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Rod Rosenstein’s Unfortunate Vocabulary: Defining a Criminal Investigation by “Links” and “Collusion”

Rod Rosenstein is the very unlikely hero of the Mueller investigation. “Rod is a survivor,” Jim Comey said after getting fired. “And you don’t get to survive that long across administrations without making compromises.”

Yet here we are, 22 months after he appointed Robert Mueller to investigate an investigation Trump tried to kill by firing Comey, awaiting the results of that investigation.

At times, I think Rosenstein didn’t imagine (and doesn’t now acknowledge) the damage his bend-don’t-break has done along the way. While based off the very sound precedent that existed until Comey’s declination speech about Hillary, it seems ridiculous for him to claim that the full results of the Mueller investigation can’t be shared with Congress, as he’s now claiming, given how he has provided unprecedented disclosure to Congress about the investigation already, including the first ever unsealed probable cause FISA application.

It will take some years to measure whether Rosenstein chose the best or perhaps only the least worst approach to the last several years.

But there’s one thing he did that really makes me uncomfortable, today, as we all await the results of the Mueller report: his mandate to Mueller.

As has been noted countless times in the last 22 months, Rosenstein asked Mueller to investigate:

    • any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and
    • any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation;
    • any other matters with the scope of 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(a).
  • if the Special Counsel believes it is necessary and appropriate, the Special Counsel is authorized to prosecute federal crimes arising from the investigation of these matters.

We actually know the answer to the first bullet, in part: As I laid out here, during five key interactions pertaining to the question of a possible conspiracy between Trump’s associates and Russia, there was direct contact between someone the government has deemed an agent of Russia and the Trump campaign:

  1. January 20, 2016, when Michael Cohen told Dmitry Peskov’s personal assistant that Trump would be willing to work with a GRU-tied broker and (soft and hard) sanctioned banks in pursuit of a $300 million Trump Tower deal in Russia.
  2. June 9, 2016, when Don Jr, knowing that currying favor with Russia could mean $300 million to the family, took a meeting offering dirt on Hillary Clinton as “part of  Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” At the end of the meeting, per the testimony of at least four attendees, Don Jr said they’d revisit Magnitsky sanctions if his dad won.
  3. August 2, 2016, when Paul Manafort and Rick Gates had a clandestine meeting with Konstantin Kilimnik at which Trump’s campaign manager walked Kilimnik through highly detailed poll data and the two discussed a “peace” plan for Ukraine understood to amount to sanctions relief.
  4. December 29, 2016, when (working on instructions relayed by KT McFarland, who was at Mar-a-Lago with Trump) Mike Flynn said something to Sergey Kislyak that led Putin not to respond to Obama’s election-related sanctions.
  5. January 11, 2017, when Erik Prince, acting as a back channel for Trump, met with sanctioned sovereign wealth fund Russian Direct Investment Fund CEO Kirill Dmitriev.

That Peskov’s assistant (and whatever representative from Putin’s office that called Felix Sater the next day), Sergey Kislyak, and Kirill Dmitriev are agents of Russia is clear. With the indictment of Natalia Veselnitskaya in December, the government deemed her to be working as an agent of Russia during the same time period she pitched sanctions relief to Trump’s campaign. And while the government hasn’t proven it beyond quoting Rick Gates acknowledging he knew of Konstantin Kilimnik’s past with the GRU and FBI’s belief that he continues to have ties, the government certainly maintains that Kilimnik does have ties to Russian intelligence.

Those are links. It’d be useful to have an official report on them. But since Mueller hasn’t charged them as a conspiracy, we may only learn what we’ve seen in plea agreements or official testimony to Congress.

Likewise Rosenstein’s invocation of “collusion” in the unredacted parts of his memo describing the scope of the investigation as it existed in August 2017 (it expanded and contracted after that point, so there are like different memos).

Allegations that Paul Manafort:

  • committed a crime or crimes by colluding with Russian government officials with respect to the Russian government’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 election for President of the United States, in violation of United States law;

Here, unlike in the initial mandate, Rosenstein at least noted that Mueller was assessing whether crimes were committed in using that squishy language. But he used the word “collusion,” which started to be politicized by March 2017, when Comey tried to correct it once and for all.

I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts. As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.

[snip]

Collusion is not a legal term. It is not one I have used today. I said we are investigating to see if there is any coordination between people associated with the campaign– [my emphasis]

Sure, “collusion” might be understood to incorporate a bunch of possible crimes, and so appropriately didn’t limit Mueller to one specific crime as he investigated Manafort (but then, so did the term, “coordination”). But I nevertheless think that using the word has confused the issue of what Rosenstein intended Mueller to be able to reveal, which would instead be conspiracy and a bunch of other crimes covering up evidence of coordination that Mueller has found necessary and appropriate to charge, and not whether there was “collusion.”

All the while, people on both sides of this debate have taken “collusion” to mean whatever minimalist or maximalist interpretation of wrong-doing that best serves their side.

There are two things at issue: whether Trump and his aides coordinated in a way that is criminal, which would be a conspiracy, and whether Trump has coordinated with Russia in a way that would be an abuse of power and/or puts the nation at risk.

Both are legitimate questions. And while Rosenstein says only crimes that are indicted are appropriate to reveal (and he may well be right about that, as a principle), he did ask Mueller to conduct an investigation of that other stuff, and Congress has deferred to Mueller even while that other stuff is squarely within their mandate.

Ideally, this weeks focus on Mueller’s discoveries would be on what the actual evidence showed, which we know to include, at a minimum, the following:

  • Trump pursued a ridiculously lucrative $300 million real estate deal even though the deal would use sanctioned banks, involve a former GRU officer as a broker, and require Putin’s personal involvement at least through July 2016.
  • The Russians chose to alert the campaign that they planned to dump Hillary emails, again packaging it with the promise of a meeting with Putin.
  • After the Russians had offered those emails and at a time when the family was pursuing that $300 million real estate deal, Don Jr took a meeting offering dirt on Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” At the end (per the sworn testimony of four people at the meeting) he said his father would revisit Magnitsky sanctions relief if he won. Contrary to the claim made in a statement authored by Trump, there was some effort to follow up on Jr’s assurances after the election.
  • The campaign asked rat-fucker Roger Stone to optimize the WikiLeaks releases and according to Jerome Corsi he had some success doing so.
  • In what Andrew Weissmann called a win-win (presumably meaning it could help Trump’s campaign or lead to a future business gig for him), Manafort provided Konstantin Kilimnik with polling data that got shared with Ukrainian and Russian oligarchs. At the same meeting, he discussed a “peace” plan for Ukraine that would amount to sanctions relief.
  • Trump undercut Obama’s response to the Russian hacks in December 2016, in part because he believed retaliation for the hacks devalued his victory. Either for that reason, to pay off Russia, and/or to pursue his preferred policy, Trump tried to mitigate any sanctions, an attempt that has (with the notable exception of those targeting Oleg Deripaska) been thwarted by Congress.

Instead, however, we’re still arguing about a word — collusion — that was stripped of all meaning years ago, with the result that Mueller’s presumably very measured assessment of what happened cannot serve as the arbiter of truth we need.

Rosenstein may well be the unlikely hero of preserving some semblance of rule of law in this country. But along the way, his choice of language has unfortunately twice fostered the confusion about where the line between crime and misconduct is.

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

After Mueller: An Off-Ramp on Russia for the Venal Fucks

We don’t know what the Mueller report says, though given William Barr’s promise to brief the Judiciary Committee leaders this weekend and follow it with a public summary, it’s not likely to be that damning to Trump. But I can think of five mutually non-exclusive possibilities for the report:

  • Mueller ultimately found there was little fire behind the considerable amounts of smoke generated by Trump’s paranoia
  • The report will be very damning — showing a great deal of corruption — which nevertheless doesn’t amount to criminal behavior
  • Evidence that Manafort and Stone conspired with Russia to affect the election, but Mueller decided not to prosecute conspiracy itself because they’re both on the hook for the same prison sentence a conspiracy would net anyway, with far less evidentiary exposure
  • There’s evidence that others entered into a conspiracy with Russia to affect the election, but that couldn’t be charged because of evidentiary reasons that include classification concerns and presidential prerogatives over foreign policy, pardons, and firing employees
  • Mueller found strong evidence of a conspiracy with Russia, but Corsi, Manafort, and Stone’s lies (and Trump’s limited cooperation) prevented charging it

As many people have pointed out, this doesn’t mean Trump and his kin are out of jeopardy. This NYT piece summarizes a breathtaking number of known investigations, spanning at least four US Attorneys offices plus New York state, but I believe even it is not comprehensive.

All that said, we can anticipate a great deal of what the Mueller report will say by unpacking the lies Trump’s aides told to hide various ties to Russia: The report will show:

  • Trump pursued a ridiculously lucrative $300 million real estate deal even though the deal would use sanctioned banks, involve a former GRU officer as a broker, and require Putin’s personal involvement at least through July 2016.
  • The Russians chose to alert the campaign that they planned to dump Hillary emails, again packaging it with the promise of a meeting with Putin.
  • After the Russians had offered those emails and at a time when the family was pursuing that $300 million real estate deal, Don Jr took a meeting offering dirt on Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” At the end (per the sworn testimony of four people at the meeting) he said his father would revisit Magnitsky sanctions relief if he won. Contrary to the claim made in a statement authored by Trump, there was some effort to follow up on Jr’s assurances after the election.
  • The campaign asked rat-fucker Roger Stone to optimize the WikiLeaks releases and according to Jerome Corsi he had some success doing so.
  • In what Andrew Weissmann called a win-win (presumably meaning it could help Trump’s campaign or lead to a future business gig for him), Manafort provided Konstantin Kilimnik with polling data that got shared with Ukrainian and Russian oligarchs. At the same meeting, he discussed a “peace” plan for Ukraine that would amount to sanctions relief.
  • Trump undercut Obama’s response to the Russian hacks in December 2016, in part because he believed retaliation for the hacks devalued his victory. Either for that reason, to pay off Russia, and/or to pursue his preferred policy, Trump tried to mitigate any sanctions, an attempt that has (with the notable exception of those targeting Oleg Deripaska) been thwarted by Congress.

We know all of these things — save the Stone optimization detail, which will be litigated at trial unless Trump pardons him first — to be true, either because Trump’s aides and others have already sworn they are true, and/or because we’ve seen documentary evidence proving it.

That’s a great deal of evidence of a quid pro quo — of Trump trading campaign assistance for sanctions relief. All the reasons above may explain why Mueller didn’t charge it, with the added important detail that Trump has long been a fan of Putin. Trump ran openly on sanctions relief and Presidents get broad authority to set their own foreign policy, and that may be why all this coziness didn’t amount to criminal behavior: because a majority of the electoral college voted (with Russia’s involvement) to support those policies.

Whatever reason this didn’t get charged as a crime (it may well have been for several involved, including Trump), several things are clear.

First, consider all this from the perspective of Russia: over and over, they exploited Trump’s epic narcissism and venality. Particularly with regards to the Trump Tower deal, they did so in a way that would be especially damaging, particularly given that even while a former GRU officer was brokering the deal, the GRU was hacking Trump’s opponent. They often did so in ways that would be readily discovered, once the FBI decided to check Kilimnik’s Gmail account. Russia did this in ways that would make it especially difficult for Trump to come clean about it, even if he were an upstanding honest person.

Partly as a result, partly because he’s a narcissist who wanted to deny that he had illicit help to win, and partly because he’s a compulsive liar, Trump and his aides all lied about what they’ve now sworn to be true. Over and over again.

And that raised the stakes of the Russian investigation, which in turn further polarized the country.

As I noted here, that only added to the value of Russia’s intervention. Not only did Trump’s defensiveness make him prefer what Putin told him to what American Russian experts and his intelligence community would tell him, but he set about destroying the FBI in an effort to deny the facts that his aides ultimately swore were true. Sure, Russia hasn’t gotten its sanctions relief, yet. But it has gotten the President himself to attack the American justice system, something Putin loves to do.

We don’t know what the Mueller report will say about Trump’s role in all this, and how that will affect the rest of his presidency. We do know he remains under investigation for his cheating (as an unindicted co-conspirator in the ongoing hush money investigation) and his venality (in the inauguration investigation, at a minimum).

We do know, however, that whatever is in that report is what Mueller wants in it; none of the (Acting) Attorneys General supervising him thwarted his work, though Trump’s refusal to be interviewed may have.

But we also know that Russia succeeded wildly with its attack in 2016 and since.

Democrats and Republicans are going to continue being at each other’s throats over Trump’s policies and judges. Trump will continue to be a venal narcissist who obstructs legitimate oversight into his mismanagement of government.

Both sides, however, would do well to take this report — whatever it says — as the final word on this part of the Russian attack in 2016, and set about protecting the country from the next attack it will launch.

An unbelievable swath of this country — including the denialists who say all those things that Trump’s own aides swore to doesn’t amount to evidence of wrongdoing — have chosen for tribal reasons (and sometimes venal ones) to side with kleptocratic Russians over the protection of America. Now that the report is done, it’s time to focus on protecting the United States again.

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

On the Exonerating Information Rick Gates Just Provided

Yesterday, the government submitted a notice clarifying the record on the Paul Manafort breach determination. The bulk of the filing describes that, after reading about the dispute in public reporting on the topic, Rick Gates provided additional information on the topic that may corroborate part of Manafort’s story.

The new Gates information necessarily pertains to the sharing of polling data. That’s clearly true because it discusses all the same evidence the government used to substantiate Manafort’s lies about the polling data:

  • Multiple Rick Gates 302s
  • Some other fact about August 2, perhaps the clandestine nature of the meeting
  • Kilimnik emails discussing the polling data (I now realize that the government’s declaration makes it clear they have 8 emails referencing the polling data)
  • A Paul Manafort email telling Gates to print out the polling data, with the polling data attached

Here’s where that evidence shows up in the filing:

In addition, that passage cites paragraphs of the declaration, ¶55 and ¶56, that by structure necessarily deals with the sharing of poll data.

At first, I thought Gates’ new information corroborated the NYT story about Manafort sharing data with Kilimnik twice, once in May and once in August. But I now lean towards the new information corroborating Manafort’s story that he asked Gates to print out that data for a campaign meeting that day.

I say that in part because the order in which the corroboration was treated, with Manafort’s email coming last. In addition, this passage seems to reflect Gates using the poll data to prepare for a meeting.

As to this passage, I suspect it clarifies that just one of the oligarchs that Manafort intended to receive the data was Russian — Oleg Deripaska — and that (as Andrew Weissmann appeared to say at one point) the other recipients were his Ukrainian paymasters.

The transcript appears to have been corrected on that point. If that is the only change, it wouldn’t really change the key fact that Manafort shared data with a guy who was a central player in the election year conspiracy.

ABJ hasn’t demanded any additional briefing on this topic, so she may agree with the government that the issue of the email doesn’t otherwise change her ruling. As the government notes, Gates’ self-correction makes him more credible, and suggests the story he is telling — which appears to sustain the same explanation for the August 2 meeting — is as helpful to Manafort as possible, which is not at all.

Update: In her minute order on this (doing nothing about the breach determination), ABJ did indeed order the passage (page 36 line 16) where she discussed the recipients of the data to be corrected, making it virtually certain Manafort shared the data with one Russian and two Ukrainian oligarchs.

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

Did Mueller Ask Manafort Any Questions about His Early May 2016 Meeting with Kilimnik?

I’ll be honest with you. The reason I did this post — showing that the polling data Paul Manafort shared with Konstantin Kilimnik on August 2, 2016 amounted to at least 75 pages — (and a whole lot of background work not shown) was because I wanted to puzzle through the NYT’s latest story on what Manafort shared with Kilimnik when. Ken Vogel (who bylined both the other stories repeating the cover story someone fed them in January), perhaps faced with mounting evidence they got lied to, now says Manafort shared polling data with Kilimnik twice, once at the May meeting they had, and again at the August one.

And around the same time that he was passing through Washington nearly three years ago — just as Mr. Trump was clinching the Republican presidential nomination — he first received polling data about the 2016 election from two top Trump campaign officials, Mr. Manafort and Rick Gates, as Russia was beginning a social media operation intended to help Mr. Trump’s campaign.

[snip]

Around the time of Mr. Kilimnik’s trip to the United States in spring 2016, Mr. Manafort directed Mr. Gates to transfer some polling data to Mr. Kilimnik, including public polling and some developed by a private polling company working for the campaign, according to a person with knowledge of the arrangement.

Mr. Manafort asked Mr. Gates to tell Mr. Kilimnik to pass the data to Mr. Lyovochkin and Mr. Akhmetov, the person said. Representatives for both Mr. Lyovochkin and Mr. Akhmetov said they neither requested nor received the data, and would have had no use for it.

Mr. Mueller’s team has focused on what appears to have been another discussion about polling data in New York on Aug. 2, 2016. A partly redacted court transcript suggests that Mr. Gates, who entered a plea agreement with the special counsel that requires his cooperation, may have told prosecutors that Mr. Manafort had walked Mr. Kilimnik through detailed polling data at a meeting that day in the cigar lounge of the Grand Havana Room in Manhattan.

The meeting also included a conversation about one Ukrainian “peace plan,” according to court filings.

I think if Vogel were more confident about this, it’d be the lede. BREAKING: suspected Russian asset got Trump’s polling data over and over.

Instead, Vogel tries to finesse the earlier report — which this coverage unambiguously marks as an error — so as to pretend that when the NYT reported that a court filing referred to Manafort sharing polling data with Kilimnik, the court filing meant that had happened in spring, not August. The court dispute — as Vogel’s reference to Mueller’s team’s focus now concedes — all pertains to August.

The publication history of the NYT “correction”

Side note: the publishing history of the original January 8 NYT article is of particular interest, especially since the Newsdiffs site apparently didn’t track this article, According to the Internet archive, the original story (bylined by Sharon LaFraniere and Ken Vogel) posted by 20:22 on January 8. The only description of the polling data comes in the lede:

Paul Manafort shared Trump campaign polling data with an associate tied to Russian intelligence during the 2016 campaign, prosecutors alleged, according to a court filing unsealed on Tuesday.

The first version of the story to include more detail posted at 3:51 on January 9. This is the first version that includes Maggie Haberman on the byline (and Scott Shane and Andrew Kramer as contributors). This is the version that said Manafort knew Kilimnik was going to share the data with Oleg Deripaska. But it also introduces two things that are inaccurate: the timing, and that the data was public.

As a top official in President Trump’s campaign, Paul Manafort shared political polling data with a business associate tied to Russian intelligence, according to a court filing unsealed on Tuesday. The document provided the clearest evidence to date that the Trump campaign may have tried to coordinate with Russians during the 2016 presidential race.

[snip]

The document gave no indication of whether Mr. Trump was aware of the data transfer or how Mr. Kilimnik might have used the information. But from March to August 2016, when Mr. Manafort worked for the Trump campaign, Russia was engaged in a full-fledged operation using social media, stolen emails and other tactics to boost Mr. Trump, attack Mrs. Clinton and play on divisive issues such as race and guns. Polling data could conceivably have helped Russia hone those messages and target audiences to help swing votes to Mr. Trump.

Both Mr. Manafort and Rick Gates, the deputy campaign manager, transferred the data to Mr. Kilimnik in the spring of 2016 as Mr. Trump clinched the Republican presidential nomination, according to a person knowledgeable about the situation. Most of the data was public, but some of it was developed by a private polling firm working for the campaign, according to the person.

Mr. Manafort asked Mr. Gates to tell Mr. Kilimnik to pass the data to Oleg V. Deripaska, a Russian oligarch who is close to the Kremlin and who has claimed that Mr. Manafort owed him money from a failed business venture, the person said. It is unclear whether Mr. Manafort was acting at the campaign’s behest or independently, trying to gain favor with someone to whom he was deeply in debt. [my emphasis]

So at that point, the story was:

  • Byline includes Maggie for the first time
  • Shared in spring
  • Mostly public
  • Intended for Deripaska

The story posts in a “corrected” form sometime before 19:23 on January 9. It retains the timing and public data claims, but changes the recipient with a “correction,” even while retaining an earlier paragraph about Deripaska that (particularly given the August handoff) should disprove the “correction.” It also adds a paragraph effectively admitting that it isn’t as obvious why two Ukrainian oligarchs would want the polling data in the way that Deripaska would have an obvious use for it.

About the same time, Mr. Manafort was also trying to curry favor with Oleg V. Deripaska, a Russian billionaire close to the Kremlin and an associate of Mr. Kilimnik. In July 2016, Mr. Manafort, then the Trump campaign chairman, told Mr. Kilimnik that he could offer Mr. Deripaska “private briefings,” according to emails reported by The Washington Post. Mr. Deripaska had claimed Mr. Manafort owed him millions from a failed business venture, and Mr. Manafort may have been trying to use his status in the campaign to hold him at bay.

[snip]

Mr. Manafort asked Mr. Gates to tell Mr. Kilimnik to pass the data to two Ukrainian oligarchs, Serhiy Lyovochkin and Rinat Akhmetov, the person said. The oligarchs, neither of whom responded to requests for comment, had financed Russian-aligned Ukrainian political parties that had hired Mr. Manafort as a political consultant.

Why Mr. Manafort wanted them to see American polling data is unclear. He might have hoped that any proof that he was managing a winning candidate would help him collect money he claimed to be owed for his work on behalf of the Ukrainian parties.

[snip]

A previous version of this article misidentified the people to whom Paul Manafort wanted a Russian associate to send polling data. Mr. Manafort wanted the data sent to two Ukrainian oligarchs, Serhiy Lyovochkin and Rinat Akhmetov, not Oleg V. Deripaska, a Russian oligarch close to the Kremlin.

There’s a part of me that wonders whether NYT was not so obstinate on the issue of this data being public and shared in spring because they’ve seen lawyers notes or even the 302 of Manafort’s testimony that Amy Berman Jackson has since ruled to be a lie. They’re still sourcing the claim to one individual in the know, which seems like pretty shaky sourcing to ignore after the plain language of the official court transcript of the February 4 hearing made it clear this was an August hand-off. So it may be they’ve got a non-public document that leads them to believe this is the case, even if that non-public document is just a record of Manafort lying.

Weissmann may have corrected the NYT in the breach determination hearing

But we know that after the NYT story, with its prominent Deripaska claim followed by its “correction,” the government submitted a declaration on January 15 in which most of the discussion of polling data was entirely redacted, then argued the point at length on February 4. In addition to Richard Westling’s comments that make it clear this wasn’t mostly public data, Andrew Weissmann argued (in passage that was mistakenly attributed to Westling in the transcript), that Manafort knew the data would be shared with two entities.

As noted, the last redaction in this passage would fit neither of the Ukrainian oligarchs named but would fit Deripaska, though that’s just one possibility. That said, given that the meeting was on August 2, in the context of Manafort “getting whole” with Deripaska, it would be inconceivable that Kilimnik would share the data only with the Ukrainians.

In addition to saying that Manafort was telling the lies he told in a bid to sustain hopes for a pardon, Weissmann also makes a reference to a lie told “three weeks ago.” Given the redaction fail, we can be certain that nothing in the Manafort filing (which was technically more than three weeks before the hearing) could be that lie. But the “correction” to the NYT could be.

Weissmann also moves directly from that discussion to an assertion that the question of sharing polling data went straight to the heart of Mueller’s mandate — investigating “witting or unwitting” coordination with Russia.

MR. WEISSMANN: So — so, first, in terms of the what it is that the special counsel is tasked with doing, as the Court knows from having that case litigated before you, is that there are different aspects to what we have to look at, and one is Russian efforts to interfere with the election, and the other is contacts, witting or unwitting, by Americans with Russia, and then whether there was — those contacts were more intentional or not. And for us, the issue of [2.5 lines redacted] is in the core of what it is that the special counsel is supposed to be investigating.

And we know from Amy Berman Jackson’s breach determination ruling that she found this was indeed a link with Russia — not Russian backed oligarchs, but Russia.

That’s circumstantial, but it seems that Weissmann was rebutting the notion that Manafort intended Kilimnik to share this information exclusively with Ukrainians, and not Russians. Whatever the case, ABJ has ruled that the sharing of this data did entail a link with the Russian government.

Manafort invokes some earlier meeting as a last ditch ploy in his final filing

Which brings me to ABJ’s mention of a totally new argument that Manafort apparently raised in their final brief.

Some background to this brief. During the debate over the polling data on February 4, Manafort’s lawyers tried to rebut the claim first by Richard Westling spinning the data, then by Kevin Downing claiming that Rick Gates had no credibility, as proven (he claimed) by Gates’ flop before the EDVA jury. ABJ then, on her own, gets the public report from a juror on the EDVA jury to prove Downing’s attacks are overblown. Through it all, the possibility that Gates might be called in to testify on this issue (which of course would allow ABJ to decide that he’s way more credible than Manafort, but then most people are). Ultimately, Manafort’s lawyers say they don’t want that to happen, but say they’ll submit one more brief.

That’s the one I cited in this post, referencing the polling data and Kilimnik’s emails about them. According to ABJ in her judgment hearing, after the entire breach determination was done, Manafort’s team tried to make a totally new argument about what Manafort was saying when he told Gates to print out the polling data.

More important to me, there’s other corroboration. There’s Exhibit 233, an [redacted — remember, this exhibit is the email with polling data attached] Now, I was told on February 8th, for the first time, in the third pleading that was filed in response to these allegations and after the hearing was over, that when Mr. Manafort said [3 lines redacted] There’s nothing provided to substantiate that, but there’s also nothing in the record to indicate one way or the other that the two men had met previously [redacted]

All Gates said to the FBI in Exhibit 236 on January 30th was that [redacted]. Is that text alone definitive? Am I relying on that solely? No. But is it corroborative of Gates’s statement that [redacted] Yes.

This seems to be an effort to suggest that the first three times Gates claimed Manafort shared polling data in proffer sessions in January and February 2018 he was saying something different than what he was saying in what they claim was a brand new claim on September 28, in testimony parallel to Manafort’s own. There’s nothing in the unredacted passages of that filing that explain this argument (though it does reference data from “prior to the Republican Convention and the start of the General Election,” which could be July 15 or could be May 2.

Ultimately, the ploy doesn’t work. ABJ goes through two different Gates 302s from January and another (which may be the stuff that had been ex parte at the February 4 hearing) from February 7, 2018 that all corroborate that Manafort ordered Gates to print out the polling data to be shared at that August 2 meeting.

I’m interested in this for two reasons. First, this new argument, made a month after someone first gave a false story to the NYT, seems to be referencing an earlier meeting between … somebody. Maybe Gates and Kilimnik?

But I do find that to be an interesting detail for two reasons. First, as noted, the NYT story, without correcting their initial outright error that the court dispute pertained to the August 2 meeting, now claims that Manafort directed Gates to deal poll data twice, once in May and once in August.

And around the same time that he was passing through Washington nearly three years ago — just as Mr. Trump was clinching the Republican presidential nomination — he first received polling data about the 2016 election from two top Trump campaign officials, Mr. Manafort and Rick Gates, as Russia was beginning a social media operation intended to help Mr. Trump’s campaign.

[snip]

Around the time of Mr. Kilimnik’s trip to the United States in spring 2016, Mr. Manafort directed Mr. Gates to transfer some polling data to Mr. Kilimnik, including public polling and some developed by a private polling company working for the campaign, according to a person with knowledge of the arrangement.

Mr. Manafort asked Mr. Gates to tell Mr. Kilimnik to pass the data to Mr. Lyovochkin and Mr. Akhmetov, the person said. Representatives for both Mr. Lyovochkin and Mr. Akhmetov said they neither requested nor received the data, and would have had no use for it.

Is that what Manafort’s team invented at this late date? A claim that the reference in the August 2 email to sharing data with Kilimnik was about a meeting that had transpired three months earlier?!?!

The May Kilimnik meeting never shows up in the breach determination

But it does raise some interesting questions. Notably, it’s not clear whether the May 2016 meeting between Manafort and Kilimnik came up at all during his cooperation.

The government’s January 15 declaration sets a start date on Manafort’s lies, “Beginning on August 2, 2016, and continuing until March 2018, Manafort and Kilimnik communicated about a [peace deal],” but that seems to relate exclusively to that peace deal. It doesn’t rule out a discussion of that earlier meeting (though it does seem to rule out Mueller knowing that Ukrainian sanctions came up, which actually is a good thing for Trump given the stink around the Ukrainian language in the Republican platform in July). 

Which leaves three possibilities, apart from Manafort’s efforts to separate the sharing of polling data from the discussions about a Ukraine peace deal.

  • Prosecutors didn’t discuss the May meeting at all with Manafort during his cooperation
  • Prosecutors discussed the May meeting with Manafort (which may have included a meeting with Trump) and he told the truth about it
  • Manafort lied about the May meeting, but prosecutors didn’t want to lay out what they really know about it

All would be interesting. I mean, even aside from the possibility that Trump met Kilimnik, the early May meeting should be of significant interest because at least two other events closely coincide with it:

  • On May 4, Ivan Timofeev tells George Papadopoulos he has been cleared to start negotiations with Papadopoulos, which leads him to forward an email discussing such an offer to multiple people on the campaign, including (on May 21), Manafort
  • After their discussions about a Trump Tower had moved to Dust between January and May, Felix Sater sends Michael Cohen texts moving to set up his and Trump’s trips to Moscow.

In other words, May 4 or thereabouts, just a week after the Russians first dangled the emails to Papadopoulos, the plot appears to start up again. That coinkydink of significant events would seem to be something prosecutors would want to discuss with Manafort.

If they did, they’re not telling us whether he told the truth.

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

On August 2, 2016, Paul Manafort Gave Konstantin Kilimnik 75 Pages of Recent, Detailed Polling Data

I want to return again to the question of what Paul Manafort ordered Rick Gates to print out on August 2, 2016, so he could share it with Konstantin Kilimnik at a clandestine meeting that night. While Manafort seems to have told the government or grand jury that the data “just was public information,” the comments of his own lawyer, Richard Westling, make it clear that it was something else entirely.

In the February 4 breach hearing, Westling actually argues that “if the goal [of sharing the data with Kilimnik] were to help Mr. Manafort’s fortunes, that some other kind of [redacted] something more public, more [redacted] might help.” He says that after describing the polling data as “gibberish” because he can’t, himself, understand the data, while describing it as, “very detailed [redacted] on a level that is very focused.” In an effort to sustain a claim that Manafort ordered Gates to print it out for use at a campaign meeting that day, Westling also says, “it was the most recent, from what we can tell, the most recent [redacted] but I’m not sure. That would have been relevant to a meeting they were having within the campaign.”

Westling also suggests that Amy Berman Jackson should go check it out herself: “there’s copies of it in the exhibits.”

In what might be an effort to describe the evidence they’re looking at to co-conspirators, Manafort’s lawyers again provided descriptive information of the polling data in a follow-up filing (which ABJ complains in her ruling hearing presented new claims not even raised at the breach hearing and which may have already been integrated into this still erroneous on the point of the polling data NYT story) — provides more detail about how much polling data Manafort gave Kilimnik to be shared with Russia. In an effort to flip-flop on their explanation that the data was the most recent available, they describe the email Manafort sent Gates on August 2, telling him to print out the polling data.

That exhibit is Exhibit 233.

Then it describes the data itself — stating that it dates to “prior to the Republican Convention and the start of the General Election.”

Even if this claim is true (again, as ABJ noted, Manafort’s team made this claim at a time when Mueller would not have an opportunity to correct the record), it would mean the data may have been just 15 days old. Dated, but not necessarily months old as the NYT likes to parrot.

Then, a totally redacted footnote further describes the data. While the description is redacted, the pagination of the exhibit is not. It shows that there are 75 pages of polling data.

This last filing also says a bit about the emails that Mr. Kilimnik sent, discussing his access to the data. Two footnotes make it clear there are at least 6 Kilimnik emails referring to the polling data.

Again — that’s not what I’m saying, or Amy Berman Jackson, or Andrew Weissmann. That’s how Manafort’s own lawyers describe the data and the emails where Kilimnik discussed having received it.

It’s when you couple that data with what Weissmann and ABJ go on to say about it that the data is more damning. As I’ve noted before, Rick Gates testified that Manafort walked Kilimnik through the data at that clandestine August 2 meeting.

And the logic of ABJ’s judgment makes clear that this sharing of poll data amounts to a link to the Russian government.

I disagree with the defendant’s statement in docket 503, filed in connection with the dispute over the redactions, that, quote, the Office of Special Counsel’s explanation as to why Mr. Manafort’s alleged false statements are important and material turns on the claim that he is understood by the FBI to have a relationship with Russian intelligence.

I don’t think that’s a fair characterization of what was said. The intelligence reference was just one factor in a series of factors the prosecutor listed. And the language of the appointment order, “any links,” is sufficiently broad to get over the relatively low hurdle of materiality in this instance, and to make the [redaction] Kilimnik and [redaction] material to the FBI’s inquiry, no matter what his particular relationship was on that date.

So 75 pages of gibberish that only a highly trained operative like Kilimnik could understand, which he then passed onto someone that ABJ believes amounts to a link to the Russian government. That’s Manafort’s least damning story.

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

Quid Pro Quo Redux, Part Two: Russian Government Involvement in All Three Conspiracy Agreements

Given reports that Mueller will “report” imminently, I’m not sure I’m going to finish the second version of my Quid Pro Quo series laying out the evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia trading campaign help and real estate deals for sanctions relief (here’s the initial series; here’s the first post of this second series). But I’d like to make a point as a way of showing that Amy Berman Jackson deemed Paul Manafort’s August 2, 2016 meeting with Konstantin Kilimnik to be evidence of a link between the Russian government and the campaign.

We know of at least five conversations at which various people entered into what I describe as a quid pro quo conspiracy:

  1. January 20, 2016, when Michael Cohen told Dmitry Peskov’s personal assistant that Trump would be willing to work with a GRU-tied broker and (soft and hard) sanctioned banks in pursuit of a $300 million Trump Tower deal in Russia.
  2. June 9, 2016, when Don Jr, knowing that currying favor with Russia could mean $300 million to the family, took a meeting offering dirt on Hillary Clinton as “part of  Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” At the end of the meeting, per the testimony of at least four attendees, Don Jr said they’d revisit Magnitsky sanctions if his dad won.
  3. August 2, 2016, when Paul Manafort and Rick Gates had a clandestine meeting with Konstantin Kilimnik at which Trump’s campaign manager walked Kilimnik through highly detailed poll data and the two discussed a “peace” plan for Ukraine understood to amount to sanctions relief.
  4. December 29, 2016, when (working on instructions relayed by KT McFarland, who was at Mar-a-Lago with Trump) Mike Flynn said something to Sergey Kislyak that led Putin not to respond to Obama’s election-related sanctions.
  5. January 11, 2017, when Erik Prince, acting as a back channel for Trump, met with sanctioned sovereign wealth fund Russian Direct Investment Fund CEO Kirill Dmitriev.

Remember: to enter into a conspiracy you have to agree to one object of a conspiracy (a conspiracy might have multiple objectives), and take an overt act to further that conspiracy. You don’t have to agree to all objects of the conspiracy, nor do you have to know about all parts of it.

The key conversations in this conspiracy, it seems to me, are the middle three: the June 9 Trump Tower plus dirt for sanctions relief agreement, the August 2 election assistance for sanctions agreement, and the December 29 reassurance that Trump would revisit Obama’s sanctions. The involvement of the Russian government in the fourth one — with Sergey Kislyak and Mike Flynn on a series of phone calls relaying messages back and forth between Putin and Trump — is obvious (as it is for the first and fifth).

It’s the other two where, in recent months, the government has solidified its proof of direct Russian government involvement.

Natalia Veselnitskaya, Russian government agent, at the June 9 meeting

They did so for the June 9 meeting on December 20 when they charged Natalia Veselnitskaya with obstruction of justice. The indictment alleges that an MLAT request served on the Russian government in the Prevezon case was actually drafted by Veselnitskaya. As Joshua Yaffa argued after the indictment was unsealed on January 8, the indictment will probably never result in prison time for Veselnitskaya but it does substantiate a claim that she is an agent of Russia.

In short, the U.S. Attorney’s office alleges that a document that was ostensibly prepared by the office of Russia’s general prosecutor and sent to its counterparts in the U.S. Department of Justice was in fact drafted, or at least edited, by Veselnitskaya herself, who then went on to cite the document as independent proof of her version of events. In this manner, the U.S. Attorney’s office alleges, “Veselnitskaya obstructed the civil proceeding in the Prevezon action then pending in this District.”

[snip]

Veselnitskaya is unlikely ever to return to the United States. This means that U.S. prosecutors are probably less interested in this particular, narrow matter than in what filing charges allows them to do going forward. “If the government wants on record that Natalia is a Russian government agent, this indictment serves this purpose,” the former member of the Prevezon defense team told me. That is to say, if and when charges are filed in relation to the Trump Tower meeting, prosecutors now have a building block on which to argue that, in her actions in the United States, Veselnitskaya did not represent merely herself and her client but the interests of Russian officials. That should worry Donald Trump, Jr., and Jared Kushner, who attended the meeting with Veselnitskaya, and, in turn, the President himself.

So when Don Jr told Veselnitskaya on June 9, 2016, that Trump would revisit sanctions if he won, he was effectively telling an agent of the Russian government that.

Konstantin Kilimnik, Russian government link, at the August 2 meeting

While the redactions require logic to demonstrate the case, Amy Berman Jackson’s explanation of her breach decision shows she believes that Konstantin Kilimnik — regardless of his alleged ties to the GRU — served as a link to the Russian government at that August 2 meeting.

Early on in the hearing, while ruling that she regards Manafort’s attempts to backtrack on his confession to conspiring with Kilimnik to witness tamper in 2018 to be bad faith but not proven, she questions Manafort’s loyalties while calling Kilimnik his “Russian conspirator.”

To me, this is definitely an example of a situation in which the Office of Special Counsel legitimately concluded he’s lying to minimize things here, he’s not being forthcoming, this isn’t what cooperation is supposed to be. This is a problematic attempt to shield his Russian conspirator from liability and it gives rise to legitimate questions about where his loyalties lie.

When she turns to the two-fold lies about Manafort’s ongoing meetings with Kilimnik (which starts on page 28, line 2), here’s what ABJ judges, up to the point where she talks about whether Kilimnik is a tie to Russia:

  • Manafort’s most problematic Ukraine peace deal lie is that he never discussed a peace deal after August because he thought it was a bad idea. His subsequent emails supporting one show that claim to be an “alternative narrative.”
  • Manafort’s denial of the Madrid meeting amounts to denying a contact. (29)
  • Manafort offered “a series of revised explanations” about providing questions for a poll on a Ukraine peace deal in conjunction with running another campaign in Ukraine. (29-30)
  • Manafort’s claims to have forgotten about the August 2 meeting because he was so busy running Trump’s campaign in fact show the opposite. That’s because sharing polling data “relates to the campaign.” If he was “so single-mindedly focused on the campaign, then the meeting he took time to attend” to share polling data and discuss a Ukraine “peace” plan had a purpose related to the campaign. Or, if he only took the meeting to curry favor with Ukrainian and Russian paymasters, “well, in that case he’s not being straight with me about how single-minded he was. It’s not good either way.” (31)
  • The clandestine nature of the meeting, with Gates and Manafort arriving and leaving separately “because of the media attention focused at that very time on Manafort’ relationships with Ukraine” further undermines his claims he can’t remember the meeting. (32)
  • In heavily redacted language, ABJ lays out why she finds Gates’ testimony on the August 2 meeting credible. (33-35)
  • There’s further corroboration surrounding the August 2 meeting, which Manafort appears to have tried to rebut with information newly submitted on February 8 (which seems to relate to an earlier meeting and may be an effort to suggest this was dated polling information). (34)
  • There are a series of emails from Kilimnik to somebody else (possibly ones sharing the information) that corroborate Gates’ story. (35)
  • The defense claim that the polls are gibberish doesn’t fly because Manafort, Gates, and Kilimnik all understood them. Indeed, these polls (presumably from Fabrizio) were the ones Manafort preferred and that Kilimnik would understand. (35-36)

The discussion of whether Kilimnik amounts to a tie to Russia starts on 36; it is a response to Manafort’s attempt to disprove that this exchange is material by arguing that Mueller has alleged, but not proven, that Kilimnik has ties to Russian intelligence (which suggests not even Manafort is claiming that these events don’t amount to a tie with Russia). ABJ starts that discussion by moving directly from describing (in a heavily redacted passage) who the intended recipients of the data were to the Russian question.

Also, the evidence indicates that it was understood that [redacted–poll data] would be [redacted] from Kilimnik [redacted] including [redacted], and [redacted]. Whether Kilimnik is tied to Russian intelligence or he’s not, I think the specific representation by the Office of Special Counsel was that he had been, quote, assessed by the FBI, quote, to have a relationship with Russian intelligence, close quote.

The only way that ABJ would make that transition, logically, is if the descriptions behind some of those redactions are Russians. If they were just the Ukrainian oligarchs the NYT claims they were, this entire passage — and Manafort’s attempted rebuttal of them (that is, to deny its import because Kilimnik himself has no ties to Russian intelligence) — makes zero sense.

Having made that transition, ABJ then lays out why she doesn’t have to determine whether Kilimnik is himself Russian intelligence to determine that he does amount to a tie to the Russian government.

Whether that’s true, I have not been provided with the evidence that I would need to decide, nor do I have to decide because it’s outside the scope of this hearing. And whether it’s true or not, one cannot quibble about the materiality of this meeting.

In other words, I disagree with the defendant’s statement in docket 503, filed in connection with the dispute over the redactions, that, quote, the Office of Special Counsel’s explanation as to why Mr. Manafort’s alleged false statements are important and material turns on the claim that he is understood by the FBI to have a relationship with Russian intelligence.

I don’t think that’s a fair characterization of what was said. The intelligence reference was just one factor in a series of factors the prosecutor listed. And the language of the appointment order, “any links,” is sufficiently broad to get over the relatively low hurdle of materiality in this instance, and to make the [redaction] Kilimnik and [redaction] material to the FBI’s inquiry, no matter what his particular relationship was on that date.

From there, ABJ dismisses the defense claim that because Kilimnik made comments about various loyalties (possibly to the press, possibly to the State Department), he couldn’t be Russian intelligence. She even suggests that an email sent on August 18, 2016, at a time when Manafort’s ties to Ukraine were becoming incredibly toxic, may not be all that reliable. She notes the timing: “Manafort was gone the next day.”

Having dismissed that claim, ABJ then judges that “Manafort made intentional false statements to the FBI and the grand jury with respect to the material issue of his interactions with Kilimnik, including, in particular, [redacted; this must either be a reference to the August 2 meeting generally or the sharing of polling data].

But then ABJ makes a more general statement, having reviewed the multiple efforts Manafort made to obscure his relationship with Kilimnik. In it, she repeats again that he is a link to Russia, whether or not he’s an active spy.

On that note, I also want to say we’ve now spent considerable time talking about multiple clusters of false or misleading or incomplete or needed-to-be-prodded-by-counsel statements, all of which center around the defendant’s relationship or communications with Mr. Kilimnik. This is a topic at the undisputed core of the Office of Special Counsel’s investigation into, as paragraph (b) of the appointment order put it, Any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign.

Mr. Kilimnik doesn’t have to be in the government or even be an active spy to be a link. The fact that all of this is the case, that we have now been over Kilimnik, Kilimnik, and Kilimnik makes the defense argument that I should find the inaccurate statements to be unintentional because they’re all so random and disconnected, which was an argument that was made in the hearing, is very unpersuasive.  [my emphasis]

To have ruled this conversation material, ABJ rules that Kilimnik (especially the sharing of this polling data, seemingly) amounts to a link with the Russian Government, whether or not he has ties to Russian intelligence. And note, this is a link to the Russian government, not just a link to a Russian like Oleg Deripaska.

We don’t know why that is so; it seems like it relates to the recipients of this polling data. But we know she considers him one, according to the preponderance of the evidence she has seen.

Mind you, if this is all moving just to a report claiming such a conspiracy, but stopping short of charging one, then it may not matter all that much.

But for the three main exchanges in which Trump flunkies entered into agreements that form part of a larger conspiracy, at least one key player has been deemed to have a tie to the Russian government this year (and of course the other two exchanges — Cohen to Peskov and Prince to Kirill — also have obvious Russian government involvement).

RESOURCES

These are some of the most useful resources in mapping these events.

Mueller questions as imagined by Jay Sekulow

CNN’s timeline of investigative events

Majority HPSCI Report

Minority HPSCI Report

Trump Twitter Archive

Jim Comey March 20, 2017 HPSCI testimony

Comey May 3, 2017 SJC testimony

Jim Comey June 8, 2017 SSCI testimony

Jim Comey written statement, June 8, 2017

Jim Comey memos

Sally Yates and James Clapper Senate Judiciary Committee testimony, May 8, 2017

NPR Timeline on Trump’s ties to Aras Agalarov

George Papadopoulos complaint

George Papadopoulos statement of the offense

Mike Flynn 302

Mike Flynn statement of the offense

Mike Flynn cooperation addendum

Peter Strzok 302 (describing Flynn’s interview)

Michael Cohen statement of the offense

Internet Research Agency indictment

GRU indictment

Senate Judiciary Committee materials on June 9 meeting

BuzzFeed documents on Trump Tower deal

Text of the Don Jr Trump Tower Meeting emails

Jared Kushner’s statement to Congress

Erik Prince HPSCI transcript

Government declaration supporting breach determination

Manafort breach hearing

Amy Berman Jackson breach determination hearing

Amy Berman Jackson order finding Manafort breached his plea deal

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

On Mueller’s Choice Not to Elaborate on Paulie’s Lies

Back in November, I noted that by finding Paul Manafort in breach of his plea deal, Mueller guaranteed he could write a report — in the form of a sentencing memo laying out the significance of his lies — that Big Dick Toilet Salesman could not suppress.

And that “detailed sentencing submission … sett[ing] forth the nature of the defendant’s crimes and lies” that Mueller mentions in the report?

There’s your Mueller report, which will be provided in a form that Matt Whitaker won’t be able to suppress.

Back in December, I noted that at each step of his investigation, Mueller has chosen to submit far more details into the public record than necessary, effectively issuing a report of his work along the way. The WaPo and AP have neat stories in the last few days substantiating that that remains the case.

Indeed, today’s sentencing memo reinforces that point, insofar as it includes 577 pages of trial exhibits laying out Manafort’s sleazy influence peddling with respect to Ukraine.

What it doesn’t do is what I suggested — had Mueller chosen to use it as such — he might do, if he believed his report would be suppressed by the then [Acting] Attorney General, which is to use this report to lay out extensive details of what his investigation discovered. Rather than doing that, which would totally be in the norm for sentencing memos (indeed, Mueller would have been able to present more than Manafort’s lies as related conduct), he instead simply notes that Amy Berman Jackson is already familiar with all that.

Manafort’s conduct after he pleaded guilty is pertinent to sentencing. It reflects a hardened adherence to committing  crimes and lack of remorse. As the Court is fully familiar with this proof, we do not repeat the evidence herein.

The sentencing memo then incorporates Special Counsel’s submissions on the breach determination.

The government relies on and incorporates herein its submissions on this issue.

In a footnote supporting the first statement, the memo cites ABJ’s order finding that Manafort had lied to protect a Trump flunkie in another investigation, lied to hide why and how he dealt polling data to Konstantin Kilimnik at a meeting where they also discussed a Ukrainian peace deal (which Manafort knew to be code for sanctions relief), lied about his ongoing discussions about a sanctions-relief peace deal, and lied about a kickback scheme he had with vendors he hired to work for Trump’s campaign. It also cites the transcript where she explained her ruling on those issues, which among other things deemed the August 2, 2016 meeting to be material to the investigation, including the core issue of coordination with the Russian government.

[O]ne cannot quibble about the materiality of this meeting.

[snip]

This is a topic at the undisputed core of the Office of Special Counsel’s investigation into, as paragraph (b) of the appointment order put it, Any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign.

A footnote supporting the second statement cites the FBI’s declaration supporting the breach determination, which also included a slew of exhibits.

Of course, the transcript, declaration, and exhibits are significantly (almost entirely, in the case of the breach exhibits) redacted. Some of those redactions are dictated by law and DOJ regulations. The grand jury transcripts are protected by grand jury secrecy rules. The description of the other DOJ investigation Manafort lied about is protected as an ongoing investigation. And names of unindicted people are protected per DOJ regulations.

But the rest of those materials are redacted for another reason: to protect the investigation.

In addition, we know that Mueller actually didn’t show all the evidence of Manafort’s ongoing communications with the Trump administration, including communications that “provid[e] information about the questions or other things that are happening in the special counsel investigation, … sharing that with other people.” That was the only area where ABJ totally disagreed with Mueller’s claim that Manafort was in breach (she agreed Manafort’s lies about conspiring with Kilimnik were not good faith cooperation, but said making a finding that they had proven it without a transcript was “challenging”). In other words, Mueller could have presented more evidence that Manafort continued to be in communication with Trump to get ABJ’s ruling on that topic too, but didn’t, at least in part because they didn’t want to share what they knew with Manafort.

So Mueller chose not to make that information available, when he could have, especially given reports (which I have no reason to doubt) that the investigation is substantially complete. Compare the decision to keep that stuff secret with what Mueller did in the George Papadopoulos, Mike Flynn, Michael Cohen, and draft Jerome Corsi pleas, and Roger Stone’s indictment. In each of the other accusations of lying, Mueller laid out juicy details that pointed to key details of the investigation. Here, in a case where they legitimately considered charging Manafort with more false statements charges, they chose to keep precisely the kind of stuff they had disclosed in other false statements accusations secret. Particularly on the issue of sharing polling data, which Andrew Weissmann described to be the “the core of what it is that the special counsel is supposed to be investigating” because they pertained to whether contacts with Russia “were more intentional or not,” Mueller kept the key details redacted to protect the ongoing investigation.

And by choosing to leave the record where it stands — by choosing not to describe what the evidence shows regarding that August 2 meeting in this sentencing memo — Mueller has deviated from the approach he has taken in every other instance (including this one, as it pertains to Manafort’s Ukrainian lobbying) where he had an opportunity to provide a speaking document.

So it was, in fact, the case that deeming Manafort to be in breach provided an opportunity — that Big Dick Toilet Salesman could not and did not prevent — to provide more information. We got snippets of that, especially on the August 2 meeting. If Mueller believed he could not present a substantive final report now, he could have presented those details in unredacted form.

But is also the case that Mueller deviated from past practice. And he did so not because he didn’t believe the lies were material, nor because he believed the lies weren’t criminal, as the lies that Papadopoulos, Flynn, Cohen, Corsi, and Stone all told also were. Both Weissmann and ABJ made it clear the lies, particularly about that August 2 meeting, were central to the topic of investigation. He deviated from past practice to protect an ongoing investigation we have every reason to believe is substantially completed.

That leads me to believe he’s certain he will be able to provide a report in some public form, presumably in the same kind of detail he has presented in all his other statements. He doesn’t need to avail himself of this opportunity to do so.

I don’t know what that means about what form the report will take. I don’t know what that means about what it will show with regards to criminal conduct (except that, presumably, we’ll get the details that remain hidden about the August 2 meeting and communications with Trump’s people).

But it does make it clear that even given the opportunity to follow past practice at a time when, according to most reporting, the investigation is substantially done, Mueller chose not to avail himself of that opportunity, instead just pointing to materials that hide the most important details to protect the investigation.

After predicting (given claims that have since not borne out that the report was coming out next week) that this sentencing memo would lay out precisely the details that Mueller chose to keep hidden with his citations to redacted documents, I argued “we’ll learn a lot abt what [reports that Mueller is done] means from Manafort’s sentencing memo tho.”

I believe it suggests that Mueller plans to and believes he can present the details about that August 2 meeting somewhere else.

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

Questions to Ask before Reporting a BREAKING Mueller Report

Update: CNN is matching NBC’s reporting on this. It also backs its report with real details from their superb stakeout.

On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday last week, special counsel’s office employees carried boxes and pushed a cart full of files out of their office — an unusual move that could foreshadow a hand-off of legal work.

At the same time, the Mueller prosecutors’ workload appears to be dwindling. Four of Mueller’s 17 prosecutors have ended their tenures with the office, with most returning to other roles in the Justice Department.

And the grand jury that Mueller’s prosecutors used to return indictments of longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and several Russians hasn’t apparently convened since January 24 the day it approved the criminal charges against Stone.

I take from that I’m wrong about Mueller waiting for the two appeals (he knows what he’ll get from them) before he delivers his verdict. 

Pete Williams did the NBC circuit yesterday claiming that the Mueller report may be submitted to DOJ as soon as next week.

Pete Williams on MSNBC says the Mueller report may go to DOJ as early as next week

Because a lot of people have asked me about this and because Williams (and some other journalists) don’t appear to know enough about the Mueller investigation to ask the proper questions to assess that claim, I’d like to lay out a little logic and a few facts. It’s certainly possible that a Mueller report is coming next week — I’d argue that one is assuredly coming on Friday. But I doubt that means what Williams thinks it does.

The conclusory report is not coming next week

When most people think of “the Mueller report,” they mean this report, dictated by the Special Counsel regulations.

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

When Mueller is done, he has to submit a confidential report to the Attorney General (who is now Mueller’s friend William Barr) telling him what he did and didn’t do. Given everything Barr said as part of his confirmation process, we’re unlikely to see this report.

To assess whether this report is what Pete Williams thinks is coming, we should assess whether public evidence is consistent with Mueller being done.

The answer to that is clearly no. He’s still chasing testimony from Roger Stone flunkie Andrew Miller and from some foreign owned corporation (and has been chasing that, in the case of Miller, since last May).

Given that Miller already interviewed with the FBI for two hours and the foreign company is, by dint of being foreign, a no-brainer target for NSA, it’s quite likely Mueller knows what he’s getting from both of these entities. He just needs Miller on the record, so he can’t change his story to protect Stone, and needs to parallel construct the information from the foreign company. So it’s possible that as soon as Mueller gets both of these things, he’ll finish up quickly (meaning The Report could be soon). But there is no way that’ll happen by next week, in part because whatever the DC Appeals Court says in the Andrew Miller case, the loser will appeal that decision.

So it’s virtually certain that The Report is not coming by next week.

A report talking about “collusion” is coming this week

But maybe NBC’s sources are speaking metaphorically, and mean something else that isn’t the conclusory report but that will more closely resemble what everyone thinks of when they talk about The Report.

That’s likely to happen, but if it does, it’ll just be a partial report.

That’s because both Mueller and the defense have to submit a sentencing memo in Paul Manafort’s DC case Friday. As I noted back in November when Mueller’s prosecutors declared Manafort to have breached his plea agreement, this sentencing memo presents an opportunity for Mueller to “report” what they’ve found — at least with respect to all the criminal actions they know Manafort committed, including those he lied about while he was supposed to be cooperating — without anyone at DOJ or the White House suppressing the most damning bits. DOJ won’t be able to weigh in because a sentencing memo is not a major action requiring an urgent memo to the Attorney General. And the White House will get no advance warning because Big Dick Toilet Salesman Matt Whitaker is no longer in the reporting chain.

So, as noted, Mueller will have an opportunity to lay out:

  1. The details of Manafort’s sleazy influence peddling, including his modus operandi of projecting his own client’s corruption onto his opponents
  2. The fact that Manafort already pled guilty to conspiring with a suspected Russian intelligence asset
  3. The details about how Manafort — ostensibly working for “free” — got paid in 2016, in part via kickbacks from a Super PAC that violated campaign finance law, possibly in part by Tom Barrack who was using Manafort and Trump as a loss-leader to Middle Eastern graft, and in part by deferred payments or debt relief from Russian-backed oligarchs
  4. Manafort’s role and understanding of the June 9 meeting, which is a prelude of sorts to the August 2 one
  5. The dates and substance of Manafort’s ongoing communications with suspected Russian intelligence asset Konstantin Kilimnik, including the reasons why Manafort shared highly detailed polling data on August 2, 2016 that he knew would be passed on to his paymasters who just happened to be (in the case of Oleg Deripaska) a central player in the election year operation
  6. The ongoing efforts to win Russia relief from the American Ukrainian-related sanctions by pushing a “peace” plan that would effectively give Russia everything it wants
  7. Manafort’s ongoing discussions with Trump and the Administration, up to and including discussions laying out how if Manafort remains silent about items two through six, Trump will pardon him

Because those items are all within the substance of the crimes Manafort pled guilty to or lied about during his failed cooperation, they’re all squarely within the legitimate content of a sentencing memo. And we should expect the sentencing memo in DC to be at least as detailed as the EDVA one; I expect it, like the EDVA one and like Manafort’s plea deal, will be accompanied by exhibits such as the EDVA one showing that Manafort had bank accounts to the tune of $25,704,669.72 for which suspected Russian intelligence asset Konstantin Kilimnik was listed as a beneficial owner in 2012. Heck, we might even get to see the polling data Manafort shared, knowing it was going to Russia, which was an exhibit to Manafort’s breach determination.

The only thing limiting how much detail we’ll get about these things (as well as about how Manafort served as a secret agent of Russian backed Ukrainian oligarchs for years) is the ongoing sensitivities of the material, whether because it’s grand jury testimony, SIGINT collection, or a secret Mueller intends to spring on other defendants down the road.

It’s the latter point that will be most telling. As I noted, thus far, the silences about Manafort’s cooperation are — amazingly — even more provocative than the snippets we learned via the breach determination. We’ll likely get a read on Friday whether Mueller has ongoing equities that would lead him to want to keep these details secret. And the only thing that would lead Mueller to keep details of the conspiracy secret is if he plans to charge it in an overarching conspiracy indictment.

We may also get information, however, that will make it far more difficult for Trump to pardon Manafort.

So, yeah, there’s a report coming out this week. But it’s not The Report.

Any overarching conspiracy indictment will not be coming this week

It’s possible Mueller is close to charging an overarching conspiracy indictment, laying out how Trump and his spawn entered into a quid quo pro with various representatives of the Russian government, getting dirt on Hillary and either a Trump Tower or maybe a bailout for the very same building in which Manafort met with Konstantin Kilimnik on August 2, 2016. In exchange for all that, Trump agreed to — and took steps to deliver on, with some success in the case of election plot participant Deripaska — reversing the sanctions that were such a headache to Russia’s oligarchs.

Such an indictment, if Mueller ever charges it, will look like what Trump opponents would like The Report to look like. In addition to naming Don Jr and Jared Kushner and Trump Organization and a bunch of other sleazeballs, it would also describe the actions of Individual-1 in adequate detail to launch an impeachment proceeding.

But that indictment, if Mueller ever charges it, won’t be coming on Friday or Monday, as Williams predicts, because it likely requires whatever it is Mueller is trying to parallel construct from that foreign-owned company. And even if SCOTUS denies its appeal today, it’s unlikely that evidence will be in hand in time for a Friday indictment.

Mueller could ensure a report gets delivered to Jerry Nadler next week … but that’s unlikely

There’s one other possibility that would make Williams’ prediction true: if Mueller deliberately triggered the one other way to deliver a report, by asking to take an action William Barr is unlikely to approve, and if Mueller was willing to close up shop as a result, then a report would go to Congress and — if Barr thought it in the public interest — to the public.

Upon conclusion of the Special Counsels investigation, including, to the extent consistent with applicable law, a description and explanation of instances (if any) in which the Attorney General concluded that a proposed action by a Special Counsel was so inappropriate or unwarranted under established Departmental practices that it should not be pursued.

[snip]

The Attorney General may determine that public release of these reports would be in the public interest, to the extent that release would comply with applicable legal restrictions.

The only thing that Mueller might try to do that Barr would not approve (though who knows? maybe what Mueller has is so egregious Barr will surprise us?) is to indict the President.

I think this is unlikely, for all the reasons the first possibility laid out here is unlikely: that is, Mueller is still waiting on two details he has been chasing for quite some time, and I doubt he’d be willing to forgo that evidence just to trigger a report. It’s also unlikely because Mueller is a DOJ guy, and he’s unlikely to ask to do what he knows OLC says he should not do.

Still, it’s hypothetically possible that Mueller believes Trump is such an egregious criminal and national security risk he needs to try to accelerate the process of holding him accountable by stopping his investigation early (perhaps having the DC AUSAs named on the Miller and Mystery Appellant challenges take over those pursuits) and asking to indict the President.

But if that’s what Williams is reporting, he sure as hell better get more clarity about that fact, because, boy would it be news.

All of which is the lesson of this post: If you’re being told — or telling others — that Mueller’s report is imminent, then you’re either being told very very big news, or bullshit. Do yourself and us a favor of learning the base level regulations to understand which it is.

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

The Unseen Aspects of Paul Manafort’s Lies and Truth-Telling Are as Telling as the Ones We’ve Seen

As noted, yesterday Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled that Mueller’s team had proven Paul Manafort lied in three of the five areas they accused him of lying about:

  • The kickback scheme via which he got paid
  • Meetings with Konstantin Kilimnik to share polling data and discuss a “peace” deal with Ukraine
  • The role of a 7-character named person in an attempt to salvage Trump’s campaign being investigated in another district

The ruling is damning, and Manafort now may face what amounts to a life sentence (though, in her order ABJ noted that whether she’ll give him credit for acceptance of responsibility at sentencing depends “on a number of additional factors”).

Yet, in spite of the mounting evidence that Manafort shared polling data at a meeting where he also discussed a Ukrainian peace deal (a backdoor way of giving Russia sanctions relief), in spite of how damning this breach discussion has been, ABJ’s ruling is still just one step in an ongoing process.

I say that for several reasons that have to do with what we didn’t see as part of this breach determination.

We’re only seeing half of Manafort’s cooperation

First, we’re only seeing material relating to half of Manafort’s cooperation. In his declaration on the breach determination, FBI Agent Jeffrey Weiland described Manafort’s cooperation to include 14 sessions:

  • 3 pre-plea proffer sessions: September 11, 12, and 13
  • 9 debriefing sessions: September 20, 21, 25, 26, 27, October 1, October 5, October 11, and October 16
  • 2 grand jury appearances: October 26 and November 2

If I’ve tracked everything properly, the descriptions of Manafort’s lies only include material from some of those sessions:

  • 3 pre-plea proffer sessions: September 11, 12, and 13
  • 5 debriefing sessions: September 20, 21, October 1, October 5, and October 16
  • 1 grand jury appearance: October 26

That means there are three debriefing sessions and a grand jury appearance we haven’t heard anything about yet:

  • 4 debriefing sessions: September 25, 26, 27, and October 11
  • 1 grand jury appearance: November 2

In the breach hearing, Richard Westling claimed that the material we’ve seen constitutes just a “small set” of the topics covered in Manafort’s cooperation and he says some of the other topics were “more sensitive topics.”

WESTLING: And I think, you know, the last point that I would make is that given that relatively small set of areas where this occurred, whether even the allegations are being made, you know, we note that there’s not really a lot to explain. There’s no pattern, there’s no clear motive that would suggest someone who was trying to intentionally not share information. And many of the more sensitive topics that we’re aware of from a — all of us paying attention to what’s gone in the news cycle over the last many months, you know, are things where these issues didn’t come up, where there wasn’t a complaint about the information Mr. Manafort provided. And so we think that’s important context as we get started here today.

THE COURT: Do I have — and I don’t think I need them for today, but I’m certain that what you just said is also going to be a part of your acceptance of responsibility argument and argument at sentencing. Do I have the 302s from 12 days of interviews? Do I have everything, or do I only have what was given to me because it bore on the particular issues that I’m being asked to rule on today?

MR. WEISSMANN: Judge, you do not have everything. We are happy to give you the — all of the 302s. We just gave you — you have, I think, the majority of them, but not all of them.

THE COURT: Okay. And I don’t know that — if I need them. But, it’s hard to assess — and I certainly don’t think they should be a public part of any sentencing submission. But, if you want me to put this in context of more that was said, it helps to have it.

Now, it’s possible that Manafort did tell the truth about these more sensitive topics. It’s possible that (for example, with regards to Trump’s foreknowledge of the June 9 meeting), Manafort lied but prosecutors don’t have proof he did. Or it’s possible they know he lied about other issues but for investigative reasons, don’t want to share the proof they know he lied.

One of the other topics Manafort would have been asked about — which Westling’s reference to “what’s gone in the news cycle over the last many months” may reference — pertains to Roger Stone’s actions.

ABJ asked for — and presumably has or will obtain — the rest of the 302s from Manafort’s cooperation, so she may end up agreeing with Manafort’s lawyers that some of his cooperation was quite valuable.

Mueller was interested in Manafort’s cooperation, in part, to obtain intelligence

As I’ve noted before, Andrew Weissmann described Manafort’s cooperation to be somewhat unusual for the extent to which Mueller was seeking intelligence, rather than criminal evidence. Though he makes clear that that was true, as well, of Rick Gates’ early cooperation.

[T]here’s enormous interest in what I will call — for lack of a better term — the intelligence that could be gathered from having a cooperating witness in this particular investigation

[snip]

And with Mr. Gates, we also wanted to make sure that we could get information, and we thought that there was — I think there was certainly a significant issue. And we dealt with it by having the defendant plead to something in addition to take — to have the ramification for it. But that is to show, I think, an example of wanting the intelligence, but dealing with what we considered to be, you know, unacceptable behavior from the Government, particularly from somebody whose information we would rely on, and potentially ask the jury to rely on.

So we may never see a great deal of what Manafort was asked about.

Mueller is still protecting an ongoing investigation

That said, Mueller is still protecting both his and the other DOJ ongoing investigation. We know what Mueller is protecting from the redactions in the transcript.

ABJ noted that much of what they discussed at the breach hearing could be unsealed, while noting that Mueller felt more strongly about keeping some things secret.

I think a large portion of what we discussed could be public. I think there are certain issues where you probably only need to redact out names and turn them back into entities. And then there are may be one or two issues where we’re really talking about something that was completely redacted at every point prior to this and will continue to be. And, hopefully, you’ll both be on the same page about that with respect to what of the investigation is not yet public. I think the Office of Special Counsel has the stronger point of view about that.

Certainly, all the names had to be redacted, under DOJ guidelines prohibiting the publication of anyone’s name who has not been charged. Likewise, the other investigation is not Mueller’s to reveal (in any case, it seems to be still active, even if Manafort’s refusal to cooperate may have protected the target of it).

But more of the rest of the discussion could have been unsealed if Mueller didn’t have ongoing interests in the topics. Those topics include Manafort’s ongoing communications with the Administration, Ukrainian peace deal/sanctions relief, and his sharing of polling data (though there’s one reference to sharing polling data on page 19 that may have gotten missed by the censors). Mueller redacted those things even though Weissmann makes clear that they believe the polling data goes to the core of what they are investigating.

MR. WEISSMANN: So — so, first, in terms of the what it is that the special counsel is tasked with doing, as the Court knows from having that case litigated before you, is that there are different aspects to what we have to look at, and one is Russian efforts to interfere with the election, and the other is contacts, witting or unwitting, by Americans with Russia, and then whether there was — those contacts were more intentional or not. And for us, the issue of [2 lines redacted] is in the core of what it is that the special counsel is supposed to be investigating.

Note his use of the present progressive. They’re still trying to answer the question about whether that August 2 amounts to witting conspiracy with Russia.

Mueller is still sitting on information about the shared polling data

It may well be that, given Manafort’s refusal to cooperate on this issue, Mueller will never be able to charge Trump’s campaign for sharing polling data with Russia in the context of sanctions relief.

But they are sitting on more information than came out publicly in this breach discussion. Starting on page 93 of the transcript, ABJ, on her own, brings up other information she has seen, that pertains to the topic.

THE COURT: I need to ask the Office of Special Counsel about something ex parte because — and so I apologize for that, but I need to do that. And it may be after I talk to them, they tell me there’s no problem with sharing it with you. But I have received information in this case, in this binder, and in other means, and I just want to make sure I understand something. And so, I can’t — I need to ask —

MR. DOWNING: We would object. But we don’t know he —

THE COURT: I note your objection. And I will deem your objection also to be a request that what we’re about to discuss be revealed to you. And that will be the first thing I’m going to ask. And we can do it at the end, after we’re done, or you can just have him come to the bench for a minute.

The ex parte discussion on this topic is fairly short. But after the lunch break, Weissmann tells ABJ that the material she was thinking of remains redacted. But he does point her to two Gates 302s from early in his cooperation that seem to provide some of the same information.

THE COURT: All right. Let me start with you, Mr. Weissmann. Is there anything further you can add to what we talked about, that you can add publicly?

MR. WEISSMANN: Yes. Yes, Your Honor. So, we haven’t finished our review, but we believe that the material that you asked about was redacted.

THE COURT: Okay.

MR. WEISSMANN: However, I would like to direct your attention to two exhibits in the record. If you recall, I mentioned that I recalled that Mr. Gates had, very early on in his cooperation, given us information about [redacted]. And there are two 302s that are dated in, I believe, both in January of 2018. So before he actually pled guilty, so in connection with his proffers. So, the first one is Exhibit 222. And if you look at page 17 of that exhibit, there’s a long explanation of communications with [redacted] that refer to [redacted] at the direction of Mr. Manafort. And then if you look — and that is dated January 31st, 2018. And that was, of course, provided to counsel in connection with the Eastern District of Virginia trial. And Exhibit 236, and I believe I referred you previously to page 3, and I would also refer you to page 5. Both of those refer to [redacted] and also refer to the discussions of the — discussions of [redacted] at the August 2nd, 2016 meeting.

THE COURT: All right. I will look at all of that. So for right now, I’m going to leave the little conversation that we had ex parte, ex parte with your objection noted.

MR. WEISSMANN: Judge, we will continue to look to see if there is any portion that was unredacted to confirm that.

Given the issues she has presided over, this may pertain to one of the search warrant affidavits that Manafort tried to get completely unsealed last year, but which ABJ suggested pertained to other people.

In any case, there’s more on the sharing of polling data that ABJ knows about, this is relevant to its importance, but that does not appear in the unsealed transcript.

Mueller didn’t reveal all the evidence of Manafort’s attempts to contact the Administration

Finally, there appear to be communications between Manafort and Administration officials that Mueller did not release as part of this process. The government stated that clearly in a footnote (on page 27) of its breach declaration.

This is not a complete listing of such contacts Manafort had with Administration officials. Further, for the purpose of proving the falsity of Manafort’s assertions in this section, the government is not relying on communications that may have taken place, with Manafort’s consent, through his legal counsel.

And, in a bid to refute Manafort’s claim, in the redaction fail filing, that, “Mr. Manafort was well aware that the Special Counsel’s attorneys and investigators had scrutinized all of his electronic communications” because “Mr. Manafort voluntarily produced numerous electronic devices and passwords at the request of the Government,” Agent Weiland states that the FBI had found more than 10 devices or documents for which Manafort hadn’t shared a password.

Defendant said in his pleading that he has provided electronic to the government. However, although he has provided some electronic data, passwords, and documents, in more than ten instances he did not provide passwords to access his electronic communications, thumb drives, or documents.

Mueller’s team remains coy about how many of those 10 accounts, thumb drives, or documents they’ve been able to access without his assistance.

And Greg Andres provides some hints about what those other conversations involve: Manafort providing information about the investigation.

MR. ANDRES: Sure. Judge, throughout the interviews with Mr. Manafort and some of the issues we’ve discussed today, you see that he constantly either minimizes the information he has about the administration or any contact with the administration. So there’s an issue whether or not during his cooperation he’s communicating with [15 character redaction] or providing information about the questions or other things that are happening in the special counsel investigation, whether he’s sharing that with other people. And this is another example of Mr. Manafort —

THE COURT: That hasn’t been given to me as we’re troubled by this or he wasn’t truthful about that, so I don’t see how to put this in the context of that because I don’t know about that.

MR. ANDRES: Well, so for example, in the No. 4, the one that Mr. Manafort — that Mr. Weissmann just talked about with respect to the [redacted, other investigation], you see Mr. Manafort changing his story so as not to implicate either [redacted] or someone in [redacted]. I think, with respect to this issue, again, Mr. Manafort is trying to distance himself from the administration and saying he’s not having contact with the administration at a time when he’s under at least one indictment.

THE COURT: But you’re not suggesting right now that there’s more information in here about other efforts to distance himself from the administration or to deny a relationship or to deny reporting back to them?

MR. ANDRES: We’re not relying on any other evidence of that issue.

Particularly given that Manafort, between his early September proffers and his October 5 lies about the other investigation, managed to match his own testimony to that of the Trump associate being targeted in it, those communications may even date as recently as last fall (though that would mean he was communicating with the Administration from jail).

The fact that Mueller has other communications between Manafort and the Administration — but chose not to bolster their argument that Manafort lied about ongoing communications with the White House — suggests protecting what he wants to do with those communications is more valuable than convincing ABJ that Manafort lied about this topic (and, indeed, this is one of the two topics where she did not rule for the government).

For all the debate about whether Mueller is almost done or not, the things we didn’t learn about during this breach discussion are just as interesting as the things we did learn about. They suggest that all the discussion about cooperation deals (including my own) often forgets that Mueller is seeking both criminal evidence and intelligence on what the Russians were doing. They also suggest that Manafort may have provided testimony that bears on other parts of the investigation we’ve recently learned about (which might include Stone, or the Trump Tower deal) — but we can’t be sure whether Manafort told the truth, or whether he lied but Mueller either can’t prove or doesn’t want to reveal that he knows Manafort lied. They suggest that Mueller would still like to make the case, in whatever form, that Manafort intentionally gave the Russians polling data with the understanding that he’d push a Ukrainian peace deal that amounted to sanctions relief — but Manafort’s refusal to cooperate on this point might thwart that effort. Finally, they make it clear that Manafort remained a part of an effort to obstruct this investigation, including via means that bypassed the Joint Defense Agreement Trump has exploited.

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

On SSCI’s Investigation: Manafort “Conspired” Whether or Not Trump Also “Colluded”

I’d like to point out something about this NBC report headlined, “Senate has uncovered no direct evidence of conspiracy between Trump campaign and Russia,” but instead showing,

investigators disagree along party lines when it comes to the implications of a pattern of contacts they have documented between Trump associates and Russians — contacts that occurred before, during and after Russian intelligence operatives were seeking to help Donald Trump by leaking hacked Democratic emails and attacking his opponent, Hillary Clinton, on social media.

I sometimes beat up on Ken Dilanian and I don’t mean to do so here. Putting the headline and lead aside, his report shows the disagreement here, and he even references Mark Warner’s recent focus on Paul Manafort’s sharing of polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik (though it’s not clear he asked Richard Burr about the report).

After it recently emerged that Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort shared campaign polling data with a man the FBI says is linked to Russian intelligence, Warner called that the most persuasive evidence yet of coordination.

“This appears as the closest we’ve seen yet to real, live, actual collusion,” he said on CNN.

No evidence has emerged, however, linking the transfer of polling data to Trump.

Natasha Bertrand says the report soft-pedals the Democrats’ belief.

Senate Intelligence Committee aide tells me, re: NBC story, that right now there is “a common set of facts” that the panel is working with, “and a disagreement about what those facts mean.” They add: “We are closer to the end than the beginning, but we’re not wrapping up.”

But I think something else is going on, in addition to any downplaying Democrats’ views.

It’s that the report shifts back and forth between “conspiracy” and “collusion.”

After two years and 200 interviews, the Senate Intelligence Committee is approaching the end of its investigation into the 2016 election, having uncovered no direct evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, according to both Democrats and Republicans on the committee.

[snip]

“If we write a report based upon the facts that we have, then we don’t have anything that would suggest there was collusion by the Trump campaign and Russia,” said Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, in an interview with CBS News last week.

[snip]

“We were never going find a contract signed in blood saying, ‘Hey Vlad, we’re going to collude,'” one Democratic aide said.

[snip]

House Republicans announced last year they had found no evidence of collusion, but their report came under immediate criticism as a highly partisan product that excluded Democrats.

[snip]

“Senator Richard Burr, The Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, just announced that after almost two years, more than two hundred interviews, and thousands of documents, they have found NO COLLUSION BETWEEN TRUMP AND RUSSIA!” Trump tweeted Sunday. “Is anybody really surprised by this?”

[snip]

“This [sharing polling data] appears as the closest we’ve seen yet to real, live, actual collusion,” he said on CNN.

[snip]

The final Senate report may not reach a conclusion on whether the contacts added up to collusion or coordination with Russia, Burr said.

Democrats told NBC News that’s a distinct possibility.

“What I’m telling you is that I’m going to present, as best we can, the facts to you and to the American people,” Burr told CBS. “And you’ll have to draw your own conclusion as to whether you think that, by whatever definition, that’s collusion.”

The story promises to talk about conspiracy, but then ends up talking about “collusion,” going so far as quoting Burr saying you need to draw your own conclusion about what you think the definition of “collusion” is.

That’s an important distinction, especially in a report that talks about Paul Manafort, not least because Manafort has already pled guilty to conspiring with Konstantin Kilimnik, albeit for covering up crimes in 2018 rather than committing them in 2016.

And while Burr complains we can’t know his or any of the other flunkies’ motives, Andrew Weissmann made it clear that Manafort told the grand jury he didn’t have just one motive when he handed highly detailed, recent polling data to Konstantin Kilimnik to be handed over to his Ukrainian and Russian paymasters.

And I think that in the grand jury, Mr. Manafort said that from his perspective, [sharing polling data] which he admitted at that point was with — he understood that it was going to be given by [redacted] to the [redacted] and to Mr. redacted 9 character name], both. That from his perspective, it was — there was no downside — I’m paraphrasing — it was sort of a win-win. That there was nothing — there was no negatives.

[snip]

My answer, with respect to the Court’s question about what it is — what the defendant’s intent was in terms of what he thought [redacted] I was just trying to answer that question, even though that’s not one of the bases for saying there was a lie here. And so I was just trying to answer that question. And what I meant by his statement that there’s no downside, is that can you imagine multiple reasons for [redacted]. And I think the only downside —

THE COURT: You meant no downside to him?

MR. WEISSMANN: Yes.

THE COURT: You weren’t suggesting that there was nothing — there’s no scenario under which this could be a bad thing?

MR. WEISSMANN: Oh, sorry. Yes. I meant there was no downside — Mr. Manafort had said there was no downside to Mr. Manafort doing it.

[snip]

MR. WEISSMANN: And meaning all of this is a benefit. The negative, as I said, was it coming out that he did this.

This August 2, 2016 data hand-off occurred in the specific context of Manafort trying to get whole on his $20 million debt to Oleg Deripaska. The data was also going to some Ukrainian oligarchs that Manafort expected to pay him $2.4 million in November 2016. And all that’s aside from whether Manafort expected the Russians to do anything with the data that might help Trump.

He was badly underwater, and — according to his grand jury testimony, at least as described by Weissmann — he clandestinely handed off recent detailed polling data to a guy connected to the agency that was still hacking Hillary Clinton, to be shared with a bunch of oligarchs who could help him reverse his financial fortunes.

It seems there’s a conspiracy there one way another. Either Manafort effectively stole Trump’s campaign data and traded it to foreigners for monetary gain. And/or Manafort handed over that data expecting that the campaign would get a thing of value from the foreigners he was sharing it with.

Richard Burr would seem to argue that’s not “collusion” unless Trump knew about it (whether he did is one of the questions Mueller posed to Trump).

But it is a conspiracy, an agreement with Konstantin Kilimnik to commit one or more crimes, right there in the middle of the election season. Whether Mueller will charge it or do something else with it remains to be seen. But it is fairly clearly a conspiracy, down to the clandestine arrivals and departures from the dark cigar lounge.

Ultimately, Burr’s retreat to that word “collusion” is a tell. Because, given the public facts in this case, Republicans should be outraged that Trump’s campaign manager was so disloyal he shared highly sensitive data with potentially malign actors. Republicans should be outraged that Trump’s campaign manager was putting his own financial imperatives ahead of sound campaign practice.

But they’re not. For some reason, Republicans are not squawking about the explanation for this data hand-off that would suggest the campaign didn’t expect to benefit.

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