christie hypothetically describes Trump as being “frustrated” with the investigation.

The President asked Christie what he meant, and Christie told the President not to talk about the investigation even if he was frustrated at times.222

Trump was frustrated with Comey before his March 20 testimony, which got worse afterwards.

According to McGahn and Donaldson, the President had expressed frustration with Comey before his March 20 testimony, and the testimony made matters worse.318

Trump was frustrated that the Russian investigation made relations with Russia difficult.

The President expressed frustration with the Russia investigation, saying that it made relations with the Russians difficult.348 The President told Rogers “the thing with the Russians [wa]s messing up” his ability to get things done with Russia.349

Anger

The following are the nine of ten references to “angry” and all eleven references to “anger” in the Report involve Trump directly.

A double instance describes Trump being angry — but he was angry that the WaPo had correctly reported that Flynn undermined Obama’s sanctions on Russia. Trump is described another time as being angry that Flynn’s actions were exposed.

On January 12, 2017, a Washington Post columnist reported that Flynn and Kislyak communicated on the day the Obama Administration announced the Russia sanctions. 122 The column questioned whether Flynn had said something to “undercut the U.S. sanctions” and whether Flynn’s communications had violated the letter or spirit of the Logan Act. 123

President-Elect Trump called Priebus after the story was published and expressed anger about it. 124 Priebus recalled that the President-Elect asked, “What the hell is this all about?”125 Priebus called Flynn and told him that the President-Elect was angry about the reporting on Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak. 126 Flynn recalled that he felt a lot of pressure because Priebus had spoken to the “boss” and said Flynn needed to “kill the story.” 127

The President paid careful attention to negative coverage of Flynn and reacted with annoyance and anger when the story broke disclosing that Flynn had discussed sanctions with Kislyak.

Trump was angry with Flynn that his behavior with Sergey Kislyak was causing him trouble again.

The President instructed McGahn to work with Priebus and Bannon to look into the matter further and directed that they not discuss it with any other officials. 154 Priebus recalled that the President was angry with Flynn in light of what Yates had told the White House and said, “not again, this guy, this stuff.” 155

Trump was also angry at Flynn for other things, including his stupid spawn.

Hicks said that the President thought Flynn had bad judgment and was angered by tweets sent by Flynn and his son, and she described Flynn as “being on thin ice” by early February 2017.

The Report describes Trump being angry at Jeff Sessions four times for following DOJ guidelines on recusal.

Hicks recalled that after Sessions recused, the President was angry and scolded Sessions in her presence, but she could not remember exactly when that conversation occurred.

The President became angry and lambasted the Attorney General for his decision to recuse from the investigation, stating, “How could you let this happen, Jeff?”505

And after Sessions announced his recusal on March 2, the President expressed anger at the decision and told advisors that he should have an Attorney General who would protect him. That weekend, the President took Sessions aside at an event and urged him to “unrecuse.”

The President became very upset and directed his anger at Sessions.393 According to notes written by Hunt, the President said, “This is terrible Jeff. It’s all because you recused.

Trump was also angry at McGahn because Sessions recused.

The President expressed anger at McGahn about the recusal and brought up Roy Cohn, stating that he wished Cohn was his attorney.294

One instance reports Trump denying that he fired Comey because he was angry about the Russian investigation.

The next day, the President acknowledged in a television interview that he was going to fire Comey regardless of the Department of Justice’s recommendation and that when he “decided to just do it,” he was thinking that “this thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.” In response to a question about whether he was angry with Comey about the Russia investigation, the President said, “As far as I’m concerned, I want that thing to be absolutely done properly,” adding that firing Comey “might even lengthen out the investigation.”

But two other references describes Trump being angry that Comey complied with DOJ guidelines and instructions and did not specifically say Trump was not under investigation.

After Comey publicly confirmed the existence of the FBT’s Russia investigation on March 20, 2017, the President was “beside himself’ and expressed anger that Comey did not issue a statement correcting any misperception that the President himself was under investigation.

But during his May 3 testimony, Comey refused to answer questions about whether the President was being investigated. Comey’s refusal angered the President, who criticized Sessions for leaving him isolated and exposed, saying “You left me on an island.

Trump claimed others were angry that Hillary was not being investigated.

On October 29, 2017, the President tweeted that there was “ANGER & UNITY” over a “lack of investigation” of Clinton and “the Comey fix,” and concluded: “DO SOMETHTNG!”756

Trump claimed others were angry because Mike Flynn was prosecuted for lying to the FBI and DOJ.

On December 15, 2017, the President responded to a press inquiry about whether he was considering a pardon for Flynn by saying, “I don’t want to talk about pardons for Michael Flynn yet. We’ll see what happens. Let’s see. I can say this: When you look at what’s gone on with the FBI and with the Justice Department, people are very, very angry.”845

Trump twice accused Mueller’s prosecutors of being angry (and being Democrats).

On July 31, 2018, Manafort’s criminal trial began in the Eastern District of Virginia, generating substantial news coverage.862 The next day, the President tweeted, “This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further. Bob Mueller is totally conflicted, and his 17 Angry Democrats that are doing his dirty work are a disgrace to USA!”86

“While the disgusting Fake News is doing everything within their power not to report it that way, at least 3 major players are intimating that the Angry Mueller Gang of Dems is viciously telling witnesses to lie about facts & they will get relief. This is our Joseph McCarthy Era!” @rea!DonaldTrump 11/28/ 18 (8:39 a.m. ET) Tweet.

Motivations

As far as motive, the report has several discussions of Trump’s motives after every act of obstruction it analyzes, but it also suggests that those motives are different before and after he fired Comey and made himself a focus of the investigation.

Although the series of events we investigated involved discrete acts, the overall pattern of the President’s conduct towards the investigations can shed light on the nature of the President’s acts and the inferences that can be drawn about his intent. In particular, the actions we investigated can be divided into two phases, reflecting a possible shift in the President’s motives. The first phase covered the period from the President’s first interactions with Comey through the President’s firing of Come. During that time, the President had been repeatedly told he was not personally under investigation. Soon after the firing of Comey and the appointment of the Special Counsel, however, the President became aware that his own conduct was being investigated in an obstruction-of-justice inquiry. At that point, the President engaged in a second phase of conduct, involving public attacks on the investigation, non-public efforts to control it, and efforts in both public and private to encourage witnesses not to cooperate with the investigation. Judgments about the nature of the President’s motives during each phase would be informed by the totality of the evidence.

The Flynn section includes a passage that describes Trump being angry that Russia’s interference tainted his own victory.

Evidence does establish that the President connected the Flynn investigation to the FBI’s broader Russia investigation and that he believed, as he told Christie, that terminating Flynn would end “the whole Russia thing.” Flynn’s firing occurred at a time when the media and Congress were raising questions about Russia’s interference in the election and whether members of the President’s campaign had colluded with Russia. Multiple witnesses recalled that the President viewed the Russia investigations as a challenge to the legitimacy of his election. The President paid careful attention to negative coverage of Flynn and reacted with annoyance and anger when the story broke disclosing that Flynn had discussed sanctions with Kislyak. Just hours before meeting one-on-one with Corney, the President told Christie that firing Flynn would put an end to the Russia inquiries.

The confirmation of the investigation section includes a lot of language about protecting himself but also concern about the legitimacy of his victory and his ability to work with Russia.

Evidence indicates that the President was angered by both the existence of the Russia investigation and the public reporting that he was under investigation, which he knew was not true based on Comey’s representations. The President complained to advisors that if people thought Russia helped him with the election, it would detract from what he had accomplished.

Other evidence indicates that the President was concerned about the impact of the Russia investigation on his ability to govern. The President complained that the perception that he was under investigation was hurting his ability to conduct foreign relations, particularly with Russia. The President told Coats he “can’t do anything with Russia,” he told Rogers that “the thing with the Russians” was interfering with his ability to conduct foreign affairs, and he told Corney that “he was trying to run the country and the cloud of this Russia business was making that difficult.”

The Comey firing passage does suggest Trump was frustrated he couldn’t work with Russia, but also shows that he had reason to worry an investigation would show he had broken the law, and he worried the investigation would delegitimize his victory.

We also considered why it was important to the President that Comey announce publicly that he was not under investigation. Some evidence indicates that the President believed that the erroneous perception he was under investigation harmed his ability to manage domestic and foreign affairs, particularly in dealings with Russia. The President told Comey that the “cloud” of “this Russia business” was making it difficult to run the country. The President told Sessions and McGahn that foreign leaders had expressed sympathy to him for being under investigation and that the perception he was under investigation was hurting his ability to address foreign relations issues. The President complained to Rogers that “the thing with the Russians [ was] messing up” his ability to get things done with Russia, and told Coats, “I can’t do anything with Russia, there’s things I’d like to do with Russia, with trade, with ISIS, they’re all over me with this.” The President also may have viewed Comey as insubordinate for his failure to make clear in the May 3 testimony that the President was not under investigation.

[snip]

As described in Volume I, the evidence uncovered in the investigation did not establish that the President or those close to him were involved in the charged Russian computer-hacking or active-measure conspiracies, or that the President otherwise had an unlawful relationship with any Russian official. But the evidence does indicate that a thorough FBI investigation would uncover facts about the campaign and the President personally that the President could have understood to be crimes or that would give rise to personal and political concerns. Although the President publicly stated during and after the election that he had no connection to Russia, the Trump Organization, through Michael Cohen, was pursuing the proposed Trump Tower Moscow project through June 2016 and candidate Trump was repeatedly briefed on the ro ress of those efforts.498 In addition, some witnesses said that Trump was aware that [redacted] at a time when public reports stated that Russian intelligence officials were behind the hacks, and that Trump privately sought information about future WikiLeaks releases.499 More broadly, multiple witnesses described the President’s preoccupation with press coverage of the Russia investigation and his persistent concern that it raised questions about the legitimacy of his election.500

The report describes his efforts to fire Mueller, efforts to limit the scope of Mueller’s investigation, attacks on Sessions, and attempt to get McGahn to write a false statement denying he tried to fire Mueller as an effort to stop the investigation into himself for obstruction.

Substantial evidence indicates that the President’s attempts to remove the Special Counsel were linked to the Special Counsel’s oversight of investigations that involved the President’s conduct- and, most immediately, to reports that the President was being investigated for potential obstruction of justice.

Substantial evidence indicates that the President’s effort to have Sessions limit the scope of the Special Counsel’s investigation to future election interference was intended to prevent further investigative scrutiny of the President’s and his campaign’s conduct.

There is evidence that at least one purpose of the President’s conduct toward Sessions was to have Sessions assume control over the Russia investigation and supervise it in a way that would restrict its scope.

Substantial evidence indicates that in repeatedly urging McGahn to dispute that he was ordered to have the Special Counsel terminated, the President acted for the purpose of influencing McGahn ‘s account in order to deflect or prevent further scrutiny of the President’s conduct towards the investigation.

The report explains that Trump wrote the June 9 statement in an attempt to avoid public disclosure about the meeting.

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.

While the analysis on floating a pardon for Flynn is inconclusive and that on Stone is redacted, the report does say that Trump floated a pardon to Manafort to encourage him not to cooperate and also to influence his jury.

Evidence concerning the President’s conduct towards Manafort indicates that the President intended to encourage Manafort to not cooperate with the government.

And the report concludes that Trump’s efforts to discourage Cohen from cooperating were an attempt to cover up Trump’s own conduct during the campaign.

In analyzing the President’s intent in his actions towards Cohen as a potential witness, there is evidence that could support the inference that the President intended to discourage Cohen from cooperating with the government because Cohen’s information would shed adverse light on the President’s campaign-period conduct and statements.

Update: Fixed mention of Trump Tower meeting when I meant Trump Tower Moscow.

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 Scope and Results of the Mueller Report

There’s a Twitter account, TrumpHop, that tweets out Donald Trump’s tweets from years earlier, which is a really disorienting way to remind yourself how crazy he’s been since he’s been on Twitter. This morning, it recalled that two years ago today, Trump was inventing excuses for having shared highly classified Israeli intelligence at the same meeting where he boasted to Sergei Lavrov that he fired Jim Comey a week earlier because of the Russian investigation.

Two years ago, Rod Rosenstein — the same guy who stood, mostly stoically, as a prop for Bill Barr’s deceitful press conference spinning the Mueller Report one last time before releasing it — was in a panic, trying to decide what to do about a President who had fired the FBI Director to end an investigation into what might be real counterintelligence compromise on his part by a hostile foreign country and then went on to share intelligence with that same hostile foreign country. Tomorrow is the two year anniversary of Mueller’s appointment.

As I noted days after the Mueller Report was released, it is utterly silent on that sharing of information and two of the other most alarming incidents between Trump and Russia (though that may be for sound constitutional, rather than scope reasons) — Trump’s conversation with Putin about the subject of his own June 9 false statement even as he was drafting that statement, and the Helsinki meeting. That said, it cannot be true that Mueller didn’t consider those counterintelligence issues, because his treatment of Mike Flynn would have been far different if he didn’t have good reason to be sure — even if he deliberately obscures the reasons why he’s sure in the report — that Flynn, at the time under active counterintelligence investigation for his suspect ties to Russia, wasn’t entirely freelancing when he undermined US policy to offer sanctions considerations to Russia on December 29, 2016.

Nevertheless, a rising cry of people are suggesting that because we weren’t told the results of the counterintelligence investigation (whether it included the President or, because of constitutional reasons, did not), Mueller did not conduct a counterintelligence investigation. He (and, especially, FBI Agents working alongside him) did. Here’s what the report says, specifically, about the FBI writing up CI and Foreign Intelligence reports to share with the rest of FBI.

From its inception, the Office recognized that its investigation could identify foreign intelligence and counterintelligence information relevant to the FBI’s broader national security mission. FBI personnel who assisted the Office established procedures to identify and convey such information to the FBI. The FBI’s Counterintelligence Division met with the Office regularly for that purpose for most of the Office’s tenure. For more than the past year, the FBI also embedded personnel at the Office who did not work on the Special Counsel’s investigation, but whose purpose was to review the results of the investigation and to send-in writing-summaries of foreign intelligence and counterintelligence information to FBIHQ and FBI Field Offices. Those communications and other correspondence between the Office and the FBI contain information derived from the investigation, not all of which is contained in this Volume. This Volume is a summary. It contains, in the Office’s judgment, that information necessary to account for the Special Counsel’s prosecution and declination decisions and to describe the investigation’s main factual results.

Mueller didn’t report on it, as he states explicitly, because that’s outside the scope of what he was required and permitted to report under the regulations governing his appointment, which call for a prosecutions and declinations report.

That’s just one of the misconceptions of the scope, intent, and results of the Mueller Report that persists (and not just among the denialist crowd), almost a month after its release.

The Mueller Report does not purport to tell us what happened — that would be a violation of the regulations establishing the Special Counsel. It only describes the prosecutorial and declination decisions. The scope of those decisions includes:

  • Who criminally conspired in two Russian election interference efforts (just one American was charged, but he did not know he was helping Russians troll the US)
  • Whether Trump’s associates were agents of a foreign power in violation of FARA or 18 USC 951, including whether they were agents of Ukraine (as Paul Manafort and Rick Gates were before the election), Israel (as lots of evidence suggested George Papadopoulos might have been), Turkey (as Mike Flynn admitted he had been during and for a short while after the election), as well as Russia
  • Whether Trump’s associates conspired with Russia in some way; Mueller’s review included a quid pro quo, but his prosecutorial decisions did not include things unrelated to Russia’s election interference (which might, for example, include pure graft, including during the Transition period or related to the inauguration)
  • Which of Trump’s associates got charged with lying (Flynn, Papadopoulos, Michael Cohen, Roger Stone), were ruled by a judge to have lied (Paul Manafort), and which lied but were not charged (at least three others, including KT McFarland) in an effort to obstruct the investigation
  • Whether accepting a meeting offering dirt as part of the Russian government’s assistance to Trump or optimizing WikiLeaks’ release of emails stolen by Russia to help Trump’s campaign amount to accepting illegal donations from foreigners
  • Whether Trump’s numerous efforts to undermine the investigation amount to obstruction

Two facts necessarily follow from Mueller’s limit in his report to prosecutorial decisions rather than describing what happened, both of which are explained on page 2 of the report (though even the Attorney General, to say nothing of the denialist crowd, appears not to have read that far). First, Mueller did not weigh whether Trump “colluded” with Russia, because that’s not a crime that could be prosecuted or declined.

In evaluating whether evidence about collective action of multiple individuals constituted a crime, we applied the framework of conspiracy law, not the concept of “collusion.” In so doing, the Office recognized that the word “collud[e]” was used in communications with the Acting Attorney General confirming certain aspects of the investigation’s scope and that the term has frequently been invoked in public reporting about the investigation. But collusion is not a specific offense or theory of liability found in the United States Code, nor is it a term of art in federal criminal law.

Because “collusion” is not a crime, Mueller could not weigh in one way or another without being in violation of the regulations underlying his appointment. Mind you, Bill Barr could have changed these reporting requirements if he wanted and asked Mueller to comment on “collusion.” He did not.

In addition, Mueller’s measure was always whether his investigation “established” one or another crime. But stating that he did not establish a crime is not the same as saying there was no evidence of that crime.

A statement that the investigation did not establish particular facts does not mean there was no evidence of those facts.

Mueller describes in very general way that he didn’t get all the information he’d have liked to weigh whether or not conspiracy was committed.

The investigation did not always yield admissible information or testimony, or a complete picture of the activities undertaken by subjects of the investigation. Some individuals invoked their Fifth Amendment right against compelled self-incrimination and were not, in the Office’s judgment, appropriate candidates for grants of immunity. The Office limited its pursuit of other witnesses and information–such as information known to attorneys or individuals claiming to be members of the media–in light of internal Department of Justice policies. See, e.g. , Justice Manual §§ 9-13.400, 13.410. Some of the information obtained via court process, moreover, was presumptively covered by legal privilege and was screened from investigators by a filter (or “taint”) team. Even when individuals testified or agreed to be interviewed, they sometimes provided information that was false or incomplete, leading to some of the false-statements charges described above. And the Office faced practical limits on its ability to access relevant evidence as well-numerous witnesses and subjects lived abroad, and documents were held outside the United States.

Further, the Office learned that some of the individuals we interviewed or whose conduct we investigated–including some associated with the Trump Campaign—deleted relevant communications or communicated during the relevant period using applications that feature encryption or that do not provide for long-term retention of data or communications records. In such cases, the Office was not able to corroborate witness statements through comparison to contemporaneous communications or fully question witnesses about statements that appeared inconsistent with other known facts.

More specifically, we know this language covers at least the following limits on the investigation:

  • Encryption or evidence destruction prevented Mueller from clarifying details of the handoff to WikiLeaks, Gates’ sharing (on Manafort’s orders) of polling data with Russia, Manafort’s communications with various people, and Erik Prince and Steve Bannon’s communications about the Seychelles meeting with Kirill Dmitriev
  • Mueller did not pursue the role of Trump and other associates’ lawyers’ substantial, known role in obstruction
  • Mueller likely did not pursue an interview with Julian Assange (and other media figures), because that would violate US Attorney Handbook warnings against compelling the sharing of journalism work product to investigate a crime related to that work product
  • Some foreigners avoided cooperating with the investigation by staying out of the country; Emin Agalarov canceled an entire US tour to avoid testifying about what kind of dirt he offered Don Jr
  • Both Donald Trumps refused to be interviewed
  • President Trump refused to answer all questions pertaining to his actions after inauguration, all but one question about the Transition, and all questions about sanctions; his other answers were largely contemptuous and in a number of cases conflict with his own public statements or the testimony of his associates

Finally a more subtle point about the results, which will set up my next post. Mueller clearly states that he did not establish a conspiracy between Trump’s people and the Russian government on election interference. By definition, that excludes whatever coordination Roger Stone had with WikiLeaks (and even with the extensive redactions, it’s clear Mueller had real First Amendment concerns with charging that coordination). But whereas Mueller said that the contacts between Trump’s associates and Russians did not amount to a crime, he suggested that the two campaign finance issues he explored — the June 9 meeting and the release of stolen emails — were crimes but not ones he could sustain a conviction for.

The Office similarly determined that the contacts between Campaign officials and Russia-linked individuals either did not involve the commission of a federal crime or, in the case of campaign-finance offenses, that our evidence was not sufficient to obtain and sustain a criminal conviction.

The gaps in evidence that Mueller was able to collect strongly impact this last judgment: as he laid out, he needed to know what Don Jr understood when he accepted the June 9 meeting, and without interviewing either Emin Agalarov and/or Jr, he couldn’t get at Jr’s understanding of the dirt offered.

As I’ve noted repeatedly, it is absolutely false to claim –as Attorney General Barr did — that Mueller’s report says there was no underlying crime to cover up with Trump’s obstruction. Mueller specifically mentions SDNY’s prosecution of Trump’s hush payments to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, a crime which was charged, and which was one of the explicit purposes behind the raid on Cohen’s home and office. And as such, that crime is pertinent to the pardon dangle for Cohen.

In January 2018, the media reported that Cohen had arranged a $130,000 payment during the campaign to prevent a woman from publicly discussing an alleged sexual encounter she had with the President before he ran for office.1007 This Office did not investigate Cohen’s campaign period payments to women. 1008 However, those events, as described here, are potentially relevant to the President’s and his personal counsel’s interactions with Cohen as a witness who later began to cooperate with the government.

But with regards to the Russian-related campaign finance investigation, Mueller describes that Trump may have believed those would be criminal.

[T]he evidence does indicate that a thorough FBI investigation would uncover facts about the campaign and the President personally that the President could have understood to be crimes or that would give rise to personal and political concerns.

The distinction about whether a crime was committed versus whether it was charged may be subtle. But it is an important one for the obstruction investigation. And as I’ll show, that may have interesting repercussions going forward.

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 Didn’t Mueller Hold Counterintelligence Suspect Mike Flynn Responsible for Sanctions Call?

There’s a problem with the way the Mueller Report describes events pertaining to Mike Flynn.

It describes how someone under active counterintelligence investigation for his ties to Russia and already on thin ice with the President-Elect got on the phone and, through the Russian Ambassador, persuaded Vladimir Putin to hold off on retaliating for US sanctions. It describes how Flynn avoided leaving a paper trail of that call. Ultimately, the report remains inconclusive about whether Flynn made that call on his own initiative — which would seem to bolster the case he had suspect loyalties with the Russians — or at the direction of the President — in which case his actions would be appropriate from a constitutional standpoint (because this is the kind of thing the President can choose to do), but not a legal one (because he was purposely hiding it from the Obama Administration). One or the other would seem to be a necessary conclusion, but the Mueller Report reaches neither one.

In part, that’s because both Flynn and KT McFarland seem to have protected President Trump’s plausible deniability even after both got caught lying about these events. But it also appears that Mueller is more certain about the answer than he lets on in the public report.

This is the subject that, in my post noting that the Mueller Report has huge gaps precisely where the most acute counterintelligence concerns about Trump’s relationship with Putin are, I suggested created a logical problem for the report as a whole.

If it is the case that Flynn did what he did on Trump’s orders — which seems the only possible conclusion given Mueller’s favorable treatment of Flynn — then it changes the meaning of all of Trump’s actions with regard to the Russian investigation, but also suggests that that conclusion remains a counterintelligence one, not a criminal one.

Mike Flynn was under active counterintelligence investigation but he’s not an Agent of Russia

According to the Mueller Report, the first Rosenstein memo laying out the detailed scope of the investigation, dated August 2, 2017, included “four sets of allegations involving Michael Flynn, the former National Security Advisor to President Trump.” Two of those four must be his unregistered sleazy influence peddling for Turkey (which he got to plead off of as part of his plea agreement) and the Peter Smith operation to obtain Hillary’s deleted emails (about which his testimony is reflected in the Mueller Report).

Then there’s the counterintelligence investigation into Flynn. We’ve known that the FBI had a counterintelligence investigation into Flynn since before HPSCI released its Russian Report, and a later release of that report described that the investigation was still active when the FBI interviewed Flynn on January 24, 2017.

A key focus of that investigation —  one reflected in Flynn’s January 24, 2017 302 — was his paid attendance at a December 10, 2015 RT event in Moscow in December 2015, where he sat with Putin. The Mueller Report makes just one reference to that event, and only as a way of describing the public reporting on Trump flunkies’ ties to Russia during the campaign.

Beginning in February 2016 and continuing through the summer, the media reported that several Trump campaign advisors appeared to have ties to Russia. For example, the press reported that campaign advisor Michael Flynn was seated next to Vladimir Putin at an RT gala in Moscow in December 2015 and that Flynn had appeared regularly on RT as an analyst.15

15 See, e.g., Mark Hosenball & Steve Holland, Trump being advised by ex-US. Lieutenant General who favors closer Russia ties, Reuters (Feb. 26, 2016); Tom Hamburger et al., Inside Trump’s financial ties to Russia and his unusual flattery of Vladimir Putin, Washington Post (June 17, 2016). Certain matters pertaining to Flynn are described in Volume I, Section TV.B.7, supra.

However, in addition to that trip, the FBI must have been scrutinizing earlier Kislyak contacts that don’t show up in the Report at all:

  • A meeting on December 2, 2015 (described in the HPSCI report) that Kislyak that Flynn and his failson attended in advance of the RT trip at the Russian Embassy
  • A call to Kislyak sometime after GRU head Igor Sergun’s death in Lebanon on January 6, 2016; in his interview with the FBI; Flynn said he called to offer condolences, though he used that excuse for other calls that involved substantive policy discussions; he also claimed, not entirely credibly, not to be associated with the Trump campaign yet
  • Other conversations during the campaign that Flynn revealed to friends that otherwise don’t show up in public documents

In one of the only (unredacted) references to the counterintelligence investigation into Flynn, the Mueller Report describes that Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak became a key focus of that investigation.

Previously, the FBI had opened an investigation of Flynn based on his relationship with the Russian government.105 Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak became a key component of that investigation.10

But that passage doesn’t reveal the scope of those contacts and, in spite of detailed analysis of other people’s contacts with Kislyak (including an invite to JD Gordan to his residence that appears similar to the December 2015 one Kislyak extended to Flynn and his son), the Report doesn’t mention those earlier contacts.

Perhaps far more interesting, in the report’s analysis of whether any Trump aide was an agent of Russia, it does not include Flynn in the paragraph explaining why Paul Manafort, George Papadopoulos, and Carter Page were not charged as such. Instead, his foreign influence peddling is treated in a separate paragraph discussing just Turkey.

In addition, the investigation produced evidence of FARA violations involving Michael Flynn. Those potential violations, however, concerned a country other than Russia (i.e., Turkey) and were resolved when Flynn admitted to the underlying facts in the Statement of Offense that accompanied his guilty plea to a false-statements charge. Statement of Offense, United States v. Michael T Flynn, No. l:17-cr-232 (D.D.C. Dec. 1, 2017), Doc. 4 (“Flynn Statement of Offense”). 1281

The footnote to that paragraph, which given the admission elsewhere that a separate counterintelligence investigation into Flynn focused on Russia, likely deals with Russia, is entirely redacted for Harm to Ongoing Matters reasons.

While we can’t be sure (hell, we can’t even be totally sure this does relate to Russia!), this seems to suggest that the investigation into Russian efforts to cultivate Flynn is ongoing, but he has been absolved of any responsibility for — as an intelligence officer with 30 years of counterintelligence training — nevertheless falling prey to such efforts.

All of which is to say that, along with the descriptions of Trump’s most alarming interactions with Russians including Vladimir Putin, many of Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak and other Russians (including not just Putin but the guy who headed GRU until just before the election hacking started in earnest in January 2016) appear to be treated as counterintelligence information not suitable for public sharing.

The Mueller Report deliberately obscures key details of the timeline on the sanctions call

That’s important to note, because the counterintelligence conclusion on Flynn has to be utterly central to the analysis of Trump’s attempt to obstruct the investigation into Flynn.

The two discussions in the Mueller Report (Volume I pages 168 to 173 and Volume II pages 24 to 48) of Flynn’s December 2016 conversations with Sergey Kislyak are totally unsatisfying, probably in part because two key witnesses (Flynn and KT McFarland, and possibly others including Steve Bannon) lied when the FBI first interviewed them about the calls; they had also created a deliberately misleading paper trail for the events.

In both places, the Report provides times for some events on December 29, but obscures the most critical part of the timeline. I’ve put the Volume I language at the end of this post. It provides the following timeline for December 29, 2016:

1:53PM: McFarland and other Transition Team members and advisors (including Flynn, via email) discuss sanctions.

2:07PM: [Transition Team Member] Flaherty, an aide to McFarland, texts Flynn a link to a NYT article about the sanctions.

2:29PM: McFarland calls Flynn, but they don’t talk.

Shortly after 2:29PM: McFarland and Bannon discuss sanctions; according to McFarland’s clean-up interview, she may have told Bannon that Flynn would speak to Kislyak that night.

3:14PM: Flynn texts Flaherty and asks “time for a call??,” meaning McFarland. Flaherty responds that McFarland was on the phone with Tom Bossert. Flynn informs Flaherty in writing that he had a call with Kislyak coming up, using the language, “tit for tat,” that McFarland used on emails with others and that Flynn himself would use with Kislyak later that day.

Tit for tat w Russia not good. Russian AMBO reaching out to me today.

Sometime in here but the Report doesn’t tell us precisely when: Flynn talks to Michael Ledeen, KT McFarland, and then Kislyak. [my emphasis]

4:43PM: McFarland emails other transition team members saying that,  “Gen [F]lynn is talking to russian ambassador this evening.”

Before 5:45PM: McFarland briefed President-Elect Trump, Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer, and others on the sanctions. McFarland remembers that someone at the briefing may have mentioned the upcoming Kislyak call.

After the briefing: McFarland and Flynn speak by phone. Flynn tells McFarland, “that the Russian response to the sanctions was not going to be escalatory because they wanted a good relationship with the incoming Administration,” and McFarland tells Flynn about the briefing with Trump.

The next day, December 30, 2016 — after Putin announced they would not retaliate to Obama’s sanctions — Flynn sent a text message to McFarland that very deliberately did not reflect the true content of his communication with Kislyak, reportedly because he wanted to hide that from the Obama Administration (the Trump team had falsely told Obama they would not fuck with their existing policy initiatives).

Shortly thereafter, Flynn sent a text message to McFarland summarizing his call with Kislyak from the day before, which she emailed to Kushner, Bannon, Priebus, and other Transition Team members. 1265 The text message and email did not include sanctions as one of the topics discussed with Kislyak. 1266 Flynn told the Office that he did not document his discussion of sanctions because it could be perceived as getting in the way of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy.126

On December 31, after Kislyak called again to tell Flynn that Putin had decided not to retaliate because of the Trump Administration request not to, he and McFarland communicated again about their attempts to convince Russia not to respond to sanctions. Flynn spoke with others that day but “does not recall” whether they discussed the sanctions, though he remembers (but Bannon does not) that Bannon seemed to know about Flynn’s conversation with Kislyak.

The narrative for the same events in the obstruction section has less detail, but infuriatingly, similarly manages to leave out all the details (in bold above) about when Flynn spoke to McFarland and when he called Kisylak.

The thing is, Mueller knows precisely when those Flynn calls happened. The Volume I version of events make it clear they have the call records of Flynn, Michael Ledeen, and McFarland that would provide a precise timeline.

They just refuse to provide those times and the times of key emails, which would add to the clarity about whether Trump learned of Flynn’s plans before he contacted Kislyak.

In the “Intent” discussion regarding obstruction, however, the report suggests that the Trump briefing, where sanctions did come up, preceded the first Flynn call to Kislyak (even though the timeline here suggests it did not).

In advance of Flynn’s initial call with Kislyak, the President attended a meeting where the sanctions were discussed and an advisor may have mentioned that Flynn was scheduled to talk to Kislyak.

That’s particularly interesting given that the Volume II discussion of events describes how, after Trump fired Flynn, he also fired KT McFarland but offered her a position as Ambassador to Singapore. There’s very little discussion of the explanation for her firing, but they do describe how Trump tried to make McFarland write a memo — very similar to the false one he tried to make Don McGahn write denying that Trump had ordered him to have Rod Rosenstein removed — denying that he had any role in Flynn’s discussion with Kislyak about sanctions. McFarland did not write the memo, as she explained in a Memo for the Record, because she did not know whether Trump had spoken with Flynn or with Russia directly.

The next day, the President asked Priebus to have McFarland draft an internal email that would confirm that the President did not direct Flynn to call the Russian Ambassador about sanctions.253 Priebus said he told the President he would only direct McFarland to write such a letter if she were comfortable with it.254 Priebus called McFarland into his office to convey the President’s request that she memorialize in writing that the President did not direct Flynn to talk to Kislyak.255 McFarland told Priebus she did not know whether the President had directed Flynn to talk to Kislyak about sanctions, and she declined to say yes or no to the request.256

256 KTMF _00000047 (McFarland 2/26/ 17 Memorandum_ for the Record) (“I said I did not know whether he did or didn’t, but was in Maralago the week between Christmas and New Year’s (while Flynn was on vacation in Carribean) and I was not aware of any Flynn-Trump, or Trump-Russian phone calls”); McFarland 12/22/ 17 302, at 17.

Again, at a minimum, Mueller knows if Trump called Flynn, and may know if Trump called Kislyak or — more likely — Putin. But he’s not telling.

Trump was already pissy with Flynn, so why didn’t he blame him for the sanctions calls?

There’s one more contradictory detail about Trump’s behavior in this narrative.

According to enough witnesses to make it a reliable claim, Trump had already soured on Flynn in December 2016, before all this blew up (but not before Obama warned Trump and Elijah Cummings warned Mike Pence about Flynn’s suspect loyalties).

Several witnesses said that the President was unhappy with Flynn for other reasons at this time. Bannon said that Flynn’s standing with the President was not good by December 2016. Bannon 2/12/18 302, at 12. The President-Elect had concerns because President Obama had warned him about Flynn shortly after the election. Bannon 2/12/18 302, at 4-5; Hicks 12/8/17 302, at 7 (President Obama’s comment sat with President-Elect Trump more than Hicks expected). Priebus said that the President had become unhappy with Flynn even before the story of his calls with Kislyak broke and had become so upset with Flynn that he would not look at him during intelligence briefings. Priebus 1/18/18 302, at 8. Hicks said that the President thought Flynn had bad judgment and was angered by tweets sent by Flynn and his son, and she described Flynn as “being on thin ice” by early February 2017. Hicks 12/8/17 302, at 7, 10

As I’ve noted before, Trump made the same complaint to Jim Comey in their “loyalty demand” dinner on January 27, 2017 — but he did so in the context of Flynn not informing him that Vladimir Putin had beaten Theresa May to congratulating him about his inauguration.

All these details — including that Flynn publicly informed Trump of Putin’s call — should make Flynn a bigger counterintelligence concern, not one that could be dismissed more easily than Page and Manafort and Papadopoulos.

Unless Mueller had more certainty that Trump was in the loop of these sanctions discussions — either through Flynn or directly with Putin — than he lets on in the public report.

Mike Flynn’s Interviews with Prosecutors

To sum up, Mueller knows that someone already under investigation for his suspect calls to Russia and Sergey Kislyak got on the phone with Kislyak and undercut the Obama Administration’s attempt to punish Russia for its election interference. Flynn deliberately created a false record of that call, then lied about it when it became public the following month, and continued to lie about it when the FBI asked him about it.Trump allegedly got pissy that Flynn’s counterintelligence exposure had already been raised by Obama, but also got pissy that Flynn wasn’t being obsequious enough to Putin. But, when this all began to blow up in the press, rather than firing Flynn right away for being a counterintelligence problem — the outcome Sally Yates clearly expected would be the no-brainer result — Trump instead repeatedly tried to protect Flynn.

Which is why the likelihood that a key part of Flynn’s cooperation, that relating to the counterintelligence side of the equation, is so interesting.

As I noted when the addendum showing Flynn’s cooperation came out, it likely broke into the Turkish influence peddling [A], two (or maybe three?) topics relating to Trump [B], as well as more classified part of the investigation conducted under Mueller [C].

A Criminal Investigation:

11+ line paragraph

6.5 line paragraph

2 line paragraph

B Mueller investigation:

Introductory paragraph (9 lines)

i) Interactions between Transition Team and Russia (12 lines, just one or two sentences redacted)

ii) Topic two

10 line paragraph

9 line paragraph

C Entirely redacted investigation:

4.5 line paragraph

The footnotes from the Mueller Report describing what Flynn told prosecutors when seems to reinforce this.

  1. November 16, 2017: Trump appoint Flynn as NSA, first call with Putin, Israel vote, communications with Kislyak, December Kislyak call
  2. November 17, 2017: Israel vote, December Kislyak call, especially comms with Mar a Lago, re Ignatius Flynn said he had not talked sanctions, Mar a Lago with Trump, Flynn’s last meeting with Trump, “we’ll take care of you”
  3. November 19, 2017: Why sanctions, whether he told others at MAL, comms on 12/29, re Ignatius Flynn said he had not talked sanctions, Mar a Lago with Trump
  4. November 20, 2017: Whether he told others at MAL, response to Ignatius
  5. November 21, 2017: Whether he told others at MAL, response to Ignatius, meeting with Trump
  6. November 29, 2017: Peter Smith
  7. January 11, 2018: November 30 meeting with Kislyak
  8. January 19, 2018: Flynn did not have specific recollection about telling POTUS on January 3, 2017
  9. April 25, 2018: Peter Smith
  10. May 1, 2018: Peter Smith
  11. September 26, 2018: Proffer response on meetings with Foresman

We know from court filings that Flynn had 19 interviews with prosecutors, of which four pertain to his sleazy influence peddling with Turkey. Here’s what that seems to suggest about his interviews (assuming, probably incorrectly, that they didn’t cover multiple topics at once):

  • Turkish influence peddling: 4 interviews, unknown dates
  • Transition events, 7 interviews: 11/16/17, 11/17/17, 11/19/17, 11/20/17, 11/21/17, 1/11/18, 1/19/18
  • Peter Smith, 3 interviews: 11/29/17, 4/25/18, 5/1/18
  • Counterintelligence: Remaining 5 interviews???, unknown dates

It’s possible, however, there’s a third “links” topic pertaining to Transition era graft, which for scope reasons would not appear in the Mueller Report.

The possibility that Flynn may have had five interviews dedicated to a counterintelligence investigation that implicated Trump would make this Brian Ross story far more interesting. As the Report lays out, when hints that Flynn flipped first came out on November 22, 2017, one of Trump’s lawyers (probably John Dowd) left a voice mail message (!!!) with one of Flynn’s lawyers (probably Rob Kelner). He specifically wanted a heads up about anything that “implicates the President” which would create a “national security issue.”

I understand your situation, but let me see if I can’t state it in starker terms. . . . [I]t wouldn’t surprise me if you’ve gone on to make a deal with … the government. … [I]f . .. there’s information that implicates the President, then we’ve got a national security issue, . . . so, you know, . . . we need some kind of heads up. Um, just for the sake of protecting all our interests ifwe can …. [R]emember what we’ve always said about the ‘ President and his feelings toward Flynn and, that still remains ….

The following day, Trump’s lawyer told Flynn’s that cooperating would reflect hostility to the President.

A week later, once the plea was official on December 1, Flynn had the following leaked to ABC.

During the campaign, Trump asked Flynn to be one of a small group of close advisors charged with improving relations in Russia and other hot spots. The source said Trump phoned Flynn shortly after the election to explicitly ask him to “serve as point person on Russia,” and to reach out personally to Russian officials to develop strategies to jointly combat ISIS.

[snip]

“Flynn is very angry,” the confidant told ABC News Friday. “He will cooperate truthfully on any question they ask him.” [my emphasis]

Only, originally, the story read that Trump asked Flynn to reach out to Russia before the election. The story is often cited as one of the big gaffes of the Russian investigation, but Mother Jones has since corroborated the pre-election timeline with two Flynn associates.

For some reason, Mueller did not hold Mike Flynn responsible for — at a time when he was under active counterintelligence investigation for his ties to Russia — undercutting the official policy of the US on punishing Russia for its election year attack. I wonder whether the content of up to five counterintelligence interviews with Flynn may explain why.

As they are elsewhere, the Washington Post is trying to liberate the filings about Flynn’s cooperation that would explain all this. On Thursday, Emmet Sullivan — the same judge who, after seeing all the sealed filings in Flynn’s case, used some really inflammatory language about Flynn’s loyalty — set a briefing schedule for that effort. Then, acting on his own on Friday, Sullivan scheduled a hearing for June 24 (after the next status report in Flynn’s case but before he would be sentenced) to discuss liberating those filings.

So maybe we’ll find out from the WaPo’s efforts to liberate those documents.

Timeline of known Flynn investigation

November 10, 2016: Obama warns Trump that Mike Flynn’s name kept surfacing in concerns about Russia.

November 18, 2016: Trump names Flynn National Security Adviser.

November 18, 2016: Elijah Cummings warns Mike Pence of Flynn’s Turkish lobbying.

Shortly after inauguration: On “first” call with Kislyak, Flynn responds to Ambassador’s invitation to Russian Embassy that, “You keep telling me that,” alerting others to previous contacts between them.

January 24, 2017: In interview with FBI, Flynn lies about his contacts with Sergey Kislyak.

January 26 and 27, 2017: Sally Yates warns the White House about Flynn’s lies.

February 2, 2017: WHCO lawyer John Eisenberg reviews materials on Flynn’s interview.

February 13, 2017: Flynn fired.

July 19, 2017: Peter Strzok interviewed, in part, about Flynn interview, presumably as part of obstruction investigation.

November 16, 2017: Interview covers: Trump appoint Flynn as NSA, first call with Putin, Israel vote, communications with Kislyak, December Kislyak call.

November 17, 2017: Interview covers: Israel vote, December Kislyak call, especially comms with Mar a Lago, re Ignatius Flynn said he had not talked sanctions, Mar a Lago with Trump, Flynn’s last meeting with Trump, “we’ll take care of you.”

November 19, 2017: Interview covers: Why sanctions, whether he told others at MAL, comms on 12/29, re Ignatius Flynn said he had not talked sanctions, Mar a Lago with Trump.

November 20, 2017: Interview covers: Whether he told others at MAL, response to Ignatius.

November 21, 2017: Interview covers: Whether he told others at MAL, response to Ignatius, meeting with Trump.

November 22, 2017: Flynn withdraws from Joint Defense Agreement; Trump’s lawyer leaves a message for Flynn’s lawyer stating, in part, “if… there’s information that implicates the President, then we’ve got a national security
issue,…so, you know,…we need some kind of heads up.”

November 23, 2017: Flynn’s attorney returns Trump’s attorney’s call, the latter says cooperation would reflect hostility to the President.

November 29, 2017: Interview covers Peter Smith.

December 1, 2017: Flynn pleads guilty, has story leaked to Brian Ross that his cooperation covers Trump’s orders that he take “serve as point person on Russia,” originally stating that the order preceded the election; the story is corrected to say the order comes ” shortly after the election.” Two Flynn associates subsequently told Mother Jones the contacts did start before the election.

January 11, 2018: Interview covers November 30 meeting with Kislyak.

January 19, 2018: Interview covers Flynn did not have specific recollection about telling POTUS on January 3, 2017.

April 25, 2018: Interview covers Peter Smith.

May 1, 2018: Interview covers Peter Smith.

September 17, 2018: Status report asking for sentencing.

September 26, 2018: Flynn’s attorney offers proffer response on meetings with Bob Foresman.

December 18, 2018: After Judge Emmet Sullivan invokes treason and selling out his country, Flynn delays sentencing.


The Volume I Narrative about December 29, 2016

Shortly thereafter, Flynn sent a text message to McFarland summarizing his call with Kislyak from the day before, which she emailed to Kushner, Bannon, Priebus, and other Transition Team members. 1265 The text message and email did not include sanctions as one of the topics discussed with Kislyak. 1266 Flynn told the Office that he did not document his discussion of sanctions because it could be perceived as getting in the way of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy.126

The sanctions were announced publicly on December 29, 2016. 1231 At 1 :53 p.m. that day, McFarland began exchanging emails with multiple Transition Team members and advisors about the impact the sanctions would have on the incoming Administration. 1232 At 2:07 p.m., a Transition Team member texted Flynn a link to a New York Times article about the sanctions. 1233 At 2:29 p.m., McFarland called Flynn, but they did not talk. 1234 Shortly thereafter, McFarland and Bannon discussed the sanctions. 1235 According to McFarland, Bannon remarked that the sanctions would hurt their ability to have good relations with Russia, and that Russian escalation would make things more difficult. 1236 McFarland believed she told Bannon that Flynn was scheduled to talk to Kislyak later that night. 1237 McFarland also believed she may have discussed the sanctions with Priebus, and likewise told him that Flynn was scheduled to talk to Kislyak that night. 1238 At 3: 14 p.m., Flynn texted a Transition Team member who was assisting McFarland, “Time for a call???”1239 The Transition Team member responded that McFarland was on the phone with Tom Bossert, a Transition Team senior official, to which Flynn responded, “Tit for tat w Russia not good. Russian AMBO reaching out to me today.” 1240

Flynn recalled that he chose not to communicate with Kislyak about the sanctions until he had heard from the team at Mar-a-Lago.1241 He first spoke with Michael Ledeen, 1242 a Transition Team member who advised on foreign policy and national security matters, for 20 minutes. 1243 Flynn then spoke with McFarland for almost 20 minutes to discuss what, if anything, to communicate to Kislyak about the sanctions. 1244 On that call, McFarland and Flynn discussed the sanctions, including their potential impact on the incoming Trump Administration’s foreign policy goals. 1245 McFarland and Flynn also discussed that Transition Team members in Mar-a-Lago did not want Russia to escalate the situation. 1246 They both understood that Flynn would relay a message to Kislyak in hopes of making sure the situation would not get out of hand.1247

Immediately after speaking with McFarland, Flynn called and spoke with Kislyak. 1248 Flynn discussed multiple topics with Kislyak, including the sanctions, scheduling a video teleconference between President-Elect Trump and Putin, an upcoming terrorism conference, and Russia’s views about the Middle East. 1249 With respect to the sanctions, Flynn requested that Russia not escalate the situation, not get into a “tit for tat,” and only respond to the sanctions in a reciprocal manner.1250

Multiple Transition Team members were aware that Flynn was speaking with Kislyak that day. In addition to her conversations with Bannon and Reince Priebus, at 4:43 p.m., McFarland sent an email to Transition Team members about the sanctions, informing the group that “Gen [F]lynn is talking to russian ambassador this evening.” 1251 Less than an hour later, McFarland briefed President-Elect Trump. Bannon, Priebus, Sean Spicer, and other Transition Team members were present. 1252 During the briefing, President-Elect Trump asked McFarland if the Russians did “it,” meaning the intrusions intended to influence the presidential election. 1253 McFarland said yes, and President-Elect Trump expressed doubt that it was the Russians.1254 McFarland also discussed potential Russian responses to the sanctions, and said Russia’s response would be an indicator of what the Russians wanted going forward. 1255 President-Elect Trump opined that the sanctions provided him with leverage to use with the Russians. 1256 McFarland recalled that at the end of the meeting, someone may have mentioned to President-Elect Trump that Flynn was speaking to the Russian ambassador that evening. 1257

After the briefing, Flynn and McFarland spoke over the phone. 1258 Flynn reported on the substance of his call with Kislyak, including their discussion of the sanctions. 1259 According to McFarland, Flynn mentioned that the Russian response to the sanctions was not going to be escalatory because they wanted a good relationship with the incoming Administration.1260 McFarland also gave Flynn a summary of her recent briefing with President-Elect Trump. 1261

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. 

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

The image for this post is associated with this post.

Giorgi Rtslchiladze believes his honor has been sullied by Robert Mueller.

Rtslchiladze is a naturalized American businessman from Georgia who shows up several times in the Mueller Report.

First, the section that describes Michael Cohen’s attempts to negotiate a Trump Tower deal explains that Cohen pitched Rtslchiladze on a Trump Tower deal in fall 2015, before deciding to pursue the Sater deal instead.

Also during the fall of 2015, Cohen communicated about the Trump Moscow proposal with Giorgi Rtslchiladze, a business executive who previously had been involved in a development deal with the Trump Organization in Batumi, Georgia.313 Cohen stated that he spoke to Rtskhiladze in part because Rtskhiladze had pursued business ventures in Moscow, including a licensing deal with the Agalarov-owned Crocus Group.314 On September 22, 2015, Cohen forwarded a preliminary design study for the Trump Moscow project to Rtskhiladze, adding “I look forward to your reply about this spectacular project in Moscow.” Rtskhiladze forwarded Cohen’s email to an associate and wrote, “first we could organize the meeting in New York at the highest level of the Russian Government and Mr. Trump this project would definitely receive the worldwide attention.”315 On September 24, 2015, Rtskhiladze sent Cohen an attachment that he described as a proposed “[l]etter to the Mayor of Moscow from Trump org,” explaining that “[w]e need to send this letter to the Mayor of Moscow (second guy in Russia) he is aware of the potential project and will pledge his support.”316 In a second email to Cohen sent the same day, Rtslchiladze provided a translation of the letter, which described the Trump Moscow project as a “symbol of stronger economic, business and cultural relationships between New York and Moscow and therefore United States and the Russian Federation.”317 On September 27, 2015, Rtslchiladze sent another email to Cohen, proposing that the Trump Organization partner on the Trump Moscow project with “Global Development Group LLC,” which he described as being controlled by Michail Posikhin, a Russian architect, and Simon Nizharadze.318 Cohen told the Office that he ultimately declined the proposal and instead continued to work with I.C. Expert, the company represented by Felix Sater.319

313 Rtskhiladze was a U.S.-based executive of the Georgian company Silk Road Group. In approximately 2011, Silk Road Group and the Trump Organization entered into a licensing agreement to build a Trump-branded property in Batumi, Georgia. Rtskhiladze was also involved in discussions for a Trum -branded ro’ect in Astana, Kazakhstan. The Office twice interviewed Rtskhiladze, [redacted]

The details on this second Trump Tower deal show that at some of the initiative for an election season Trump Tower deal came from Trump, not the Russians. This Rtskhiladze deal is noteworthy because he pursued (note the word) deals in the past with the Crocus Group — the Agalarov company — and because Mueller at least suggests he doesn’t entirely buy Rtslchiladze’s representation of the ownership of Global Development Group. Note that Rtskhiladze himself promised Cohen he had ties to the Mayor of Moscow.

An interview with Rtskhiladze is also footnoted in a discussion of Trump Organization’s decision to close out certain business deals in the wake of the election.

After the election, the Trump Organization sought to formally close out certain deals in advance of the inauguration.945

945 Cohen 9/18/18 302, at 1-2; see also Rtskhiladze 4/4/18 302, at 8-9.

The report doesn’t explain why Trump Org would have any open business deals with Rtskhiladze in November 2016.

Note that Silk Road Group is funded by Kazakh bank BTA group, payments to Michael Cohen from which were one of the reasons Mueller investigated him in the first place (and which has sued Felix Sater for attempting to launder funds through a Trump Tower deal).

It’s the second mention of Rtskhiladze that has sullied his name, according to reports and a letter his attorney sent Bill Barr asking for a retraction (Rtskhiladze’s attorney, A. Scott Bolden, works for the same firm, ReedSmith, that is engaging in a trollish defense of Concord Management; the letter he released to the press is actually a revised version of one he sent the day before).

As part of an explanation of why Jim Comey briefed Trump on the Steele dossier on January 6, 2017, a footnote explains that Rtskhiladze texted Cohen about compromising tapes in October 2016.

112 Comey 1/7/17 Memorandum, at 1-2; Comey 11/15/17 302, at 3. Comey’s briefing included the Steele reporting’s unverified allegation that the Russians had compromising tapes of the President involving conduct when he was a private citizen during a 2013 trip to Moscow for the Miss Universe Pageant. During the 2016 presidential campaign, a similar claim may have reached candidate Trump. On October 30, 20 I 6, Michael Cohen received a text from Russian businessman Giorgi Rtskhiladze that said, “Stopped flow of tapes from Russia but not sure if there’s anything else. Just so you know …. ” 10/30/16 Text Message, Rtskhiladze to Cohen. Rtskhiladze said “tapes” referred to compromising tapes of Trump rumored to be held by persons associated with the Russian real estate conglomerate Crocus Group, which had helped host the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Russia. Rtskhiladze 4/4/18 302, at 12. Cohen said he spoke to Trump about the issue after receiving the texts from Rtskhiladze. Cohen 9/ 12/ 18 302, at 13. Rtskhiladze said he was told the tapes were fake, but he did not communicate that to Cohen. Rtskhiladze 5/10/18 302, at 7.

As I read it, the entire point of including this reference is not to substantiate the existence of a pee tape. Rather, it’s to explain why Trump may have believed in the existence of one. It actually provides one explanation that makes Trump’s response to Comey’s briefing (as reflected in Comey’s own notes on it) less incriminating, not least his oblique reference to the Stormy Daniels and Susan McDougal allegations.

After all, the communications between Rtskhiladze and Cohen on October 30, 2016 would have happened just days after Cohen paid off Stormy Daniels on October 27. It would be unsurprising if Cohen discussed both with Trump at the same time.

Rtskhiladze is  complaining about a number of things. Some of them are fair complaints about how his communications with Cohen were portrayed in the footnote.

  • Referring to Rtskhiladze as a “Russian” businessman, his lawyer claims, it “implies he participated in a conspiracy to collude or interfere with the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.”
  • Quoting from the texts in isolation, “the isolated texts are suggestive of nefarious undertakings and, as such, defame Mr. Rtskhiladze’s character. Viewing the texts in their entirety against the backdrop of Mssrs. Cohen and Rtskhiladze’s cordial relationship places them in their proper context.”
  • Quoting the “‘Stopping the flow’ gives the impression that you are referencing the alleged salacious content of the alleged acts viewed on the tapes. To the contrary, this was a colloquialism by Mr. Rtskhiladze indicating that there was nothing to the rumors of the tapes, and that he did not believe there were any tapes, nor had he seen what was on the tapes, even if they existed.”
  • Misquoting the text without the word “some” — making the correct quote “stopped flow of some tapes from Russia.” Bolden claims, illogically, that the word some “is crucial as it establishes the fact that Mr. Rtskhiladze had no knowledge of the tapes’ content.”

That last bullet point, of course, makes zero sense. From there, the letter gets even more self-contradictory. Bolden first claims,

The texts that were excised from the Mueller Report clearly indicate that Mr. Rtskhiladze does not have direct knowledge of what was said at the party in Moscow, which he did not attend. Mr. Rtskhiladze also does not know and cannot identify who allegedly made the statements about the tapes. Furthermore, Mr. Rtskhiladze has never seen the tapes and cannot opine on whether they exist. [my emphasis]

Just a few paragraphs after claiming that Rtskhiladze does not know whether the tapes he assured Cohen he had suppressed existed or not, his attorney then claims that he knew the tapes did not exist.

The suggestion that Mr. Rtskhiladze tried to curry favor with Mr. Cohen, the Trump Organization and possibly President Trump himself by allegedly texting that he had “stopped the flow of tapes from Russia” — knowing all the while that the tapes did not exist — is an outrageous and sensation distortion of the communications between Mssrs. Cohen and Rtskhiladze.

Footnote 112 of the Mueller Report would  have the world believe that Mr. Rtskhiladze is at best a caricature of an idle gossip or, worse, an opportunist with deep ties to the Russian business community2 and privy to untoward conduct by President Trump that Mr. Rtskhiladze and others intended to use to embarrass then Candidate Trump, derail his campaign and/or manipulate him after assuming the elected office. There is not a scintilla of evidence to support these inferences and to suggest otherwise is defamatory. [my emphasis]

Footnote 2 in this passage references the other discussions of Rtskhiladze in the report, which show him telling Cohen he had ties to (among others) the Mayor of Moscow; Rtskhiladze doesn’t contest that he has the ties laid out on those sections.

I mean, Bolden is right: these texts do suggest that Rtskhiladze is either a gossip or, more likely, trying to capitalize on information he claimed to not only know about, but be able to affect.

But he’s not actually offering a less damning explanation for them.

What he has done, however, is to call far more attention to them, all in a way that purports to assail Mueller’s credibility, but instead raises even more questions about the relationship between him and Cohen.

Finally, Bolden issues a non-denial denial of having ties with Crocus.

In a similar vein, Mr. Rtskhiladze has not had contact or dealings with the Crocus Group in 14 years, although he considers Crocus a reputable and successful business group. It is inaccurately stated that Mr. Rtskhiladze had a licensing deal with the Crocus Group.

As I noted above, the report doesn’t claim that Rtskhiladze had a licensing deal, it said he was pursuing one. And there’s nothing about this non-denial denial that might suggest Rtskhiladze heard a rumor that — say — fellow Georgian-American Ike Kaveladze was bragging about some compromising tapes, and he made an effort to chase it down.

So one other possible purpose of Bolden’s efforts to impugn Mueller’s integrity all while bringing more publicity to the incident that he claims makes his client look bad is to try to diminish any ill-will the Agalarovs feel towards Rtskhiladze.

Ultimately, though, Rtskhiladze’s lawyer is making thoroughly contradictory claims about this incident rather than offering a less damning explanation of it.

Update: I engaged with the spokesperson for Rtskhiladze, and specifically mentioned the inconsistency between his claim that he didn’t know if the video existed and that he affirmatively did not know. She said that was a typo, and promised to write the most up-to-date statement, but did not send anything.

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 “Collusion” Appears in the Mueller Report

Because it has been my hobby for the last 2 years, let me remind you that what law enforcement authorities have been investigating — with regards to the efforts of Donald Trump and his associates to optimize Russia’s efforts to help Trump get elected — has been conspiracy, not collusion. To show that Mueller’s report does not comment on whether Trump “colluded” with Russia, I’m going to show how the word “collusion” appears in it.

Table of contents

Mueller was so determined to make this point clear he dedicated an entire section to saying he did not investigate “collusion.”

Not “collusion”

On page 2 — page 2!! — of the report, Mueller explains they didn’t investigate “collusion,” but instead investigated “conspiracy” and “coordination,” a point I’ve been making for years.

Not “collusion,” but conspiracy

Then there’s the dedicated section where Mueller explains their prosecutorial decisions were not about “collusion,” but about conspiracy.

Trump’s gaslighting about the word “collusion”

Aside from those legal comments, the vast majority of the references to “collusion” in the report catalogue Trump’s usage of the term, such as this description of Trump telling his PDB briefers there was no “collusion.”

 

There’s the description of how Trump claimed there was no “collusion” in some of the 8 conversations he had with Steve Bannon in advance of firing Jim Comey.

There are the mad tweets claiming there was no “collusion.”

Yet more mad tweets claiming no “collusion.”

And still more mad tweets claiming no “collusion.”

And more tweets about “collusion.”

Still more batshit tweets about “collusion.”

And still more batshit tweets about “collusion.”

The “collusion” tweets suffer from no limits of market scarcity.

Trump’s lawyers repeat the “collusion” frame

Then there’s the one citation of Trump’s lawyers addressing “collusion” as opposed to something illegal.

Why would you report on Trump claiming no “collusion”?

Then there’s this reference to a journalist reporting on Trump claiming no “collusion.”

Shitty reporting using the term “collusion”

Finally, there is a single reference to reporting using the term “collusion” on the day Comey said they were not investigating that. [shakes head at the headline writers]

In other words, the references to “collusion” in the Mueller Report fall, generally, into two categories. A legal discussion explaining why Mueller was not investigating “collusion.” And a catalogue of the instances where Trump and his surrogates denied that he was guilty of that non-crime.

emptywheel’s Mueller Report coverage

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

The Debate We May Be Having Tomorrow: If Trump Obstructed Justice to Hide Compromise by Russia, Could that Be a Crime?

In my How to Read the Mueller Report post, I said that if Bill Barr’s memo (which claims the report is broken into just two sections, one on the trolls and hack-and-leak activities, and one on the obstruction question) is to be believed, the report won’t provide much detail about the second half of Mueller’s mandate: to figure out the nature of links between Trump’s flunkies and various Russians.

But we have good reason to believe Barr’s memo is not reliable.

Plus, there’s this passage that came out during the pushback from Mueller’s team.

According to a senior law enforcement official who has spoken to members of Mueller’s team, Mueller team members say it includes detailed accounts of Trump campaign contacts with Russia. While Mueller found no coordination or criminal conspiracy, the official said, some on the special counsel’s team say his findings paint a picture of a campaign whose members were manipulated by a sophisticated Russian intelligence operation. Some of that information may be classified, the official said, so it’s not clear whether it will be released in a few weeks when Barr makes public a redacted version of the Mueller report.

At the time Mueller’s prosecutors were leaking to correct Barr’s misleading portrayal of their report, a story said that the report actually shows that Trump’s team was susceptible to the manipulation of people working for Russia.

That is, it may not so much be that Mueller’s team found Trump and his flunkies’ conduct criminal. Rather, maybe they found their conduct naive — susceptible to compromise by Russia.

Their venality likely contributed to their vulnerability as well.

Such a conclusion is what I was pointing to when I suggested one question the report will answer is, “Did Mueller decide Don Jr is simply too stupid to enter into a conspiracy?” The evidence already in the public record, after all, shows that Don Jr took a meeting offering dirt at a time when he believed that cozying up to Russia could help the family business land a ridiculously lucrative $300 million real estate deal. At the end of the meeting, he told Russians who might be deemed agents of the government that the Trumps would revisit sanctions relief if his dad got elected. And contrary to the Trump camp’s public claims, there not only was follow-up after Trump won, but Trump himself did make moves towards giving Russia that sanctions relief.

That exchange could fit all the elements of a conspiracy charge: an agreement to trade dirt and real estate for sanctions relief and overt acts to further the conspiracy. Unless you figured the key player at the center of the agreement to enter into a conspiracy, Don Jr, is too stupid to know what he’s doing.

The leaked conclusion that Trump’s flunkies were manipulated by a sophisticated intelligence operation sure seems to support the “too stupid to enter into a conspiracy” conclusion.

All that said, the only way that such analysis would be consistent with both the regulatory mandate of the report (limiting the report to a discussion of prosecutions and declinations) and Barr’s description of it (saying it was split into the hack-and-leak and trolling section, and the obstruction section) would be if that analysis appeared in the obstruction section. (Frankly, I suspect Barr’s memo is wrong on this point, as Mueller would need to explain that Don Jr is too stupid to enter into a conspiracy, if that’s why he decided not to charge him in one).

That is, it may be that what Trump was obstructing was not criminal conduct, a knowingly engaged conspiracy, but stupid conduct, his failson saying all the words that amount to entering into a conspiracy, without realizing he was entering into one.

The reason Trump may have fired Mike Flynn and Jim Comey and pushed Michael Cohen to lie to Congress may be to hide that he got badly used by Putin’s envoys who appealed to Trump’s narcissism and greed to get him (in the form of his especially stupid son) to agree to sanctions relief.

Such a conclusion would be consistent with the reason Barr exonerated Trump, in usurping Congress’ authority to make that judgment: Trump and his failson didn’t so much knowingly commit a crime — they didn’t mean to enter into a conspiracy with the Russians, it just happened because they’re too weak to resist. Under such analysis, because Trump didn’t commit a crime, he had no crime to obstruct, and therefore did not obstruct.

Again, this is all hypothesis based on the known outlines of the report, at least as presented by an Attorney General who can’t be trusted.

Given that it’s a possibility, however, I want to prepare for the possibility that tomorrow we’ll be debating whether a President can obstruct justice to prevent voters from learning how badly he and his dumb son compromised themselves in an foreign intelligence operation in the course of running a presidential election to get rich.

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. 

Rod Rosenstein Didn’t Even Clear Trump on All the Topics He Hired Mueller to Investigate

As I have noted, the William Barr memo everyone is reading to clear Trump and his flunkies of a conspiracy with Russia actually only clears the Trump campaign and those associated with it of conspiring or coordinating with the Russian government in its efforts to hack into computers and disseminate emails for purposes of influencing the election. The exoneration doesn’t even extend to coordinating with WikiLeaks, as Roger Stone is alleged to have done (though that, by itself, is not a crime).

More significantly, it is silent about whether Trump and his flunkies conspired with Russia in a quid pro quo trading election assistance and a real estate deal for policy considerations, the very same kind of election year shenanigans Barr has covered up once before with Iran-Contra.

And that’s important, because it means Barr and Rod Rosenstein haven’t even cleared Trump of what Rosenstein hired Mueller to investigate.

Jim Comey first described the investigation to include:

  1. The Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election
  2. The nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government
  3. Whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts

When Rosenstein appointed Mueller, he referenced Comey’s statement, but specifically mentioned just bullets 2 and 3 in his mandate, combining those two bullets into one that (unlike Comey’s original statement) was limited to just the Russian government, not Russia’s efforts generally.

  • any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and

In May 2017 when Rosenstein hired Mueller (and, according to public reports, through November 2017), the investigation into the hack-and-leak remained elsewhere at DOJ (significantly, but not entirely, in Pittsburgh and San Francisco).

When the FBI raided Paul Manafort on July 27, 2017 — a raid Rosenstein almost certainly approved personally —  they were looking for evidence (among other things) on the June 9, 2016 meeting in support of an investigation into accepting campaign contributions from a foreigners or a conspiracy to do so; there was no mention whatsoever of probable cause that Manafort had helped Russia hack Hillary Clinton. Six months after that raid, Mueller would learn that two months after the June 9 meeting, on August 2, 2016, Manafort shared Trump’s polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik at a meeting where he also discussed a Ukrainian peace deal that would amount to sanctions relief. Manafort lied about what happened at that meeting. In Andrew Weissmann’s opinion, he lied in hopes of getting a Trump pardon.

When the Mueller Report states, “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” it does so after Manafort refused to explain why he shared that polling data, or whether he knew whom Konstantin Kilimnik was sharing it with, and significantly, whether he had reason to believe that either Kilimnik himself or Oleg Deripaska — neither themselves part of the Russian government but Deripaska unquestioningly with close ties to it — would share the data with the GRU hackers who were still hacking Hillary Clinton.

And yet the only “links and/or coordination” that Barr and Rosenstein addressed involved  an, “agreement–tacit or express–between the Trump Campaign and the Russian government on election interference.”

Because of Trump’s obstruction, we don’t know whether Manafort entered into an agreement with Kilimnik to trade sanctions relief for election assistance, but even if he did, it would not qualify as “coordination with the Russian government.” It would qualify as coordination with a cut-out for the Russian government.

Likewise, we know if Don Jr agreed to revisit sanctions relief after Natalia Veselnitskaya and the Agalarov family offered dirt on Hillary. But Don Jr wasn’t even officially part of the campaign, and while Veselnitskaya and Agalarov both have almost inseparable from the Russian government, they are not the Russian government and therefore would not qualify under this standard.

The nature of Manafort’s links to the Russian government via Kilimnik and Don Jr’s links to the Russian government via Veselnitskaya and Agalarov are squarely within Mueller’s mandate as laid out by Rosenstein. And those links are pretty fucking sketchy and possibly criminal, but quite possibly for reasons distant from the hack-and-leak. But by limiting the evaluation of the memo to whether the campaign coordinated directly with Russia on the hack-and-leak and not whether the links to Russia that Mueller discovered were criminally suspect, Rosenstein, with Barr, is not addressing one part of the job he hired Mueller to do.

That’s all the more true given the way that Barr, in consultation with Rosenstein, determined that Trump did not obstruct justice. An explicit part of Mueller’s mandate was to investigate the links between his campaign and Russia, including the link through Kilimnik to Deripaska and through him the Russian government. According to Weissmann, Trump’s actions led Manafort to refuse to explain those links.

In “conspiring” with Barr to give Trump the all-clear, Rosenstein didn’t address a significant part of the job he gave Mueller.

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.