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Rudy Claims Credit for Peter Carr’s Correction of BuzzFeed, Which Had the Goal of Tamping Down Impeachment Talk

In this post, I suggested that Rod Rosenstein’s call to Mueller’s office to see if they were going to release a statement pushing back against Buzzfeed’s story on Michael Cohen’s testimony might be a violation of SCO regulations protecting against “day-to-day supervision” by DOJ.

In his appearance on Jake Tapper’s show today, Rudy Giuliani (starting at 14:25) appears to take credit for SCO’s statement. After agreeing with Tapper that the NYT had corrected their claim that Paul Manafort had shared polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik with the intent that it in turn get shared with two Ukrainian oligarchs he worked for, he noted that the NYT had not issued the correction on their own. He then said that the Special Counsel’s office had not, either.

Rudy: Originally the NYTimes ran with the story [about Paul Manafort sharing polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik] — again, fake news — that he shared it with a Russian, not true. [note: actually it is true, because Kilimnik himself is a Russian citizen]

Tapper: They corrected that. They corrected that.

Rudy: They did correct that. They didn’t correct that — my friend, they didn’t correct that, they didn’t correct that just completely on their own by the way. The same thing with Special Counsel. That didn’t happen spontaneously.

At the very least, this undermines WaPo’s claim that Mueller already had a correction of Buzzfeed in the works before Rosenstein’s office called.

In the advanced stages of those talks, the deputy attorney general’s office called to inquire if the special counsel planned any kind of response, and was informed a statement was being prepared, the people said.

Worse still, it seems to suggest he or someone from the White House was involved.

The WaPo story suggested that the statement was issued because Democrats were discussing impeachment.

[W]ith Democrats raising the specter of investigation and impeachment, Mueller’s team started discussing a step they had never before taken: publicly disputing reporting on evidence in their ongoing investigation.

I’ve since heard the same.

It is not appropriate one way or another to issue a statement that otherwise would not have gotten made solely to tamp down discussion about impeachment — as opposed to reestablish what Special Counsel claims it can prove with regards to Cohen’s lies. If Trump suborned perjury about his own doings with Russia — and Congress already had abundant evidence that he had done so before Buzzfeed’s story — then that is grounds to discuss impeachment. That is a proper function of Congress. It is not the function of the Deputy Attorney General’s office to suppress perfectly legitimate discussions of impeachment.

But if the White House or Trump’s personal lawyer demanded that DOJ interfere in the day-to-day supervision of Mueller’s office with the specific goal of silencing talk about impeachment, as Rudy seems to suggest, that is a far more egregious intervention. That would mean Rosenstein’s office (either with or without the intervention of Big Dick Toilet Salesman Matt Whitaker) did what they did because Trump demanded it, which led them to take action that is arguably outside their permissible role with Mueller, all for the political purpose of squelching legitimate congressional discussion about impeachment.

The Special Counsel’s office declined to comment for this post.

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. 

About the BuzzFeed Scoop: It’s Important, But It Oversells the Lying Part

BuzzFeed has an important story that fleshes out what was made clear in Michael Cohen’s allocution, sentencing memo, and the public record (including earlier BuzzFeed reports). Trump and his kids knew a lot about Cohen’s negotiations for a Trump Tower, and also knew and helped sustain his lies to Congress. BuzzFeed even suggests that all the lying came from Trump; on that issue, the story is problematic for reasons I lay out below.

The new details in the story include a price tag for the Trump Tower detail: Trump, “hoped could bring his company profits in excess of $300 million” (Mueller’s sentencing memorandum stated that the deal might be worth “hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources in licensing fees and other revenues”).  It quantifies how many times Trump and Cohen spoke about the deal: Trump, “had at least 10 face-to-face meetings with Cohen about the deal during the campaign.” It also confirms that Don Jr and Ivanka were the “family members” described in Cohen’s allocution who were apprised of the details.

Cohen gave Trump’s children “very detailed updates.”

[snip]

The two law enforcement sources disputed this characterization and said that [Don Jr] and Cohen had multiple, detailed conversations on this subject during the campaign.

It doesn’t include a number of details that would be more important for understanding how the Trump Tower deal relates to other parts of Trump’s conspiracy with Russians: who (if not Trump himself or Don Jr) was the senior campaign official who knew of Cohen’s negotiations, precisely what Don Jr knew of the negotiations on June 3 when he took a meeting described to be “part of  Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” and whether the timing of Cohen’s plans for a trip to St. Petersburg — which started on June 9 and ended on June 14 — related somehow to the June 9 Trump Tower meeting and the June 14 revelation that Russians had hacked the DNC. It’d also be useful to know whether Cohen had any 2016 dealings with Ike Kaveladze, who knew of Cohen from the 2013 business dealings between Trump and the Agalarovs, and who had a curious reaction to a video of him in the wake of the June 9 meeting story breaking. Those are the details that would advance the story of how the Trump Tower deal relates to Russia’s efforts to hack the election.

That said, I have qualms about the way the story deals with the perjury side of this. First, it makes an absurd claim that this is the first time we’ve heard that Trump told someone to lie.

Cohen’s testimony marks a significant new frontier: It is the first known example of Trump explicitly telling a subordinate to lie directly about his own dealings with Russia.

The NYT first reported that Trump floated pardons to Mike Flynn and Paul Manafort in March of last year and they also reported that Mueller had asked Trump about discussions with Flynn about his testimony by the same month. The entire story leading up to Flynn’s firing includes a series of lies, and like Cohen’s false claims about the Trump Tower story featured the kind of matching lies that require coordination (though Trump’s directions to Flynn probably did not include foreknowledge of his FBI interview, so legally the import is that he sustained Flynn’s lies). Manafort, under whatever expectation of a pardon, spent the two months leading up to the election perjuring himself about his ongoing work with Konstantin Kilimnik and communications with the White House, all while reporting back to Trump via his lawyer. Trump had Don McGahn craft a letter to Comey (who, after all, was part of the FBI when he received it) about his firing that hid that he did it because of the Russia investigation, after first writing a statement that acknowledged that clearly. And Trump himself dictated (probably in consultation with Vladimir Putin) a misleading statement about the June 9 Trump Tower meeting, only part of which got cleaned up before Don Jr repeated the misleading comments before Congress. Trump’s current defense attorney Jay Sekulow even went on teevee last August to apologize for repeating a lie Trump told about the June 9 meeting; while he told that lie publicly, the statement Don Jr told to Congress retained part of that lie. Not all of those amount to suborning perjury, but some of them do, and they’ve been public for a long time.

Buzzfeed also suggests that the lying all came from Trump:

the law enforcement sources familiar with his testimony to the special counsel said he had confirmed that Trump directed him to lie to Congress

Cohen’s own public sworn testimony on this issue is slightly different though. He said,

I made these misstatements to be consistent with Individual 1’s political messaging and out of loyalty to Individual 1,

The latter detail may be semantics. After all, Trump Organization necessarily withheld documents from Congress to sustain Cohen’s (and Don Jr’s) lies. So the directive to lie and the coordination obviously came from the top (though some of it was achieved by Cohen’s leaks to the press). And the sentencing memo’s statement that “Cohen described the circumstances of preparing and circulating his response to the congressional inquiries, while continuing to accept responsibility for the false statements contained within it,” make it clear he could have blamed others for the coordination of his lies. But Cohen is on the record suggesting he chose to lie, in contrast to his allocutions with the hush payments, where he said Trump directed him to undertake the criminal activity. The discrepancy on this issue — which could be cleared up with a few details — may otherwise subject Cohen to accusations of perjury in his allocation.

And heck, if Cohen downplayed Trump’s direction of his lies, then that is newsworthy in and of itself.

I’m more concerned that Buzzfeed claimed, on January 17, 2019, that this is the first evidence that Trump ordered someone to lie about Russia. Normally, I’d excuse this kind of exaggeration to get eyeballs as normal publicity for a story. But not coming, as it does, two days after Trump’s nominee to be Attorney General stated clearly in his confirmation hearing that suborning perjury would be clearly criminal, even if done by the President. Yes, William Barr already made that clear in his memo on the Mueller investigation. But few people besides me realized that fact until, in Tuesday’s hearing, he was asked to confirm that things we know Trump has done — such as float pardons — amount to a crime.

And the response to this story, coming two days after Barr made that statement, has been to suggest that the stuff included in it — as distinct from the long line of lies we already knew Trump suborned — would put Trump at legal jeopardy under Barr that he’s not already in.

Trump is already getting itchy upon discovering that Barr has a close relationship with Mueller.

President Donald Trump was startled Tuesday as he watched television coverage of his nominee for attorney general describing a warm relationship with the special counsel Robert Mueller in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, according to three people familiar with the matter.

During the first day of his confirmation hearing, William Barr described telling the President the first time he met him in June 2017 that he was friends with Mueller, referring to him on a first name basis.

“I told him how well I knew Bob Mueller and that the Barrs and Muellers were good friends and would be good friends when this was all over,” Barr said. “Bob is a straight-shooter and should be dealt with as such.”

While Barr said during his hearing that Trump “was interested” in hearing about the friendship, the details that emerged this week caught the President off guard, the three sources said. He bristled at Barr’s description of the close relationship, complaining to aides he didn’t realize how much their work overlapped or that they were so close.

I think Barr will be shitty on a range of issues (though he’s less of a bigot and homophobe than Jeff Sessions and the Big Dick Toilet Salesman). But there are many reasons to believe, from his testimony, that he won’t interfere with the Mueller investigation. The overhyped claims in this Buzzfeed story, however, are likely to make Trump newly aware of that fact, and could have negative and unnecessary consequences (and in that way, I worry the Buzzfeed story is like NYT’s two underreported stories about the aftermath of the Jim Comey firing, which both did significant damage that could have been avoided with more awareness of the rest of Russian story and more context).

The Buzzfeed story is important for the concrete details it adds to a story we already knew — and these reporters deserve a ton of kudos for consistently leading on this part of the story. But it has unnecessarily overhyped the uniqueness of Trump’s role in these lies, in a way that could have detrimental effect on the country’s ability to actually obtain some kind of justice for those lies.

Update: The language in Cohen’s own sentencing memorandum similarly sets up a contrast in the language used to discuss the hush payments, where his lawyers emphasize Trump’s direction.

With respect to the conduct charged in these Counts, Michael kept his client contemporaneously informed and acted on his client’s instructions. This is not an excuse, and Michael accepts that he acted wrongfully. Nevertheless, we respectfully request that the Court consider that as personal counsel to Client-1, Michael felt obligated to assist Client-1, on Client-1’s instruction, to attempt to prevent Woman-1 and Woman-2 from disseminating narratives that would adversely affect the Campaign and cause personal embarrassment to Client-1 and his family. [my emphasis]

Compare that with their discussion of his Trump Tower lies, which emphasizes his efforts to reinforce Trump’s messaging, but lacks any mention of Trump’s direction.

Michael’s false statements to Congress likewise sprung regrettably from Michael’s effort, as a loyal ally and then-champion of Client-1, to support and advance Client-1’s political messaging. At the time that he was requested to appear before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Michael was serving as personal attorney to the President, and followed daily the political messages that both Client-1 and his staff and supporters repeatedly and forcefully broadcast. Furthermore, in the weeks during which his then-counsel prepared his written response to the Congressional Committees, Michael remained in close and regular contact with White House-based staff and legal counsel to Client-1.

As such, he was (a) fully aware of Client-1’s repeated disavowals of commercial and political ties between himself and Russia, as well as the strongly voiced mantra of Client-1 that investigations of such ties were politically motivated and without evidentiary support, and (b) specifically knew, consistent with Client-1’s aim to dismiss and minimize the merit of the SCO investigation, that Client-1 and his public spokespersons were seeking to portray contact with Russian representatives in any form by Client-1, the Campaign or the Trump Organization as having effectively terminated before the Iowa caucuses of February 1, 2016.

Seeking to stay in line with this message, Michael told Congress that his communications and efforts to finalize a building project in Moscow on behalf of the Trump Organization, which he began pursuing in 2015, had come to an end in January 2016, when a general inquiry he made to the Kremlin went unanswered. [my emphasis]

Cohen’s lawyer uses clearly different language on these two issues, language that suggests in the latter case Trump’s “direction” might be what it was for Mike Flynn’s lies.

 

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

Why Is Trump in a Joint Defense Agreement with Manafort If Rudy Concedes Manafort May Have “Colluded”?

Rudy Giuliani had yet another of his limited hangout meltdowns on CNN last night. (This thread has the best summary I’ve seen until CNN posts a transcript.) In it, Rudy significantly moved his previous goalposts on “collusion,” by claiming that he had never said no one on the campaign had “colluded,” he had only made such claims about the President.

Rudy: I never said there was no collusion between the campaign or between people in the campaign. I have no idea —

Cuomo: Yes you have.

Rudy: I have not. I said the President of the United States. There is not a single bit of evidence the President of the United States committed the only crime you could commit here, conspired with the Russians to hack the DNC.

[snip]

Cuomo: The guy running his campaign was working on an issue at the same time as the convention.

Rudy: He didn’t say nobody, he said he didn’t. He said he didn’t. He didn’t say nobody. How would you know that nobody in your campaign–

Cuomo: He actually did say that, Rudy — as far as I know.

Rudy: Well I didn’t say that. Well, as far as he knows that’s true!

In this clip, Rudy even says, “I have no idea — never have — what other people were doing.”

Except he did — or claimed he did. Rudy has claimed over and over again that he’s sure the President is not at any risk of being charged with “collusion” because he knows what all of the critical witnesses — who are all in a Joint Defense Agreement with the President — told Mueller.

GIULIANI: Well, I have a pretty good idea because I have seen all the documents that they have. We have debriefed all their witnesses. And we have pressed them numerous times.

BASH: You have debriefed all of their witnesses?

GIULIANI: Well, I think so, I mean, the ones that were — the ones that were involved in the joint defense agreement, which constitutes all the critical ones.

That’s actually not true. Rick Gates was reportedly never part of a JDA. Mike Flynn famously pulled out of it to turn state’s evidence. Don McGahn apparently didn’t share all the details of his 30 hours of interviews with Mueller’s team.

But it is true with respect to one person: Paul Manafort. Hell, even after Manafort flipped, his lawyer continued to brief Rudy about what was said and Rudy based certain defense strategy decisions — most notably whether and how to answer Mueller’s questionnaire for the President — on what he heard from Manafort’s lawyer Kevin Downing.

Rudy says he never learned that Manafort had shared campaign polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik until Manafort’s lawyers “accidentally” failed to redact that detail a few weeks ago (in fact, Rudy hilariously blames that revelation on a leak). Yet he was getting briefed on what Manafort was saying — he was in a Joint Defense Agreement!! — during the entire period when Manafort was lying about sharing polling data with Kilimnik.

Rudy insists that, even if Manafort “colluded,” the President did not. And yet, the President was in — remains in, as far as we know — a Joint Defense Agreement with this guy that Rudy now concedes may have “colluded” during the election.

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. 

Manafort Was Pursuing a Ukrainian “Peace” Deal Well After He Was Charged for Lying about Being an Agent of Ukraine

Yesterday, the Mueller team submitted a highly redacted filing and set of exhibits substantiating their claim that Paul Manafort continued to lie during the period he was supposed to be cooperating with prosecutors.

Even aside from the heavy redaction, the filing is a bit confusing because it doesn’t follow the same order as the two prior filings (Mueller, Manafort) on Manafort’s lies and its parallel structure is weak. But it appears to be structured like this:

  • Payment to/from Rebuilding America Now (0-series exhibits)
  • Konstantin Kilimnik’s role in witness tampering (100-series exhibits)
  • Interactions with Kilimnik (200-series exhibits)
    • Discussions of the Ukraine Peace Deal
      • One meeting
      • Another meeting
      • A 2018 proposal
    • Manafort’s false statements (almost certainly about sharing polling data)
  • Another DOJ investigation (possibly that of Steve Calk) (300-series exhibits)
  • Manafort’s contact with the Administration (400-series exhibits)

Also note the exhibits (which are mostly redacted) restart counting with each new section, as noted above. That said, descriptions of what appear to be the polling-sharing exhibits are in entirely redacted footnotes. The highest number exhibit pertaining to Manafort’s interactions with Kilimnik referred to in unredacted form in the filing is 221 (which pertains to the Ukraine peace plan), but the Kilimnik-related exhibits go through exhibit 238, with a skip at exhibit 237. By order, the discussion on page 21-22 of its filing almost certainly pertains to Manafort’s lies about sharing polling data, but the government isn’t even going to describe what are the 16 or 17 exhibits they have substantiating it.

Nevertheless, both the discussion and the exhibits make it clear that — contrary to Konstantin Kilimnik’s claims to the contrary — Manafort remained involved in efforts to push a “peace” plan in Ukraine at least until May 2018. For example, in February 2018, Manafort authored a document on a “New initiative for Peace.”

And this email appears to substantiate a discussion of Manafort’s active involvement in Ukrainian peace deals.

Significantly, the government seems to have sprung some of this on Manafort when he appeared before the grand jury (so therefore was in a position where his lawyers could not serve as direct witnesses). The government treats this October 26 grand jury appearance separately in their Ukraine discussion, and notes that Manafort “was asked in the grand jury about his work in 2018” on the subject. He had “not mentioned” it “during any of his twelve interviews and had said he had last discussed” what must be the peace initiative “in spring 2017” (possibly at the meeting in Madrid he also lied about). A witness testified that he was primarily responsible for drafting this “based … on directions given to him by Manafort” — though it’s clear that Kilimnik continued to offer his feedback, as an attachment to the above email reflects.

Remember: the government’s first public accusation that Kilimnik was a Russian agent came in a filing submitted in March 2018. Manafort continued to conspire (by witness tampering) and pitch peace deals with Kilimnik for over a month after that.

And that makes Manafort’s ongoing communications with the Administration more interesting. On that issue, too, Manafort was “confront[ed] with documents” during a grand jury appearance, at least two of which involved attempts to contact the Administration in May 2018, when we know Manafort was still working on a Ukraine peace plan. Two of the exhibits supporting ongoing efforts to reach out to the Administration included in yesterday’s filing date to May 2018. There’s a May 2018 Word document that Manafort authored and edited that discussed targeting (but that may also incorporate a Ukrainian tax filing).

The other document substantiating ongoing efforts to reach out to the Administration was a text exchange in the weeks after this document reflecting “targeting” got written, in which Manafort invited someone to use his name with Trump.

The government is clear in its filing that,

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.

It also refutes Manafort’s claim 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” by revealing that it 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.

That is, there may be 10 documents or devices that Manafort tried to shield from the government, but which Manafort’s legendarily shitty OpSec failed to protect. If that’s true, they’re not telling him — or the public, yet — what he was trying to shield.

Indeed, unless I’m missing them or the discussions were redacted, the details provided in this filing address only lies told at about half of Manafort’s meetings with prosecutors (September 20, 21, October 1, 16) and a grand jury appearance on October 26 where they sprung both the 2018 peace efforts and 2018 communications on him. I believe there are no unredacted details about his three meetings on September 25, 26, and 27 or his grand jury appearance on November 2, a period when Mueller was also focused closely on Roger Stone. This filing doesn’t tell us whether Manafort told the truth in those sessions.

In any case, consider how insane this is. Manafort was charged with lying (and getting other people to lie) about his work with Ukraine on October 27, 2017. And yet Manafort appears to have continued that Ukraine-related work for another seven months, while he was supposed to be preparing for his first trial for evading taxes on the funds he earned in Ukraine. And while the government is not telling us what Manafort tried to engage the White House about during that period, timing-wise it may well be that he continued to try to engage the President’s top advisors in this period.

Some of the other evidence in Mueller’s filing makes it clear Manafort was still trying to clean up what appear to be clear campaign finance violations from the 2016 election (both in the form of illegal donations from foreigners and coordination between a SuperPAC and the campaign) as recently as last month. He has long known that Mueller has been watching every step of these parallel efforts. But he doesn’t seem to care.

Update: I’ve updated the post to reflect — as per several comments — that among the 10 things Manafort withheld passwords for may be devices, and so may reflect a much wider universe of documents that he doesn’t know whether they’ve accessed or not.

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. 

Paul Manafort’s Ongoing Conspiracy with Suspected Russian Agent Konstantin Kilimnik

Because the NYT corrected an error (noting that Paul Manafort instructed Konstantin Kilimnik to pass on Trump polling data to pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarchs Serhiy Lyovochkin and Rinat Akhmetov, not Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska), the usual suspects are claiming that the really damning disclosures revealed by Paul Manafort’s filing of the other day don’t yet prove Trump’s campaign manager conspired with Russia.

Manafort already pled guilty to conspiring with Russian Konstantin Kilimnik

I saw claims as recently as the other day that no Trump associate has been charged or pled guilty to conspiring with a Russian. That’s false.

As part of his plea agreement in September, Manafort pled guilty to conspiring with Kilimnik, a Russian citizen, to witness tamper.  Admittedly, this particular conspiracy took place in 2018, not 2016, and it served not to tamper with the 2016 election, but to hide the ways in which Manafort kept secret that he was an agent of Ukraine spending millions to influence US policy. But, as Mueller has described it, Manafort committed a series of crimes designed to hide his ongoing ties to Russian-backed Ukrainian oligarchs after being fired from the Trump campaign in significant part to sustain lies he and Rick Gates told while still working for Donald Trump.

In other words, one purpose of his conspiracy with Kilimnik was to hide the fact that Trump’s campaign manager — who, in spite of being broke, worked for “free” throughout the campaign — had been a paid agent of Ukraine.

The Russian Manafort conspired with, Konstantin Kilimnik is suspected of ties to the same agency that hacked the DNC

Past Mueller filings have made it clear that Kilimnik is suspected to have ties to a Russian intelligence agency. The FBI thinks so.

Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agents assisting the Special Counsel’s Office assess that [Kilimnik] has ties to a Russian intelligence service and had such ties in 2016

And Rick Gates knew of those ties.

During his first interview with the Special Counsel’s Office, [Alex] van der Zwaan admitted that he knew of that connection, stating that Gates told him [Kilimnik] was a former Russian Intelligence Officer with the GRU.

The GRU, of course, is the Russian intelligence agency that hacked the Democrats in 2016. So Manafort has pled to conspiring not just with any Russian, but a Russian believed to have ties with the agency that hacked the DNC.

Akhmetov was named — in the same interview as Deripaska — in the affidavit for a 2017 probable cause search warrant targeting Manafort

Akhmetov, one of the oligarchs with whom NYT’s correction say Manafort did share data, was described in the probable cause warrant the FBI used to raid Manafort’s condo in July 2017. Indeed, Manafort described working for both Akhmetov and Deripaska in the same period he was supporting Viktor Yanukoych.

This suggests it’s difficult to separate Manafort’s historical criminal behavior involving Akhmetov from that involving Deripaska. And Kilimnik was involved in both.

Akhmetov and Lyovochkin were paying Manafort while he was working for Trump for “free”

As part of Manafort’s spox’s “clarifications” about the disclosures made clear in the redacted filing, he admitted that a $2.4 million payment Manafort anticipated — in an August 2016 email to his accountant — that he would receive in November was from Akhmetov and Lyovochkin. While that payment is understood to be debts owed for past work, his decision to share campaign data with the oligarchs seems to have been tied to ensuring he did get that payment.

If that’s right, it suggests that that $2.4 million payment, at a time when Manafort was broke but nevertheless working for “free,” had some tie to his work on the campaign.

Lyovochkin made an illegal donation to Donald Trump’s inauguration fund

Another Kilimnik business partner, Sam Patten, pled guilty (in part) to laundering a $50,000 donation to Trump’s inauguration fund for tickets to his inauguration.

To circumvent the foreign donation restriction, PATTEN, with the knowledge of Foreigner A, solicited a United States citizen to act as a “straw” purchaser so that he could conceal from the [Presidential Inauguration Committee] that the tickets for the inauguration were being paid for from a foreign source. The straw purchaser paid $50,000 for four inauguration tickets. The straw purchaser paid that sum one day after receiving from [Begemot Ventures] a check signed by PATTEN in the sum of $50,000. In turn, [Lyovochkin] had paid [Begemot] for the tickets though a Cypriot account. [Kilimnik and Lyovochkin] another Ukrainian, and PATTEN were allocated the four inauguration tickets. Thereafter, PATTEN attended a PIC event in Washington, D.C. with [Lyovochkin].

Thus, in addition to paying Trump’s campaign manager during the campaign, Lyovochkin made an illegal donation to Trump’s inauguration (and remember, there are outstanding questions about where all the inauguration funds went).

Manafort discussed Ukraine every time he spoke with Kilimnik during the campaign; those discussions included a Russian-friendly “peace plan”

Among the other lies Manafort told when he was supposed to be cooperating with Mueller pertained to his repeated conversations with Kilimnik. And while Manafort tried to minimize the persistence with which they discussed such things, suggesting he may have discussed a Ukraine peace plan more than once.

After being shown documents, Mr. Manafort “conceded” that he discussed or may have discussed a Ukraine peace plan with Mr. Kilimnik on more than one occasion

But Mueller maintains they have detailed descriptions showing the peace plan came up “at each” meeting they had, which suggests it was a key part of why the Russians and Ukrainians in touch with Manafort through Kilimnik were in touch with him.

And, again, both these lies and Manafort’s lies in 2018 and Manafort’s lies in 2016 and 2017 were all intended to hide these ongoing relationships, in significant part to hide Trump’s campaign ties to all of this.

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. 

Manafort Claims He Can’t Be a Witness to Trump’s Conspiracy with Russia because He Managed the Campaign

As more detail has come out about the events about which Paul Manafort lied to Mueller’s prosecutors, the method of his lie becomes more clear: it serves to excuse anything that might taint Trump’s campaign with conspiracy with Russia; it excuses that by claiming forgetfulness caused by the busyness of that campaign. Manafort cannot be a witness to the Trump campaign’s conspiracy with Russia, you see, because his memory of those events is too garbled because he was campaign manager at the time.

Only that excuse doesn’t work.

In their redaction fail submission the other day, Manafort’s lawyers addressed each of the subjects about which Mueller accused Manafort of lying in what appears to be the same order as Mueller’s prosecutors laid them out in their own submission last month:

  1. Interactions with Kilimnik
    • Issue a (page 4-5)
    • Issue b (page 5-6)
    • Issue c (page 6)
  2. Kilimnik’s role in the obstruction conspiracy
  3. Payment to a firm working for Manafort
  4. Another DOJ investigation
  5. Contact with the Administration

But rather than dealing with Issues a, b, and c separately, Manafort lumps all three into one discussion, like this:

It is accurate that after the Special Counsel shared evidence regarding Mr. Manafort’s meetings and communications with Konstantin Kilimnik with him, Mr. Manafort recalled that he had – or may have had – some additional meetings or communications with Mr. Kilimnik that he had not initially remembered. The Government concludes from this that Mr. Manafort’s initial responses to inquiries about his meetings and interactions with Mr. Kilimnik were lies to the OSC attorneys and investigators. (See, e.g., Doc. 460 at 5 (After being shown documents, Mr. Manafort “conceded” that he discussed or may have discussed a Ukraine peace plan with Mr. Kilimnik on more than one occasion); id. at 6 (After being told that Mr. Kilimnik had traveled to Madrid on the same day that Mr. Manafort was in Madrid, Mr. Manafort “acknowledged” that he and Mr. Kilimnik met while they were both in Madrid)).

It is not uncommon, however, for a witness to have only a vague recollection about events that occurred years prior and then to recall additional details about those events when his or her recollection is refreshed with relevant documents or additional information. Similarly, cooperating witnesses often fail to have complete and accurate recall of detailed facts regarding specific meetings, email communications, travel itineraries, and other events. Such a failure is unsurprising here, where these occurrences happened during a period when Mr. Manafort was managing a U.S. presidential campaign and had countless meetings, email communications, and other interactions with many different individuals, and traveled frequently. In fact, during a proffer meeting held with the Special Counsel on September 11, 2018, Mr. Manafort explained to the Government attorneys and investigators that he would have given the Ukrainian peace plan more thought, had the issue not been raised during the period he was engaged with work related to the presidential campaign. Issues and communications related to Ukrainian political events simply were not at the forefront of Mr. Manafort’s mind during the period at issue and it is not surprising at all that Mr. Manafort was unable to recall specific details prior to having his recollection refreshed. The same is true with regard to the Government’s allegation that Mr. Manafort lied about sharing polling data with Mr. Kilimnik related to the 2016 presidential campaign. (See Doc. 460 at 6). The simple fact that Mr. Manafort could not recall, or incorrectly recalled, specific events from his past dealings with Mr. Kilimnik – but often (after being shown or told about relevant documents or other evidence) corrected himself or clarified his responses – does not support a determination that he intentionally lied.

The way in which Manafort’s lawyers cite from Mueller’s text (which I’ve bolded above) even makes it clear which discussion is which, with “issue a” including the “conceded” quotation on the correct page to be Ukraine.

“Issue b” includes the “acknowledged” quotation on the correct page to pertain to the Madrid meeting.

That — plus the page number — makes it clear that “issue c” is the sharing of polling data.

By submitting this filing with failed redactions — whether intentionally or not — Manafort’s lawyers have told co-conspirators precisely what events Mueller asked questions about during proffer sessions, as well as what kind of evidence Mueller had obtained to learn about those events. Mueller has electronic communications, drafts, and travel records proving multiple discussions about a Ukraine peace plan, he has evidence of Kilimnik’s travel to Madrid, and he has email and testimonial evidence describing how he and Gates shared polling data with Kilimnik.

And while Manafort doesn’t think a hearing in which Mueller could provide more evidence that Manafort lied about conspiring with a former or current GRU officer is necessary, he would like witness statements about which he could find some opportunity to fail to redact in the future.

While a hearing regarding the Government’s “good faith” in declaring a breach of the plea agreement is not necessary, to the extent that there are witness statements that the OSC contends demonstrate Mr. Manafort’s intentional falsehoods, these should be produced to the defense. After having an opportunity to review such statements and any other documentary evidence, the defendant would then suggest that the issues be narrowed during the usual sentencing process in the parties’ submissions to the U.S. Probation Office in the preparation of the PSR.

By treating all three of his Kilimnik lies as one, Manafort excuses the lie about the Madrid meeting — which Manafort’s spox issued a “clarification” to explain happened in January or February 2017 — the same way he excuses the lies about events that happened during the campaign — he was too busy running a campaign to remember them all.

[T]hese occurrences happened during a period when Mr. Manafort was managing a U.S. presidential campaign and had countless meetings, email communications, and other interactions with many different individuals, and traveled frequently.

This is, of course, nonsense! Even the Ukrainian discussions (which Manafort’s lawyers try to minimize as maybe having been discussed on more than one occasion, but which Mueller has reason to believe got discussed “at each meeting” Kilimnik had with Manafort) appears to have extended beyond the time when Manafort was ousted from the campaign, as Kilimnik was still talking about it (though trying to distance Manafort from it) in February 2017, around the time he met Manafort in Madrid.

Kilimnik also said that he had drafted a plan to bring peace to Ukraine in the nearly three-year-old conflict with Russia.

He referred to it as a “Mariupol plan,” a reference to the southeastern port city that abuts the current line of conflict between government forces and Russia-backed separatist fighters.

It would bring Yanukovych back to Ukraine as a regional leader in the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces, where fighting has raged on and off for nearly three years, or possibly involve others such as the current separatist leaders there.

That plan, which Kilimnik said Manafort was not involved with, would face almost certain opposition in Kyiv since it calls for Yanukovych returning to Ukraine from Russia, where he fled in February 2014.

It is nonsense to claim that the daily grind of a campaign he had exited at least five months earlier, or protective confinement in jail, or gout can explain why Manafort forgot a meeting that involved flying to a European city to attend.

Nevertheless, that’s the explanation Manafort’s lawyers offered in their attempt to claim that Manafort really had good intentions while he was supposed to be cooperating with Mueller, he just had a bad memory of all his ongoing conspiring with a former or current officer from the same Russian intelligence service that hacked Trump’s opponent.

Yet, in spite of the defense claim that “there is no identifiable pattern to Mr. Manafort’s purported misrepresentations – no specific individual or potential crime is identified in the Government’s submission,” there actually is. On top of trying to dissociate a guy with whom he conspired from the conspiracy he pled guilty to, Manafort is excusing his forgetfulness about anything that might show a conspiracy between him, while he was campaign manager for the Trump campaign, and Kilimnik, by saying his activities as campaign manager prevent him from remembering conspiring with Kilimnik while working for the campaign.

Only, for that to be true, whatever “campaign” Manafort was running would have had to extend well into 2017.

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. 

Manafort’s Redaction Fail Tells Trump that Mueller Caught Him Lying about His Russian Handler, Konstantin Kilimnik

Boy do I look stupid! This morning, I suggested that Robert Mueller had finally found a way to shut Paul Manafort up. Then I went away for a few hours, and come back to discover Manafort’s filing on the lies he got caught telling about the information he shared with Konstantin Kilimnik. The redactions covering up details of that information-sharing are easily reversible, showing the following:

Manafort lied about three communications with Kilimnik

Two redactions in a section on Manafort’s interactions with Kilimnik hide that he went to Madrid and listened to a Kilimnik pitch on a peace plan for Ukraine.

(See, e.g., Doc. 460 at 5 (After being shown documents, Mr. Manafort “conceded” that he discussed or may have discussed a Ukraine peace plan with Mr. Kilimnik on more than one occasion); id. at 6 (After being told that Mr. Kilimnik had traveled to Madrid on the same day that Mr. Manafort was in Madrid, Mr. Manafort “acknowledged” that he and Mr. Kilimnik met while they were both in Madrid)).

[snip]

In fact, during a proffer meeting held with the Special Counsel on September 11, 2018, Mr. Manafort explained to the Government attorneys and investigators that he would have given the Ukrainian peace plan more thought, had the issue not been raised during the period he was engaged with work related to the presidential campaign. Issues and communications related to Ukrainian political events simply were not at the forefront of Mr. Manafort’s mind during the period at issue and it is not surprising at all that Mr. Manafort was unable to recall specific details prior to having his recollection refreshed. The same is true with regard to the Government’s allegation that Mr. Manafort lied about sharing polling data with Mr. Kilimnik related to the 2016 presidential campaign. (See Doc. 460 at 6).

He excuses this lie by saying that he was just so busy with the campaign that he didn’t pay attention to the requests his Russian handler was making of him during the campaign.

Perhaps more damning still — given that the Russians were stealing Hillary’s analytics well into September — is the revelation that Manafort shared polling data with Kilimnik, a lie about which Manafort offers no real excuse.

Update: I believe the filing means to say Manafort lied about three things:

  • Sharing polling data from the campaign
  • Discussing a Ukraine peace deal multiple times
  • Meeting in Madrid

Only the first definitively happened in 2016; the confusion regarding the rest stems from Manafort’s excuse that he forgot about it all because he was running a campaign. But a number of his other excuses are stupid so it wouldn’t be surprising if this was.

Manafort claims his pattern of covering for Kilimnik doesn’t amount to a pattern of covering for Kilimnik

Most remarkable, in a brief that addresses three lies about Konstantin Kilimnik and one about Tom Barrack (who is believed to have been in the loop on at least one of their meetings), Manafort’s lawyers claim there’s no pattern here.

Notably, there is no identifiable pattern to Mr. Manafort’s purported misrepresentations – no specific individual or potential crime is identified in the Government’s submission.

I guess, sure, you could say there’s no pattern to the many other people he attempted to protect with his obstruction.

But it’s clear that Kilimnik is a key one, especially given Manafort’s embarrassing lawyer that in spite of Kilimnik’s agreement to help him tamper with witnesses, he can’t say that Kilimnik entered into a conspiracy with him.

Mr. Manafort was asked to agree that Mr. Kilimnik, too, possessed the requisite state of mind to legally establish his guilt. Mr. Manafort balked at this characterization, because he did not believe he could confirm what another person’s internal thoughts or understandings were, i.e., another individual’s state of mind.

Manafort doesn’t much care that Mueller caught him lying

Manafort’s lawyers don’t offer much by way of explanation for his lies. They note he was being held in solitary, suffered from gout, and did not have an opportunity to review documents before telling these lies. But they concede that given the “good faith” standard on breaching the plea agreement they consented to, there’s not much to argue about. So long as Mueller doesn’t charge Manafort further, they won’t contest the finding he breached the agreement, even while claiming the breach was not intentional.

Despite Mr. Manafort’s position that he has not made intentional misstatements, he is not requesting a hearing on the breach issue. As discussed further below – given the highly deferential standard that applies to the Government’s determination of a breach and the Government’s stated intention to limit the effect of the breach determination to its advocacy at sentencing in this case1 – Mr. Manafort suggests that any necessary factual determinations are better addressed as part of the presentencing report (“PSR”) process.

1 Based upon discussions occurring after the November 30 and December 11 hearings, the OSC has advised that the only remedies it currently plans to seek related to the alleged breach relate to its position regarding sentencing in this matter. Should the Government seek to bring additional charges or take any other adverse action beyond its sentencing position, the defendant reserves his right to challenge the Government’s breach determination at that time.

Manafort demands to have more witness testimony before he’ll respond to other details on his lies

In a section on how Tom Barrack paid him via a third party contractor — for what is not yet clear — Manafort suggests he can’t respond because the government hasn’t shared the witness statements of others alleging to the fact.

The Government has indicated that Mr. Manafort’s statements about this payment are inconsistent with those of others, but the defense has not received any witness statements to support this contention.

Then, in a section rebutting his lies about whether or not he had contacts with the Trump Administration, he claims the two instances that Mueller raised don’t really count. He again demands more witness statements.

The first alleged misstatement identified in the Special Counsel’s submission (regarding a text exchange on May 26, 2018) related to a text message from a third-party asking permission to use Mr. Manafort’s name as an introduction in the event the third-party met the President. This does not constitute outreach by Mr. Manafort to the President. The second example identified by the Special Counsel is hearsay purportedly offered by an undisclosed third party and the defense has not been provided with the statement (or any witness statements that form the basis for alleging intentional falsehoods).

Then, even as agreeing there’s no need to have a breach hearing, Manafort asks for more witness statements again.

While a hearing regarding the Government’s “good faith” in declaring a breach of the plea agreement is not necessary, to the extent that there are witness statements that the OSC contends demonstrate Mr. Manafort’s intentional falsehoods, these should be produced to the defense. After having an opportunity to review such statements and any other documentary evidence, the defendant would then suggest that the issues be narrowed during the usual sentencing process in the parties’ submissions to the U.S. Probation Office in the preparation of the PSR.

This mistaken non-redaction conveniently lets co-conspirators know what Mueller shared

I have no idea whether this non-redaction was a colossal mistake or whether this was a cute way to disclose what evidence Mueller has shared with Manafort (remember: these five lies were not the only ones that Manafort told; just the only ones that Mueller wanted to describe).

But even ignoring the redaction fail, the filing feels very contemptuous, as if they’re still playing for a pardon.

Effectively, they’re admitting their client maybe lied or just conveniently forgot to minimize his ongoing conspiracy with someone even Rick Gates has said has ties to Russian intelligence — the same Russian intelligence agency that hacked Democrats. But they don’t think that’s a big deal. They’re just going to double down on obtaining more information on the evidence Mueller has while they wait for the pardon.

Update: Per CNN, Manafort says this Madrid meeting was after the campaign. Okay. That makes the explanation all the more ridiculous. Took out references to the campaign accordingly.

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. 

Robert Mueller Finally Found a Way to Get Paul Manafort to Keep a Secret

Update: Or not. Manafort’s lawyers did submit a filing, with all their redactions easily reversed, showing that Manafort lied about his cooperation with his Russian handler Konstantin Kilimnik. I’ll do another post on that filing.

On one of the last days of last year, Rudy Giuliani repeated a refrain he made in August, dick-wagging Mueller to “put up or shut up” and release the report that Rudy has spun fables about. That taunt happened ten days after the House Intelligence Committee voted to release Roger Stone’s testimony transcript to Mueller. It happened eight days before Paul Manafort failed to submit a filing (at least in unsealed form) explaining whether it contests the government’s claims that he lied while purportedly cooperating with the Special Counsel. In between, Sam Patten submitted a status report in his own cooperation agreement — cooperation that would surely have covered some of the same questions about his Russian partner Konstantin Kilimnik that Manafort lied about — under seal.

I raise all these together because — while it’s a safe bet that something happened at some point with Manafort that remains under seal — any explanation about what that might be may have as much to do with Mueller’s request for Stone’s transcripts as it does Manafort’s own actions. After all, Adam Schiff has already committed to releasing all the HPSCI transcripts to Mueller; it’ll be only a matter of days until he constitutes the committee and has the new Democratic majority on it vote that through. So something has to explain why Mueller couldn’t wait — why Mueller needed Stone’s transcript on December 20 and not January 10.

Back when he was pretending to cooperate, Manafort did get questions about his lifelong buddy Roger Stone. Mueller put Manafort before the grand jury twice after that, possibly locking in the lies he had told. Notably, however, lies about Stone were not among those Mueller publicly aired (in heavily redacted form) last month. For that matter, neither were any responses Manafort made about Trump’s foreknowledge of the June 9 meeting, which we also know came up between Manafort and Mueller.

If I’m right that this is all connected, that still leaves several possibilities. Perhaps Mueller — as Andrew Weissmann suggested they might — charged Manafort for these additional lies or perhaps charged him in the conspiracy-in-chief, finally. Perhaps Manafort made yet another deal with prosecutors, proffering answers to the questions about Stone and Trump they really need him to answer for them, in an attempt to limit his own punishment for that conspiracy in chief.

Whatever it is, it has produced unusual silence from Manafort’s camp.

Whatever it is, we may find out in the next month. Sam Patten’s status report was extended for just one month. Perhaps we’re waiting on SCOTUS’ response to the Mystery Appellant’s plea. Perhaps we’re waiting on the DC Circuit’s response to Andrew Miller’s challenge.

Until then … silence.

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. 

Sam Patten Reminds Us Cooperation Deals Are Not Cookie Cutters

One of the last filings of 2018 in the cases I keep track of here was a three line joint motion in Sam Patten’s case, noting that the parties had filed a joint status report under seal. Sam Patten, recall, is the sleazy influence peddler who (like Paul Manafort) was a business partner with alleged GRU operative Konstantin Kilimnik who first proffered information to Mueller’s office on May 22 of last year, but who didn’t plead guilty until August 31. He pled guilty to lying on FARA registration, lying to the Senate Intelligence Committee and withholding documents from them, in part about setting up straw purchasers to let foreigners donate money to Trump’s inauguration. He’s also got ties to Cambridge Analytica, though that did not show up in his plea at all.

So rather than a routine status report — either telling the court that Patten continued to cooperate with Mueller, the DC US Attorney’s Office, and other law enforcement entities with which his deal required him to cooperate — or rather than moving towards sentencing, the government instead filed something under seal.

When asked what this might mean, I’ve deferred any answer, because it could be so many things and there’s so little to go on.

But CNN’s Katelyn Polantz has what (for any straight news outlet — and I mean that as a genre issue, not a competence one) is remarkably good analysis. She points to the timing of Patten’s plea (just before Paul Manafort was set to go to trial on his own FARA crimes, and thus just weeks before Manafort decided to flip) and to Patten’s multi-office cooperation obligations to suggest this sealed plea may have to do with Mueller’s case.

Patten agreed to cooperate with the Mueller investigation and other Justice Department actions before Manafort pleaded guilty to criminal charges in September. Manafort had been Mueller’s target for almost a year before his plea deal — and the Mueller team initially charged him with a host of financial crimes and foreign lobbying violations. A jury found Manafort guilty of tax and bank fraud related to his Ukrainian lobbying proceeds, then Manafort flipped and agreed to help prosecutors in September to avoid a second trial related to his foreign lobbying operation.

Patten was lined up by prosecutors as a person involved in that planned second trial against Manafort.

Typically, in a plea deal such as Patten’s, once prosecutors no longer need his cooperation for an upcoming trial or to put pressure on a criminal target, they would move the case to the sentencing phase. No date has been set yet by the court for Patten’s sentencing, and it’s still not determined when that process would even begin.

What she doesn’t say, but I would add, is that we’ve heard remarkably little about Manafort’s fate since a hearing on December 11 where Manafort’s lawyers pushed to begin adjudicating this month (in advance of his sentencing in the EDVA case) whether they agreed that Manafort had lied to the government while supposedly cooperating, even while saying they were having ongoing discussions with the government about those lies. Judge Amy Berman Jackson set a deadline for next Monday, January 7, for Manafort’s lawyers to file some kind of statement about whether they agree with the government or not. Sure, the holidays happened in the middle of that. But throughout the period before that, we got regular updates from Rudy Giuliani and Manafort’s lawyers making the extent of Manafort’s cooperation clear; we’ve gotten nothing since December 11.

Polantz also notes something most reporters covering the Mueller investigation forget: prosecutors don’t just hold off on sentencing until a cooperating witness testifies (note, the same mob of reporters also falsely suggest that Michael Cohen’s cooperation with Mueller is done, misunderstanding that Mueller will reward Cohen’s cooperation with a sentencing adjustment if it continues). Indeed, the only Mueller cooperating witness who has thus far testified before sentencing has been Rick Gates, and he remains under a cooperation agreement over five months later. Prosecutors also use (and Mueller seems to have especially) cooperating witnesses to pressure other witnesses. Indeed, that seems to be the significance of this passage from the addendum describing Mike Flynn’s cooperation.

Mueller used Flynn to get all the other people — starting with but by no means limited to KT McFarland — who originally lied about the Russian conspiracy to testify, and to do so as witnesses who clarified their testimony rather than sustained a lie and therefore got branded a liar making them less useful as witnesses at trial.

In other words, Polantz seems to suggest that Mueller rolled out Patten’s cooperation agreement just before Manafort’s trial in a bid to get him to flip. That worked. But not well enough to get Manafort to really cooperate.

Which may explain why his current status is such a big secret: because no one wants to give Manafort — or Trump — any hints about his status until Manafort decides what he’s going to do this week.

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. 

Someone Has Already Been Charged for Most of the Actions the Steele Dossier Attributes to Michael Cohen

Because of a McClatchy story claiming two new details corroborating a Steele dossier claim that Michael Cohen had a meeting with people serving the interests of Putin’s Administration, people have gotten themselves into a tizzy again about what a smoking gun it would be if the allegations in the Steele dossier were proven true.

It’s an utterly bizarre tizzy, both because the allegations in the Steele dossier not only don’t match some more damning allegations Cohen has already pled guilty to, but because Mueller has already charged other people for some of the allegations about Cohen made in the dossier. In other words, the McClatchy story has people excited about the wrong allegations, rather than focusing on the damning things Cohen (and others) have already been charged with.

Indeed, most functional allegations made in the Steele dossier have already been publicly explained in either court filings or sworn testimony. That doesn’t rule out that Cohen had a role in some of them, however. Indeed, one detail from Cohen’s SDNY plea — that among the things Trump Organization reimbursed Cohen for in January 2017 was a $50,000 payment to a tech services company — actually could confirm a detail made in the dossier. But generally, Mueller and other entities have already explained away many of the allegations made against Cohen in the dossier.

I’ve put the substantive claims the Steele dossier made about Cohen below. I’ll take each and show public reporting that explains who did something attributed to Cohen in the dossier.

Cohen met with Russian Presidential Administration Legal Department officials

The central allegation involving Cohen is that he met with people from Putin’s Presidential Administration’s legal department or, in a later version, someone acting on their behalf.

By the time that allegedly happened in August or maybe September, however, Cohen had already established a paper trail with someone more central than some anonymous lawyers. Cohen’s Mueller plea describes Cohen receiving an email on January 20, 2016 from Dmitry Peskov’s personal assistant and shortly thereafter calling her. Somehow Mueller knows that the assistant “asked detailed questions and took notes.” The day after Cohen spoke with the personal assistant, someone from Putin’s office called Felix Sater.

Given that Cohen made reservations to travel to St. Petersburg (for a possible meeting directly with Putin) on June 9, then canceled those reservations on June 14 (after Russia’s role in the DNC hack was made public), those communications about a Trump Tower deal surely tie to the hack-and-leak operation.

It’s certainly possible that, later in the summer (or in the fall, during Cohen’s known trips to London), Cohen would attempt to reschedule that meeting, though the purpose was originally and probably would remain more central to a quid pro quo trading a Trump Tower and election assistance for sanctions relief and policy considerations. But having already exchanged easily collectable communications directly with Peskov’s office (whom the dossier calls “the main protagonist” in the operation), it’s not clear how helpful using Rossotrudnichestvo would be to hide the Trump role. Furthermore, there are other known cut-outs for related matters, including Steele dossier source Sergei Millian and the Agalrovs.

Cohen aimed to contain the Paul Manafort scandal

The three Cohen reports in October all claim that Cohen got involved to tamp down scandals connecting Trump to Russia. That’s not, at all, far-fetched. After all, Cohen was Trump’s fixer and he told a bunch of lies to Congress in an effort to hide Trump’s Moscow Project.

That said, a filing explaining why Mueller might have to mention the Trump campaign in Manafort’s aborted DC trial and a filing in Alex Van der Zwaan’s prosecution show that Manafort and Rick Gates themselves — with the direct involvement of Oleg Deripaska associate Konstantin Kilimnik — worked to contain this scandal.

As Mueller laid out in numerous ways, the Manafort-Gates-Kilimnik team went on a crime spree in the fall trying to cover up their past activities with Russian-backed oligarchs.

Indeed, that a claim that Cohen managed this pushback (and its timing) appeared in the dossier is particularly tantalizing for two reasons. First, one of the things Manafort reportedly lied about after agreeing to cooperate with Mueller pertained a boat trip he took with Tom Barrack; Mueller seems to know that Kilimnik joined the two men. If that happened, then it would show that someone did indeed hold a meeting in August to contain the damage of Manafort’s burgeoning scandals, but that meeting would have been between a key Trump funder, Manafort himself, and someone suspected of ongoing ties with GRU, the agency that conducted the DNC hack.

More intriguing still, as I noted above, Kilimnik was Manafort’s go-between with Oleg Deripaska. That’s interesting because in 2016, Christopher Steele was attempting to convince DOJ’s Bruce Ohr that Deripaska could be a useful source on Russian organized crime. If Steele thought Deripaska would be a useful source for DOJ, he may well have been relying on Deripaska himself. If so, the report that Cohen (who in fact did have communications with Peskov!) was containing the damage of Manafort’s ties to Russian oligarchs might be an attempt to distract from the way that a Russian oligarch was actually working through his handler, Kilimnik, to minimize that damage himself.

Cohen aimed to contain the Carter Page scandal

It likewise seems unlikely that Cohen was the one to try to contain the Carter Page scandal. While he shouldn’t be relied on for anything, several claims in Page’s testimony to HPSCI provide an alternate explanation about who was containing the scandal tied to him.

Page denied ever speaking to Cohen.

But he did describe Keith Kellogg discussing the allegations with him. And he did describe Steve Bannon, both by himself and with the assistance of Trump’s election lawfirm, Jones Day, trying to minimize the Page scandal.

That’s consistent with a number of on-the-record claims from the campaign in the days following Page’s resignation in September. Which is to say, minimizing the Page scandal fell to the campaign itself.

The people who carried out the information operation had been paid by Russia and Trump

The three initial reports on Cohen came, in suspiciously quick succession, in October, after the number of reporters briefed on the Steele dossier started to expand.

The one other report implicating Cohen was the December 13 report, based on intelligence Steele claimed he obtained for “free.”

The report is most notable for the legal battle it caused. The allegations most clearly resemble what Adrian Chen had identified and attributed to the Internet Research Agency year earlier and there had been extensive reporting on it all through the campaign. But instead of blaming Internet Research Agency, the report blames all that on Webzilla. And Webzilla’s owner, Aleksei Gubarev was sufficiently comfortable facing the prospect of discovery to sue BuzzFeed right away (though he lost his lawsuit a few weeks back).

There’s another reference in the report to a long debunked claim made by the Russians — that a Romanian hacker was involved, presumably an allusion to Guccifer 2.0’s half-hearted claim to be Romanian.

Still, much of that last report instead presented the most inflammatory claim in the entire dossier: that Trump’s campaign had helped pay for the information operation targeting Hillary.

On its face, that claim makes zero sense. The scenario as a whole assumes that the hack was done by independent hackers coerced to work for the FSB — perhaps people like Yevgeniy Nikulin, who had already been arrested in Prague by this point. As far as Mueller has shown publicly, however, the information operation was instead done by two entities: Russians in the employ of Putin crony Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s Internet Research Agency and officers in the employ of Russia’s military intelligence agency, GRU. In indictments of both conspirators, Mueller provided details about how the money was handled.

So we’ve already got explanations for how the information operation was funded: by Prigozhin and the Russian state, using a range of money laundering techniques to hide Russia’s role. We even have evidence that — contrary to the claim about information warriors’ loyalty to Sergei Ivanov — Prighozhin’s employees even sucked up to him in one of their dry runs getting Americans to perform IRL actions.

Cohen arranged deniable cash payments to hackers working in Europe against the Clinton campaign

As noted, the December report involving Cohen made the most incendiary claim of all: that the Trump organization planned to pay for some of the hackers that targeted Hillary.

In spite of the fact that Mueller has already explained how the two main groups of participants in the information operation got funded, this allegation gets more interesting given details laid out in Cohen’s SDNY plea. Several of his SDNY crimes, after all, involving making deniable payments, in that case to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal.

That shows Cohen’s modus operandi for paying off Trump’s illicit debts. Mind you, it shows that he didn’t use cash. He laundered the funds using more sophisticated money laundering. But it does show that Cohen was the guy who did that kind of thing.

Which makes this detail included — but not explained — in the same plea document intriguing.

Cohen paid some tech company $50,000 in connection with the campaign.

That’s not a whole lot of money, in any case. And if it went to pay off part of the information operation, it would have to have involved some part of the operation not yet publicly identified. Even the one known instance of Trump supporters reaching out to hackers in Europe — Peter Smith’s reported consultation of Weev — is known to have been paid for by other means (in that case, Smith’s own fundraising).

Still, it’s certainly possible that that $50,000 went to some still unidentified entity that played a role in the information operation that, for some reason, didn’t get paid for by Putin’s cronies or the Russian state.

As I disclosed in 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.


18 October

Speaking separately to the same compatriot in mid-October 2016, a Kremlin insider with direct access to the leadership confirmed that a key role in the secret TRUMP campaign/Kremlin was being played by the Republican candidates personal lawyer Michael COHEN. [redacted line]

19 October

1. Speaking in confidence to a longstanding compatriot friend in mid-October 2016, a Kremlin insider highlighted the importance of Republican presidential candidate Donald TRUMP’s lawyer, Michael COHEN, in the ongoing secret liaison relationship between the New York tycoon’s campaign and the Russian leadership. COHEN’s role had grown following the departure of Paul MANNAFORT as campaign manager in August 2016. Prior to that MANNAFORT had led for the TRUMP side.

2. According to the Kremlin insider, COHEN now was heavily engaged in a cover up and damage limitation operation in the attempt to prevent the full details of relationship with Russia being exposed. In pursuit of this aim, COHEN had met secretly with several Russian Presidential Administration (PA) Legal Department officials in an EU country in August 2016. The immediate issues had been to contain further scandals involving MANNAFORT’s commercial and political role in Russia/Ukraine and to limit the damage arising from exposure of former TRUMP foreign policy advisor, Carter PAGE’s secret meetings with Russian leadership figures in Moscow the previous month. The overall objective had been to “to sweep it all under the carpet and make sure no connections could be fully established or proven”

3. Things had become even “hotter” since August on the TRUMP-Russia track. According to the Kremlin insider, this had meant that direct contact between the TRUMP team and Russia had been farmed out by the Kremlin to trusted agents of influence working in pro-government policy institutes like that of Law and Comparative Jurisprudence. COHEN however continued to lead for the TRUMP team.

[snip]

The Kremlin insider was unsure of the identities of the PA officials with whom COHEN met secretly in August, or the exact date/s and locations of the meeting/s. There were significant internal security barriers being erected in the PA as the TRUMP issue became more controversial and damaging. However s/he continued to try to obtain these.

20 October

1. Speaking to a compatriot and friend on 19 October 2016, a Kremlin insider provided further details of reported clandestine meeting/s between Republican presidential candidate, Donald lawyer Michael COHEN and Kremlin representatives in August 2016. Although the communication between them had to be cryptic for security reasons, the Kremlin insider clearly indicated to his/her friend that the reported contact/s took place in Prague, Czech Republic.

2. Continuing on this theme, the Kremlin insider highlighted the importance of the Russian parastatal organisation, Rossotrudnichestvo, in this contact between TRUMP campaign representative/3 and Kremlin officials. Rossotrudnichestvo was being used as cover for this relationship and its office in Prague may well have been used to host the COHEN Russian Presidential Administration (PA) meeting/s. It was considered a “plausibly deniable” vehicle for this, whilst remaining entirely under Kremlin control.

3. The Kremlin insider went on to identify leading pro-PUTIN Duma figure, Konstantin KOSACHEV (Head of the Foreign Relations Committee) as an important figure in the TRUMP campaign-Kremlin liaison operation. KOSACHEV, also “plausibly deniable” being part of the Russian legislature rather than executive, had facilitated the contact in Prague and by implication, may have attended the meeting/s with COHEN there in August.

Company Comment

We reported previously, in our Company Intelligence Report 2016/135 of 19 October 2016 from the same source, that COHEN met officials from the PA Legal Department clandestinely in an EU country in August 2016. This was in order to clean up the mess left behind by western media revelations of TRUMP ex-campaign manager corrupt relationship with the former pro-Russian YANUKOVYCH regime in Ukraine and TRUMP foreign policy advisor, Carter secret meetings in Moscow with senior regime figures in July 2016. According to the Kremlin advisor, these meeting/s were originally scheduled for COHEN in Moscow but shifted to what was considered an operationally “soft” EU country when it was judged too compromising for him to travel to the Russian capital.

13 December

1. We reported previously (2016/135 and /136) on secret meeting/s held in Prague, Czech Republic in August 2016 between then Republican presidential candidate Donald TRUMP’s representative, Michael COHEN and his interlocutors from the Kremlin working under cover of Russian ‘NGO’ Rossotrudnichestvo.

2. [two lines redacted] provided further details of these meeting/s and associated anti- CLINTON/Democratic Party operations. COHEN had been accompanied to Prague by 3 colleagues and the timing of the visit was either in the last week of August or the first week of September. One of their main Russian interlocutors was Oleg SOLODUKHIN operating under Rossotrudnichestvo cover. According to [redacted] the agenda comprised questions on how deniable cash payments were to be made to hackers who had worked in Europe under Kremlin direction against the CLINTON campaign and various contingencies for covering up these operations and Moscow’s secret liaison with the TRUMP team more generally.

3. [redacted] reported that over the period March-September 2016 a company called XBT/Webzilla and its affiliates had been using botnets and porn traffic to transmit viruses, plant bugs, steal data and conduct “altering operations” against the Democratic Party leadership. Entities linked to one Aleksei GUBAROV were involved and he and another hacking expert, both recruited under duress by the FSB, Seva KAPSUGOVICH, were significant players in this operation. In Prague, COHEN agreed contingency plans for various scenarios to protect the Operation, but in particular what was to be done in the event that Hillary CLINTON won the presidency. It was important in this event that all cash payments owed were made quickly and discreetly and that cyber and other operators were stood down/able to go effectively to ground to cover their traces. (We reported earlier that the involvement of political operatives Paul MANAFORT and Carter PAGE in the secret TRUMP-Kremlin liaison had been exposed in the media in the run-up to Prague and that damage limitation of these also was discussed by COHEN with the Kremlin representatives).

In terms of practical measures to be taken, it was agreed by the two sides in Prague to stand down various “Romanian hackers” (presumably based in their homeland or neighboring eastern Europe) and that other operatives should head for a bolt-hole in Plovdiv, Bulgaria where they should “lay low”. On payments, IVANOV’s associate said that the operatives involved had been paid by both TRUMP’s team and the Kremlin, though their orders and ultimately loyalty lay with IVANOV, as Head of the PA and thus ultimately responsible for the operation, and his designator successor/s after he was dismissed by president PUTIN in connection with the anti-CLINTON operation in mid August.