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Konstantin Kilimnik Shared Stolen Data Laundered Through Bannon’s Propaganda with State Department

John Solomon is feeding the frothy right with faux scandals based off dubious propaganda again.

What John Solomon’s document really shows

“Konstantin Kilimnik Shared Stolen Data Laundered Through Bannon’s Propaganda with State Department.”

That’s what the title of an article based off a document propagandist John Solomon turned into the latest frothy right shiny object. After all, the fragment of the email exchange between Kilimnik and a guy at State named Eric Schultz that Solomon includes ends with Kilimnik attributing the narrative that Trump is dangerously close to Russia to Hillary solely because Ken Vogel, who wrote an article critical of Manafort, once shared an article critical of Hillary with her team before publishing it. He cites a Breitbart story that, the same day the DNC emails stolen by Russia were released, focused on Vogel.

First, it is definitely HRC and her HQ who launched this shitstorm trying to use construction of Putin=very bad, Putin=Manafort, Manafort=Trump, therefore Trump=Putin=very bad.” If you Google Ken Vogel who wrote the original BS piece — it turns out he is the same journalist who created a controversy a month or so ago by clearing his stories with the DNC prior to submission. http://www.breitbart.com/big-journalism/2016/07/22/ken-vogel-politico-dnc-emails/ .

Just twenty days before Kilimnik wrote this, he had snuck into a cigar bar to meet Paul Manafort and discuss how Manafort planned to win Michigan in the same meeting where they discussed carving up Ukraine. At the time, Manafort’s childhood buddy Roger Stone was wandering around claiming he had advance knowledge of what WikiLeaks had, claims he interspersed with Steve Bannon propaganda. In fact, just the day before Kilimnik wrote this, Stone correctly predicted that WikiLeaks would ultimately drop John Podesta’s emails, which for Stone meant that Trump would have opposition material to counter the attacks on Manafort at the time.

The Mueller Report shows that four days earlier, Kilimnik had told Schultz what Trump’s internal polling data looked like, which is one of the ways the government proved that Manafort lied when he claimed he had only been sharing public data with Kilimnik.

[redacted] with multiple emails that Kilimnik sent to U.S. associates and press contacts between late July and mid-August of 2016. Those emails referenced “internal polling,” described the status of the Trump Campaign and Manafort’s role in it, and assessed Trump’s prospects for victory. 895

895 8/18/16 Email, Kilimnik to Dirkse; 8/18/16 Email, Kilimnik to Schultz; 8/18/ 16 Email, Kilimnik to Marson; 7/27/16 Email, Kilimnik to Ash; 8/18/16 Email, Kilimnik to Ash; 8/ 18/ 16 Email, Kilimnik to Jackson; 8/18/16 Email, Kilimnik to Mendoza-Wilson; 8/19/16 Email, Kilimnik to Patten. [my emphasis]

So at a time when Kilimnik had recently been trading Ukraine for Michigan, he wrote someone at the State Department and offered him up Steven Bannon’s remarkably quick attack on Hillary based off emails stolen by GRU to help Trump (remember, Bannon ran Breitbart at the time).

The latest GOP spin about Kilimnik is that he did not have ties to GRU (even though his Oleg Deripaska contact was sanctioned last year with all the other GRU people behind the 2016 attack), because he was actually a State Department informant. So what Solomon is showing — again, using GOP standards for scandal — is that someone he claims was a State Department informant was stovepiping information from the stolen documents, via Bannon, to State, perhaps in an effort to ratchet up attention on Hillary.

But that’s not the story Solomon tells (nor does Solomon give us the entire document to see what else Kilimnik was stovepiping into State as an alleged informant).

Solomon’s propaganda laundry sources and methods

Before I describe what Solomon’s latest fiction does claim, let’s talk about his sources and methods, which are fairly well-established at this point. Solomon has consistently been used in the effort to undermine the investigation into Trump this way:

  1. Executive or Congressional sources dump documents to Solomon
  2. Solomon writes a logically ridiculous story based off documents, without releasing the entirety of the documents so he can be fact-checked
  3. Congressional sources use Solomon’s story to make claims unsubstantiated by the actual evidence he got leaked but about which they can nevertheless submit bogus legal complaints
  4. The frothy right goes nuts over the latest pseudo scandal

This particular pseudo-scandal is based off the cherry-picked document showing Kilimnik doing what the frothy right accuses Christopher Steele of doing and a misreading of two warrant applications. In addition to the cherry-picked fragment from the Kilimnik email to Schultz, Solomon relies on the following documents:

In recent iterations, Solomon’s modus operandi has also been to make claims about what Mueller didn’t use. To that end, this story relies on the assertion that Mueller’s office got the Kilimnik email, sourced to three “sources familiar with the documents.”

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team and the FBI were given copies of Kilimnik’s warning, according to three sources familiar with the documents.

Those three sources sound awfully similar to the three sources Solomon based his earlier story claiming Kilimnik was a State informant on.

Three sources with direct knowledge of the inner workings of Mueller’s office confirmed to me that the special prosecutor’s team had all of the FBI interviews with State officials, as well as Kilimnik’s intelligence reports to the U.S. Embassy, well before they portrayed him as a Russian sympathizer tied to Moscow intelligence or charged Kilimnik with participating with Manafort in a scheme to obstruct the Russia investigation.

Manafort obtained all these documents in discovery, so it would be unsurprising if that discovery found its way to Solomon.

So this fits the John Solomon propaganda laundry pattern:

  1. Sources that may have access to Manafort’s discovery dump documents to Solomon
  2. Solomon writes a logically ridiculous story, in this case hiding part of a document that might show more of how Kilimnik himself was laundering documents stolen by Russia and magnified by Steve Bannon into the State Department
  3. According to an update to Solomon’s story, Mark Meadows, “is asking the Justice Department inspector general to investigate the FBI and prosecutors’ handling of the Manafort warrants, including any media leaks and evidence that the government knew the black ledger was potentially unreliable or suspect evidence”
  4. The frothy right goes nuts (and Don Jr. goes even more nuts) (Update: Matt Gaetz just entered this into the record)

Solomon’s illogical misreading

Now that we’ve established that this is yet another instance of Trump supporters using Solomon as a tool to launder illogical propaganda to fire up the frothy right, let’s look at how he misreads the evidence.

Solomon argues that the “Black Ledger” allegedly showing that Paul Manafort received illicit payments from his Ukrainian paymasters was the excuse the FBI used to “resurrect” the criminal case against him, and that they used it after having been “warned repeatedly” that it was fake.

In search warrant affidavits, the FBI portrayed the ledger as one reason it resurrected a criminal case against Manafort that was dropped in 2014 and needed search warrants in 2017 for bank records to prove he worked for the Russian-backed Party of Regions in Ukraine.

There’s just one problem: The FBI’s public reliance on the ledger came months after the feds were warned repeatedly that the document couldn’t be trusted and likely was a fake, according to documents and more than a dozen interviews with knowledgeable sources.

[snip]

For example, agents mentioned the ledger in an affidavit supporting a July 2017 search warrant for Manafort’s house, citing it as one of the reasons the FBI resurrected the criminal case against Manafort.

“On August 19, 2016, after public reports regarding connections between Manafort, Ukraine and Russia — including an alleged ‘black ledger’ of off-the-book payments from the Party of Regions to Manafort — Manafort left his post as chairman of the Trump Campaign,” the July 25, 2017, FBI agent’s affidavit stated.

So there are two steps to his argument:

  1. The ledger served as an important reason behind the “resurrection” of the investigation into Manafort
  2. FBI Agents knew the ledger was fake but used it anyway

In addition, Solomon recycles a claim the very Manafort-friendly TS Eliot found unpersuasive about an FBI/Andrew Weissmann role in the AP story cited in the warrant application.

The FBI did not claim that the ledger served as an important reason behind the “resurrection” of the investigation into Manafort

Logically, all the documents Solomon have been leaked only matter if it is true that the ledger was a key reason why the investigation into Manafort remained ongoing in 2017.

But neither of the warrants show that.

The July warrant is to search Manafort’s condo in conjunction with FBAR, FARA, bank fraud, money laundering, and foreign national donations (this is the first known warrant tied to the June 9 meeting). The reference to the Black Ledger stories comes in a paragraph specifically introduced as “by way of background.” It’s background — critical background for why Manafort still didn’t want to properly register under FARA — but not submitted as proof at all.

6. By way of background concerning Manafort, based on publicly available information, in March of 2016, Manafort officially joined Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. (the ‘Trunp) Campaign”), the presidential campaign of then candidate Trump, in order to, among other things, help.manage the delegate process for the Republican National Convention. In May of 2016, Manafort became chairman of the Trump Campaign. In June of 2016, Manafort reportedly became de facto manager for the Trun^ Campaign with the departure of prior campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. On August 19, 2016, after public reports regarding connections between Manafort, Ukraine, and Russia – including an alleged “black ledger” of off-the-book payments from the Party of Regions to Manafort – Manafort left his post as chairman of the Trump Campaign.

The very next paragraph includes a transition marking the beginning of the guts of the proof of probable cause:

Portions of the information set forth below

In other words, the ledger reference only serves to explain why Manafort got fired, which is important background for why he was hiding his sleazy influence peddling. It is not part of the probable cause proof at all.

In any case, the reference is actually to both the NYT and AP’s stories, the latter of which only reported on the extent of Manafort’s undisclosed lobbying and didn’t reference the ledger at all. (Note, Vogel was not involved in any of this, which makes Kilimnik’s claim that all the ties of Trump to Putin came from him tough to understand.)

Notably, Solomon doesn’t mention the May 2017 affidavit to search Manafort’s storage unit, which, because it comes earlier, is a better read of how the government came to focus on Manafort (in significant part because it was not part of Mueller’s investigation), and which was incorporated by reference in the paragraph following the one mentioning Manafort’s resignation and attached to the July affidavit. That affidavit describes the ledger as something the FBI was actively investigating.

20. In addition, law enforcement agents are investigating whether or not all income received by Manafort and Gates was properly reported as required under U.S. law. In the summer of 2016, investigators from Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau obtained a handwritten ledger said to belong to the Party of Regions (“ledger”). The ledger contains hundreds of pages of entries purporting to show payments made to numerous Ukrainians and other officials

21. The ledger contained entries indicating that Manafort had been paid $ 12.7 million by the Party of Regions in 22 separate payments that occurred between 2007 and 2012. U.S. law enforcement is investigating whether any of these sums we paid to Manafort or (jates or others for their benefit.

So when Theresa Buchanan approved the July warrant, she was reminded that she had already approved the May warrant describing the ledger as still under investigation.

The October warrant was to seize the bank accounts Manafort got from the Federal Savings Bank in Chicago — these are the loans that Manafort got by trading a Trump campaign position to Steve Calk. The passage in question appears in a section titled, “Evidence of DMI’s work on behalf of the Party of Regions in the United States in 2005,” following a discussion of how under the Bush Administration, Manafort secretly shared details from NSC discussions about Ukraine with Rinat Akhmetov to show that “Our strategy in the United States is working.”

As released, it’s not actually clear how the FBI Agent is using the April AP story, which confirms Manafort received a payment  in 2007 that may be associated with the 2005 and 2006 lobbying described in the section. The probable cause assertion remains redacted, which might mean it involved sensitive intelligence. The only thing unredacted, however, is that there are payments in the ledger that match known payments Manafort got in 2007 and 2009, which is a way to introduce Manafort’s claim, in 2017, that he got paid according to his clients’ wishes.

That quote comes from this non-denial denial that the ledger could be true based off the fact that Manafort never got paid in cash.

In a statement to the AP on Tuesday, Manafort did not deny that his firm received the money but said “any wire transactions received by my company are legitimate payments for political consulting work that was provided. I invoiced my clients and they paid via wire transfer, which I received through a U.S. bank.”

Manafort noted that he agreed to be paid according to his “clients’ preferred financial institutions and instructions.”

On Wednesday, Manafort’s spokesman Jason Maloni provided an additional statement to the AP, saying that Manafort received all of his payments via wire transfers conducted through the international banking system.

“Mr. Manafort’s work in Ukraine was totally open and appropriate, and wire transfers for international work are perfectly legal,” Maloni said.

He noted that Manafort had never been paid in cash. Instead, he said Manafort’s exclusive use of wire transfers for payment undermines the descriptions of the ledger last year given by Ukrainian anti-corruption authorities and a lawmaker that the ledger detailed cash payments.

Manafort has pled guilty to the two key details included in this passage in the affidavit: that he was lobbying for the Party of Regions as early as 2006, and that he was trying to hide that relationship (see ¶¶4, 6, and 7 for those admissions). So the assertion in question — that Manafort was lobbying for Akhmetov in 2006 and got paid for it in 2007 — was not faulty. Moreover, the AP story in question specifically said that it hard confirmed those two payments, which would seem to raise questions about 2016 claims that the ledger was totally unreliable.

So to sum up:

  • The May 2017 warrant Solomon doesn’t mention but which was incorporated by reference and attachment into the July one describes the FBI still investigating the ledger
  • The July 2017 warrant doesn’t rely on either the ledger or the story about it as proof; rather, the story about it (but not the ledger) is described as background that explains why Manafort continued to lie about his ties to Ukraine
  • What the FBI used the ledger for in October 2017 not only had been corroborated after the 2016 evidence claiming the ledger was totally bunk, but Manafort has since pled guilty to the substance it addresses

The key claim behind Solomon’s breathless propaganda is bullshit.

FBI Agents knew the ledger was fake but used it anyway

How the FBI actually used the ledger each of those three times is important to Solomon’s claim that the FBI “knew” the ledger was fake but used it anyway. Solomon claims that “documents and more than a dozen interviews with knowledgeable sources” prove that “the feds were warned repeatedly that the document couldn’t be trusted and likely was a fake.” But he only provides two pieces of evidence. First, he cites Nazar Kholodnytsky’s claims about the ledger (but not records of how those he spoke with responded).

Ukraine’s top anticorruption prosecutor, Nazar Kholodnytsky, told me he warned the U.S. State Department’s law enforcement liaison and multiple FBI agents in late summer 2016 that Ukrainian authorities who recovered the ledger believed it likely was a fraud.

“It was not to be considered a document of Manafort. It was not authenticated. And at that time it should not be used in any way to bring accusations against anybody,” Kholodnytsky said, recalling what he told FBI agents.

Kholodnytsky has been at the center of Trump-related and his own scandals in recent months, so I’m interested in when Solomon interviewed him (and whether Rudy Giuliani was involved). But assuming his representation of what he told the FBI is true and was confirmed (which, if true, Manafort would have gotten in discovery, but which Solomon doesn’t mention), it doesn’t change that the ledger was not used to bring accusations against anyone — though was still being investigated in 2017.

Nor does Solomon’s reliance on Kilimnik’s claims help. Kilimnik, after all, said, “I am pretty sure Paul is not vulnerable on either black cash or Fara stuff.” Not only was Kilimnik wrong about both Manafort and his other American partner Sam Patten’s vulnerability on FARA, but he took a number of actions over the course of the investigation into Manafort — working with Alex van der Zwaan to suppress evidence of FARA violations back in 2012 and reaching out to other consultants to hide their US lobbying for Manafort — that led to criminal charges for himself and others specifically on FARA. That is, Kilimnik made these claims during a period when he was involved in several crimes to try to save Manafort from FARA crimes, so there’s no reason to treat what he says as reliable.

Further, the same email makes claims about Ukraine — notably, that “nobody will do anything for Ukraine other than Ukrainians” — that are in striking contrast to the actions he had taken 3 weeks earlier to get both the US and Russia to impose a solution on Ukraine, with Manafort’s help.

And ultimately, Kilimnik makes the same non-denial denial that Manafort was still making the following year.

I know for a fact that he did not know about the black cash existence — he never focused on such things, and could not have possibly taken large amounts of cash across three borders. It was always a different arrangement — payments were in wire transfers to his companies, which is not a violation (sort of SuperPAC scheme) and then he took his personal fee and fully paid his taxes etc.

Denying that Manafort knew of any cash payments is meaningless, since he also tried to keep plausible deniability about his Cayman shell companies. But it’s also now proven (in part by Manafort’s guilty pleas) that the shell companies he used weren’t a SuperPAC, his transfer of funds for payment weren’t all legal, and he didn’t pay his taxes.

In short, the smoking gun document Solomon has the right wing all frothy over actually shows that Kilimnik was at best ignorant and more likely willfully lying.

Solomon makes claims that even TS Ellis found unpersuasive

But as is his wont, Solomon doesn’t stop there. He tries to resuscitate a claim Manafort tried as part of his EDVA trial that Manafort friendly judge TS Ellis already ruled was bogus, suggesting that FBI and DOJ illegally leaked to the AP reporters behind one of these stories.

There are two glaring problems with that assertion.

First, the agent failed to disclose that both FBI officials and Department of Justice (DOJ) prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, who later became Mueller’s deputy, met with those AP reporters one day before the story was published and assisted their reporting.

An FBI record of the April 11, 2017, meeting declared that the AP reporters “were advised that they appeared to have a good understanding of Manafort’s business dealings” in Ukraine.

So, essentially, the FBI cited a leak that the government had facilitated and then used it to support the black ledger evidence, even though it had been clearly warned about the document.

In April 2018, Manafort’s team tried to argue that prosecutors had been illegally leaking about him, based in part on the April 2017 AP story. The government noted that nothing in the stories reflected grand jury information, the accusation lodged by Manafort. On June 29, Judge Ellis held a motions hearing including testimony from one of the FBI agents involved in the meeting with the AP, Jeffrey Pfeiffer. Pfeiffer covered both the AP meeting and the search of the storage facility, meaning Judge TS Ellis heard his testimony on both these issues at once. Pfeiffer described that he and others at the AP meeting actually no commented most questions, but did get investigative information regarding the storage unit from the AP.

Q. Now, you testified earlier that you searched the storage unit. How did you come to understand that Mr. Manafort used a storage unit?

A. I don’t recall exactly. It was either through my investigative efforts or through a meeting that occurred with reporters of the Associated Press.

[snip]

Q. And how did the Government representatives respond?

A. Generally, no comment as far as questions involving any sort of investigation.

Q. And based on the meeting, did it appear as though the reporters had conducted a substantial investigation with respect to Mr. Manafort?

A. They had.

Q. During that meeting, did one of the reporters mention a storage unit in Alexandria, Virginia, associated with Mr. Manafort?

A. He did.

Under cross-examination, Pfeiffer reiterated that the government mostly gave no comment to the AP, and he didn’t remember a comment that said the AP had a good understanding of Manafort’s business.

Q. So in reviewing some of the Jencks material that I was just provided, I wanted to ask you about a specific section, which is at the end of one of the memos that was written with respect to that meeting, and I want your comment on it. It says, “at the conclusion of the meeting, the AP reporters asked if we would be willing to tell them if they were off base or on the wrong track, and they were advised that they appear to have a good understanding of Manafort’s business dealings.” Now, you would agree that’s not “no comment,” correct?

A. Correct.

Q. Okay. And when it says, “they were advised,” who on the Government’s side was advising these AP reporters with respect to the nature of Mr. Manafort’s business dealings?

A. I don’t recall that being said, so I don’t — I wouldn’t be able to tell you who said it.

Solomon provides just one of the two Electronic Communications associated with that meeting. The one by Pfeiffer has a different focus than the one by Karen Greenaway that Solomon links, with much less focus on the ledger and much more on Manafort’s financial crimes. It describes the FBI giving no comment over and over. But both ECs make it clear that the AP came in with the ledger story. But the one Solomon does link shows the AP reporters raising two issues that show up in the warrant application: how Manafort first got introduced to Rinat Ahmetov and that Manafort shared a classified NSC document with Akhmetov.

The redaction shows that the FBI had some comment on the Brit who had introduced Akhmetov to Manafort, but didn’t tell the AP that. Nothing in these documents show that the FBI provided substantive information to the AP — they show the opposite, that AP provided information to the FBI and the FBI repeatedly offered no comment. They also definitively show that the AP came into the meeting with information about the ledger.

At the end of the hearing with Pfeiffer, TS Ellis took the leak issue under advisement, meaning he didn’t find Manafort’s case all that persuasive. A week later, Manafort tried to interest Ellis again, to no avail. In short, a very Manafort friendly judge has looked at both these questions and found them insufficiently persuasive to rule on. Solomon doesn’t mention that fact to his readers.

There’s abundant evidence to refute Solomon’s frothy claims. More importantly, there’s evidence that his smoking gun evidence, the email from Kilimnik to Schwartz, actually shows that Kilimnik was actively lying about both Ukraine and Manafort in the period when Republicans claim he was an honest informant to the State Department.

But it’s not John Solomon’s job to tell what the evidence actually shows.

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. 

If FBI Had Spied on Trump’s Campaign As Alleged, They’d Have Known Why Manafort Traded Michigan for Ukraine

If the FBI had spied on Trump’s campaign as aggressively as alleged by Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan, then Robert Mueller would have been able to determine why Trump’s campaign manager had a meeting on August 2, 2016 to discuss how to get paid (or have debt forgiven) by Ukrainian and Russian oligarchs while discussing how to win Midwestern swing states and how to carve up Ukraine. In fact, the public record suggests that the FBI did not start obtaining criminal warrants on Manafort’s election year activities until the July 25, 2017 warrant authorizing the search of Manafort’s condo, which was the first known warrant obtained on Manafort that mentioned the June 9 meeting. A mid-August warrant authorizing a search of the business email via which Manafort often communicated with Konstantin Kilimnik is probably the first one investigating that August 2 meeting (as distinct from his years of undisclosed Ukrainian foreign influence peddling).

In other words, it took a full year after the Steele dossier first alleged that Paul Manafort was coordinating on the Russian election interference operation, and over a year after he offered Oleg Deripaska private briefings on the Trump campaign, before the FBI obtained a criminal warrant investigating the several known instances where Trump’s campaign manager did discuss campaign details with Russians.

While there are definitely signs that the government has parallel constructed the communications between Kilimnik and Manafort that covered the period during which he was on the campaign (meaning, they’ve obtained communications via both SIGINT collection and criminal process to hide the collection of the former), it seems highly unlikely they would have obtained campaign period communications in real time, given the FBI’s slow discovery and still incomplete understanding of Manafort’s campaign period activities. And the public record offers little certainty about when if ever Manafort — as opposed to Kilimnik who, as a foreigner overseas, was a legitimate target for EO 12333 collection, and would have been first targeted in the existing Ukraine-related investigation — was targeted under FISA directly.

All the while Manafort was on a crime spree, engaging in a quid pro quo with banker Steve Calk to get million dollar loans to ride out his debt crisis and lying to the government in an attempt to hide the extent of his ties with Viktor Yanukovych’s party.

Similarly, by all appearances the FBI remained ignorant of one of George Papadopoulos’ dodgy Russian interlocutors until after his second interview on February 16, 2017, suggesting they not only hadn’t obtained a FISA order covering him, but they hadn’t even done basic criminal process to collect the Facebook call records that would have identified Ivan Timofeev. Papadopoulos told Congress that when the FBI first interviewed him in January 2017, they knew of his extensive Israeli ties, but the asymmetry in the FBI’s understanding of Papadopoulos’ ties suggests it may have come from spying on the Israelis rather than targeting Papadopoulos himself.

Those are a few of the details illustrated by a detailed timeline of the known investigative steps taken against Trump’s associates. The details comport with a claim from Peter Strzok that he lost an argument on August 15, 2016, about whether they should pursue counterintelligence investigations of Trump Associates as aggressively as they normally would. The overt details of the investigation, at least, are consistent with Attorney General William Barr’s May 1, 2019 observation that the investigation into Trump’s associates was “anemic” at first.

The timeline does suggest that one of Trump’s associates may have been investigated more aggressively than he otherwise might have been, given the known facts. That person was Michael Cohen, whom the dossier alleged had played a central role in negotiations with Russia and even — the last, most suspect dossier report claimed — had paid hackers.

Cohen, of course, was never formally part of the campaign.

But even there, Cohen was not under investigation yet at the time Richard Burr shared the targets of the investigation with the White House on March 16, 2017 (at that point, only Roger Stone had been added to Carter Page, Papadopoulos, Manafort, and Mike Flynn, who are believed to be the four initial subjects).

In the days after Robert Mueller was appointed on May 17, 2017, the investigation might still not have amounted to anything, even in spite of Trump’s reaction, “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I’ m fucked.” The next day, after all, Peter Strzok (who had been involved in the investigation from the start) said, “my gut sense and concern there’s no big there there.” And less than a month later, Lisa Page appears to have suggested to Strzok that the FBI hadn’t decided whether Agents on Mueller’s team would be able to use 702 data — something that, in normal national security investigations, Agents can access at the assessment level.

But by June 21, Mueller was investigating Cohen’s Essential Consulting bank account — the one from which he paid hush payments to Stormy Daniels — because it appeared he was accepting big payments from Viktor Vekselberg, perhaps in conjunction with a plan Felix Sater pitched him on Ukranian peace. At first, Mueller got a preservation order on his Trump Organization emails. But then on July 18 — shortly after Mueller got a preservation order for all of Trump Organization emails in the wake of the June 9 meeting disclosure — Mueller got a warrant for Cohen’s emails, which set off an investigation into whether Cohen had been an unregistered foreign agent for any of a number of countries.

The investigation into the Essential Consulting account would lead the SDNY to charge him in the hush payments. And the collection on Cohen’s Trump Organization emails — collected directly from Microsoft instead of obtained via voluntary production — that would disclose the Trump Tower Moscow plan that Trump lied and lied and lied about.

Only after Mueller started ratcheting up the investigation against Cohen did Mueller first get a warrant on Roger Stone, in August 2017. That’s one of the two investigations (the other being Manafort) that remains ongoing.

Meanwhile, every one of these targets continued to engage in suspect if not criminal behavior. Manafort went on a crime spree to hide his paymasters, stay afloat long enough to re-engage them, and in January 2017 even tried to “recreate [his] old friendship” with Oleg Deripaska. Carter Page went to Moscow in December 2016 and claimed to be speaking on behalf of Trump with regards to Ukrainian deals. Papadopoulos considered a deal with Sergei Millian worth $30,000 a month while working at the White House, starting the day after the election, something even he thought might be illegal (but about which he didn’t call the FBI). Mike Flynn continued to try to implicate Hillary Clinton in his efforts to get Fethullah Gulen arrested on behalf of his secret foreign paymasters, all while getting intelligence briefings. And Cohen moved to collect on reimbursements for the illegal campaign donations he made to silence some of Trump’s former sex partners.

This is just the public record, presented in warrant applications being progressively unsealed by media outlets in court dockets. There may be an entirely asynchronistic counterintelligence investigation conducted using intelligence authorities. Though given the FBI’s actions, it seems highly unlikely, given their apparent ignorance of key details, that’s the case.

Which is to say that the public record supports Peter Strzok’s claims that the investigation lagged what a normal counterintelligence investigation might have. And all the while the investigation slowly moved to uncover the secrets that George Papadopoulos and Mike Flynn and Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort and (allegedly) Roger Stone lied to cover up, those men continued to engage in sketchy behavior, adding more reason to pursue the investigation.

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. 

Timeline

March 2016: Start date on spreadsheet of communications between Konstantin Kilimnik and Paul Manafort (possible parallel construction, though available portions of chart do not show whether contacts include phone calls).

April 26, 2016: Joseph Mifsud tells George Papadopoulos the Russians have Hillary emails that will be damaging to her that they plan to release to help Trump.

May 6, 2016: Papadopoulos speaks to Downer aide Erica Thompson; this is the day the Mueller Report says Papadopoulos first shared news that the Russians had emails.

May 10, 2016: Papadopoulos tells Alexander Downer some of what Mifsud told him.

June 14, 2016: DNC announces Russia has hacked them.

June 15, 2016: Guccifer 2.0 claims credit for the DNC hack.

June – July 2016: Facebook provides FBI two warnings about GRU using social media to conduct an espionage operation.

July 1, 2016: Christoper Steele writes Bruce Ohr email about “our favorite business tycoon,” referring to Oleg Deripaska, part of an effort to pitch Deripaska as a source to the US.

July 7, 2016: Via email, Paul Manafort offers private briefings on the campaign for Oleg Deripaska.

July 19, 2016: Steele dossier allegations about Carter Page trip to Moscow

July 25, 2016: Stone gets BCCed on an email from Charles Ortel that shows James Rosen reporting “a massive dump of HRC emails relating to the CF in September;” Stone now claims this explains his reference to a journalist go-between. Stone emails Jerome Corsi and tells him, “Get to [Assange]. At Ecuadorian Embassy in London and get the pending Wikileaks emails . . . they deal with Foundation, allegedly.” Corsi forwards that email to Ted Malloch.

July 27: Paul Manafort struggles while denying ties to Russia, instead pointing to Hillary’s home server.

July 27, 2016: In a press conference, candidate Trump:

  • Asks Russia to find Hillary’s missing emails
  • Lies about having ongoing business discussions with Russia
  • Suggests he may have ordered someone to reach out to foreign countries (which he seems to have done with Flynn)
  • Suggests he’s considering recognizing Russia’s seizure of Crimea

Both before and after this press conference, Trump asked aides — including Flynn and Gates, and probably Stone to go find the emails.

July 28, 2016: Paul Manafort gets a refinance in exchange for a campaign position for Steve Calk; this has led to a criminal conviction for Manafort and a bribery charge for Calk.

July 30, August 1, 2016: Papadopoulos and Sergei Millian meet in NYC; Millian invites Papadopoulos to two energy conferences.

Before July 30, 2016: First Steele dossier allegation that Manafort managed cooperation with Russia.

July 30: Bruce and Nellie Ohr meet with Christopher Steele; they talk about two claims from dossier, that “a former head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, the SVR, had stated to someone…that they had Donald Trump over a barrel,” and that Carter Page had met with high level Russians while in Moscow. They also discuss Oleg Deripaska’s efforts to get evidence Manafort owes him money (though not, according to Ohr’s notes, the claim that Manafort was coordinating an election-year operation with Russia) and Russian doping. Ohr passes the information on to Andrew McCabe and Lisa Page.

July 31, 2016: FBI opens investigation into Papadopoulos and others based on Australian tip.

July 31, 2016: GAI report on From Russia with Money claiming Viktor Vekselberg’s Skolkovo reflects untoward ties; it hints that a greater John Podesta role would be revealed in her deleted emails and claims he did  not properly disclose role on Joule board when joining Obama Administration. Stone emails Corsi, “Call me MON,” and tells him to send Malloch to see Assange.

August 1, 2016: Steve Bannon and Peter Schweitzer publish a Breitbart version of the GAI report.

August 2, 2016: Paul Manafort meets with Konstantin Kilimnik to talk 1) how the campaign plans to win MI, WI, PA, and MN 2) how to carve up Ukraine 3) how to get paid by his Ukrainian and Russian paymasters. Corsi writes Stone, “Word is friend in embassy plans 2 more dumps. One shortly after I’m back. 2nd in Oct. Impact planned to be very damaging.”

August 4, 2016: Stone flip-flops on whether the Russians or a 400 pound hacker are behind the DNC hack and also tells Sam Nunberg he dined with Julian Assange.

August 5, 2016: Manafort puts Calk on an advisory committee. Stone column in Breitbart claiming Guccifer 2.0 is individual hacker. Page texts Strzok that, “the White House is running this,” which is a reference to the larger Russian active measures investigation.

August 7, 2016: Stone starts complaining about a “rigged” election, claims that Nigel Farage had told him Brexit had been similarly rigged.

August 8, 2016: CrowdStrike report on hack of Democrats (referred to here).

August 10, 2016: Steele dossier reports on Mike Flynn RT meeting that had already been publicly reported.

August 12, 2016: Guccifer 2.0 publicly tweets Stone.

August 10, 2016: Manafort tells his tax preparer that he would get $2.4 million in earned income collectable from work in Ukraine in November.

August 14, 2016: NYT publishes story on secret ledgers. Corsi would later claim (falsely) to have started research in response to NYT story.

August 15, 2016: Papadopoulos follows up with Sam Clovis about a September 2016 meeting with Russia. Manafort and Gates lie to the AP about their undisclosed lobbying, locking in claims they would make under oath later that fall. In response to NYT story on Manafort’s graft, Stone tweets, “@JohnPodesta makes @PaulManafort look like St. Thomas Aquinas Where is the @NewYorkTimes?” Strzok loses an argument with McCabe and Page about aggressively investigating the Trump leads; afterwards he texts Page, “I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s office—that there’s no way he gets elected—but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk. It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40….”

August 17, 2016: Trump’s first intelligence briefing. While working as an unregistered agent of Turkey, Mike Flynn accompanies Trump to his intelligence briefing.

August 17, 2016: AP publishes story on Manafort’s unreported Ukraine lobbying, describing Podesta Group’s role at length.

August 19, 2016: Paul Manafort resigns from campaign in part because he was not forthright about his ties to Russia/Ukraine.

August 21, 2016: Roger Stone tweets, it will soon be Podestas’ time in the barrel.

August 23, 2016: Sergei Millian offers Papadopoulos “a disruptive technology that might be instrumental in your political work for the campaign.”

August 24, 2016: CrowdStrike report on hack of Democrats (referred to here).

September 1, 2016: Stefan Halper meets with Sam Clovis.

September 2, 2016: Halper reaches out to Papadopoulos. Lisa Page texts Peter Strzok that “POTUS wants to know everything we are doing;” per her sworn testimony, the text is a reference to the larger Russian investigation.

September 12: Following further reporting in the Kyiv Post, Konstantin Kilimnik contacts Alex Van der Zwaan in attempt to hide money laundering to Skadden Arps.

September 13, 2016: DOJ starts inquiring about Manafort obligation to register under FARA.

September 13-15, 2016: Papadopoulos meets with Stefan Halper and Azra Turk in London. He believes Halper records his answer to the emails question, including his remark it would “treason.”

Mid-September: FBI has opened sub-inquiries into Page and (probably) three other people linked to Trump, including Papadopoulos and probably Manafort and Flynn.

September 19, 2016: As part of his work for Turkey, Flynn meets with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Turkish Energy Minister (and Erdogan son-in-law) Berat Albayrak to discuss how to get Fethullah Gulen extradited. After meeting, James Woolsey informs Joe Biden.

September 24, 2016: Trump campaign severs all ties with Carter Page because of his suspect ties to Russia.

Early October 2016: Trump campaign dismisses Papadopoulos in response to Russian-friendly Interfax interview he did.

October 6, 2016: Corsi repeats the Joule/GAI claims.

October 7,  2016: Manafort gets Calk to increase the loan still further. WikiLeaks begins releasing Podesta emails right after Access Hollywood video drops. Steve Bannon associate tells Stone, “well done.”

October 11, 2016: Release of Podesta email allegedly backing Joule story (December 31, 2013 resignation letterJanuary 7, 2014 severance letters).

October 14, 2016: While working as unregistered agent of Turkey, Flynn plans to launch FBI investigation into Fethulah Gulen by alleging ties to Clinton Foundation and Campaign.

October 17, 2016: Michael Cohen forms Essential Consultants LLC.

October 18, 19, 20, 2016: Steele dossier reports on Michael Cohen role in operation.

October 21, 2016: DOJ applies for FISA order on Carter Page (Jim Comey and Sally Yates approve it). Manafort emails Kushner proposing to call Clinton “the failed and corrupt champion of the establishment” based on using WikiLeaks’ leaks. “Wikileaks provides the Trump campaign the ability to make the case in a very credible way – by using the words of Clinton, its campaign officials and DNC members.”

October 26, 2016: Cohen opens bank account for Essential Consultants, claiming it will be for his consulting with domestic clients, uses it to pay Stormy Daniels $130,000 to prevent her from sharing true information about Trump.

October 30, 2016: Giorgi Rtslchiladze texts Michael Cohen to tell him he has stopped the flow of some compromising tapes in Moscow.

November 5, 2016: Manafort predicted Hillary would respond to a loss by, “mov[ing] immediately to discredit the [Trump] victory and claim voter fraud and cyber-fraud, including the claim that the Russians have hacked into the voting machines and tampered with the results.”

November 8, 2016: Mike Flynn publishes op-ed for which Turkey paid almost $600,000, without disclosure, thereby serving as an unregistered agent of a foreign government; Steve Calk approves $9.5 million to Manafort he knew wasn’t backed by underwriting. Michael Cohen starts contacting Andrew Intrater regularly.

November 9, 2016: Papadopoulos arranges to meet Millian to discuss business opportunities with Russian “billionaires who are not under sanctions.”

November 10, 2016: Obama warns Trump against picking Mike Flynn as National Security Advisor; Mike Flynn gets his third payment for working as an unregistered agent of Turkey.

November 11, 2016: Calk asks his loan officer to call Manafort to find out if he’s under consideration for Secretary of Treasury.

November 14, 2016: Calk gives Manafort a list of potential roles in the Trump Administration; Manafort claims he is “involved directly” in the Transition; Papadopoulos and Millian meet in Chicago. Carter Page applies for a job in the Administration.

November 16, 2016: Calk’s bank closes on Manafort’s loan.

November 18, 2016: Elijah Cummings warns Mike Pence about Mike Flynn.

November 30, 2016: Manafort asks Jared Kushner to get Calk appointed Secretary of the Army, in response to which Kushner said he was “on it!”

December 8, 2016: Kilimnik raises plan to carve up Ukraine again in (probably foldered) email to Manafort; he also reports, “Carter Page is in Moscow today, sending messages he is authorized to talk to Russia on behalf of DT on a range of issues of mutual interest, including Ukraine.”

December 13, 2016: Steele dossier reports Michael Cohen contributed money for hackers.

December 15, 2016: Manafort arranges Calk interview for Under Secretary of the Army.

December 22, 2016: Calk directs his loan officer to approve a further $6.5 million loan to Manafort because he’s “influential.”

December 29, 2016: Flynn convinces Kislyak to hold off on retaliating for sanctions.

December 31, 2016: Kislyak tells Flynn they’ve held off because of Trump’s wishes.

January 3, 2017: Loretta Lynch approves procedures authorizing the sharing of NSA EO 12333 data with other intelligence agencies.

January 4, 2017: Manafort signs new $6.5 million loan.

January 5, 2017: IC briefs Obama on Russian investigation; possible unmasking of Flynn’s name in Sergei Kislyak transcripts in attempt to learn why Russians changed their response to sanctions.

January 6, 2017: Comey, James Clapper, John Brennan, and Mike Rogers brief Trump on Russian investigation.

January 10, 2017: Calk interviews for Under Secretary of the Army job. Intrater emails Cohen about the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, referencing Victor Vekselberg.

January 12, 2017: Manafort in Madrid at meeting set up by Kilimnik and Boyarkin to “recreate old friendship” with Deripaska; Manafort stated that “need this finished before Jan. 20.”

January 12, 2017: DOJ applies for FISA reauthorization on Carter Page (Jim Comey and Sally Yates approve it).

Before January 15, 2017: Steve Bannon would have been picked up on a FISA intercept targeting Carter Page telling him not to do an appearance on MSNBC.

January 19, 2017: In NYT report that Manafort investigation relies on foreign intercepts (without specifying whether he or others are targeted), he denies the kinds of meetings he had a week earlier. Stone has (probably erroneously) pointed to mention of his name in article to claim he was targeted under FISA.

January 20, 2017: In conjunction with inauguration, Manafort meets with Ukrainian oligarchs and Papadopoulos parties with Millian.

January 24, 2017: FBI interview of Mike Flynn.

January 27, 2017: FBI interview of George Papadopoulos.

Between January 27 and February 16, 2017: FBI asks if Papadopoulos is willing to wear a wire targeting Mifsud, suggesting they believed his comments in the first interview.

February 10, 2017: FBI interviews Mifsud in DC.

February 16, 2017: By his second FBI interview, FBI still has not subpoenaed logs from George Papadopoulos’ Skype and Facebook accounts (because they don’t know about Ivan Timofeev).

February 17, 2017: Papadopoulos attempts to delete his Facebook account.

February 23, 2017: Papadopoulos gets a new phone.

February 26, 2017: Manafort and Kilimnik meet in Madrid and again discuss Ukraine plan.

March 2017: Carter Page interviewed five times by FBI.

March 5, 2017: White House Counsel learns the FBI wants transition-period records relating to Flynn.

March 7, 2017: Flynn submits a factually false FARA registration.

March 10, 2017: FBI interviews Carter Page.

March 16, 2017: Richard Burr tells White House Counsel FBI is investigating Flynn, Manafort (though not yet for his campaign activities), Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, and Roger Stone. FBI interviews Carter Page.

March 20, 2017: Jim Comey confirms investigation.

March 30, 2017: FBI interviews Carter Page.

March 31, 2017: FBI interviews Carter Page.

Early April 2017: DOJ obtains reauthorization for FISA order on Carter Page (Comey and Dana Boente approve it).

May 7, 2017: Cohen has meeting with Vekselberg at Renova.

May 9, 2017: Jim Comey fired, ostensibly for his treatment of Hillary Clinton investigation; within days Trump admits it was because of Russian investigation.

May 17, 2017: Appointment of Mueller; Rosenstein includes Carter Page, Paul Manafort, and George Papadopoulos along with Flynn in the list of Trump officials whose election year ties might be investigated.

May 18, 2017: Strzok texts Page that, “my gut sense and concern there’s no big there there” in the Russian investigation.

May 27, 2017: Application for search of Manafort’s storage compartment does not mention June 9 meeting.

May 28, 2017: Lisa Page assigned to Mueller’s team.

Early June 2017: Peter Strzok assigned to Mueller’s team.

June 2017: Federal agents review Michael Cohen’s bank accounts.

June 6, 2017: Mueller team still not certain whether they would search on Section 702 materials.

June 16, 2017: Trump campaign tells Mueller GSA does not own Transition materials.

June 21, 2017: FBI sends a preservation order to Microsoft for Michael Cohen’s Trump Organization account.

June 29, 2017: DOJ obtains reauthorization for FISA order on Carter Page (Andrew McCabe and Rod Rosenstein approve it).

July 7, 2017: First date for warrants from Mueller-specific grand jury. (D Orders, PRTT)

July 12, 2017: Mueller subpoenas people and documents pertaining to June 9 meeting.

July 14, 2017: FBI sends a preservation order to Microsoft for all Trump Organization accounts.

July 15, 2017: Lisa Page leaves Mueller team.

July 18, 2017: Application for search of Michael Cohen’s Gmail reflects suspicions that Essential Consulting account used for payments associated with unregistered lobbying for Ukraine “peace” deal (name of AUSA approving application redacted); warrant obtains email from January 1 through present.

July 19, 2017: Peter Strzok interviewed, apparently to capture events surrounding Flynn firing.

July 20 and 25, 2017: FBI sends grand jury subpoenas for call records related to Michael Cohen Trump Organization account.

July 25, 2017: Application for search of Manafort’s condo includes request for materials relating to June 9 meeting; does not mention election year meetings with Kilimnik.

July 27, 2017: Early morning search of Paul Manafort’s condo. Horowitz tells Mueller about Page-Strzok texts. George Papadopoulos arrested.

July 28, 2017: Strzok moved off Mueller team.

August 2017: First search warrant obtained against Roger Stone, focused on CFAA.

August 1, 2017: Application for search warrant for Cohen’s Trump Organization email account adds Bank Fraud to suspected crimes; Mueller signed the nondisclosure request.

August 2, 2017: Rosenstein memo codifies scope to include Carter Page, Paul Manafort, and George Papadopoulos already under investigation, adds the Manafort financial crimes, the allegations that Papadopoulos had acted as an unregistered agent of Israel, and four allegations against Michael Flynn.

August 7, 2017: FBI obtains search warrant on Cohen’s Apple ID.

August 11, 2017: Strzok receives his exit clearance certificate from Mueller’s team.

August 17, 2017: Application for Manafort’s [email protected] email includes predication (probably Russian investigation related) unrelated to his financial crimes. (A warrant for Rick Gates and Konstantin Kilimnik’s DMP emails submitted that day does not include predication outside of the lobbying.)

August 17, 2017: Andrew McCabe interviewed.

August 23, 2017: Mueller requests Transition emails and devices for nine Transition officials from GSA.

August 30, 2017: Mueller requests Transition emails and devices for an additional four Transition officials.

September 19, 2017: CNN reports that FBI obtained a FISA warrant on Paul Manafort (though claims that search of storage facility happened under FISA, not criminal, warrant).

October 20, 2017: Rosenstein expands scope to include Michael Cohen, Rick Gates, Roger Stone, Don Jr, and at least one other person, plus Jeff Sessions’ lies to Congress.

November 13, 2017: FBI obtains Cohen’s Gmail going back to June 1, 2015 (prior warrants covered January 1, 2016 to present) and personal email hosted by 1&1.

January 19, 2018: Trump signs 702 reauthorization without any new protections on back door searches.

January 29, 2018: By this date, White House had turned over 20,000 pages of records to Mueller covering (see this post for more background):

  • White House response to DOJ concerns about Mike Flynn, his resignation, and White House comments about Jim Comey
  • White House communications about campaign and transition communications with Manafort, Gates, Gordon, Kellogg, Page, Papadopoulos, Phares, Clovis, and Schmitz
  • Records covering Flynn’s campaign and transition communications with Kislyak and other Russian officials, as well as the May 10, 2017 meeting
  • Records relating to the June 9 meeting
  • Records pertaining to Jim Comey’s firing

Between that date and June 5, 2018, the White House also turned over:

  • McGahn’s records pertaining to Flynn and Comey firings
  • White House Counsel documents pertaining to research on firing Comey before it happened
  • Details on the Bedminster meeting in advance of Comey’s firing
  • Details on McCabe’s communications with Trump right after he fired Comey
  • Details on the Trump’s actions during the summer of 2017 during events pertaining to obstruction

March 2018: Mueller subpoenas Trump Organization.

March 9, 2018: Application for search of five AT&T phones includes predication (and, apparently, phones) unrelated to Paul Manafort.

April 9, 2018: Michael Cohen raid.

June 5, 2018: White House turns over some visitor log information.

August 3, 2018: Three warrants against Stone in DC, focused on CFAA (per May 14, 2019 ABJ minute order).

August 8, 2018: Search warrant against Stone in DC, focused on CFAA (per May 14, 2019 ABJ minute order).

Around January 25, 2019: One SDNY, two SDFL, and one DC warrant against Stone focused on false statements.

January 25, 2019: Roger Stone raid and arrest.

February 2019: One DC warrant against Stone focused on CFAA.

The Game of Telephone that Has Attorney General William Barr in a Lather

When, close to the end of a day-long interview with Congress last October, Mark Meadows asked George Papadopoulos what he wanted to tell the American people about himself, the President’s former foreign policy advisor insisted he had had “no Russia connection whatsoever.” Instead, he insisted, the things that happened to him in 2016 and 2017 were just a conspiracy spun by Western diplomats and spies, not Russian ones.

Mr. Papadopoulos. George Papadopoulos has no Russia connection whatsoever, never did. He found himself mired in a Russia conspiracy, which makes no sense to him and I assume probably everyone in this room, and probably half the American public. I had many contacts with western intelligence and western diplomats. Some might have been masquerading as something they were not, like I assume Joseph Mifsud was, if his lawyer is to be believed. Stefan Halper, Alexander Downer. And I just really want to get to the bottom of why I was targeted by these very seasoned diplomats and intelligence officials, and what I was used for. And I think everybody really wants to figure that out, because I think figuring that out will unlock many mysteries in this entire investigation. And that’s why I think — that’s really what I’m at the core of, not the core of a Russia conspiracy.

But when he described what he was thinking when he pled guilty in October 2017 to one false statements charge instead of multiple false statements charges, an obstruction charge, and possibly serving as a unregistered Agent of Israel, Papadopoulos described believing that he was “in the middle of a real Russia conspiracy.”

And just going back in my memory, I guess the logic behind my guilty plea was that I thought I was really in the middle of a real Russia conspiracy, that this was all real, and that I had to plead out or face life in prison, the way they were making it seem.

Over the course of an interview where he frequently contradicted himself, Papadopoulos provided ample evidence that he did — almost certainly correctly — think he was being cultivated by people with ties to Russia during and after the election. There’s the description — the timeline of which Papadopoulos significantly distorts — of how he balked at an offer Sergei Millian made to be paid $30,000 a month so long as he worked in the Administration, but then still spent the night of the inauguration drinking with Millian in DC.

A Mostly talking about the potential that if I had formally left the campaign, which I had considered around certain months, that we would engage in some legitimate business that he might have. And then I made it clear to him that any business that we would be talking about would be completely illegal. I wouldn’t be part of the Trump campaign organization or have absolutely nothing to do with Trump himself if I’m going to work with you, or anybody else, by the way. And then he decided to present some sort of ambiguous business proposal to me. One day, in October or November in Chicago, where I felt that he was wearing a wire or he was setting me up for something about this proposal that he was talking about. He came to Chicago, we met at Trump Tower. He was very nervous, and he started telling me yet this deal that I think is for $30,000 a month, it’s a PR gig for a contact of mine in Russia.

Q Contact of his?

A His. Something — I never, to this day, I never really understood what this was. And but you have to understand, George, that if we do this you still have to work for Trump. And he was looking at me with his eyes really bogged out, very nervous. And I just looked at him, like this guy is on an operation against me right now trying to set me up for something. And I flatly told him, as far as I remember, No, I’m not taking this offer, because it’s illegal what you’re talking about, at least I thought it was illegal.

And there’s the way he moves from his false description that he stopped communicating with Joseph Mifsud in summer 2016 (on October 1, 2016, he sent Mifsud a link over Facebook to the Interfax column that got him fired from the campaign) to describing how Mifsud was actually still reaching out after the FBI interviewed Papadopoulos in January 2017, trying to set him up in business with his Swiss lawyer Stephan Roh.

Q Yes. So you stated earlier that as of summer 2016, you stopped communicating with Mr. Mifsud?

A That’s what I re — I believe that’s when I stopped talking to him, yes.

Q So after you stopped talking to Mr. Mifsud, did he ever attempt to reach out to contact you?

A What I remember is — I don’t know the months, okay? So I’m just letting you know what he was trying to accomplish, after it seems that I kicked him to the side about the campaign involvement, he introduced me over email to his current lawyer, Stephan Roh, as somebody that I might be interested in working with or on a project with. I — then I had a couple of Skype calls with Stephan Roh, and then, I believe, Mifsud was actually reaching out to me at the same time the FBI came to my house.

In both cases, Papadopoulos now dismisses that outreach claiming it came from Western, not Russian, intelligence because the people making the outreach made the claim. Thus the narrative: George has no Russia connection whatsoever, it was all a big Western intelligence trap for Donald Trump.

At the time he did this interview, Papadopoulos had gotten a new lawyer, Caroline Polisi, who was prepping a challenge to his incarceration. The whole interview — which was done without having any documentation that might have forced Papadopoulos to stick to the actual written record — was designed to feed that effort. Polisi repeatedly prevented Democrats from asking legitimate questions about what Papadopoulos actually did — including why he deactivated his Facebook account the day after his second FBI interview and why he called Trump’s then defense attorney, Marc Kasowitz, after he had been asked to wear a wire by the FBI.

But the interview is a significant part of the basis for the current effort to discredit the Russian investigation by declassifying materials that — proponents of the effort, including Trump, Mark Meadows, Jim Jordan, and Attorney General Barr claim — will show that Trump was spied on in inappropriate ways.

Of course, then, as in Barr’s May 1 testimony to Congress, a significant part of the “evidence” that something untoward happened is actually the absence of evidence: because the FBI — having been directed not to do anything overt on this investigation during the campaign precisely to avoid affecting the election — did not interview Papadopoulos until January 2017, Republican staffer Ryan Breitenbach suggests that’s proof of something illegal.

Q We understand now that — I believe, previously, Congressman Ratcliffe was indicating that you are generally considered the predication for the entire Trump-Russia investigation, which we now understand to have started at the end of July of 2016. So between July of 2016 and January 2017, you are the predicate of the investigation, but you’re not interviewed until January of 2017. Is that correct?

A That’s correct.

Q And throughout that intervening period, from July of 2016 through January of 2017, you don’t recall any instances where the FBI or anyone in the U.S. Government was attempting to contact you or interview you?

[snip]

Mr. Papadopoulos. No, no, absolutely not. I don’t have — I don’t recall any U.S. Government official or intelligence official openly reaching out to me to talk about this —

The other pieces of “proof” that something untoward came out of this hearing are even more crazy.

First, there’s Papadopoulos’ suspicion, generated after a year of mostly ignorant claims in the press about Carter Page’s FISA application, suggesting there must have been a FISA order targeting him because the FBI knew, when they first interviewed him in January 2017, that he had significant ties to Israel.

Mr. Papadopoulos. I– the reason I’m suggesting that there was a FISA was because there was tremendous scrutiny on — with my ties to Israel, to the point where I had apparently a formal charge of acting as an agent of Israel, which I don’t know how that’s even possible really, but there was a charge. And by the time I had my first interview with the FBI, they led me to believe that they knew about certain meetings I was having, who I knew in the Israeli Government domestically and abroad. That’s how I remember it. And that they were very angry almost about my ties to Israel, to the extent, as I mentioned, during my second encounter I remember the agent, Curtis Heide, telling me, oh, you don’t want to wear a wire, just know that you’re lucky Israel is an ally or else we would be going after you, something incredibly bizarre.

Mr. Meadows. So what you’re saying is, they had knowledge of private conversations and communications that you had with other individuals that would have taken extraordinary measures to find out. They couldn’t have found it on Facebook or read it in The Hill or someplace.

Mr. Papadopoulos. That’s — that’s what I believe, yes.

To be absolutely clear: I think it quite possible the FBI, later, got a FISA order targeting Papadopoulos (perhaps around April 2017, once they discovered that he had lied at this interview). But it’s unlikely they had one in January 2017, in part because they were unaware of his conversations with Ivan Timofeev. A deep knowledge of his ties to Israel but not his ties to Russian-linked individuals is what you might expect from FISA orders (and 12333 collection and HUMINT) targeting others, not Papadopoulos.

And Mark Meadows, whose job it is to oversee FISA, is supposed to know that. Papadopoulos is not. Nevertheless, Meadows allows a guy who has an ulterior motive but no actual knowledge to convince him of something that Meadows, at least, should have the knowledge to be skeptical of.

Then there’s what Republicans believe will be exculpatory information from a suspected recording taken by Stefan Halper in his FBI-arranged meeting with Papadopoulos in September 2016. The belief there’s a transcript (which may be true) comes not from actual knowledge, but from the fact that Papadopoulos’ original lawyers (who have said publicly there was nothing untoward about his treatment by the FBI) also knew that when Halper met with him, Papadopoulos used the word “treason” to deny any ties to the Russian hack-and-leak operation.

Mr. Meadows. About recordings or transcripts of Mr. Halper?

Mr. Papadopoulos. I never saw anything, but my lawyers, to be clear, they had made a passing remark about something that I said about treason —

Meadows leads Papadopoulos to describe the Halper interview. Because of the cues Meadows uses, which describe “benefitting from Hillary Clinton emails” as “collusion,” in the exchange he gets Papadopoulos describing simply benefitting from the emails (something that the Mueller Report describes Roger Stone to have done, on the orders of then candidate Trump) to be treason.

Mr. Papadopoulos. And after he was throwing these allegations at me, I —

Mr. Meadows. And by allegations, allegations that the Trump campaign was benefiting from Hillary Clinton emails?

Mr. Papadopoulos. Something along those lines, sir. And I think I pushed back and I told him, I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. What you’re talking about is something along the lines of treason. I’m not involved. I don’t know anyone in the campaign who’s involved. And, you know, I really have nothing to do with Russia. That’s — something along those lines is how I think I responded to this person.

Mr. Meadows. So essentially at this point, he was suggesting that there was collusion and you pushed back very firmly is what it sounds like.

I actually think that if there is a transcript, it would show that what Halper asked more specifically about — and so what Papadopoulos called “treason” — was whether the campaign was involved in or knew of the Russian hacking, not just whether they had worked hard to benefit from the emails after they had been hacked, as Papadopoulos describes here.

And all of a sudden he pulls out his phone — remember, this phone element again — and he puts it in front of him and he begins to start talking about Russia and hacking and if I’m involved, if the campaign is involved, if it’s benefiting the campaign. Something along those lines. I’m sure the transcript exists and you’ve probably read it, so I don’t want to be wrong on exactly what he said.

But Meadows, either because he’s a frightfully stupid man or bad at playing his designated hoaxster role, instead defines “collusion” to be simply benefitting from the emails — something that the campaign did and was still doing at the time of the Halper interview — he sets up that the key point of Papadopoulos’ interview to be that he denied, in strong terms, something that, in fact, the campaign (though Papadopoulos was too junior to be involved) was doing, with the knowledge of Trump himself.

Still, a transcript showing Papadopoulos denying that he knew of any campaign involvement in the emails, even while he labeled some form of it to be treason, would not be exculpatory. Rather, it would explain why, when asked directly about such things the following year, Papadopoulos lied and tried to hide evidence. That is, declassifying a transcript that showed Papadopoulos treated what the campaign was doing as treason would actually be inculpatory because it would explain why he lied: because he thought he might be on the hook for treason.

But Meadows (again, perhaps because he’s a frightfully stupid man) instead believes that if the transcript shows that Papadopoulos pushed back aggressively on a topic that the FBI later showed him to be (and he pled guilty to have) lying about, it would be proof that the investigation should never have started.

Mr. Meadows. So on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the most aggressive in terms of your pushback, what number would you categorize your pushback from Mr. Halper when he was asking you about your involvement with Russia?

Mr. Papadopoulos. Ten.

Mr. Meadows. It’s a ten?

Mr. Papadopoulos. Yeah.

Mr. Meadows. So what you’re telling me is that colluding with the Russians was the last thing on anybody’s mind at that particular point?

Mr. Papadopoulos. Last thing on my mind, certainly, I can only speak for myself.

This thread of questioning is all the more problematic because Papadopoulos answers some questions about what he was doing at the time inconsistently in the hearing, and they’re questions he has obstructed on in the past.

For example, in response to a question from Democratic staffer Susanne Sachsman Grooms, Papadopoulos claims he doesn’t know whether Walid Phares was part of a discussion about setting up a meeting in London with Putin’s office in September 2016, the same month Papadopoulos met Halper.

Q Did you discuss your efforts to set up the Putin-Trump meeting with Mr. Phares?

A I’m not sure he was copied on those particular emails, but I could send whatever emails I have with him to the committee. It’s fine with me.

Papadopoulos admits Republican staffer Art Baker precisely the details he denies to Sachsman Grooms.

And who did you discuss with at the campaign the idea of campaign officials going to go meet with Russian officials abroad? A I believe that there was a short period in which Sam Clovis, myself, and Walid Phares were discussing this potential trip. There could have been others copied on an email, something like that. But that’s what I remember at this moment.

More importantly, as the Mueller Report makes clear, this is a topic that Papapdopoulos refused to cooperate on during his proffers with the FBI. Here are Papadopoulos’ notes planning that “lot of risk meeting,” which the report notes he, “declined to assist in deciphering … telling investigators that he could not read his own handwriting from the journal.”

Similarly, Papadopoulos claims to remember stopping communicating with Mifsud in summer 2016.

Q When was the last time you remember communicating with Professor Misfud?

A Off the top of my memory I think it was the summer of 2016.

Q Do you remember why you stopped communicating with him?

A I can’t remember exactly, I just didn’t really think he was a man of real substance at some point.

Not only did he appear to still be communicating with him in 2017, but an October 1, 2016 Facebook message to Mifsud was among the things the FBI said Papadopoulos was trying to hide when he tried to delete his Facebook account the day after his second FBI interview.

The Facebook account that PAPADOPOULOS shut down the day after his interview with the FBI contained information about communications he had with Russian nationals and other foreign contacts during the Campaign, including communications that contradicted his statements to the FBI. More specifically, the following communications, among others, were contained in that Facebook account, which the FBI obtained through a judicially authorized search warrant.

[snip]

On or about October 1, 2016, PAPADOPOULOS sent [Mifsud] a private Facebook message with a link to an article from Interfax.com, a Russian news website. This evidence contradicts PAPADOPOULOS’s statement to the Agents when interviewed on or about January 27, 2017, that he had not been “messaging” with [Mifsud] during the campaign while “with Trump.”

In other words, at precisely the time he was interviewed by Halper, Papadopoulos was still in touch with Mifsud, and after being arrested for hiding that fact in 2017, he continued to obscure that detail when asked what his mindset was in 2016 when asked about it in 2018.

By all means, let’s see that transcript discussing what Papadopoulos thought amounted to treason. But I doubt it’s going to be exculpatory.

Finally, the craziest aspect of this game of chicken is how the Republicans on the committee repeatedly get him to reveal his beliefs about what happened to him actually come from press reporting on his case.

To explain his belief that Mifsud actually worked for Western intelligence, Papadopoulos cited Chuck Ross.

Papadopoulos continues to tell tales. When giving testimony to Congress, Papadopoulos cited a Daily Caller article to claim that Joseph Mifsud worked with Western intelligence. “I don’t want to espouse conspiracy theories because, you know, it’s horrifying to really think that they might be true, but just yesterday, there was a report in the Daily Caller from his own lawyer that he was working with the FBI when he approached me. And when he was working me, I guess — I don’t know if that’s a fact, and I’m not saying it’s a fact — I’m just relaying what the Daily Caller reported yesterday, with Chuck Ross, and it stated in a categorical fashion that Stephan Roh, who is Joseph Mifsud’s, I believe his President’s counsel, or PR person, said that Mifsud was never a Russian agent.

To explain his belief that there was a transcript of his conversations with Stefan Halper, he cites John Solomon.

And all of a sudden he pulls out his phone — remember, this phone element again — and he puts it in front of him and he begins to start talking about Russia and hacking and if I’m involved, if the campaign is involved, if it’s benefiting the campaign. Something along those lines. I’m sure the transcript exists and you’ve probably read it, so I don’t want to be wrong on exactly what he said. But —

Mr. Meadows. You say a transcript exists. A transcript exists of that conversation?

Mr. Papadopoulos. That’s I guess what John Solomon reported a couple days ago. Mr. Meadows. So are you aware of a transcript existing? I mean —

Mr. Papadopoulos. I wasn’t aware of a transcript existing personally.

And to explain his opinions about “Azra Turk” being a honey pot, he says he has no independent memory, but is relying on what the NYT reported (though I’m not sure which story).

She then apparently — I don’t remember it, I’m just reading The New York Times. She starts asking me about hacking. I don’t remember her actually asking me that, I just read it in The New York Times. Nevertheless, she introduces me the next time to Stefan Halper.

Mr. Meadows. She asked you about hacking?

Mr. Papadopoulos. I don’t remember it. I just — I think I read that particular —

Mr. Meadows. You’ve read that?

Mr. Papadopoulos. Yes, that’s what I — I think I read it in The New York Times.

Much of the current investigation into the investigation, then, stems from a hearing where:

  • Mark Meadows and other Republicans let Papadopoulos testify about what he read in the news, but not key details about his first hand knowledge of events
  • Papadopoulos’ inconsistent testimony replicated his past obstruction
  • Meadows let someone who should know less than Meadows himself does about FISA misrepresent how it works as testimony
  • Once again, FBI’s conservative approach with this investigation is instead cited as proof of spying

This is what has Attorney General in a lather right now: claims originating in this hearing.

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. 

Lisa Page Confirms that the Trump Campaign Investigation Was Different than Russian Info Ops Investigation

In her interviews, Lisa Page confirms something I keep explaining, only to have people try to correct me. The Russian investigation into Trump’s campaign that got started in July 2016 did not, at first, include the GRU and Internet Research Agency activity that later got subsumed into the Mueller investigation. In her first interview, Page makes this clear in a response to John Ratcliffe insinuating, incorrectly, that reference to Obama’s interest in the FBI’s activities must be an attempt to tamper in the Clinton investigation.

Mr. Ratcliffe. Let me move on to a text message on September 2nd of 2016. It’s a series of texts that you exchanged with Agent Strzok. And at one point you text him: Yes, because POTUS wants to know everything we are doing.

[snip]

Ms. Page. It’s not about the Midyear investigation, if that’s the question. It has to do with Russia. It does not have to do with the Clinton investigation at all.

Mr. Ratcliffe. Okay. It does have to do with Russia, the Russia investigation?

Ms. Page. No, not the Russia investigation. It has to do with the broader look at Russian active measures.

She again makes that distinction regarding an August 5, 2016 text Strzok sent her.

Kim: Mr. Strzok wrote to you, quote: And hi. Went well. Best we could have expected other than, redacted, comma, quote, the White House is running this. Next text you stated–

Page: Yep.

Kim: –or, sorry, next text he stated, my answer, well maybe for you they are. And in response to these texts you wrote, yeah, whatever, re the White House comment. We’ve got emails that say otherwise. Do you remember what this meeting was about?

[snip]

Page: It is about — again, like the last time, it is about the broader intelligence community’s investigation of Russian active measures.

Kim: And not about the specific Russian collusion investigation?

Page: Definitely not.

In her second interview, Page was asked about whether Trump was included in the investigation during fall 2016, and Page describes the investigation at that point as “narrowly scoped.”

Kim: When we talk about the Russia collusion investigation in this timeframe, candidate Donald Trump is not the subject of that investigation, is that correct?

Page: That’s correct.

[snip]

So it was a very narrowly scoped, very discrete investigation because we understood the gravity of what it was we were looking at and we were not going to take a more extreme step than we felt we could justify.

Mark Meadows tries to suggest that the White House got briefed on the Trump investigation, and she corrects him.

Meadows; I think early on, August 5th, there’s the first original what we called at that time the Russia investigation briefing that happened. Peter Strzok comes back from [London], makes it just in time for you to have that. There’s a briefing that occurs on August 8th. And there’s a briefing with Denis McDonough at the White House where Jonathan Moffa and others attended.

[snip]

Page: But those were not about the Crossfire. To the best of my knowledge those were not —

Meadows: So they had nothing to do with any potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign? That was never mentioned?

Page: Not to my knowledge. It was always about the Russian active measures effort.

I keep harping on this point for several reasons. First, because when Republicans imagine — as they do here — that every negative comment Page and Peter Strzok made about a Russian investigation reflects bias against Donald Trump, they are unintentionally arguing that any criticism of Russian hacking by definition is a criticism of Trump. Meanwhile, they’re not considering why — sometime well after the Mueller investigation started — the Special Counsel had reason to subsume these other investigations.

But the problem with this misconception extends, too, to supporters of Mueller’s investigation. That’s because by conflating the larger counterintelligence investigation into Russian active measures with the more narrowly scoped (using Page’s description) investigation into Trump’s aides, the misinterpret the degree to which Mueller’s investigation stems from predicated investigations against individuals.

But don’t take my word for it. Take Lisa Page’s word for it.

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 Narrating Donald Trump: “Shoot me like I’m shot on ‘The Apprentice'”


Pretty much everyone I know is recommending this New Yorker profile describing how Mark Burnett created Donald Trump’s current image (and with it his electoral prospects).

Along with describing how both Trump and Burnett came to turn the popularity of the show into a marketing vehicle and a Trump’s telling claim that he initially hesitated before signing onto reality teevee because the, “contractors, politicians, mobsters, and everyone else I have to deal with in my business … don’t like, as they’re talking to me, having cameras all over the room,” the piece describes how the show depicted not reality, but a heavily edited narrative trying to retroactively justify Trump’s capricious firing decisions each week.

The result created the illusion that a serially bankrupt joker was, instead, a king.

Burnett has often boasted that, for each televised hour of “The Apprentice,” his crews shot as many as three hundred hours of footage. The real alchemy of reality television is the editing—sifting through a compost heap of clips and piecing together an absorbing story. Jonathon Braun, an editor who started working with Burnett on “Survivor” and then worked on the first six seasons of “The Apprentice,” told me, “You don’t make anything up. But you accentuate things that you see as themes.” He readily conceded how distorting this process can be. Much of reality TV consists of reaction shots: one participant says something outrageous, and the camera cuts away to another participant rolling her eyes. Often, Braun said, editors lift an eye roll from an entirely different part of the conversation.

At the end of each episode, Trump determined which competitor should be “fired.” But, as Braun explained, Trump was frequently unprepared for these sessions, with little grasp of who had performed well. Sometimes a candidate distinguished herself during the contest only to get fired, on a whim, by Trump. When this happened, Braun said, the editors were often obliged to “reverse engineer” the episode, scouring hundreds of hours of footage to emphasize the few moments when the exemplary candidate might have slipped up, in an attempt to assemble an artificial version of history in which Trump’s shoot-from-the-hip decision made sense. During the making of “The Apprentice,” Burnett conceded that the stories were constructed in this way, saying, “We know each week who has been fired, and, therefore, you’re editing in reverse.” Braun noted that President Trump’s staff seems to have been similarly forced to learn the art of retroactive narrative construction, adding, “I find it strangely validating to hear that they’re doing the same thing in the White House.”

Such sleight of hand is the industry standard in reality television. But the entire premise of “The Apprentice” was also something of a con. When Trump and Burnett told the story of their partnership, both suggested that Trump was initially wary of committing to a TV show, because he was so busy running his flourishing real-estate empire. During a 2004 panel at the Museum of Television and Radio, in Los Angeles, Trump claimed that “every network” had tried to get him to do a reality show, but he wasn’t interested: “I don’t want to have cameras all over my office, dealing with contractors, politicians, mobsters, and everyone else I have to deal with in my business. You know, mobsters don’t like, as they’re talking to me, having cameras all over the room. It would play well on television, but it doesn’t play well with them.”

“The Apprentice” portrayed Trump not as a skeezy hustler who huddles with local mobsters but as a plutocrat with impeccable business instincts and unparalleled wealth—a titan who always seemed to be climbing out of helicopters or into limousines. “Most of us knew he was a fake,” Braun told me. “He had just gone through I don’t know how many bankruptcies. But we made him out to be the most important person in the world. It was like making the court jester the king.” Bill Pruitt, another producer, recalled, “We walked through the offices and saw chipped furniture. We saw a crumbling empire at every turn. Our job was to make it seem otherwise.

[snip]

Trump took to his part more nimbly than anyone might have predicted. He wouldn’t read a script—he stumbled over the words and got the enunciation all wrong. But off the cuff he delivered the kind of zesty banter that is the lifeblood of reality television. He barked at one contestant, “Sam, you’re sort of a disaster. Don’t take offense, but everyone hates you.” Katherine Walker told me that producers often struggled to make Trump seem coherent, editing out garbled syntax and malapropisms. “We cleaned it up so that he was his best self,” she said, adding, “I’m sure Donald thinks that he was never edited.” [my emphasis]

Throughout, the piece both implicitly and explicitly suggests that the White House is adopting techniques from the show in burnishing Trump’s power. Or, at least, Trump is asking that his handlers replicate the same frames of power that Burnett used.

The show’s camera operators often shot Trump from low angles, as you would a basketball pro, or Mt. Rushmore. Trump loomed over the viewer, his face in a jowly glower, his hair darker than it is now, the metallic auburn of a new penny. (“Apprentice” employees were instructed not to fiddle with Trump’s hair, which he dyed and styled himself.) Trump’s entrances were choreographed for maximum impact, and often set to a moody accompaniment of synthesized drums and cymbals. The “boardroom”—a stage set where Trump determined which candidate should be fired—had the menacing gloom of a “Godfather” movie. In one scene, Trump ushered contestants through his rococo Trump Tower aerie, and said, “I show this apartment to very few people. Presidents. Kings.” In the tabloid ecosystem in which he had long languished, Trump was always Donald, or the Donald. On “The Apprentice,” he finally became Mr. Trump.

[snip]

Trump has succeeded in politics, in part, by borrowing the tropes of the show. Jonathon Braun pointed out to me that when Trump announced his candidacy, in 2015, he did so in the atrium of Trump Tower, and made his entrance by descending the gold-colored escalator—choreography that Burnett and his team had repeatedly used on the show. After Trump’s announcement, reports suggested that people who had filled the space and cheered during his speech had been hired to do so, like TV extras, for a day rate of fifty dollars. Earlier this year, the White House started issuing brief video monologues from the President that strongly evoke his appearances on Burnett’s show. Justin McConney, a former director of new media for the Trump Organization, told New York that, whenever Trump works with camera people, he instructs them, “Shoot me like I’m shot on ‘The Apprentice.’ ” [my emphasis]

One of the most interesting details in the piece is that Democrats actively (and successfully) lobbied musical talent to blow off Trump’s inauguration, themselves performing a kind of script-writing that has haunted Trump since.

A Democratic political operative who was involved in a back-channel campaign to dissuade big-name stars from appearing at the event told me that Burnett had tried to enlist musicians to perform. “Mark was somebody we were actively working against,” the operative said. Trump’s wish list included Elton John, Aretha Franklin, and Paul Anka—who, he hoped, would sing “My Way”—but they all claimed to be otherwise engaged. The event ended up with sparse crowds and a feeble roster of performers.

Because I dawdled before reading the piece, I was reading it at the same time as reading coverage of the shutdown. That coverage highlights the results of running a Reality Teevee star as President. There’s NYT report that the reason why Trump has shut down the government to get Congress to fund him a wall is because Sam Nunberg and Roger Stone (and Steve Bannon) used the wall as a mnemonic device to get Trump to repeat his lines.

“How do we get him to continue to talk about immigration?” Sam Nunberg, one of Mr. Trump’s early political advisers, recalled telling Roger J. Stone Jr., another adviser. “We’re going to get him to talk about he’s going to build a wall.”

[snip]

“As a messaging strategy, it was pretty successful,” [anti-immigration activist Mark] Krikorian said. “The problem is, you got elected; now what do you do? Having made it his signature issue, Trump handed the Democrats a weapon against him.”

We’ve shut down the entire government because an entertainment professional always refused to memorize his lines (or as someone on Twitter noted, use a teleprompter), and so the unstable hacks who managed him early on invented a policy promise that not even hardline anti-immigration experts want.

And Trump seems to be judging the advice on the shutdown he receives based on how sycophantically his interlocutors judge his “performance” trying to ratchet up pressure for a wall.

Trump spent much of Saturday on the phone with allies, talking through his positioning on the shutdown and hearing their reviews of his Rose Garden performance, according to a person close to him. Two people regularly on his call list — Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) and Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) — have encouraged Trump to take a hard line and refuse to agree to reopen the government unless wall funding is secured, the person said.

Trump, who doesn’t understand the successful tycoon that starred in The Apprentice was the product of heavy editing, has now taken to editing himself, trying to fulfill the things the Campaign Reality Teevee star said over and over, based off what Mark Meadows and Lindsey Graham  tell him.

The New Yorker profile, however, offers scant solutions to the problem that Burnett created — just his ex-wife imploring him to tell Trump he’s not actually living a reality show, as if that will fix the problem.

One day this past fall, Burnett got a call from his first wife, Kym Gold, with whom he remains friendly. Gold was upset about what was happening in the country, and asked Burnett to intervene with Trump. “We had it out,” she told me. “I said, ‘You’ve got to help our children, for the future and safety of this country.’ ” Gold implored Burnett, “Tell him this is not a reality show. This is real life. You’re the President. You’re saying things you cannot say—to reporters, to other world leaders.”

But that wouldn’t fix it even if Burnett were willing to risk losing access to Trump by telling him.

The problem, and any potential solutions, is something I’ve been thinking about for some time. No one is going to cure Trump of his addiction to being framed to look powerful. If he doesn’t get that high from his White House handlers, he will continue to fire them and look elsewhere, to people who are even better trained at flattery than Burnett. Trump now believes he can produce himself, based largely on the feedback of nutjobs like Ann Coulter and Sean Hannity.

I’m not actually advocating letting Trump frame himself as a king. But I also think that much of Democrats’ response involves trying to fact check Trump rather than reframe him. Your typical Trump voter isn’t going to give a damn that Trump is lying until some policy he has bragged about (up to and including the shutdown, but also his trade wars) ends up making them feel personally betrayed.

Mind you, I think Nancy Pelosi understands all this. She understands (like that other great female politician, Angela Merkel) that Trump will lose more if he is shown looking weak next to a woman than if someone proves his 100,000th lie.

That last of the self-imagined productive sycophants left with John Kelly. Trump now has a temporary Chief of Staff, one who will be gone once Trump decides to internalize Mick Mulvaney’s labeling of Trump’s position on the wall as “childish.” That creates a vacuum in the function of framing Trump’s image.

Update, January 12: This important op-ed from an OLC veteran describes how lawyers there do much the same as what editors on The Apprentice does.

But when I was at OLC, I saw again and again how the decision to trust the president failed the office’s attorneys, the Justice Department and the American people. The failure took different forms. Sometimes, we just wouldn’t look that closely at the claims the president was making about the state of the world. When we did look closely, we could give only nudges. For example, if I identified a claim by the president that was provably false, I would ask the White House to supply a fig leaf of supporting evidence. Or if the White House’s justification for taking an action reeked of unconstitutional animus, I would suggest a less pungent framing or better tailoring of the actions described in the order.

I often wondered, though, whether my attempts to remove the most basic inaccuracies from the face of a presidential order meant that I was myself failing to carry out my oath to protect and defend the Constitution. After all, the president had already submitted, through his early drafts or via Twitter, his reasons for issuing a particular order. I sometimes felt that, rather than engaging in professionally responsible advocacy, my OLC colleagues and I were using the law to legitimize lies.

I felt more than a twinge of recognition this month when reading a New Yorker article about Trump and the reality-TV show “The Apprentice.” Jonathan Braun, an editor on “The Apprentice,” described how editors would “reverse engineer” episodes after Trump made impulsive decisions about firing a contestant. The article described editors “scouring hundreds of hours of footage . . . in an attempt to assemble an artificial version of history in which Trump’s shoot-from-the-hip decision made sense.” Like a staff member at “The Apprentice,” I occasionally caught myself fashioning a pretext, building an alibi.

The Dossier Is Not the Measure of the Trump-Russia Conspiracy

It seems like the whole world has decided to measure Trump’s conspiracy with Russia not from the available evidence, but based on whether the Steele dossier correctly predicted all the incriminating evidence we now have before us.

The trend started with NPR. According to them (or, at least, NPR’s Phillip Ewing doing a summary without first getting command of the facts), if Michael Cohen didn’t coordinate a Tower-for-sanctions-relief deal from Prague, then such a deal didn’t happen. That’s the logic of a column dismissing the implications of the recent Cohen allocution showing that when Don Jr took a meeting offering dirt on Hillary as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” he knew his family stood to make hundreds of millions if they stayed on Vladimir Putin’s good side.

Item: Cohen ostensibly played a key role in the version of events told by the infamous, partly unverified Russia dossier. He denied that strongly to Congress. He also has admitted lying to Congress and submitted an important new version of other events.

But that new story didn’t include a trip to Prague, as described in the dossier. Nor did Cohen discuss that in his interview on Friday on ABC News. Could the trip, or a trip, still be substantiated? Yes, maybe — but if it happened, would a man go to prison for three years without anyone having mentioned it?

As I noted, Mueller laid out the following in the unredacted summary of Cohen’s cooperation.

Consider this passage in the Mueller Cohen sentencing memo.

The defendant’s false statements obscured the fact that the Moscow Project was a lucrative business opportunity that sought, and likely required, the assistance of the Russian government. If the project was completed, the Company could have received hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources in licensing fees and other revenues. The fact that Cohen continued to work on the project and discuss it with Individual 1 well into the campaign was material to the ongoing congressional and SCO investigations, particularly because it occurred at a time of sustained efforts by the Russian government to interfere with the U.S. presidential election. Similarly, it was material that Cohen, during the campaign, had a substantive telephone call about the project with an assistant to the press secretary for the President of Russia.

Cohen’s lies, aside from attempting to short circuit the parallel Russian investigations, hid the following facts:

  • Trump Organization stood to earn “hundreds of millions of dollars from Russian sources” if the Trump Tower deal went through.
  • Cohen’s work on the deal continued “well into the campaign” even as the Russian government made “sustained efforts … to interfere in the U.S. presidential election.”
  • The project “likely required[] the assistance of the Russian government.”
  • “Cohen [during May 2016] had a substantive telephone call about the project with an assistant to the press secretary for the President of Russia [Dmitri Peskov].”

But because the new Cohen details (along with the fact that he booked tickets for St. Petersburg the day of the June 9 meeting, only to cancel after the Russian hack of the DNC became public) didn’t happen in Prague, it’s proof, according to NPR, that there is no collusion. [Note, NPR has revised this lead and added an editors note labeling this piece as analysis, not news.]

Political and legal danger for President Trump may be sharpening by the day, but the case that his campaign might have conspired with the Russian attack on the 2016 election looks weaker than ever.

There are other errors in the piece. It claims “Manafort’s lawyers say he gave the government valuable information,” but they actually claimed he didn’t lie (and it doesn’t note that the two sides may have gone back to the drawing board after that public claim). Moreover, the column seems to entirely misunderstand that Manafort’s plea (would have) excused him from the crimes in chief, which is why they weren’t charged. Nor does it acknowledge the details from prosecutors list of lies that implicate alleged GRU associate Konstantin Kilimnik in an ongoing role throughout Trump’s campaign.

Then there’s the NPR complaint that Mike Flynn, after a year of cooperation, is likely to get no prison time. It uses that to debunk a straw man that Flynn was a Russian foreign agent.

Does that sound like the attitude they would take with someone who had been serving as a Russian factotum and who had been serving as a foreign agent from inside the White House as national security adviser, steps away from the Oval Office?

That’s never been the claim (though the Russians sure seemed like they were cultivating it). Rather, the claim was that Flynn hid details of Trump’s plans to ease sanctions, an easing of sanctions Russians had asked Don Jr to do six months earlier in a meeting when they offered him dirt. The 302 from his FBI interview released last night makes it clear that indeed he did.

Finally, NPR is sad that Carter Page hasn’t been charged.

Will the feds ever charge Trump’s sometime foreign policy adviser, Carter Page, whom they called a Russian agent in the partly declassified application they made to surveil him?

This is not a checklist, where Trump will be implicated in a conspiracy only if the hapless Page is indicted (any case against whom has likely been spoiled anyway given all the leaking). The question, instead, is whether Trump and his spawn and campaign manager and longtime political advisor (the piece names neither Don Jr nor Roger Stone, both of whom have been saying they’ll be indicted) entered into a conspiracy with Russians.

In short, this piece aims to measure whether there was “collusion” not by looking at the evidence, but by looking instead at the Steele dossier to see if it’s a mirror of the known facts.

But NPR isn’t the only outlet measuring reality by how it matches up to the Steele dossier. This piece describes that Michael Isikoff thinks, “All the signs to me are, Mueller is reaching his end game, and we may see less than what many people want him to find,” in part because of the same three points made in the NPR piece (Cohen didn’t go to Prague, no pee tape has been released, and Flynn will get no prison time), but also because Maria Butina — whose investigation was not tied to the Trump one, but whom Isikoff himself had claimed might be — will mostly implicate her former boyfriend, Paul Erickson. In the interview, Isikoff notes that because the dossier has not been corroborated, calling it a “mixed record, at best … most of the specific allegations have not been borne out” and notes his own past predictions have not been fulfilled.  Perhaps Isikoff’s reliance on the dossier arises from his own central role in it, but Isikoff misstates some of what has come out in legal filings to back his claim that less will come of the Mueller investigation than he thought.

Then there is Chuck Ross. Like Isikoff, Ross has invested much of his investigative focus into the dossier, and thus is no better able than Isikoff to see a reality but for the false mirror of the dossier. His tweet linking a story laying out more evidence that Michael Cohen did not go to Prague claims that that news is “a huge blow for the collusion narrative.”

Even when Ross wrote a post pretending to assess whether the Michael Cohen plea allocution shows “collusion,” Ross ultimately fell back on assessing whether the documents instead proved the dossier was true.

Notably absent from the Mueller filing is any indication that Cohen provided information that matches the allegations laid out in the Steele dossier, the infamous document that Democrats tout as the roadmap to collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian government.

The most prominent allegation against Cohen in the 35-page report is that he traveled to Prague in August 2016 to meet with Kremlin insiders to discuss paying off hackers who stole Democrats’ emails.

The Isikoff comments appear to have traveled via Ross to Trump’s Twitter thumbs, all without assessing the evidence in plain sight.

Meanwhile, Lawfare is erring in a parallel direction, checking on the dossier to see “whether information made public as a result of the Mueller investigation—and the passage of two years—has tended to buttress or diminish the crux of Steele’s original reporting.”

Such an exercise is worthwhile, if conducted as a measure of whether Christopher Steele obtained accurate intelligence before it otherwise got reported by credible, public sources. But much of what Lawfare does does the opposite — assessing reports (it even gets the number of reports wrong, saying there are 16, not 17, which might be excusable if precisely that issue hadn’t been the subject of litigation) out of context of when they were published. Even still, aside from Steele’s reports on stuff that was already public (Carter Page’s trip to Moscow, Viktor Yanukovych’s close ties to Paul Manafort), the post reaches one after another conclusion that the dossier actually hasn’t been confirmed.

There’s the 8-year conspiracy of cooperation, including Trump providing Russia intelligence. [my emphasis throughout here]

Most significantly, the dossier reports a “well-developed conspiracy of co-operation between [Trump and his associates] and the Russian leadership,” including an “intelligence exchange [that] had been running between them for at least 8 years.” There has been significant investigative reporting about long-standing connections between Trump, his associates and Kremlin-affiliated individuals, and Trump himself acknowledged that the purpose of a June 2016 meeting between his son, Donald Trump Jr. and a Kremlin-connected lawyer was to obtain “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. But there is, at present, no evidence in the official record that confirms other direct ties or their relevance to the 2016 presidential campaign.

There’s the knowing support for the hack-and-leak among Trump and his top lackeys.

It does not, however, corroborate the statement in the dossier that the Russian intelligence “operation had been conducted with the full knowledge and support of Trump and senior members of his campaign team.”

There’s Cohen’s Trump Tower deal.

These documents relate to Cohen’s false statements to Congress regarding attempted Trump Organization business dealings in Russia. The details buttress Steele’s reporting to some extent, but mostly run parallel, neither corroborating nor disproving information in the dossier.

There’s Cohen’s role in the hack-and-leak, including his trip to Prague.

Even with the additional detail from the Cohen documents, certain core allegations in the dossier related to Cohen—which, if true, would be of utmost relevance to Mueller’s investigation—remain largely unconfirmed, at least from the unredacted material. Specifically, the dossier reports that there was well-established, continuing cooperation between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin; that Cohen played a central role in the coordination of joint efforts; and that he traveled to Prague to meet with Russian officials and cut-outs.

There’s Papadopoulos, who (as Lawfare admits) doesn’t show up in the dossier; here they argue he could have, without asking why Steele missed him running around London talking to people who traveled in Steele’s circles.

We revisit his case because it resonates with one of the themes of the dossier, which is the extensive Russian outreach effort to an array of individuals connected to the Trump campaign. Steele’s sources reported on alleged interactions between Carter Page and Russian officials, but Papadopoulos’s conduct would have fit right in.

Again, except for the stuff that was publicly known, Lawfare assesses one after another claim from the dossier and finds that Mueller’s investigation has not corroborated the specific claims, even while Mueller has provided ample evidence of something else going on. But that doesn’t stop Lawfare from claiming that Mueller has “confirm[ed] pieces of the dossier.”

The Mueller investigation has clearly produced public records that confirm pieces of the dossier. And even where the details are not exact, the general thrust of Steele’s reporting seems credible in light of what we now know about extensive contacts between numerous individuals associated with the Trump campaign and Russian government officials.

However, there is also a good deal in the dossier that has not been corroborated in the official record and perhaps never will be—whether because it’s untrue, unimportant or too sensitive. As a raw intelligence document, the Steele dossier, we believe, holds up well so far. But surely there is more to come from Mueller’s team. We will return to it as the public record develops.

In the end, I actually think Mueller may show that Trump, Stone, and Manafort did abet the hack-and-leak campaign, certainly the later parts of it, and that the Trump Tower deal was a key part of the quid pro quo. That’s aside from anything that Trump did with analytics data made available, if it was. But Mueller has just shown the outlines of where a case in chief might fit thus far. And where has has, those outlines raise one after another question of why Steele missed evidence (like the June 9 meeting) that was literally sitting in front of him. No one is answering those questions in these retrospectives.

One reason this effort, coming from Lawfare, is particularly unfortunate is because of a detail recently disclosed in Comey’s recent testimony to Congress. As you read, remember that this exchange involves Mark Meadows, who is the source of many of the most misleading allegations pertaining to the Russian investigation. In Comey’s first appearance this month (given Comey’s comments after testifying yesterday, I expect we’ll see more of the same today when his transcript is released), Meadows seemed to make much of the fact that Michael Sussman, who works with Marc Elias at Perkins Coie, provided information directly to Lawfare contributor James Baker.

Mr. Meadows. So are you saying that James Baker, your general counsel, who received direct information from Perkins Coie, did so and conveyed that to your team without your knowledge?

Mr. Comey. I don’t know.

Mr. Meadows. What do you mean you don’t know? I mean, did he tell you or not?

Mr. Comey. Oh, I — well —

Mr. Meadows. James Baker, we have testimony that would indicate that he received information directly from Perkins Coie; he had knowledge that they were representing the Democrat National Committee and, indeed, collected that information and conveyed it to the investigative team. Did he tell you that he received that information from them? And I can give you a name if you want to know who he received it from.

Mr. Comey. I don’t remember the name Perkins Coie at all.

Mr. Meadows. What about Michael Sussmann?

Mr. Comey. I think I’ve read that name since then. I don’t remember learning that name when I was FBI Director. I was going to ask you a followup, though. When you say “that information,” what do you mean?

Mr. Meadows. Well, it was cyber information as it relates to the investigation.

Mr. Comey. Yeah, I have some recollection of Baker interacting with — you said the DNC, which sparked my recollection — with the DNC about our effort to get information about the Russian hack of them —

Mr. Meadows. Yeah, that’s — that’s not — that’s not what I’m referring to.

Mr. Comey. — but I don’t — I don’t remember anything beyond that.

Mr. Meadows. And so I can give you something so that you — your counsel can look at it and refresh your memory, perhaps, as we look at that, but I guess my concern is your earlier testimony acted like this was news to you that Perkins Coie represented the Democratic National Committee, and yet your general counsel not only knew that but received information from them that was transmitted to other people in the investigative team. [my emphasis]

I have long wondered how the Perkins Coie meeting with the FBI on the hack timed up with the hiring, by Fusion GPS working for Perkins Coie, of Christopher Steele lined up, and that appears to be where Meadows is going to make his final, desperate stand. An earlier version of this hoax revealed that it pertained to materials on hacking, but did not specify that Steele had anything to do with it (indeed, Steele was always behind public reporting on the hack-and-leak).

Still, it would be of more public utility for Lawfare to clarify this detail than engage in yet another exercise in rehabilitating the dossier.

Instead, they — just like everyone else choosing not to look for evidence (or lack thereof) in the actual evidence before us — instead look back to see whether Steele’s dossier was a mirror of reality or something else entirely. If it’s the latter — and it increasingly looks like it is — then it’s time to figure out how and what it is.

Update: Cheryl Rofer did a line by line assessment of Steele’s dossier which is worthwhile. I would dispute a number of her claims (and insist that Steele’s reporting on the hacks be read in the temporal context in which he always lagged public reporting) and wish she’d note where the public record shows facts that actually conflict with the dosser. But it is a decent read.

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. 

The Year Long Trump Flunky Effort to Free Julian Assange

The NYT has an unbelievable story about how Paul Manafort went to Ecuador to try to get Julian Assange turned over. I say it’s unbelievable because it is 28 paragraphs long, yet it never once explains whether Assange would be turned over to the US for prosecution or for a golf retirement. Instead, the story stops short multiple times of what it implies: that Manafort was there as part of paying off Trump’s part of a deal, but the effort stopped as soon as Mueller was appointed.

Within a couple of days of Mr. Manafort’s final meeting in Quito, Robert S. Mueller III was appointed as the special counsel to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election and related matters, and it quickly became clear that Mr. Manafort was a primary target. His talks with Ecuador ended without any deals.

The story itself — which given that it stopped once Mueller was appointed must be a limited hangout revealing that Manafort tried to free Assange, complete with participation from the spox that Manafort unbelievably continues to employ from his bankrupt jail cell — doesn’t surprise me at all.

After all, the people involved in the election conspiracy made multiple efforts to free Assange.

WikiLeaks kicked off the effort at least by December, when they sent a DM to Don Jr suggesting Trump should make him Australian Ambassador to the US.

Hi Don. Hope you’re doing well! In relation to Mr. Assange: Obama/Clinton placed pressure on Sweden, UK and Australia (his home country) to illicitly go after Mr. Assange. It would be real easy and helpful for your dad to suggest that Australia appoint Assange ambassador to DC “That’s a really smart tough guy and the most famous australian you have! ” or something similar. They won’t do it, but it will send the right signals to Australia, UK + Sweden to start following the law and stop bending it to ingratiate themselves with the Clintons. 12/16/16 12:38PM

Weeks later, Hannity would go to the Embassy to interview Assange. Assange fed him the alternate view of how he obtained the DNC emails, a story that would be critical to Trump’s success at putting the election year heist behind him, if it were successful. Trump and Hannity pushed the line that the hackers were not GRU, but some 400 pound guy in someone’s basement.

Then the effort actually shifted to Democrats and DOJ. Starting in February through May 2017, Oleg Deripaska and Julian Assange broker Adam Waldman tried to convince Bruce Ohr or Mark Warner to bring Assange to the US, using the threat of the Vault 7 files as leverage. In February, Jim Comey told DOJ to halt that effort. But Waldman continued negotiations, offering to throw testimony from Deripaska in as well. He even used testimony from Christopher Steele as leverage.

This effort has been consistently spun by the Mark Meadows/Devin Nunes/Jim Jordan crowd — feeding right wing propagandists like John Solomon — as an attempt to obstruct a beneficial counterintelligence discussion. It’s a testament to the extent to which GOP “investigations” have been an effort to spin an attempt to coerce freedom for Assange.

Shortly after this effort failed, Manafort picked it up, as laid out by the NYT. That continued until Mueller got hired.

There may have been a break (or maybe I’m missing the next step). But by the summer, Dana Rohrabacher and Chuck Johnson got in the act, with Rohrabacher going to the Embassy to learn the alternate story, which he offered to share with Trump.

Next up was Bill Binney, whom Trump started pushing Mike Pompeo to meet with, to hear Binney’s alternative story.

At around the same time, WikiLeaks released the single Vault 8 file they would release, followed shortly by Assange publicly re-upping his offer to set up a whistleblower hotel in DC.

Those events contributed to a crackdown on Assange and may have led to the jailing of accused Vault 7 source Joshua Schulte.

In December, Ecuador and Russia started working on a plan to sneak Assange out of the Embassy.

A few weeks later, Roger Stone got into the act, telling Randy Credico he was close to winning Assange a pardon.

These efforts have all fizzled, and I suspect as Mueller put together more information on Trump’s conspiracy with Russia, not only did the hopes of telling an alternative theory fade, but so did the possibility that a Trump pardon for Assange would look like anything other than a payoff for help getting elected. In June, the government finally got around to charging Schulte for Vault 7. But during the entire time he was in jail, he was apparently still attempting to leak information, which the government therefore obtained on video.

Ecuador’s increasing crackdown on Assange has paralleled the Schulte prosecution, with new restrictions, perhaps designed to provide the excuse to boot Assange from the Embassy, going into effect on December 1.

Don’t get me wrong: if I were Assange I’d use any means I could to obtain safe passage.

Indeed, this series of negotiations — and the players involved — may be far, far more damning for those close to Trump. Sean Hannity, Oleg Deripaska, Paul Manafort, Chuck Johnson, Dana Rohrabacher, Roger Stone, and Don Jr, may all worked to find a way to free Assange, all in the wake of Assange playing a key role in getting Trump elected. And they were conducting these negotiations even as WikiLeaks was burning the CIA’s hacking tools.

Maria Butina’s Legal Team Embraces Disinformation (with Help from Russia)

One key prong of Republican propaganda attempting to discredit the Mueller investigation has been to claim Trump associates were targeted by informants. Perhaps the most brazen example was when Roger Stone claimed a Russian whose offer of dirt he entertained (but claims to have refused to pay for) was an FBI informant. But George Papapdopoulos has spawned an entire subindustry of such claims.

It appears that Maria Butina’s attorneys have adopted that approach. In a letter to her attorneys the prosecutors posted to the docket the other day, they insist (as DOJ has had to insist to Republicans in Congress) that they are not sitting on evidence of approaches by informants.

During our previous discussions, you have advanced certain hypothetical scenarios involving your client, including a supposed “dangle” operation or the acquisition of exculpatory information from “Cis,” which we take to mean confidential government informants. It appeared at the time of our discussions, that you based these ideas not on firsthand knowledge of any events, but rather on speculation based on claims made in some unidentified media articles. Inexplicably, however, in your October 18, 2018 email, you–for the first time–firmly assert that “[w]e know this information exists [and] have called it out by name…” [emphasis added]. The government was surprised by this newly adamant assertion, and we invite you to provide us any additional information you may have concerning the provenance or existence of the information you request.

Notwithstanding its speculative nature, the government took your original request seriously and made specific inquiries about the hypothetical scenarios you advanced. Regarding the scenarios described in your October 18, 2018 email, based on our reviews to date, we are not aware of any information that would trigger any disclosure obligations regarding either a “dangle,” successful or otherwise, or information obtained from any confidential informant. We are aware of no surveillance targeting your client that occurred prior to in or around [redacted] We will obviously continue to review the government’s holdings for such information, as well as any additional surveillance records of your client and we will continue to discuss with you any other materials that you consider potentially exculpatory. If that ongoing review yields information that should be disclosed to you, we will certainly do so.

Don’t get me wrong. DOJ has a history of playing games with discovery, or of interpreting discovery narrowly so as to hide other prongs of an investigation. So the allegation from Butina’s lawyers, by itself, is not outrageous.

Except it seems to be a part of the Devin Nunes/Mark Meadows/Jim Jordan propaganda effort in Congress, driven by a bunch of half-wits who leak information that they don’t understand.

Indeed, this incident raises real questions for me on whether the House effort has now taken not only to defending Donald Trump, but also Maria Butina, an alleged foreign spy whose own writings indicate Putin knew of her operation.

Meanwhile, DOJ’s letter to Butina’s team reveals that they have not picked up a hard drive of discovery DOJ made available a month ago.

With respect to materials provided to you so far, we have made an FBI CART examiner available to you to help you navigate the electronic evidence, and we made a second hard drive of electronic evidence available to you over a month ago, which you have thus far reclined to retrieve.

The claim that Butina’s team has left evidence sitting for a month comes just days before Russia’s Foreign Affairs spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, claimed that DOJ has not handed over discovery to her and used that to claim DOJ is treating her unfairly.

It is baffling that the court considering Maria Butina’s case has not yet handed over the case material to her, although the hearing is scheduled for November 13. Unfortunately, this gives us yet another reason to doubt the impartiality of American justice system.

Again, it is not unheard of for DOJ to play games with discovery. But in this case, particularly in context of obvious propaganda serving Trump and other Republicans’ interest, it seems like Butina’s defenders both in and outside the country have decided on a disinformation strategy rather than a direct defense of her case.

Update: The parties just asked for Butina’s case to be put off for three weeks to deal with discovery. Maybe in the interim, the government will find the evidence of informants sidling up to Butina that the claim is not exculpatory.

Donald Trump’s Bubble May Be Robert Mueller’s Greatest Weapon

Robert Mueller has a slew of really good lawyers working for him. But I think his biggest asset is Donald Trump’s bubble.

Consider this NYT story, in which a bunch of lawyers anonymously blame each other for getting 16 months into the Special Counsel investigation without ever figuring out what the President did.

The lawyers have only a limited sense of what many witnesses — including senior administration officials and the president’s business associates — have told investigators and what the Justice Department plans to do with any incriminating information it has about Mr. Trump, according to interviews with more than a dozen people close to the president.

What is more, it is not clear if Mr. Trump has given his lawyers a full account of some key events in which he has been involved as president or during his decades running the Trump Organization.

[snip]

Mr. Dowd took Mr. Trump at his word that he had done nothing wrong and never conducted a full internal investigation to determine the president’s true legal exposure.

[snip]

And once Mr. Dowd was gone, the new legal team had to spend at least 20 hours interviewing the president about the episodes under investigation, another necessary step Mr. Dowd and his associates had apparently not completed.

In spite of the effort to blame all this on Dowd, the NYT article provides abundant evidence (which they, in typical Maggie and Mike fashion, don’t seem aware of) that Trump’s lawyers continue to be clueless.

There’s the notion that just 20 hours of Trump interviews would be sufficient for nailing down the actual story. Don McGahn, after all, has had 30 hours of interviews with Mueller’s team, and while he has played several central roles, he’s not the principal. And, unlike Trump, he can and presumably did tell a mostly consistent story.

There’s the admission that Trump’s lawyers actually don’t know how ten senior officials testified.

During Mr. Dowd’s tenure, prosecutors interviewed at least 10 senior administration officials without Mr. Trump’s lawyers first learning what the witnesses planned to say, or debriefing their lawyers afterward — a basic step that could have given the president’s lawyers a view into what Mr. Mueller had learned.

Complain all you want that Dowd didn’t obstruct competently. But the Joint Defense Agreement (the one that gave Rudy no advance warning that Paul Manafort had flipped on the President) is what Rudy has always pointed to to justify his confidence that Trump is not at any risk. So Rudy is, by the standards of the anonymous people leaking to Maggie and Mike, just as incompetent.

Perhaps best of all is the claim of an anonymous Maggie and Mike source that poor Jay Sekulow was left to clean up after Dowd’s, and only Dowd’s, mistakes.

In March, Mr. Dowd resigned, telling associates that he disagreed with the president’s desire to sit for an interview with Mr. Mueller — one form of cooperation he opposed — and leaving Mr. Sekulow with the task of rebuilding the legal team from scratch, and without knowing many of the details of the case. Mr. Dowd left few notes or files about the case, which had to be recreated months after the fact.

Somehow, Ty Cobb, the guy brought in after Marc Kasowitz left amid concerns that Trump was obstructing justice, who oversaw responding to discovery requests and who was initially celebrated as being very aggressive, gets no blame. Cobb was the guy who put McGahn in a defensive crouch — leading directly to 20 of his 30 hours of testimony — after blabbing in public about him hiding documents.

Crazier still, Jay Sekulow gets no blame in this narrative, even though Sekulow was around during all of Dowd’s purportedly mistaken decisions. As recently as March, Sekulow was quite confident that his undeniable expertise in litigating the right wing’s ressentiment prepared him to deal with the challenges of a Special Counsel investigation.

When Jay Sekulow joined President Donald Trump’s legal team for the Russia investigation last summer, he was largely expected to serve as the public face of the group. But after former lead attorney John Dowd resigned last week, and with other top lawyers reportedly reluctant to join the team, Sekulow is now the key player in one of the most high-stakes investigations in the world.

“I have maintained since the beginning of the representation that my interest is representing the client,” Sekulow tells TIME. “And it may take different forms at different times, and we’re just right now in a different phase.”

[snip]

Peter Flaherty, who worked for Romney on both campaigns and has known Sekulow for more than a decade, offers effusive praise for Sekulow that draws on the world of Boston sports.

“Jay is a combination of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, wrapped into one super-lawyer,” Flaherty says, citing the New England Patriots’ coach and quarterback. “He is capable of both devising successful strategy in a conference room, as well as being able to execute it in a courtroom.”

Critics say that legal expertise in high-minded constitutional issues won’t translate well to the guts of a criminal case. But Sekulow says he feels his “broad background” in the law has prepared him for the current challenge, citing a recent case he worked on in which the IRS admitted to unfairly scrutinizing tax forms of conservative groups.

In the wake of Manafort’s plea deal, Sekulow seems less certain he’s got control of the situation.

Here’s the thing though. This is a 2,100-word story presented as truth, disclosing evidence (albeit unacknowledged) that the lawyers who have serially managed press outreach (Sekulow, then Rudy) are clueless. It repeats, as Maggie and Mike always do, two key threads of the spin from these men: that Trump’s only exposure is obstruction and that the end result will be a report.

[Manafort’s] plea brings to four the number of former close associates of Mr. Trump who have agreed to cooperate with Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel investigating Russian interference in the election and obstruction of justice by the president.

And while Mr. Trump’s lawyers insist Mr. Mueller has nothing on their client about colluding with Russia, they are bracing for him to write a damaging report to Congress about whether the president obstructed justice.

[snip]

The sense of unease among the president’s lawyers can be traced, in part, to their client. Mr. Trump has repeatedly undermined his position by posting on Twitter or taking other actions that could add to the obstruction case against him.

[snip]

Even after Mr. Mueller’s appointment, Mr. Trump did things like ask witnesses about what they told Mr. Mueller’s investigators and put out misleading statements about contacts between his campaign and Russia, which appear to have deepened the special counsel’s examination of possible obstruction.

A mere review of Jay Sekulow’s own list, drafted in March, of questions Mueller might ask Trump, should make it clear to anyone exercising a tiny degree of skepticism that the claim Mueller is exclusively focused on obstruction is utter nonsense. And after the speaking criminal information released with Manafort’s plea, the expectation of a report should be treated far more critically.

But it’s not.

In an article about how Trump’s lawyers, generally, are clueless, and demonstrating though not reporting that the lawyers providing information to the press are part of that general cluelessness, Maggie and Mike don’t pause to reflect on whether that leaves them, too, clueless.

So when Trump tries to understand his plight by reading Maggie and Mike, he would believe a fiction largely created by the lies he has already told his lawyers and his preference for PR rather than solid legal advice.

Of course, it gets worse from there. Trump has benefitted from nine months of Devin Nunes-led intelligence, fed both via staffers and through a stable of incompetent right wing stenographers, about the investigation. I know for a fact that the most competent Republicans who have read the most investigative documents do not have a grasp about either the scope of the investigation or how it evolved (though someone at least understands that after August 1, 2017, the investigation got far more risky for the President).

But when you take that misunderstanding about the investigation and launder it through incompetent hacks like John Solomon, then the picture it provides is even more misleading.

Which led us to Trump’s decision on Monday to declassify a bunch of stuff.

That led Mark Warner, who has a better though still incomplete understanding of the potential risk to Trump, to quip, “Be careful what you wish for,” suggesting that the documents might be very incriminating to Trump.

Batshit crazier still, Trump went on to do an interview with the aforementioned John Solomon. (The Hill, unlike the NYT and virtually all other outlets, has the dignity to label interviews where Trump tells reporters a bunch of bullshit “opinion.”) In it, Trump suggests he had the authority and should have fired Jim Comey they day he won the primaries (an interesting suggestion by itself as Mueller appears to be investigating Roger Stone’s activities from that time period), which would likely have resulted in a Hillary win.

“If I did one mistake with Comey, I should have fired him before I got here. I should have fired him the day I won the primaries,” Trump said. “I should have fired him right after the convention, say I don’t want that guy. Or at least fired him the first day on the job. … I would have been better off firing him or putting out a statement that I don’t want him there when I get there.”

Crazier still, Trump admits that he has no idea what is included in the vast swath of documents he has already ordered to be released.

Trump said he had not read the documents he ordered declassified but said he expected to show they would prove the FBI case started as a political “hoax.”

“I have had many people ask me to release them. Not that I didn’t like the idea but I wanted to wait, I wanted to see where it was all going,” he said.

In the end, he said, his goal was to let the public decide by seeing the documents that have been kept secret for more than two years. “All I want to do is be transparent,” he said.

As I’ve noted here and elsewhere, even careful readers, to say nothing of the frothy right, have little visibility on how this investigation evolved (even the tiny bit more visibility I have makes me aware of how much I don’t know). If the smartest Republican upstream of Trump’s concerns about the genesis of the investigation doesn’t understand it, then far stupider Congressmen like Mark Meadows, who hasn’t reviewed all the documents, is surely misrepresenting it.

And yet Trump, from within the bubble of sycophants, clueless lawyers, and credulous reporters is blindly taking action in the hope of undercutting the pardon-proof plea deal of his campaign manager.

Update: Thanks to those who corrected my error in the bracketed description of the fourth plea.

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. 

Manafort Turns State’s Evidence: “It’s Time for Some Game Theory”

It took a day for the President to complain after his former campaign manager, having spent the week proffering up testimony, flipped on Friday. When he did, Trump tied the Mueller investigation to polls (and upcoming midterm elections) for the first time in a Tweet.

Of course, his freebie legal PR hack, Rudy Giuliani has been tying midterms to the investigation for some time in his insistence that no indictments can come between now and then. Rudy should be happy, then, that Paul Manfort’s plea avoids a four week trial for Trump’s campaign manager right in the middle of election season.

But he’s not.

I mean, at first, Rudy put a brave face on things Friday, claiming,

Once again an investigation has concluded with a plea having nothing to do with President Trump or the Trump campaign. The reason: the President did nothing wrong and Paul Manafort will tell the truth.

But almost immediately after making that statement, Rudy took out the part about Manafort telling the truth.

Roger Stone, who’s shrewder than Rudy, immediately suggested anything Manafort may be saying (or may already have said) implicating him would be a lie.

I am uncertain of the details of Paul’s plea deal but certain it has no bearing on me since neither Paul Manafort or anyone else can testify truthfully that I am involved in Russian collusion, WikiLeaks collaboration or any other illegal act pertaining to the 2016 election.

Though of course, Stone’s seeming awareness that Mueller might pursue Manafort testimony about Stone reveals his brave comment for the lie it is.

I’m more interested, however, in Rudy’s (and John Dowd’s) apparent desperation to stave off a mass prisoner’s dilemma.

Manafort first proffered testimony Monday, September 10. Rudy was still boasting about how much he knew about Manafort’s thinking for a Thursday Politico story — though he based that off conversations before and after the EDVA trial, which had ended three weeks earlier.

Giuliani also confirmed that Trump’s lawyers and Manafort’s have been in regular contact and that they are part of a joint defense agreement that allows confidential information sharing.

“All during the investigation we have an open communication with them,” he said. “Defense lawyers talk to each other all the time, where, as long as our clients authorize it, therefore we have a better idea of what’s going to happen. That’s very common.”

Giuliani confirmed he spoke with Manafort’s lead defense lawyer Kevin Downing shortly before and after the verdicts were returned in the Virginia trial, but the former mayor wouldn’t say what he discusses with the Manafort team. “It’d all be attorney-client privilege, not just from our point of view but from theirs,” he said.

Immediately after Manafort’s cooperation was announced, both NPR and the same Politico team that had been quoting Rudy’s bravura reported that someone close to Manafort said there would be no cooperation against the President. In later stories, both quote Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Rudy claiming Manafort’s cooperation has nothing to do with the President.

Despite Manafort’s having led the campaign, the White House has sought to distance itself from him and his case.

“This had absolutely nothing to do with the president or his victorious 2016 presidential campaign,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Friday. “It is totally unrelated.”

Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani echoed that idea, adding that “the president did nothing wrong.”

But the NPR version includes this correction.

Editor’s note: An early version of this story published before all the court documents in the case were available contained a characterization from a person familiar with the case that said Manafort’s cooperation would be limited. When charging documents and other materials appeared, they did not support that and the characterization was removed.

And the Politico noted how quickly Rudy backed off his claim that Manafort would testify truthfully.

Of course, anyone who has read the plea agreement closely — up to and including the government’s ability to declare Manafort in breach of the agreement with only a good faith rather than preponderance of the evidence standard —

— and it’s clear that if Mueller’s team wants Manafort to testify about Trump, he will.

Meanwhile, Rudy is yelling on Twitter that the morning shows aren’t taking his word about what Manafort is testifying about over what the clear text of the plea agreement suggests.

I’m more interested still that John Dowd emailed the lawyers for the (reportedly 37, though the number is likely smaller now) other witnesses in the Joint Defense Agreement, claiming outlandishly that Manafort has no evidence on Trump.

The President’s lawyers — the one who currently “works” for him for “free” and the one who allegedly doesn’t work for him anymore but recently got lionized in Woodward’s book as his main source about the Mueller investigation, and in that role was shown to be either an idiot or a fantasist, that the “free” one cites to claim that Woodward exonerates the President — are working very hard to convince others that Manafort’s plea deal doesn’t mean the calculation both other witnesses and the Republican party have been making has to change.

They’re trying to stave off an awful game of prisoner’s dilemma.

Consider if you’re one of the other 37 (which might be down to 34 given known cooperators, or maybe even fewer given how uncertain Rudy seems to be about Don McGahn’s third session of testimony) members of the Joint Defense Agreement, especially if you’re one who has already testified before the grand jury about matters that Manafort (and Gates) might be able to refute. So long as there’s no chance Trump will be touched, you’re probably still safe, as you can count on Trump rewarding those who maintain the omertà or at the very least working to kill the Mueller inquiry shortly after the election.

But if you have doubts about that — or concerns that other witnesses might have doubts about that — you still have an opportunity to recall the things you claimed you could not recall a year ago. Depending on how central your testimony is, you might even be able to slip in and fix your testimony unnoticed.

So each of 37 (or maybe just 30) people are considering whether they have to recalculate their decisions about whether to remain loyal to the President or take care of themselves.

Meanwhile, there’s the Republican party. Admittedly, the Republicans are unlikely to do anything until they rush through Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation, even if doing so without first inquiring about the allegation that he assaulted a girl when he was in high school will damage their electoral prospects with women in November.

But once they’ve got Kavanaugh confirmed (assuming no big news breaks in the Mueller investigation before that), then the calculation may change. Right now, a lot of Republicans believe they have to stick with Trump through the election, if only to ensure the GOP base turns out. But if Trump’s poll numbers continue to sink — and as the numbers of those who strongly disapprove of Trump continue to grow — Republicans in certain kinds of districts (especially suburbs) will have an incentive to distance themselves from the President.

All that’s a straight calculation based on whether Trump will help or hurt more, come November. But the Republican party, from Trump’s endless repetition of “no collusion;” to Devin Nunes’ naked attempt to obstruct the Mueller investigation; to Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham’s referral of Christopher Steele rather than Don Jr for perjury charges; to Mark Meadows’ latest attempts to turn Lisa Page and Peter Strzok’s attempts to chase down someone leaking about Carter Page into a suggestion they themselves leaked; to Richard Burr’s cynical boasts that his committee hasn’t found stuff they wouldn’t chase down if they had been told of it, has invested everything on a gamble that Trump was telling the truth (or, more cynically, that he could stave off discovery of any conspiracy he entered into with Russia).

Republicans have invested a whole lot into attempting to give the President a clean bill of health.

Meanwhile, his campaign manager — a guy many of them have worked with — is presumably now doing the opposite, telling Mueller precisely what the Republicans have been working so hard to suppress for 18 months.

At some point, the ones who have been playing along even while admitting that the President probably did conspire with Russia (I know of some who believe that’s likely), will make their move.

If the GOP were less dysfunctional, they’d do it sooner rather than later, cut their losses with Trump to try to salvage the Pence presidency (whom they like far more anyway). But for now, that calculation of whether or not to do so is likely happening in private.

I’m in no way promising Manafort’s plea deal will set off two parallel floods of rats fleeing the Trump JDA or his presidency generally. These are Republicans, after all, and I’m sure they still would prefer obstructing the whole thing away.

I don’t think a mass abandonment of Trump is going to happen anytime soon.

But Trump’s lawyers do seem worried that could happen.

Trump needs his fellow Republicans to believe that Paul Manafort isn’t providing evidence that incriminates him. Because if they start to believe that, their calculations behind support for him may change, and change quickly.

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.