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The Ongoing Investigation into Paul Manafort’s Handlers

In this post, I noted that 22 months after Andrew Weissmann’s team wrote a 37-page report, plus a classified supplement, describing what they had learned about Paul Manafort’s role in the 2016 election operation, SSCI dedicated 142 pages of their 966 page report on the counterintelligence threat posed by Trump’s former campaign manager. The latter report, which had fewer investigative tools and relied heavily on the earlier effort, just stuck classified information right into the text and then redacted great swaths of it.

Among the things known to but redacted by SSCI in 2020 but not included in the unclassified parts of the Team M Report in 2018 are:

In other words, by 2020, investigators working with derivative investigative tools found a great deal of evidence to suggest that Deripaska and Kilimnik were not only centrally involved in Russia’s intelligence operation targeting the US in 2016, but also a concerted plan to undermine in the investigation into it after the fact.

Around about the time SSCI finished their report, the FBI offered a $250,000 reward leading to Kilimnik’s arrest.

All that is why I’m interested that the Team M Report, released in 2022, after the statute of limitations has expired on most crimes tied to the 2016 election (though not a conspiracy that continued after it), was released with so many b7A redactions reflecting an ongoing investigation.

I’ve put a list of them all below.

There are three redactions I find particularly remarkable.

Pericles

The treatment of Pericles, the investment fund that Manafort set up and Deripaska funded in 2007, is uneven among the four stories that tell Manafort’s story (it is mentioned in passing in the breach litigation). A paragraph introducing it in the Mueller Report serves to set up Rick Gates’ explanation that Manafort’s outreach to Deripaska during the campaign was an effort to settle Deripaska’s lawsuit relating to the fund. There’s a bit more in the SSCI Report, including the detail that while Kilimnik initially served as Manafort’s point of contact for the deal, Manafort later tried to hide aspects of it from him so as to hide it from the other Oligarchs. There’s a redacted paragraph as well, perhaps tied to the funding.

Pericles may be the one topic which the Team M Report dedicates more space to than the SSCI Report. After introducing the fund, a heavily-redacted paragraph, including a b7A exemption, describes the dispute that arose between Manafort and Deripaska. Then two of the lettered footnotes the Team M Report used to describe context are also redacted under a b7A redaction. There’s also a paragraph redacted using only a b5 (deliberative process) exemption describing the dispute.

Remember: That dispute was a key part of Deripaska’s double game in 2016, a way to make Manafort more insecure even as squeezing him to get cooperation on the campaign. Christopher Steele played a (as far as is known, unwitting) role in that double game, so if Deripaska injected the dossier with disinformation, that’s likely how he did so. But it’s the 13-year old business arrangement itself, and not the 6-year old exploitation of it, that remains redacted in the Team M Report as part of an ongoing investigation.

The August 2 Meeting

Then consider how the passage on the August 2, 2016 meeting between Manafort and Kilimnik appears in the Team M Report (as released under FOIA).

The story of the Havana Bar meeting is one that got told in depth by the Breach Litigation, the Mueller Report, and the SSCI Report — indeed, it was a central focus of the Breach Litigation, one that particularly impressed Judge Amy Berman Jackson. The Mueller Report provided a 3-page description that is, with just two exceptions, redacted only with grand jury redactions. The Mueller Report version describes the three topics discussed at the meeting this way:

As to the contents of the meeting itself, the accounts of Manafort and Gates–who arrived late to the dinner–differ in certain respects. But their version of events, when assessed alongside available documentary evidence and what Kilimnik told business associate Sam Patten, indicate that at least three principal topics were discussed.

In addition to redacting, under a b7A redaction, what else, besides campaign headquarters, was across the street from the Havana Club (possibly in Trump Tower), the Team M Report redacts much of the discussion about the differences between the three stories. Even the description of the three versions are structured differently.

The bulk of Manafort’s story — four and a half pages — focuses on the plan to carve up Ukraine, including the follow-up efforts made over the following two years. There’s an explicit reference — the only unredacted such reference within the body of the report — to more of the story appearing in the classified appendix. And just a short paragraph, partially redacted under a b7A exemption, discusses Manafort explaining to Kilimnik how he planned to win swing states.

Gates’ version focuses more on Manafort’s attempts to get paid (which may not appear in Manafort’s version at all). Whatever discussion Gates provided of the Ukraine plan is redacted under b7A; the most recent release of Gates’ 302s also redacts a lot about the August 2 meeting, including the cover story he told before he started cooperating.

Patten’s version of the meeting — which reflects what Kilimnik told Patten after the fact — is even more redacted than the Gates version in the Team M report. Those redacted passages may redact discussions that appear redacted in the most recent release of Patten’s 302s but which were cited in unredacted form in the SSCI Report. According to that, Manafort told Kilimnik that the way to win was to focus on increasing Hillary’s negatives.

Patten’s debriefing with the SCO provides the most granular account of what information Kilimnik obtained at the August 2, 2016 meeting:

Kilimnik told Patten that at the New York cigar bar meeting, Manafort stated that they have a plan to beat Hillary Clinton which included Manafort bringing discipline and an organized strategy to the campaign. Moreover, because Clinton’s negatives were so low [sic]-if they could focus on her negatives they could win the election. Manafort discussed the Fabrizio internal Trump polling data with Kilimnik, and explained that Fabrizio ‘s polling numbers showed that the Clinton negatives, referred to as a ‘therm poll, ‘ were high. Thus, based on this polling there was a chance Trump could win. 458

If that’s what does appear in the Team M Report, it remains redacted, in part under an ongoing investigation exemption. It focuses on the election, not the effort to carve up Ukraine.

Incidentally, the SSCI Report reveals one detail no other source I know did: Manafort met with Rudy and Trump before he went to meet Kilimnik. As the SSCI Report notes, this also happens to be the day before Stone started pitching Manafort on a way to save the candidate.

March, April, and May 2016

As noted above, the SSCI Report has heavily redacted passages discussing activities involving Kilimnik and Deripaska in March and April 2016. They don’t show up in the unclassified part of the Team M Report or the Mueller Report at all.

The May 2016 meeting between Manafort and Kilimnik does appear in the Mueller Report, though.

Manafort twice met with Kilimnik in person during the campaign period—once in May and again in August 2016. The first meeting took place on May 7, 2016, in New York City.905 In the days leading to the meeting, Kilimnik had been working to gather information about the political situation in Ukraine. That included information gleaned from a trip that former Party of Regions official Yuriy Boyko had recently taken to Moscow—a trip that likely included meetings between Boyko and high-ranking Russian officials.906 Kilimnik then traveled to Washington, D.C. on or about May 5, 2016; while in Washington, Kilimnik had pre-arranged meetings with State Department employees.907

Late on the evening of May 6, Gates arranged for Kilimnik to take a 3:00 a.m. train to meet Manafort in New York for breakfast on May 7.908 According to Manafort, during the meeting, he and Kilimnik talked about events in Ukraine, and Manafort briefed Kilimnik on the Trump Campaign, expecting Kilimnik to pass the information back to individuals in Ukraine and elsewhere.909 Manafort stated that Opposition Bloc members recognized Manafort’s position on the Campaign was an opportunity, but Kilimnik did not ask for anything.910 Kilimnik spoke about a plan of Boyko to boost election participation in the eastern zone of Ukraine, which was the base for the Opposition Bloc.911 Kilimnik returned to Washington, D.C. right after the meeting with Manafort.

There are two passages that reference the May meeting in the Team M Report, albeit in less detail than appears in the Mueller Report (notably leaving out Yuriy Boyko’s trip to Moscow, as well as Gates’ arrangements for the trip).

During the late spring of 2016, Kilimnik continued to collect information on the political situation in Ukraine.

[4 line b5 redaction]

Kilimnik further explained that he planned to be in Washington, D.C., between May 5 and May 8, 2016.8

[snip]

On May 7, 2016, Kilimnik met with Manafort in New York City.97 Gates arranged the meeting and purchased Kilimnik’s Amtrak tickets from Washington, D.C. to New York.98 According to Manafort, he briefed Kilimnik on the Trump campaign, expecting Kilimnik to pass the information back to individuals in Ukraine and elsewhere.99 Manafort stated that Kilimnik did not ask for anything based upon Manafort’s position with the campaign.100 Kilimnik spoke about Boyko’s plan for election participation in the occupied zone of Ukraine.

But this discussion has some big b7A redactions, including some redacting personal information and others redacting law enforcement techniques. In other words, whereas Mueller was able to include at least some discussion of the May meeting in the report, parts of it remain sensitive, three years later, even as Russia attempts to implement a plan to carve up Ukraine, now using force, pitched to Manafort at that Havana Bar meeting.

There seems to be increased investigative interest in those spring 2016 events as time has passed, so much so that DOJ may be sharing less than Mueller did in his initial release.

To be clear: none of these redactions mean that Manafort is at legal risk from these ongoing investigations. As noted, the statutes of limitation have expired for most criminal exposure (unless as part of a continuing conspiracy). More likely, all these b7A redactions indicate counterintelligence investigations, not criminal ones.

But what’s interesting about the release of this report, 40 months after it was written, is that it hasn’t gotten any less sensitive over time.

b7A redactions

  • Possible reference to Rick Gates’ role on the Inauguration Committee
  • Manafort’s consulting work for Deripaska
  • Pericles fund
  • Kilimnik’s ties to Russian intelligence services and IRI
  • Jonathan Hawker and Alex Van der Zwaan on Kilimnik’s ties to RIS
  • Kilimnik’s ties to Viktor Boyarkin
  • Kilimnik’s May 2016 trip to the US
  • The August 2 meeting with Kilimnik in the Havana Club
  • A reference to Kilimnik’s reference to black caviar
  • The plan to carve up Ukraine
  • Manafort’s plan to win the election
  • Gates’ version of the August 2 meeting
  • Sam Patten’s version of the August 2 meeting
  • Manafort’s sharing of polling data
  • The purpose behind Manafort’s trip to Spain
  • The second meeting in Spain

Four Stories about Paul Manafort from Andrew Weissmann’s Team M

The NYT recently liberated via FOIA the alternative report written by Andrew Weissmann’s Team M, focused on Manafort, as part of the Mueller investigation. As Josh Gerstein described when he wrote up the report, it is heavily redacted and as such includes virtually no new factual details from what has already been made public. But that doesn’t mean the report is uninteresting.

After all, even presenting exactly the same allegations that we’ve seen elsewhere as it does, the report tells us certain things about the investigation.

Before I lay out what the report shows, I want to review the four times this story has been told:

As I laid out in my Rat-Fucker Rashomon series on Roger Stone, by comparing the various stories and understanding how each meets the particular genre and purpose of the document, we can better identify the gaps and inclusions of each.

(Another place to find more of the investigation into Manafort is in interview 302s; I’ve pulled together all the 302s for Sam Patten and Rick Gates; many of the most recent versions of the Manafort 302s appear in this FOIA release.)

The four stories, read together, reveal that there was a great deal of evidence that Oleg Deripaska and Konstantin Kilimnik leveraged Manafort as part of their very active role in the 2016 operation, as well as follow-up efforts to undermine the investigation into the 2016 operation. The SSCI Report even suggests Kilimnik had a role in the hack-and-leak campaign. Yet none of that showed up in unclassified parts of the Mueller Report and related documents. That’s partly true because all three of those documents — the unclassified part of the Team M Report, the Breach Determination, and the Mueller Report itself — played specific legal functions.

As with the ongoing investigation into Roger Stone that continued past the conclusion of the Mueller Report, those specific legal roles do not entail laying out where an ongoing investigation is headed. That’s why one of the most informative parts of the Team M Report, as released 40 months after it was written, are the number of sections that remain redacted under a b7A ongoing investigation redaction.

N0vember 18, 2018: Team M Report

In the days after the mid-term election in 2018, Trump fired Jeff Sessions, foreboding a different approach to Mueller’s supervision. Whether or not Mueller might otherwise have continued the investigation, with Sessions’ firing, investigators moved to conclude their work and write up a report of prosecutions and declinations. Team M wrote this report with an eye to documenting all their work. As Weissmann explained in his book, this report arose out of frustration with the decisions that Mueller’s Chief of Staff, Aaron Zebley had made, both in limiting the scope of the investigation (which significantly excluded a review of Trump’s finances), and by obscuring gaps in the conclusions.

Teams M and R had many back-and-forths with Aaron with respect to this problem while drafting the report. Aaron was adamant that our report be conclusive, making only definitive conclusions, while the teams on the ground pushed back, noting the many gray areas and gaps in our evidence and the realms we decided not to examine, including the president’s financial ties to Russia; our failure to obtain the truthful cooperation of witnesses who’d been influenced by the president’s conduct in dangling the prospect of a pardon; what questions remained outstanding; what evidence we could not obtain; and our inability to interview certain other witnesses at all, up to and including the president. Only some of these limitations made it into the final report, as Team M and Team R did not have the pen—that is, the final say. To remedy this, at least for posterity, I had all the members of Team M write up an internal report memorializing everything we found, our conclusions, and the limitations on the investigation, and provided it to the other team leaders as well as had it maintained in our files.

We should have been more transparent. We knew our report would be made public and, while our superiors at the Justice Department understood the ultimate parameters of our investigation, the American people did not and cannot be expected to glean them all from our report.

In the end, the wrongdoing we found in the areas in which we chose to look, particularly in the one Russian financial deal we examined as a result of Cohen’s cooperation, left me with a deeply unsatisfying feeling about what else was out there that we did not examine. One of my strengths—and simultaneously one of my flaws—as an investigator is the desire to turn over every rock, go down every rabbit hole, try to master every detail. In this investigation, that tenacity was as much an asset as a curse: The inability to chase down all financial leads, or to examine all crimes, gnawed at me, and still does.

This report, then, was an attempt to capture significant findings that would not make it into the ultimate report.

The Team M Report is structured this way:

The Manafort Investigation — Overview

  • Manafort’s Background
  • Manafort, Gates, and Kilimnik’s Criminal Prosecutions
  • Manafort’s Ties to Russia and Ukraine
    • Deripaska Consulting Work
      • The Pericles Fund
    • Ukraine Political Consulting Work
    • Kilimnik
    • Manafort’s Work on the Trump Campaign (March–August 2016)
    • Russia & Ukraine Communications 2016-2018
      • Communications in March 2016
      • Communications in Spring/Summer 2016
      • The August 2, 2016 Meeting
        • [Manafort’s Account]
        • Gates’ Account
        • Patten’s Account
      • Manafort’s Sharing Trump Campaign Polling Data with Kilimnik
      • Post-Election Meetings and Contacts

In addition to that overview, the report includes three things:

  • Lettered footnotes: These seem to explain the context and gaps that Weissmann complained were not making it into the final report.
  • Numbered footnotes: These provide the sources and map directly onto the publicly identified sources in the Mueller Report itself.
  • “A supplemental submission which is classified:” We can identify some of what might appear in this supplemental submission from the SSCI Report.

December 7, 2018 through March 2, 2019: Breach Litigation

The Team M Report is dated just three days after a joint request to delay a status report in Manafort’s case and eight days before the delayed joint status report reported that Manafort had breached his plea agreement. So it was written at a time when the Weissmann team understood that Manafort had strung them out through the election and had presumably decided to hold him in breach of his plea agreement. But the Team M Report does not correlate, in structure or content, to the list of topics that Weissmann’s team asserted (successfully in three of five areas) that Manafort had been lying about.

The primary representations from Weissmann’s team in the breach litigation were:

In those documents and the hearing, Weissmann’s team laid out their case that Manafort had lied about:

Payment to Wilmer Hale: Manafort engaged in some kind of dodgy accounting — perhaps some kind of kickback involving two of Manafort’s firms — to get money to pay his lawyers at Wilmer Hale, who represented Manafort until August 2017.

Manafort’s efforts to protect Konstantin Kilimnik in the witness tampering conspiracy: In 2018, Kilimnik and Manafort were charged for conspiring to hide aspects of their Hapsburg Project, a front NGO used to hide lobbying for Ukraine behind high ranking former European officials. ABJ ruled that the government had not proven that Manafort lied about this topic, because Manafort quickly flip-flopped on his efforts to deny that Kilimnik had conspired with him to hide details of the front.

Interactions with Kilimnik: ABJ did rule that Manafort had lied to cover up details of his interactions with Konstantin Kilimnik, starting during the election and continuing through 2018. This accused lie covers much of the material presented in the Team M Report, but covers (at least in unclassified form, though the classified supplement to the Team M Report must include later communications) a broader time period.

Another DOJ investigation: ABJ judged that Weissmann’s team proved that Manafort lied to cover up details pertinent to another investigation. Given the timing of the allegations and a footnote that must modify the overview section links to Michael Cohen’s Criminal Information, the other investigation is likely the investigation into hush payments to Karen McDougal. The government’s initial submission describes that the information implicated Senior Administration Officials, which must implicate Trump himself and, likely, Kushner. In addition to Cohen and Don Jr., some parts of this lie also appear to implicate Roger Stone.

Manafort’s Contact with the Administration: The government tried, but failed, to prove that Manafort was hiding his ongoing contacts with the Trump Administration, including lobbying others were doing targeting the Department of Labor pertaining to ERISA. Significantly, prosecutors did not include ongoing communication conducted via lawyers.

March 22, 2019: Mueller Report

While Manafort shows up throughout the Mueller Report, the discussion of his case appears in four key areas:

All these prosecution, declination, and referral decisions — save the obstruction discussion pertaining to Trump himself — appear in a series of footnotes in Team M (curiously, Alex Van der Zwaan only appears in the Mueller Report in the “Referenced Persons” section, even though he is not referenced in the report itself). That reflects the stated difference in the documents. The legal purpose of the Mueller Report, as I’ve repeatedly reminded, was to lay out such prosecutorial decisions. Everything in the report should serve to explain those prosecutorial decisions and — at least in the Stone case — prosecutorial decisions that had not yet been reached don’t show up in the body of the Report.

The Manafort section is similar to, but does not quite map to, the structure of the Team M Report:

Overview

  • Paul Manafort’s Ties to Russia and Ukraine
    • Oleg Deripaska Consulting Work
    • Political Consulting Work
    • Konstantin Kilimnik
  • Contacts during Paul Manafort’s Time with the Trump Campaign
    • Paul Manafort Joins the Campaign
    • Paul Manafort’s Campaign-Period Contacts
    • Paul Manafort’s Two Campaign-Period Meetings with Konstantin Kilimnik in the United States
    • Post-Resignation Activities

For reasons I’ll lay out below, I’m most interested that the Team M Report — which has a classified supplement — has a heading for “Communications in Spring/Summer 2016” and “The August 2, 2016 Meeting,” whereas the Mueller Report splits this into “Campaign-Period Contacts” and “Two Campaign-Period Meetings with Konstantin Kilimnik in the United States.”

August 18, 2000: SSCI Report

Finally, there is the substantial section — 142 pages of the 966 page report — of the SSCI Report dedicated to explaining why Paul Manafort was a counterintelligence threat to Donald Trump. This section treats Manafort as a threat because of his close ties to Deripaska and Kilimnik, and as such, SSCI’s discussions of those men’s roles in the 2016 operation appear in the Manafort section.

As I observed when conducting a similar comparison for Stone, both because the SSCI Report came later and because it is the only report that attempted to be comprehensive, it included things that weren’t included in the earlier reports.

Importantly, for our purpose, the SSCI Report’s approach to secrets was different. Whereas the Team M Report included a classified supplement, the SSCI Report included such material in the body of the report. Large swaths of this section were deemed classified when the SSCI Report was released in 2020 and, in spite of the fact that Avril Haines promised a review of these classification decisions, nothing new has been released since.

Here’s how the Manafort section of the SSCI Report is organized:

  • Introduction and Findings (included three entirely classified bullets on Kilimnik’s role in the hack-and-leak)
  • Limitations on the Committee’s Investigation
  • Background on Manafort’s Foreign Activities
    • Manafort’s Work with Oleg Deripaska
      • Manafort’s Influence Operations in Ukraine
      • Manafort’s Global Influence Operations for Deripaska
      • Konstantin Kilimnik
      • Pericles
    • Manafort’s Work in Ukraine for the Party of Regions (PoR)
  • Manafort’s Activities from 2014 until Joining the Trump Campaign
    • Former-PoR Associates in Ukraine
    • Deripaska and Pericles Lawsuit
  • Manafort’s Activities While Serving on the Trump Campaign
    • Manafort’s Entry into the Trump Campaign
    • Kilimnik’s Awareness of Manafort’s Hiring Before the Public Announcement [including redacted section that, by context, must describe a March 2016 Kilimnik trip to the US]
    • Manafort Announces His Position on the Trump Campaign; Extends Private Offers to Russian and Ukrainian Oligarchs
    • [Heavily redacted section on] Kilimnik and Deripaska’s Activities in April
    • Manafort and Kilimnik Meet in New York City; Discuss Ukraine, Trump Campaign Strategy; Sharing of Internal Trump Campaign Polling Data with Kilimnik Begins
    • Manafort Offers to Brief Deripaska Through Kilimnik and Boyarkin; Kilimnik Appears to Have Insider Knowledge of Trump Campaign; [redacted] and Kilimnik Coordinate on [redacted] [includes redacted sections addressing Steele Report]
    • Manafort Meets with Kilimnik at the Grand Havana Room in New York City; They Discuss Polling Data, Ukraine Plan, and Debts
      • Internal Polling Information and Trump Campaign Strategy
      • Ukraine Peace Plan
    • [Heavily redacted section on] Possible Connections to GRU Hack-and-Leak Operation
    • The “Ledger” and Manafort’s Resignation
  • Manafort’s Activities For the Remainder of the Campaign
    • Manafort’s Continued Contact with the Trump Campaign; Kilimnik’s awareness of these contacts
    • Manafort’s Involvement in Ukrainian Government Outreach to the Campaign
  • Manafort’s Activities After the Election
    • [Redacted] Kilimnik Seeks to Leverage His Relationship with Manafort; Coordinates [redacted]
    • Manafort and Kilimnik Communicate with Yanukovych in Russia Related to Ukraine Plan; Attempt Communications Countermeasures
    • [Redacted] Kilimnik and Boyarkin Arrange Meeting for Manafort in Madrid; Manafort [redacted]
    • Kilimnik and Lyovochkin Travel to Washington D.C. for Inauguration, Meet with Manafort and Discuss Ukraine
    • Kilimnik and Manafort Meet in Madrid; Discuss Counter-Narratives and Ukraine
    • [Significantly Redacted] Russian Influence Operations to Undermine Investigations into Russian Interference [includes developments through late 2019, including Rudy Giuliani-related activities of John Solomon]
    • Manafort’s Continued Efforts with Kilimnik on Ukraine; Kilimnik’s Own Continued Activities [includes 8 mostly-redacted pages going through 2020]
    • Manafort and Gates Communications Regarding Investigations
  • Manafort’s Associates Ties to Russian Intelligence Services [Heavily redacted]
    • Oleg Deripaska and His Aides
      • Deripaska’s Kremlin Ties
      • Deripaska’s “Chief of Staff”: Viktor Boyarkin
      • Deripaska’s Strategic Advisor: Georgy Oganov
      • Deripaska’s Role in Russian Active Measures in Montenegro
      • Deripaska’s Involvement in Other Russian Active Measures
      • Deripaska’s Connections to Hacking Operations
    • Konstantin Kilimnik

The section of the Manafort materials dedicated to limitations on SSCI’s investigation makes it clear that it relies, in significant part, on the Mueller Report, with all the limitations on that given Manafort’s obstruction. That said, the SSCI Report scope goes through 2019, so obviously also includes later intelligence reporting for many of the mostly redacted later passages. Yet the SSCI Report includes great swaths of material that appear nowhere in the public Mueller materials — save, perhaps, in the classified supplement referenced in the Team M Report. That includes March 2016 visits — seemingly by both Kilimnik and Deripaska — to the US, as well as something that happened in April 2016 more closely linked to Trump’s campaign.

These vast redactions — going to core issues of the Mueller investigation, such as whether Trump’s own campaign manager and the campaign manager’s life-long rat-fucker friend had a direct role in the hack-and-leak campaign and disinformation injected through the Steele dossier — likely reflect both the redacted sections in the earlier reporting and, more importantly, the classified supplement of the Team M Report.

That all means it was likely that, when Trump fired Jeff Sessions in November 2018, the Mueller team had evidence directly linking Manafort, through Kilimnik and through him to Deripaska, to the hack-and-leak operation.

That may explain why Weissmann wanted to ensure his team captured their findings in the Team M Report.

Like the January 6 Investigation, the Mueller Investigation Was Boosted by Congressional Investigations

Midway through an article on which Glenn Thrush — who as far as I recall never covered the Russian investigation and has not yet covered the January 6 investigation — has the lead byline, the NYT claims that it is unusual for a congressional committee to receive testimony before a grand jury investigation does.

The Justice Department has asked the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack for transcripts of interviews it is conducting behind closed doors, including some with associates of former President Donald J. Trump, according to people with knowledge of the situation.

The move is further evidence of the wide-ranging nature of the department’s criminal inquiry into the events leading up to the assault on the Capitol and the role played by Mr. Trump and his allies as they sought to keep him in office after his defeat in the 2020 election.

[snip]

The Justice Department’s request for transcripts underscores how much ground the House committee has covered, and the unusual nature of a situation where a well-staffed congressional investigation has obtained testimony from key witnesses before a grand jury investigation. [my emphasis]

That’s simply false. This is precisely what happened with the Mueller investigation, and there’s good reason to believe that DOJ made a decision to facilitate doing the same back in July, in part to avoid some evidentiary challenges that Mueller had difficulties with, most notably Executive Privilege challenges.

First, let’s look at how Mueller used the two Congressional investigations.

At the start, he asked witnesses to provide him the same materials they were providing to Congress. I believe that in numerous cases, the process of complying with subpoenas led witnesses to believe such subpoenas were the only way Mueller was obtaining information. Trump Organization, especially, withheld a number of documents from Mueller and Congress, including direct contacts with Russian officials and a Steve Bannon email referencing Russian involvement in the election. By obtaining a warrant for Trump Transition materials held by GSA and the Trump Organization emails of Michael Cohen hosted by Microsoft, Mueller got records the subjects of the investigation were otherwise hiding. Steve Bannon, too, falsely told Mueller he didn’t use his personal accounts for campaign business, only to discover Mueller had obtained those records by the time of his October 2018 interview. Surprising witnesses with documents they had been hiding appears to have been one of the ways Mueller slowly coaxed Bannon and Cohen closer to the truth.

We should assume for key figures in the vicinity of Ali Alexander and John Eastman, the same is happening with the January 6 investigation: the very people who’ve been squealing about complying with subpoenas or call records served on their providers are likely ones DOJ obtained covert warrants for.

Then there are the prosecutions that arose entirely out of Congressional interviews. There were three Mueller prosecutions that arose out of Committee investigations.

Perhaps the most interesting was that of Sam Patten — whose interview materials are here. He had an interview with SSCI on January 5, 2018, where he appears to have lied about using a straw donor to buy Inauguration tickets for Konstantin Kilimnik. By March 20, the FBI attempted their first interview of Patten, after which Patten deleted some emails about Cambridge Analytica. And when Mueller did interview Patten on May 22, they already had the makings of a cooperation deal. After getting Patten to admit to the straw purchase and also to violating FARA — the latter of which he would plead guilty months later, on August 31 — Patten then provided a ton of information about how Kilimnik worked and what he had shared with Patten about his role in the 2016 operation, much of which still remained sealed as part of an ongoing investigation in August 2021. Patten had two more interviews in May then appeared before the grand jury, at which he shared more information about how Kilimnik was trying to monitor the investigation. He had two more interviews before pleading guilty, then at least two more after that.

Not only did Patten share information that likely served as part of a baseline for an understanding about Russia’s use of Ukraine to interfere in US politics and provided investigators with an understanding of what the mirror image to Paul Manafort looked like, but this remained secret from much of the public for three months.

It’s less clear precisely when SSCI shared Cohen’s lies with Mueller. But in the same period, both Mueller and SDNY were developing parallel investigations of him. But by the time Cohen pled guilty in SDNY (also in August 2018), Mueller had the evidence to spend almost three months obtaining information from Cohen as well before he entered into a separate plea agreement with Mueller in which he admitted to the secret communications with the Kremlin that he and Trump lied to hide.

Meanwhile, HPSCI’s much more hapless investigation proved a way to get a limited hangout prosecution of Roger Stone. By May 2018, when Mueller developed evidence showing not just ways that Stone was obstructing his own investigation but also how Stone attempted to craft lies to tell to the Committee — coordinated with Jerome Corsi and reliant on threats to Randy Credico — it provided a way to prosecute Stone while protecting Mueller’s ongoing investigation into whether Stone conspired with Russia.

And by all public appearances at the time, it appeared that Congress was acting while Mueller was not. But that was false (and is probably false now). The entire time during which SSCI and HPSCI were taking steps with Cohen and Stone that would late become really useful to the criminal investigation, Mueller was taking active, albeit covert, steps in his own investigations of the two men (whether he was investigating Patten personally or just Kilimnik is uncertain). Mueller obtained his first warrants against Cohen and Stone in July and August, respectively. But no one knew that until the following spring. That is, Cohen and Stone and everyone else focused on Congress while Mueller got to investigate covertly for another nine months.

We should assume the same kind of thing is happening here. All the more so given the really delicate privilege issues raised by this investigation, including Executive, Attorney-Client, and Speech and Debate. When all is said and done, I believe we will learn that Merrick Garland set things up in July such that the January 6 Committee could go pursue Trump documents at the Archives as a co-equal branch of government bolstered by Biden waivers that don’t require any visibility into DOJ’s investigation. Privilege reviews covering Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell, and John Eastman’s communications are also being done. That is, this time around, DOJ seems to have solved a problem that Mueller struggled with. And they did so with the unsolicited help of the January 6 Committee.

Even those of us who’ve been covering DOJ’s January 6 prosecution day-to-day (unlike Thrush) have no way of saying what DOJ has been doing covertly in the last year — though it is public that they’ve been investigating Alex Jones, the purported new thrust of this investigation, since August.

What we know from recent history, however, is that DOJ’s use of Congress’ work in no way suggests DOJ hasn’t been doing its own.

Hillary Clinton’s Devious Plot to Get Oleg Deripaska to Install Paul Manafort as Trump’s Campaign Manager

Out of curiosity and a good deal of masochism, I listened to the latest podcast of “The Corner,” the frothy right wingers who spend their time spinning conspiracy theories about the Durham investigation.

It was painful.

At every step, these men simply assert evidence must exist — like a Democratic order to bring dirt to the FBI — for which there’s no evidence. They ignore really basic facts, such as that Sussmann was necessarily working with the FBI because his client was being systematically hacked, and therefore it wasn’t just Christopher Steele who had ongoing ties to the Bureau. They make a huge deal about the fact that the US government’s Russian experts know each other, and that Christopher Steele persistently reported on topics — like Rosneft — that really were and are important to British and US national security and on which he had legitimate expertise.

They’re already starting to make excuses for Durham (such as that Durham chose not to obtain privileged emails the same way Mueller and SDNY did, without noting that Mueller had probable cause of a crime, which Durham admits he does not, much less that Mueller got them in a different way and a different time then they believe he did).

They keep making much of the coincidence of key dates in 2016 — “We continue to have a very, very tight timeline that that accelerates” — but never mention either the WikiLeaks dump of the DNC emails or Trump’s request that Russia hack Hillary some more, a request that was followed closely by a new wave of attacks. Those two events in July 2016 explain most of the actions Democrats took in that period, and these men don’t even exhibit awareness (or perhaps the belief?) that the events happened.

Worse still, they are ignorant of, or misrepresent, key details.

For example, all but Hans Mahncke assert that John Brennan must have been acting on some kind of corrupt intelligence in July 2016, rather than real intelligence collected from real Russian sources. They do so even though Billy Barr described in his book bitching at Trump after Trump complained that Durham found that, “the CIA stayed in its lane in the run-up to the [2016] election.”

Emblematic of the fraying relationship between the President and me was a sharp exchange at the end of the summer in the Oval Office. To give the President credit, he never asked about the substance of the investigation but just asked pointedly when there might be some sign of progress. On this occasion, we had met on something else, but at the end he complained that the investigation had been dragging on a long time. I explained that Durham did not get the Horowitz report until the end of 2019, and up till then had been look- ing at questions, like any possible CIA role, that had to be run down but did not pan out.

“What do you mean, they didn’t pan out?” the President snapped.

“As far as we can tell, the CIA stayed in its lane in the run-up to the election,” I said.

The President bristled. “You buy that bullshit, Bill?” he snarled. “Everyone knows Brennan was right in the middle of this.”

I lost it and answered in a sarcastic tone. “Well, if you know what happened, Mr. President, I am all ears. Maybe we are wasting time do- ing an investigation. Maybe all the armchair quarterbacks telling you they have all the evidence can come in and enlighten us.”

Durham looked for this evidence for years. It’s not there (and therefore the intelligence Brennan viewed is something other than the dossier or even the Russian intelligence product that the frothers also spin conspiracies on).

All but Fool Nelson misrepresent a July 26, 2016 email from Peter Fritsch to WSJ reporter Jay Solomon, which says, “call adam schiff, or difi for that matter. i bet they are concerned about what page was doing other than giving a speech over 3 days in moscow,” suggesting that that must be proof the top Democrats on the Intelligence Committees had the Steele dossier, rather than proof that it was a concern to see an advisor to a Presidential campaign traveling to Russian and saying the things Page was saying. (Jeff Carlson makes the same complaint about former Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul’s observations about something that all experienced Russia watchers believed was alarming in real time.)

They get the evidence against Carter Page wrong, among other ways by misstating that all his time in Moscow had been accounted for and that the rumor he met with Igor Sechin was ever entirely debunked. “Of course it’s impossible. He was chaperoned. He had a hotel. He had a driver. Without people noticing.” For example, the son of the guy who brought Page to Russia, Yuval Weber, told the FBI that they weren’t with Page 100% of the time and there was a rumor that he had met with Sechin.

In July, when Page had traveled to give the commencement speech at NES, Weber recalled that it was rumored in Moscow that Page met with Igor Sechin. Weber said that Moscow is filled with gossip and people in Moscow were interested in Page being there. It was known that a campaign official was there.

Page may have briefly met with Arkady Dvorkovich at the commencement speech, considering Dvorkovich was on the board at NES. But Weber was not aware of any special meeting.

[redacted] was not with Page 100% of the time, he met him for dinner, attended the first public presentation, but missed the commencement speech. They had a few other interactions. Page was very busy on this trip.

This testimony was consistent with Mueller’s conclusion about Page’s trip: given boasts he made to the campaign, “Page’s activities in Russia — as described in his emails with the Campaign — were not fully explained.”

They badly misrepresent emails between a handful of journalists and Fusion GPS, spinning real skepticism exhibited by journalists as journalists somehow conspiring with Fusion. Indeed, they repeatedly point to an email from WaPo’s Tom Hamburger pushing back on the Sechin claim, “That Page met with Sechin or Ivanov. ‘Its bullshit. Impossible,’ said one of our Moscow sources.” They claim that Hamburger nevertheless reported the story after that. They’re probably thinking of this story, which reported Page’s 2014 pro-Sechin comments, not that he had met with the man in 2016.

After the Obama administration added Rosneft Chairman Igor Sechin to its sanctions list in 2014, limiting Sechin’s ability to travel to the United States or do business with U.S. firms, Page praised the former deputy prime minister, considered one of Putin’s closest allies over the past 25 years. “Sechin has done more to advance U.S.-Russian relations than any individual in or out of government from either side of the Atlantic over the past decade,” Page wrote.

In other words, they’re claiming journalists doing actual journalism and not reporting what Fusion fed them is somehow corrupt, when it is instead an example, among many, of failed attempts by Fusion to get journalists to run with their tips.

They complain that Fusion was pointing journalists to Felix Sater, in spite of the fact that Sater really was central to tying Trump Organization to Russian funding and really did pitch an impossibly lucrative real estate deal in the year before the campaign that involved secret communications with the Kremlin and sanctioned banks and a former GRU officer, a deal that Michael Cohen and Trump affirmatively lied to cover up for years.

They grossly misrepresent a long text to Peter Strzok reflecting someone else’s early inquiries on the DNS allegation to Cendyn, imagining (the redaction notwithstanding) that it reflects the FBI concluding already at that point that there was nothing to the DNS allegations and not that the FBI inquiry instead explains why Trump changed its own DNS records shortly thereafter (addressing one but not both of the questions raised by NYT reporting).

Obviously, none of them seem interested in the nearly-contemporaneous text from Strzok noting that “Russians back on DNC,” presumably reflecting knowledge of the serial Russian effort to steal Hillary’s analytics stored on an AWS server, a hack that — because it involved an AWS server, not a DNC-owned one — not only defies all the favorite right wing claims about what went into the Russian attribution, but also explains why Sussmann would be so concerned about seeming evidence of ongoing covert communication between Trump and a Russian bank. The Russians kept hacking, both in response to Trump’s request in July, and in the days before and after Sussmann met with James Baker in September.

Crazier still, none of these men seem to have any understanding of two details of the back-and-forth between Sussmann, the FBI, and NYT, one that is utterly central to the case against Sussmann. They conflate a request FBI made to NYT days after Sussmann’s meeting with the FBI to kill the story — one made with the assent of Sussmann and Rodney Joffe — with later follow-up reporting by the NYT reporting that the FBI had not substantiated the DNS allegation. Those were at least two separate calls! Durham had chased down none of them before he indicted Sussmann. It wasn’t until almost six months after charging Sussmann that Durham corroborated Sussmann’s HPSCI testimony that Sussmann and Joffe agreed to help kill the initial NYT story, which provides a lot of weight to Sussmann’s explanation for his meeting with James Baker, that he wanted to give the FBI an opportunity to investigate the allegation before the press reported on it. As a result, Mahncke states as fact that Sussmann’s September 18 text telling Baker, “I’m coming on my own – not on behalf of a client or company – want to help the Bureau,” (even ignoring the temporal problem it creates for Durham’s charge) proves Sussmann lied, when in fact, his and Joffe’s efforts to help the Bureau kill the story strongly supports Sussmann’s public story.

If you don’t know that Sussmann and Joffe helped the FBI to kill what would have been a damning story about Trump, you’re not assessing the actual evidence against Sussmann as opposed to Durham’s conspiracy theories.

All that said, laying out all the ways the supposed experts on the frothy right prove they’re unfamiliar with the most basic details about events in 2016 and since is not why I wrote this post.

I wrote this post because of the way Fool attempted to explain away the inconvenience of Paul Manafort to his narrative. Fool went on at length showing how (a possible Russian fabrication claiming) Hillary’s plan to focus on Trump’s ties to Russia must have predicated an investigation that started before that point. He ignored, entirely, that an FBI investigation had already been opened on Page by then (and all four frothers ignore that Fusion started focusing on Page when Paul Singer was footing the bill). But Fool does acknowledge that the money laundering investigation into Manafort had already been opened before Crossfire Hurricane started. He treats Manafort’s very real corrupt ties to Putin-backed oligarchs as a lucky break for what he imagines to be Hillary’s concocted claims, and not a fact that Trump ignored when he hired the man to work for him “for free.” “Luckily, I don’t know if this was a coincidence or not, Manafort joined the Trump campaign and that gave them a reason to look deeper.” In other words, Fool suggests Manafort’s hiring might be part of Hillary’s devious plot, and not the devious plot of Oleg Deripaska to get an entrée to Trump’s campaign or the devious alleged plot of Mohammed bin Zayed to direct Trump policy through Tom Barrack.

Because I expect the circumstances of Manafort’s hiring may become newsworthy again in the near future and because Deripaska was pushing an FBI investigation into Manafort before Hillary was, I wanted to correct this detail.

According to Gates, the effort to install Manafort as campaign manager started earlier than most people realize, in January 2016, not March.

In January 2016, Gates was working mostly on [redacted] film project. Gates was also doing some work on films with [redacted] looking for new DMP clients, and helping Manafort pull material together to pitch Donald Trump on becoming campaign manager. Roger Stone and Tom Barrack were acting as liaisons between Manafort and Trump in an effort to get Manafort hired by the campaign. Barrack had a good relationship with Ivanka Trump.

Tom Barrack described to Mueller how Manafort asked for his help getting hired on Trump’s campaign in that same month, January 2016.

But Manafort may have started on this plan even before January 2016. Sam Patten told SSCI Kilimnik knew of the plan in advance. Patten’s explanation of his involvement in the Mueller investigation describes Ukrainian Oligarch Serhiy Lyovochkin asking him about it in late 2015.

In late 2015, Lyovochkin asked me whether it was true that Trump was going to hire Manafort to run his campaign. Just as I told Pinchuk that Putin’s perception of America’s capabilities was ridiculous, I told Lyovochkin that was an absurd notion; that Trump would have to be nuts to do such a thing.

In any case, even before his hiring was public, on March 20, Manafort wrote his Ukrainian and Russian backers to let them know he had installed himself with the Trump campaign. He sent one of those letters to Oleg Deripaska, purportedly as a way to get the lawsuit Deripaska had filed against Manafort dropped.

Gates was shown an email between Gates and Kilimnik dated March 20, 2016 and four letters which were attached to this email. Gates stated he was the person who drafted the letters on Manafort’s behalf. Manafort reviewed and approved the letters.

Manafort wanted Gates to draft letters announcing he had joined the Trump Campaign. Manafort thought the letters would help DMP get paid by OB and possibly help confirm that Deripaska had dropped his lawsuit against Manafort. Manafort wanted Kilimnik to let Deripaska know he had been hired by Trump and he needed to make sure there were not lawsuits against him.

Gates was asked why Manafort could not have employed counsel to find out of the Deripaska lawsuit had been dropped. Gates stated Manafort wanted to send Deripaska a personal note and to get a direct answer from Deripaska. Gates also thought this letter was a bit of “bravado on Manafort’s part.”

Gates was asked if the purpose of the letter to Deripaska was to determine if the lawsuit had been dropped, why didn’t the letter mention the lawsuit. Gates stated that Manafort did not want to put anything about the lawsuit in writing.

This explanation, true or not (and it’s pretty clear the FBI didn’t believe it), is critical to the frothers because even before Christopher Steele started collecting information on Trump, he was collecting information on Manafort at the behest of Deripaska in conjunction with this lawsuit. And Steele was feeding DOJ tips about Deripaska’s lawsuit before he started feeding the FBI dirt paid for by Hillary’s campaign. The first meeting at which Steele shared dossier information with Bruce Ohr, for example, Steele also pushed the Deripaska lawsuit, and not for the first time.

Either the Deripaska lawsuit was a cover story Manafort used consistently for years (including through his “cooperation” with Mueller in 2018), or it was real. Whichever it was, it bespeaks some kind of involvement by Deripaska long before Hillary got involved. Viewed from that perspective, the dossier (and Deripaska’s presumed success at filling it with disinformation) was just part of a brutal double game that Deripaska was playing with Manafort, one that led Manafort to share campaign strategy and participate in carving up Ukraine, another event the frothers are trying to blame on the ever-devious Hillary. Whichever it is, the process by which a bunch of Putin allies in Ukraine knew Trump was going to hire Manafort before Trump did is a big part of the story.

But according to the frothers, Hillary Clinton is just that devious that she orchestrated all of this.

Confirmed: John Durham Has Withheld Discovery That DOJ Already Disproved His Claims of Political Malice

In his reply filing in the fight over what evidence will be submitted at his trial, Michael Sussmann confirmed something I’ve long suspected: John Durham has not provided Sussmann with the discovery Durham would need to have provided to present his own conspiracy theories at trial without risking a major discovery violation.

Were the Special Counsel to try to suggest that Mr. Sussmann and Mr. Steele engaged in a common course of conduct, that would open the door to an irrelevant mini-trial about the accuracy of Mr. Steele’s allegations about Mr. Trump’s ties to Russia—something that, like the Alfa Bank allegations, many experts continue to believe in, and about which the Special Counsel has tellingly failed to produce any significant discovery.

Sussmann dropped this in the filing without fanfare. But it is clear notice that if Durham continues down the path he is headed, he may face discovery sanctions down the road.

I explained why that’s true in these two posts. A core tenet of Durham’s conspiracy theories is that the only reason one would use proven cybersecurity methods to test certain hypotheses about Donald Trump would be for malicious political reasons. Here’s how Durham argued that in his own reply.

As the Government will demonstrate at trial, it was also the politically-laden and ethically-fraught nature of this project that gave Tech Executive-1 and the defendant a strong motive to conceal the origins of the Russian Bank-1 allegations and falsely portray them as the organic discoveries of concerned computer scientists.

There’s no external measure for what makes one thing political and makes another thing national security. But if this issue were contested, I assume that Sussmann would point, first, to truth as a standard. And as he could point out, many of the hypotheses April Lorenzen tested, which Durham points to as proof the project was malicious and political, turned out to be true. They were proven to be true by DOJ. Some of those true allegations involved guilty pleas to crimes, including FARA, explicitly designed to protect national security; another involved Roger Stone’s guilty verdict on charges related to his cover-up of his potential involvement in a CFAA hacking case.

DOJ (under the direction of Trump appointee Rod Rosenstein, who in those very same years was Durham’s direct supervisor) has already decided that John Durham is wrong about these allegations being political. Sussmann has both truth and DOJ’s backing on his side that these suspicions, if proven true (as they were), would be a threat to national security. Yet Durham persists in claiming to the contrary.

Here’s the evidence proving these hypotheses true that Durham has withheld in discovery:

The researchers were testing whether Richard Burt was a back channel to the Trump campaign. And while Burt’s more substantive role as such a (Putin-ordered) attempt to establish a back channel came during the transition, it is a fact that Burt was involved in several events earlier in the campaign at which pro-Russian entities tried to cultivate the campaign, including Trump’s first foreign policy speech. Neither Burt nor anyone else was charged with any crime, but Mueller’s 302s involving the Center for National Interest — most notably two very long interviews with Dmitri Simes (one, updated, two, updated), which were still under investigation in March 2020 — reflect a great deal of counterintelligence interest in the organization.

The researchers were also testing whether people close to Trump were laundering money from Putin-linked Oligarchs through Cyprus. That guy’s name is Paul Manafort, with the assistance of Rick Gates. Indeed, Manafort was ousted from the campaign during the period researchers were working on the data in part to distance the campaign from that stench (though it didn’t stop Trump from pardoning Manafort).

A more conspiratorial Lorenzen hypothesis (at least on its face) was that one of the family members of an Alfa Bank oligarch might be involved — maybe a son- or daughter-in-law. And in fact, German Khan’s son-in-law Alex van der Zwaan was working with Gates and Konstantin Kilimnik in precisely that time period to cover up Manafort’s ties to those Russian-backed oligarchs.

Then there was the suspicion — no doubt driven, on the Democrats’ part, by the correlation between Trump’s request to Russia for more hacking and the renewed wave of attacks that started hours later — that Trump had some back channel to Russia.

It turns out there were several. There was the aforementioned Manafort, who in the precise period when Rodney Joffe started more formally looking to see if there was a back channel, was secretly meeting at a cigar bar with alleged Russian spy Konstantin Kilimnik discussing millions of dollars in payments involving Russian-backed oligarchs, Manafort’s plan to win the swing states, and an effort to carve up Ukraine that leads directly to Russia’s current invasion.

That’s the kind of back channel researchers were using proven cybersecurity techniques to look for. They didn’t confirm that one — but their suspicion that such a back channel existed proved absolutely correct.

Then there’s the Roger Stone back channel with Guccifer 2.0. Again, in this precise period, Stone was DMing with the persona. But the FBI obtained at least probable cause that Stone’s knowledge of the persona went back much further, back to even before the persona went public in June 2016. That’s a back channel that remained under investigation, predicated off of national security crimes CFAA, FARA, and 18 USC 951, at least until April 2020 and one that, because of the way Stone was scripting pro-Russian statements for Trump, might explain Trump’s “Russia are you listening” comment. DOJ was still investigating Stone’s possible back channel as a national security concern well after Durham was appointed to undermine that national security investigation by deeming it political.

Finally, perhaps the most important back channel — for Durham’s purposes — was Michael Cohen. That’s true, in part, because the comms that Cohen kept lying to hide were directly with the Kremlin, with Dmitri Peskov. That’s also true because on his call to a Peskov assistant, Cohen laid out his — and candidate Donald Trump’s — interest in a Trump Tower Moscow deal that was impossibly lucrative, but which also assumed the involvement of one or another sanctioned bank as well as a former GRU officer. That is, not only did Cohen have a back channel directly with the Kremlin he was trying to hide,  but it involved Russian banks that were far more controversial than the Alfa Bank ties that the researchers were pursuing, because the banks had been deemed to have taken actions that threatened America’s security.

This back channel is particularly important, though, because in the same presser where Trump invited Russia to hack his opponent more, he falsely claimed he had decided against pursuing any Trump Organization developments in Russia.

Russia that wanted to put a lot of money into developments in Russia. And they wanted us to do it. But it never worked out.

Frankly I didn’t want to do it for a couple of different reasons. But we had a major developer, particular, but numerous developers that wanted to develop property in Moscow and other places. But we decided not to do it.

The researchers were explicitly trying to disprove Trump’s false claim that there were no ongoing business interests he was still pursuing with Russia. And this is a claim that Michael Cohen not only admitted was false and described recognizing was false when Trump made this public claim, but described persistent efforts on Trump’s part to cover up his lie, continuing well into his presidency.

For almost two years of Trump’s Administration, Trump was lying to cover up his efforts to pursue an impossibly lucrative real estate deal that would have required violating or eliminating US sanctions on Russia. That entire time, Russia knew Trump was lying to cover up those back channel communications with the Kremlin. That’s the kind of leverage over a President that all Americans should hope to avoid, if they care about national security. That’s precisely the kind of leverage that Sally Yates raised when she raised concerns about Mike Flynn’s public lies about his own back channel with Russia. Russia had that leverage over Trump long past the time Trump limped out of a meeting with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, to which Trump had brought none of the aides who would normally sit in on a presidential meeting, looking like a beaten puppy.

Durham’s failures to provide discovery on this issue are all the more inexcusable given the fights over privilege that will be litigated this week.

As part of the Democrats’ nesting privilege claims objecting to Durham’s motion to compel privileged documents, Marc Elias submitted a declaration describing how, given his past knowledge and involvement defending against conspiracy theory attacks on past Democratic presidential candidates launched by Jerome Corsi and Donald Trump, and given Trump’s famously litigious nature, he believed he needed expertise on Trump’s international business ties to be able to advise Democrats on how to avoid eliciting such a lawsuit from Trump. (Note, tellingly, Durham’s motion to compel doesn’t mention a great deal of accurate Russian-language research by Fusion — to which Nellie Ohr was just one of a number of contributors — that was never publicly shared nor debunked as to quality.)

There are four redacted passages that describe the advice he provided; he is providing these descriptions ex parte for Judge Cooper to use to assess the Democrats’ privilege claims. Two short ones probably pertain to the scope of Perkins Coie’s relationship with the Democratic committees. Another short one likely describes Elias’ relationship, and through him, Fusion’s, with the oppo research staff on the campaign. But the longest redaction describing Elias’ legal advice, one that extends more than five paragraphs and over a page and a half, starts this way:

That is, the introduction to Elias’ description of the privilege claims tied to the Sussmann trial starts from Trump’s request of Russia to hack Hillary. Part of that sentence and the balance of the paragraph is redacted — it might describe that immediately after Trump made that request, the Russians fulfilled his request — but the redacted paragraph and the balance of the declaration presumably describes what legal advice he gave Hillary as she faced a new onslaught of Russian hacking attempts that seemingly responded to her opponent’s request for such hacking.

Given what Elias described about his decision to hire Fusion, part of that discussion surely explains his effort to assess an anomaly identified independently by researchers that reflected unexplained traffic between a Trump marketing server and a Russian bank. Elias probably described why it was important for the Hillary campaign to assess whether this forensic data explained why Russian hackers immediately responded to Trump’s request to hack her.

As I have noted, in past filings Durham didn’t even consider the possibility that Elias might discuss the renewed wave of hacking that Hillary’s security personnel IDed in real time with Sussmann, Perkins Coie’s cybersecurity expert.

It’s a testament to how deep John Durham is in his conspiracy-driven rabbit hole that he assumes a 24-minute meeting between Marc Elias and Michael Sussmann on July 31, 2016 to discuss the “server issue” pertained to the Alfa Bank allegations. Just days earlier, after all, Donald Trump had asked Russia to hack Hillary Clinton, and within hours, Russian hackers obliged by targeting, for the first time, Hillary’s home office. Someone who worked in security for Hillary’s campaign told me that from his perspective, the Russian attacks on Hillary seemed like a series of increasing waves of attacks, and the response to Trump’s comments was one of those waves (this former staffer documented such waves of attack in real time). The Hillary campaign didn’t need Robert Mueller to tell them that Russia seemed to respond to Trump’s request by ratcheting up their attacks, and Russia’s response to Trump would have been an urgent issue for the lawyer in charge of their cybersecurity response.

It’s certainly possible this reference to the “server” issue pertained to the Alfa Bank allegations. But Durham probably doesn’t know; nor do I. None of the other billing references Durham suggests pertain to the Alfa Bank issue reference a server.

Durham took a reference that might pertain to a discussion of a correlation between Trump’s ask and a renewed wave of Russian attacks on Hillary (or might pertain to the Alfa Bank anomaly), and assumed instead it was proof that Hillary was manufacturing unsubstantiated dirt on her opponent. He never even considered the legal challenges someone victimized by a nation-state attack, goaded by her opponent, might face.

And yet, given the structure of that redaction from Elias, that event is the cornerstone of the privilege claims surrounding the Alfa Bank allegations.

Because of all the things I laid out in this post, Judge Cooper may never have to evaluate these privilege claims at all. To introduce privileged evidence, Durham has to first withstand:

  • Denial because his 404(b) notice asking to present it was late, and therefore forfeited
  • Denial because Durham’s motion to compel violated local rules and grand jury process, in some ways egregiously
  • Rejection because most of the communications over which the Democrats have invoked privilege are inadmissible hearsay
  • The inclusion or exclusion of the testimony of Rodney Joffe, whose privilege claims are the most suspect of the lot, but whose testimony would make the communications Durham deems to be most important admissible

Cooper could defer any assessment of these privilege claims until he decides these other issues and, for one or several procedural reasons, simply punt the decision entirely based on Durham’s serial failures to follow the rules.

Only after that, then, would Cooper assess a Durham conspiracy theory for which Durham himself admits he doesn’t have proof beyond a reasonable doubt. As part of his bid to submit redacted and/or hearsay documents as exhibits under a claim that this all amounted to a conspiracy (albeit one he doesn’t claim was illegal), Durham argues that unless he can submit hearsay and privileged documents, he wouldn’t otherwise have enough evidence to prove his conspiracy theory.

Nor is evidence of this joint venture gratuitous or cumulative of other evidence. Indeed, the Government possesses only a handful of redacted emails between the defendant and Tech Executive-1 on these issues. And the defendant’s billing records pertaining to the Clinton Campaign, while incriminating, do not always specify the precise nature of the defendant’s work.

Accordingly, presenting communications between the defendant’s alleged clients and third parties regarding the aforementioned political research would hardly amount to a “mini-trial.” (Def. Mot. at 20). Rather, these communications are among the most probative and revealing evidence that the Government will present to the jury. Other than the contents of privileged communications themselves (which are of course not accessible to the Government or the jury), such communications will offer some of the most direct evidence on the ultimate question of whether the defendant lied in stating that he was not acting for any other clients.

In short, because the Government here must prove the existence of client relationships that are themselves privileged, it is the surrounding events and communications involving these clients that offer the best proof of those relationships.

Moreover, even if the Court were to find that no joint venture existed, all of the proffered communications are still admissible because, as set forth in the Government’s motions, they are not being offered to prove the truth of specific assertions. Rather, they are being offered to prove the existence of activities and relationships that led to, and culminated in, the defendant’s meeting with the FBI. Even more critically, the very existence of these written records – which laid bare the political nature of the exercise and the numerous doubts that the researchers had about the soundness of their conclusions – gave the defendant and his clients a compelling motive, separate and apart from the truth or falsity of the emails themselves, to conceal the identities of such clients and origins of the joint venture. Accordingly, they are not being offered for their truth and are not hearsay.

This passage (which leads up to a citation from one of the Georgia Tech researchers to which Sussmann was not privy that the frothers have spent the weekend drooling over) is both a confession and a cry for help.

In it, Durham admits he doesn’t actually have proof that the conspiracy he is alleging is the motive behind Michael Sussmann’s alleged lie.

He’s making this admission, of course, while hiding the abundant evidence — evidence he didn’t bother obtaining before charging Sussmann — that Sussmann and Joffe acceded to the FBI request to help kill the NYT story, which substantiates Sussmann’s stated motive.

And then, in the same passage, Durham is pointing to that absence of evidence to justify using that same claimed conspiracy for which he doesn’t have evidence to pierce privilege claims to obtain the evidence he doesn’t have. It’s a circular argument and an admission that all the claims he has been making since September are based off his beliefs about what must be there, not what he has evidence for.

Thus far the researchers’ beliefs about what kind of back channels they might find between Trump and Russia have far more proof than Durham’s absence of evidence.

Again, Durham doesn’t even claim that such a conspiracy would be illegal (much less chargeable under the statute of limitations), which is why he didn’t do what he could have had he been able to show probable cause that a crime had been committed: obtaining the communications with a warrant and using a filter team. Bill Barr’s memoir made it quite clear that he appointed Durham not because a crime had been committed, but because he wanted to know how a “bogus scandal” in which DOJ found multiple national security crimes started. ”Even after dealing with the Mueller report, I still had to launch US Attorney John Durham’s investigation into the genesis of this bogus scandal.” In his filing, Durham confesses to doing the same, three years later: using his feelings about a “bogus scandal” to claim a non-criminal conspiracy that he hopes might provide some motive other than the one — national security — that DOJ has already confirmed.

An absolutely central part of Durham’s strategy to win this trial is to present his conspiracy theories, whether by belatedly piercing privilege claims he should have addressed before charging Sussmann (even assuming he’ll find what he admits he doesn’t have proof is there), or by presenting his absence of evidence and claiming it is evidence. He will only be permitted to do if Judge Cooper ignores all his rule violations and grants him a hearsay exception.

But if he manages to present his conspiracy theories, Sussmann can immediately pivot and point out all the evidence in DOJ’s possession that proves not just that the suspicions Durham insists must be malicious and political in fact proved to be true, but also that DOJ — his former boss! — already deemed these suspicions national security concerns that in some cases amounted to crimes.

John Durham’s entire trial strategy consists of claiming that it was obviously political to investigate a real forensic anomaly to see whether it explained why Russia responded to Trump’s call for more hacks by renewing their attack on Hillary. He’s doing so while withholding abundant material evidence that DOJ already decided he’s wrong.

So even if he succeeds, even if Cooper grants him permission to float his conspiracy theories and even if they were to succeed at trial, Sussmann would have immediate recourse to ask for sanctions, pointing to all the evidence in DOJ’s possession that Durham’s claims of malice were wrong.

Update: The bad news I’m still working through my typos, with your help, including getting the name of Dmitri Simes’ organization wrong. The good news is the typos are probably due to being rushed out to cycle in the sun, so I have a good excuse.

Update: Judge Cooper has issued an initial ruling on Durham’s expert witness. It limits what Durham presents to the FBI investigation (excluding much of the CIA investigation he has recently been floating), and does not permit the expert to address whether the data actually did represent communications between Trump and Alfa Bank unless Sussmann either affirmatively claims it did or unless Durham introduced proof that Sussmann knew the data was dodgy.

Finally, the Court takes a moment to explain what could open the door to further evidence about the accuracy of the data Mr. Sussmann provided to the FBI. As the defense concedes, such evidence might be relevant if the government could separately establish “what Mr. Sussmann knew” about the data’s accuracy. Data Mot. at 3. If Sussmann knew the data was suspect, evidence about faults in the data could possibly speak to “his state of mind” at the time of his meeting with Mr. Baker, id., including his motive to conceal the origins of the data. By contrast, Sussmann would not open the door to further evidence about the accuracy of the data simply by seeking to establish that he reasonably believed the data were accurate and relied on his associates’ representations that they were. Such a defense theory could allow the government to introduce evidence tending to show that his belief was not reasonable—for instance, facially obvious shortcomings in the data, or information received by Sussmann indicating relevant deficiencies.

Ultimately, Cooper is treating this (as appropriate given the precedents in DC) as a question of Sussmann’s state of mind.

Importantly, this is what Cooper says about Durham blowing his deadline (which in this case was a deadline of comity, not trial schedule): he’s going to let it slide, in part because Sussmann does not object to the narrowed scope of what the expert will present.

Mr. Sussmann also urges the Court to exclude the expert testimony on the ground that the government’s notice was untimely and insufficiently specific. See Expert Mot. at 6–10; Fed. R. Crim. P. 16(a)(1)(G). Because the Court will limit Special Agent Martin’s testimony largely to general explanations of the type of technical data that has always been part of the core of this case—much of which Mr. Sussmann does not object to—any allegedly insufficient or belated notice did not prejudice him. See United States v. Mohammed, No. 06-cr-357, 2008 WL 5552330, at *3 (D.D.C. May 6, 2008) (finding that disclosure nine days before trial did not prejudice defendant in part because its subject was “hardly a surprise”) (citing United States v. Martinez, 476 F.3d 961, 967 (D.C. Cir. 2007)).

This suggests Cooper may be less willing to let other deadlines slide, such as the all-important 404(b) one.

Six Investigative Files from the Mueller Investigation Durham May Have Just Committed to Providing Michael Sussmann

As I noted in this thread, while John Durham and Michael Sussmann have battling motions in limine about whether Durham can introduce evidence of his own conspiracy theory about the Democrats packaging dirt against Donald Trump, Durham somehow forgot to file a motion in limine to prevent Sussmann from raising facts that show how reasonable it was to search for ties between Trump and Russia in 2016.

It’d be hard to see how he could do that anyway. After all, there’s abundant evidence that the reason researchers and Democratic operatives alike focused their effort to understand the DNS anomaly in late July and thereafter is because of the things Trump said on July 27, 2016.

TRUMP: Why do I have to (ph) get involved with Putin? I have nothing to do with Putin. I’ve never spoken to him. I don’t know anything about him other than he will respect me. He doesn’t respect our president. And if it is Russia — which it’s probably not, nobody knows who it is — but if it is Russia, it’s really bad for a different reason, because it shows how little respect they have for our country, when they would hack into a major party and get everything. But it would be interesting to see — I will tell you this — Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press. Let’s see if that happens. That’ll be next. Yes, sir…

[snip]

TRUMP: Excuse me, listen. We wanted to; we were doing Miss Universe 4 or 5 years ago in Russia. It was a tremendous success. Very, very successful. And there were developers in Russia that wanted to put a lot of money into developments in Russia. And they wanted us to do it. But it never worked out.

Frankly I didn’t want to do it for a couple of different reasons. But we had a major developer, particular, but numerous developers that wanted to develop property in Moscow and other places. But we decided not to do it.

[snip]

QUESTION: I would like to know if you became president, would you recognize (inaudible) Crimea as Russian territory? And also if the U.S. would lift sanctions that are (inaudible)?

TRUMP: We’ll be looking at that. Yeah, we’ll be looking. [my emphasis]

Particularly if Sussmann knew in real time — as the Hillary campaign did — that a renewed wave of attacks by Russia started immediately after Trump’s comments, Sussmann can fairly explain that, in their attempt to understand the correlation suggesting causation between Trump’s request and the attack, the anomalous DNS data seeming to suggest communication between Trump and Alfa Bank might explain the connection. In fact, the inference that Russia’s back channel was Alfa Bank had some backing (LetterOne Board Member Richard Burt had been involved in reviewing Trump’s first foreign policy speech), though the actual back channels were Paul Manafort and Roger Stone. So it was reasonable to try to understand the possibility of that back channel and reasonable to share with the FBI data reflecting that possibility.

For his part, given the way that Durham has always obscured when in late July the effort to research Trump got started, he’s likely to rely on a document — which may be dated July 26 or may be dated July 28, but which the Intelligence Community judged might be a fabrication in real time — claiming that Hillary had already decided to tie Trump and Russia together.

Given the timing of the increased effort to understand the Alfa Bank anomaly and the explicit references to Trump’s July 27 comments, Sussmann must be permitted to show how Trump’s July 27 comments were part of his state of mind when he went to the FBI and made his actions (and, indeed, the privilege claims Durham is now trying to pierce) reasonable.

Had Durham left well enough alone, that might be all Sussmann could ask to present at trial. But if Durham tries to rely on that sketchy intelligence report or if he wins his bid to present his full conspiracy theory, then it opens him up to far great discovery obligations. They include the investigative files on the following people Mueller investigated:

Richard Burt: The Mueller Report describes that, after Vladimir Putin ordered Petr Aven to seek to establish a back channel with Trump after the election, Aven approached Richard Burt, with whom he served on the board of LetterOne, to attempt to reach out. But Burt had played a role in outreach to the Trump campaign long before that, in an April 2016 Center for National Interest review of Trump’s first foreign policy speech. Burt was also present at two CNI-hosted speeches, one in June and August, at which “the participants addressed U.S. relations with Russia, including how U.S. relations with NATO and European countries affected U.S. policy toward Russia.” Indeed, according to Burt’s interview report, he was the one focusing on NATO and Europe. Burt’s publicly released interview report remains heavily redacted, including numerous redactions of material that was, in March 2020, still under investigation. Given that Durham wants to litigate whether it was realistic to think Trump might have a back channel through Richard Burt, Durham probably needs to provide the Burt-related materials to Sussmann.

Roger Stone: It is a fact that, on July 31, 2016 — during a period, starting at least by July 25, when he was actively seeking to optimize the files Russia stole from Hillary — Roger Stone had two conversations with Donald Trump and afterwards sent draft tweets promising a new peace deal with Putin for Trump to use in the coming days.

(U) On Sunday July 31, at 9:15 p.m., the day after speaking at length with Manafort, Stone called Gates.1550 Ten minutes later, Stone had two phone calls with Trump that lasted over ten minutes. 1551 Stone then emailed Jessica Macchia, one of Trump’s assistants, eight draft tweets for Trump, under the subject line “Tweets Mr. Trump requested last night.”1552 Many of the draft tweets attacked Clinton for her adversarial posture toward Russia and mentioned a new peace deal with Putin, such as “I want a new detente with Russia under Putin.”1553 (U) At 10:45 p.m. that same evening, Stone emailed Corsi again with the subject line “Call me MON[day]” and writing that “Malloch should see Assange.”1554 (U) The next morning, August 1, Stone again spoke twice with Trump. 1555 Stone later informed Gates of these calls. 1556 According to an email that morning from Stone to Macchia, Trump had “asked [Stone] for some other things” that Stone said he was “writing now.”1557

1551 (U) Records reviewed by the Committee showed a six minute call from Stone to Trump on July 31 at approximately 9:25 p.m. and a five-minute call from Stone to himself at approximately 9:36 p.m. See AT&T Toll records, Roger Stone/Drake Ventures (ATTSSCI00039). Evidence introduced at trial against Stone showed corresponding calls with Trump at those same times and for the same length of time, including a call from Trump at the number “-1” to Stone at 9:36 p.m. See United States v. Stone, Gov. Ex. 148; United States v. Stone, Gov. Ex. 164; Testimony of Michelle Taylor, United States v. Stone, pp. 348-349. This suggests that that Trump’s phone would sometimes appear in another person’s phone records as that person calling him or herself, or as a call with phone number “-1.” A number of such calls appear in Stone’s records and others, including records provided by Donald Trump Jr., during relevant time periods, but the Committee did not investigate those additional calls further.

1552 (U) Email, Stone to Macchia, July 31, 2016 (TRUMPORG_18_001307).

1553 (U) Ibid One draft tweet referenced the Clinton Foundation. Stone followed up about the tweets with Rhona Graff the following morning, August 1, to make sure Trump received them. Email, Stone to Graff, August 1, 2016 (TRUMPORG _ 18_001310).

1555 (U) AT&T toll records, Roger Stone/Drake Ventures.

1556 (U) Text message, Stone to Gates, August 2, 2016 (United States v. Stone, Gov. Ex. 20) (“Spoke to Trump a cpl of times.”).

1557 (U) Email, Stone to Macchia, August 1, 2016 (TRUMPORG_l8_001315).

It is also a fact that while most of Trump’s aides said that Trump ad-libbed that “Are you listening” comment, Rick Gates testified that Stone was stating — before flip-flopping on the issue days later — that Russia may have the emails, implying that Stone could have been the source of that comment along with the scripted tweets. Indeed, from that April 2016 foreign policy speech, Stone was demanding that Gates allow him to have input on Trump’s foreign policy statements.

It is also a fact that by August 2018, the FBI had evidence that led them to suspect that Stone had learned of the Guccifer 2.0 persona before it went live on June 15, 2016. Given how centrally Durham has made the July 2016 start date of the research into the Alfa Bank anomalies, he may be on the hook for providing details showing that Stone already had a back channel by then. That’s all the more true if Durham wants to rely on that intelligence product focusing on Guccifer 2.0.

Paul Manafort, Konstantin Kilimnik, and Alex Van der Zwaan: With his motion in limine, Durham has formally noticed that he wants to litigate at trial whether it was fair for people acting on behalf of Hillary — to say nothing of researchers collaborating with DARPA and the FBI or a private citizen with an established record conducting infosec inquiries into threats to the United States — to want to inquire into the following topics:

  • Illegal financial relationships between Oligarchs close to Putin and those close to Trump
  • Laundering of Russian-backed money through Cyprus
  • The actions of those married to the children of Alfa Bank’s founders
  • Sanctions violations and FEC regulations implicated by Fancy Bear’s ongoing attack on the election

Durham suggests the only reason someone would want to research such topics was unfounded animus directed at Trump. But the results of the Mueller inquiry — to say nothing of what the ongoing investigation confirming Konstanin Kilimnik did, in fact, share Trump’s campaign strategy with Russian intelligence agencies — prove that all these concerns not only had merit, but proved to be absolutely correct.

At least one person close to Donald Trump, Manafort, did have illegal financial relationships with Oligarchs close to Putin: the Campaign Manager who got fired for such ties in the middle of this intensifying focus on the Alfa Bank anomalies. That person did launder the money he made from them through Cyprus. How that Campaign Manager — who was working for “free” — got paid remains a mystery, implicating FEC regulations. And some of the other actions implicating the Russian operation that FEC’s General Counsel found reason to believe amounted to a campaign finance violations include:

  • Trump’s request, “Russia are you listening?”
  • Illegal donations from Cambridge Analytica
  • An in-kind donation for hacking Hillary
  • Internet Research Agency donation of trolling to support Trump

While Democrats didn’t block the much smaller violation tied to the dossier, Republicans have blocked Trump from any accountability for his likely campaign finance violations involved with accepting help from Russia.

Meanwhile, in the very same weeks when those Durham claims were involved in a malicious conspiracy targeting the children-in-laws of Alfa Bank’s founders, German Khan’s son-in-law, Alex Van der Zwaan, was taking action on Rick Gates’ orders to cover up Manafort’s ties to those Oligarchs. Van der Zwaan would, at first, lie to Mueller about the actions he took in response to Gates’ orders starting on September 7, 2016, including a call to Kilimnik, whom Van der Zwaan understood to be a former Russian spy.

In or about September 2016, VAN DER ZW AAN spoke with both Gates and Person A regarding the Report. In early September 2016, Gates called VAN DER ZWAAN and told him to contact Person A. After the call, Gates sent VAN DER ZWAAN documents including a preliminary criminal complaint in Ukraine via an electronic application called Viber. VAN DER ZWAAN then called Person A and discussed in Russian that formal criminal charges might be brought against a former Ukrainian Minister of Justice, Law Finn A, and Manafort. VAN DER ZWAAN recorded the call. VAN DER ZWAAN then called the senior partner on the Report at Law Firm A and partially recorded that call. Finally, VAN DER ZWAAN called Gates and recorded the call. VAN DER ZWAAN also took notes of the calls.

If Durham wants to argue that it was unreasonable to inquire into whether German Khan’s son-in-law might be involved in illicit doings with Oligarchs tied to Putin and people close to Trump, he needs to provide Sussmann the details of the cover-up that Van der Zwaan conducted with Kilimnik and Rick Gates just days before Sussmann’s meeting with James Baker. He needs to allow Sussmann to show that evidence in DOJ’s possession shows that not only was it a valid subject of inquiry, but precisely the thing April Lorenzen was concerned might be going on was going on, in real time.

Michael Cohen: With his untimely 404(b) notice, Durham informed Sussmann that he also wants to claim the dossier was part of the conspiracy he was trying to cover up by lying, even though he has provided no evidence that Sussmann knew Christopher Steele was sharing those reports with the FBI. By making it an issue, though, Durham also makes Michael Cohen’s real secret communications with the Kremlin, which disinformation in the dossier seemed tailored to obscure, an issue. That’s all the more true given that Trump’s “Russia are you listening” comments also included statements that — Cohen has described recognizing in real time — were a lie that covered up that Trump was still chasing an impossibly lucrative real estate deal that involved a former GRU officer and one of two sanctioned banks when he claimed to have decided not to pursue one. This topic is all the more pertinent given that Trump Organization withheld the documents reflecting these secret back channel communications from Congress and Trump demonstrably lied to Mueller about the topic. If Durham wants to argue it was implausible to think Michael Cohen had back channel communications with the Kremlin, then he needs to give Sussmann all the evidence that not only was it not implausible, but it was fact.

I’ve seen no hint that Sussmann’s attorneys want to turn Sussmann’s trial into the trial of Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign that we never got. They seem content to argue that the alleged lie was not material and the evidence that Sussmann lied in the way Durham thinks he did is thin, if not inadmissible.

But Durham has chosen a different path. He has wildly expanded the scope of what kind of questions he think are material to this case. And because he has chosen that dramatically expanded path, he has made all of this evidence material under discovery obligations.

The evidence to prove that the suspicions Sussmann and others had in 2016 were not just justified, but turned out to be true, are now material to discovery. If Durham doesn’t start turning over vast swaths of material about the ties of Trump’s top associates with Russia to Sussmann, he risks dismissal for discovery violations.

John Durham Unveils His Post-Putin Puppet Strategy

I first complained publicly about the Alfa Bank allegations on November 1, 2016. I raised questions about the provenance of the Steele dossier the day after it was released, on January 11, 2017. I started raising concerns that Russia had succeeded in injecting the dossier with disinformation just a year later — literally years before the Republicans investigating it full-time did. When Democrats revealed that they had paid for the dossier in October 2017, I wrote a very long post labeling the entire project “fucking stupid.” Part of that was about the Democrats’ delayed admission they were behind the dossier. But part of that was because of the way the dossier distracted from Trump’s very real very concerning ties to Russia.

It has been clear for some time that Steele’s reports had some kind of feedback loop, responding to information the Democrats got. That was most obvious with respect to the September 14 Alfa Bank report, which was obviously written after first news of the Alfa Bank/Trump Tower story, which was pushed by Democratic partisans. Particularly given that we know the released report is a selective release of just some reports from the dossier, the inclusion of Alfa Bank in that release makes no sense. Even if reports about old corrupt ties between Alfa and Putin are true (as if Democratic politicians and corrupt American banks never have old ties), the inclusion of the Alfa report in the dossier on Trump made zero sense.

Which is why Alfa Bank decided — after consulting with big Republican lawyers like Viet Dinh and soon-to-be DOJ Criminal Division Chief Brian Benczkowski — to sue for defamation. Now I understand why (particularly given that Republicans seem to have known who paid for the dossier for some time). I’m not sure Alfa Bank executives pass the bar for defamation here (though the publication of a report that misspelled Alfa’s name is pretty damning), but the fact that Elias paid for this dossier on behalf of the Democrats is going to make that defamation case far more explosive (and I’ll be surprised if Elias doesn’t get added into the mix).

As I said when I began this: I have no doubt Russia tampered with the election, and if the full truth comes out I think it will be more damning than people now imagine.

But the Democrats have really really really fucked things up with their failures to maintain better ethical distance between the candidate and the dossier, and between the party and the FBI sharing. They’ve made things worse by waiting so long to reveal this, rather that pitching it as normal sleazy political oppo research a year ago.

The case of Russian preference for Trump is solid. The evidence his top aides were happy to serve as Russian agents is strong.

But rather than let FBI make the case for that, Democrats instead tried to make their own case, and they did in such a way as to make the very solid case against Trump dependent on their defense of the dosser, rather than on better backed claims released since then.

Boy it seems sadly familiar, Democrats committing own goals like this. And all that’s before where the lawfare on this dossier is going to go.

I may be the earliest and most prescient critic of all this, in either party. Sit down, Kash Patel! Sit down, Chuck Ross!

Sit down, John Durham!

And boy was I right, way back in October 2017, about where this was going to go.

But I have also shown that people close to Oleg Deripaska succeeded in exploiting this project as part of a vicious double game, victimizing both Hillary Clinton and Paul Manafort, making it more likely Manafort would cooperate in the Russian operation against Hillary, which he did. I have shown that the most obvious disinformation in the dossier, probably sourced to Dmitri Peskov — claiming that Michael Cohen had secret communications with the Kremlin on election interference — served to hide Michael Cohen’s very real secret communications with Peskov on a Trump Tower deal involving sanctioned banks and a former GRU official. I have more recently confirmed that someone who claimed to work for an FSB front was pushing the Alfa Bank allegations more aggressively than Michael Sussmann in October 2016; that same person was using Internet routing records to support a false story in May 2016, the same month the DNS anomalies started. I showed that large numbers of Republicans rationalize their attack on democracy on January 6 based on the dossier, even while they accept the dossier was Russian disinformation, thereby literally claiming that Russian disinformation convinced them to attack American democracy.

And Russia’s wild success at using this to sow division continues, even as Russia massacres children in an assault on Ukrainian democracy. Just Monday, after all, John Durham suggested that because private citizen April Lorenzen investigated the actions of the people married to Alfa Bank Oligarch children, she was part of a criminal conspiracy, even though it is a provable fact that the man married to the daughter of an Alfa Bank founder, Alex Van der Zwaan, was — in those very same weeks!!! — acting on orders from Russian spy Konstantin Kilimnik to cover up Manafort’s ties to the Oligarchs behind the 2016 election interference. Durham is so far down his conspiratorial rabbit hole, he doesn’t even realize he’s trying to criminalize being right about a real threat to democracy.

Which brings us to Durham’s motion to compel submitted last night, predictably asking Judge Christopher Cooper to review the privilege claims behind the Democrats and Fusion GPS’ privilege claims. I’m pretty sympathetic that some of the privilege claims the parties involved have made are bullshit, just as the claims Trump’s supporters have made to hide the events that led up to January 6 or any number of other things that go well beyond election-year rat-fucking are obviously bullshit. But it now seems clear that Durham is making the same error Alfa Bank did, not only assuming that everyone pushing the Alfa Bank allegations was being directed by the Democrats (when Lorenzen played a more important role), but also assuming people working for Hillary were behind all new push on the story; I’ve proven that was false.

Worse still, the specific form of Durham’s demand and its timing not only prove Durham’s bad faith, but strongly suggest that Durham viewed his own investigation to form part of a symbiotic whole with the Alfa Bank lawfare (the lawfare I rightly identified in 2017) still exploiting the dissension sowed by Russia in 2016. In the month of March, Durham did three things that were, as Sussmann’s lawyers described, “wildly untimely” for a trial scheduled to start in May. After getting an approved extension to their CIPA deadline, Durham filed a 404(b) notice on March 23; those notices were due on March 18. Durham told Sussmann of a new expert witness in the last days in March; that notice was also due by March 18. And then, on March 30, Durham told Sussmann he was going to attempt to pierce privilege claims that had been under discussion for a year.

All these belated steps look like a desperate, last minute attempt to change strategy. And it seems likely that the strategy change was necessitated, at least in part, by the stay and then dismissal of Alfa Bank’s lawfare, necessitated by the sanctions imposed by Putin’s aggression in Ukraine.

Consider the following timeline:

  • February 9: DC Superior Judge Shana Frost Matini observes that Durham case and Alfa Bank lawsuit appear reading from the same script and stays Alfa’s motions until after the Sussmann trial
  • February 11: In the wake of the expiration of the statute of limitation on a February 9, 2017 Sussmann meeting at the CIA, Durham files an inflammatory and belated conflict filing, raising new allegations and setting off death threats
  • Mid-February 2022: Alfa Bank continues its efforts to breach the privilege and Fifth Amendment claims of John Durham’s subjects
  • February 22: Russia invades Ukraine in an attempt to rid it of its democracy and sovereignty
  • February 24: A first set of sanctions on Alfa Bank
  • March 3: Durham asks for an extension on filing his CIPA filing from March 18 to March 25
  • March 4: Alfa dismisses John Doe lawsuits
  • March 18: Alfa dismisses Fusion GPS lawsuit
  • March 23: Durham files a Supplement to his 404(b) notice making wild new claims about the scope of the material pertinent to Sussmann’s alleged lie
  • March 25: Durham submits his CIPA notice, probably asking to use an intelligence product viewed as possible Russian disinformation in real time (and, given what we’ve learned about Roger Stone’s activities before that, likely designed as cover for him)
  • March 30: Durham informs Sussmann they want to call an FBI expert, in part to explain DNS data, but in part to attack the credibility of the data and also want to use a motion in limine to breach privilege claims made by the Democrats
  • March 31: Andrew DeFilippis tells attorney for Rodney Joffe that Joffe remains under investigation
  • April 4: Competing motions in limine present two different versions of the conspiracy that happened in 2016
  • April 6: Second set of sanctions on Alfa Bank; Durham moves to compel privilege review

Since Alfa’s lawsuit was stayed, Durham has taken at least four untimely steps, apparently in an effort to turn a single sketchy false statement charge into the conspiracy Durham has not yet been able to substantiate, the conspiracy without which his single false statement claim is far weaker.

With all that in mind, consider the basis on which Durham argues he should be able to breach privilege claims, no matter how flimsy.

Durham admits that he only asked for redacted copies of those documents Fusion and the Democrats have claimed privilege over on September 16, the day Durham indicted Sussmann.

On September 16, 2021, the Government issued grand jury subpoenas to Law Firm1 and the U.S. Investigative Firm, requiring them to produce – in redacted form – the documents previously listed on privilege logs prepared by counsel for those entities so that such documents would be available for admission into evidence at any trial in this matter. Those entities subsequently produced the requested documents with redactions.

In other words, Durham didn’t even begin the process of trying to pierce this privilege claim until over 850 days into his investigation, and days before the statutes of limitation started to expire. And in the ensuing six months, Durham has done nothing. So he’s making this request less than six weeks before the start of the trial (as I noted, litigating the much more specious John Eastman privilege claims has been pending since January 20), claiming the information is necessary for his case.

But some of the arguments Durham makes rely on the belated filings he has submitted in the last month. For example, he invokes Christopher Steele, whose first appearance in this case was in that untimely 404(b) notice.

Perhaps most notably, the U.S. Investigative Firm retained a United Kingdom-based investigator (“U.K. Person-1”) who compiled information and reports that became a widely-known “dossier” containing allegations of purported coordination between Trump and the Russian government.

Durham intertwines discussion of the Alfa Bank allegations with those of the dossier, even though — as Sussmann noted,

the Special Counsel has not identified, nor could he, any evidence showing that Mr. Sussmann … had any awareness Mr. Steele was separately providing information to the FBI.

That is, Steele’s activities might matter to the Sussmann case if this were a charged conspiracy, but not only didn’t Durham charge it, he only asserted the theory of conspiratorial relationship that involves Steele by relying on his delayed 404(b) notice.

Durham’s bid to pierce privilege claims with Rodney Joffe and Marc Elias similarly tie to events in which Sussmann was not involved. False statements cases are, as Sussmann noted the other day, about the state of mind of the defendant, not about events that took place weeks after his alleged lie.

But even if this were a conspiracy, Durham reserves for himself the right to determine what is necessary for a law firm to determine how to respond when a campaign opponent invites crimes from a hostile nation-state while making false claims about his ties to that state, and what is, instead, just political dirt.

To the extent these entities continue to assert privilege over the cited documents, they cannot plausibly rely on the “intermediary” exception. To be sure, the record available to the Government does not reflect that employees of the U.S. Investigative Firm were necessary in any way to facilitate Law Firm-1’s provision of legal advice to HFA and DNC, much less to Tech Executive-1. As noted above, many of the actions taken by the U.S. Investigative Firm pursuant to its retention agreement fell outside the purpose outlined in Law Firm-1’s engagement letter – that is, to provide expertise related to Law Firm-1’s legal advice to the DNC and Clinton Campaign regarding defamation and libel. When U.S. Investigative Firm employees communicated with Tech Executive-1, they were doing so in furtherance of collaborating and promoting the Russian Bank1 allegations, not facilitating legal advice from [Law Firm-1] to Tech Executive-1. Simply put, these were communications related to political opposition research and were not made “in confidence for the purpose of obtaining legal advice from the lawyer.” In re Lindsey, 158 F.3d at 1280. Any confidentiality that Tech Executive-1 might have otherwise maintained over these communications was waived when he and the defendant chose to disclose such information to a third party that did not have any formal or informal contract or retention agreement with Tech Executive-1 (i.e., the U.S. Investigative Firm).

These claims, absent evidence of the sort Robert Mueller showed Beryl Howell to breach Paul Manafort’s privilege claims, would be controversial even if they were timely (and if they were timely, they should have been presented to Howell before charging Sussmann instead of presenting them to Cooper six weeks before the trial date).

But they’re not timely, and they rely on other claims that are not timely. And all those untimely claims came in the wake of altered circumstances created by Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

This series of late game curveballs would be abusive in any case, even if they were caused by long-planned deliberate malice or even incompetence. But the way they coincide with the collapse of the symbiotic lawfare project probably ordered — as was Petr Aven’s post-election outreach to Trump — by Putin really makes this look like a mere continuation of a six year plan to use Russia’s assault on democracy in 2016 to continue to sow discord in the US.


Claims made in untimely March 23 404(b) notice:

In a supplement to his Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b) notice provided to the defense on March 23 (the “Supplemental Notice”), the Special Counsel argues that such data gathering “constitute[s] direct evidence of the charged offense” as “factual context for the defendant’s conduct” and “to prove the existence of the defendant’s attorney-client relationships with [Mr. Joffe] and the Clinton Campaign.” Suppl. Notice at 2.

[snip

In his Supplemental Notice, the Special Counsel suggests that data was gathered “in a manner that may be considered objectionable—whether through invasions of privacy, breaches of contract, or other [unspecified] unlawful or unethical means.” Suppl. Notice at 2. But the Supplemental Notice does not identify—nor could it—any evidence that Mr. Sussmann had any awareness of or involvement in the alleged “objectionable” conduct of others related to gathering data, to the extent there even was any such “objectionable” conduct.

[snip]

The Special Counsel has also provided notice of his intention to adduce evidence regarding the accuracy of both “the purported data and [the] allegations” that Mr. Sussmann provided to the FBI and Agency 2. See Suppl. Notice at 2 (emphasis added).

[snip]

Elsewhere, the Special Counsel has suggested that data provided to Agency-2 was “misstated, overstated, and/or cherry-picked facts,” Suppl. Notice at 2,

[snip]

The Special Counsel has asserted he will offer evidence regarding the “origin” of the technical data gathered by Mr. Joffe and Others as “direct evidence” of “factual context for the defendant’s conduct” and “the existence of the defendant’s attorney-client relationships with [Mr. Joffe] and the Clinton Campaign” as to both the data provided to the FBI in September 2016 and the data provided to Agency-2 in 2017.1 Suppl. Notice at 2.

[snip]

The Special Counsel has also indicated an intention to offer evidence that (1) the data Mr. Sussmann provided was inaccurate; and (2) the analysis and conclusions drawn from that data were inaccurate. Suppl. Notice at 2 (seeking to introduce evidence regarding the “strength and reliability” of the data and allegations provided to the FBI and Agency-2, including that the white papers “may have misstated, overstated, and/or cherry-picked facts” or that certain FBI or Agency2 personnel determined that “data was potentially incomplete, fabricated, and/or exaggerated”).

[snip]

Second, the Special Counsel has utterly failed to provide an explanation for how such evidence is admissible against Mr. Sussmann. Instead, the Special Counsel simply asserts that evidence regarding the strength and reliability of the information provided to the FBI and Agency 2 is “direct evidence” of the false statements charge against Mr. Sussmann. Suppl. Notice at 2.

 

Tunnel Vision: Durham Treats Citizens’ Research into Real Paul Manafort Crimes Like a Criminal Conspiracy

On Monday, both John Durham and Michael Sussmann submitted their motions in limine, which are filings to argue about what can be admitted at trial. They address a range of issues that I’ll cover in several posts:

Sussmann:

Durham wants to:

  • Admit witnesses’ contemporaneous notes of conversations with the FBI General Counsel
  • Admit emails referenced in the Indictment and other, similar emails (see this post)
  • Admit certain acts and statements (including the defendant’s February 2017 meeting with a government agency, his December 2017 Congressional testimony, and his former employer’s October 2018 statements to the media) as direct evidence or, alternatively, pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b)
  • Exclude evidence and preclude argument concerning allegations of political bias on the part of the Special Counsel (addressed in this post)
  • Admit an October 31, 2016 tweet by the Clinton Campaign

I will link my discussions in serial fashion.


It’s a testament to how deep John Durham is in his conspiracy-driven rabbit hole that he assumes a 24-minute meeting between Marc Elias and Michael Sussmann on July 31, 2016 to discuss the “server issue” pertained to the Alfa Bank allegations. Just days earlier, after all, Donald Trump had asked Russia to hack Hillary Clinton, and within hours, Russian hackers obliged by targeting, for the first time, Hillary’s home office. Someone who worked in security for Hillary’s campaign told me that from his perspective, the Russian attacks on Hillary seemed like a series of increasing waves of attacks, and the response to Trump’s comments was one of those waves (this former staffer documented such waves of attack in real time). The Hillary campaign didn’t need Robert Mueller to tell them that Russia seemed to respond to Trump’s request by ratcheting up their attacks, and Russia’s response to Trump would have been an urgent issue for the lawyer in charge of their cybersecurity response.

It’s certainly possible this reference to the “server” issue pertained to the Alfa Bank allegations. But Durham probably doesn’t know; nor do I. None of the other billing references Durham suggests pertain to the Alfa Bank issue reference a server.

The possibility that Durham is seeing a conspiracy to attack Donald Trump in evidence that could, instead, be evidence of Hillary’s campaign response to an unprecedented nation-state attack, is a worthwhile demonstration of the way the two sides in this case have two entirely different theories of the conspiracy that occurred during that election. That’s particularly apparent given the competing motions in limine seeking both to prohibit and to include a bunch of communications from that period. These motions are not symmetrical. Sussmann moved to,

preclude three categories of evidence and/or arguments that the Special Counsel has suggested it might offer, namely, evidence and arguments concerning: (1) the gathering of DNS data by Mr. Sussmann’s former client Rodney Joffe, and/or other data scientists, and fellow business personnel of Mr. Joffe (collectively “Mr. Joffe and Others”); (2) the accuracy of this data and the accuracy of the conclusions and analysis based on this data; and (3) Christopher Steele and information he separately provided to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) (including the so-called “Steele Dossier”) (all three, collectively, the “Joffe and Steele Conduct”).

Sussmann is not moving to exclude mention his contact with Fusion GPS or reporters (though he is fighting to keep Christopher Steele out of his trial).

Whereas Durham is seeking to,

(ii) admit emails referenced in the Indictment and other, similar emails, (iii) admit certain acts and statements (including the defendant’s February 2017 meeting with a government agency, his December 2017 Congressional testimony, and his former employer’s October 2018 statements to the media) as direct evidence or, alternatively, pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b),

[snip]

(v) admit an October 31, 2016 tweet by the Clinton Campaign.

Ultimately this is a fight about whether Sussmann’s alleged lie amounted to reporting a tip about a real cybersecurity anomaly, as Sussmann maintains, or, as Durham argues, seeding dirt as part of a dirty tricks campaign against Trump.

Predictably, in addition to emails involving Fusion GPS, Durham wants to introduce the emails between Rodney Joffe and researchers — emails to which Sussmann was not privy — as statements of co-conspirators.

In addition, Rule 801(d)(2)(E) authorizes the admission of an out-ofcourt statement “by a co-conspirator of a party during the course and in furtherance of the conspiracy.” Where a defendant objects to such an admission, however, the district court must find by a preponderance of the evidence that a conspiracy existed and that the defendant and declarant were members of that conspiracy. Bourjaily v. United States, 483 U.S. 171, 175-76 (1987). A court can preliminarily admit hearsay statements of co-conspirators, subject to connection through proof of conspiracy. See United States v. Jackson, 627 F. 2d 1198, 1218 (D.C. Cir. 1980) (approving procedure). To admit a statement under Rule 801(d)(2)(E), the court must find (i) that there was a conspiracy; (ii) that its members included the declarant and the party against whom the statement is offered; and (iii) that the statement was made during the course of and in furtherance of the conspiracy. Bourjaily 483 U.S. at 175.

Importantly, although Rule 801(d)(2)(E) refers to “conspiracy” and “co-conspirators,” the D.C. Circuit has expressly held that “the doctrine is not limited to unlawful combinations.” United States v. Weisz, 718 F. 2d 413, 433 (D.C. Cir. 1983). “Rather, the rule, based on concepts of agency and partnership law and applicable in both civil and criminal trials, ‘embodies the long-standing doctrine that when two or more individuals are acting in concert toward a common goal, the outof-court statements of one are . . . admissible against the others, if made in furtherance of the common goal.’” United States v. Gewin, 471 F. 3d 197, 201–02 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (citing Weisz, 718 F. 2d at 433)). In quoting and citing the 1974 Senate Advisory Committee note to Rule 801(d)(2)(E), the D.C. Circuit has also explained that “[Rule 801(d)(2)(E)] was meant to carry forward the universally accepted doctrine that a joint venturer is considered as a coconspirator for the purpose of this [R]ule even though no conspiracy has been charged.” Weisz, 718 F. 2d at 433 (citations and quotation marks omitted); United States v. Owens, 484 U.S. 554, 562 (1988) (invoking Advisory Committee note in interpreting Federal Rules of Evidence).

Durham describes that the object of that conspiracy was to deal dirt on Donald Trump to the US government and the media.

As an initial matter, the Government expects that the evidence at trial will show that beginning in late July/early August 2016, the defendant, Tech Executive-1, and agents of the Clinton Campaign were “acting in concert toward a common goal,” Gewin, 471 F. 3d at 201–02, namely, the goal of assembling and disseminating the Russian Bank-1 allegations and other derogatory information about Trump and his associates to the media and the U.S. government.

[snip]

More specifically, these emails show that the researchers and Tech Executive-1 were acting in concert with the defendant and others to gather and spread damaging information about a Presidential candidate shortly before the scheduled election.

And that, Durham claims, makes an attempt to understand a cybersecurity anomaly a political act.

In addition, the aforementioned communications demonstrate the materiality of the defendant’s lie insofar as they reveal the political origins and purposes for this work. And those political origins are especially probative here because they provided a motive for the defendant to conceal his clients’ involvement in these matters.

There is a great deal that is alarming and problematic with this schema. For starters, it suggests Sussmann’s response to Eric Lichtblau’s question asking, “I see Russians are hacking away. any big news?” (in what is clearly a follow-up of earlier conversations about the very real attack on Hillary by Russia) was part of a conspiracy and not a legitimate response to an obvious good faith and important question from a journalist.

Emails, billing records, and testimonial evidence to be offered at trial reflect that during approximately the same time period – and before approaching the FBI about these matters – the defendant provided the Russian Bank-1 allegations to a reporter from a major U.S. newspaper.

Many of the problems in Durham’s argument pertain to April Lorenzen, who started looking into this anomaly in June. But Durham — who also wants to make the source of these anomalies an issue at trial — seems to suggest this conspiracy started on some calls and one meeting between Marc Elias, Joffe, and Sussmann that started on August 12.

Testimony at trial will establish that among the individuals whom Tech Executive1 and Originator-1 enlisted in this project were researchers at University-1 who were assigned to a then-pending federal cybersecurity contract with a U.S. government agency (“Agency-1”). At the time, Tech Executive-1 was negotiating an agreement between his then-employer (“Internet Company-1”) and University-1 to sell large amounts of internet data to the university for use under the Agency-1 contract. The intended purpose of this agreement and University-1’s sensitive work with Agency-1 was to gather and analyze internet metadata in order to detect malicious cyberattacks. As set forth in the Indictment, however, Tech Executive-1 and Originator-1 worked with two of these University-1 researchers (“Researcher-1” and “Researcher-2”) to mine internet data for the purpose of assisting the aforementioned opposition research.

That is, Durham both includes Lorenzen’s earlier actions in his scope, but imagines that the conspiracy in question didn’t form until long after she identified the anomaly.

Similarly, Durham holds Sussmann accountable for the eventual articles written by Lichtblau and Franklin Foer, even though Lorenzen was far more involved in that process (and random people like “Phil” who were signing comments Guccifer 2.0 were also pushing the NYT to write a story). After the FBI killed the initial story, Durham has not shown any evidence that Sussmann was pushing the actual Alfa Bank story until after the Lichtblau and Foer stories were published.

Meanwhile, Durham’s interpretation of this Lorenzen email — written in the wake of Paul Manafort’s firing because his secret influence-peddling for Russian backed Ukrainian Oligarchs had become a campaign liability — is fairly shocking.

NOTE: The Russian money launderers, sometimes assisted by Americans like those you see listed in the PDF [Tech Executive-1] just shared [the Trump Associates List], and others you’ll see in [name redacted]’s next document …. Cyprus is one of the places they like. That’s where [Russian Bank-1]-Forex is organized. Choose .com or .ru when studying their domains … and remember we don’t need a russian IP, domain or company for money to flow from Russians to Trump.

[Russian Bank-1]-* has massive tentacles in so many countries including the USA. Regarding this whole project, my opinion is that from DNS all we could gain even in the best case is an *inference*.

I have not the slightest doubt that illegal money and relationships exist between pro-Russian and pro-Trump, meaning actual people very close to Trump if not himself. And by Putin’s traditional style, people Putin controls, but not himself. He controls the oligarchs and they control massive fortunes and cross nearly all major industries in a vast number of countries.

But even if we found what [Tech Executive-1] asks us to find in DNS we don’t see the money flow, and we don’t see the content of some message saying “send me the money here” etc.

I could fill out a sales form on two websites, faking the other company’s email address in each form, and cause them to appear to communicate with each other in DNS. (And other ways I can think of and I feel sure [Researcher-2] can think of.)

IF [Tech Executive-1] can take the *inference* we gain through this team exercise … and cause someone to apply more useful tools of more useful observation or study or questioning … then work to develop even an inference may be worthwhile.

That is how I understood the task. Because [Tech Executive-1] didn’t tell me more context or specific things. What [name redacted] has been digging up is going to wind up being significant. It’s just not the case that you can rest assured that Hil[l]ary’s opposition research and whatever professional govts and investigative journalists are also digging … they just don’t all come up with the same things or interpret them the same way. But if you find any benefit in what she has done or is doing, you need to say so, to encourage her. Because we are both killing ourselves here, every day for weeks.

I’m on the verge of something interesting with hosts that talk to the list of Trump dirty advisor domain resources, and hosts that talk to [Russian Bank1]-* domains. Take even my start on this and you have Tehran and a set of Russian banks they talk to. I absolutely do not assume that money is passing thru Tehran to Trump. It’s just one of many *inferences* I’m looking at.

SAME IRANIAN IP THAT TALKS TO SOME TRUMP ADVISORS, also talks to:

[list of domains redacted]

(Capitals don’t mean SUPER SIGNIFICANT it was just a heading.)

Many of the IPs we have to work with are quite MIXED in purpose, meaning that a lot of work is needed to WINNOW down and then you will still only be left in most cases with an *inference* not a certainty. Trump/ advisor domains I’ve been using. These include ALL from [Tech Executive-1’s] PDF [the Trump Associate’s List] plus more from [name redacted]’s work:

[list of domains redacted]

[RUSSIAN BANK-1] DOMAINS

[list of domains redacted]

More needs to be added to both lists. [Durham’s bold, my italics]

That’s true in part, because Durham suggests the entirety of this email is part of the conspiracy, but it’s clear that Lorenzen was working with another person, whose name Durham redacts, who seems arbitrarily excluded from it.

But it’s also true because Lorenzen sent it in the wake of Trump’s false claim — made in the same appearance where he asked Russia to hack Hillary some more — that he had no business ties to Russia, when in fact he continued to pursue a Trump Tower deal that would have relied on funding from one of two sanctioned banks. She sent it in the wake of Manafort’s false claims (and Rick Gates’ lies to the press) that served to hide his real ties to Russian-backed oligarchs, including one centrally involved in the Russian effort to tamper in the election, Oleg Deripaska, and his money laundering through Cyprus of payments from those Oligarchs. Manafort was helped in those lies — in the same weeks as Sussmann met with James Baker!!!! — by the son-in-law of Alfa Bank’s co-founder German Khan, Alex Van der Zwaan, who went on to lie about his actions to Mueller. In the same month Sussmann met with Baker, Mueller found probable cause to investigate, Trump got a $10 million infusion from an Egyptian state-owned bank. Lorenzen’s suspicions were not only realistic, but some turned out to be absolutely true.

Similarly, Durham makes much of this email from Lorenzen:

[Tech Executive-1’s] carefully designed actions provide the possibility of: 1. causing the adversaries to react. Stop using? Explain? 2. Getting more people with more resources to find out the things that are unknown, whether those be NON-internet channels of connection between Trump, [Healthcare Company1][owners of Healthcare Company-1], [Russian Bank-1] … money flows, deals, God knows it could be [owners of Healthcare Company-1’s] children married to Russians who run [Russian Bank1]. Or like Researcher-2 shared, someone’s wife vacationing with someone else’s wife.

I have no clue. These are things other people may look into, if they know a direction of interest to look. 3. Legal action to protect our country from people who act against our national interests. I don’t care in the least whether I’m right or wrong about VPN from [Russian Bank-1], [TOR] from Russian Bank-1, or just SMTP artifact pointing to a 3-way connection. [Tech Executive1] has carefully crafted a message that could work to accomplish the goals. Weakening that message in any way would in my opinion be a mistake. [Durham’s bold, my italics]

Here, again, Lorenzen wonders about suspect ties of those married to the children of Alfa Bank’s founders within days of Van der Zwaan taking actions to hide Manafort’s ties to Russian-backed oligarchs.

In other words, Durham treats Lorenzen’s inferences, some of which turned out not just to be right, but to be centrally important to the ongoing Russian attack on the US, as improper dirt on a presidential candidate and not stuff that every citizen of the United States would want to know. Durham is criminalizing a private citizen’s effort (one for which he shows no direct tie to the Clinton campaign) to understand real corruption of Trump and his campaign manager. Durham literally calls this effort to research a political candidate — a core responsibility in a democracy — a “venture to gather and disseminate purportedly derogatory internet data regarding a Presidential candidate.”

This is not the only email that pointed to real criminal evidence pertaining to Russia’s attack in 2016. He cites David Dagon justifying using this data by pointing to the FBI’s investigation into Fancy Bear — the hackers who were in that same month still hacking Hillary and trying to hack election infrastructure.

I believe this is at a threshold of probable cause for violation of Commerce Dept sanctions, FEC elections rules, and has releva[n]cy for the Bureau’s Fancy Bear inquiry, etc._ I also have some graphs/animations of the Trump [] router, which I can clean up and contribute. (They merely give a glimpse of aggregate volume, since we lack actual flows.) I’d need until the weekend.”

Again, Paul Manafort did turn out to have real ties to the APT 28 operation, Roger Stone appears to have been in direct contact with the GRU-backed persona since before it went public, and Mueller did charge an Oligarch with close ties to Putin, Yevgeniy Prigozhin, with violating FEC election rules. To suggest that it was improper to try to investigate these ongoing crimes in real time — to suggest the investigation is itself a conspiracy — undermines any possibility for a vibrant democracy.

And Durham decided belatedly (Sussmann’s filing makes it clear Durham laid all this out in a March 23 404(b) notice, 5 days past his due date) to argue that all these emails are admissible so he can argue that Joffe asked Sussmann to hide his role in all this so he could hide the emails that show real investigation into real, ongoing crimes.

Indeed, many of the emails’ contents are relevant and not hearsay for the additional reason that they shed important light on the defendant’s and Tech Executive-1’s “intent, motive, or state of mind,” and “help to explain their future conduct.” Safavian, 435 F. Supp. at 45–46. In particular, the mere fact that these emails (i) existed in written form prior to the defendant’s September 19, 2016 meeting with the FBI and (ii) reflected instances of serious doubts about whether the Russian Bank-1 data might have been “spoofed,” a “red herring,” “wrong,” or a product of “tunnel vision” or bias against Trump, provided Tech Executive-1 and the defendant with motive to conceal the origins and provenance of the Russian Bank-1 allegations from the FBI. In particular, a reasonable jury could infer from these and other facts that Tech Executive-1 made the defendant aware of these prior doubts and therefore supplied the defendant – as Tech Executive-1’s representative – with a motive to conceal their client relationship from the FBI General Counsel. A jury could similarly infer that even if Tech Executive-1 did not make the defendant aware of these communications, he nevertheless instructed the defendant to deny the existence of such a client relationship for the same reason (i.e., to avoid the FBI’s potential discovery of the doubts reflected in these prior discussions).

Durham’s conspiracy theorizing is not just a dangerous attack on citizenship. It is also cherry picking. He has left out a number of the people who were pursuing the DNS question, including those — Matt Blaze and others — whom Sussmann said he had consulted with in his meeting with Baker, but put in people that Sussmann did not even know.

Sussmann notes he wasn’t involved in any of this data-gathering, nor was the Clinton campaign.

There cannot be any credible argument that the data-gathering sheds light on Mr. Sussmann’s representation of Mr. Joffe, because there is no evidence that Mr. Sussmann was involved in the data-gathering or that it was being done to give to Mr. Sussmann, as Mr. Joffe’s counsel. It is just as specious to suggest that the data-gathering bears on Mr. Sussmann’s attorney-client relationship with the Clinton Campaign. There is no evidence that the Clinton Campaign directed or was involved in the gathering of data, via Mr. Sussmann or otherwise. Nor is there any evidence of communications on issues pertinent to the Indictment between Mr. Joffe and the Clinton Campaign. As such, the manner in which data was gathered has no bearing on Mr. Sussmann’s attorney-client relationship with the Clinton Campaign.

In what is likely to be a persuasive argument to Judge Cooper, Sussmann argued that the only thing that can be relevant to the charge against him — a false statements charge, not conspiracy to defraud the US — is his state of mind.

Evidence that lacks a connection to the charge or the defendant’s scope of knowledge, including as to the defendant’s state of mind, is decidedly not relevant. See, e.g., United States v. Wade, 512 F. App’x 11, 14 (2d Cir. 2013) (excluding testimony about another act because it “was not temporally or physically linked” to the crime at issue and the “testimony presented a risk of juror confusion and extended litigation of a collateral matter”); United States v. Libby, 467 F. Supp. 2d 1, 15-16 (D.D.C. 2006) (rejecting attempts to “elicit . . . what others were told” as “simply irrelevant to the defendant’s state of mind” in a false statements and perjury case); United States v. George, 786 F. Supp. 56, 64 (D.D.C. 1992) (without the “crucial link” that “defendant knew what information others had,” that information is not material to the defendant’s state of mind in an obstruction and false statements case); United States v. Secord, 726 F. Supp. 845, 848-49 (D.D.C. 1989) (information of which the defendant had no knowledge is necessarily immaterial to the defendant’s state of mind, intent, or motive in a false statements case).

[snip]

First, evidence regarding the accuracy of the data or the conclusions drawn from that data is simply irrelevant to the false statement charge against Mr. Sussmann. Mr. Sussmann is not charged with defrauding the government or with a conspiracy to do that or anything else. There is no allegation or evidence that Mr. Sussmann was privy to any of the communications between Mr. Joffe and Others about the data or its analyses that the Special Counsel misleadingly cites in the Indictment.

I think Durham’s bid to include communications with those (Lorenzen and Manos Antonakakis) Sussmann did not have direct contact with is likely to fail. So most of Durham’s conspiracy theorizing will likely remain on the pages of these filings.

But along the way, Durham’s tunnel vision about 2016 led him to forget to exclude the things that do go to Sussmann’s state of mind, such as the very real Russian attack on Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump’s public call for more such attacks.

So while Durham may be excluded from claiming that a private citizen’s attempt to learn about real crimes by a Presidential candidate before he is elected amounts to a criminal conspiracy, it is too late for Durham now to try to exclude evidence about Sussmann’s understanding of Donald Trump’s very real role in a hack of his client.

Paul Manafort Prevented from Flying to Dubai

As Knewz first reported and AP has now matched, Paul Manafort was pulled from a flight to Dubai on Sunday because his passport was revoked.

Former Trump adviser Paul Manafort was removed from a plane at Miami International Airport before it took off for Dubai because he carried a revoked passport, officials said Wednesday.

Miami-Dade Police Detective Alvaro Zabaleta confirmed that Manafort was removed from the Emirates Airline flight without incident Sunday night but directed further questions to U.S. Border and Customs Protection. That agency did not immediately respond to an email Wednesday seeking comment.

A lawyer who has represented Manafort did not immediately return a call and email seeking comment Wednesday.

As a reminder, Manafort’s pardon did not include his actions in an August 2, 2016 meeting with alleged Russian spy Konstanin Kilimnik, at which he seemingly traded his strategy to win the election for $19 million in financial benefit and a commitment to help carve up Ukraine.

Nor was Manafort pardoned for his efforts, which continued at least until he was arrested, to help Kilimnik carve up Ukraine to Russia’s liking.

Nor was Manafort pardoned for his role in all the influence-peddling that Rudy Giuliani was involved with in Ukraine through 2020.

This was three days ago. The fact that Sean Hannity has not been wailing about the poor treatment of Manafort since suggests either that there’s not a good way to spin it, or that Manafort has some reason to want to keep this quiet.

Update: NBC’s Tom Winter says that, contrary to other reports, he was simply not permitted to board and that he can apply for a new passport. It’s not clear why he speaks of a “new investigation.”

Putin’s Playmates Trump and Tucker Remind Trumpsters They’ve Been Trained to Love Putin

As I’ve been watching Putin expand his war in Ukraine, I’ve been thinking a lot about his timing. Why launch it now rather than two years ago, when Trump would have facilitated it, or another year from now, when Republicans are expected to control at least one house of Congress?

I suspect there are a lot of things that dictate the timing. Any invasion was going to come in winter. It’s easier for heavy tanks to move, but more importantly, winter temperatures make it easier to use gas prices to impose a cost on Europe.

I think it happened this year, under Biden’s first full winter rather than 2021 or even 2020 because, up until Biden’s inauguration, Putin’s investment in Trump might still have paid off by allowing Putin to achieve his objectives without launching a war. He almost did, in the insurrection, which was undoubtedly led by MAGAts but which included the participation of some key Russian projects (such as Patrick Byrne).

To be sure, there are European reasons, even beyond the gas squeeze. Boris Johnson is fighting to keep power. Angela Merkel’s retirement surely led Putin to hope that the EU would be left without a strong leader (or that he could more easily manipulate Emmanuel Macron, especially in an election year).

But I believe this invasion represents the culmination of a plan not just to reassert what he imagines is Russian greatness, but also to end US hegemony, which Putin has pursued for a decade.

Ukraine has been a part of that and starting in 2010, Paul Manafort was useful to giving his puppets the patina of legitimacy. After Viktor Yanukovych’s ouster, Ukraine was useful as a testing ground for various kinds of hybrid warfare, most spectacularly with the NotPetya attack in 2018.

Ukraine — the partnership of Konstantin Kilimnik and Oleg Deripaska, along with their leverage over Paul Manafort — was also whence Russian launched its 2016 attack (I need to find the reference, but they knew they could place Manafort as campaign manager before the end of 2015). As I have written (in a piece on my understanding of the role of using the Steele dossier as a vehicle for disinformation), Russia’s interference in 2016 is best understood as a win-win. If Hillary won, Roger Stone would have rolled out the same Stop the Steal plan that was used in 2020 back in 2016 to destabilize the US in 2017 rather than 2021, as happened.

Trump’s win was an unexpected bonus.

As part of the 2016 operation, Russia also did unprecedented damage to the NSA (through the Shadow Brokers operation) and the CIA (in the way that WikiLeaks rolled out the Vault 7 release).

The failure of Russia’s attempt to blame its 2016 interference on a false flag thwarted Russia’s best laid plans — which would have involved Kilimnik calling in the quid pro quo made with Manafort on August 2, 2016 and getting Trump to help carve up Ukraine in the same way Russia is currently doing with tanks.

Even still, the Russian investigation paid huge dividends and, given Putin’s long game, to date has surely been more than worth it. That’s because the FBI-led investigation into Trump’s cooperation with Russia, over time, came to train Republicans to trust Putin more than they trust Democrats.

Republicans genuinely believe, falsely, that the FBI deliberately attempted to take Trump out (entirely memory holing Jim Comey’s role in getting Trump elected, much less that the FBI Agents running informants on the Clinton Foundation during the election were explicitly anti-Hillary). The dossier disinformation project proved so wildly successful that most Republicans genuinely believe, falsely, that there wasn’t abundant proof of cooperation between Trump and Russia, including communications directly with the Kremlin during the election that Michael Cohen lied to hide. Republican members of Congress genuinely came to believe — because they had to! — that criticism of Trump’s refusal to spend the money in support of Ukraine they had appropriated was just another Democratic attack on Trump and not an attempt to save the integrity of American democracy. All this culminated in Stop the Steal 2.0, a literal attack on American democracy; Republican fealty to Trump forced them — more reluctantly at first and driven in large part by real terror — to defend an assault on Congress.

By February 13, 2021, the date the Senate voted to acquit Donald Trump of inciting an attack on Congress, Republicans had put loyalty to Donald Trump over defense of the country and the Capitol in which they worked.

Sure, Putin didn’t get Trump to carve up Ukraine as President. But he got so much more from Trump’s presidency.

Putin did get Trump to do real damage to NATO. He got Trump to largely abandon Syria. Trump made a humiliating deal with the Taliban that would result in the US withdrawing its military from Russia’s back door. After years of Russia having to work hard to highlight American hypocrisy on human rights, Trump did things like pardon war criminals, forever tainting America’s claim to be exceptional.

And through it all, Trump created his own authoritarian-supporting militias, heavily armed troops inspired by resentment who have the ability to make the United States ungovernable. Trumpist Republicans are making localized efforts to dismantle democracy. Trump’s Supreme Court nominees have abandoned legal precedent.

Which brings us to this moment.

I think Putin faced a moment of diminishing returns. Republicans are finally beginning to wake up from their Trump cult. If COVID subsides and the US economy takes off, Democrats might surprise at midterms. I wouldn’t be surprised, either, if Russia expected some details of what it has done over the last decade — involving Julian Assange, involving 2016 (with the prosecution of Vladislav Klyushin), possibly even involving Trump — to become public in the near future. And so Putin chose this moment to launch a war to try to solidify the efforts he has made over the last decade.

Thus far, however, things haven’t gone Putin’s way.

I believe that Putin thought he could demonstrate Five Eyes fragility by conducting war games off the Irish coast without inciting the nationalism of a bunch of Irish fisherman. I believe Putin expected the US and/or Europe would fail to fully incorporate Ukraine in its planning, thereby discrediting Volodymyr Zelenskyy. I believe that Putin expected he would be able to peel away France and Germany (after Olaf Scholz’s initial announcement that it is halting Nord Stream 2, there seems to be some hesitation). I believe Putin expected his false flags would work. I believe Putin believed he’d be able to blame someone else for this invasion. I agree with Dan Drezner, thus far Biden has done just about everything right.

I believe that Putin believed his invasion would split NATO, the EU, and the US. Thus far it has had the opposite effect.

Which brings us to the weird pivot that Trump and his top Fox associates: white nationalist Tucker Carlson, Chief of Staff Sean Hannity, and Laura Ingraham.

Yesterday, Trump hailed Putin’s actions as genius.

“I went in yesterday and there was a television screen, and I said, ‘This is genius.’ Putin declares a big portion of the Ukraine — of Ukraine — Putin declares it as independent. Oh, that’s wonderful,” Trump told conservative podcaster Buck Sexton.

I said, ‘How smart is that?’ And he’s gonna go in and be a peacekeeper. That’s strongest peace force… We could use that on our southern border. That’s the strongest peace force I’ve ever seen. There were more army tanks than I’ve ever seen. They’re gonna keep peace all right,” Trump continued. “Here’s a guy who’s very savvy… I know him very well. Very, very well.”

Last night, Tucker did a chilling monologue, suggesting that Americans have been trained to hate Vladimir Putin.

Tucker suggested that Putin’s invasion is just a border dispute. He’s suggesting that Biden is doing this to pay off imagined debts to Ukrainian Oligarchs. Tucker laid out Putin’s plan for costs to impose on Americans, in terms of energy costs. Tucker included every single false claim about Ukraine that Russia has been planting since 2016. Every single one.

This is the monologue you’d expect of a man who believes there are two years of records showing Russian and Hungarian sources trying to set up one meeting between him and Putin.

To win this war, Putin needs to achieve both goals at once: splitting the US so that he can take Ukraine. One goal serves the other.

And in days ahead, Putin undoubtedly plans to take great risks to impose some costs on European and American voters. In gas prices, sure, but probably also with some ambitious cyberattacks and efforts to support another insurrection. Those costs, I imagine Putin plans, will lead American and European voters to lose patience with support for Ukraine, to forget that this is about the ability to enjoy real democracy.

But to get away with that, Putin has to ensure that it won’t backfire by overcoming the polarization he has invested great effort to encourage in the last five years.

Via whatever means last night, Putin’s two biggest assets in the US (speaking in terms of advantages, not recruited assets, but I don’t rule it out) went out and reminded Trump supporters that they’ve been trained to like Putin more than they like their own country.

Update: Philip Bump notes that Republicans like Putin more than Biden.