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In at Least One Interview, Paul Manafort Was Not Asked How Stone Planned to Save Trump’s Ass

At first, Paul Manafort claimed not to remember any August 2016 conversations with Roger Stone about impending WikiLeaks releases. He further speculated that all the interesting conversations about WikiLeaks releases must have happened in September, after he was off the campaign. And then, even in the same interview, he admitted that was wrong.

That’s in no way the most interesting disclosure in a September 27, 2018 Mueller interview with Trump’s campaign manager in the most recent BuzzFeed FOIA response. But given a detail revealed in the Roger Stone trial — not to mention the abundant evidence that Manafort was shading his testimony within the 302 itself — Manafort’s efforts to disclaim any knowledge of what Roger Stone was up to in August 2016 suggests an affirmative attempt to cover up his knowledge of and possibly involvement in Stone’s activities that month.

The partial view offered by a single 302

The 302 was released in the most recent BuzzFeed FOIA release, one that makes fewer redactions than prior ones. The 302 is almost entirely unredacted and focuses closely on Roger Stone. This interview was neither the first interview at which Manafort was asked about Stone, nor is it the only interview released that pertains to Stone. His identifiable interviews pertaining to Stone are:

But in the earlier released 302s, the Stone-related content was redacted either due to Stone’s trial, or because an investigation into Stone remained ongoing on March 2, 2020, with the 6th release, but appears to have ended after Barr intervened in Stone’s case. For example, the released version of the September 13 302 redacts Manafort’s description of a pre-June 12 conversation with Stone where he told Manafort that, “a source close to WikiLeaks had the emails from Clinton’s server;” I’ve collected what appears unredacted from that interview in the SSCI Report here.

In other words, this is the one 302, so far, that shows us what DOJ actually asked Manafort about during the period he pretended to be cooperating in fall 2018 but was in fact lying. We can’t assume this interview is the entirety of what DOJ asked Manafort for several reasons. First, what we can see here is iterative. What starts as one brief mention on September 12, expands on September 13 (one of the only interviews where Manafort is believed to tell the truth), appears unredacted in this September 27 interview. But we might expect the October 1 (and any other interviews where he was asked about Stone) to include more information.

In addition, there is abundant evidence that DOJ is preferentially releasing files where a witness (including but not limited to Steve Bannon, Sam Clovis, and KT McFarland) lied to protect Trump, while keeping later more truthful (and damning) testimony redacted.

More importantly, the only Manafort references to Stone in the Mueller Report are cited to his grand jury testimony (probably on November 2, 2018, but that is redacted):

  • Manafort said Stone told him he was in contact with someone in contact with WikiLeaks. (fn 198)
  • Manafort told Trump Stone had predicted the release, in response to which Trump told him to stay in touch with Stone. (fn 204)
  • Manafort relayed the message to Stone, likely on July 25, 2016. (fn 205)
  • Manafort told Stone he wanted to be kept apprised of developments with WikiLeaks and told Gates to stay in touch with Stone as well. (fn 206)

I suspect Manafort was asked about things in his grand jury appearance that he wasn’t asked about in 302s (which is what happened on other topics Manafort was lying about). That said, just one detail — the date on which Manafort probably relayed Trump’s request that Stone seek out more information on WikiLeaks — appears in the Mueller Report, but not here (though as I’ll show in a follow-up post, the government clearly withheld a great deal of what they knew from the Mueller Report).

Manafort claims Stone didn’t include his life-long friend in his cover-up

Let’s start with the end of the interview. It captures Paul Manafort’s claims not to have coordinated stories with Stone, even while Manafort himself was coordinating stories with everyone else and Stone was coordinating stories too.

Close to the end of the interview, interviewers got Manafort to confirm that he knew, at the time Stone claimed on October 11, 2016 that he had no advance knowledge of the Podesta email release, Stone’s claim was “inconsistent with what he told” Manafort earlier in 2016.

Investigators then proceeded to ask Manafort questions to figure out whether (he would admit whether) Stone had included him in the rat-fucker’s very elaborate cover-up. He did not.

First, they got a general denial.

Manafort and Stone did not have a conversation in which Stone said Manafort should not tell anyone about the timing of the Podesta emails. They did not talk about Stone running away from what Stone told Manafort.

At a time when Manafort was lying wildly about everything else (in significant part to protect Trump), Stone’s lifelong friend claimed that Stone had made less effort to coordinate a cover story with Manafort than he had with Randy Credico, with whom Stone had a far more troubled relationship.

Then investigators asked Manafort (who at this point had been in jail almost four months and whom prosecutors knew had been conducting covert communications from jail) whether he and Stone had spoken about the investigation in the past six months. We know from this affidavit that by May, Stone was frantically calling Andrew Miller and siccing a private investigator on Credico and another witness in an attempt to cover his actions up. But while Manafort admitted that he and Stone had spoken about the investigation, he claimed they had had no conversations about covering up Stone’s advance knowledge of the Podesta dump.

Stone said the Special Counsel’s Office was accusing him of effectively controlling the timing of the leaked Podesta emails. Manafort thought it was some time in May or June that Stone told him the Special Counsel’s office thought he had a role in the Podesta emails. Stone did not expressly remind or tell Manafort what he (Stone) knew about the emails. They did not discuss the fact that Stone did actually have advance knowledge of the Podesta emails.

Again, we’re to believe that at a time Stone was spinning wild cover stories with Jerome Corsi, whom Stone had only known two years, at a time Stone was hiring private investigators to intimidate witnesses to sustain his cover story, Stone wasn’t at the same time including his life-long friend Paul Manafort in his cover-up.

Then, immediately after having claimed he and Stone had no conversation about the Podesta emails, Manafort then described what sounds like an attempt on Stone’s part to minimize what he had done.

Stone said to Manafort that he was not the decision maker or the controller of the information. Stone said he may have had advance knowledge, but he was not the decision maker. Stone was making clear to Manafort that he did not control the emails or make decisions about them. Stone said he received information about the Podesta emails but was a conduit, not someone in a position to get them released.

After providing what was a really damning admission (one that might have some truth to it!), Manafort then disclaimed any useful information by professing to be confused about all of this (something he said about learning in advance about the July 22 dump).

Manafort was confused as to the various people and hacks. Manafort asked Stone to go through the narrative of Assange, Guccifer, the DNC hack, and Seth Rich so that Manafort could understand it.

Stone knew Manafort knew that Stone’s public statements were false, but Stone “confused” Manafort.

Seth Rich was, fundamentally, a cover story that Stone helped perpetuate among right wing propagandists to disclaim his early knowledge that Russia was responsible for the email hacks. Manafort’s claim of confusion might reflect that investigators indicated they knew he was lying. But it effectively is an admission that Stone tried to get Manafort to repeat the cover story Stone had adopted, in parallel with WikiLeaks.

Then Manafort made two more claims that were probably false:

Stone did not advise Manafort to punch back or discredit the Special Counsel’s Office. Stone did not raise any desire to respond to the Special Counsel’s Office investigation by planting media stories.

Manafort was not aware of any attempts on Stone’s part to contact Manafort after Manafort was incarcerated.

Again, we’re to believe that Stone was working with everyone else he knew to push back on Mueller, but did not with Manafort (even while Manafort was having the same kinds of communications with Sean Hannity and others).

Most of the rest of the interview consists of Manafort trying to suggest that Stone had worked with Bannon on the Podesta emails (a claim he made earlier, as I’ll return to), effectively pawning off any coordination Stone did with the campaign to a time after Manafort left it.

Stone did not tell Manafort whether he passed the Podesta email information to anyone else on the campaign or associates with the campaign. Manafort speculated Stone may have passed information to Bannon, since Stone and Bannon had a relationship.

[snip]

Manafort thought Stone gave messaging ideas to Bannon, but did not think Stone was a source of information for Bannon.

Not only does this comment pawn any guilt onto Bannon, but it protects Trump from involvement he had in July and August.

Manafort’s evolving denials of any involvement in Stone’s activities

So that’s how the interview ends, with a Manafort effort to pawn off any guilt onto Bannon even while protecting Trump and others close to him, even after admitting that he and Stone had some conversation where Stone talked him through Assange, Guccifer, DNC, and Seth Rich.

Much earlier in the interview, Manafort confirmed some damning things that other witnesses had only hinted at. Here’s a summary of most of them (I’ll show how Manafort disproved his own claims about the Podesta emails next). Below I’ll show how for each damning admission, Manafort disclaimed substantive three-way coordination between him, Stone, and Trump, some of which he had already admitted to in his September 13 interview.

  1. Late May to early June: He had a conversation with Stone before Julian Assange said on June 12, 2016 WikiLeaks was publishing Hillary’s emails. In late May or early June, Stone said someone had good information that WikiLeaks had access to the emails on Clinton’s servers, which Manafort took to be a self-serving comment.
  2. After June 12: After Assange’s June 12 presser, Trump could and did start incorporating Hillary’s emails into his speeches, based on the premise that “if WikiLeaks had them, it was possible a foreign adversary did too.” Manafort said that Stone did not know what the emails were at that time.
  3. Between June 12 and the release of the DNC emails — a black hole: “Manafort wasn’t really interested until something was released” … “Manafort used Caputo to keep track of Stone, but by around June 15, 2016, Caputo left the campaign” … “Stone ‘went dark’ on WikiLeaks in late June.”
  4. Before July 21: Manafort and Stone had breakfast at the RNC where Stone clearly told Manafort stuff that anticipated the DNC email release, but about which Manafort made lame excuses.
  5. After the July 22 dump: Manafort gives credit to Stone for the release, and Trump tells Manafort that Stone should “stay on top of [the WikiLeaks dump].”
  6. August: While Manafort admits he raised the emails at a Monday Meeting, he claims all the interesting conversations about the emails must have happened after he left.

For each of these fairly damning revelations, Manafort offered logically inconsistent claims that he was out of the loop of any communications Stone had with Trump, as follows.

1 Manafort claims he didn’t tell Trump but would have known if Stone did

Manafort said Stone brought this up because of something Trump had said, but Manafort didn’t share the information with Trump and asked Stone not to tell Trump himself because he wanted to avoid a “fire drill” to go chase the emails down. Manafort considered the possibility Stone told Trump in spite of Manafort’s request he not do so, but claimed he would have known had Stone had done so.

Manafort asked Stone not to convey it to Trump, and Stone agreed. Manafort thought Stone would keep his word, but he was not convinced he would. Manafort did not have any indication whether or not Stone told Trump regardless of Manafort’s request. Manafort did not have a contemporaneous memory that Stone had told Trump about the emails, because he did not recall a conversation with Trump about it back then, which he would have expected if Trump knew.

In his September 13 interview, Manafort had already admitted that he believed Stone would have told Trump anyway because he ”wanted the credit for knowing in advance.”

2 Manafort admits he did talk to Trump after June 12 and suggests indirectly that he served as go-between the two

Even though Manafort had claimed not to have (and not wanted to have) discussed Stone’s predictions prior to Assange’s June 12 presser, Manafort did admit to discussing the emails after Assange’s presser. Manafort explained the difference between before and after Assange’s presser (and the reason why he was willing to discuss it with Trump) this way:

Manafort said there was no real fire drill after June 12, 2016 because the information was already out there. The fire drill would have been if Stone had been the only one saying it and Trump wanted more.

But Manafort then says some things about the conversations with Trump. The easiest way to make them cohere chronologically is if Trump did ask Manafort to find out more. I’ve rearranged Manafort’s claims, numbering the order in which he presented them.

  • Manafort thought he spoke to Trump and said Stone had it right, and that Trump was happy and looked forward to what WikiLeaks had. Trump asked Manafort if Stone knew what was in the emails. [2]
  • Manafort and Stone spoke after the June 12, 2016 article and Manafort said he [Manafort] was looking forward to what came out and also asked Stone whether he knew what Assange had. [1]
  • Manafort believed Stone told him he was working to find out what the emails included. [4]
  • Manafort told [Trump] no [Stone didn’t know what was in the emails] [3]

This may be a minor point, but Manafort’s description is inconsistent with there not being a conversation with Trump before June 12. That’s true because of the way he told Trump “Stone had it right,” reflecting prior knowledge, but also the way he reorders what happened to claim that he didn’t do what he said he had been afraid of having to do before June 12, run a fire drill.

This is the first time of two times that Manafort, in response to a question about whether he talked to someone whose name was redacted about WikiLeaks, he responded that that was “Miller’s” job (both Stephen and Jason were involved in WikiLeaks response and it’s unclear if an earlier redaction makes it clear which one he was talking about). That may be an effort to cover up Jared Kushner’s involvement (at trial, the government introduced evidence that Stone reached out to Kushner, and in the plea breach discussions the government accused Manafort of protecting someone who is almost certainly Kushner).

3 Manafort claims he wasn’t interested, Stone didn’t say anything, and doesn’t address discussions with Trump

Since Manafort claims not to have spoken to Stone about emails in the period when Guccifer 2.0 was releasing material but WikiLeaks was not, he doesn’t address whether he told Trump at all.

Stone “went dark” on WikiLeaks in late June. Manafort initially thought Stone’s advance knowledge was more of a guess.

As the SSCI Report makes clear, however, Manafort had at least six phone conversations that month, including these four:

  • June 4
  • June 12
  • June 20
  • June 23

4 Manafort tells a bullshit story about a breakfast he had that Morgan Pehme caught on tape

Early on in the interview, Manafort disclaimed June interest in emails by saying, “Manafort did not get really interested until something was released, which happened between the two conventions.” In the same paragraph, he is recorded as saying, “at that point [before something was released], Manafort could not rely on Assange.” The comment doesn’t make sense in any case, given that Guccifer 2.0 was releasing emails (which Manafort disclaims by saying they didn’t speak about emails). But in trying to discuss a breakfast captured on video, he virtually concedes Stone gave him detailed information before the DNC dump.

Manafort described a breakfast meeting he and Stone had that (he admits in the interview) had been partly caught on tape by the team making Get Me Roger Stone.

Manafort discussed a breakfast he had with Stone during the RNC, which was visible briefly in the “Get Me Roger Stone” documentary. They discussed convention speeches at that breakfast. Stone also complained about Ted Cruz. They discussed the DNC, because Manafort planned to go and give some speeches during it. WikiLeaks would have come up in that breakfast in reference to what they would be doing and how the campaign would use it. Manafort did not recall whether Stone said he knew when the WikiLeaks information was going to come out. They discussed Clinton’s server, WikiLeaks, and the DNC hack. They focused more on the DNC hack because it had current political value at the time. Manafort summarized the breakfast as a discussion about the DNC hack, when WikiLeaks planned to release the material, Manafort trying to understand the attack lines that would be used during the DNC and in the month of August, and the thematic strategy for the campaign.

Stone “went dark” on WikiLeaks in late June. Manafort initially thought Stone’s advance knowledge was more of a guess. It was not until the information about Debbie Wasserman-Schultz came out that Manafort realized the real value of the information. Stone did not tell Manafort the Wasserman-Schultz information was coming out in advance, but he was pleased when it did. That was the first time Manafort thought Stone’s connection to WikiLeaks was real.

According to emails released at trial, during the spring of 2018 (and well before) Randy Credico and Stone kept coming back to whether or not Morgan Pehme, one of the directors of Get Me Roger Stone, had “folded” or was lying. The film team had outtakes that showed more of what transpired at events they had filmed. So even Credico and Stone seemed worried about what having a film team travel around filming Trump’s rat-fucker might have seen while he was trying to steal the election.

Manafort (who, remember, would go on to disclaim having talked about cover stories with Stone) seems to have been aware of the risk, too.

This explanation from Manafort about this breakfast reveals one reason why. In the same breath as saying that Stone had gone dark in the period between Julian Assange’s June 12 interview and the actual release of the emails, Manafort got caught on film talking about it as an active thing. I have suggested that Stone met someone at the RNC who told him the emails were about to drop at a meeting that Andrew Miller would have scheduled. So it’s possible that this meeting happened in the wake of the one where Stone learned the drop was imminent. Manafort provides explanations that aren’t plausible given his other testimony, and comes close to admitting that the conversation reflected foreknowledge of the July 22 dump, which (as Manafort had already noted) came after the RNC ended.

5 Manafort disclaims any participation in the discussions between Stone and Trump

Manafort’s apparent message about what happened immediately after the DNC dump — which showed up in Stone’s trial as Trump ordering Manafort and Gates to get Stone to find out more — is that both he and Trump compartmentalized any discussions that happened about what came next.

The timeline he describes looks like this (though again, Manafort jumbled it a bit in the telling):

  • Before the weekend (and so either when the emails dropped or before): Manafort told Stone he was impressed and would be using it “the upcoming weekend in Philadelphia” and asked for more information, in response to which Stone did not specify.
  • After the July 22 dump: Manafort talked to Trump first (he would have had to have already spoken with Stone, though).
  • At the end of July 22: a possible different conversation with Trump and Reince Priebus.
  • Later in the weekend, probably July 23: Manafort “raised with” Trump that Stone had predicted it and Trump responded “that Stone should stay on top of it.”
  • July 24: Priebus and Manafort had talking points on the dump.

Then, as part of two paragraphs describing Manafort having a conversation that included the same things as the conversation he had before the weekend with Stone but is portrayed as after July 24, Manafort claims all of this was compartmentalized.

Manafort did not tell Stone specifically that Trump had asked that he stay on top of it. He would have just told him to stay on top of it. Manafort did not way to get into a cycle with Stone where Stone used him as an errand boy to get to Trump.

Manafort did not have any indication Trump heard from Stone directly, but he thought he would have. Trump would not have told Manafort if he was talking to Stone. Trump compartmentalized; it was just the way he was.

Manafort told Stone it was good stuff and to keep him posted, and Stone offered no indication he knew any more specifics.

Effectively, Manafort suggests both that Trump kept things with Stone compartmentalized — it was just the way he was! — which may conflict with his first explanation, that he’d be told of any discussions (in his September 13 testimony, he said he assumed they did speak before the DNC dump). In any case, Manafort also claims to be compartmentalizing himself, withholding from Stone the fact that Trump ordered Manafort to reach out.

I’ll come back to this.

6 Manafort admits certain things happened in August but claims he had no role

The government had two very specific questions for Manafort about August. First, did he speak to Stone about his August 8 speech in which he said there’d be more from WikiLeaks releases (remember, there were a whole series of such claims, but the government apparently only asked about the August 8 one). Manafort claimed he did not.

Manafort and Stone did not discuss Stone’s August 8, 2016 in which he said more was coming from WikiLeaks. Manafort recalled from the press coverage that Stone was confident more was coming in the fall. Stone never told Manafort he was dealing with Assange directly. Manafort assumed Stone had a contact of some sort. Stone’s August 8, 2016 comment was not out of character for Stone.

In other words, Manafort admits knowing about Stone’s comment (either this specific one or generally), but sourced it to the press, not Stone (or Trump). And though he admits that such boasts were normal for Stone, he seems to concede he nevertheless noticed them — in the press.

Investigators also asked Manafort, twice, about how the WikiLeaks releases came up at the Monday Morning meetings involving the family (they obviously had a specific one that occurred in the wake of the DNC release in mind). Over the course of an extended discussion, Manafort does admit it came up but suggests — in spite of the fact that Trump was “fixated on the topic” — that the discussion of Stone’s advance knowledge amounted to little more than, “that sounds like Roger.”

[After a claim that Manafort would later disprove that he had no conversations with Stone about WikiLeaks] Manafort was not certain when the next Monday morning meeting was, but it was either July 31 or August 7, but thought it was probably August 7, 2016. Manafort was sure WikiLeaks was raised and the discussion was about how useful the information was and when they could expect the next dump. Manafort thought it was probably a topic of many conversations. Trump was fixated on it.

[3 paragraphs in which Manafort concedes that someone at RNC was in the loop and claims that any substantive discussions happened after he left and then claims, probably for a second time, that “Miller” (which could be either Jason or Stephen) was in charge of those issues, so Kushner wouldn’t have been)]

The Monday morning family meeting has a two-fold agenda. One they discussed relevant “gossip” for the campaign. [Manafort tells anecdote about Michael Cohen catching Lewandowski leaking.] The meeting also covered scheduling. Manafort would lay out Trump’s travel schedule and they discussed how to integrate the family into events. Manafort said that when WikiLeaks was in the news, it would have been covered in the gossip section of the meeting. He remembered a discussion in which people said the Wasserman-Schultz stuff was helpful because it allowed Trump to say Clinton rigged the election against Bernie Sanders.

Manafort was sure he mentioned in a Monday meeting that Stone predicted the WikiLeaks dump. The reaction was something along the lines of “that sounds like Roger” and wondering about what else was coming. Stone had been putting it out there, but Manafort did not know if the family knew Stone had predicted it in advance.

Family meetings were attended by Manafort, Gates, Trump, Jr., Eric Trump, Hope Hicks, and sometimes Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump.

So Manafort admits being aware that Stone was wandering around claiming to know more was coming and that more was coming came up at a family meeting. These events happened on July 31, at the latest, per his testimony. But then he goes on to claim that he doesn’t remember any conversations in August with Stone about it.

Manafort did not recall any specific conversations in August 2016 with Stone about WikiLeaks.

As he did later in the interview, Manafort (who admitted ongoing ties with the campaign in his September 13 interview) suggested the good stuff happened after he left.

Manafort thought the campaign would have started to more aggressively look for more information from WikiLeaks in late August, and by that time, he was gone.

Poof! On September 27, 2018, at a time when Trump’s former campaign manager was pretending to cooperate, probably in an effort to learn what prosecutors knew and buy a pardon, Paul Manafort claimed that he did not have any memorable conversation with Roger Stone about WikiLeaks in the entire month of August.

Manafort disproves his own claims about August

Manafort then goes on to admit to at least one and probably two conversations that he remembered specifically that pertained to WikiLeaks.

Manafort was sure he had at least two conversations with Stone prior to the October 7, 2016 leak of John Podesta’s emails.

In the one conversation between Stone and Manafort, Stone told Manafort “you got fucked.” Stone’s comment related to the fact that Manafort had been fired. The conversation was either the day Manafort left the campaign or the day after.

In the other conversation, Stone told Manafort that there would be a WikiLeaks drop of emails with Podesta, and that Podesta would be “in the barrel” and Manafort would be vindicated. Manafort had a clear memory of the moment because of the language Stone used. Stone also said Manafort would be pleased with what came out. It was Manafort’s understanding that WikiLeaks had Podesta’s emails and they were going to show that [redacted] Manafort would be vindicated because he had to leave the campaign for being too pro-Russian, and this would show that Podesta also had links to Russia and would have to leave.

Manafort’s best recollection was the “barrel” conversation was before he got on the boat the week of August 28, 2016.

The first of these conversations, of course, may not have to do with Podesta. Except that — coming as it did the day on or the day after he left — it means it’s the around same day, August 15, 2016 that Stone tweeted about Hillary’s campaign manager for the first time ever.

@JohnPodesta makes @PaulManafort look like St. Thomas Aquinas Where is the @NewYorkTimes?

When Manafort got forced out of the campaign, Stone responded publicly in terms of John Podesta, whose emails he already knew WikiLeaks would be dropping.

The second conversation, which in this interview Manafort remembers clearly took place before he got on a yacht the week of August 28 (in the September 13 interview he placed it later), Stone said the same thing he said in his famous Tweet. It’ll soon be Podesta’s time in the barrel. Manafort claims to remember that “time in the barrel” language, but not Stone’s tweet. Manafort’s testimony seems to refute Stone’s cover stories about the tweet (here, Stone specifically describes it in term of just John Podesta). More importantly, Manafort’s testimony included details, a specific description of what Stone knew the Podesta emails to be released more than two months later would include, that would allow us to determine whether — as abundant evident suggests — Stone got advanced notice if not copies of materials relating to Joule Holdings in August 2016.

Except DOJ redacted that detail, which might reveal after 4 years, whether John Podesta’s suspicions that Roger Stone got his emails in advance were correct.

DOJ did so, based on the b6, b7C exemptions, to protect John Podesta’s privacy.

Investigators don’t ask how Stone proposed “to save Trump’s ass”

So Manafort, at first, obscured at least one really damning conversation in August, when Stone told him stuff that Stone would later spend years trying to cover up.

But there is almost certainly another.

Admittedly, Manafort was asked about calls in August, not calls after the DNC drop. So this email boasting of “good shit happening” would not be included.

Nor would the 68 minute phone call they had the next morning, the longest call they had that year.

Records reflect one-minute calls (suggesting no connection) between Stone and Manafort on July 28 and 29.1545 On July 29, Stone messaged Manafort about finding a time for the two of them to communicate, writing that there was “good shit happening.”1546 The back-a~d-forth between Stone and Manafort ultimately culminated in a 68-minute call on July 30, the longest call between the two of which the Committee is aware.1547

But Manafort did respond to an email offering “an idea to save Trump’s ass” by calling Stone. And that was in August.

Stone spoke by phone with Gates that night, and then called Manafort the next morning, but appeared unable to connect. 1559 Shortly after placing that call, Stone emailed Manafort with the subject line “I have an idea” and with the message text “to save Trump’s ass.”1560 Later that morning, Manafort called Stone back, and Stone tried to reach Gates again that afternoon. 1561

At trial, the prosecution included both exchanges among its examples of times Roger Stone contacted people from the Trump campaign about WikiLeaks.

Stone’s lawyers got FBI Agent Michelle Taylor to admit she had no idea what happened after even the first email.

Q. Tab 8, Exhibit 24, this is from Roger Stone to Paul Manafort, correct?

A. Yes.

Q. And the date of that?

A. This is an email dated July 29th, 2016.

Q. Do you know when the Republican National Convention occurred in 2016?

A. I do. I may have the dates a little off, but it was before this, July 19th to 21st maybe.

Q. All right, and do you know what, if anything, happened as a result of this email?

A. Do I know what happened as a result of this email?

Q. Yes.

A. No.

In closing, Jonathan Kravis asserted that the context proved this was about WikiLeaks.

On August 3rd, 2016, Stone writes to Manafort: “I have an idea to save Trump’s ass. Call me please.” What is Stone’s idea to save Trump’s ass? It’s to use the information about WikiLeaks releases that he just got from Jerome Corsi. How do know that’s what he had in mind; because that’s exactly what he did. As you just saw, just days after Stone sends this email to Paul Manafort, “I have an idea to save Trump’s ass,” he goes out on TV, on conference calls and starts plotting this information that he’s getting from Corsi: WikiLeaks has more stuff coming out, it’s really bad for Hillary Clinton.

Certainly, the government seems to have confidence that both those calls did pertain to WikiLeaks.

But they didn’t ask that question in a process they had reason to believe would be reported back to Donald Trump.

Paul Manafort’s answers in this interview appear to be a cover story, admitting some damning stuff, all while claiming there weren’t communications — particularly in August — we know there were. Which says Stone and Manafort (and, with the closure of these investigations, Bill Barr) are covering up something even more damning that the specific details of upcoming email dirt on John Podesta they’re withholding to protect John Podesta.

SSCI’s Asymmetric Interest in Partisan Use of Oppo Research

As I’ve said in past post, the SSCI Report on Russia is better than I expected, but it has some significant gaps (which I’ll discuss in more detail once I’m done reading the whole thing). One fairly inexcusable asymmetry in the committee’s interests, however, pertains to how the two parties dealt with the oppo research floating around in the summer of 2016.

Here’s some of the discussion of SSCI’s effort to figure out how much of Steele’s information got back to both the Clinton campaign and the DNC.

(U) Simpson implied in his interview with the Committee-but would not state outright-that Perkins Coie knew he had hired a subcontractor, along with pursuing other overseas iines of inquiry. 5722 In his book, Simpson said that Elias “had never even heard of Steele. While Elias was aware that Fusion had engaged someone outside the United States to gather information on Trump’s ties to Russia, he did not ask who it was or what the person’s credentials were.”5723 –

(U) Elias represented that the charges associated with Fusion GPS were around $60,000 per month, unevenly split between the Clinton Campaign and the DNC, including the $10,000 per-month fee paid to Perkins Coie.5724

(U) The Committee was unable to fully establish how much of the Steele information was actually transferred to the DNC and the Clinton Campaign. As a general practice, Fusion GPS passed research back to Elias weekly, sending both original source materials and summary documents.5725 Simpson would not say whether or when he gave the memos to Perkins Coie.5726 Elias, through counsel, did not provide details on what information he provided to the DNC or the Clinton Campaign, citing attorney-client privilege. His attorneys conveyed that he provided “advice on communications strategies and the information from.Fusion when warranted. Such information was infrequent, provided orally, and given to both the Clinton Campaign and the DNC.”s121

(U) Robby Mook told the Committee that counsel starting in the summer had briefed him, Podesta, Clinton Campaign Communications Director Jen Palmieri, Jake Sullivan, and Glenn Caplan (a communications staffer) on “pieces of the reporting” in the dossier.5728 The briefings were oral, generally, but Mook remembered one paper memo that counsel distributed then retrieved at the end of the meeting.5729 Palmieri told the Committee she never saw the dossier during the campaign, but she also recalled the Elias briefings: “I don’t recall the term ‘dossier’ being used. He had reports. Some of the things … that I know are in the dossier. Some of the things that I have read are in the dossier I had heard about from Marc, including the famous encounter at the hotel.”573° Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz told the Committee she had no awareness of the dossier, Steele, or Simpson, until the dossier and those names appeared in the press.5731

(U) The Committee also asked Mook whether he fourid the briefings by Elias to be alarming enough to warrant sharing the information with law enforcement. Mook said “No, I don’t recall ever feeling like we had sufficient evidence to go to law enforcement with anything. “5732

SSCI not only interviewed key people from both the campaign and the party (elsewhere, the report also describes what Donna Brazile and John Podesta knew, when), but it tried to understand the communication between them, even though that communication was attorney-client privileged in the same way coordinated attempts to doctor statements to the committee were privileged.

Here is the extent of SSCI’s curiosity in response to learning, from Rick Gates’ 302s and the Mueller Report, that the Trump campaign was working with the RNC to optimize WikiLeaks releases.

(U) Nonetheless, a possible WikiLeaks release appeared central to the Campaign’s · strategic focus. For example, after the June 12 announcement by Assange, Gates described learning from Manafort that the RNC was “energized” by the potential of a WikiLeaks release. Further, Manafort told Gates that the RNC was going to “run the WikiLeaks issue to ground.”1492 Trump and Kushner were reportedly willing to “cooperate” with the RNC’s efforts on this front, overcoming their earlier skepticism of working with the RNC, and demonstrating that both were focused on the possibility of WikiLeaks. releasing Clinton documents. 1493

1492 (U) FBI, FD-302, Gates 4/10/2018. Gates also said that the RNC “indicated they knew the timing of the upcoming releases,” but did not convey who specifically had this information, how it was acquired, or when. The RNC has denied that it had advance knowledge of the timing of WikiLeaks releases.

1493 (U) Ibid It is not clear to the Committee exactly when the notion of cooperation between the RNC and the Campaign arose, and Kushner never mentioned it in any interviews with the Committee. However, the context of these statements suggests that this was in response to early warnings about a pending WikiLeaks d9cument dump and before the July 22 release occurred. The Committee did not examine the RNC’s activity or its interactions with the Campaign on this topic. [my emphasis]

This is supposed to be a counterintelligence investigation of the ways that dalliances with foreign actors might compromise American security. RNC efforts to maximize the impact of documents stolen by Russia had just as much a possibility of compromising those involved as Trump’s own efforts.

And yet, SSCI was far more concerned about Democratic awareness of a report that — the SSCI report makes clear — was done by a guy (Steele) described as having no partisan leanings besides being anti-Putin working for a guy (Glenn Simpson) who didn’t much care for the Clintons but who wanted to make a buck off research already completed.

When Julian Assange Testified before a Nation-State Investigation of a Suspected Spy…

Back on December 20, 2019, Julian Assange testified in a nation-state’s investigation of someone suspected of spying for another nation-state. He testified pursuant to international legal process that got challenged on jurisdictional grounds, but ultimately upheld. While El País provided a report of his testimony, the testimony itself was not open to the press.

As he testified, Chelsea Manning and Jeremy Hammond sat in jail in Alexandria, VA, being held in contempt for refusing to testify, under a grant of immunity, in their own nation-state’s investigation of someone suspected of working with the intelligence services of another nation-state. Related charges are being challenged on jurisdictional issues. Manning, at least, claims she won’t testify because any hearing — like the one Assange testified in — would not be public. Tomorrow, prosecutors in EDVA will bring Manning before the grand jury again, in a third attempt to get her to testify before a hearing on Friday over her motion to be released based on an assertion the coercion of contempt will never bring her to testify.

This is just one irony about the way WikiLeaks supporters are treating the investigation of David Morales, the owner of a security contractor that provided the security for Ecuador’s embassy until 2018. Morales is accused of spying for the CIA — that is, spying for a third country’s intelligence service.

There are some problems or obvious alternative explanations for the accusations against Morales, but even assuming the allegations are true, there is little that separates what Morales would have done from what Assange did on at least one occasion: work as a willing participant in a third country’s intelligence service operation compromising the privacy of private citizens. Indeed, there are allegations of Russian involvement in two other WikiLeaks-related publications: there were Russians active in Stratfor hack chat rooms, and Joshua Schulte allegedly expressed an interest in Russian help (though the allegations are contradictory and post-date the initial leak to WikiLeaks, which I’ll return to).

You might argue that Morales’ surveillance of Assange — on whoever’s authority — constituted a far more serious privacy violation than those WikiLeaks has committed by publishing the private emails of John Podesta and the private information of Turkish, Saudi, and third party citizens. That might be true in first instance, but since some of the people exposed by WikiLeaks’ publications live in authoritarian countries, the secondary effects of WikiLeaks’ publication of details about private individuals might not be.

(I have heard, directly and indirectly, multiple consistent allegations about WikiLeaks itself engaging in practices that constitute privacy violations of the sort implicated by the surveillance of Assange, but it would take a law enforcement investigation to substantiate such claims, most of the affected parties would never want to involve law enforcement, and some investigations would be barred by privilege protections.)

Ultimately, though, Spain’s investigation into UC Global is the same thing the US investigation into WikiLeaks is: a properly predicated nation-state investigation into someone suspected of engaging in espionage-related activities with a foreign intelligence service. There are legitimate reasons why those who respect privacy might support both investigations.

WikiLeaks supporters might argue that it’s different because it’s the United States. That’s a perfectly justifiable stance, but if it’s the basis of supporting one investigation and another, should be admitted explicitly. WikiLeaks supporters might argue it’s different because Assange is the alleged victim, but that doesn’t change that there are victims (and not just spy agencies) that the US is trying to protect with its investigation.

Manning and Hammond say they are refusing to testify because they object to American grand jury practices. That amounts to civil disobedience, which is certainly their prerogative. They are paying a steep price for that civil disobedience (as both already paid with their decisions not to cooperate after pleading guilty). But when WikiLeaks supporters complain about the treatment Manning is suffering for her stance, they might think about the fact that — when it came to testifying in an equivalent inquiry — Julian Assange had none of the objections to testifying.

The Kinds and Significance of Russian Interference — 2016 and 2020

Trump’s meltdown last week — in which he purged top staffers at the Director of National Intelligence after a briefing on Russian interference in the 2020 election, followed by National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien making shit up on Meet the Press — has created a firestorm about Russian interference in the 2020 election. That firestorm, however, has spun free of what ways Russia interfered in 2016 and what effect it had.

Five ways Russia interfered in 2016

First, remember that there were at least five ways Russia interfered in 2016:

  • Stealing information then releasing it in a way that treats it as dirt
  • Creating on-going security challenges for Hillary
  • Using trolls to magnify divisions and feed disinformation
  • Tampering with the voting infrastructure
  • Influence peddling and/or attempting to recruit Trump aides for policy benefits

Stealing information then releasing it in a way that treats it as dirt

The most obvious way Russia interfered in 2016 was by hacking the DNC, DCCC, and John Podesta (it also hacked some Republicans it did not like). It released both the DNC and Podesta data in such a way as to exaggerate any derogatory information in the releases, successfully distracting the press for much of the campaign and focusing attention on Hillary rather than Trump. It released DCCC information that was of some use for Republican candidates.

Roger Stone took steps — not all of which are public yet — to optimize this effort. In the wake of Stone’s efforts, he moved to pay off one participant in this effort by trying to get a pardon for Julian Assange.

Creating on-going security challenges for Hillary

In addition to creating a messaging problem, the hack-and-leak campaign created ongoing security challenges for Hillary. Someone who played a key role in InfoSec on the campaign has described the Russian effort as a series of waves of attacks. The GRU indictment describes one of those waves — the efforts to hack Hillary’s personal server — which came in seeming response to Trump’s “Russia are you listening” comment. An attack that is often forgotten, and from a data perspective was likely one of the most dangerous, involved a month-long effort to obtain Hillary’s analytics from the campaign’s AWS server.

Whatever happened with this data, the persistence of these attacks created additional problems for Hillary, as her staff had to spend time playing whack-a-mole with Russian hackers rather than optimizing their campaign efforts.

Using trolls to magnify divisions and feed disinformation

Putin’s “chef,” Yevgeniy Prigozhin, also had staffers from his troll factory in St. Petersburg shift an ongoing campaign that attempted to sow division in the US to adopt a specific campaign focus, pushing Trump and attacking Hillary. Importantly, Prigozhin’s US-based troll effort was part of a larger multinational effort. And it was in no way the only disinformation and trolling entity involved in the election. Both parties did some of this, other countries did some, and mercenaries trying to exploit social media algorithms for profit did some as well.

Tampering with the voting infrastructure

Russia also tampered with US voting infrastructure. In 2016, this consisted of probing most states and accessing voter rolls in at least two, though there’s no evidence that Russian hackers made any changes. In addition, Russian hackers targeted a vendor that provided polling books, with uncertain results. The most substantive evidence of possible success affecting the vote in 2016 involved failures of polling books in Durham County, NC, which created a real slowdown in voting in one of the state’s most Democratic areas.

In recent days, there have been reports of a ransomware attack hitting Palm Beach County in September 2016, but it is unclear whether this was part of the Russian effort.

Because there’s no certainty whether the Russian hack of VR Systems was behind the Durham County problems, there’s no proof that any of these efforts affected the outcome. But they point to the easiest way to use hacking to do so: by making it harder for voters in particular areas to vote and harder for specific localities to count the vote.

Some of what Russia did in 2016 — such as probes of a particularly conservative county in FL — may have been part of Russia’s effort to discredit the outcome. They didn’t fully deploy this effort because Trump won.

Influence peddling and/or attempting to recruit Trump aides for policy benefits

Finally, Russia accompanied its other efforts with various kinds of influence peddling targeting Trump’s aides. It was not the only country that did so: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey, UAE, and Israel were some of the others. Foreign countries were similarly trying to target Hillary’s campaign — and the UAE effort, at least, targeted both campaigns at once, through George Nader.

Importantly, however, these efforts intersected with Russia’s other efforts to interfere in the election in ways that tied specific policy outcomes to Russia’s interference:

  • An unrealistically lucrative Trump Tower deal involved a former GRU officer and sanctioned banks
  • At a meeting convened to offer Trump dirt about Hillary, Don Jr agreed in principle to revisit ending Magnitsky sanctions if Trump won
  • George Papadopoulos pitched ending sanctions to Joseph Mifsud, who had alerted him that Russia had emails they intended to drop to help Trump
  • Paul Manafort had a meeting that tied winning the Rust Belt, carving up Ukraine, and getting paid personally together; the meeting took place against the background of sharing internal polling data throughout the campaign

As I’ll note in a follow-up, information coming out in FOIAed 302s makes it clear that Mike Flynn’s effort to undercut Obama’s December 2016 sanctions was more systematic than the Mueller Report concludes. So not only did Russia make it clear it wanted sanctions relief, Trump moved to give it to them even before he got elected (and his Administration found a way to exempt Oleg Deripaska from some of these sanctions).

Manafort continued to pursue efforts to carve up Ukraine until he went to jail. In addition, Trump continues to take actions that undercut Ukraine’s efforts to fight Russia and corruption. Neither of these have been tied to a specific quid pro quo (though the investigation into Manafort’s actions, especially, remained inconclusive at the time of the Mueller Report).

So while none of these was charged as a quid pro quo or a conspiracy (and the reasons why they weren’t vary; Manafort lied about what he was doing, and why, whereas Mueller couldn’t prove Don Jr had the mens rea of entering into a quid pro quo), Russia tied certain policy outcomes to its interference.

Trump’s narcissism and legal exposure exacerbated the effects

The Russian attack was more effective than it otherwise would have been for two reasons. First, because he’s a narcissist and because Russia built in plausible deniability, Trump refused to admit that Russia did try to help him. Indeed, he clings more and more to Russian disinformation about what happened, leading the IC to refuse to brief him on the threat, leading to last week’s meltdown.

In addition, rather than let FBI investigate the people who had entered into discussions of a quid pro quo, Trump obstructed the investigation. Trump has spent years now attacking the rule of law and institutions of government rather than admit what DOJ IG found — there was reason to open the investigation, or admit what DOJ found — there was reason to prosecute six of his aides for lying about what happened.

The Russian effort was just one of the reasons Hillary lost

It’s also important to remember that Russia’s interference was just one of the many things that contributed to Hillary’s loss.

Other aspects were probably more important. For example, Republican voter suppression, particularly in Wisconsin and North Carolina, was far more important than any effect the VR Systems hack may have had in Durham County. Jim Comey’s public statements about the email investigation had at least as much effect as the Russian hack-and-leak campaign did on press focus. Hillary made some boneheaded choices — like barely campaigning in WI and MI; while I had worried that she made those choices because Russia tampered with her analytics (with the AWS hack), that doesn’t seem to have happened. Disinformation sent by the Trump campaign and associates was more significant than Russian disinformation. It didn’t help that the Obama Administration announced a sharp spike in ObamaCare prices right before the election.

The response matters

As noted, Trump’s narcissism dramatically increased the effect of the Russian efforts in 2016, because he has always refused to admit it happened.

Compare that to Bernie’s response to learning that Russia was trying to help his campaign, which accepted that it is happening and rejected the help.

“I don’t care, frankly, who [Russian President Vladimir] Putin wants to be president,” Sanders said in a statement. “My message to Putin is clear: Stay out of American elections, and as president I will make sure that you do.

“In 2016, Russia used Internet propaganda to sow division in our country, and my understanding is that they are doing it again in 2020. Some of the ugly stuff on the Internet attributed to our campaign may well not be coming from real supporters.”

This was not perfect — Bernie could have revealed this briefing himself weeks ago, Bernie blamed the WaPo for reporting it when it seems like the story was seeded by O’Brien. But it was very good, in that it highlighted the point of Russian interference — sowing divisions — and it reaffirmed the import of Americans selecting who wins. Plus, contrary to Trump, there’s no reason to believe Bernie would pursue policies that specifically advantaged Russia.

Other factors remain more important than Russian interference

There’s very serious reason to be concerned that Russia will hack the outcome of 2020. After all, it would need only to affect the outcome in a small number of precincts to tip the result, and the prospect of power outages or ransomware doing so in urgent fashion have grown since 2016.

That said, as with 2016, there are far more urgent concerns, and those concerns are entirely American.

Republicans continue to seek out new ways to suppress the vote, including by throwing large swaths of voters off the rolls without adequate vetting. There are real concerns about voting machines, particularly in Georgia (and there are credible concerns about the reliability of GA’s tally in past elections). Republicans have continued to make polling locations less accessible in Democratic precincts than in Republican ones.

Facebook refuses to police the accuracy of political ads, and Trump has flooded Facebook with disinformation.

And Bloomberg’s efforts this year — which include a good deal of trolling and disinformation — are unprecedented in recent memory. His ad spending has undercut the ability to weigh candidates. And his personnel spending is increasing the costs for other candidates.

Russian efforts to sway the vote are real. Denying them — as some of Bernie’s supporters are doing in ways that hurt the candidate — does not help. But, assuming DHS continues to work with localities to ensure the integrity of voting infrastructure, neither does overplaying them. Between now and November there’s far more reason to be concerned about American-funded disinformation and American money distorting our democratic process.

DOJ Is Withholding the Mike Flynn 302 Describing How the Campaign Considered Reaching Out to Julian Assange after the Podesta Leaks

As DOJ continues to respond to the BuzzFeed/CNN Mueller FOIAs by releasing big swaths of 302s (FBI interview reports) almost entirely redacted under b5 (deliberative) exemptions, there are a number of issues on which it is withholding information that are utterly critical to current debates.

For example, Trump renewed his claim the other day that Robert Mueller had interviewed for the FBI job before being named Special Counsel, which he claims presented a conflict. According to the Mueller Report, Steve Bannon, Don McGahn, and Reince Priebus all rebutted that claim, either on the facts or whether it presented a conflict. But Bill Barr’s DOJ has withheld all of McGahn’s 302s, as well as the Bannon one (from October 26, 2018) cited in the Mueller Report on this topic. And DOJ redacted all the substantial discussion of what Reince Priebus told the President about this purported conflict in his.

Plus there’s substantially redacted material in the Rod Rosenstein 302 that pertains to this topic (and possibly also in Jody Hunt’s 302). Which is to say that DOJ is letting the President make repeated assertions about this topic, while withholding the counter-evidence under claims of privilege.

A more glaring example, however, involves Mike Flynn. In response to the FOIA, DOJ has only released the same January 24, 2017 302 that got released as part of Flynn’s sentencing. Even as Barr has planted outside reviewers in the DC US Attorney’s office to second-guess Flynn’s prosecution, DOJ is withholding 302s that — the government has suggested — show that Flynn wasn’t even all that forthcoming after he was purportedly cooperating with Mueller.

Based on filings and assertions made by the defendant’s new counsel, the government anticipates that the defendant’s cooperation and candor with the government will be contested issues for the Court to consider at sentencing. Accordingly, the government will provide the defendant with the reports of his post-January 24, 2017 interviews. The government notes that the defendant had counsel present at all such interviews.

Even Flynn himself released a sworn declaration revealing that his Covington lawyers told him his first interview with Mueller, on November 16, 2017, “did not go well.”

More urgent, given today’s news that Julian Assange’s lawyers will claim that when Dana Rohrabacher met with Assange in August 2017 about trading a pardon for disinformation about Russia’s involvement in the 2016 operation, DOJ is withholding details about conversations Flynn participated in during the campaign about WikiLeaks, including a possible effort to reach out to them after the John Podesta release.

The defendant also provided useful information concerning discussions within the campaign about WikiLeaks’ release of emails. WikiLeaks is an important subject of the SCO’s investigation because a Russian intelligence service used WikiLeaks to release emails the intelligence service stole during the 2016 presidential campaign. On July 22, 2016, WikiLeaks released emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee. Beginning on October 7, 2016, WikiLeaks released emails stolen from John Podesta, the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. The defendant relayed to the government statements made in 2016 by senior campaign officials about WikiLeaks to which only a select few people were privy. For example, the defendant recalled conversations with senior campaign officials after the release of the Podesta emails, during which the prospect of reaching out to WikiLeaks was discussed.

Assange has created a firestorm with the mere allegation — one already reported in great depth in real time — that Trump was involved in the 2017 Rohrabacher effort.

Except Mike Flynn’s 302s report something potentially more inflammatory: that the campaign started pursuing this effort in October 2016.

The Slow Firing of Robert Mueller[‘s Replacement]

On December 5, I suggested that Speaker Pelosi delay the full House vote on impeachment until early February. I intimated there were public reasons — the possibility of a ruling on the Don McGahn subpoena and superseding charges for Lev Parnas — I thought so and private ones. One of the ones I did not share was the Stone sentencing, which at that point was scheduled for February 6. Had Pelosi listened to me (!!!) and had events proceeded as scheduled, Stone would have been sentenced before the final vote on Trump’s impeachment.

But things didn’t work out that way. Not only didn’t Pelosi heed my suggestion (unsurprisingly), but two things happened in the interim.

First, Stone invented a bullshit reason for delay on December 19, the day after the full House voted on impeachment. The prosecutors who all resigned from the case yesterday objected to the delay, to no avail, which is how sentencing got scheduled for February 20 rather than the day after the Senate voted to acquit.

Then, on January 6, Trump nominated Jessie Liu, then the US Attorney for DC, to be Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Crimes, basically the person who oversees the process of tracking criminal flows of finance. She won’t get that position — her nomination was pulled yesterday in advance of a Thursday confirmation hearing. But her nomination gave Barr the excuse to install a trusted aide, Timothy Shea, at US Attorney for DC last Thursday, the day after the impeachment vote and in advance of the now-delayed Stone sentencing.

Liu, who is very conservative and a true Trump supporter, had been nominated for a more obvious promotion before. On March 5, Trump nominated her to be Associate Attorney General, the number 3 ranking person at DOJ. But then she pulled her nomination on March 28 because Senators objected to her views on choice.

But let’s go back, to late August 2018. Michael Cohen and Sam Patten had just pled guilty, and Cohen was trying to find a way to sort of cooperate. Rudy Giuliani was talking about how Robert Mueller would need to shut down his investigation starting on September 1, because of the election. I wrote a post noting that, while Randy Credico’s imminent grand jury appearance suggested Mueller might be close to finishing an indictment of Stone, they still had to wait for Andrew Miller’s testimony.

Even as a I wrote it, Jay Sekulow was reaching out to Jerome Corsi to include him in the Joint Defense Agreement.

During the entire election season, both Paul Manafort and Jerome Corsi were stalling, lying to prosecutors while reporting back to Trump what they were doing.

Then, the day after the election, Trump fired Jeff Sessions and installed Matt Whitaker. Whitaker, not Rosenstein, became the nominal supervisor of the Mueller investigation. Not long after, both Manafort and Corsi made their game clear. They hadn’t been cooperating, they had been stalling to get past the time when Trump could start the process of ending the Mueller investigation.

But Whitaker only reactively kept Mueller in check. After Michael Cohen’s December sentencing made it clear that Trump was an unindicted co-conspirator in a plot to cheat to win, Whitaker started policing any statement that implicated Trump. By the time Roger Stone was indicted on January 24, 2019 — after Trump’s plan to replace Whitaker with the expert in cover ups, Bill Barr — Mueller no longer noted when Trump was personally involved, as he was in Stone’s efforts to optimize the WikiLeaks releases.

But then, when Barr came in, everything started to shut down. Mueller moved ongoing prosecutions to other offices, largely to DC, under Jessie Liu’s supervision. As Barr came to understand where the investigation might head, he tried to promote Liu out of that position, only to have GOP ideology prevent it.

Barr successfully dampened the impeach of the Mueller Report, pretending that it didn’t provide clear basis for impeaching the President. It was immediately clear, when he did that, that Barr was spinning the Stone charges to minimize the damage on Trump. But Barr did not remove Mueller right away, and the Special Counsel remained up until literally the moment when he secured Andrew Miller’s testimony on May 29.

The next day, I noted the import of raising the stakes for Trump on any Roger Stone pardon, because Stone implicated him personally. That was more important, I argued, than impeaching Trump for past actions to try to fire Mueller, which Democrats were focused on with their attempt to obtain Don McGahn’s testimony.

Still, those ongoing investigations continued under Jessie Liu, and Stone inched along towards trial, even as Trump leveraged taxpayer dollars to try to establish an excuse to pardon Manafort (and, possibly, to pay off the debts Manafort incurred during the 2016 election). As Stone’s trial laid out evidence that the President was personally involved in optimizing the release of emails Russia had stolen from Trump’s opponent, attention was instead focused on impeachment, his more recent effort to cheat.

In Stone’s trial, he invented a new lie: both Randy Credico and Jerome Corsi had falsely led him to believe they had a tie to WikiLeaks. That didn’t help Stone avoid conviction: Stone was found guilty on all counts. But it gave Stone yet another cover story to avoid revealing what his ties to WikiLeaks actually were and what he did — probably with Trump’s assent — to get it. For some reason, prosecutors decided not to reveal what they were otherwise prepared to: what Stone had really done.

Immediately after his conviction, Stone spent the weekend lobbying for a pardon. His wife appeared on Tucker Carlson’s show and someone got inside White House gates to make the case.

But, as impeachment proceeded, nothing happened, as the Probation Office started collecting information to argue that Stone should go to prison for a long while. The day Democrats finished their case against Donald Trump, though, Bill Barr made his move, replacing Liu before she was confirmed, removing a very conservative Senate confirmed US Attorney to install his flunkie, Timothy Shea. But even that wasn’t enough. Prosecutors successfully convinced Shea that they should stick to the probation office guidelines recommending a stiff sentence. When Timothy Shea didn’t do what Barr expected him to, Barr intervened and very publicly ordered up the cover up he had promised.

Effectively, Bill Barr is micro-managing the DC US Attorney’s office now, overseeing the sentencing of the man who could explain just how involved Trump was in the effort to maximize the advantage Trump got from Russia’s interference in 2016, as well as all the other prosecutions that we don’t know about.

Trump has, finally, succeeded in firing the person who oversaw the investigations into his role in the Russian operation in 2016. Just as Stone was about to have reason to explain what that role was.

Timeline

August 21, 2018: Michael Cohen pleads guilty

August 31, 2018: Sam Patten pleads guilty

September 5, 2018: Jay Sekulow reaches out to Corsi lawyer to enter into Joint Defense Agreement

September 6, 2018: In first Mueller interview, Corsi lies

September 17, 2018: In second interview, Corsi invents story about how he learned of Podesta emails

September 21, 2018: In third interview, Corsi confesses to establishing a cover story about Podesta’s emails with Roger Stone starting on August 30, 2016; NYT publishes irresponsible story that almost leads to Rod Rosenstein’s firing

October 25, 2018: Rick Gates interviewed about the campaign knowledge of Podesta emails

October 26, 2018: Steve Bannon admits he spoke with Stone about WikiLeaks

October 31, 2018: Prosecutors probably show Corsi evidence proving he lied about source of knowledge on Podesta emails

November 1 and 2, 2018: Corsi continues to spew bullshit in interviews

November 6, 2018: Election day

November 7, 2018: Jeff Sessions is fired; Matt Whitaker named Acting Attorney General

November 9, 2018: Corsi appears before grand jury but gives a false story about how he learned of Podesta emails; Mueller threatens to charge him with perjury

November 15, 2018: Trump tweets bullshit about Corsi’s testimony being coerced

November 23, 2018: Corsi tells the world he is in plea negotiations

November 26, 2018: Corsi rejects plea

December 7, 2018: Trump nominates Bill Barr Attorney General

January 18, 2019: Steve Bannon testifies to the grand jury (and for the first time enters into a proffer)

January 24, 2019: Roger Stone indicted for covering up what really happened with WikiLeaks

February 14, 2019: Bill Barr confirmed as Attorney General

March 5, 2019: Jessie Liu nominated to AAG; Bill Barr briefed on Mueller investigation

March 22, 2019: Mueller announces the end of his investigation

March 24, 2019: Bill Barr releases totally misleading version of Mueller results, downplaying Stone role

March 28, 2019: Liu pulls her nomination from AAG

April 19, 2019: Mueller Report released with Stone details redacted

May 29, 2019: As Mueller gives final press conference, Andrew Miller testifies before grand jury

November 12, 2019: Prosecutors apparently change Stone trial strategy, withhold details of Stone’s actual back channel

November 15, 2019: Roger Stone convicted on all counts

January 6, 2020: Jessie Liu nominated to Treasury

January 16, 2020: Probation Office issues Presentence Report calling for 7-9 years

January 30, 2020: Bill Barr replaces Liu with Timothy Barr, effective February 3; DOJ submits objection to Presentence Report

February 3, 2020: Timothy Shea becomes acting US Attorney

February 5, 2020 : Senate votes to acquit Trump

February 6, 2020: Initial sentencing date for Roger Stone

February 10, 2020: Stone sentencing memoranda submitted

February 11, 2020: DOJ overrules DC on Stone sentencing memorandum, all four prosecutors resign from case

February 20, 2020: Current sentencing date for Roger Stone

The Black Hole Where SSCI’s Current Understanding of WikiLeaks Is

Four years after it started, the Senate Intelligence Committee continues its investigation into Russia’s 2016 election interference, this week releasing the report on what the Obama Administration could have done better. For a variety of reasons, these reports have been as interesting for their redactions or silences as for what the unredacted bits say.

This latest report is no different.

Putin responded to Obama’s warnings by waggling his nukes

The most interested unredacted bit pertains to Susan Rice’s efforts, scheduled to occur just before ODNI and DHS released their report attributing the hack to Russia, to warn Russia against continuing to tamper in the election. That would place the meeting at just about precisely the moment the Access Hollywood video and Podesta email release happened, a big fuck you even as Obama was trying to do something about the tampering. The meeting also would have occurred during the period when Sergei Kislyak was bitching about FBI efforts to prevent Russia from sending election observers to voting sites.

The description of the meeting between Rice and Kislyak is redacted. But the report does reveal, for the first that I heard, that Russia responded to being warned by raising its nukes.

Approximately a week after the October 7. 2016. meeting, Ambassador Kislyak asked to meet with Ambassador Rice to deliver Putin’s response. The response, as characterized by Ambassador Rice, was “denial and obfuscation,” and “[t]he only thing notable about it is that Putin somehow deemed it necessary to mention the obvious fact that Russia remains a nuclear power.”

This exchange is all the more interesting given that there’s an entirely redacted bullet (on page 37) describing actions that “Russian cyber actors” took after Obama warned Putin. Given that the state and county scanning and the alleged hack of VR Systems shows up, there’s something we either still don’t know about or SSCI continues to hide more details of the VR Systems hack.

The page long post-election response to the election year attack

The longest subsection in a section devoted to describing Obama’s response is redacted (pages 39-41).

Here’s what the timing of the unredacted parts of that section is:

  • A: Expulsion of Russian diplomats (December 29, 2016)
  • B: Modifying the EO and sanctions (December 29, 2016)
  • C: redacted
  • D: Cybersecurity action in the form of the issuance of two technical reports (December 29, 2016 and February 10, 2017)
  • E: Tasking the ICA Report (initiated December 6, 2016; completed December 30, 2016; published January 5 and 6, 2017)
  • F: Protecting election infrastructure (January 5, 2017)

That might suggest that whatever secret action the Obama Administration took happened right in December, with everything else.

John Brennan was proved fucking right

There’s a redacted passage that may undermine the entire premise of the John Durham investigation, which purports to review what agencies, other than FBI, did to lead to an investigation focused on Trump’s campaign. Some reporting suggests Durham is investigating whether CIA tricked FBI into investigating Trump’s flunkies.

But this report describes how, in spite of knowing about related Russian hacks in 2015 and Russia’s habit of leaking information they stole, the IC really wasn’t aware of what was going on until John Brennan got an intelligence tip during the summer of 2016. That intelligence tip was described at length in a WaPo story that resembles this section of the report.

Early last August, an envelope with extraordinary handling restrictions arrived at the White House. Sent by courier from the CIA, it carried “eyes only” instructions that its contents be shown to just four people: President Barack Obama and three senior aides.

Inside was an intelligence bombshell, a report drawn from sourcing deep inside the Russian government that detailed Russian President Vladi­mir Putin’s direct involvement in a cyber campaign to disrupt and discredit the U.S. presidential race.

But it went further. The intelligence captured Putin’s specific instructions on the operation’s audacious objectives — defeat or at least damage the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump.

At that point, the outlines of the Russian assault on the U.S. election were increasingly apparent. Hackers with ties to Russian intelligence services had been rummaging through Democratic Party computer networks, as well as some Republican systems, for more than a year. In July, the FBI had opened an investigation of contacts between Russian officials and Trump associates. And on July 22, nearly 20,000 emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee were dumped online by WikiLeaks.

But at the highest levels of government, among those responsible for managing the crisis, the first moment of true foreboding about Russia’s intentions arrived with that CIA intelligence.

The section in this report is redacted.

Effectively, this report seems to confirm the WaPo reporting (which may have been based off sources close to those who testified to SSCI). It also emphasizes the import of this intelligence. But for this intelligence, the IC may have continued to remain ignorant of Putin’s plans for the operation.

The IC won’t let SSCI share its current understanding of WikiLeaks

But the most interesting redactions pertain to WikiLeaks.

There are four redacted paragraphs describing how hard it was for the IC to come up with a consensus attribution for the hack and leak operation.

Senior administration officials told the Committee that they hesitated to publicly attribute the cyber efforts to Russia m1til they had sufficient information on the penetration of the DNC network and the subsequent disclosure of stolen information via WikiLeaks, DCLeaks, and Guccifer 2.0.

More interesting still, almost the entirety of the page-plus discussion (relying on testimony from Ben Rhodes, Michael Daniel, Paul Selva, Mike Rogers, and others) of why it took so long to understand WikiLeaks remains redacted.

One reference that is unredacted, however, describes WikiLeaks as “coopted.”

This information would be of particular interest as the prosecution of Julian Assange goes forward. That — and the fact that some of this determination, relying as it does on former NSA Director Mike Rogers, appears to rely on NSA information — may be why it remains redacted.

Update: I’ve deleted the remainder of this post. It came from Wyden’s views, not the report itself.

Rick Gates Got Sent Two Key Jerome Corsi Posts

Last year, as Mueller was managing the failed Jerome Corsi cooperation deal, I did a series of posts suggesting that Corsi and Stone seemed to have gotten advanced information about the John Podesta email dump. I argued that, in part, because the two started crafting an elaborate Matryoshka cover-up by the end of August to excuse away Stone’s “time in the barrel tweet.” More importantly, Corsi wrote a piece picking up what the two men had been plotting in August on October 6, seemingly anticipating John Podesta documents that would only be dumped on October 11. In other words, Corsi and Stone seemed to know by mid-August what WikiLeaks would drop in October.

I posted the first of those posts on October 22.

Three days later, Mueller’s team interviewed Rick Gates (PDF 39). According to the headings in the interview, which were dates, the interview traced the key milestones of the WikiLeaks dump:

  • June 12, 2016 to July 22, 2016
  • Post July 22, 2016 WikiLeaks Releases
  • October 4, 2016
  • October 7, 2016
  • [Redacted]

Much of the content below that last redacted heading is redacted, but it’s clear the section as a whole relates to the two Corsi pieces that bookend my theory that he and Stone got the files ahead of time.

** Gates was shown an email [redacted] containing the subject line “Trump adviser: WikiLeaks plotting email dump to derail Hillary” **

Gates did not recall receiving the aforementioned email.

[redacted]

** Gates was shown an email [redacted] containing the subject line “Russia? Look who’s really in bed with Moscow — Podesta & Clinton Foundation money-laundering with Russia” **

[redacted]

The FOIAed backup for this interview includes the emails by which the articles were sent.

They obscure the date that the first one was sent, though it was posted on August 15; the second, which Corsi published on October 6, got sent 15 hours later, so just before mid-day on October 7. (Steve Bannon’s assistant Alexandra Preate sent Stone a text at 6:30PM telling him “Well done,” presumably for the actual WikiLeaks releases).

But it sure seems like the campaign was in the loop on some of this.

I’m fairly certain none of this will be aired at the Stone trial. The government doesn’t even plan to enter Stone’s “time in a barrel” tweet into evidence and there’s nothing in the draft exhibit list that looks like it could be these emails. Plus, much of their case seems designed not to have to rely on Corsi.

But it sure seems to have been of interest last year.

Roger Stone Once Again Limits His Denials

In addition to the government showing that Roger Stone is a disorganized crime figure the other day, Roger Stone submitted a curious filing of his own, in yet another apparent attempt to feed denialist propaganda.

A week earlier, the government made a detailed argument that Stone, in his sustained bid to make his trial an attempt to challenge the government evidence that Russia hacked the DNC, misunderstood what the case was about. All that matters, the government argues, is whether Stone’s lies materially affected the House Intelligence investigation into the Russian tampering.

Stone’s false statements also had a natural tendency to (and in fact did) affect HPSCI’s investigative steps, priorities, and direction—regardless of Russia’s 2016 activities. See United States v. Safavian, 649 F.3d 688, 691-92 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (statements material if they “were capable of influencing the course of the FBI’s investigation”). For example, HPSCI did not subpoena the written communications that Stone claimed not to exist, and HPSCI did not investigate the other intermediary (Person 1) when Stone claimed that Person 2 was his sole intermediary. Moreover, Organization 1’s activities and coordination with Stone were relevant to evaluating the Intelligence Community’s work, to assessing any risks that Organization 1 may pose, and to considering any future actions that should be taken to deter coordination with state and non-state actors seeking to influence American elections. None of these understandings of materiality depends in any way on whether Russia in fact participated in the hacks or transmitted the hacked materials to Organization 1, and therefore Stone’s evidence on that subject is not relevant to the materiality inquiry.4

As part of that discussion, in a footnote, they engage in some counterfactuals to show how, even if some alternative scenarios, including the main one suggested by Stone, were true, his lies would still be material.

4 Even under Stone’s crabbed view of materiality and HPSCI’s investigation, Stone’s statements were still material, regardless of Russia’s exact role. Stone now primarily focuses only on evidence about whether Russia transferred the stolen files. But even if Organization 1 received the files elsewhere, it does not follow that Organization 1 has no connection to Russia’s election interference. For example, Organization 1 could theoretically have received the files from someone who received them from Russia; Russia could theoretically have coordinated its other election interference activities with Organization 1’s posting of stolen documents even if Russia was not Organization 1’s source; and individuals associated with the Trump Campaign could theoretically have played a role coordinating the two. Under any view, Stone’s communications with and about Organization 1 were material, regardless of Russia’s exact role.

As you read this “theoretical” scenario, remember that the campaign considered reaching out to WikiLeaks after the John Podesta files got released. And Roger Stone was — at least in 2018 — among those Trump flunkies who were trying to get Julian Assange a pardon.

The government presents this as theoretical, but it demonstrates, correctly, that WikiLeaks’ role in the operation matters whether or not the person who dealt them one or another set of files was a Russian intelligence officer.

Stone spends much of his response claiming (nonsensically) that because the government wants to introduce a Julian Assange video to establish dates for the public record surrounding certain details (in that case, when it was publicly knowable that WikiLeaks would release more files), it makes the issue of how Russia got the files to WikiLeaks central. In the hands of better lawyers — or at least, lawyers who weren’t playing for a pardon — this argument might have merit. In Stone’s case it doesn’t, in part because he failed to describe what evidence he wanted to introduce, and in part because he doesn’t understand what files Bill Binney, one of his intended witnesses, is talking about (they’re not the John Podesta emails, and so are irrelevant to Stone’s lies).

The government objects to Roger Stone presenting two witnesses who will testify, and demonstrate, that WikiLeaks did not receive the relevant DNC and DCCC data from the Russian state. That evidence will establish that the relevant data was “leaked” to WikiLeaks, not transferred to WikiLeaks by the Russian State. The government claims such evidence will be irrelevant, unfairly prejudicial, and cause delay and would turn the subject matter into a “mini-trial.” The government states: “If a person chooses to make false statements to the government, he or she takes the risk that the false statement is material.” (Motion at 14). But, the government takes the same risk: that the alleged false statements might be deemed immaterial by the jury. 1

Stone should be permitted to present evidence that his answers did not materially affect the congressional investigation because the Indictment makes clear that the investigation was of a “Russian state hack.”

But along the way, Stone includes his own footnote where he (perhaps in an effort to present a quote that denialists like Aaron Maté can quote without context, as Maté has done repeatedly as the useful idiot of both Stone and Concord Management) misrepresents the government’s theoretical as instead genuine curiosity.

1 The government wonders if the Russian state hacked and stole the relevant data and then someone else coordinated the delivery of the data to WikiLeaks. See Dkt. #172 n. 4. The government, nor the Mueller report proved or disproved this scenario. But if WikiLeaks did not receive the data from the Russian state then Stone’s communications with WikiLeaks were immaterial.

Stone is absolutely right that the government doesn’t prove or disprove this scenario. The Mueller Report notes explicitly that,

The Office cannot rule out that stolen documents were transferred to WikiLeaks through intermediaries who visited during the summer of 2016. For example, public reporting identified Andrew Müller-Maguhn as a WikiLeaks associate who may have assisted with the transfer of these stolen documents to WikiLeaks.

The prosecutors in his case aren’t tasked with answering that question. Indeed, if pressed, they could argue that Stone’s lies might well have served to hide firsthand knowledge of how the Podesta emails did get to WikiLeaks, which would make them even more material.

From a legal standpoint, Stone’s argument is unlikely to work, even if it were argued with more legal rigor.

What I’m interested in, however, is how Stone homes in on just one part of the scenario, the hand-off of files to WikiLeaks. The government actually laid out three parts to its theoretical: WikiLeaks got the files stolen by Russia from a cut-out, but also coordinated with Russia on “other election interference activities,” and individuals associated with the Trump campaign played a role coordinating the handoff of the files and WikiLeaks’ other coordination with Russia.

  • Organization 1 could theoretically have received the files from someone who received them from Russia;
  • Russia could theoretically have coordinated its other election interference activities with Organization 1’s posting of stolen documents even if Russia was not Organization 1’s source;
  • Individuals associated with the Trump Campaign could theoretically have played a role coordinating the two.

It’s a series of tantalizing hypotheticals! And while the first two (the second of which is pretty oblique) could independently be true, the last one implies the two would not be independent, but that, instead, someone “associated” with the Trump campaign coordinated the first two steps.

But of course, the government presents all this as a theoretical possibility, not (as Stone falsely claims) as a question they’re seeking, here, to answer.

Stone, however, only deals with the first part of that scenario: “the Russian state hacked and stole the relevant data and then someone else coordinated the delivery of the data to WikiLeaks.” He doesn’t address the possibility that WikiLeaks had some other kind of role. And he definitely doesn’t address the possibility that someone “associated” with the Trump campaign had a role in coordinating the two. In a gesture towards addressing a government hypothetical (in part) that some individual associated with the Trump campaign might have coordinated other election year activities, Stone suggests that the only way the communications of a Trump associate with WikiLeaks would be material would be if the communications involved actual transfer of emails.

This is something Stone has long been doing — making narrowly tailored denials that don’t address some tantalizing possibilities: in this case, that Stone had a role arranging something else with WikiLeaks.

And all the while, Stone drops a suggestion that overstates the uncertainty of what the government knows.

The Parts of the Mueller Report withheld from Roger Stone Show the Centrality of His WikiLeaks Activities to Trump’s Obstruction

Along with denying most of Roger Stone’s frivolous challenges to his prosecution, Amy Berman Jackson also partly granted his motion to get some of the redacted Mueller Report. As she laid out, she permitted the government to withhold grand jury information, sources and methods, stuff that would harm the reputation of others, and prosecutorial deliberations.

But the Court was of the view that the Report of the Special Counsel should receive separate consideration since a great deal of deliberative material within the Report had already been released to the public.

[snip]

Having considered the defendant’s motion, the government’s response and supplemental submissions, and the Report itself, the Court has determined that the defense should have the limited access he requested to some, but not all, of the redacted material.32 Insofar as defendant’s motion to compel seeks any material that was redacted from the public report on the basis that its release would infringe upon the personal privacy of third parties or cause them reputational harm; pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e); or on the basis of national security or law enforcement concerns, including information that if revealed, could potentially compromise sensitive information gathering sources, methods, or techniques or harm ongoing intelligence or law enforcement activities, the Court will deny the motion.33 With respect to material that was withheld solely on the basis that its release could affect the ongoing prosecution of this case, the Court has concluded that the material to be specified in the order issued with this opinion should be provided to counsel for the defendant subject to the terms and conditions of the Protective Order in this case.

As she described, the government “submit[ed] unredacted portions of the Report that relate to defendant ‘and/or “the dissemination of hacked materials.”‘” Then she and the government conducted a sealed discussion about what could be released to Stone. In addition to her opinion, she submitted an order describing which specific pages must now be released to Stone.

We can compare what the government identified as fitting her order — this includes anything that fits the order, whether redacted or not — with what she has ordered released to Stone (note, the government either did not include Appendix D, showing referrals, or ABJ didn’t mention it, because in addition to an unredacted reference to Stone, there are referrals that the FOIA copies show to be related to Stone; nor did it include questions to Trump).

ABJ has not ordered the government to turn over anything pertaining to how GRU got stolen documents to WikiLeaks. This is precisely the kind of thing Stone is trying to get with his demands for Crowdstrike reports; after ABJ pointed out if they really wanted the reports, they would have tried subpoenaing Crowdstrike and they are now launching an attempt to do that. That ABJ has not ordered the government to turn this material over does not bode well for Stone’s plans to make this trial about the hack-and-leak rather than his lies. I would not be surprised if Stone made a second effort to get this information.

She has permitted the government to withhold all the prosecutorial decisions covered by her order except the one pertaining to Stone’s own lies. In addition, she let the government withhold one line about how they hadn’t determined whether or not Stone and Corsi had managed to optimize the release of the Podesta emails in October (though she did give Stone the more detailed discussion of that).

But ABJ has not included any of the references in the main part of Volume II in her order (presumably to protect Trump’s reputation!). That Volume includes three references to Trump and the campaign’s enthusiasm for or attempts to optimize the WikiLeaks releases through Stone, the reference to Richard Burr leaking news of the targets of the investigation (including Stone) to the White House before Jim Comey got fired, and three instances describing Trump floating pardons to Stone or otherwise encouraging him to remain silent.

It also includes the page on which this passage appears:

After Flynn was forced to resign, the press raised questions about why the President waited more than two weeks after the DOJ notification to remove Flynn and whether the President had known about Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak before the DOJ notification.244 The press also continued to raise questions about connections between Russia and the President’s campaign.245 On February 15, 2017, the President told reporters, “General Flynn is a wonderful man. I think he’s been treated very, very unfairly by the media.”246 On February 16, 2017, the President held a press conference and said that he removed Flynn because Flynn “didn’t tell the Vice President of the United States the facts, and then he didn’t remember. And that just wasn’t acceptable to me.” 247 The President said he did not direct Flynn to discuss sanctions with Kislyak, but “it certainly would have been okay with me if he did. I would have directed him to do it if I thought he wasn’t doing it. I didn’t direct him, but I would have directed him because that’s his job.”248 In listing the reasons for terminating Flynn, the President did not say that Flynn had lied to him.249 The President also denied having any connection to Russia, stating, “I have nothing to do with Russia. I told you, I have no deals there. I have no anything.”250 The President also said he “had nothing to do with” WikiLeaks’s publication of information hacked from the Clinton campaign.251 [my emphasis]

Clearly, it was included for Trump’s public denials — at the moment he fired Flynn in an attempt to stop the Russian investigation — of having anything to do with WikiLeaks’ publication of materials stolen from Hillary’s campaign. It is, on its face, a reference to the publication of the stolen emails, and as such qualifies under ABJ’s order. At that level, it is unremarkable.

But the government is treating it not as Trump making empty denials, but instead to make a claim specifically disavowing any involvement in WikiLeaks’ publication of stolen emails. Mueller’s team put the claim right next to a claim we know to be false, a claim designed to hide his Trump Tower deals. And he put all that amid a discussion of why he first did not, and then did, fire Mike Flynn.

Now consider something else: While it doesn’t appear in the Mueller Report at all, one thing Flynn told prosecutors was that after WikiLeaks started dumping John Podesta’s emails, he took part in conversations during which the campaign discussed reaching out to WikiLeaks.

The defendant also provided useful information concerning discussions within the campaign about WikiLeaks’ release of emails. WikiLeaks is an important subject of the SCO’s investigation because a Russian intelligence service used WikiLeaks to release emails the intelligence service stole during the 2016 presidential campaign. On July 22, 2016, WikiLeaks released emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee. Beginning on October 7, 2016, WikiLeaks released emails stolen from John Podesta, the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. The defendant relayed to the government statements made in 2016 by senior campaign officials about WikiLeaks to which only a select few people were privy. For example, the defendant recalled conversations with senior campaign officials after the release of the Podesta emails, during which the prospect of reaching out to WikiLeaks was discussed.

There’s nothing in the public record that suggests Flynn knew of Trump’s efforts, during the campaign, to build a Trump Tower. But he did know about Trump’s efforts to optimize WikiLeaks’ releases of stolen emails. And Trump would have known that when he considered the impact of Flynn’s ties to Russia being investigated by the FBI.

And the treatment of that references as a real denial — as Trump evincing guilt even as he fired Flynn — sure makes the Flynn firing more interesting.