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Ron Johnson Grasping at Chum

Russian disinformation purveyor Ron Johnson and Chuck Grassley continue to serially demand and release documents from FBI in hopes of sustaining a buzz suggesting that Hillary was treated better than Donald Trump.

The latest batch is a hodgepodge. It purports to be,

messages from former FBI agent Peter Strzok related to Crossfire Hurricane, the FBI’s investigation of Trump campaign and administration officials, and the FBI’s “Midyear Exam” investigation of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server.

But it is actually a hodgepodge, including texts pertaining to Guccifer 1.0, the ongoing hacks of the DNC, and other investigations pertaining to Russia, including the beginnings of a focus on Russia’s 2016 social media campaign. Some of the texts, such as one from October 21, 2016 about leaked Podesta emails involving Obama, don’t obviously involve Strzok at all.

There is no possible set of search terms that would return these texts. But they’re useful to compare with another more motivated set of texts released by the Jeffrey Jensen investigation that overlap with this one. Here’s a set of texts packaged up to justify blowing up the Flynn prosecution.

As a later filing to Judge Sullivan admitted, they were actually repackaged from the FBI original, and in the process an error was introduced into the document (adding the wrong time for the “Will do” text).

The set released to Johnson includes just a few of those texts, completely out of context.

But those texts reveal one reason why the Jensen texts were packaged up: to alter the UTC times to Eastern time, the kind of thing that, for trial exhibits, needs to be formally noticed. It’s the kind of thing Sullivan wouldn’t need to assess the evidence, but that would make the connections Jensen was trying to feed the public (some false) easier to put together.

Neither the Senators, their staff, nor the frothy right seem to have cared that these texts reflect a random grab bag to keep them occupied. Chuck Ross got himself in a tizzy, for example, because Strzok read the Michael Isikoff article reflecting information from Steele and determined that the Steele reports were “intended to influence as well as inform.”

In his rendition of the text, Ross claims that this means Strzok knew “Steele was a source” for the story. Of course, it means no such thing (and Ross had to mis-cite it to make the claim). It actually reflects that Strzok knew Steele’s reports were a source for the story, which was noticed to the FISA Court from the very first application, and so nothing we didn’t already know.

Then there’s the Federalist, which claims that this text proves the FBI was wiretapping calls between Fox News and George Papadopoulos.

The text is a copy of a text sent by someone else (that is, forwarded to the person who forwarded this to Strzok). It appears to come from Chicago (CG). Chicago was running an informant on Papadopoulos, who spoke quite a lot to him while being monitored. The most likely explanation for this is that after news about Sergei Millian was breaking (whose name is redacted in all these texts), Papadopoulos told the informant that Fox had reached out to him. In the same way Papadopoulos bragged falsely about meeting Russia’s ambassador and Putin’s niece, he may well have exaggerated the seniority of the person he spoke with.

Meanwhile, some of the texts provide needed content.

One text explains part of why Joe Pientka wrote up the briefing he gave Mike Flynn, Chris Christie, and Trump in August 2016: to capture what was said in case anyone leaked it.

He was wise to do so! Both Flynn and Trump would go on to make claims about what went on in the briefing, with Flynn falsely claiming that briefers said they disagreed with President Obama’s policies, claims that do not accord with the record — thus far — we’ve gotten of it.

And in January, amid a recurring discussion about how to organize the investigations — and exhibiting a concern that the multiple (Egypt, Flynn on Turkey, Papadopoulos and Israel) different CI concerns would turn into a Trump focused investigation rather than one focused on multiple legitimate concerns run by people with specific expertise to them — Strzok raised the risk of Flynn leaking. Flynn had a history of sharing classified information inappropriately. In one of the calls with Kislyak, Flynn offered up what kind of calls the Transition had been making (which might have been classified if it happened after inauguration).

Flynn: Yeah, there … there, I can tell you that there’s, uh, you know, a litany of countries that are … that we’re talking … I’m … I’m talking directly to. And … and that …

Kislyak: I see.

Flynn: Basically, just as I asked you.

With this disclosure, Flynn basically admitted to the Russians that Trump’s people were conducting a systematic effort to undermine Obama’s policy. And Kislyak just took at all in, letting Flynn run his mouth.

“I see.”

So at a time he would have been reviewing these transcripts and seeing how little filter Flynn had with a hostile country, Stzrok noted that the conversations with Kislyak or others could easily turn into an Espionage investigation, file code 65, if Flynn shared classified information.

There’s more, reflecting a real concern about the leaks that also (rightly) pissed off Trump, along with real efforts to chase them down.

But for now, DOJ and FBI appear to be throwing random shit Ron Johnson’s way to get through the end of the term, when he’ll no longer Chair HGSAC.

Rat-Fucker Rashomon: Getting the “Highest Level of Government” to Free Julian Assange

On June 10, 2017, according to affidavits submitted as part of the Mueller investigation, Roger Stone DMed Julian Assange and told him he was doing everything he could to “address the issues at the highest level of Government.”

57. On or about June 10, 2017, Roger Stone wrote to Target Account 2, “I am doing everything possible to address the issues at the highest level of Government. Fed treatment of you and Wikileaks is an outrage. Must be circumspect in this forum as experience demonstrates it is monitored. Best regards R.” Target Account 2 wrote back, “Appreciated. Of course it is!”

On June 19, 2017, according to the Mueller Report, the President dictated a message for Corey Lewandowski to take to Jeff Sessions, telling the (recused) Attorney General to meet with Robert Mueller and order him to limit his investigation only to future election meddling, not the election meddling that had gotten Trump elected.

During the June 19 meeting, Lewandowski recalled that, after some small talk, the President brought up Sessions and criticized his recusal from the Russia investigation.605 The President told Lewandowski that Sessions was weak and that if the President had known about the likelihood of recusal in advance, he would not have appointed Sessions.606 The President then asked Lewandowski to deliver a message to Sessions and said “write this down.” 607 This was the first time the President had asked Lewandowski to take dictation, and Lewandowski wrote as fast as possible to make sure he captured the content correctly.608 The President directed that Sessions should give a speech publicly announcing:

I know that I recused myself from certain things having to do with specific areas. But our POTUS . .. is being treated very unfairly. He shouldn’t have a Special Prosecutor/Counsel b/c he hasn’t done anything wrong. I was on the campaign w/ him for nine months, there were no Russians involved with him. I know it for a fact b/c I was there. He didn’t do anything wrong except he ran the greatest campaign in American history.609

The dictated message went on to state that Sessions would meet with the Special Counsel to limit his jurisdiction to future election interference:

Now a group of people want to subvert the Constitution of the United States. T am going to meet with the Special Prosecutor to explain this is very unfair and let the Special Prosecutor move forward with investigating election meddling for future elections so that nothing can happen in future elections.610

Days after Roger Stone told Julian Assange that he was trying to resolve matters at the highest level of government, the President of the United States tried to issue a back channel order that would shut down the investigation into Assange — and by association, Stone.

According to Lewandowski, neither he nor Rick Dearborn (on whom he tried to pawn off the task) actually delivered the message. But according to Andrew Weissmann, when he and Jeannie Rhee first got briefed on the investigation into how Russia released the documents it had stolen around that time, they learned no one was investigating it.

This effort didn’t start in June 2017, though. It started at least seven months earlier.

The SSCI Report reveals that the day before the Podesta emails got released, Stone probably had a six minute phone call with the candidate via Keith Schiller’s phone.

On the afternoon of October 6, Stone received a call from Keith Schiller’s number. Stone returned the call about 20 minutes later, and spoke-almost certainly to Trump–for six minutes.1663 The substance of that conversation is not known to the Committee. However, at the time, Stone was focused on the potential for a WikiLeaks release, the Campaign was following WikiLeaks’s announcements, and Trump’s prior call with Stone on September 29, also using Schiller’s phone, related to a WikiLeaks release. Given these facts, it appears quite likely that Stone and Trump spoke about WikiLeaks.

The SSCI Report and the affidavits reveal that Stone postponed a lunch with Jerome Corsi on October 8 to go meet with Trump.

On or about October 8, 2016, STONE messaged CORSI at Target Account 2, “Lunch postponed- have to go see T.” CORSI responded to STONE, “Ok. I understand.”

According to Mike Flynn, in the wake of the Podesta release, senior campaign officials discussed reaching out to WikiLeaks.

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.

And then, days later, Roger Stone tried to reach out to WikiLeaks — seemingly in response to WikiLeaks’ public disavowal of any tie to Stone — only to be rebuffed.

On October 13, 2016, while WikiLeaks was in the midst of releasing the hacked Podesta emails, @RogerJStoneJr sent a private direct message to the Twitter account @wikileaks. This account is the official Twitter account of WikiLeaks and has been described as such by numerous news reports. The message read: “Since I was all over national TV, cable and print defending WikiLeaks and assange against the claim that you are Russian agents and debunking the false charges of sexual assault as trumped up bs you may want to rexamine the strategy of attacking me- cordially R.”

Less than an hour later, @Wikileaks responded by direct message: “We appreciate that. However, the false claims of association are being used by the democrats to undermine the impact of our publications. Don’t go there if you don’t want us to correct you.”

On October 16, 2016, @RogerJStoneJr sent a direct message to @Wikileaks: “Ha! The more you \”correct\” me the more people think you’re lying. Your operation leaks like a sieve. You need to figure out who your friends are.”

But after the election, it was WikiLeaks that reached out to Stone.

On November 9, 2016, one day after the presidential election, @Wikileaks sent a direct message to @RogerJStoneJr containing a single word: “Happy?” @Wikileaks immediately followed up with another message less than a minute later: “We are now more free to communicate.”

At Stone’s trial, Randy Credico testified that in that same period after the election, he put Roger Stone in touch with Margaret Kunstler, Credico’s tie to WikiLeaks and one of the 1,000 lawyers (per a snarky answer from Credico) who represented Assange, to discuss a pardon.

Q. Had you put Mr. Stone directly in touch with Ms. Kunstler after the election?

A. Yes, I did.

Q. And why had you done that?

A. Well, sometime after the election, he wanted me to contact Mrs. Kunstler. He called me up and said that he had spoken to Judge Napolitano about getting Julian Assange a pardon and needed to talk to Mrs. Kunstler about it. So I said, Okay. And I sat on it. And I told her–I told her–she didn’t act on it. And then, eventually, she did, and they had a conversation.

Credico is very evasive about the timing of all this. Texts between him and Stone, introduced as an exhibit at Stone’s trial, show that Credico raised asylum on October 3, three hours before he boasted that he was best friends with Assange’s lawyer, meaning Kunstler.

But when asked about the timing, Credico refused to answer, or even answer a yes or no question about whether discussions began before the election. Note, these texts were ones that neither Credico nor Stone provided at first, on Credico’s part because he no longer had them; the government ultimately subpoenaed them from Stone after Stone shared them with Chuck Ross. The texts Stone produced go through November 14, but the ones released at trial stop on October 3.

Later affidavits make clear, however, that on November 15, seven days after Trump won an election with Julian Assange’s help, Trump’s rat-fucker sent Kunstler a link to download Signal and asked her to call him, which she said she’d do. (This was the first day Stone was using the iPhone 7 on which he sent her these texts.)

Additionally, text messages recovered from Stone’s iCloud account revealed that on or about November 15, 2016, Stone sent an attorney with the ability to contact Julian Assange a link to download the Signal application. 15 Approximately fifteen minutes after sending the link, Stone texted the attorney, “I’m on signal just dial my number.” The attorney responded, “I’ll call you.”

15 This attorney was a close friend of Credico’s and was the same friend Credico emailed on or about September 20, 2016 to pass along Stone’s request to Assange for emails connected to the allegations against then-candidate Clinton related to her service as Secretary of State.

So the pardon discussions Credico testified about under oath began no later then a week after Assange helped Trump get elected and Credico refused to rule out that they started on November 9 or even earlier. The SSCI Report notes Credico had a 12 minute call with Stone on October 5 and five more calls on October 6.

After Trump was inaugurated in early 2017, via an attorney he shared with Oleg Deripaska, Assange tried to leverage CIA’s hacking tools believed to have been stolen the previous April to obtain an immunity deal. Even while those discussions were ongoing, on March 7, 2017, WikiLeaks released the first installment of CIA’s hacking tools, a release they called Vault 7. According to witnesses at the trial of the accused source, Joshua Schulte, the Vault 7 release brought CIA’s hacking-based spying virtually to a halt while the agency tried to figure out who would be compromised by the release.

But that didn’t stop the pardon discussions between WikiLeaks, including Assange personally, and Stone. After another spat about whether Stone had had a back channel to WikiLeaks which they aired on CNN, Stone returned to a discussion of a pardon on April 7.

On or about March 27, 2017, Target Account 1 wrote to Roger Stone, “FYI, while we continue to be unhappy about false \”back channel\” claims, today CNN deliberately broke our off the record comments.”

On March 27, 2017, CNN reported that a representative of WikiLeaks, writing from an email address associated with WikiLeaks, denied that there was any backchannel communication during the Campaign between Stone and WikiLeaks. The same article quoted Stone as stating: “Since I never communicated with WikiLeaks, I guess I must be innocent of charges I knew about the hacking of Podesta’s email (speculation and conjecture) and the timing or scope of their subsequent disclosures. So I am clairvoyant or just a good guesser because the limited things I did predict (Oct disclosures) all came true. ”

On or about April 7, 2017, Roger Stone wrote to Target Account 1, ” I am JA’s only hope for a pardon the chances of which are actually (weirdly) enhanced by the bombing in Syria (which I opposed) . You have no idea how much your operation leaks. Discrediting me only hurts you. Why not consider saying nothing? PS- Why would anyone listen to that asshole Daniel Ellsberg.”

On April 13, in the wake of the Vault 7 hack, Mike Pompeo declared WikiLeaks a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by Russia.

It is time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is – a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia. In January of this year, our Intelligence Community determined that Russian military intelligence—the GRU—had used WikiLeaks to release data of US victims that the GRU had obtained through cyber operations against the Democratic National Committee. And the report also found that Russia’s primary propaganda outlet, RT, has actively collaborated with WikiLeaks.

In response, Stone took to InfoWars on April 18, calling on Pompeo to either provide proof of those Russian ties or resign, defending the release of the Vault 7 tools along the way.

The Intelligence agencies continue to insist that Julian Assange is an active Russian Agent and that Wikileaks is a Russian controlled asset. The agencies have no hard proof of this claim whatsoever. Assange has said repeatedly that he is affiliated with no nation state but the Intelligence Agencies continue to insist that he is under Russian control because it fits the narrative in which they must produce some evidence of Russian interference in our election because they used this charge to legally justify and rationalize the surveillance of Trump aides, myself included.

[snip]

President Donald Trump said on Oct, 10, 2016 “I love Wikileaks” and Pompeo who previously had praised the whistleblowing operation now called Wikileaks “a non-state hostile Intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia”. Mr. Pompeo must be pressed to immediately release any evidence he has that proves these statements. If he cannot do so ,the President should discharge him.

[snip]

Julian Assange does not work for the Russians. Given the import of the information that he ultimately disclosed about the Clinton campaign, the Obama administration and the deep secrets in the CIA’s Vault 7, he has educated the American people about the tactics and technology the CIA has used to spy on ordinary Americans.

Assange personally DMed Stone to thank him for the article, while claiming that Pompeo had stopped short of claiming that WikiLeaks had gotten the stolen DNC emails directly, thereby making WikiLeaks like any other media outlet.

On or about April 19, 2017, Assange, using Target Account 2, wrote to Stone, “Ace article in infowars. Appreciated. But note that U.S. intel is engages in slight of hand maoevers [sic]. Listen closely and you see they only claim that we received U.S. election leaks \”not directly\” or via a \”third party\” and do not know \”when\” etc. This line is Pompeo appears to be getting at with his \”abbeted\”. This correspnds to the same as all media and they do not make any allegation that WL or I am a Russia asset.”

It’s in that context — in the wake of Trump’s trusted CIA Director (and a former WikiLeaks booster himself) asserting serial cooperation between Russia and WikiLeaks — that Stone and Assange had the exchange that directly preceded Trump’s attempt to shut down any investigation into the leaks to WikiLeaks.

On June 4, Stone threatened to “bring down the entire house of cards” if the government moved on Assange (Stone kept a notebook during the campaign detailing all the calls he had had with Trump), then raised a pardon again, suggesting Assange had done nothing he needed to be pardoned for.

56. On or about June 4, 2017, Roger Stone wrote back to Target Account 2, “Still nonsense. As a journalist it doesn’t matter where you get information only that it is accurate and authentic. The New York Times printed the Pentagon Papers which were indisputably stolen from the government and the courts ruled it was legal to do so and refused to issue an order restraining the paper from publishing additional articles. If the US government moves on you I will bring down the entire house of cards. With the trumped-up sexual assault charges dropped I don’t know of any crime you need to be pardoned for – best regards. R.” Target Account 2 responded, “Between CIA and DoJ they’re doing quite a lot. On the DoJ side that’s coming most strongly from those obsessed with taking down Trump trying to squeeze us into a deal.”

57. On or about June 10, 2017, Roger Stone wrote to Target Account 2, “I am doing everything possible to address the issues at the highest level of Government. Fed treatment of you and Wikileaks is an outrage. Must be circumspect in this forum as experience demonstrates it is monitored. Best regards R.” Target Account 2 wrote back, “Appreciated. Of course it is!”

According to texts between Stone and Credico, Stone at least claimed to be pursuing a pardon in early 2018 (though he may have been doing that to buy Credico’s silence).

And it wasn’t just Stone involved in the discussions to free Assange.

Manafort’s Ecuador trip

While it’s not clear to what end, Paul Manafort took steps relating to Assange as well.

There’s the weird story by Ken Vogel, explaining that between those two Stone-Assange exchanges in April and June, 2017, long-time Roger Stone friend Paul Manafort went to Ecuador to negotiate Assange’s expulsion.

In mid-May 2017, Paul Manafort, facing intensifying pressure to settle debts and pay mounting legal bills, flew to Ecuador to offer his services to a potentially lucrative new client — the country’s incoming president, Lenín Moreno.

Mr. Manafort made the trip mainly to see if he could broker a deal under which China would invest in Ecuador’s power system, possibly yielding a fat commission for Mr. Manafort.

But the talks turned to a diplomatic sticking point between the United States and Ecuador: the fate of the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

In at least two meetings with Mr. Manafort, Mr. Moreno and his aides discussed their desire to rid themselves of Mr. Assange, who has been holed up in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London since 2012, in exchange for concessions like debt relief from the United States, according to three people familiar with the talks, the details of which have not been previously reported.

They said Mr. Manafort suggested he could help negotiate a deal for the handover of Mr. Assange to the United States, which has long investigated Mr. Assange for the disclosure of secret documents and which later filed charges against him that have not yet been made public.

The story never explained whether Manafort wanted Assange handed over for trial, for a golf vacation, or for Russian exfiltration (as was reportedly planned for Assange later in 2017).

That Manafort went to Ecuador and negotiated for an Assange release accords, however, with the 302 of a witness who called in to Mueller’s team. The witness described that Manafort had told him or her, in real time, that he had gone to Ecuador, “to try to convince the incoming President to expel Assange from the Embassy in order to gain favor with the U.S.”

Neither of these stories should be considered reliable, as written. 302s that Bill Barr’s DOJ is willing to release in unredacted form, as this one is, tend to be false claims that make Trump look less suspect than he really is. And Manafort-adjacent sources were using Ken Vogel to plant less-damning cover stories during this period. Further, as we’ll see, the dates of them, November 28 and December 3, 2018, respectively, puts them in a period after Trump knew that Mueller was investigating efforts to pardon Assange.

Manafort went to Ecuador in May of 2017. At the time, his lifelong buddy Roger Stone was still pursuing some means to get Assange released. It’s unclear precisely what Manafort asked Lenín Moreno to do.

WikiLeaks cultivates Trump’s oldest son

A more interesting parallel timeline (one that becomes more interesting if you track the communications in tandem, as I do below) is the dalliance between Don Jr and WikiLeaks. The failson’s communications with WikiLeaks are one area where all of the Roger Stone stories withhold key details. The Mueller Report, for example, covers only three of the Don Jr-WikiLeaks exchanges, which it caveats by explaining that it addresses the ones “during the campaign period” (again, only the one where Don Jr accesses a non-public website using the private password WikiLeaks shared involved a prosecutorial decision and so needed to be included).

Like the Mueller Report, the SSCI Report describes in the body of the report Don Jr’s exchange with WikiLeaks in a period around the time that Trump and his closest advisors had discussed reaching out to WikILeaks.

(U) WikiLeaks also sought to coordinate its distribution of stolen documents with the Campaign. After Trump proclaimed at an October 10 rally, “I love WikiLeaks” and then posted about it on Twitter,1730 WikiLeaks resumed messaging with Trump Jr. On October 12, it said: “Strongly suggest your dad tweets this link if he mentions us … there’s many great stories the press are missing and we’re sure some of your follows [sic] will find it. btw we just released Podesta Emails Part 4.”1731 Shortly afterward, Trump tweeted: “Very little pick-up by the dishonest media of incredible information provided by WikiLeaks. So dishonest! Rigged System!”1732 Two days later, Donald Trump Jr. tweeted the link himself: “For those who have the time to read about all the corruption and hypocrisy all the @wikileaks emails are right here: wlsearch.tk.”1733 Trump Jr. admitted that this may have been in response to the request from WikiLeaks, but also suggested that it could have been part of a general practice of retweeting the. WikiLeaks releases when they came out. 1734

But it only presents one part of the exchange that Jr and WikiLeaks had on November 8 and 9, and it relegates that to a footnote.

1738 (U) Ibid., pp. 164-166. WikiLeaks continued to interact with Trump Jr. after the general election on November 8, 2016. On November 9, 2016, WikiLeaks wrote to Trump Jr.: “Wow. Obama people will surely try to delete records on the way out. Just a heads up.”

As to the affidavits, the warrant application for Julian Assange’s Twitter account described having earlier obtained Don Jr’s Twitter account, but didn’t refer to him by name. Instead, it referred to him as “a high level individual associated with the Campaign,” and described just the September exchange between the two of them.

After the Atlantic provided more of those DMs, Don Jr, as he had earlier with his June 9 emails, released them himself. The Election Day exchange of which SSCI made no mention pushes Don Jr to adopt a strategy Russia was also pushing — to refuse to concede (a strategy that Trump will undoubtedly adopt on November 4 if he loses).

Hi Don; if your father ‘loses’ we think it is much more interesting if he DOES NOT conceed [sic] and spends time CHALLENGING the media and other types of rigging that occurred–as he has implied that he might do. He is also much more likely to keep his base alive and energised this way and if he is going to start a new network, showing how corrupt the old ones are is helpful. The discussion about the rigging can be transformative as it exposes media corruption, primary corruption, PAC corruption etc. We don’t like corruption ither [sic] and our publications are effective at proving that this and other forms of corruption exists.

That doesn’t pertain to pardons (though it does demonstrate that WikiLeaks was not involved in a journalistic enterprise).

But a DM from December 16, 2016 the SSCI similarly excerpted in a footnote does discuss what amounts to a pardon:

Hi Don. Hope you’re doing well! In relation to Mr. Assange: Obama/Clinton placed pressure on Sweden, UK and Australia (his home country) to illicitly go after Mr. Assange. It would be real easy and helpful for your dad to suggest that Australia appoint Assange ambassador to DC “That’s a really smart tough guy and the most famous australian you have! ” or something similar. They won’t do it, but it will send the right signals to Australia, UK + Sweden to start following the law and stop bending it to ingratiate themselves with the Clintons. Background: justice4assange.com

When these DMs were released on November 14, 2017, Assange tweeted out a follow-up to the December 2016 one, adding a threat by hashtagging, Vault8, the source code to the CIA files, a single example of which WikiLeaks had just released on November 9, 2017.

Meanwhile, the one other example where WikiLeaks provided the President’s son advice — a pitch for him to release his own June 9 emails via WikiLeaks in July 2017 — WikiLeaks explicitly suggested that Don Jr contact Margaret Kunstler, the same lawyer who had been discussing pardons with Assange nine months earlier.

There appears to be more — far more — to Margaret Kunstler’s role. Two 302s identifiable as hers have been released in response to the BuzzFeed FOIA, an interview on October 29, 2018 involving Stone prosecutor Aaron Zelinsky and Obstruction prosecutor Andrew Goldstein, and a second interview, this one by phone, on November 20, 2018, this one adding Russian prosecutor Rush Atkinson along with Zelinsky and Goldstein. Both 302s were released on October 1, 2020, the most recent release. In the first interview, only Kunstler’s response stating that she did not pass on Stone’s September request for information about Libya to Julian Assange was partly unsealed; there are at least five more paragraphs that remain redacted as part of an ongoing investigation. The second is eight pages long and appears to have at least four sub-topics with separate headings. Aside from the introductory paragraph, it remains entirely redacted, with over half covered by a b7A ongoing investigation exemption.

The investigation into much of Stone’s activities appears to have been shut down. But the investigation into the pardon discussions appears to have been ongoing just three weeks ago.

The Mueller question

The discussion of efforts to free Julian Assange appears, primarily, in two versions of the Roger Stone story. Prosecutors at Stone’s trial used the discussions to explain which of Stone’s threats — those naming Kunstler directly — worked most effectively to delay Credico’s cooperation. It also appears in affidavits, though with Don Jr’s identity obscured.

The SSCI report relegates both the Don Jr and Stone pardon discussions with WikiLeaks to footnotes and doesn’t quote Stone using the word “pardon” in the excerpts it includes. It does so even though the SSCI Report describes Dana Rohrabacher’s attempt to broker an Assange pardon in August 2017 in the body of the text.

The Mueller Report doesn’t discuss pardon efforts for Assange where you might expect it, along with discussions of pardons for Manafort, Flynn, Stone himself, and Michael Cohen. Mention of the effort to free Assange appears in just one place: amid the questions asked of Trump in an appendix.

Did you have any discussions prior to January 20, 2017, regarding a potential pardon or other action to benefit Julian Assange? If yes, describe who you had the discussion(s) with, when, and the content of the discussion(s).

I do not recall having had any discussion during the campaign regarding a pardon or action to benefit Julian Assange.

That appendix explains that Mueller’s team submitted these questions on September 17, 2018 (before both of Kunstler’s interviews) and Trump returned them on November 20, 2018.

In the interim period, on October 30, 2018, Don Jr’s close buddy, Arthur Schwartz, for the first time in years of having listened to former Sputnik employee Cassandra Fairbanks’ lobbying for Julian Assange in the right wing chat room they both (along with Ric Grenell) participated in responded by telling her that he would be charged and expelled from the embassy, that a pardon was not going to fucking happen and — at some point, if Fairbanks can be believed — suggesting someone with whom Schwartz was lifelong friends might be affected.

Arthur Schwartz warned me that people would be able to overlook my previous support for WikiLeaks because I did not know some things which he claimed to know about, but that wouldn’t be so forgiving now that I was informed. He brought up my nine year old child during these comments, which I perceived as an intimidation tactic.

He repeatedly insisted that I stop advocating for WikiLeaks and Assange, telling me that “a pardon isn’t going to fucking happen.” He knew very specific details about a future prosecution against Assange that were later made public and that only those very close to the situation would have been aware of. He told me that it would be the “Manning” case that he would be charged with and that it would not involve Vault 7 publication or anything to do with the DNC. He also told me that they would be going after Chelsea Manning. I also recollect being told, I believe, that it would not be before Christmas.

[snip]

The other persons who Schwartz said might also be affected included individuals who he described as “lifelong friends.”

Shortly after Trump submitted his answers, two stories — one public, one via witness testimony to Mueller — claimed that Manafort’s visit to Moreno, at a time when his buddy Stone was seeking a pardon, was actually an attempt to expel him from the embassy.

In spite of what Schwartz told Cassandra, however, the pardon discussions aren’t over. Just before Julian Assange’s extradition hearing started, Roger Stone’s buddy Tucker Carlson invited Glenn Greenwald on to make a three minute pitch — one in which Glenn explained what a good way this would be for Trump to stick it to the Deep State — for both Assange and Ed Snowden.

Timeline

September 20, 2016: WikiLeaks DMs Don Jr a link to putintrump site, including a password.

October 3, 2016: Credico raises asylum for Assange and tells Stone he’s best friends with Assange’s lawyer. WikiLeaks DMs Don Jr asking him to push a story about Hillary drone-striking Assange; Don Jr notes he has already done so and asks what is coming on Wednesday.

October 5, 2016: Credico and Stone speak for 12 minutes.

October 6, 2016: Stone probably has a six minute call with Trump. Stone has five calls with Credico.

October 7, 2016: The release of the Podesta email swamps the DHS/ODNI release attributing the DNC hack and tying WikiLeaks to Russia

October 8, 2016: Stone and Trump probably meet.

Shortly after Podesta release: Senior campaign officials discuss reaching out to WikiLeaks.

October 10, 2016: Trump tweets “I love WikiLeaks.”

October 12, 2016: WikiLeaks disavows any back channel with Stone. WikiLeaks also DMs Don Jr suggesting he get his father to tweet a link. Don Jr tweets it that day.

October 13, 2016: Stone and WikiLeaks exchange DMs.

October 14, 2016: Trump tweets the link WikiLeaks sent to Don Jr.

October 16, 2016: Stone tells WikiLeaks “You need to figure out who your friends are.”

October 21, 2016: WikiLeaks suggests that Don Jr release Trump’s tax returns to WikiLeaks.

November 8, 2016: WikiLeaks DMs Don Jr to suggest Trump not concede if he loses.

November 9, 2016: WikiLeaks DMs Don Jr to claim Obama’s people will delete records on the way out. WikiLeaks DMs Stone to say, “We are now more free to communicate.”

November 14, 2016: Stone gets a new phone.

November 15, 2016: Stone texts Margaret Kunstler a link to Signal and tells her to call him on it, which she said she would do.

December 16, 2016: WikiLeaks suggests that he ask his dad to suggest Australia appoint Assange as Ambassador to the US.

January 6, 2017: WikiLeaks DMs Don Jr a John Harwood tweet asking, Who do you believe, America?

March 7, 2017: WikiLeaks starts releasing the Vault 7 files, effectively halting CIA’s hacking capability for a period.

March 27, 2017: Stone and WikiLeaks exchange more complaints about whether Stone had a back channel.

April 7, 2017: Stone writes WikiLeaks that he is “JA’s only hope for a pardon.”

April 13, 2017: Mike Pompeo calls WikiLeaks a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by Russia.

April 18, 2017: Stone calls on Pompeo to release proof of WikiLeaks’ Russian ties or resign.

April 19, 2017: Assange thanks Stone for the attack on Pompeo, but claims that Pompeo has stopped short of calling WikiLeaks a Russian asset.

April 26, 2017: Assange DMs Don Jr some video on “Fake News.”

May 2017: Manafort meets in Ecuador with Lenín Moreno to discuss Assange.

June 4, 2017: Stone DMs Assange, threatening to “bring down the entire house of cards” if the US government moves on Assange.

June 10, 2017: Roger Stone tells Assange he is “doing everything possible … at the highest level of Government” to help Assange.

June 19, 2017: Trump tries to give a back channel order to Jeff Sessions to limit the Mueller investigation to future election meddling, not the meddling that helped him get elected.

July 11, 2017: WikiLeaks DMs Don Jr to suggest he release his June 9 emails via WikiLeaks, providing him Margaret Kunstler’s contact information as if she would take the submission.

October 12, 2017: Mueller’s team obtains Don Jr’s Twitter content.

November 6, 2017: Mueller’s team obtains WikiLeaks and Assange’s Twitter content.

November 14, 2017: Don Jr releases his Twitter DMs with WikiLeaks. Julian Assange publicly references the December 16 DM, suggests he can open “luxury immunity suites for whistleblowers,” and includes a Vault8 hashtag (referencing CIA’s source code).

December 21, 2017: Reported attempt to exfiltrate Assange from the embassy; DOJ charges Assange with CFAA conspiracy.

January 6, 2018: Stone claims “I am working with others to get JA a blanket pardon.”

September 17, 2018: Mueller submits questions to Trump, including one about a pardon for Assange.

October 29, 2018: Mueller’s team interviews Kunstler.

October 30, 2018: Arthur Schwartz tells Cassandra Fairbanks there’s not going to be a fucking Assange pardon.

November 20, 2018: Trump returns his questions to Mueller. Mueller’s team interviews Kunstler.


The movie Rashomon demonstrated that any given narrative tells just one version of events, but that by listening to all available narratives, you might identify gaps and biases that get you closer to the truth.

I’m hoping that principle works even for squalid stories like the investigation into Roger Stone’s cheating in the 2016 election. This series will examine the differences between four stories about Roger Stone’s actions in 2016:

As I noted in the introductory post (which lays out how I generally understand the story each tells), each story has real gaps in one or more of these areas:

My hope is that by identifying these gaps and unpacking what they might say about the choices made in crafting each of these stories, we can get a better understanding of what actually happened — both in 2016 and in the investigations. The gaps will serve as a framework for this series.

Rat-Fucker Rashomon: Steve Bannon and Dirty Tricks

Thus far in my Rat-Fucker Rashomon story, I’ve shown strong evidence that Roger Stone not only knew that John Podesta’s emails were coming, but knew or had the contents of some documents pertaining to an attack he had already been making on John Podesta. I showed that the timing of that release — via whatever means — likely served more to drown out the Russian attribution than the Access Hollywood tape, which has important implications for how he might have coordinated with WikiLeaks. And I suggested that the evidence Stone had far earlier knowledge of what the Russians were doing, even during the period when they were still hacking the DNC’s servers, makes some of all this focus on Podesta less important.

But there’s a limit to that claim. That’s because we still don’t know whether, when Stone promised he knew how to get Trump elected in the same period he was pursuing the Podesta files, that plan consisted just of optimizing the Podesta files, or whether there was something more. That makes the stories not told at Roger Stone’s trial all the more exasperating.

One of the most unsatisfying aspects of the Roger Stone trial, particularly for inattentive watchers, was that prosecutors never told us how Stone had gotten advance knowledge of what stolen emails would be released — nor even asserted as fact that he did.

As I keep noting, that’s not what they had to prove to win a guilty verdict.

But even more frustrating is the way DOJ proved its case that Stone had discussed WikiLeaks with the campaign. On at least three different occasions, the prosecution pointed to far more enticing communications about what really happened, but did not tell us what those communications meant.

The texts between Stone and Erik Prince on October 4, 2016 are one innocuous example.

They clearly pertain to WikiLeaks, which is all the prosecution needed to prove — that Stone had communications with people like Prince about advance knowledge of WikiLeaks that he subsequently lied about to cover up. But in the exhibit (which was entered by the FBI Agent; Prince was not called as a witness) there’s a reference — “Yes,” Stone confirmed he had heard more “from London” in the interim 7.5 hours since he had told Prince he was “checking” whether Assange had chickened out, then said, “want to talk on a secure line — got Whataspp?” to something far more interesting.

Affidavits obtained in early 2019 show that Stone first downloaded WhatsApp on October 4, suggesting he downloaded it solely to communicate with Prince (even though Stone already had Signal on his phone).

This is one of the rare areas where the Mueller Report provided more evidence than appeared at the trial. It revealed that Prince testified that,

Stone and Prince did speak subsequently, and Stone said that WikiLeaks would release more materials that would be damaging to the Clinton campaign. Stone also indicated to Prince that he had what Prince described  as almost “insider stock trading” type information about Assange.

But Prince didn’t testify at the trial, and it would be beyond the scope of what prosecutors needed to prove, and so we didn’t get to hear more about this “insider stock trading” information. Damnit.

In two other cases, though, prosecutors pointed to more substantive discussions that weren’t clearly labeled as WikiLeaks discussions, but which prosecutors presented as evidence that Stone was talking to the campaign about the upcoming releases. One was the August 3, 2016 email to Paul Manafort where he floated “an idea … to save Trump’s ass.”

As I noted in this post, Manafort seemed to try to hide this email and any follow-up conversation up in an interview with Mueller. And while Stone’s defense challenged whether this email was really related to WikiLeaks, in his closing argument, Jonathan Kravis argued that the plan was to use WikiLeaks releases to discredit Hillary.

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.

Tactically, introducing the email was not at all necessary. Prosecutors had more than proven that Stone had lied about talking to the campaign. And the SSCI Report makes clear there was a shit-ton of other evidence that made this clear they could have used instead. But for whatever reason, they did include it, tying Stone’s attempts to cover up these conversations with the way Trump won.

Prosecutors introduced a similar exchange with Steve Bannon, the guy who took over from Manafort weeks later: an August 18, 2016 email exchange  where Stone claimed Trump could “still win” … “but it ain’t pretty,” and Bannon responded by asking to talk ASAP.

Manafort didn’t testify at Stone’s trial. But Bannon did. Prosecutors had Bannon sitting there on the stand, forcing him to repeat what he had said to a grand jury earlier in the year, yet they only asked him to say this much about what all this means, in which he begrudgingly admitted he believed this discussion about using social media to win was about WikiLeaks:

Q. At the bottom of this email Mr. Stone states, “Trump can still win, but time is running out. Early voting begins in six weeks. I do know how to win this, but it ain’t pretty. Campaign has never been good at playing the new media. Lots to do, let me know when you can talk, R.” Did I read that correctly?

A. That’s correct.

Q. Then you respond, “Let’s talk ASAP”; am I correct?

A. That’s correct.

Q. When Mr. Stone wrote to you, “I do know how to win this but it ain’t pretty,” what in your mind did you understand that to mean?

A. Well, Roger is an agent provocateur, he’s an expert in opposition research. He’s an expert in the tougher side of politics. And when you’re this far behind, you have to use every tool in the toolbox.

Q. What do you mean by that?

A. Well, opposition research, dirty tricks, the types of things that campaigns use when they have got to make up some ground.

Q. Did you view that as sort of value added that Mr. Stone could add to the campaign?

A. Potentially value added, yes.

Q. Was one of the ways that Mr. Stone could add value to the campaign his relationship with WikiLeaks or Julian Assange?

A. I don’t know if I thought it at the time, but he could — you know, I was led to believe that he had a relationship with WikiLeaks and Julian Assange.

Even though prosecutors didn’t lay out precisely what happened next — something that other evidence suggests may have implicated Jared Kushner — Stone’s team never challenged the prosecution claim that this email and the subsequent exchanges did pertain to WikiLeaks. Perhaps, because they had reviewed Bannon’s grand jury and more recent testimony, they knew how he would respond and thought better off leaving it unchallenged.

Perhaps, too, they didn’t want to have to explain how long this exchange persisted. For example, the Stone affidavits — starting with one obtained after Bannon’s first testimony — showed this particular email exchange lasted two more days, through August 19 and 20 (the day before the Podesta “time in the barrel” tweet).

On August 19, 2016, Bannon sent Stone a text message asking if he could talk that morning. On August 20, 2016, Stone replied, “when can u talk???”

And those discussions may have continued into face-to-face meetings in September.

On September 4, 2016, Stone texted Bannon that he was in New York City for a few more days, and asked if Bannon was able to talk.

[snip]

On September 7, 2016, Stone and Bannon texted to arrange a meeting on September 8, 2016 at the Warner Center in New York.

On September 7, 2016, Bannon texted Stone asking him if he could “come by trump tower now???”

On September 8, 2016, Stone and Bannon texted about arranging a meeting in New York.

This is a lot of back-and-forth to discuss the “the tougher side of politics.”

The August exchange is one of the most substantive things presented at Stone’s trial that doesn’t appear in the Mueller Report.

It does show up, in abbreviated form, in the SSCI Report, but given what else SSCI includes, how the bipartisan report described Trump’s campaign manager eagerly responding to the rat-fucker deserves note. The SSCI Report describes how Gates and Manafort responded to Stone’s proposal — amid these promises of additional WikiLeaks releases — of a plan “to save Trump’s ass” right in the body of the report.

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

Bizarrely, the SSCI Report relegates the parallel conversation with Stone involving Steve Bannon, just two weeks later, to a footnote.

1589 (U) Ibid.; Testimony of Steve Bannon, United States v. Stone, pp. 850, 857- 861. In an email on August 18, Stone wrote to Bannon: “I do know how to win this but it ain’t pretty.” Email, Stone to Bannon, August 18, 2016 (United States v. Stone, Gov. Ex. 28). Bannon responded, “Let’s talk ASAP.” Ibid.

This is the guy who was in charge when the Podesta emails dropped. And yet the SSCI Report buries the fact that with Bannon, too, Stone pitched a plan to win using WikiLeaks. Moreover, the SSCI Report doesn’t mention that that plan focused on social media at all, or that discussions about it may have extended over three weeks.

And yet, having buried this pitch from Stone about using social media to win in a footnote, the SSCI Report then provides six pages of detail about how central the Podesta files were to the campaign, including in their social media campaign.

Before it presents that, however, the SSCI Report provides important context to an email exchange involving Stone and Bannon included in the Mueller Report, the Stone indictment, and released at the trial, context none of the other stories provide. It shows that before Breitbart reporter Matthew Boyle emailed Stone to find out what was up with Assange on October 4, Bannon had already reached out to Breitbart’s editors to track the release.

(U) The Trump Campaign tracked Stone’s commentary and the news about WikiLeaks. On October 2, Andrew Surabian, who ran the Campaign’s war room, emailed Stone’s Twitter prediction about a Wednesday release to Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, and the Trump Campaign press team. 1643 On October 3, Dan Scavino emailed the October 3 WikiLeaks Twitter announcement to Bannon.1644 That evening, Bannon reached out to two Breitbart editors, Wynton Han and Peter Schweizer, to ask if they would be awake “to get what he [Assange] has live.”I.645

(U) Separately, also on October 3, Bannon received an email from Matthew Boyle, another Breitbart editor, forwarding Boyle’s correspondence from earlier that day with Stone. In it, Boyle had asked Stone, “Assange-what’s he got? Hope it’s good.” Stone responded, “It is. I’d tell Bannon but he doesn’t call me back.” In his email to Bannon, Boyle advised Bannon to call Stone, and when Bannon said he had “important stuff to worry about,” Boyle replied, “Well clearly he knows what Assange has. I’d say that’s important.”1646

[snip]

(U) Trump was frustrated with the absence of a WikiLeaks release on October 4. Gates recalled that Trump had anticipated something would be released and later asked: “When is the other stuff coming out?”1653

(U) Following the announcement, Bannon complained to Stone by email about the lack of any new releases, asking “what was that this morning???”1654 Bannon wrote to Stone because Stone had said he “knew WikiLeaks and knew Julian Assange.”1655 Stone responded, echoing information he had received from Credico and Assange’s own announcement: “Fear. Serious security concern. He thinks they are going to kill him and the London police are standing done ” [sic]. However-a load every week going forward.” 1656

That Bannon used Breitbart as a cut-out to track what Assange was doing is important for several reasons. Bannon had had to ask the Mercers for permission before leaving Breitbart and joining the campaign, in part to avoid tying the Breitbart brand to any possible Trump loss. In August, Breitbart reporter Lee Stranahan had been in direct contact with Guccifer 2.0 and had gotten early access to a file on Black Lives Matter. Stone would use Breitbart as a platform for some of his own releases after the Podesta emails dropped. And there’s good reason to believe that whatever files Corsi prepped got shared with Breitbart itself.

Plus, in his first interview (one the SSCI Report treats, inexplicably, as credible), Bannon made a slew of claims denying enthusiasm regarding the Podesta release, claims utterly disproven by the documentary evidence. It’s possible Bannon believed he had hidden this enthusiasm from Mueller’s gaze at Breitbart.

Nevertheless, as the SSCI Report makes clear, there’s a great deal of evidence showing what a concerted focus the campaign paid to the stolen emails, how much of it focused on social media, and how the campaign couldn’t care less that this windfall had come from Russia. (The footnotes of this section of the SSCI Report are particularly valuable for the way they expose precisely who was involved in this campaign.)

(U) Despite the contemporaneous statement by the U.S. Government warning of Russian responsibility for the hacking and leaking of the DNC, DCCC, and Clinton Campaign documents and emails, the Trump Campaign considered the release of these materials to be its “October surprise.”1691 The Trump Campaign’s press team first found out about the WikiLeaks release when it “hit the press” on October 7,1692 and the Campaign quickly turned to capitalize on the Podesta emails: the following morning, October 8, the communications team began compiling information from the release that it could use to attack Clinton. 1693 WikiLeaks information was later integrated with Trump’s tweets, 1694 into his speeches, 1695 and into his press releases. 1696 Other members of the Trump family also scrutinized the news. 1697 And, the Campaign tracked WikiLeaks releases in order to populate a fake Clinton Campaign website, clintonkaine.com. 1698

[snip]

(U) Within the Campaign, there was no policy that governed using materials released by WikiLeaks.1717 To the contrary, the Campaign treated the releases as just another form of opposition research. 1718 Bannon’s view was that “anything negative that comes out [against an opponent] is clearly helpful to a campaign.”1719 According to Stephen Miller, “[i]t would have been political malpractice not to use the WikiLeaks material once it became public.” 1720 Gates described a “growing belief’ within the Campaign that Assange was, in fact, assisting their effort.”1721

(U) Rather than regulating the Campaign’s use ofWikiLeaks materials, Trump praised and promoted WikiLeaks repeatedly in the closing month of the campaign1722:

  • (U) October 10, 2016: “This just came out. WikiLeaks, I love WikiLeaks.”
  • (U) October 12, 2016: “This WikiLeaks stuff is unbelievable. It tells you the inner heart, you’·gotta read it.”
  • (U) October 13, 2016: “It’s been amazing what’s coming out on WikiLeaks.”
  • (U) October 31, 2016: “Another one came in today. This WikiLeaks is like a treasure trove.”
  • (U) November 2, 2016: “WikiLeaks, it sounds like, is going to be dropping some more . . Ifwe met tomorrow. I’d tell you about it tomorrow.”
  • (U) November 4, 2016: “Getting off the plane, they were just announcing new WikiLeaks, and I wanted to stay there, but I didn’t want to keep you waiting. Boy, I love reading those WikiLeaks.”

(U) Using Trump to promote WikiLeaks was a deliberate strategy employed by the Campaign, not only in his remarks, but also on social media. In mid-October, Ivanka Trump tasked the Campaign’s senior officials (including Bannon, Scavino, Stephen Miller and Jason Miller) with preparing two Trump tweets every day linking to WikiLeaks content, which, she said, would help “refocus the narrative.”1723 Trump tweeted direct references to WikiLeaks throughout October and November 2016, including on October 11, 12, 16, 17, 21 (twice), 22, 24, 27 and November 1.1724

[snip]

(U) The Campaign’s preoccupation with WikiLeaks continued until the general election. As the general election approached, Scavino, a member of the communications team who also had a role in administering Trump’s Twitter account during the campaign, 1739 increasingly forwarded updates relating to WikiLeaks to other Campaign officials, using subject lines like · “WIKI ABOUT TO DROP SOME BOMBS … 4 pmE” and “The WikiLeaks BOMB!” and linking to the latest WikiLeaks twitter post or its website. 1740 To one, Donald Trump Jr. responded: “Blow it out.” 1741

1691 (U) FBI, FD-302, Gates 4/19/2018.

1692 (U) Epshteyn Tr., p. 212.

1693 (U) See, e.g., Email, Shah to Ditto, Cheung, J. Miller, and Hicks, October 8, 2016 (DJTFP00019278) (attaching document titled “Wikileaks October 7, 2016 John Podesta Email Release”); Email, Epshteyn to Ellis, October 8, 2016 (DJTFP00019302-19304) (requesting “talkers on this asap” in reference to leaked speech excerpts). In his testimony, Bannon downplayed the relative importance of the WikiLeaks release in light or the Access Hollywood tape. Bannon recalled that the Campaign learned of the tape approximately 60 minutes before it was released, in the middle of debate preparation with Trump. See Bannon Tr., p. 206. According to Bannon, the tape was an “extinction level event,” and precipitated Republican Party efforts to “remove the candidate” the following day .. Ibid., pp. 207-208. Bannon claimed that he not recall finding out about the WikiLeaks release or speaking about it with Trump until the evening after the debate. Ibid., pp. 206-207.

1694 (U) Email, J. Miller to Giuliani, Hicks, Scavino, and S. Miller, October 11, 2016 (DJTFP00019376) (linking to WikiLeaks story in the LA Times).

1695 (U) Email, Gabriel to S. Miller and Ditto, October 27, 2016 (DJTFP00020051) (providing teleprompter script for Springfield, Ohio speech referencing WikiLeaks).

1696 (U) Email, Gates to Bannon, October 27, 2016 (SKB_SSCl-0001369-1370) (stating “This is good and exactly what we need,” and forwarding written Trump statement using WikiLeaks releases to attack Clinton under the subject line, “FW: Donald J. Trump Statement.”).

1697 (U) Email, J. Miller to Shah, et al., October 9, 2016 (DJTFP00024165) (discussing Eric Trump’s question about the WikiLeaks release, “Are we discussing Hillary selling weapons to Isis [sic] as per WikiLeaks email dump?”).

1698 (U) Email, Hemming to Parscale, Bannon, and Hall, “Re: Top Twenty-Five Wikileaks Revelations,” October 15, 2016 (SKB_SSCl-0001528-1530).

[snip]

1717 (U) Bannon Tr., p. 177; S. Miller Tr., p. -110.

1718 (U) For example, Hope Hicks told the Committee: “[E]veryone has opposition research, and this just happened to be available to everyone.” Hicks Tr., pp. 66–67. Kushner described the releases as a “popular topic” that “everyone was talking about.” Kushner II Tr., pp. ’52-54.

1719 (U) Bannon Tr., p. 171-172.

1720 (U) S. Miller Tr., p. 91.

1721 (U) FBI, FD-302, Gates 3/1/2018.

1722 (U) Some of these are reproduced in a video by The Washington Post. “Watch Trump Praise WikiLeaks,” The Washington Post, April 11, 2019. Public tabulations of the number of references in speeches, interviews, rallies, and debates Vary, but place it in excess of 100 mentions. See, e.g., Gabrielle Healy, “Did Trump really mention WikiLeaks over 160 times in the last month of the election cycle?” PolitiFact, April 21, 2017; David Choi and John Haltiwanger, “5 times Trump praised WikiLeaks during his 2016 election campaign,” Business Insider, April 11, 2019.

[snip]

1739 (U) Epshteyn.Tr,, p. 135.

1740 (U) Email, Scavino to Bannon; E. Trump, Trump Jr., Kushner, S. Miller, and Hicks, October 31, 2016 (TRUMPORG_69_016159); Email, Scavino to Bannon, Hicks, Kushner, S. Miller, Trump Jr., and E. Trump, (TRUMPORG_69_016934). See also Email, Scavino to Bannon, Hicks, Conway, and S. Miller, November 4, 2016 (TRUMPORG_69_017232) (“Tweet by WikiLeaks on Twitter”); Email, Scavino to Scavino, November 6, 2016 (TRUMPORG_69 _017455) (“8,263 DNC EMAILS RELEASED” and linking to WikiLeaks tweet); Email, Scavino to Bannon, S. Miller, Kushner, E. Trump, Trump Jr., November 7, 2016 (TRUMPORG_ 69 _ 017463) (subject “Wiki – CIIlCAGO PROTESTS COSTS” and linking to WikiLeaks documents).

1741 (U) Email, Trump Jr. to Scavino, Bannon, E. Trump, Kushner, S. Miller, and Hicks, October 31, 2016 (TRUMPORG _ 69_016164).

In light of Bannon’s meetings with Stone, his trial testimony, and the details of how the campaign exploited the stolen emails, the most obvious explanation for Stone’s “how to win this but it ain’t pretty” comment is that this response to the Podesta drop was prepared starting in August (which makes the timing of Stone’s “time in the barrel” comment, coming in the wake of the Stone and Bannon discussions, all the more intriguing).

Particularly given the timing of Stone’s meeting or meetings with Bannon in NY, that’s not the only possibility. The other ones are far more damning.

But the trial and affidavits both tell stories that suggest there’s far more to Stone’s proposals, to two consecutive Trump campaign managers, on how to win the campaign. The SSCI Report provides one answer, the most obvious answer, for what that plan was. And yet the SSCI Report, which frowns at the campaign for its embrace of emails stolen by Russia but consistently backs off the most damning conclusions regarding Trump, fails to connect whether there’s a tie between Stone’s promise, which it hides in a footnote, and the massive effort to capitalize on the emails.

Or worse.


The movie Rashomon demonstrated that any given narrative tells just one version of events, but that by listening to all available narratives, you might identify gaps and biases that get you closer to the truth.

I’m hoping that principle works even for squalid stories like the investigation into Roger Stone’s cheating in the 2016 election. This series will examine the differences between four stories about Roger Stone’s actions in 2016:

As I noted in the introductory post (which lays out how I generally understand the story each tells), each story has real gaps in one or more of these areas:

My hope is that by identifying these gaps and unpacking what they might say about the choices made in crafting each of these stories, we can get a better understanding of what actually happened — both in 2016 and in the investigations. The gaps will serve as a framework for this series.

Rat-Fucker Rashomon: Jerome Corsi’s Prescience about the Content of John Podesta’s Emails

In the previous installment of this series, I showed that rather than describing the conclusions of the Mueller team’s investigation into whether, how, and why Roger Stone optimized the release of the John Podesta emails on October 7, 2016, the Mueller Report instead plopped a comedy routine showing how Jerome Corsi changed his story from minute to minute on the topic.

The choice is all the more interesting given that the affidavits used in the Stone investigation — to say nothing of witness testimony — makes it increasingly certain that Stone got advance notice, and probably advance copies, of the stolen emails that pertained to an attack regarding Podesta’s ties to a company with Russian ties, Joule Holdings, that the frothy right had been chasing for months before mid-August 2016.

Jerome Corsi’s Podesta email was actually about timing

The email that Jerome Corsi sent Roger Stone on August 2, 2016 has been widely misunderstood, including by the SSCI Report.

“Word is friend in embassy plans 2 more dumps,” Corsi explained after informing Stone he hadn’t called him back, as Stone requested the day before, because he was in Italy. “One shortly after I’m back. 2nd in Oct.” This language about timing is what Aaron Zelinsky focused on when introducing the email at Stone’s trial. It’s the language that Jonathan Kravis highlighted in his closing argument. In neither prosecutors’ description of the email do they mention John Podesta (though later in Zelinsky’s opening, he describes that, “Roger Stone promised … a massive amount of hacked emails belonging to Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta” would be dropped on October 7).

Nevertheless this email has been taken as the means by which Corsi informed Stone that the upcoming WikiLeaks dump involved files stolen from John Podesta.

It’s only much later in the email when Corsi says, “Time to let more than Podesta to be exposed as in bed w enemy.” The reference to Podesta would be incomprehensible to Stone if it were his first notice that WikiLeaks was going to drop emails stolen from Hillary’s campaign manager. Moreover, Corsi wouldn’t bury it in the sixth paragraph if it were new news, particularly not given that the right wing oppo researchers Steve Bannon paid, the Government Accountability Institute, had just days earlier released a report that focused on John Podesta. Indeed, it’s even possible that the email doesn’t reflect advance knowledge of the Podesta emails, but was instead a reference to that report.

There’s no reason to believe that the Podesta reference in this email was news to Stone.

Corsi put the new news — that the dumps were coming shortly after he was scheduled to return from Italy on August 12, and then again in October — in the second paragraph. And as some of the affidavits described obliquely — but which did not get mentioned in any of the other three Roger Stone stories — the timing of both those predictions was absolutely correct.

Based on my training, experience, and review of materials in this case, it appears that CORSI’s reference to a “friend in embassy [who] plans 2 more dumps” refers to Julian ASSANGE; the founder of Wikileaks, who resided in Ecuador’s London Embassy in2016. As discussed above, Guccifer released information hacked from the DCCC on August 12,2016 (the date CORSI identified as when he would “return home.”)

FBI Agent Amy Anderson mentions, but does not explain, that Corsi did not correctly predict who would release these files.

Two releases, one from Guccifer and the other from Wikileaks, occurred at the times predicted by CORSI.

In fact, as Raffi Khatchadourian was the first to explain publicly (but as would have been clear to investigators once they obtained the relevant Twitter content), Guccifer 2.0 and WikiLeaks engaged in a series of very theatrical DM conversations with Emma Best over that weekend in August 2016 about whether Best would publish the DCCC emails; even after WikiLeaks convinced Best to hold off so it could have exclusivity, WikiLeaks never did publish any DCCC documents. At the time Corsi learned that “friend in embassy” would have two upcoming drops, WikiLeaks was still demanding exclusivity before it would deliver the first one.

In the August 2 email, then, Corsi provided new news to Stone about what the Russians were planning, but (if the theatrical DMs are to be believed, which they shouldn’t necessarily be) Assange had yet to buy into the plan. That makes Corsi’s description of “the game hackers are now about” all the more intriguing.

There’s no reason to believe, from this email, that Corsi was newly informing Stone that WikiLeaks would eventually dump the Podesta emails. There’s not even any reason to be sure that Corsi informed Stone of that fact and not vice versa. Indeed, the Mueller Report describes that Corsi told Ted Malloch later in August that, “Stone had made a connection to Assange and that the hacked emails of John Podesta would be released prior to Election Day,” not that he himself had. The email is indication (though in no way, by itself, proof, especially given the possibility it referenced the GAI report) that both believed by August 2 that WikiLeaks would drop the Podesta emails. It is not proof that Corsi told Stone of that fact.

Rick Gates and Paul Manafort testified that Stone knew Podesta emails were coming

We can get a lot closer to proof that Stone had advance knowledge of the Podesta drop, though.

First of all, it’s not just Malloch who testified to having conversations about Podesta’s emails in August. According to the SSCI Report, in part of Rick Gates’ October 25, 2018 interview that remains redacted,

Gates recalled Stone advising him, prior to the release of an August 14 article in The New York Times about Paul Manafort’s “secret ledger,” that damaging information was going to be released about Podesta. 1579 Gates understood that Stone was referring to nonpublic information. Gates further recalled later conversations with Stone about how to save Manafort’s role on the Campaign, and that Stone was focused on getting information about John Podesta, but said that Stone did not reveal the “inner workings” of that plan to Gates. 1580

An unredacted part of that 302 — which is likely the continuation of the discussion cited in SSCI — explains,

Gates said there was a strategy to defend Manafort by attacking Podesta. The idea was that Podesta had baggage as well. Gates said it was unfortunate the information did not come out in time to defend Manafort from his ultimate departure from the campaign.

In a September 27, 2018 interview, Manafort provided details of two conversations that he placed in August 2016, one of which provided specific details (which remain redacted, purportedly to protect Podesta’s privacy!) about John Podesta’s alleged ties with Russia.

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.

Roger Stone’s longtime friend Paul Manafort, at a time when he lying to protect key details about what happened in 2016, nevertheless confirmed that Stone had detailed knowledge not just that the Podesta files would drop, but what Russian-based attacks they would make of them.

The government almost certainly has proof Stone and Corsi had advance copies of the Podesta files

More importantly, there’s evidence that Corsi had copies of some of the Podesta emails by August 14, and had pre-written attacks on Podesta already drafted when the files came out in October.

On March 23, 2017, Corsi published what he claimed was an explanation for Stone’s August 21, 2016 “time in the barrel” tweet. In it, he explained that in response to the August 14, 2016 NYT story exposing Paul Manafort’s Ukraine corruption, Corsi started a memo for Stone on Podesta.

On Aug. 14, 2016, I began researching for Roger Stone a memo that I entitled “Podesta.”

On August 15 at 1:33 AM, Stone tweeted about Podesta for the first time ever,

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

At 8:16AM on August 15, Corsi texted and then at 8:17 AM Corsi emailed Stone the same message:

Give me a call today if you can. Despite MSM drumroll that HRC is already elected, it’s not over yet. More to come than anyone realizes.

According to the SSCI Report, at 12:14PM on August 15, Corsi and Stone spoke by phone for 24 minutes.

The implication in Corsi’s March 2017 post was that he spent the next two weeks writing the memo that he started on August 14 and that the report reflects “several detailed conversations” Corsi had with Stone.

I completed that memo on Aug. 31, 2016, and is embedded here in its entirety.

Between Aug. 14 and Aug. 31, 2016, Roger Stone and I had several detailed conversations about the Podesta research.

Except that prosecutors obtained several kinds of proof that Corsi only started writing the memo he published in that March 2017 column (which Stone submitted to HPSCI — starting at PDF 39 — as part of his prepared statement) on that same day, on August 31. Corsi started writing it after Stone called him on August 30 and asked him to do so. This would have started to become clear to prosecutors when they first obtained email returns, since Corsi sent a copy of the report to Stone via email. But according to Corsi, prosecutors found forensic evidence to confirm that.

In his book, Corsi even admitted that the document was a cover story that he didn’t start until August 30 (Stone sued Corsi about this claim).

Next, Zelinsky focused on the email Roger Stone sent me on August 30, 2016, asking me to call him. As we discussed earlier, that led me to write a “cover-up memo” for him on John Podesta, suggesting that Roger’s infamous Twitter post about “Podesta’s time in the barrel” was a reference to my research about John and Tony Podesta’s money dealings with Russia. Roger wanted to disguise his tweet, suggesting “Podesta’s time in the barrel” was not a reference to any advanced knowledge Stone may have had from me, when I began telling Stone from Italy in emails dated earlier in August 2016 that I believed Assange had Podesta emails. “We’ve examined your computer Doctor Corsi,” Zelinsky grilled me. “And we know that the next day, August 31, 2016, your birthday, you began at 7:30 a.m. to write that memo for Stone.”

Before returning to Washington to appear before the grand jury, I had taken the time to research the file of my 2016 writing drafts that I had restored to my laptop from the Time Machine. I found that the file that I labeled, “ROGER STONE background PODESTA version 1.0 Aug. 31, 2016” was time-stamped for 12:17 p.m. that day. But I decided not to quibble with Zelinsky, so I agreed. “Then, Doctor Corsi, we find from your computer that the first thing you did was to find a series of open source articles on Podesta and Russia that you could use in writing your memo for Roger Stone,” Zelinsky said, pressing forward. “Is that correct?”

That said, Corsi may well have another report he started on August 14. In his March 2017 piece, Corsi claims that he wrote a series of articles based on that original report, one installment of which Stone would publish under his own name on October 13.

On October 6, 2016, I published in WND.com the first of a series of articles detailing Putin’s financial ties to Clinton and Podesta, based largely on the research contained in the Government Accountability Institute’s report, “From Russia With Money.”

On Oct. 13, 2016, Stone published on his website an article entitled, “Russian Mafia money laundering, the Clinton Foundation and John Podesta.”

A comparison of the two articles will show the extent to which Stone incorporated my research into his analysis.

To the extent that Corsi wrote a series of articles, it would include the following:

In a November 1, 2018 interview, Corsi explained that he had published the October 6 one (as noted, it was based off the earlier GAI/Breitbart attack), in an effort to force Assange to release the Podesta emails.

Corsi published the August 31, 2016 memo on October 6, 2016. At that time, he still held himself out as the connection to WikiLeaks. The trigger for the release of the article was the publication of an article about [Paul] Manafort and [Viktor] Yanukovych. Corsi wanted to counter it with a story about Podesta, but he really wanted to provide stimulus to Assange to release whatever he had on Podesta. Corsi was angry with Assange for not releasing emails on October 4, 2016.

The claim would only make sense (to the extent that Jerome Corsi can ever be said to “make sense”) if Corsi could threaten to pre-empt what WikiLeaks was about to publish: the Podesta file pertaining to Joule Holdings.

As for the October 13 piece Stone adopted as his own, the affidavits targeting Corsi and Stone provided extensive details on how that got published.

First thing in the morning on October 12, Stone wrote Corsi and asked for his “best podesta links.” (The SSCI Report reveals that Stone and Manafort spoke that day, but does not say what time.) Corsi responded that he would send them on Monday — which would have been on October 17. “The remaining stuff on Podesta,” Corsi said, “is complicated.” That seems to comport with Corsi’s later representation he did a series, of which the October 13 one was part. But it also seems to suggest that the remaining stuff was already written at 8:54 AM on October 12.

75. On or about October 8, 2016, STONE messaged CORSI at Target Account 2, “Lunch postponed- have to go see T.” CORSI responded to STONE, “Ok. I understand.” Approximately twenty minutes later, CORSI texted, “Clintons know they will lose a week of Paula Jones media with T attacking Foundation, using Wikileaks Goldman Sachs speech comments, attacking bad job numbers.”

76. On or about Wednesday, October 12, 2016, at approximately 8:17 EDT, STONE emailed CORSI at Target Account 1, asking him to “send me your best podesta links.” STONE emailed CORSI at approximately 8:$$ [sic] EDT, “need your BEST podesta pieces.” CORSI wrote back at approximately 8:54AM EDT, “Ok. Monday. The remaining stuff on Podesta is complicated. Two articles in length. I can give you in raw form the stuff I got in Russian translated but to write it up so it’s easy to understand will take weekend. Your choice?”

77. On or about that same day October 12, 2016, Podesta accused STONE of having advance knowledge of the publication of his emails. At approximately 3:25PM EDT, CORSI, using Target Account 1, emailed STONE with a subject line “Podesta talking points.” Attached to the email was a file labeled, “ROGER STONE podesta talking points Oct 12 2016.docx.” The “talking points” included the statement that “Podesta is at the heart of a Russian-govermnent money laundering operation that benefits financially Podesta personally and the Clintons through the Clinton Foundation.”

78. CORSI followed up several minutes later with another email titled, “Podesta talking points,” with the text “sent a second time just to be sure you got it.” STONE emailed CORSI back via the Hotmail Account, “Got them and used them.”

79. On or about Thursday, October 13, 2016, CORSI, using Target Account 3, emailed STONE: “PODESTA — Joule & ties to RUSSIA MONEY LAUNDERING to CLINTON FOUNDATION.” STONE responded, “Nice but I was hoping for a piece I could post under my by-line since I am the one under attack by Podesta and now Mook.” CORSI wrote back to STONE, “I’ll give you one more -NOBODY YET HAS THIS[:] It looks to me like [redacted–Vekselberg] skimmed maybe billions off Skolkovo – Skolkovo kept their money with Metcombank[.] The Russians launched a criminal investigation[.] [web link] Once [redacted–Vekselberg] had the channel open from Metcombank to Deutsche Bank America to Ban[k] of America’s Clinton Fund account, there’s no telling how much money he laundered, or where it ended up. Nothing in Clinton Foundation audited financials or IRS Form 990s about $$$ received via Russia & Metcombank[.] I’m working on that angle now.” STONE replied, “Ok Give me SOMETHING to post on Podesta since I have now promised it to a dozen MSM reporters[.]”

80. On or about Thursday, October 13, 2016 at approximately 6:30PM EDT, CORSI sent STONE an email with the Subject, “ROGER STONE article RUSSIAN MAFIA STYLE MONEY-LAUNDERING, the CLINTON FOUNDATION, and JOHN PODESTA.” The text stated: “Roger[,] You are free to publish this under your own name.” That same day, STONE posted a blog post with the title, “Russian Mafia money laundering, the Clinton Foundation and John Podesta.” In that post, STONE wrote, “although I have had some back-channel communications with Wikileaks I had no advance notice about the hacking of Mr. Podesta nor I have I ever received documents or data from Wikileaks.” The post then asked, “Just how much money did, a controversial Russian billionaire investor with ties to the Vladimir Putin and the Russian government, launder through Metcombank, a Russian regional bank owned 99 .978 percent by with the money transferred via Deutsche Bank and Trust Company Americas in New York City, with the money ending up in a private bank account in the Bank of America that is operated by the Clinton Foundation?”

81. On or about October 14, 2016, CORSI sent a message using Target Account 2 to STONE, “i’m in NYC. Thinking about writing piece attacking Leer and other women. It’s basically a rewrite of what’s out there. Going through new Wikileaks drop on Podesta.” [my emphasis]

It turns out the post Stone ultimately posted had no links to the WikiLeaks releases it relied on (remember, he asked Corsi for links and pieces), but it does reference a file that had been released on October 11, hours before Corsi seemed to speak of the post as already completed.

Wikileaks emails tie John Podesta, chairman of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, into the money-laundering network with the confirmation Podesta had exercised 75,000 shares out of 100,000 previously undisclosed stock options he was secretly issued by Joule Unlimited, a U.S. corporation that ties back to Vekselberg connected Joule Global Stichting in the Netherlands – a shady entity identified in the Panama Papers as an offshore money-laundering client of the notorious Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca.

As a clear indication of guilty conscience, the Wikileaks Podesta file further documents that Podesta made a serious effort to keep the transaction from coming to light as evidenced by his decision to transfer 75,000 common shares of Joule Unlimited to Leonidio LLC, another shady shell corporation – this one listed in Salt Lake City at the home apartment of the gentlemen who registered the company.

A parallel post covering the same material posted by Corsi does have links to the emails that support the disposition of the 75,000 shares and other claims made in it. But that one was updated about six hours after it was first posted, and the first Internet Archive capture postdates that update.

Investigators seem to have found some significance, too, in the Metcombank reference that Corsi got and had to translate from Russian, a significance I don’t understand. But Stone dropped part of that attack when he revived the Vekselberg attack to use against Cohen in 2018.

Remember: Investigators would have had the forensics for the documents Corsi and Stone were sending back and forth by email, and probably would have communications about all this between August 14 and August 31, when (according to Corsi), Stone asked him to write a cover story. They would know if the story Stone posted under his own name was drafted before the public release of the emails it relied on.

But even on its face, Corsi’s comments suggest that these documents were a series started by October 6, of which some parts “were remaining” on the morning of October 12, one day after the email it relied on got released. Remember, too, that Corsi claims Stone told him to delete his email (which he did) on October 11, which would hide any knowledge of that WikiLeaks file before it came out.

Paul Manafort and Rick Gates both testified that Roger Stone had a plan, hatched before Paul Manafort resigned on August 19, to save his job by claiming that Podesta was just as bad as Manafort. Manafort even described the specific nature of the Russian-based attack on Podesta they had planned (though Bill Barr’s DOJ redacted it to protect Podesta’s privacy!).

And then, when Roger Stone asked Corsi for “links” as well as “pieces” on October 12, Corsi sent him a document that, by reference, had already been written, one that didn’t have links but that integrated information that wasn’t public until October 11.

That doesn’t prove that Stone and Corsi had those files in mid-August. But it does explain why Stone might have wanted a cover story denying they did after he boasted that it would soon be Podesta’s time in the barrel on August 21.


The movie Rashomon demonstrated that any given narrative tells just one version of events, but that by listening to all available narratives, you might identify gaps and biases that get you closer to the truth.

I’m hoping that principle works even for squalid stories like the investigation into Roger Stone’s cheating in the 2016 election. This series will examine the differences between four stories about Roger Stone’s actions in 2016:

As I noted in the introductory post (which lays out how I generally understand the story each tells), each story has real gaps in one or more of these areas:

My hope is that by identifying these gaps and unpacking what they might say about the choices made in crafting each of these stories, we can get a better understanding of what actually happened — both in 2016 and in the investigations. The gaps will serve as a framework for this series.

Rat-Fucker Rashomon: Accessing Hollywood Cover-Ups of the Russian Attribution

The Mueller Report has a section that purports to address whether Trump’s team timed the Podesta email release to drop in such a way as to drown out the Access Hollywood video. After explaining that the stolen emails came out less than an hour after the video, the Mueller Report explains,

The Office investigated whether Roger Stone played any role in WikiLeaks’s dissemination of the Podesta emails at that time.

The very next sentence, however, talks only about Jerome Corsi, suggesting that the investigation into this question lived and died (a maudlin death) with Corsi’s conflicting testimony.

During his first September 2018 interview, Corsi stated that he had refused Stone’s July 25, 2016 request to contact Assange, and that had been the last time they had talked about contacting Assange.

The Mueller Report spends three different paragraphs discussing not Roger Stone’s role, but Jerome Corsi’s shifting explanations on the topic of whether Corsi (but not Stone) had succeeded in getting the Podesta emails released on October 7.

Here’s a sample of that Abbot and Costello routine plopped right in the middle of the Mueller Report:

Corsi gave conflicting accounts of what happened after Stone purportedly informed him about the video. Initially, Corsi told investigators that he had instructed Stone to have WikiLeaks release information to counteract the expected reaction to the video’s release, and that Stone said that was a good idea and would get it done. Later during the same interview, Corsi stated that Stone had told Corsi to have WikiLeaks drop the Podesta emails immediately, and Corsi told Stone he would do it.

This passage relegates the phone records that — the affidavits make clear — had constituted a key part of this prong of the investigation to a footnote, and to add to the comedy routine, even cites a Chuck Ross story that Mueller’s team knew (because they proved as much at trial) aired transparent Stone lies in order to incorporate a Stone denial regarding October 7.

249 Chuck Ross, Jerome Corsi Testified That Roger Stone Sought WikiLeaks’ Help To Rebut ‘Access Hollywood’ Tape, Daily Caller (Nov. 27, 2018) (quoting Stone as claiming that he did not have knowledge of the tape until its publication).

This makes a second time that Ross proved to be a really useful idiot to the Mueller team.

Having laid out how unreliable Corsi is and never directly revealing what they knew about Stone’s actions, the Mueller Report then answers a different question than the one that frames the section, “whether Roger Stone played any role in WikiLeaks’s dissemination of the Podesta emails at that time.” Instead, it answers whether Corsi’s claims to have gotten the early release were credible. They weren’t:

The Office investigated Corsi’s allegations about the events of October 7, 2016 but found little corroboration for his allegations about the day.

The Mueller Report, then, substitutes a comedy routine about Jerome Corsi for a sober discussion revealing what the investigation into this question really examined and actually concluded.

The SSCI Report provides a more nuanced discussion of this question, incorporating some, but not all, of the phone records that investigators were interested in, as well as presumed Stone communications with Trump, book-ending the release, and Corsi’s boasts after the fact that first gave investigators reason to pursue this question.

(U) WikiLeaks did not release anything on October 6. Nevertheless, on October 6, Stone tweeted: “Julian Assange will deliver a devastating expose on Hillary at a time of his choosing. I stand by my prediction. #handcuffs4hillary.”1661 Stone and Credico had five additional calls that day.1662

(U) On the afternoon of October 6, Stone received a call from Keith Schiller’s number. Stone returned the call about 20 minutes later, and spoke-almost certainly to Trump–for six minutes. 1663 The substance of that conversation is not known to the Committee. However, at the time, Stone was focused on the potential for a WikiLeaks release, the Campaign was following WikiLeaks’s announcements, and Trump’s prior call with Stone on September 29, also using Schiller’s phone, related to a WikiLeaks release. Given these facts, it appears quite likely that Stone and Trump spoke about WikiLeaks.

(U) At approximately 4 p.m. on October 7, The Washington Post released the Access Hollywood tape.1664 Witnesses involved in Trump’s debate preparation recalled that the team first heard of the tape about an hour prior to its public release. 1665 According to Jerome Corsi, however, news of the release also made its way to Roger Stone.1666 Corsi and Stone spoke twice that day at length: once at 1:42 p.m. for 18 minutes, and once at 2:18 p.m. for 21 minutes. 1667 Corsi recalled learning from Stone that the Access Hollywood tape would be coming out, and that Stone “[w]anted the Podesta stuff to balance the news cycle” either “right then or at least coincident.”1668 According to Corsi, Stone also told him to have WikiLeaks “drop the Podesta emails immediately.”1669

(U) When the tape later became public, Corsi claimed that he was not surprised by the graphic language because he had already heard it. 1670 Corsi recalled previewing the Access Hollywood tape with conference call participants during one or two calls that day: a WorldNetDaily staff call at 1:08 p.m., or a 2 p.m. call involving Total Banking Solutions that included Malloch. 1671 Corsi remembered telling conference participants that the tape was a problem and to contact Assange. 1672 Corsi then “watched all day to see what Assange would do,” and when the Podesta emails were released, he thought to himself that Malloch “had finally got to Assange.”1673 However, Corsi later told investigators that he did not call Malloch or Stone after the WikiLeaks release to convey this reaction because, in contradiction to his earlier statements, he was “doubtful” that Malloch had succeeded. 1674

(U) Corsi also claimed that he tweeted publicly at WikiLeaks in order to get them to release documents, but no such tweets could be located. 1675 The SCO was unable to identify any conference call participants who recalled getting non-public information about the tape from Corsi that day; the Committee did not seek to confirm those findings. 1676

(U) At approximately 4:32 p.m. on October 7-approximately 32 minutes after the release of the Access Hollywood tape-WikiLeaks released 2,050 emails that the GRU had stolen from John Podesta, repeatedly announcing the leak on Twitter and linking to a searchable archive of the documents. 1677

[snip]

On October 8, Stone messaged Corsi: “Lunch postponed – have to go see T,” referring to Trump. 1681

(U) Corsi said that after the October 7 WikiLeaks release, he and Stone agreed that they deserve.d credit and that.”Trump should reward us.”1682 However, Corsi said that Stone was concerned about having advance information about the Podesta release, and that Stone recruited Corsi to make sure no one knew Stone had advance knowledge of that information. After the October 7 release, Corsi claimed that Stone directed him to delete emails relating to the Podesta information.1683

But a later affidavit — one that was sealed through Stone’s prosecution and therefore something that the Mueller Report would avoid mentioning — reveals that someone Charles Ortel introduced Stone to in August 2016 — I call the person R because incomplete redactions show his or her last name ends in “r” — also had close communication with Stone on the day of the Access Hollywood video drop. Combined and with one key addition, the timeline for that day (so without the probable Trump book-ends the day before and the day after) looks this way [my emphasis]:

11:27 AM, CORSI placed a call to STONE which STONE did not answer.

11:53AM, STONE received a phone call from the Washington Post. The call lasted approximately twenty minutes.

12:33PM, R calls Stone. The call lasted approximately seven minutes.

1:42PM, STONE called CORSI and the two spoke for approximately seventeen minutes.

2:18PM, CORSI called STONE and the two spoke for approximately twenty minutes.

2:38PM, R calls Stone. That call lasted approximately one minute.

3:32PM, DHS releases Joint Statement attributing election interference to and tying WikiLeaks and the GRU cut-outs to Russia.

3:32PM, R FaceTimes Stone. They don’t connect.

4:00PM, the Washington Post published a story regarding the Access Hollywood tape.

4:32PM, WikiLeaks tweets out its first release of emails hacked from John Podesta that focused primarily on materials related to the Clinton Foundation. On or about August 2, 2016, when CORSI emailed STONE on Target Account 1, he wrote “I expect that much of next dump focus, setting stage for Foundation debacle.”

6:27PM, Ortel sends STONE an email titled, “WikiLeaks – The Podesta Emails” with a link to the newly-released Podesta emails. Approximately ten minutes later, STONE forwarded message to CORSI at Target Account 1 without comment. STONE does not appear to have forwarded the email to any other individual.

“R” may be associated with the Peter Smith effort to find Hillary’s deleted emails. Later affidavits reveal that Stone first obtained ProtonMail (along with Signal) the day he first spoke with this person; other materials show that everyone involved in the Smith effort was required to use ProtonMail.

That said, “R” may be just another person with some kind of tie to WikiLeaks. Another part of this affidavit describes Stone and “R” meeting on October 10, a meeting at which, Stone later seemed to suggest, he met with his Assange source; the affidavit suggests that “R” might fit Stone’s later description of a male who traveled back and forth from the UK. That is, this person, like Credico, may be just another cover story for his true contact.

Including “R’s” contacts with Stone into the timeline, however, suggests another possible reason to explain the timing of the WikiLeaks release. It appears that at the moment DHS dropped what was — at the time — an unprecedented statement attributing the election hacking to the Russian Government and describing, “recent disclosures of alleged hacked e-mails on sites like DCLeaks.com and WikiLeaks and by the Guccifer 2.0 online persona [to be] consistent with the methods and motivations of Russian-directed efforts,” “R” tried unsuccessfully to contact Stone via FaceTime.

That presents another possible explanation for the timing, one ignored by many discussing the events of October 7, including the SSCI Report (though I raised it in 2017): that WikiLeaks released the Podesta emails to drown out the attribution announcement. Not only might advance notice of that DHS/ODNI statement be more readily accessible to people in Trump’s orbit (perhaps via Gang of Eight members Devin Nunes or Richard Burr, who were national security advisors to the campaign), but both Russia and WikiLeaks would have a direct stake in swamping the Joint attribution tying WikiLeaks and the stolen emails to Russia.

For what it’s worth, given what I know about both public and private instances of entities playing both sides in this affair, I wouldn’t rule out Russia orchestrating the Access Hollywood leak, either, both to make Trump more desperate and to give the Podesta drop more value as a result.

That doesn’t prove that Stone — with or without Corsi — had any influence on the timing. But a passage of the “R” affidavit repeats a claim that was redacted (to protect an ongoing investigation) earlier in the affidavit. Someone — probably Ted Malloch, whose publicly reported testimony this matches — testified that Corsi claimed credit for the timing in January 2017.

As noted above [redacted] told investigators that in January 2017, CORSI told him that he (CORSI) and STONE were involved in and were aware of the timing and content of the WikiLeaks releases in advance, including the fact that the emails belonged to John Podesta, and CORSI implied, in sum and substance, that STONE was involved in the release of the Podesta emails by WikiLeaks.

None of that confirms anything about the granularity with which Stone affected the timing of the release on October 7. But it does show that, at the time the Mueller team was writing their report and, given both the “R” affidavit redactions and more recent ones, to this day, investigators were and are hiding some of the details they learned about what happened on that day.

Those are the kind of gaps that make narrative analysis interesting.


The movie Rashomon demonstrated that any given narrative tells just one version of events, but that by listening to all available narratives, you might identify gaps and biases that get you closer to the truth.

I’m hoping that principle works even for squalid stories like the investigation into Roger Stone’s cheating in the 2016 election. This series will examine the differences between four stories about Roger Stone’s actions in 2016:

As I noted in the introductory post (which lays out how I generally understand the story each tells), each story has real gaps in one or more of these areas:

My hope is that by identifying these gaps and unpacking what they might say about the choices made in crafting each of these stories, we can get a better understanding of what actually happened — both in 2016 and in the investigations. The gaps will serve as a framework for this series.

Rat-Fucker Rashomon: Four Stories about Roger Stone (Introduction)

As background for some other things and because I’m a former scholar of narrative, I want to lay out the four different stories that have been told of Roger Stone’s actions in 2016 and after:

One day there might be a fifth story, the investigative records, but those are still so redacted (and the subjects were such committed liars) to be of limited use right now, so while I will integrate them and other public records into this series, I won’t treat them as a separate story.

I observed in this post that a September 2018 affidavit revealed that the Stone indictment and trial were, in part, investigative steps in a larger investigation, an investigation that Bill Barr appears to have since substantially killed. The affidavit asked for (and received) a gag because, it explained, investigators were trying to keep Stone from learning that the investigation into him was broader than he thought.

It does not appear that Stone is currently aware of the full nature and scope of the ongoing FBI investigation. Disclosure of this warrant to Stone could lead him to destroy evidence or notify others who may delete information relevant to the investigation.

Partly, the larger investigation must have been an effort to determine — and if possible, obtain proof beyond a reasonable doubt — of how Stone optimized the release of (at least) the Podesta emails. I think the evidence shows Stone did partly optimize the release, though I also believe doing so served as much to compromise Stone and others as to help Trump get elected. In an unreliable Paul Manafort interview, Trump’s former campaign chair describes a conversation (this may have taken place in spring 2018, during a period when Manafort unconvincingly claims he was not engaged in concocting a cover story with his lifelong buddy) where Stone clarified that he was just a conduit in the process of optimizing the Podesta release, not the decision maker.

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.

That’s Stone and Manafort’s less damning explanation, that Stone did have advance knowledge but didn’t control the process! It may also be true, though Stone likely believed he was controlling things in real time, when he was making stupid promises. Being a reckless rat-fucker can make a guy vulnerable to rat-fuckery himself.

I also believe that prosecutors did confirm how Stone got (information on) the emails and what stupid promises he had to make to get them, though not until after Stone was charged in his cover-up and probably not beyond a reasonable doubt. But, likely for a variety of reasons, they never told us that in any of the four stories that have been released about Stone.

So I want to examine what story each of the four narratives tell, because what an author withholds [wink] is always at least as interesting as what storyline the author uses to engage her readers.

The Mueller Report

All these stories are constrained, in part, by their genre.

For example, legally, the Mueller Report fulfills a requirement of the regulation under which Mueller was appointed.

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

You finish your work, and you tell the Attorney General overseeing your work whom you charged, whom you didn’t, and why. The Mueller Report, consisting of two volumes and some appendices laying out referrals from the investigation itself, therefore had to tell a story to support these decisions:

  • To charge a bunch of IRA trolls but none of the Americans unwittingly cooperating with them
  • To charge a bunch of Russian intelligence officers but not WikiLeaks or Roger Stone (though note that Rod Rosenstein has said the WikiLeaks investigation always remained at EDVA)
  • Not to charge Don Jr and Stone for accepting or soliciting illegal campaign donations from foreigners
  • Not to charge a bunch of Trumpsters for their sleazy influence peddling
  • To charge a bunch of Trumpsters with lying and (in the case of Manafort and Gates) various kinds of financial fraud, but not to charge other Trumpsters for equally obvious lying
  • Effectively (and this is my opinion), to refer Trump to Congress for impeachment
  • To refer a bunch of other matters, ranging from Trumpsters’ financial fraud, George Nader’s child porn (though given the releases from the other day, it’s not clear that’s formally in the report), and a number of counterintelligence matters, for further investigation

That’s not all. Technically, one investigation into someone either close to or Trump himself wasn’t even done at the time Mueller finished. Documents show a campaign finance investigation–AKA bribery–involving a bank owned by a foreign country was ongoing; Bill Barr has recently publicly bitched about the legal theory behind the investigation (one SCOTUS approved) and it has been closed. And, significantly, for the purpose of this series, Mueller had not obtained Stone aide Andrew Miller’s testimony when the Report got written either, though at the minute Miller agreed to testify, Mueller was giving a presser closing up shop, presumably (though not definitely) making Miller’s testimony part of the ongoing investigation related to Stone.

Aside from those two details, the story the Mueller Report has to tell has to explain those prosecutorial decisions. For the sake of this series, then, the story has to tell why Stone wasn’t charged for soliciting illegal campaign donations from WikiLeaks, why he was charged for lying to obscure who his go-between was and whether he had discussed all that with Trump and others on the campaign, and why Trump should be impeached for his promises to pardon Stone (among others) for covering up what really happened in 2016.

Significantly for this story, Stone was not charged because he lied about having a go-between (he lied to Congress to cover up who it was), nor was he charged for any actions he took with his go-between to get advance information. I’m not certain, but such charges may actually not be precluded by double jeopardy; if not, this story may have been written to ensure no double jeopardy attached. In any case, we shouldn’t expect details of his go-between to be fully aired in the report (or encompassed by it), because it was not a prosecutorial decision that needed to be explained.

The timeline of the Stone part of this story starts in early June 2016, and (for the main part of his story) ends the day the Podesta emails got released, October 7, leaving out a bunch of Stone activities that were key prongs of the investigation.

The Stone prosecution

The story told by the Stone prosecution unsurprisingly adopts the same general scope as the Mueller Report.

As noted above, the government took a number of investigative steps in 2018 that they kept secret from Stone, explicitly because they wanted Stone to continue to believe he was only under investigation for his lies about his claims about having a go-between with WikiLeaks. Because of that, I think the story the Stone prosecution told is best understood as a way to use the prosecution to advance a larger investigation, without compromising the rest of it. As such, it makes the way in which prosecutors controlled this narrative all the more interesting. That dual objective — advancing the larger investigation but keeping secrets –meant that prosecutors needed to provide enough detail to win the case — possibly even to get testimony about specific details to achieve other objectives in their investigation — but not disclose details that would give away the rest or require unreliable witnesses.

The Stone prosecutors provided us a handy timeline to show the scope of its story, split into two sections. The first starts with Assange’s promise of additional Hillary files on June 12, 2016 and ends on October 7, 2016.

While Rick Gates did testify that Stone predicted a WikiLeaks drop even before June 12, his testimony focused far more closely on discussions they had in the wake of the June 14 DNC announcement they’d been hacked. So the prosecution left out interesting details about what Stone was up to in spring 2016.

By ending the earlier, election-related timeline on October 7, prosecutors didn’t include a presumed Stone meeting with Trump on October 8 or the evidence that he and Corsi had advance knowledge of certain Podesta files, which became clear around October 13, to say nothing of what happened in the days after the election.

Then, the prosecution adopted a later timeline covering obstruction and witness tampering. It starts on January 6, 2017 and — at least on this timeline — goes through January 28, 2018 (though FBI Agent Michelle Taylor introduced evidence and Randy Credico testified to events that took place after that date).

That’s the scope of the story: an abbreviated version of 2016, starting after Stone first starting claiming to have advance warning of the email dumps, and ending well before things started to get interesting in the lead-up to and aftermath of the election.

A simplified version of the plot this story tells is how Stone used Credico to make sure no one would look too closely at what he had been up to with Corsi.

The SSCI Report

As I said, most of these stories were dictated, in part, by genre and a specific goal. Prosecutors writing the Mueller Report could only tell a story that explained prosecutorial decisions, and in this case, they had an ongoing investigation to protect (which Barr appears to have since substantially killed). Prosecutors scoping the Stone prosecution only had to present enough evidence to get their guilty verdict, and presumably didn’t want to produce evidence that would disclose the secrets they were trying to keep or expose a weakness in an otherwise airtight case. As for the warrants, every affidavit an FBI agent writes notes that they are including only as much as required to show probable cause. With a caveat laid out below, the FBI agents wouldn’t want to include too much for fear of giving defendants reason to challenge the warrants in the future. So the Stone affidavits, like all probable cause affidavits, are an exercise in careful narrative, telling a story but not telling too much.

Thus, the SSCI Report (clocking in at almost 1,000 pages) is the only one of these four stories that even pretends to be revealing all it knows. But it also didn’t try to tell the whole story. It limited the scope of the investigation in various ways (most notably, by refusing to investigate Trump’s financial vulnerabilities to Russia). And over and over again, the SSCI Report pulled punches to avoid concluding that the President is a glaring counterintelligence risk. The imperative of protecting the President (and getting Republican votes in Committee to actually release it) affected the way SSCI told its story in very tangible ways.

Because it is a SSCI Report, this story has a ton of footnotes which are (as they are in most SSCI Reports) a goldmine of detail. But the decision of what to put in the main body of a story and what to relegate to a footnote is also a narrative question.

Importantly, SSCI had outside limitations on its investigation — and therefore its story — that the FBI did not have. Rick Gates, Jerome Corsi, and Paul Manafort largely invoked the Fifth Amendment. Stone refused to testify. SSCI only received a limited subset of Mueller’s 302s, and none pertaining to the GRU investigation. SSCI had limited ability to demand the content of communications. The White House and the Trump Org withheld documents, even some documents they otherwise provided to Mueller. Plus, the version of the report we have is heavily redacted (including much of the discussion about WikiLeaks), sometimes for classified reasons but also sometimes (if you trust Ron Wyden’s additional views) to protect the President. That means we don’t even get the full story SSCI told.

Nevertheless, while SSCI left out parts of the story that the FBI seems to have considered important, the SSCI Report also includes a lot that DOJ and FBI had to have known, but for reasons that likely stem, in part, from the stories they wanted or were obligated to tell, they chose not to disclose. That makes the SSCI Report really useful to identify what must be intentional gaps in the other stories.

Like the Mueller Report (in part because it relied heavily on it), the story that the SSCI Report tells about Stone adopts an uneven timeline, narrowly focusing on Stone’s election season activities even while for others it adopts a broader timeframe. More generally, though, the SSCI Report tells a story about the dangerous counterintelligence threats surrounding the President, while stopping short of fully considering how he is himself a counterintelligence threat.

The warrant affidavits

As noted, FBI warrants deliberately and explicitly try to find a sweet spot, establishing probable cause but not including stuff that either might be challenged later or might give away investigative secrets. That said, Andrew Weissmann’s book reveals that Mueller’s team included more detail than needed in affidavits to provide a road map if they all got fired.

We also realized we could use the courts as a kind of external hard drive to back up our work. The applications for search warrants we filed with the court only had to set out a minimum of facts from which the court could find probable cause—a fairly low standard. But by packing those documents with up-to-date details of our investigation, we could create a separate record of our activities—one that would be deposited securely in the judicial system, beyond the reach of the Department of Justice, the White House, or Congress. (Putting such a substantial record before the court had the added benefit of eliciting quick rulings on our applications and demonstrating that we were not tacking too close to the line in establishing the necessary probable cause.)

The affidavits in the Stone case — written by at least 5 different FBI agents — actually tell two stories: The first is a narrative of how allegations were made and then removed, often for emphasis but also, probably in some cases, because suspicions were answered. The second is an evolving narrative of some of the core pieces of evidence that Stone did have advance notice of the releases, and so may have had legal liability — either as a co-conspirator, or someone who abetted the operation — for the hack-and-leak. It came to double in on itself, investigating Stone’s extensive efforts to thwart the investigation. Near the end of the investigation, that story came to incorporate Foreign Agent charges (though it’s not entirely sure how much Stone, or other people like Assange, are the target of those warrants, and virtually all that story is redacted). I lay out how these two narratives intersect here.

For some of the investigation, the affidavits adopted a timeline starting in June 2015 (when Stone worked on the Trump campaign) and continuing through the election, but ultimately that timeline extended through to the present in 2018 and 2019, ostensibly to support the obstruction investigation.

The gaps

The differences between the stories may be easiest to identify by observing what each leaves out. Each of these stories leaves out some pieces of evidence of one or more of the following:

  • The extent and nature of Stone’s provable interactions about WikiLeaks with Trump: While all of these stories do include evidence that Stone kept Trump apprised of his efforts to optimize the Podesta release, the SSCI Report — completed without Trump’s phone records or those of many others, with a very limited set of witness 302s, and limited power to access evidence of its own — describes damning interactions that none of the other stories do.
  • The extent to which either Corsi or Stone succeeded in dictating the release of the Podesta emails on October 7, 2016 and why: Several stories consider only whether Corsi managed to get WikiLeaks to drown out the Access Hollywood video, without considering whether Stone did.
  • What Stone and Corsi did with advance knowledge that WikiLeaks would release information on John Podesta’s ties with Joule holdings: Manafort’s unreliable testimony (and a bunch of other evidence) seems to confirm that Stone and Corsi had at least advance notice of, if not documents themselves, on Podesta’s ties with Joule Holdings that were later released by WikiLeaks. Only one of these four stories — the affidavits — include this process as a central story line, but it’s one way to show that the rat-fucker and the hoaxster did have advance knowledge (and show what their fevered little brains thought they were doing with it).
  • Proof that Stone had foreknowledge: While much of this is inconclusive, the affidavits make it clear that investigators believed Stone’s knowledge went beyond and long preceded what Corsi obtained in early August 2016. Once you establish that foreknowledge, then all question of Corsi versus Credico is substantially meaningless window-dressing (albeit convenient window dressing if you’re trying to hide a larger investigation).
  • Steve Bannon’s knowledge of and possible participation in Stone’s schemes shortly after he came on as campaign manager: The government almost certainly has grand jury testimony laying this out. But we’ve only seen glimpses of what happened after Stone wrote Bannon and floated a way to win the election the day he came onto the campaign, and not all of these stories were even curious about what happened.
  • Stone’s social media efforts to undermine the Russian attribution: I’m agnostic at this point about the significance of investigators’ focus on Stone’s efforts to undermine the Russian attribution for the operation, but some stories cover it and others ignore it conspicuously.
  • Stone’s extended effort to get a pardon for Julian Assange: It is a fact that Stone pursued a pardon for Julian Assange after Trump won. While it’s not yet proven whether Stone reached out to WikiLeaks on or even before November 9 or waited until days later, several of these stories incorporate details of that effort. Others ignore it.
  • Stone’s interactions with Guccifer 2.0: This story is virtually identical, albeit with additive bits, in three of the four stories. It is — almost — entirely absent from the prosecution.

The Manafort-Stone connection

One other detail to consider as you look at the different stories told here: Not a single one of them treats Manafort and Stone as a unit or a team. Partly this is just convenience. It’s hard to tell a story with two villains, and there is so much dirt on both Manafort and Stone, there’s more than enough material for one story for each. We also know that from the very beginning of the investigation, the Mueller team largely kept these strands separate, a team led by Andrew Weissmann focusing on Manafort and a team led by Jeannie Rhee focusing on Russian outreach (though 302s and other documents show that Rhee definitely participated in both, and Weissmann describes working closely with Rhee in his book).

But Roger Stone played a key role in getting Manafort hired by the Trump campaign. They were friends from way back. They used each other to retain a presence on the campaign after they got booted. Stone made reckless efforts to obtain the Podesta files partly in a bid to save Manafort. So while it’s easy to tell a story that keeps the Manafort corruption and the Stone cheating separate, that may not be the correct cognitive approach to understand what happened.

None of these stories tell the complete story. Most deliberately avoid doing so, and the one that tried, the SSCI Report, stopped short of telling all that’s public and didn’t have access to much that remains secret. Reading them together may point to what really happened.

Links to all posts in the series

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.