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[Photo: Emily Morter via Unsplash]

Laura Cooper’s Forgotten Deposition

[NB: Check the byline, thanks! /~Rayne]

Performance art by a couple dozen GOP House members garnered a lot of media attention last week. Their noisy assault on a House sensitive compartmented information facility (SCIF) during a deposition obstructed a House investigation and compromised the security of the SCIF in an attempt to cast doubt upon the House impeachment inquiry process.

Sophomore (sophomorish-?) GOP representative Matt Gaetz stood out as both a leader of the flash mob; this was his second attempt to crash a meeting though this latest one didn’t do as much for his image.

The stunt and the GOP’s whiny little pizza party and follow-up presser drew a lot of media attention with reactions running the gamut. It was pure hypocrisy for the GOP mob to claim the deposition was an attempt to prevent the public from seeing what was going on, since the committee in attendance included both Democrats and Republicans and operated to rules written and implemented by a Republican majority in 2015

But lost in all the hullaballoo was the deposition itself. This may be exactly what the House GOP intended with their performance – not just to derail the deposition, but to prevent the public from actually knowing anything about Laura Cooper’s testimony.

Projection, as always – when the GOP’s crashers said it was about a meeting Democrats were trying to keep secret, it was about secrets the GOP wants kept.

Which should make us wonder what it was that Laura Cooper had to say that was so worrying to both Trump and the GOP that they staged this intervention.

They didn’t intervene in diplomat Bill Taylor’s deposition, after all. We knew it was going to be rough for Trump because we’d already seen some of Taylor’s texts from his side, casting Gordon Sondland and the administration in a bad light.

But the last time Gaetz pulled this stunt, trying to barge into an investigative session closed to all but House Intelligence Committee members, the subject being interviewed was Fiona Hill.

Hill was Special Assistant to the President and Senior Director for European and Russian Affairs on the National Security Council; she announced on/around June 18 this year that she planned to leave her role at the end of August. She received a subpoena to appear on/around October 10 and appeared last Monday October 14 in a closed-door session for ten hours before the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees.

The House parliamentarian ruled Gaetz was not eligible to attend this session; he’s not a member of these three committees. There were other Republican members of these committees in attendance though we don’t know exactly who or how many because the roll call has not been publicized.

The attempt to crash looked like interference at the time. Perhaps Gaetz intended worse, but the deposition went on.

This past week’s deposition of Laura Cooper was much shorter than Hill’s, at only three hours’ duration. It’s not clear whether Cooper’s testimony was not as broad as Hill’s given Hill’s background and role in the administration. It’s possible Cooper’s deposition was interrupted by the GOP flash mob.

This looks not only like an attempt to interfere with the conduct of the House inquiry and obstruct testimony, but witness intimidation and tampering.

Two patterns may be emerging though with only these two depositions be-bothered by GOP stunts it’s not enough data to cinch this.

First, both of these witnesses were women. GOP reps didn’t try to interfere with depositions or hearings of male witnesses like U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and Bill Taylor.

Did they pick these two witnesses to intimidate because they were women?

A third woman witness had been harassed but long before she became a witness for the House inquiry; former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch had been through a character assassination by right-wing horde leading up to her recall from her post in Ukraine this past May, before the key Trump-Zelensky phone call on July 25.

Second, both Hill and Cooper were not anticipated as witnesses when the whistleblower complaint became public knowledge. Diplomats and White House personnel who were involved directly in the call were expected as likely witnesses. What was it that emerged during the earliest testimony which compelled the House committees to call Hill and Cooper?

Did Hill’s departure from her role as special adviser trigger questions?

What exactly did Office of Management and Budget tell the Defense Department and when which would have made Cooper a needed witness?

What was it about Cooper’s anticipated testimony which required such a big dog-and-pony show to suck up media attention to propel the GOP’s misdirection while cutting into time alloted for Cooper’s deposition?

Cooper in particular received a letter from the DOD informing Cooper and her counsel that she as Executive Branch personnel couldn’t “participate in [the impeachment] inquiry under these circumstances” according to an administration-wide direction. There were attachments to bolster claims made in the letter with regard to the House Committees’ refusal to allow White House counsel to attend the depositions and the legitimacy of the inquiry. The letter emerged after Reuters reported on October 17 that Cooper wouldn’t testify and before her deposition.

The letter, which looks a bit odd, wasn’t from the Acting Secretary of Defense or the Office of General Counsel for DOD. Instead it was printed on letterhead from the Deputy Secretary of Defense and signed by David L. Norquist, the Deputy Secretary of Defense.

Why note this?

1) Because the letter wasn’t dated. It has a date stamp on it – 22 OCT 2019 – but not a date typed on the letter at the time it was printed. The stamp appears to be a Received By date but it may also be the date the letter was sent; it’s not clear who or what government entity may have stamped it, whether the Pentagon, Cooper’s attorney, or the House committee which received it though it’s likely not the committee. Note also that October 22 is the date Taylor testified before the House.

2) Because the signature on the letter is almost illegible; “David L.” is legible but the last name isn’t, save for the letter T at the end. There is no name, title, department beneath the signature. Compare this letter to the first attachment, a letter from the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense, signed by Robert R. Hood. You’ll see there is a name, title, department beneath his signature.

3) Because there’s no subject line, though not all government-issued letters may have them, and

4) There’s no list of attachments, except in the body of the letter, and they’re referred to as Tab A, B, etc. instead of by document title or by a URL if published and available to the public.

Why are these points important? Because someone seeking this particular communication by FOIA wouldn’t be able to find it by date or by Norquist’s name, title, or department, or by the attachments.

If someone was looking for a letter from DOD’s general counsel telling Cooper not to respond to the House committees’ subpoena, they wouldn’t find it. Ditto if they were looking for a letter from the Acting Defense Secretary. Nor would they find it by date written.

Note also, though it’s probably just a coincidence: David L. Norquist is Grover Norquist’s younger brother. Can’t pick your family.

But you can choose whether to include a date, name, title, department on a letter.

~ ~ ~

The New York Times reported last evening that the National Security Council’s authority on Ukraine, Lt. Col. Alexander S. Vindman, will testify today before the House impeachment investigation that he objected not once but twice to the context of Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky.

“I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine,” Colonel Vindman said in his statement. “I realized that if Ukraine pursued an investigation into the Bidens and Burisma it would likely be interpreted as a partisan play which would undoubtedly result in Ukraine losing the bipartisan support it has thus far maintained.”

Vindman was present during the phone call and remains an active member of White House staff. It’s not just Vindman’s role, though, which shakes up Trump’s supporters. His credentials will be difficult to push back against — Harvard-educated Purple Heart recipient, and a still-active member of the military, who immigrated to the U.S. as a toddler when his parents fled the former Soviet Union. The right-wing horde is already scrambling to discredit Vindman, going so far as to accuse him of being a double agent and a “hostile witness” in a “kangaroo court.”

In his written statement to the House, Vindman said objected to Sondland’s statements during a post-call debriefing session; he was the third person to do so apart from the as-yet unnamed whistleblower.

Fiona Hill, President Donald Trump’s former top Russia adviser, raised concerns about Rudy Giuliani’s role in US foreign policy toward Ukraine, telling lawmakers on Monday that she saw “wrongdoing” in the American foreign policy and tried to report it to officials including the National Security Council’s attorney, according to multiple sources.

“She saw wrongdoing related to the Ukraine policy and reported it,” one source said. …(CNN, 14-OCT-2019)

With Vindman and both Hill and Bolton sharing their objections with NSC’s top legal adviser, John A. Eisenberg has heard from the most senior and most authoritative persons on U.S. policy on Ukraine. Eisenberg’s role was already in question.

It was Eisenberg to whom several alarmed White House officials turned when Trump urged Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. It was Eisenberg who then helped order the record of that call into a system used for ultra-secret classified information. And it was Eisenberg who, several reports said, consulted with political appointees at the Justice Department on how to handle a whistleblower’s complaint about the Ukraine call. (Politico, 26-OCT-2019)

Has Eisenberg also coached others on handling of correspondence related to the quid pro quo investigation, like Norquist’s letter to Cooper? Note that Norquist isn’t an attorney.

We know now that Vindman’s testimony corroborates both Hill’s and Taylor’s, and that Gordon Sondland is exposed to at least one charge of making a false statement.

It’s this corroboration with Vindman’s testimony that Matt Gaetz tried to obstruct with his first attempt at barging into Fiona Hill’s deposition.

Was it also corroboration with Vindman’s testimony that Gaetz and his flock of GOP co-conspirators tried to obstruct with their barging into the House SCIF during Laura Cooper’s testimony last week?

Among the Republicans participating in the protest was Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the No. 2 House Republican. Gaetz and Scalise both suggested they might return at some point to protest further, though they did not do so Wednesday.
The storm-the-room stunt came two days after Trump said that he thought Republicans “have to get tougher and fight.” Many of the Republicans engaged in the protest were at a White House on Tuesday meeting with Trump, and a person familiar with the matter told CNN that Trump had advance knowledge of the plans to enter the space. (CNN, 23-OCT-2019emphasis mine)

Or is there something worse yet ahead which syncs with Cooper’s testimony, something serious enough to warrant Trump conspiring with Gaetz and House GOP members to deter comparison?

Is this why Former deputy national security adviser Charles Kupperman refused to comply with a House subpoena, filing suit instead with the D.C. district court to determine if he is required to testify? Is this suit a stunt of a more subtle nature, intended to head off the next obstructive parade of House GOP members before John Bolton is subpoenaed?

Alex Mooney’s Hilarious Self-Own

Jim here.

Yesterday, I watched with fascination as Matt Gaetz whipped his stormtroopers into a frenzy and stormed the ramparts of the SCIF facility where Laura Cooper was scheduled to be deposed. This tweet by Scott Thuman especially caught my eye, with the video he provided:


What really stood out to me was that one of Gaetz’s stormtroopers had his cellphone out and appeared to have his camera active as he approached the door. Based on Thuman’s “entered the secure hearing room” and the way Thuman pointed his camera down as he panned to the door, I initially had the impression that this doorway the Congressmen were going through was the entry to the SCIF itself, and so I tweeted this:

I had no idea that this would become my most viral tweet ever. At the time of this writing, the tweet has just under 95,000 impressions.

I did not yet know who this was with the phone. It has since become clear that it was Representative Alex Mooney of West Virginia. He even put up a tweet with an audio recording from inside the SCIF that he claimed came from a “secure phone”.

Needless to say, I had lots of pushback and I got to see the amazing array of bots and MAGAts that swarm whenever their world view is threatened. One theme that kept coming up, though, was that this was not the SCIF itself. It turns out that is somewhat true. After 6 pm, Mooney put up this tweet, which clearly has the video he was recording as Thuman captured him going through the door:


Okay, this confirmed what I was beginning to suspect, that the doorway in Thuman’s video is not the entrance to the actual SCIF. When a person at the entrance to the SCIF announces that cameras are not allowed, his first response is “What camera?”. But upon being informed again, Mooney shrugs and turns off the phone, presumably to surrender it .Note that multiple media reports make it clear though, that not all of Gaetz’s stormtroopers surrendered their devices, causing quite a serious security breach.

But Thuman’s reluctance to capture video from inside the door (we see only a red carpet and a few feet) and his failure to follow Gaetz’s stormtroopers made me wonder if the doorway was still in some way restricted. In fact, given the extreme security measures taken for a SCIF, it seemed reasonable to wonder if there was signage restricting electronics even beyond this point, so that detailed information of the building layout leading to the SCIF entrance would not be disseminated.

So I began searching Google images for pictures of Gaetz’s stormtroopers going through the door. I hit paydirt in what turns out to be an entire New York Times article on the event. This is the banner on the front of a video the Times did:

This is clearly a photo taken as stormtrooper Mooney goes through the door with cell phone blazing. Ah, but look at the sign on the other half of the double door: “Restricted Area No public or media access. Cameras and recording devices prohibited without proper authorization.”

Oh my, so when stormtrooper Mooney barged through the first door, he failed to read the sign informing him that he was not to be filming his own heroic action.

As if the Times photo alone is not enough to disgrace Mooney, he had to pile on. Here is a tweet an exhausted stormtrooper Mooney put up just after 7:30, after his siege of the SCIF had ended (never mind that the deposition itself actually took place anyhow, but with a five hour delay):


Mooney actually came back out the door and had a staffer film him while explaining that “this is not the SCIF” and, once they entered, “nobody was using a cell phone”. The problem is that he’s using as a backdrop for this explanation the sign showing that electronics were not to be used even going through this outer door, and his entry through that door, with his cell phone going, has been documented by Scott Thuman, Alex Mooney, the New York Times and hopefully, law enforcement:

GOP Republicans Stage Brooks Brothers Riot 2.0 to Emasculate Their Own Power of the Purse

Twenty-some Republican Congressmen (and a few women) are staging a repeat Brooks Brother riot to stall the ongoing impeachment proceeding. I’ll post a picture if I find an open source one, but the riot is being led by Matt Gaetz and includes, among others:

  • Minority Whip Steve Scalise
  • Steve King
  • Louie Gohmert
  • Andy Biggs
  • Bradley Byrne
  • Mark Walker
  • Mo Brooks
  • Debbie Lesko
  • Alex Mooney
  • Michael Waltz

Some of the members stormed into the House SCIF with their cell phones, which is a violation of strict rules and may degrade the effectiveness of the SCIF. Reportedly, Republican Mike Conaway of Texas has started collecting the electronics of his colleagues.

The riot has delayed the testimony of Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Laura Cooper.

That’s significant–symbolic even. That’s because Cooper is expected to testify on DOD’s response to Trump’s illegal refusal to withhold funds duly appropriated by Congress.

House panels leading the impeachment inquiry are set to hear Wednesday from a Pentagon official responsible for policy toward Ukraine, who is expected to testify about the delay in nearly $400 million in security assistance to the country.

Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia, will be the first Defense Department official to testify before investigators, who have largely heard from State Department officials so far in the investigation. Ms. Cooper arrived at the Capitol on Wednesday morning.

The hold on the aid to Ukraine is at the center of the House’s impeachment inquiry into whether President Trump conditioned the funding for Ukraine on his request to Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky that Ukraine investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son, Hunter Biden, as well as alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

The White House’s hold on military aid to Ukraine this summer set off alarms at the Pentagon, according to people familiar with the matter. Ms. Cooper’s exact role in the Defense Department’s effort to push back on the hold on the money, which was ultimately released in mid-September, isn’t known.

After the White House communicated the hold to the Defense and State Departments in July, the Pentagon conducted an internal review of the legality of the hold, according to three people familiar with the matter. Pentagon officials argued that the administration couldn’t block money approved by Congress, delivering their analysis to career White House budget office officials at a July meeting, according to two of the people and another person familiar with the matter.

In short, a bunch of Republican Congressmen (and a handful of women) are staging a faux riot in order to prevent DOD from telling Congress how the White House prevented them from following the law that prohibits the White House from withholding funds without a good reason that they share with Congress.

As I’ve said, even these people’s former colleague, Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, has admitted this is a crime.

I know this entire inquiry has stirred up a lot of partisan bickering. But it is stunning that Republicans in Congress, including Minority Whip Steve Scalise, are so desperate to protect Trump that they are trying to prevent Congress from asserting its power of the purse.

There could be no more symbolic self-emasculation than this faux riot. And yet, these members of Congress apparently are willing to trade away their own power like this.

Update: According to a press release released yesterday, here’s who was part of the Brooks Brothers The Farce. Those marked with asterisks are on committees conducting the inquiry, so they’re basically complaining about a process they’re a part of. Those marked with checks were around in 2017 and voted for a rule holding that such protests on the House floor (to say nothing of inside HPSCI’s SCIF) were a violation of House Rules.

  1. Matt Gaetz√
  2. Steve Scalise√
  3. Brian Babin√
  4. Andy Biggs√
  5. Mo Brooks√
  6. Ken Buck√*
  7. Bradley Byrne
  8. Buddy Carter√
  9. Ben Cline
  10. Jeff Duncan√
  11. Drew Ferguson√
  12. Russ Fulcher
  13. Louie Gohmert√
  14. Paul Gosar√*
  15. Mark Green*
  16. Vicky Hartzler√
  17. Kevin Hern
  18. Jody Hice√*
  19. Duncan Hunter√
  20. Bill Johnson√
  21. Jim Jordan√*
  22. Fred Keller*
  23. Steve King√
  24. Debbie Lesko
  25. Carol Miller*
  26. Alex Mooney√
  27. Markwayne Mullin√
  28. Ralph Norman*
  29. Mark Walker√
  30. Mark Meadows√*
  31. Greg Murphy
  32. Peter Olson√
  33. Gary Palmer√
  34. Scott Perry√*
  35. David Rouzer√
  36. Ross Spano
  37. Michael Waltz
  38. Steve Watkins
  39. Randy Weber√
  40. Ron Wright*
  41. Lee Zeldin√*

Also note that the rules Adam Schiff is using for this inquiry are similar to the rules that Mark Meadows used for the investigation of the Russian investigation that he, Gaetz,  Jordan, and Gowdy did last year.

Update: Fixed the gender references as there are a few women who participated.

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 Ellis 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. 

Mike Flynn’s “Cooperation” Did Not Extend to Remembering Bob Foresman’s Back Door Discussions

In the wake of yesterday’s revelation that someone “connected to Congress” reached out to Flynn to try to dissuade him from cooperating with Mueller, CNN has a story about how Flynn himself reached out to Matt Gaetz to encourage his attacks on Mueller.

Which makes me seriously reconsider a detail I’ve been pondering in the Mueller Report. The Report describes how Bob Foresman — who contacted the campaign about setting up a back channel in spring 2016 and then tried to get a job in the Administration — also went out of his way to tell Mike Flynn whom he should meet with during the transition period.

Flynn met with the guy twice: once in December (at the time he and Jared Kushner were asking Kislyak about a back channel) and once again in January.

Bob Foresman, the UBS investment bank executive who had previously tried to transmit to candidate Trump an invitation to speak at an economic forum in Russia, see Volume I, Section IV.A.l.d.ii, supra, may have provided similar information [suggesting that Yuri Ushakov, not Sergei Kislyak, would be the guy to contact on serious matters] to the Transition Team. According to Foresman, at the end of an early December 2016 meeting with incoming National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and his designated deputy (K.T. McFarland) in New York, Flynn asked Foresman for his thoughts on Kislyak. Foresman had not met Kislyak but told Flynn that, while Kislyak was an important person, Kislyak did not have a direct line to Putin. 1132 Foresman subsequently traveled to Moscow, inquired of a source he believed to be close to Putin, and heard back from that source that Ushakov would be the official channel for the incoming U.S. national security advisor. 1133 Foresman acknowledged that Flynn had not asked him to undertake that inquiry in Russia but told the Office that he nonetheless felt obligated to report the information back to Flynn, and that he worked to get a face-to-face meeting with Flynn in January 2017 so that he could do so.1134 Email correspondence suggests that the meeting ultimately went forward, 1135 but Flynn has no recollection of it or of the earlier December meeting.1136 (The investigation did not identify evidence of Flynn or Kushner meeting with Ushakov after being given his name. 1137)

All that information comes from an October 17, 2018 Foresman interview with the FBI and emails. Flynn — who started cooperating just 10 months after the second meeting — had his lawyer tell Mueller that he didn’t remember either of those meetings. That happened on September 26, 2018.

9/26/18 Attorney Proffer from Covington & Burling LLP (reflected in email on file with the Office).

That email happened 9 days after the government told the Judge Sullivan — on September 17 — that it was time to sentence Flynn. Contrary to what a lot of reports have suggested, Flynn hasn’t been interviewed since then.

That may mean nothing.

But Foresman seems like a guy pretty persistently trying to forge back channels between Trump and Russia. And in spite of Flynn’s “cooperation,” he claims to have remembered none of that.

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

The Worm Turns: Neither Devin Nunes Nor Ron DeSantis (Thus Far) Support Jim Jordan’s Impeachment Bid

As I laid out a few weeks ago, 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.

I was in DC when Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan rolled out articles of impeachment against Rod Rosenstein. As a number of people have noted, the articles themselves are batshit crazy, calling over-redaction subsequently corrected a high crime and misdemeanor.

And some of the articles would require a time machine to prove, such as holding Rosenstein responsible for a FISA application submitted when he was merely the US Attorney for MD with no role in the investigation.

But something else is even more interesting to me.

The original press release included the names of 6 congressmen, in addition to Mark Meadows and Jim Jordan, who co-sponsored the articles HR 1028:

  1. Mark Meadows
  2. Jim Jordan
  3. Andy Biggs
  4. Scott Perry
  5. Paul “Dentists Read Body Language” Gosar
  6. Jody Hice
  7. Matt Gaetz
  8. Scott DesJarlais

And while the other three congressmen who joined as co-sponsors seemed a lot more sheepish about signing on, the following me also joined:

  1. John Duncan
  2. Louie Gohmert
  3. Bill Posey

By mid-morning yesterday, in the face of opposition from Paul Ryan and citing some deal with Bob Goodlatte, Meadows and Jordan admitted defeat. Shortly thereafter, Jordan announced a bid to be Speaker, with support from Meadows.

Apparently this morning, the following men signed on:

  1. Tom Massie
  2. Ted Yoho
  3. Ralph Norman
  4. Duncan Hunter

We’re two days into this effort, and thus far, two names are conspicuously absent: Devin Nunes (who has admittedly refrained from officially participating in some of the batshittery to — apparently — limit his legal exposure) and Ron DeSantis, who has spent the last seven months leading efforts to discredit Mueller’s investigation.

While I was in DC, a Republican admitted to me that this was just about ginning up votes and predicted that the House is done meeting until November — meaning Rosenstein should be safe from Congressional tampering until then.

If so, DeSantis’ non-participation in this stunt is telling. He’s running for governor with the vocal support of President Trump.

Indeed, DeSantis currently has a healthy lead against Adam Putnam in the GOP primary, with the primary date a month away, August 28, largely due to Trump’s support.

DeSantis is also one of the people who most obviously benefitted from Russian interference in 2016.

That Ron DeSantis has not (yet) signed onto this stunt suggests he’s not sure that, in a month (or perhaps in three, in the general), having done so will benefit his electoral chances to be governor.

So apparently Jim Jordan (facing sexual assault cover-up charges) and Duncan Hunter (facing even more serious legal troubles) think it’s a smart idea to go all-in on supporting Trump. But Ron DeSantis does not.

What Did Mueller Achieve with the Internet Research Agency Indictment?

Back during Nunes Week, Trey Gowdy described the importance of Robert Mueller’s investigation by stating that we were only seeing half of what he was doing. The other half of his work, Gowdy said, was the counterintelligence side, the investigation into what Russia did to the US in 2016.

Friday, Rod Rosenstein rolled out the first glimpse of the other half of that investigation, an indictment of 13 Russians tied to the Internet Research Agency, the Russian troll factory. The indictment accuses IRA of 8 crimes: criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, and five counts of aggravated identity theft.

In the wake of that indictment, the court unsealed a February 7  plea agreement with Californian Richard Pinedo, for identity theft (basically, selling bank account numbers; the information doesn’t identify the users who purchased the bank account numbers as IRA personnel who used them to set up “American” identities, but that is clearly what happened).

The 13 Russians charged in the IRA indictment — which include Yevgeniy Prigozhin, the close Putin associate who owns the company, those in charge of the operation (which was not limited to US targeting), down to a few of the analysts who did the troll work — will never be extradited to the US, though the most senior among them will surely be sanctioned. Nor will Putin in any way retaliate against them — they were doing work he approved of! Further, by criminalizing “information warfare” (as the Russians admitted they were engaged in, and as we do too, under the same name) we risk our own information warriors being indicted in other countries.

So what purpose did the indictment serve? Here are some thoughts:

Creating a paper trail

Rosenstein and Chris Wray have both said they believe investigators should speak through indictments and other official documents, not through Comeyesque press conferences. Here we have an indictment that serves as a record of what Mueller’s team has found.

We would probably have gotten it in any case, as Jeff Sessions’ DOJ has emphasized bringing more cybersecurity related indictments.

But that we did get it addresses one of the questions we’ve gotten about the Mueller investigation: whether we’ll get to read a report of what he has found.

To the extent that something is indictable, even if that indictment would name Russians or others located overseas, I guess we should expect more of the same.

Establishing bipartisan credibility for the larger investigation

The reason I keep pointing to Gowdy’s statements in support of the investigation in the last several weeks is because his actions seem to reflect one of the most partisan Republicans reacting soberly to an attack on the country, rather than just one party.

And while the details of the indictment — most notably that the trolls affirmatively supported Bernie Sanders as well as Trump — have resurfaced the old primary recriminations, for the most part, the indictment has provided a way for people from both parties to agree to the reality of the attack. Trump said Mueller did a good job with the indictment (admittedly, he may be currying favor). Trump’s National Security Advisor HR McMaster responded to the indictment by declaring the evidence that Russia interfered in the election “incontrovertible.” This indictment offers a way for even self-interested Republicans to start acknowledging the reality of what happened.

The indictment also gave Rod Rosenstein an opportunity to own this investigation with a press conference announcing it. None of the prosecutors tied to the case appeared (since I track these things, know that Jeannie Rhee, Rush Atkinson, and Ryan Dickey are on the docket), just Rosenstein. Hopefully, tying him to this non-offensive indictment will make it harder to fire Rosenstein, and thereby further protect Mueller.

Reiterating the crime of conspiracy to defraud the United States

The most interesting of the three crimes charged in the IRA indictment is the first, the conspiracy to defraud the United States. The indictment describes the conspiracy this way:

U.S. law bans foreign nationals from making certain expenditures or financial disbursements for the purpose of influencing federal elections. U.S. law also bars agents of any foreign entity from engaging in political activities within the United States without first registering with the Attorney General. And U.S. law requires certain foreign nationals seeking entry to the United States to obtain a visa by providing truthful and accurate information to the government.

Effectively, Mueller is saying that it’s not illegal, per se, to engage in political trolling (AKA information warfare), but it is if you don’t but are legally obliged to register before you do so. That’s an important distinction, because much of what these trolls did is accepted behavior in American politics — all sides did this in 2016, including people employed by campaigns and others expressing their own political opinions. Trolling (AKA information warfare) only becomes illegal when you don’t carry out the required transparency or reporting before you do so.

The charge of a conspiracy to defraud the United States has a very important parallel elsewhere in this investigation, in the first charge in the Paul Manafort and Rick Gates indictment. The indictment explains,

It is illegal to act as an agent of a foreign principal engaged in certain United States influence activities without registering the affiliation. Specifically, a person who engages in lobbying or public relations work in the United States (hereafter collectively referred to as lobbying) for a foreign principal such as the Government of Ukraine or the Party of Regions is required to provide a detailed written registration statement to the United States Department of Justice. The filing, made under oath, must disclose the name of the foreign principal, the financial payments to the lobbyist, and the measures undertaken for the foreign principal, among other information. A person required to make such a filing must further make in all lobbying material a “conspicuous statement” that the materials are distributed on behalf of the foreign principal, among other things. The filing thus permits public awareness and evaluation of the activities of a lobbyist who acts as an agent of a foreign power or foreign political party in the United States.

The Manafort indictment then argues that by hiding that the lobbying work they were doing was on behalf of Ukraine’s Party of Regions they, “knowingly and intentionally conspired to defraud the United States by impeding impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful governmental functions of a government agency, namely the Department of Justice and the Department of the Treasury.” I’ll have more to say about this parallel in coming days, but suffice it to say that Mueller is alleging that Manafort is the mirror image of the troll farm, engaging in politics while hiding on whose behalf he’s doing it (he was arguably doing the same in Ukraine). [Update: see this post for more on how this might work.]

In both cases, the indictments substantiate the conspiracy by naming a variety of crimes, like money laundering and identity theft.

I suspect we’ll be seeing more of this structure going forward (and suspect it’s something the numerous appellate specialists on Mueller’s team have been spending a lot of time thinking about).

Laying out how Americans might be involved with or without “colluding”

Much has been made of Rosenstein’s line, “There is no allegation in the indictment that any American was a knowing participant in the alleged unlawful activity.” I don’t read too much into that. Rather, I think Rosenstein included it because the indictment does explicitly and implicitly describe actions many Americans and possible Americans took that were part of this conspiracy. That includes:

Illegal compensated acvitities

  • Richard Pinedo: Selling Russian trolls (and others) bank account numbers they can use to conduct identity fraud
  • Unknown persons: Providing social security numbers and fake US drivers licenses of Americans
  • Unknown persons: Selling stolen credit card information

Presumptively legal compensated activities

  • Unknown Americans: Renting servers in the US to run VPNs to hide their foreign location
  • Yahoo, Gmail, Paypal: Providing email and PayPal accounts the Russians used as the basis for social media accounts
  • Twitter, Instagram, Facebook: Providing those social media accounts
  • Twitter, Instagram, Facebook: Selling advertisements on social media
  • Unknown Trump associates: Paying for IRA rally expenses
  • Paid providers: Building a cage, acquiring a costume, and posing as Hillary in prison stunt at a FL event
  • Unknown US person: Providing posters for a Support Hillary, Save American Muslims rally
  • Unknown American: Holding a sign in front of the White House on May 29, 2016

Uncompensated activities

  • Unknown Americans: Interacting with Aleksandra Krylova and Anna Bogacheva when they traveled to the US sometime between June 4 and June 26, 2014 to conduct reconnaissance and another co-conspirator that November
  • Members of the media: Accepting tips and promoting IRA events
  • A member of a real TX-based Tea Party organization: Advising the conspirators to focus on the purple states “like Colorado, Virginia & Florida”
  • Unwitting members, volunteers, and supporters of the Trump Campaign involved in local community outreach, as well as grassroots groups that supported then-candidate Trump: Distributing IRA materials through existing channels of those groups
  • Administrators of large social media groups focused on U.S. politics: Promoting IRA events
  • Trump volunteer: Providing signs for the March for Trump event and otherwise recruiting for it
  • A Florida-based political activist identified as the “Chair for the Trump Campaign” in a particular Florida county: Advising on more locations and logistics for the Florida Trump event
  • Campaign Officials 1, 2, and 3: discussing the Florida events

Later the indictment describes a database of 100 real US persons whom the trolls treated as recruiting targets, complete with profiling.

On or about August 24, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators updated an internal ORGANIZATION list of over 100 real U.S. persons contacted through ORGANIZATION-controlled false U.S. persona accounts and tracked to monitor recruitment efforts and requests. The list included contact information for the U.S. persons, a summary of their political views, and activities they had been asked to perform by Defendants and their co-conspirators.

Here’s the important thing about all this. While Pinedo pled guilty and faces 12-18 months even with his cooperation agreement (and even there, while the information makes it clear he knew he was dealing with foreigners, his lawyer has made it clear he didn’t know who or what he was dealing with), there are only two other known illegal roles in this conspiracy, and there’s no reason those roles would have had to be carried out by Americans. Perhaps Mueller has others cooperating, perhaps those other criminals are unknown. But as for the rest, they are (as Rosenstein made clear) not guilty of any kind of conspiracy with Russia.

DOJ just rolled out an indictment in which probably 20 Americans can recognize themselves (many of whom were likely interviewed), about as many as all the Trump officials named in one or another plea agreement so far. Yet, as far as Mueller knows, none of these people did anything but conduct business or engage in sincerely held politics. They almost certainly had far less reason to be suspicious of the trolls they were being used by than Facebook and Twitter. Those actions have been tainted now through no fault of their own.

Which is something to remember: I’ve seen Hillary supporters, in the same breath, criticize Bernie or Jill Stein supporters because their preferred candidate was treated favorably by the trolls, yet in the same breath suggesting the black and Muslim activists targeted are innocent victims.

Obviously, Hillary and her supporters are victims. But everyone is, even the Trump volunteers. Because to the extent they had honestly held beliefs, the Russian operation tainted those beliefs, it diminished the weight of their honestly held beliefs. They were used by Russian trolls, most of them without the same profit motive that led Facebook and Twitter to allow themselves to be used. And we should remember that.

Hinting at what the US has

There are, however, a few tactical things this indictment does, starting with hinting at what other evidence the US has. This indictment was relatively easy, in that Adrian Chen (in a June 2015 article that still gets too little attention), Facebook and (to a lesser extent) other social media outlets, the Daily Beast, and SSCI generally have already laid out what IRA did. The indictment slaps some criminal charges on fraudulent behavior that enabled it, and without showing much about any additional evidence Mueller collected, you’ve got a showy indictment.

There are two hints, however, of the additional evidence used (which, given that the named conspirators will never face trial, will never need to be disclosed or explained). First, in a passage about how IRA started to cover their tracks after Mueller started focusing on this activity, there’s the reference to Irina Kaverzina.

On or about September 13, 2017, KAVERZINA wrote in an email to a family member: “We had a slight crisis here at work: the FBI busted our activity (not a joke). So, I got preoccupied with covering tracks together with the colleagues.”

Kaverzina was just a low-level troll and this may be nothing more than Section 702 collected email off GMail or Yahoo, or it may be a more formal intercept. But Mueller obtained communications from at least one of the indictees. Emails from more senior people, such as Prigozhin or his more senior managers (or the IT guys buying server space in the US) would be more interesting.

Plus, Mueller likely obtained cooperation from one IRA employee, the unnamed person who traveled to Atlanta in November 2014 for reconnaissance. Had that person not cooperated, he or she would have been named in the indictment.

Nevertheless establishing the political stakes

I said above that none of the hundred-plus Americans who were unknowingly used by trolls should be considered anything but victims. Their chosen political views, loathsome or not, have now been tainted, and not because of anything they’ve done except perhaps show too much trust or credulity.

But there are hints that Mueller is using this indictment to set up a more important point.

For example, the indictment (perhaps because of Mueller’s mandate) focuses on political activities supporting or opposing one or another 2016 candidate. Even where topics (immigration, Muslim religion, race) are not necessarily tied to the election, they’re presented here as such. Unless Facebook’s public reports are wrong, this is a very different emphasis than what Facebook has said the IRA focused on. Which is to say that Mueller’s team are focusing on a subset of the known IRA trolling, the subset that involves the 2016 contest between Trump and Hillary.

And there are several events, in particular, that may one day serve as details in a larger conspiracy. Most interesting, for the timing and location, are the twin anti-Hillary and pro-Trump events in NYC in June and July 2016.

In or around June and July 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the Facebook group “Being Patriotic,” the Twitter account @March_for_Trump, and other ORGANIZATION accounts to organize two political rallies in New York. The first rally was called “March for Trump” and held on June 25, 2016. The second rally was called “Down with Hillary” and held on July 23, 2016.

a. In or around June through July 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators purchased advertisements on Facebook to promote the “March for Trump” and “Down with Hillary” rallies.

b. Defendants and their co-conspirators used false U.S. personas to send individualized messages to real U.S. persons to request that they participate in and help organize the rally. To assist their efforts, Defendants and their co-conspirators, through false U.S. personas, offered money to certain U.S. persons to cover rally expenses.

c. On or about June 5, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators, while posing as a U.S. grassroots activist, used the account @March_for_Trump to contact a volunteer for the Trump Campaign in New York. The volunteer agreed to provide signs for the “March for Trump” rally.

[snip]

On or about July 23, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the email address of a false U.S. persona, [email protected], to send out press releases to over thirty media outlets promoting the “Down With Hillary” rally at Trump Tower in New York City.

The description of a IRA-organized event at Trump Tower the day after WikiLeaks dropped the DNC emails, in particular, suggests the possibility of a great deal of coordination, coordination with people in the US.

Similarly, the extended descriptions of events in Florida may also take on added relevance in the future, particularly coming as they did in tandem with Guccifer 2.0’s release of DCCC data targeting FL. (And this, in turn, should focus even more attention on the FL congressmen like Matt Gaetz and Ron DeSantis who’re leading the pushback on Mueller’s investigation.)

Using the term “co-conspirator” 119 times

Perhaps most interesting, given the tiny nods to what other intelligence Mueller might have, are the 119 uses of the word “co-conspirators.” Almost all of these uses seem to necessarily mean unnamed IRA employees working from the same St. Petersburg location described as trolling. Several times the co-conspirators are clearly described as located in Russia. So it may be that all references to co-conspirators here are just a way to refer to the 70 other people involved in this operation at IRA. But that’s not necessarily the case.

Other uses of “co-conspirator” involve wider knowledge, perhaps an outsider’s knowledge of a go-between role Prigozhin might have had.

But others are things that might have involved a stateside co-conspirator, such as the mention of co-conspirators helping to set up the May 29, 2016 Prigozhin birthday tribute in front of the White House, co-conspirators tracking US social media use, co-conspirators engaged in identity theft, co-conspirators promoting claims of voter fraud, co-conspirators destroying data. Several of those things (such as tracking US social media use or claiming Hillary was going to steal the election) are things we know Trump associates were also doing. Others might be facilitated by someone stateside. So those uses of the term could be people not employed by IRA.

Which is to say, this indictment might be (probably is) intended to address just the activities of those employed by IRA. But that’s not necessarily the case.

Update: added the public indictment part.

Steve King Just Voted to Subject Americans to “Worse than Watergate”

Devin Nunes has launched the next installment of his effort to undercut the Mueller investigation, a “Top Secret” four page report based on his staffers’ review of all the investigative files they got to see back on January 5. He then showed it to a bunch of hack Republicans, who ran to the right wing press to give alarmist quotes about the report (few, if any, have seen the underlying FBI materials).

Mark Meadows (who recently called for Jeff Sessions’ firing as part of this obstruction effort) said, “Part of me wishes that I didn’t read it because I don’t want to believe that those kinds of things could be happening in this country that I call home and love so much.”

Matt Gaetz (who strategized with Trump on how to undercut the Mueller investigation on a recent flight on Air Force One) said, “The facts contained in this memo are jaw-dropping and demand full transparency. There is no higher priority than the release of this information to preserve our democracy.”

Ron DeSantis (who joined Gaetz in that Air Force One strategy session with Trump and also benefitted directly from documents stolen by the Russians) said it was “deeply troubling and raises serious questions about the [the people in the] upper echelon of the Obama DOJ and Comey FBI,” who of course largely remain in place in the Sessions DOJ and Wray FBI.

Steve King claimed what he saw was, “worse than Watergate.” “Is this happening in America or is this the KGB?” Scott Perry said. Jim Jordan (who joined in Meadows’ effort to fire Sessions) said, “It is so alarming.” Lee Zeldin said the FBI, in using FISA orders against Russians and facilities used by suspected agents of Russia was relying “on bad sources & methods.”

It all makes for very good theater. But not a single one of these alarmists voted the way you’d expect on last week’s 702 reauthorization votes if they were really gravely concerned about the power of the FBI to spy on Americans.

Indeed, Gaetz, DeSantis, and King — three of those squawking the loudest — voted to give the same FBI they’re claiming is rife with abuse more power to spy on Americans, including political dissidents. Nunes, who wrote this alarming report, also wrote the bill to expand the power of the FBI he’s now pretending is badly abusive.

Even those who voted in favor of the Amash-Lofgren amendment and against final reauthorization — Meadows, Jordan, and Perry, among some of those engaging in this political stunt — voted against the Democratic motion to recommit, which would have at least bought more time and minimally improved the underlying bill (Justin Amash and Tom Massie, both real libertarians, voted with Democrats on the motion to recommit). Zeldin was among those who flipped his vote, backing the bill that will give the FBI more power after making a show of supporting Amash’s far better bill.

In short, not a single one of these men screaming about abuse at the FBI did everything they could do to prevent the FBI from getting more power.

Which — if you didn’t already need proof — shows what a hack stunt this is.