“Swept Up!” The Russian Payments that Led to Trump’s Felony Conviction

There has been a lot of performed ignorance about the origin of the investigation that led to the felony conviction of Donald Trump.

Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ spox, Sarah Isgur, quoted Robert Jackson about prosecutors choosing defendants.

Kerri Kupec, the DOJ spox who helped Bill Barr spin key aspects of his unprecedented corruption at DOJ, likewise quoted Jackson.

Both mouthpieces for Trump’s DOJ insinuated that Alvin Bragg invented this case out of thin air, rather than pursuing the fraud revealed by an investigation that developed — and was substantially interfered with by Barr — while they were at DOJ.

Then, three of the NYT reporters who commented on Trump’s wild screed the other day mused about whence this investigation might have come from, with Maggie describing those whose own actions made them targets of the Mueller investigation in the passive voice, “swept up,” as she is wont to do (to say nothing about her refusal to discuss the way Trump’s pardons silenced key witnesses against him).

We know whence the investigation into Cohen, and therefore the investigation into Trump, came from, thanks in part to a media coalition including NYT, because the coalition liberated the warrants used to investigate Cohen.

As the first warrant targeting Michael Cohen, dated July 18, 2017, lays out, the investigation started from information “supplied by” — almost certainly in the form of Suspicious Activity Reports — a bank known to be First Republic Bank.

This Know Your Customer filing was submitted as an exhibit at the Trump trial.

The entity will be set up to receive consulting fees in the form of wires and ACH — all under 10K 1-2 a month, the wires and fees will be income from consulting work from personal clients, all domestic. He will then internally transfer the funds to his personal account at First Republic. He is setting this account to keep the income from his consulting work separate.

Even the original Stormy Daniels payment violated the representations Cohen made in that KYC statement (as likely explained in still-redacted passages in the warrant affidavit).

As Gary Farro, a witness who had worked at First Republic explained at trial, Cohen denied that the account (and an earlier one, Resolution Consultants, the plan for which he abandoned) had anything to do with political fundraising.

Q Looking now at the question in — labeled number 12. What does that say?

A “Is the entity associated with political 21 fundraising/political action committee PAC.”

Q And what answer is checked?

A “No.”

Q And do you know why the form includes a question about political fundraising?

A Because it would be something the bank would want to know.

Q And if somebody checked “yes,” is that something that would require additional review by the bank?

A Yes, it would.


Q And looking at the questions towards the top third of 3 the page.

In the form does it say — does this have the same question that we saw in the Resolution Consultants form?

It says: “Is the entity associated with political fundraising or political action committee.”

A Yes. This is just the digital form of what was provided earlier, which would be the hard copy.

Q What’s the answer to the political fundraising question 11 on the form?

A Is “No.”

Q Now, turning to the business narrative portion in the middle of the page.

What business narrative is provided for Essential Consultants LLC?

A It’s Michael Cohen is opening Essential Consultants LLC as a real estate consulting company to collect fees for investment consulting work he does for real estate deals.

Within days after he set up the account on October 13, 2016, his October 27 transfer to Keith Davidson violated Cohen’s claims to be engaging in real estate deals. As Farro explained, had Cohen indicated the transfer had a political purpose, it would have invited more scrutiny from the bank — and possibly a delay in the payment.

Q Did any of the wire transfer paperwork indicate that money was being transferred on behalf of a political candidate?

A No.

Q Would the bank’s process for approving the wire transfer be different if Mr. Cohen had indicated that the money was being transferred on behalf of a political candidate?

A We would have additional due diligence.

Q Would that have delayed the transaction?

A It certainly could.

Had it ended with just that hush payment, had the hush payment remained secret, Cohen might have gotten away with it.

But it didn’t.

As that first warrant goes on to explain, after Cohen quit Trump Organization and announced he was serving as Trump’s personal lawyer, he used the same account to accept payment from a bunch of foreign companies, some of them controlled by foreign governments. That led the bank to provide more information — again, almost certainly in the form of SARs — to the Feds.

The most alarming of those payments involved $416,665 in payments over five months from Columbus Nova, which is ultimately controlled by Viktor Vekselberg.

The reason those payments were such a concern is that, as the NYT itself reported on February 19, 2017, Andrii Artemenko (Person 2) and Felix Sater (Person 3) had used Cohen to pitch a “peace deal” for Ukraine to Mike Flynn.

The warrant affidavit really downplayed the substance of the NYT story, which described Artemenko claiming that the “peace plan” “he had received encouragement for his plans from top aides to Mr. Putin.” In the story, Cohen excused chasing a plan with support from Russia based on Artemenko’s claim to have proof of corruption implicating then Ukrainian President, Petro Poroshenko.

After speaking with Mr. Sater and Mr. Artemenko in person, Mr. Cohen said he would deliver the plan to the White House.

Mr. Cohen said he did not know who in the Russian government had offered encouragement on it, as Mr. Artemenko claims, but he understood there was a promise of proof of corruption by the Ukrainian president.

“Fraud is never good, right?” Mr. Cohen said.

Cohen’s claim that, “Fraud is never good,” did not make the warrant affidavit that would set off an investigation that would lead to the conviction of Donald Trump on 34 counts of fraud.

The payments from Columbus Nova — along with payments from Korea Airspace Industries, Kazkommertsbank, and Novartis — would undoubtedly have resulted in SARs in any case. But given the report on the “peace deal,” it substantiated probable cause to suspect that Cohen was acting as an agent of a foreign power and/or violating FARA, which statutes were two of the four crimes the warrant authorized the FBI to investigate.

But false statements to a financial institution were also in there, in part, lying to First Republic about using the Essential Consultants account to pay off porn stars and accept big payments from foreign companies.

Michael Cohen, and so, Donald Trump, was not investigated simply because he had ties to Donald Trump. Claiming he was ignores the public record, including legal and reporting work done by the NYT. It ignores Cohen’s actions, including boneheadedly stupid moves he made as he tried to profit from his proximity to Trump.

He was investigated because he lied to his bank and then, even as he was making public comments about entertaining a “peace deal” with Russian involvement, used the bank account associated with the hush payment to accept big payments from a prominent Russian oligarch.

Importantly, this predication — a SAR implicating a politically exposed person about big payments from a foreign company — is far more than what predicated the investigation, and now six years of non-stop attention from the GOP, into Hunter Biden. That investigation started from a SAR about sex workers, from which an IRS agent fished out Hunter Biden’s name and then spent seven months digging before using Burisma to predicate a grand jury investigation.

If mouthpieces for Trump’s DOJ have a problem with this investigation, then they should be speaking out even more loudly about the investigation into Hunter Biden in which Bill Barr personally tampered.

Update: Corrected an error where I transposed the number of fraud counts Trump was convicted on. It’s hard to keep count!

Update: Isgur is out with an op-ed that scolds Hunter Biden he should plead guilty, without noting that to appeal the motion to dismiss based on the reneged plea deal, he can’t do that. Isgur also doesn’t mention that the gun shop doctored the form.

Trump Convicted of Fraud to Cover-up Fucking a Sex Worker

The first five verdicts were guilty. Updates as they come.

Update: All 34 counts came back guilty.

Update: Sentencing will be July 11, the week before the GOP Convention.

Update: The Biden campaign has issued this statement.

Donald Trump has always mistakenly believed he would never face consequences for breaking the law for his own personal gain. But today’s verdict does not change the fact that the American people face a simple reality. There is still only one way to keep Donald Trump out of the Oval Office: at the ballot box. Convicted felon or not, Trump will be the Republican nominee for president.

The threat Trump poses to our democracy has never been greater. He is running an increasingly unhinged campaign of revenge and retribution, pledging to be a dictator ‘on day one’ and calling for our Constitution to be ‘terminated’ so he can regain and keep power. A second Trump term means chaos, ripping away Americans’ freedoms and fomenting political violence – and the American people will reject it this November.

NYT’s Limited Understanding of Trump’s “Tactics for Avoiding a Crisis Like the One He Now Faces”

There’s a funny passage in the 2,800-word NYT piece contrasting how Trump has managed Michael Cohen and Allen Weisselberg.

Initially sympathetic, Mr. Trump called Mr. Cohen a “good man” and the search “a disgraceful situation.” He also called Mr. Cohen with a message — stay strong — and the Trump Organization paid for Mr. Cohen’s main lawyer.

But Mr. Trump’s advisers were concerned about witness tampering accusations and he stopped reaching out. Their relationship soon soured.

NYT claims — apparently intending this to be a serious explanation — that Trump stopped trying to buy Cohen’s silence with a pardon and payments for a lawyer because of concerns about witness tampering.

I mean, I’m sure some of NYT’s sources claimed that. But given the amount of witness tampering Trump continued to engage in — publicly and privately — after leaving Cohen to fend for himself, the explanation is not remotely credible.

A far, far more likely explanation — one that is also more consistent with other aspects of NYT’s story — is that Trump and his attorneys intervened in the privilege review of phone content seized from Michael Cohen to conduct a risk assessment. (NYT says it relied on court records to tell this story, but they don’t mention that Trump abandoned Cohen only after getting access to what had been seized and why.) What Trump’s team saw before them in both the seized materials and the warrants used to seize Cohen’s devices may have led Trump to conclude, first, that Cohen had already showed signs of betrayal, by secretly recording the phone call over which they planned the hush payments to Karen McDougal.

Mr. Cohen’s lawyers discovered the recording as part of their review of the seized materials and shared it with Mr. Trump’s lawyers, according to the three people briefed on the matter.

“Obviously, there is an ongoing investigation, and we are sensitive to that,” Mr. Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny J. Davis, said in a statement. “But suffice it to say that when the recording is heard, it will not hurt Mr. Cohen. Any attempt at spin cannot change what is on the tape.”

NYT (including Maggie Haberman, who was also part of this story) was the first to break that story, and did so in the days after Cohen hired Lanny Davis, but it is not mentioned here.

Perhaps more importantly, Trump would have gotten a misleading sense from reviewing seized materials that Cohen was only being actively investigated for the taxi medallions and the hush payment.

That warrant may have led Trump to sincerely believe that prosecutors were only looking at the hush payment and business-related crimes, as he claimed on Fox News.

When Mr. Trump called into one of his favorite television shows, “Fox & Friends,” a few weeks after the search, he distanced himself from Mr. Cohen, who he said had handled just “a tiny, tiny little fraction” of his legal work, adding: “From what I understand, they’re looking at his businesses.”

“I’m not involved,” Mr. Trump added three times.

The warrants against Cohen built on each other and so built on the Mueller investigation, as I laid out here and here. But the warrant overtly tied to the April 2018 seizure didn’t mention other aspects of the investigation that might have made Trump more cautious about hanging Cohen out to dry, had he seen them.

Trump would not have known that Robert Mueller had succeeded in doing something SDNY does not seem to have done: accessed Cohen’s Trump Organization emails from Microsoft, thereby discovering documents regarding Trump’s ties to Russia that Trump Org had withheld from subpoena responses. Trump would not have known, then, that Mueller had established that Cohen told Congress a false story to cover up Trump’s own lies about Russia. That led to the first damning testimony from Cohen about Trump: That on his behalf, Cohen had contacted the Kremlin during the 2016 election and then lied to cover it up.

Plus, if Trump used the privilege review as a means to assess risk, it was based on a faulty assumption, an assumption mirrored in the NYT story.

NYT ties Cohen’s import as a witness to the crimes for which Cohen was investigated personally, even focusing exclusively on the hush payment and ignoring the lies about Russia. In a description of the damage Cohen’s congressional testimony did to Trump, NYT suggests that damage was limited to the hush payment, the thing that Trump allegedly engaged in financial fraud to cover up (predictably, NYT doesn’t mention the financial fraud alleged in the cover-up, just the cover-up).

When he pleaded guilty to federal charges that August, Mr. Cohen pointed the finger at Mr. Trump, saying he had paid the hush money “at the direction of” his former boss — an accusation he is expected to repeat on the witness stand in the Manhattan trial. A spokeswoman for Alvin L. Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, declined to comment.

Before going to prison, Mr. Cohen also appeared before Congress, where he was asked who else had worked on the hush-money deal. His answer: Mr. Weisselberg.

The far more damaging thing Cohen did in that congressional testimony, though, was to tee up the way Trump adjusted his own business valuations he used for his business to maximize his profits. That was the basis for the fraud trial against Trump Org, and if the verdict sticks, it may cost Trump a half billion dollars and, unless he finds a way to cash in on Truth Social, may create follow-on financial problems.

In other words, Trump seems to have imagined Cohen would not find another way of avenging being hung out like he was, and NYT doesn’t include that other way — predicating investigations that threaten Trump Org itself and led to Weisselberg’s twin prosecutions — in their story.

Ultimately, NYT is still telling this story as if the newsworthy bit is Trump’s continued success at cheating the law, what they describe as, “the power and peril of Mr. Trump’s tactics for avoiding a crisis like the one he now faces.”

This “power and peril” pitch makes Trump the hero of the story and Cohen and Weisselberg contestants in a reality show, with Cohen inflating that contest with his wildly premature boast that “the biggest mistake” Trump ever made was not paying for Cohen’s defense and his claim, “I was the first lamb led to the slaughterhouse.”

If NYT weren’t making this a reality show, it might take away different lessons:

  • Trump has invested a great deal in using associates and co-conspirators to learn of the criminal investigation into him, with a Joint Defense Agreement incorporating 37 people during the Mueller investigation and $50 million of Republican campaign funds invested instead in paying attorneys who will at a minimum report back on investigative developments. Even with that $50 million investment (and the potential damage it’ll do to GOP fortunes in November), Trump has fewer tools to discover the status of ongoing investigations than he had when Republicans on both Intelligence Communities were using the committee to spy on investigations for him. Yet even with far more access to information than he currently has about ongoing investigations (the two federal cases against Trump are different, because Jack Smith has overproduced discovery), Trump miscalculated with Cohen.
  • The risk Cohen posed was not just — as NYT portrays — that he’ll testify against Trump at trial, at this trial. It was that he would disclose information that implicated Trump (and Weisselberg) in new investigations, as he did. As such, one lesson to take away from this, at least for those who don’t have an incentive to make Trump the protagonist of all stories, is that those spurned by Trump know a whole lot of shit about him, and that shit could turn into investigations that implicate the fraud that lies at the core of his persona. John Bolton, Mike Esper, and Mike Pence are all people whom Trump accused of disloyalty who thus far have only shared shit about Trump when prosecutors came asking. That could change.
  • As noted, NYT didn’t mention that Trump only turned on Cohen after discovering that prosecutors had obtained a damning recording from his phone. But he’s not the only Trump associate whose own blackmail on Trump was implicated in a criminal investigation. Mueller’s prosecutors were seeking Stone’s notes of all the calls he had with Trump during the 2016 election when they searched his homes (it’s not clear whether they ever found it), the existence to which Steve Bannon was also a witness. Both Stone and Bannon got their pardons, perhaps because they were better able at leveraging dirt on Trump for legal impunity than Cohen was.
  • NYT describes the injury to Trump here as, “his long-held fear that prosecutors would flip trusted aides into dangerous witnesses.” That’s just weird. It’s as if NYT hasn’t considered that the real danger is that he’ll do prison time for his crimes. The focus on loyalty rather than truthful testimony is especially odd in a piece that describes that Hope Hicks is likely to testify in Alvin Bragg’s case, who’ll testify with less of the circus and more credibility than Cohen. After all, even Jason Miller, still a top campaign manager for Trump, would be a key witness against Trump in a January 6 trial if he repeated the true description of how the campaign started refusing to support the Big Lie after a period in 2020. Bannon provided damaging testimony in the Roger Stone trial by being held to his prior grand jury testimony, and he remains a MAGAt in good standing.

Sometimes, it’s not disloyalty that can sustain a conviction, it’s truth, even truth from still-loyal associates.

Not for NYT, I guess. In a piece trying to extend this analogy to Walt Nauta and Carlos De Oliveira (the latter of whom, who really does have a colorable claim he didn’t know he was obstructing an investigation, is not similarly situated in my opinion), NYT describes that they were charged for their loyalty, not claims that sound pretty obviously false in the indictment.

Like Mr. Weisselberg, Mr. Nauta and Mr. De Oliveira remained loyal, and they are now paying the price: Mr. Smith charged both men not only with obstruction of justice, but also with lying to investigators.

Nauta and De Oliveira got charged, in part, because prosecutors believe they lied to protect Trump because that is a crime, just like it was a crime when Cohen and Stone and Mike Flynn and George Papadopoulos and Paul Manafort did it (Manafort was punished but not charged for those lies). But Nauta, especially, almost certainly got charged because prosecutors still haven’t been able to account for how much Trump intended to steal classified documents when he left the White House and still haven’t been able to account for the stolen classified documents that got flown to Bedminster in 2022. Nauta probably figures it’s a good bet to hope that Trump wins the presidency, ends his prosecution (or pardons him) and rewards him with a sinecure. That’s how having dirt on Trump works! But the prosecution is not over yet, and especially given the likelihood that this won’t go to trial before the election, he may change his mind.

Trump has absolutely succeeded in bolloxing all his criminal cases and may well succeed in delaying all the rest until he can pardon his way out of most of them. But if that effort fails, basic rules of gravity are likely to kick in and Trump will no more be a protagonist than all the other suspected criminals investigated by state and federal authorities.

SDNY Rules: A Tale of Three Fraudsters

I was thinking, as I was watching last week’s Hunter Biden impeachment hearing that there ought to be a pause where someone could explain how Southern District of New York works (or doesn’t) with cooperators.

After all, two of three witnesses in the hearing, Jason Galanis and Lev Parnas, had been convicted of fraud by SDNY.

Galanis claimed (after 2:01 and his opening statement) that he tried to implicate Hunter in his crimes, only to have those inquiries be “quashed” on order of SDNY.

Parnas claimed, both in his opening statement and then in an exchange with Ro Khanna (after 2:28), that he was arrested to shut him up.

Parnas specifically said that he and his attorney tried to reach out to Scott Brady.

Parnas did not mention SDNY, though both pretrial and during sentencing, SDNY described that Parnas attempted to proffer testimony but SDNY was unimpressed with Parnas’ candor.

As SDNY wrote in one of those filings, “public spectacles, leaks, and social media postings could undermine his credibility and diminish his value as a potential cooperating witness.” They also disputed whether Parnas was telling the full truth.

I have questions myself, as Parnas (in his hearing statedment) claimed he had been “smeared” by allegations that he tried to get Marie Yovanovitch fired.

I was initially accused of being involved in a plot to remove Marie Yovanovitch, the U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine whom Trump had fired in April 2019. I was smeared by this false information.

It wasn’t false! Here’s how Parnas, in his book, describes telling Trump that Yovanovitch had to go in 2018.

She was unpopular with Ukraine’s wealthy and those who planned to be. They were well aware that any serious investigations would easily expose them and their alignment, if not outright fealty, to the power brokers in Russia, not their own country (including more than a few elected politicians). With my many connections in various fields, there was a consensus about Yovanovitch — she had to go.


In fact, more of the Ukrainians I knew were complaining about her than they were about Putin or the war. When I pressed them on what really made Yovanovitch a problem, they told me that she had been saying terrible things about Trump.

So, at the table, I started to tell him about her. Where we start is … we gotta get rid of the ambassador, I tell him.

At times, in his book, Parnas is quite oblique about whom he was dealing with in Ukraine who might have said such things (though elsewhere the memoir is quite clear he was working with mobsters and oligarchs). And given that Parnas alleged in the hearing that Pete Sessions, whose letter calling for Yovanovitch’s ouster Parnas personally delivered to Trump, was involved in his actions, he was tacitly admitting that Yovanovitch’s firing was a part of it. Effectively Parnas appears to be packaging this as all derivative of Trump’s efforts, starting later in 2018, to get dirt on Hunter Biden. And the reason Parnas was ultimately not charged with FARA for those efforts likely has as much to do with Rudy Giuliani’s corrupted phones and Victoria Toensing’s JD as anything else.

SDNY has rules about what it demands from cooperators. That requires coming clean on all criminal exposure.

And that’s important background to efforts to hold Trump accountable.

SDNY laid some of this out in its Michael Cohen sentencing memo, years ago.

With respect to Cohen’s provision of information to this Office, in its two meetings with
him, this Office assessed Cohen to be forthright and credible, and the information he provided was
largely consistent with other evidence gathered. Had Cohen actually cooperated, it could have
been fruitful: He did provide what could have been useful information about matters relating to
ongoing investigations being carried out by this Office. But as Cohen partially acknowledges, it
was his decision not to pursue full cooperation, and his professed willingness to continue to provide information at some later unspecified time is of limited value to this Office, both because he is under no obligation to do so, and because the Office’s inability to fully vet his criminal history and reliability impact his utility as a witness.

Indeed, his proffer sessions with the SCO aside, Cohen only met with the Office about the
participation of others in the campaign finance crimes to which Cohen had already pleaded guilty.
Cohen specifically declined to be debriefed on other uncharged criminal conduct, if any, in his
past.4 Cohen further declined to meet with the Office about other areas of investigative interest.
As the Court is undoubtedly aware, in order to successfully cooperate with this Office, witnesses
must undergo full debriefings that encompass their entire criminal history, as well as any and all
information they possess about crimes committed by both themselves and others. This process
permits the Office to fully assess the candor, culpability, and complications attendant to any
potential cooperator, and results in cooperating witnesses who, having accepted full responsibility
for any and all misconduct, are credible to law enforcement and, hopefully, to judges and juries.
Cohen affirmatively chose not to pursue this process. Cohen’s efforts thus fell well short of
cooperation, as that term is properly used in this District.5

For this reason, Cohen is not being offered a cooperation agreement or a 5K1.1 letter. Within the confines of the SCO investigation itself, the Office does not dispute that Cohen’s
assistance to the SCO was significant. But because Cohen elected not to pursue more fulsome
cooperation with this Office, including on other subjects and on his own history, the Office cannot
assess the overall level of Cohen’s cooperation to be significant. Therefore, the Office submits
that, in fashioning a sentence on its case, the Court afford Cohen credit for his efforts with the
SCO, but credit that accounts for only a modest variance from the Guidelines range and does not
approach the credit typically given to actual cooperating witnesses in this District.

4 At the time that Cohen met twice with this Office, through his attorneys, he had expressed that he was considering – but not committing to – full cooperation. Cohen subsequently determined not to fully cooperate.

5 Cohen’s provision of information to the Office of the New York Attorney General (“NY AG”) warrants little to no consideration as a mitigating factor. This Office’s understanding is that the information Cohen provided was useful only to the extent that he corroborated information already known to the NYAG. More importantly, Cohen provided information to the NY AG not as a cooperating witness who was exposing himself to potential criminal or civil liability but instead as a witness who could have been compelled to provide that testimony. Fulfilling that basic legal responsibility voluntarily does not warrant a reduced sentence – particularly when one waits until he is charged with federal crimes before doing so.

Similarly, this Office’s understanding is that the New York State Department of Taxation and Financial Services (“NYSDTF”) subpoenaed Cohen for information about the payment of his own state taxes, and any claimed “cooperation” with NYSDTF appears to consist solely of providing that entity information that they would otherwise have obtained via subpoena.

Cohen’s failed SDNY cooperation may become an issue in today’s NYDA hearing on Trump’s fraud to cover up the Stormy Daniels hush payments. Judge Juan Merchan will review the dispute regarding NYDA’s efforts to get the Cohen file from SDNY, which Christopher Conroy laid out in this declaration. The short version is that NYDA provided Cohen’s SDNY related materials, but not the tax records otherwise collected from SDNY or Mueller-related 302s that SDNY did not yet have.

But in both cases, with Cohen and Parnas, any cooperation came amid Bill Barr’s efforts to shelter Trump from implication in their crimes. And while I do think Parnas is engaged in some repackaging of his past actions, I also think there’s increasing evidence that Barr was worried about his own implication in Parnas’ crimes.

As we may see in Alvin Bragg’s case, this adds difficulty to using a witness like Cohen, whose candor might be questioned (but who, like Parnas, has receipts). Because Barr had a habit of making such things worse.

Eight Possible Explanations — Many Bad, Some Good — for SDNY’s Delay in Turning Over Cohen Files

As Adam Klasfeld and others reported yesterday, Trump is asking to delay his New York trial on charges that he engaged in fraud to cover up the hush payments he made to get elected in 2016. Trump is asking for the delay because the Southern District of New York just provided stacks and stacks of discovery he subpoenaed in January. Alvin Bragg has consented to a 30-day delay, but Trump is asking for a 90-day delay of the trial that was supposed to start on March 25.

In their letter explaining the situation, NYDA attorneys described that last year, they asked SDNY for the “full grand jury record” associated with Michael Cohen’s campaign finance conviction. Instead, SDNY provided “a subset.”

The People diligently sought the full grand jury record related to Cohen’s campaign finance convictions from the USAO last year, including exculpatory material and (1) grand jury minutes and tapes; (2) witness lists and other documents identifying the names or identities of grand jury witnesses; (3) any grand jury subpoenas and documents returned pursuant to those subpoenas; (4) exhibits presented to the grand jury; (5) to the extent within the scope of Rule 6(e), summaries of witness interviews occurring outside the grand jury; and (6) to the extent within the scope of Rule 6(e), search warrant affidavits or other applications that contain evidence from the grand jury, and evidence seized pursuant to those warrants. In response, the USAO produced a subset of the materials we requested, which we timely and fully disclosed to defendant on June 8, 2023, more than nine months ago. [my emphasis]

On January 18 of this year, Trump subpoenaed additional materials, and consented to several delays. On March 4, SDNY provided the initial tranche, which was 73,000 pages, of which less than 200 pages pertained to the case. Last week, SDNY provided a second tranche. And they say they’ll provide a third next week.

Regarding the 73,000 pages of records produced by the USAO as of the date of defendant’s motion, the People’s initial review indicated that those materials were largely irrelevant to the subject matter of this case, with the exception of approximately 172 pages of witness statements that defendant would have adequate time to review and address before trial. Yesterday afternoon, however, the USAO produced approximately 31,000 pages of additional records to both the People and the defense in response to defendant’s subpoena, and also indicated that an additional production would follow by next week. [my emphasis]

Those 31,000 pages provided last week includes stuff from Cohen’s grand jury file that NYDA had asked for last year.

Based on our initial review of yesterday’s production, those records appear to contain materials related to the subject matter of this case, including materials that the People requested from the USAO more than a year ago and that the USAO previously declined to provide.

NYDA say they’re ready to go on the 25th, but would consent to a 30-day delay. Surely, though, they’ve seen enough that they want to be prepared to rebut anything Trump found in the documents.

Update: NYDA has submitted a follow-up. The total universe of this production amounts to 119,000 pages of discovery. Of that, just a subset of 31,000 pages covers stuff related to the case, and of that subset, some of it was already provided to Trump. Trump is disputing that, but at this point, he and his lawyers have been crying wolf for a year. 

It’s not yet clear what’s in the 100,000-page plus discovery or why SDNY refused to turn it over, besides their unshakeable arrogance.

But there are a number of possible explanations, most terrible, at least three defensible. They include:

  1. Covering up Bill Barr’s fuckery
  2. Covering up Ed O’Callaghan’s fuckery
  3. Hiding details regarding the retraction of Robert Mueller’s scope
  4. Hiding details of Cohen’s tax crimes
  5. Hiding details of Barr’s further fuckery
  6. Protecting a Bill Barr investigation
  7. Protecting a Viktor Vekselberg investigation
  8. Protecting a Trump tax investigation

Much of these would serve to shield (or, ultimately, delay) SDNY or DOJ embarrassment generally. Some, though, would serve to protect real investigations that we know happened.

Covering up Bill Barr’s fuckery

What Trump undoubtedly was seeking when he subpoenaed SDNY was evidence of known Bill Barr fuckery, which would help the former President argue that he never committed a federal campaign finance crime and would hurt the theory of the case. Geoffrey Berman described much of this in his book.

In February 2019, days after being confirmed, Bill Barr tried to unprosecute Cohen.

While Cohen had pleaded guilty, our office continued to pursue investigations related to other possible campaign finance violations. When Barr took over in February 2019, he not only tried to kill the ongoing investigations but—incredibly—suggested that Cohen’s conviction on campaign finance charges be reversed. Barr summoned Rob Khuzami in late February to challenge the basis of Cohen’s plea as well as the reasoning behind pursuing similar campaign finance charges against other individuals. Khuzami was told to cease all investigative work on the campaign finance allegations until the Office of Legal Counsel, an important part of Main Justice, determined there was a legal basis for the campaign finance charges to which Cohen pleaded guilty—and until Barr determined there was a sufficient federal interest in pursuing charges against others.

Barr headed the Office of Legal Counsel in 1989 through the middle of 1990. He knew its powers, and as Trump’s attorney general he knew how to use it as a cudgel to accomplish his goals.

The directive Barr gave Khuzami, which was amplified that same day by a follow-up call from O’Callaghan, was explicit: not a single investigative step could be taken, not a single document in our possession could be reviewed, until the issue was resolved.

And if Main Justice decided there was no legal basis for the charges? The attorney general of the United States would direct us to dismiss the campaign finance guilty pleas of Michael Cohen, the man who implicated the AG’s boss, the president.

Barr attempted to put Richard Donoghue in charge of the matters — the Cohen case — that Berman was recused from. (Remember that Barr would also put Donoghue in charge of what should have been follow-on investigations of Rudy Giuliani’s dalliance with Russian spies.)

One way for Barr to accomplish that would have been to put the Cohen case in the hands of someone to whom he felt closer. About a week after our office tussled with Barr and Engel, Barr attempted to do just that. Word was passed to me from one of Barr’s deputies that he wanted Richard Donoghue, the US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York (who would later transfer to Main Justice to work under Barr), to take over supervision of anything I was recused from.

By Berman’s description, none of those efforts succeeded.

But according to the NYT, Barr did get OLC to write a memo questioning the basis for prosecuting someone for covering up public details (this doesn’t show up in Berman’s book).

At one point during the discussions, Mr. Barr instructed Justice Department officials in Washington to draft a memo outlining legal arguments that could have raised questions about Mr. Cohen’s conviction and undercut similar prosecutions in the future, according to the people briefed on the matter.


The New York Times reported previously that Mr. Barr had questioned the legal theory of the campaign finance charges against Mr. Cohen, but it was not known that the attorney general went so far as to ask for the draft memo or had raised his concerns more than once.

The memo, written by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, addressed the Southern District’s somewhat novel use of campaign finance laws to charge Mr. Cohen. Before Mr. Cohen’s guilty plea, the only person known to face criminal charges for payments meant to keep negative information buried during a political campaign was the former senator and Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards, who was not convicted.

Mr. Barr argued, among other things, that such cases might be better suited to civil resolutions by the Federal Election Commission than to criminal prosecutions, according to people with knowledge of the discussions.


There is no indication that the Justice Department planned to issue a formal opinion on the campaign finances charges. Such a step, if taken, might have raised questions about the validity of the case against Mr. Cohen and affected any future effort to investigate Mr. Trump or others in his circle for similar conduct.

This memo is undoubtedly what Trump wants. He would use it to suggest that he was never in danger of prosecution for the hush payments, and therefore his fraud to cover them up cannot be a felony.

Covering up Ed O’Callaghan’s fuckery

Trump is also, undoubtedly, seeking details of then PADAG Ed O’Callaghan’s fuckery.

Once SDNY did charge Cohen, O’Callaghan intervened to demand that SDNY take language out of Cohen’s statement of offense making it clear that Individual-1 was part of the crime.

Consistent with DOJ guidelines, we first submitted the information to the Public Integrity Section at Main Justice. They signed off.

We then sent a copy to Rod Rosenstein, informing him that a plea was imminent. The next day, Khuzami, who was overseeing the case, received a call from O’Callaghan, Rosenstein’s principal deputy.

O’Callaghan was aggressive.

Why the length, he wanted to know. He argued that now that Cohen is pleading guilty we don’t need all this description.

Khuzami responded, What exactly are you concerned about?

O’Callaghan proceeded to identify specific allegations that he wanted removed, almost all referencing Individual-1. It quickly became apparent to Khuzami that, contrary to what O’Callaghan professed, it wasn’t the overall length or detail of the document that concerned him; it was any mention of Individual-1. Khuzami and O’Callaghan went through a handful of these allegations, some of which Khuzami agreed to strike; others, to ensure a coherent description of the crime, he did not.

Berman’s prosecutors stayed up all night cutting the Information from 40 pages to 21.

The team was tasked with the rewrite and stayed up most of the night. The revised information, now twenty-one pages, kept all of the charges but removed certain allegations, including allegations that Individual-1 acted “in concert with” and “coordinated with” Cohen on the illegal campaign contributions. The information now alleged that Cohen acted in concert and coordinated with “one or more members of the campaign.” But in the end, everything that truly needed to be in the information was still there.

Cohen included those details in his verbal allocution anyway.

The most consequential details that O’Callaghan wanted removed still wound up in the public record, simply because Cohen acknowledged them in open court. He testified that Trump not only knew about the six-figure payoffs designed to keep Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal from going public but had orchestrated them.

With regard to McDougal, Cohen said that he and “the candidate worked together to keep an individual with information that would be harmful to the candidate and to the campaign from publicly disclosing this information. After a number of discussions, we eventually accomplished the goal by the media company entering into a contract with the individual under which she received compensation of $150,000.”

As for Stormy Daniels, Cohen admitted that he had, “in coordination with, and at the direction direction of, the same candidate, [arranged] to make a payment to a second individual with information that would be harmful to the candidate and to the campaign to keep the individual from disclosing the information. To accomplish this, I used a company that was under my control to make a payment in the sum of $130,000.”

Any paperwork describing this dispute will not help Trump as much as an OLC memo saying his hush payments weren’t a federal crime. But he will use them to suggest that Rod Rosenstein didn’t think Trump was a part of it.

Hiding details regarding the retraction of Robert Mueller’s scope

Another thing that Cohen’s case file would disclose that might embarrass DOJ is how Rod Rosenstein constrained Mueller’s scope after initially permitting him to prosecute crimes he could use to flip people.

Remember that Mueller was permitted to prosecute both Paul Manafort’s tax crimes and Mike Flynn’s Turkey FARA crimes; he used those other crimes to (attempt to) flip Trump’s aides. But around the same time as Rosenstein issued his second scope memo (November 2017), he seems to have changed this approach.

In his book, Berman explained that by the time Mueller was investigating Cohen, Rosenstein was only permitting Mueller to investigate the Russian-related conduct. So when Mueller found Cohen’s taxi medallion and other crimes, they had to find a way to hand it off while still hoping to use those crimes to flip people.

At first, Mueller prosecutor Andrew Goldstein asked Berman to partner on the case, which would allow Mueller to be involved in an attempt to flip Cohen.

Goldstein informed Martins and Capone that Mueller was investigating Michael Cohen, the president’s personal lawyer, for bank fraud relating to his taxi medallion business. Mueller wanted to pursue the Cohen investigation—but in conjunction with a US attorney’s office—because it fell outside his mandate. The idea was that we would be the partner to Mueller’s team.

Berman refused that request, because he didn’t want to sacrifice SDNY’s cherished independence. In the end, Mueller only got a request that a Mueller prosecutor could be involved in any discussion of cooperation.

The next day Goldstein got back to us. He backed off the requirement of a joint investigation and agreed that the Southern District would conduct the investigation as we saw fit. He asked for just one thing: if SDNY and the FBI had discussions with Cohen or his lawyer about cooperation, we would inform Goldstein and allow someone from the Mueller team to be present. I did not believe that such an accommodation would impinge on our independence or link our reputation to Mueller’s.

These disclosures, if they’re included in the documents turned over, wouldn’t help Trump all that much (and therefore might not be made public). But they’re another instance showing how Rod Rosenstein intervened to protect Trump.

Hiding details of Cohen’s tax crimes

Something else that SDNY might not want to turn over would pertain to the viability of the crimes to which Cohen ultimately pled guilty.

Remember: Every time he gets asked about why he pled guilty, he claims he pled guilty to more than what he had done, and he did so because of SDNY’s threats that they would include Cohen’s spouse if he didn’t plead.

SDNY would absolutely attempt to withhold details that addressed this issue, particularly if they confirmed Cohen’s claims.

They would only help Trump if they confirmed SDNY’s side of the story (and to be sure, there is abundant SDNY documentation documenting their belief that they believe Cohen’s lies extended before and after his guilty plea).

Hiding details of Barr’s further fuckery

After first trying to make Cohen’s prosecution go away, Barr later tried to make it worse, by sending Cohen back to prison from his COVID furlough because he started writing a book about what a crook Trump was. As Cohen claimed in an emergency motion to get out of jail, Cohen described that he was issued a gag order he would have to sign if he remained out on furlough, and when he refused, he was sent back to prison.

Michael Cohen is currently imprisoned in solitary confinement because he is drafting a book manuscript that is critical of the President of the United States—and because he recently made public that he intends to publish this book shortly before the upcoming election.


While he was on furlough, Mr. Cohen publicly announced that he was putting the finishing touches on a tell-all book about his decade-long experience with President Trump. Just one week later, on July 9, 2020, BOP officers under the direction of Respondents presented Mr. Cohen with an unconstitutional demand: As a condition of his release—a release BOP already had determined was necessary for his health and safety—Mr. Cohen had to agree to a complete bar on speaking to or through any media of any sort.

Mr. Cohen expressed that this condition would bar him from making any progress on his book draft, making a pre-election publication date unlikely. But, because he was fearful for his life should he be remanded to prison, he did not refuse. Instead, he and his lawyer sought both to clarify the meaning of the condition, and to tailor it more narrowly to the BOP’s stated reason for including it; namely, to avoid glamorizing or bringing attention to his upcoming home confinement status. BOP officials refused those requests. Instead, they remanded him into solitary confinement in Respondents’ custody, where he remains.

Judge Alvin Hellerstein found Cohen’s claims persuasive. When he released Cohen shortly thereafter, Hellerstein ruled that the purpose of Cohen’s jailing was retaliatory (here’s the transcript, which shows BOP and SDNY’s rebuttals).

“I make the finding that the purpose of transferring Mr. Cohen from furlough and home confinement to jail is retaliatory, and it’s retaliatory because of his desire to exercise his First Amendment rights to publish a book and to discuss anything about the book or anything else he wants on social media and with others,” U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein said during a teleconference Thursday morning.

Cohen secured an emergency temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction, ordering the government to immediately release him and be allowed to resume his home confinement.

“How can I take any other inference other than it was retaliatory?” Hellerstein mused, summarizing the terms of the government’s home-confinement agreement as telling Cohen: “You toe the line about giving up your First Amendment rights or we’ll send you to jail.”

“I’ve never seen such a clause in 21 years of being a judge,” the Clinton appointee added.

“In 21 years of being a judge, and sentencing people, and looking at the terms and conditions of supervised release, I have never seen such a clause.”

There’s undoubtedly paperwork related to this in Cohen’s case file, including paperwork that might match SDNY’s claims that this was not retaliation. But there could well be paperwork that shows — as was also alleged in the decision to free Paul Manafort from a prison not experiencing a COVID outbreak — involvement from Barr.

Protecting a Bill Barr investigation

You probably won’t believe me. But DOJ actually investigated some of Bill Barr’s fuckery. One such investigation was publicly reported: a DOJ IG investigation into Roger Stone’s sentencing.

There was at least one other aspect of Bill Barr fuckery that DOJ investigated which is not public.

Both investigations were active in the year since NYDA asked for materials on this case.

I have no idea whether Barr’s fuckery on the Michael Cohen case was part of either investigation into his fuckery. But if it was, then any delay in releasing materials would be justified to protect an ongoing investigation.

Protecting a Viktor Vekselberg investigation

You cannot separate the investigation into Trump’s 2016 hush payments from payments that Viktor Vekselberg’s Columbus Nova made to Michael Cohen. That’s because, after Cohen’s bank issued a Suspicious Activity Report on the payment to Stormy Daniels, they looked at how the other things Cohen did with his Essential Consultants account, which he had claimed was for domestic real estate purposes, deviated from his claims about the account.

And one thing he did with that account was to receive $400,000 from a company owned by Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg.

22. According to records obtained from Bank 1 through June 1,2017, in the first fìve months of 2017, the Essential Consultants bank account received five deposits, each in the amount of $83,333 (for a running total of $416,665). The funds for all five deposits-four of which were wire transfers and one by check-came from an account at another bank held in the name of Columbus Nova, LLC.

23. Public records show that Columbus Nova, LLC is an investment management firm controlled by Renova Group (“Renova”), an industrial holding company based in Zurich, Switzerland. According to public news accounts, Renova is controlled by Viktor Vekselberg, a wealthy Russian national. Public news accounts also report that Vekselberg is an oligarch with various connections to Russian President Vladimir Putin and publicly met with Putin as recently as in or around March 2017.

7 According to the news articles, Vekselberg and Renova currently are involved in various infrastructure projects in Russia, such as the building of an airport in Rostov in advance of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, which is to be held in Russia. Vekselberg has been involved in various symbolic acts seen to be in the Russian national interest, such as the purchase and repatriation of historic Faberge eggs.8

Mueller investigated these payments to determine whether they explained why Trump tried to back out of sanctions on Russia, etcetera etcetera. From the first warrant, then, the Stormy Daniel investigation implicated any investigation into Vekselberg’s efforts to pay for access in the US.

We know that, since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, DOJ has ratcheted up sanctions-related investigations into Vekselberg’s associates. In January 2023, DOJ unsealed details of arrests pertaining to Vekselberg’s yacht; those prosecutions are active and are being run out of DC.

And in February 2023 — around the time when NYDA asked for the Cohen file — SDNY rolled out money laundering charges against Vekselberg’s US-based fixer, Vladimir Voronchenko, whom they claimed was a fugitive.

Voronchenko may be a fugitive, but the docket in his case has the look of a docket with a whole bunch of interesting things going on, albeit all sealed.

I don’t know what explains the skips in docket numbers, from 3 to 18, from 18 to 27, and from 27 to 32. But as of December, they SDNY was still stuffing the vault with … something.

If the investigation into Vekselberg would in any way be compromised by the release of Cohen’s case file, it would explain — and easily justify — delaying their release. Particularly if the investigation into Vekselberg’s associates implicated people close to Trump or other prominent Republicans.

Protecting a Trump tax investigation

During both the tax and fraud trials of Trump Organization, there were hints that SDNY had — finally — picked up some of the financial allegations NYS dug up and turned them into federal investigations, including obtaining testimony from some of the same witnesses.

If that happened, it could explain a justifiable delay of providing those files to Trump.

Obviously, most possible explanations for a delay in turning over these files involve someone’s embarrassment, whether SDNY itself, or DOJ more generally. I grant that it’s extremely likely that an attempt to avoid embarrassment explains the delay.

But there are several confirmed and one suspected investigation that also might explain, and entirely justify, a delay. We just don’t know yet.

Update: Judge Merchan has delated the trial start for 30 days from today and scheduled a hearing about the claimed discovery violation.

Ball of Thread: Trump’s Narcissism Makes Him Easy to Trigger

This post is part of a Ball of Thread I’m putting together before I attempt to explain how Trump trained Republicans to hate rule of law. See this post for an explanation of my Ball of Thread.

Discussions of Trump’s cultivation by Russia (and other authoritarian countries) always founder on discussions of his formal recruitment.

There is abundant evidence that Russia, like other countries, did at least attempt to recruit Trump. Craig Unger has written two good books on the subject.

But many attempts to describe why and whether that happened, particularly in the hands of pundits, are easily discredited. That’s true, in significant part, because people imagine recruitment is an either/or thing: that people come fully recruited spies one day and from that point forward they are puppets of their handlers. The reality, as I understand it, is a gradual process of creating the preconditions via which people can be persuaded to act in ways that benefit another country.

On top of being an all around annoyance, for example, Jonathan Chait’s consideration of whether Trump had long been recruited was sloppy and made the entire Russian investigation easier to discredit.

And the thing is, such efforts are unnecessary.

All you need to explain Trump’s actions (and all I’ll rely on for this series) is Trump’s narcissism. Trump is such an epic narcissist, and narcissists’ reactiveness and paranoia and pathological need to feed their own ego are so predictable, that the only explanation you need for how Trump could be manipulated is that narcissism. So long as you could reliably trigger Trump’s narcissism, you could fairly reliably trigger a predictable narcissistic response to a given trigger.

Trump’s habit of releasing highly classified documents is a great example. Trump almost blew the Vault 7 investigation by revealing details that made it clear FBI considered Josh Schulte as the prime suspect to Tucker Carlson the day of his first search; Trump did so to try to blame Obama for the compromise. Trump burned an Israeli counterterrorism program by giving it to Russia, which he did to show off. Trump burned the satellite imagery targeting Iran, which he did so to dickwag Iran. Trump attempted to release all the backup materials to the Russian investigation because some dopey advisor convinced him that it would help to disprove his critics. Trump shared details of DOD’s plans to attack Iran with Mark Meadows’ ghost writer because he thought it would help him discredit Mark Milley. A master spy might have asked Trump to release all this intelligence for him. Maybe one day we’ll learn the documents that went missing from Mar-a-Lago were specifically requested. But you don’t even need that master spy request (and if there were a master spy, he might not ask for documents in the form of a request): because all it takes to get Trump to release highly classified documents is to suggest that in some way doing so will harm his detractors.

The Trump Tower Moscow deal — or really, any deal — is another example. It is not important whether the Trump Tower Moscow deal pitched to Michael Cohen (or any of the several other Russian Trump Tower deals) to be real, or plausible. Russia could, with great certainty, dangle offers for free money and the biggest tower in Russia, and Trump was bound to act irresponsibly, as he did.

There certainly could be more: but there doesn’t have to be. All you need to manipulate Donald Trump is to trigger his narcissism.

How Trump Clouded Journalists’ Heads about Surveillance Video

In a story demoting Trump’s alleged co-conspirators to “minor characters” and omitting Yuscil Taveras’ reference to “the supervisor of security for TRUMP’s business organization” who could provide him the rights allowing him to delete security footage, NYT states as fact that Trump’s corporate person did turn over the surveillance tapes.

The Trump Organization ultimately turned over the surveillance tapes, and the indictment does not accuse any Mar-a-Lago employees of destroying the footage.

Until I noted it, NYT also reported that Taveras said he didn’t have the “right,” as opposed to “rights” to do so.

NYT is not the only outlet making this conclusion, noting that prosecutors obtained video and so concluding that Trump must have turned it over.

Such conclusions are wildly premature.

Trump, certainly, is making the claim.

But Trump’s tweet includes one demonstrable falsehood: any video turned over was compelled via subpoena, not handed over voluntarily (this repeats a false claim Trump made last summer about voluntarily turning over early tranches of documents). And Trump’s claim that he “never told anybody to delete them” conflicts with Taveras’ testimony about Carlos De Oliveira’s instruction, that “‘the boss’ wanted the server deleted.”

So, even ignoring he’s a pathological liar, there’s no reason we should credit Trump’s claim the tapes (at least some parts of them) were not deleted.

It is true that the current indictment does not yet charge Trump and his corporate person with deleting video. It is also true that the indictment stops at 3:55PM on June 27, 2022, more than a week before some surveillance footage was turned over on July 6, 2022. We only know part of what happened during the first five days after Trump Org was alerted to the subpoena. That leaves a lot of time for shenanigans.

There’s a lot of this story that prosecutors have not yet told.

Even in what prosecutors have revealed so far, it is clear Trump’s initial subpoena response fell short of complying with the subpoena, though there may be reasonable explanations for that. DOJ had subpoenaed five months of footage, from January 10 through the date of subpoena, June 24 (which would have captured the days leading up to Trump’s return of 15 boxes in January 2022). But Trump Org only provided footage from April 23 through June 24.

That’s a curious length of time: 62 days. It suggests Trump Org normally deletes surveillance footage after 60 days, not the 45 days Taveras believed they kept. But if that’s the case, to have 62 days of footage, Trump Org started preserving footage when Jay Bratt first alerted them to the subpoena on June 22. Importantly, if Trump Org’s surveillance footage is automatically written over after 60 days, then someone would have had to take action to start preserving it on June 22 for April 23 and 24 to have been included. That action would have happened before (at least as portrayed in the superseding indictment) anyone spoke to Taveras at Mar-a-Lago. Probably, then, that action occurred in New York.

More suspect is Trump’s failure to provide video footage of all the locations subpoenaed.

There’s a redaction in the citation of the subpoena in the warrant affidavit where it describes the locations requested.

It was never clear before last week whether the redaction hid another subpoenaed location. But the superseding indictment describes that the subpoena asked for footage from “certain locations,” plural, one of which was the basement hallway.

The search affidavit describes that the disk provided on July 6 included footage only from four cameras in the basement hallway. Here, too, though, there could be a reasonable explanation: it may be Mar-a-Lago simply didn’t have cameras in the other requested positions. There’s another redaction in the search affidavit that might provide that explanation.

Certainly, when Walt Nauta and De Oliveira scouted out surveillance cameras with a flashlight on June 25, they’re only described as doing so in the basement hallway.

Many outlets are concluding that Trump Org must have turned over everything from that hallway since the search affidavit relied heavily on security footage to describe Nauta (then referred to as Witness 5) moving in and out of the storage room. But even that may overstate things. As I noted, there’s one movement of boxes that appears in the indictment but does not appear in the search affidavit: When Nauta entered the storage room on May 22, spent 34 minutes in there, and then left carrying a single box.

53. On May 22, 2022, NAUTA entered the Storage Room at 3:47 p.m. and left approximately 34 minutes later, carrying one of TRUMP’s boxes.

This is not proof that the footage wasn’t on the disk turned over on July 6. Perhaps the FBI wasn’t all that interested in this single box retrieval and so didn’t include it in the search affidavit. But it is a piece of footage the prosecutors may have obtained later, perhaps via other means.

This was only the first subpoena for video, however. Earlier this year, CNN described follow-up subpoenas after the August search, followed later by a preservation request before De Oliveira flooded the server room in October. The second subpoena, which may have been an attempt to learn when and how the remainder of the boxes were moved back into the storage closet, where they were found on August 8, might have obtained the footage of De Oliveira and Nauta scouting out the surveillance cameras. Once the FBI saw that, I’m sure they scrutinized what they had obtained far more closely, if they hadn’t already.

But there must be more than that: some weeks ago, the defense said they had received “approximately nine months” of surveillance footage.

The initial production also included some 57 terabytes of compressed raw CCTV footage (so far there is approximately nine months of CCTV footage, but the final number is not yet certain).

If DOJ never got footage before April, they may have footage from some part of every month through December, when the last known search occurred (and if DOJ got a video of the search conducted at Bedminster, it may explain why the FBI hasn’t conducted their own search).

Importantly, defense attorneys don’t know how much surveillance footage they’ll eventually get. If all of it was coming from Trump Org, they would. (Though even the superseding indictment appears to rely on surveillance footage, capturing Nauta and De Oliveira in bushes just off Mar-a-Lago property, that could have come from a neighboring property owner.)

That’s why NYT’s earlier reporting may indicate that Trump Org didn’t “ultimately turn[] over all the surveillance tapes.” As NYT reported in May, DOJ also subpoenaed the software company that handles Trump’s surveillance footage.

But hoping to understand why some of the footage from the storage camera appears to be missing or unavailable — and whether that was a technological issue or something else — the prosecutors subpoenaed the software company that handles all of the surveillance footage for the Trump Organization, including at Mar-a-Lago.

Once DOJ identified suspected gaps they would do what DOJ does in all criminal investigations: find another source.

Especially when dealing with an entity, Trump Org, that in recent years had what the Senate Intelligence Committee described as “known deficiencies in [] document responses.”

When SSCI subpoenaed Trump Org for any documents showing ties between the campaign and Russia in 2016, Trump’s corporate person didn’t turn over everything. For example, they didn’t turn over (to Congress at least) an email from Paul Manafort describing how to “secure the victory,” predicting that 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'” — precisely the strategy Trump used in 2020, albeit with the true statement that Russia was tampering with election facilities, though not the vote tallies.

I keep coming back to this, but one of those deficiencies — one of the things Trump Org didn’t provide in 2017, at least to the two congressional committees investigating Trump’s ties to Russia — were the emails showing that Michael Cohen directly contacted the Kremlin in January 2016 and got a response from Dmitri Peskov’s assistant. Mueller got a copy of it, though. He cited it in the report.

On January 20, 2016, Cohen received an email from Elena Poliakova, Peskov’s personal assistant. Writing from her personal email account, Poliakova stated that she had been trying to reach Cohen and asked that he call her on the personal number that she provided.350

There’s a ready explanation for how Mueller got an email showing that Trump’s fixer was in direct contact with the Kremlin during the election when it wasn’t included in Trump Org’s subpoena responses, at least to Congress: because on August 1, 2017, Mueller obtained Cohen’s Trump Org emails using a warrant served on Microsoft.

At least in 2017, as laid out in the warrant affidavit, Microsoft was the enterprise provider for Trump Org’s email.

55. On or about July 20,2017 and again on or about July 25, 2017, in response to a grand jury subpoena, Microsoft confirmed that the Target Account was an active account associated with the domain Microsoft also provided records indicating that email accounts associated with the domain “” are being operated on a Microsoft Exchange server. According to publicly available information on Microsoft’s website, Microsoft hosts emails for clients on Microsoft Exchange servers, while allowing customers to use their own domain (as opposed to the publicly available email domains supplied by Microsoft, such as According to information supplied by Microsoft, the domain continues to operate approximately 150 active email accounts through Microsoft Exchange, meaning that data associated with still exists on Microsoft’s servers.

That meant that, even though Trump Org didn’t turn over those damning emails (and Cohen testified to Congress as if they didn’t exist), Mueller got a copy anyway from the vendor, Microsoft, providing the cloud services to Trump Org.

The same may have happened with Trump’s surveillance footage: DOJ went to a cloud provider to obtain their version of it, without any gaps.

That warrant was, in part, a Foreign Agent warrant, so people in DOJ’s National Security Division working with Jay Bratt likely would have had a heads up. Bratt and Julie Edelstein, both on this investigative team, may well remember Trump Org’s recent, “known deficiencies in [] document responses,” and so knew to look for another source.

If that happened, then Nauta and De Oliveira may have initially testified believing certain events weren’t on surveillance footage turned over to DOJ when DOJ actually had such footage, just like Michael Cohen testified to Congress (and initially, to Mueller) as if those emails didn’t exist.

Here’s a point I keep coming back to. The surveillance footage turned over on July 6 had really damning footage: showing Nauta first emptying then half refilling the storage room. That footage, showing Trump withholding documents from Evan Corcoran’s search, was central to DOJ’s probable cause to obtain the warrant to search Trump’s beach resort on August 8.

If there are or were gaps, they served to hide something still more damning than proof that Trump was playing a shell game with his own attorney.

What we know (and Jay Bratt and Julie Edelstein likely knew when they started this investigation) is that in 2017 during the Russian investigation, all the known “deficiencies in [] document responses” in Trump Org’s subpoena compliance pertained to precisely the thing investigators most feared they would find: Direct ties between Trump and Russia.

Which undoubtedly would have made them all the more determined to fill any real or perceived gaps in Trump Org’s production of surveillance video.

Update: The government reveals it was still obtaining surveillance until recently, pointing to both footage obtained with an April 27 subpoena and footage — it doesn’t say from where — after the June 8 indictment.

Included in Production 3 is additional CCTV footage from The Mar-a-Lago Club that the Government obtained from the Trump Organization on May 9 and May 12, 2023, in response to a grand jury subpoena served on April 27. On July 27, as part of the preparation for the superseding indictment coming later that day and the discovery production for Defendant De Oliveira, the Government learned that this footage had not been processed and uploaded to the platform established for the defense to view the subpoenaed footage. The Government’s representation at the July 18 hearing that all surveillance footage the Government had obtained pre-indictment had been produced was therefore incorrect. See 7/18/2023 Tr. at 8. With this production, which also contains CCTV footage obtained after the original indictment was returned that pertains to the new obstruction allegations in the superseding indictment, the Government has produced all the CCTV footage it obtained during its investigation.

And if there’s a non-public grand jury, then Trump knows about it.

With the completion of Production 3, the Government has also now disclosed all unclassified memorialization of witness interviews finalized by today’s date and all grand jury transcripts in the Government’s possession.

Ben Smith Still Doesn’t Understand He Peddled Likely Russian Disinformation

I’m not sure whether it was just chance or whether Ben Smith knew in advance that BuzzFeed would announce the closure of its news division on the same day that he posted an account of publishing the Steele dossier. His account doesn’t explain whether the cost of defending against serial Russian lawfare for publishing the dossier made it harder, in the aftermath, to pay journalists’ salaries, but it’s a question that deserves an answer.

But Ben’s account — which focuses, as most of Ben’s writing does, on insider news media stuff — makes two grave errors.

The first is that — even though he quotes Pete Strzok describing how the dossier framed the Russian investigation, thereby inoculating Trump against accountability for the very real scandalous behavior he had with Russia — Ben falsely suggests that the dossier was the genesis of the public concern about Trump’s ties to Russia.

We had embedded it as a PDF, which meant that it could travel context-free, without our article’s careful disclaimers, and that’s exactly what happened. I watched uneasily as educated Democrats who abhorred Trump supporters’ crude rants about child sex rings in Washington pizza joints were led by the dossier into similar patterns of thought. They read screenshots of Steele’s report; they connected the dots. They retweeted threads about how the plane of a Russian oligarch—previously unknown to them, now sinister—had made a mysterious stop in North Carolina.


It had blown wide open a Russia investigation and forced voters to ask just why Trump seemed so friendly with Vladimir Putin.


An FBI agent who investigated Trump, Peter Strzok, later said the dossier “framed the debate” in a way that ultimately helped Trump: “Here’s what’s alleged to have happened, and if it happened, boy, it’s horrible—we’ve got a traitor in the White House. But if it isn’t true, well, then everything is fine.”

The notion that Democrats and national security hawks weren’t concerned about Trump’s Russian ties until January 10, 2017 is ludicrous. The effort to understand Trump’s Russian ties went into high gear on July 27, 2016, when he encouraged Russia to attack his opponent and floated recognizing the annexation of Crimea. It never stopped thereafter.

And, as I had to explain patiently to Columbia Journalism Review, even the intense press reporting on Trump’s real ties to Russia started before January 10, because the WaPo was already onto Mike Flynn’s lies about his outreach to Sergey Kislyak by then. Strzok’s point, I think, is that publishing the dossier made it easier for Trump to get away with attempting to undermine sanctions on Russia and all the rest because at least undermining sanctions wasn’t a pee tape.

No one needed the dossier to heighten concerns about Trump’s fondness for Russia. That’s a myth created by Russiagate [sic] peddlers trying to distract from the very real scandal of Trump’s ties to Russia.

Ben’s other silence, though, is irresponsible.

As I have noted, as the Carter Page IG Report makes clear, and as Republicans in Congress have come to agree, there’s abundant reason to believe that Russians started feeding Igor Danchenko with disinformation from the start. Lawyers for Oleg Deripaska were likely the client for a Steele collection effort targeting Paul Manafort in March 2016. According to declassified footnotes in the IG Report, Deripaska likely learned of the dossier project before the second report. And he demonstrably played a double game throughout 2016, getting Steele to feed Bruce Ohr damaging claims about Manafort at the same time as his aide, Konstantin Kilimnik, was exploiting Manafort’s legal and financial vulnerability to get information on the Trump campaign and a commitment to help carve up Ukraine.

This dynamic is utterly central to understanding the dossier. Someone who played a central role in the 2016 Russian operation knew about the dossier project, and had means to know of Danchenko’s collection network, almost from the start. And that makes it likely that at least some of the content of the dossier was tailored to be wrong in ways that benefitted the Russian operation.

Ben’s silence about the likelihood that he unwittingly peddled Russian disinformation is all the more embarrassing given how his post transitions directly from suggesting that John Durham had “poked holes in Steele’s sourcing” to noting that there was something that Trump actually was lying to cover up: the impossibly lucrative Trump Tower deal in Moscow.

Simpson then told Ken something he didn’t know: Steele had been working the case of the president-elect, Donald Trump, and he’d assembled evidence that Trump had close ties to the Kremlin—including claims that Michael Cohen, one of his lawyers, had held secret meetings with Russian officials in Prague, and that the Kremlin had a lurid video of Trump cavorting with prostitutes in the Ritz-Carlton Moscow that would come to be known as the “pee tape.”


But although the biggest-picture claim—that the Russian government had worked to help Trump—was clearly true, the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation in April 2019 did not support Steele’s report. Indeed, it knocked down crucial elements of the dossier, including Cohen’s supposed visit to Prague. Internet sleuths—followed by a federal prosecutor—had poked holes in Steele’s sourcing, suggesting that he’d overstated the quality of his information.

And there had always been a more mundane version of the Trump-Russia story. Trump was the sort of destabilizing right-wing figure that Putin had covertly supported across Europe. Trump’s value to Putin was related not to a secret deal, but to the overt damage he could do to America. And Trump, BuzzFeed News’s Anthony Cormier and Jason Leopold discovered, had a more mundane interest in Russia as well: He had drawn up plans to build the biggest apartment building in Europe on the banks of the Moskva River. The Trump Organization planned to offer the $50 million penthouse to Putin as a sweetener.

That real-estate project wasn’t mentioned anywhere in the dossier. Yet it seemed to explain the same pattern of behavior, without the lurid sexual allegations or hints of devious espionage.

The man responsible for publishing both the Steele dossier and the best reporting on the Trump Tower Moscow deal seems not to understand that false claims about Michael Cohen in the dossier were likely there because of the Trump Tower deal.

Ben invokes what Durham’s failed prosecution revealed about (what Ben mistakenly claims to be) Danchenko’s sourcing, without laying out the import of Danchenko’s ties to Charles Dolan: Dolan gave the source of the Cohen claims in the dossier, Olga Galkina, direct access to Dmitri Peskov, the one man in Russia with proof that when Trump falsely claimed in July 2016 that he wasn’t pursuing real estate deals in Russia, he was lying. Even Durham implied this was the import of Dolan’s relationship with Galkina! Dolan was important because he put Galkina, who was sending dirt on Trump to her childhood buddy, Igor Danchenko, in close touch with Peskov.

The source of the claims that Cohen had secret communications with the Kremlin in the dossier had direct ties to the one guy in Russia, Peskov, who provably knew that Cohen really did have secret communications directly with the Kremlin that he and Trump were lying to hide.

Once Trump publicly lied about chasing real estate deals in Russia in July 2016, it made the notes Peskov’s aide took, showing that Cohen had agreed to work with sanctioned banks and a retired GRU officer as fixer in order to chase one such deal, far more valuable to Russia, particularly after it became clear in the US that the GRU was behind the hack of Hillary. So it is likely not random at all that someone with direct access to Peskov told Danchenko that Cohen — who was lying to hide his real direct contact with the Kremlin during the election — had other, more damning direct contact with the Kremlin. It raised the stakes of Trump’s and Cohen’s lies. It raised the value of Russia’s silence about the earlier conversation with Peskov. To the extent that everyone kept their shared secret — and they did for the entire first year of the Trump Administration — it provided cover for the lies that Cohen would tell to Congress.

From the start, the FBI had warnings that the Cohen in Prague story was disinformation. And it just so happens that the story, which came from someone with ties to Peskov, repeated a true fact that Peskov knew: that Cohen really did have secret communications with the Kremlin, communications that had already compromised Trump and Cohen with Russia before the hacking even started. If the Cohen in Prague story was disinformation (and, again, FBI got warnings it was the day after Ben published the dossier), it was disinformation that made that earlier compromise more powerful.

And Ben Smith, who played a key role in disseminating that likely disinformation, appears to not even understand that, much less want to reflect on his role in being an unwitting mule for Russian disinformation.

Trump Organization’s Other New York State Case

[NB: check the byline, thanks. /~Rayne]

Because we’re running in excess of 500 comments across the last three threads about Donald Trump’s indictment and arraignment in Manhattan, I want to post another thread for more discussion.

I’ll remind you now I’m not a lawyer and I don’t have either Marcy’s holographic memory or her skills at fine reading, nor bmaz’s experience representing criminal defendants.

But I want to bring up a couple subjects we haven’t discussed which are related to D.A. Alvin Bragg’s criminal suit against Trump.

First, only one member of the emptywheel community made a passing reference to Trump’s post-arraignment speech. They didn’t mention Trumps’ threats.

Yes, that’s plural Trumps, because Donnie Jr. and Eric posted in social media a photo of New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan and his daughter on the day of his father’s arraignment. They targeted Merchan’s daughter for having worked for Kamala Harris’ campaign.

You’ll recall in July 2020 that U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey Judge Esther Salas’ family members were attacked at their home – her husband was shot three times and her son shot and killed. The attacker was an aggressive anti-feminist who killed himself shortly after the attack on Salas’ family. He had been able to locate Salas’ home using her personal information publicly available online.

Last November, Congress passed the Daniel Anderl Judicial Security and Privacy Act of 2021, named after Salas’ son, to protect the personal information about judges on the internet.

Trump himself attacked Judge Merchan verbally in his speech from Mar-a-Lago after returning from his arraignment. He’d been strongly cautioned against threatening speech during his arraignment, but he fulminated anyhow about Merchan being a “Trump-hating judge with a Trump-hating wife and family,” repeating the same disparaging remarks he’d made earlier the same day over social media. He also targeted Merchan’s daughter.

Apart from the obvious potential incitement to violence the Trumps attempted against Judge Merchan and his family, was this a move to manipulate the Manhattan case?

Being a state jurist, Merchan and his family are not protected by the federal Judicial Security and Privacy Act. But I wonder if these threats made online and on an interstate basis were intended not just to influence the judge or D.A. Alvin Bragg.

Are there potential federal repercussions?

~ ~ ~

Secondly, the emptywheel community and the legal commentariat at large have sifted through Trump’s indictment and the statement of facts. The amount of related discussion across social media has been exhausting.

However community member c-i-v-i-l shared a link to a thread by University of Texas Professor of Law Lee Kovarsky which checked me short and made me rethink the 34 count indictment.

You can catch the thread on the Wayback Machine at this Internet Archive link (I won’t make you go to Elmo’s House of Doge Nazi Bar for this).

What gave me pause was Kovarsky’s analysis of preemption and the matrix of possible underlying crime(s) which Bragg did not disclose but underpin the charges Bragg filed against Trump.

Here’s what the matrix looked like, with Not-Trump = Pecker, Cohen, etc. according to Kovarsky:

(1) federal tax law violation by Trump (2) federal tax law violation by Not-Trump
(3) state tax law violation by Trump (4) state tax law violation by Not-Trump
(5) federal election law violation by Trump (6) federal election law violation by Not-Trump
(7) state election law violation by Trump (8) state election law violation by Not-Trump

Kovarsky made a lot of sense to a non-lawyer like me as he pointed out where others’ arguments about preemption are weak and what’s most likely as a preemption.

And then it clicked, all the tumblers fell into place.

In my uneducated opinion, the underlying crime isn’t one which can be preempted by federal law.

It’s a crime which has been prosecuted by the state of New York already.

It’s a crime which has already been prosecuted by the Manhattan D.A.

It’s a crime which explains the narrow emphasis on business records and falsification of the same, and a crime which relied on falsified business records.

And the crime looked like this:

These are counts for which Trump Organization and its CFO (TO CFO) was already convicted and is now serving time in Rikers Island.

It’s the April 2017 and April 2018 tax returns and related supporting documentation filed based on falsified business records for which TO CFO Allen Weisselberg has already been charged.

But so has the Trump Organization – the same organization which was responsible for the financial records of Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust, and the financial records of Donald J. Trump.

This January both Trump Corporation and the Trump Payroll Corporation were assessed a total of $1.6 million in fines for their tax fraud as part of Trump Organization.

Again, I’ll remind you I’m not a lawyer, don’t even play one on TV, though I’ve done bookkeeping for several small businesses in my career and worked for a lawyer and CFO. I’ve shared my speculation here knowing I’m going to get a drubbing from my partner in (im)moderation bmaz.

I don’t even know if I can muster much defense of my own argument here except that Weisselberg’s case is one which hasn’t been discussed much at all since Tuesday morning.

Yet it was reported on March 30 that Weisselberg had “dumped” his Trump-funded lawyer Nicholas Gravante or that the Trump organization had fired Weisselberg’s lawyer. Gravante was apparently too willing to let Weisselberg talk with Bragg’s office.

Weisselberg is now represented by Seth L. Rosenberg who was a former member of the Manhattan D.A.’s office; Rosenberg has been with Clayman & Rosenberg LLP since 1986.

The late shuffle of attorneys could be a sign that it is the tax fraud for which Trump Org has already been charged that is the predicate to Trump’s 34-count indictment.

This situation would explain why Bragg would have been reluctant to outline the underlying crime when the 34 counts against Trump were filed and Trump was arraigned. Trump has already been manipulating Weisselberg through the legal representation Trump organization has been providing him; it’s reasonable to assume this is an attempt to throttle Weisselberg’s possible testimony against Trump.

What other crime might have been the predicate upon which the Manhattan D.A.’s charges would have relied if not the tax fraud charges against Trump Organization?

What other underlying crime would avoid preemption?