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Three Times William Barr Said Trading Pardons for False Testimony Was Obstruction of Justice

In the discussion of the Bill Barr memo in the last two days, the discussion of Barr’s claimed views on obstruction have mostly focused on the crazier parts of the memo that got him the job, and not even the passage at the bottom of the first page where he claimed to believe that if a President suborned perjury, it’d be a crime for him just as it would be for anyone else.

Obviously, the President and any other official can commit obstruction in this classic sense of sabotaging a proceeding’s truth-finding function. Thus, for example, if a President knowingly destroys or alters evidence, suborns perjury, or induces a witness to change testimony, or commits any act deliberately impairing the integrity or availability of evidence, then he, like anyone else, commits the crime of obstruction.

There has been far less attention to what he said in his confirmation hearing (where Lindsey Graham did not put him under oath). There were three substantive exchanges about what might constitute obstruction of justice for a President. And all of them get perilously close to behavior that Barr, now ensconced as Attorney General, claimed Sunday did not amount to obstruction of justice.

When Barr answered these questions, he appeared to have little awareness that Trump had floated pardons to — at least — Paul Manafort, Mike Flynn, and Michael Cohen. The first time he got asked about a pardon for false testimony, he stated clearly that would be a crime.

Patrick Leahy, specifically invoking Barr’s sanction of the Caspar Weinberger pardon that squelched the Iran-Contra investigation, asked Barr about pardons.

Leahy: Do you believe a president could lawfully issue a pardon in exchange for the recipient’s promise to not incriminate him?

Barr: No, that would be a crime.

Then, in this exchange from Amy Klobuchar, it appeared to take Barr several questions before he realized she knew more about the evidence than he did, and started couching his answers.

Klobuchar: You wrote on page one that a President persuading a person to commit perjury would be obstruction. Is that right?

Barr: [Pause] Yes. Any person who persuades another —

Klobuchar: Okay. You also said that a President or any person convincing a witness to change testimony would be obstruction. Is that right?

Barr: Yes.

Klobuchar: And on page two, you said that a President deliberately impairing the integrity or availability of evidence would be an obstruction. Is that correct?

Barr: Yes.

Klobuchar: OK. And so what if a President told a witness not to cooperate with an investigation or hinted at a pardon?

Barr: I’d have to now the specifics facts, I’d have to know the specific facts.

Klobuchar: OK. And you wrote on page one that if a President knowingly destroys or alters evidence, that would be obstruction?

Barr: Yes.

Klobuchar: OK. So what if a President drafted a misleading statement to conceal the purpose of a meeting. Would that be obstruction?

Barr: Again, I’d have to know the specifics.

Shortly after that exchange, Lindsey Graham tried to clarify the issue, asking the pardon question at a more basic level, coaching another not to testify, as Trump has done on Twitter repeatedly.

Lindsey: So if there was some reason to believe that the President tried to coach somebody not to testify or testify falsely, that could be obstruction of justice?

Barr: Yes, under that, under an obstruction statute, yes.

Lindsey: So if there’s some evidence that the President tried to conceal evidence? That would be obstruction of justice, potentially?

Barr: [nods]

Admittedly, by the third exchange, both Lindsey and Barr were hedging far more carefully about the set of facts.

But on three different occasions during his confirmation hearing, Barr made some kind of statement that said floating pardons for false testimony would be a crime.

And then, on Sunday, he said it wasn’t a crime.

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. 

There’s a Decent Chance Jon Karl’s Source Is Being or Was Investigated for Obstruction

Jonathan Karl, ABC White House correspondent, reported yesterday with a certainty I’m hearing from none of the DOJ beat reporters that Mueller’s report will amount to nothing.

Sources familiar with the investigation believe there are no more indictments coming from the special counsel. If Mueller follows the guidance of the man who appointed him and supervised his investigation, he cannot publicly disparage those who have not been charged with a crime.

From that, he spun out a letter Rod Rosenstein wrote at a time when Republicans were trying to expose some bureau and CIA informants, and ignored the intent of the Mueller Report, to suggest that Mueller can’t say anything bad (in a confidential report to Bill Barr, not to Congress) about Trump.

[W]e don’t need to speculate on the scope – the man who appointed Mueller has already given us a potential road map on what to expect from the special counsel.

The bottom line: Do not expect a harsh condemnation of President Donald Trump or any of his associates if they have not been charged with crimes.

I said yesterday I have no idea what The Mueller Report will bring — or even if The Mueller Report is actually where we’ll learn about Mueller’s findings. I said that, while there’s abundant evidence of a conspiracy between Trump and the Russians, it may never get charged, including for reasons that have to do with DOJ’s treatment of sitting presidents. That remains true.

But what is also likely true is that at least one of Jonathan Karl’s sources saying that they “believe there are no more indictments coming from” Mueller is either currently or already has been investigated for obstruction.

That’s because the chief source of claims like this — particularly in reporting from White House correspondents — is one or another of Trump’s lawyers, especially Right Wing operative Jay Sekulow and TV lawyer Rudy Giuliani. And we now know that both would have at least been scrutinized for obstruction.

In Sekulow’s case, Michael Cohen says the lawyer edited his perjurious statement to Congress. And even in the Sekulow denial — as reported by ABC News — he denies just that he changed the timeline of Cohen’s statement, not that he edited it.

During a closed-door hearing with the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday, Michael Cohen, the former personal attorney and fixer to President Donald Trump, shared documents and emails with committee members showing what he said were edits to the false statement he provided to Congress in 2017, in an effort to bolster his public testimony last week, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

Testifying publicly before the House Oversight Committee last week, Cohen said Trump’s current personal lawyer Jay Sekulow changed the former Trump loyalist’s statement to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees regarding the duration of discussions about the Trump Tower Moscow project before he submitted it to Capitol Hill.

Last week Sekulow denied the claims in a statement to ABC News.

“Today’s testimony by Michael Cohen that attorneys for the President edited or changed his statement to Congress to alter the duration of the Trump Tower Moscow negotiations is completely false.”

Mueller cited Cohen’s description of his communications with the White House in this period — and specifically the circumstances of preparing the statement — among the ways he helped the investigation.

Third, Cohen provided relevant and useful information concerning his contacts with persons connected to the White House during the 2017–2018 time period.

Fourth, Cohen described the circumstances of preparing and circulating his response to the congressional inquiries, while continuing to accept responsibility for the false statements contained within it.

With regards to Rudy, ABC News was among the outlets that recently provided details of what appears to be a pardon dangle to Cohen after he was raided.

In the weeks following the federal raids on former Michael Cohen’s law office and residences last April, President Donald Trump’s former lawyer and confidant was contacted by two New York attorneys who claimed to be in close contact with Rudy Giuliani, the current personal attorney to Trump, according to sources with direct knowledge of the discussions.

The outreach came just as Cohen, who spent more than a decade advocating for Trump, was wrangling with the most consequential decision of his life; whether to remain in a joint defense agreement with the president and others, or to flip on the man to whom he had pledged immutable loyalty. The sources described the lawyers’ contact with Cohen as an effort to keep him in the tent.

Yet for all the attention paid to what Cohen was willing to say about the president, his reluctance to answer a question about the last communications he had with Trump or someone acting on his behalf made news on its own. Cohen clammed up and claimed that federal prosecutors were actively probing that very issue.

“Unfortunately, this topic is something that’s being investigated right now by the Southern District of New York, and I’ve been asked by them not to discuss and not to talk about these issues,” Cohen said.

The sources familiar with the contacts said the two lawyers first reached out to Cohen late in April of last year and that the discussions continued for about two months. The attorneys, who have no known formal ties to the White House, urged Cohen not to leave the joint defense agreement, the sources told ABC News, and also offered a Plan B. In the event Cohen opted to exit the agreement, they could join his legal team and act as a conduit between Cohen and the president’s lawyers.

At one point in the discussions, one of the attorneys sent Cohen a phone screenshot to prove they were in touch with Giuliani, the sources said.

According to ABC’s sources, this matter is currently under investigation by SDNY.

I mean, it’s certainly possible that someone else is sourcing Karl’s seeming unique certainty about what will come of the Mueller report. It’s certainly possible that ABC’s White House correspondent has better sources at DOJ than all the DOJ reporters who say they don’t know. It’s certainly possible his sources don’t include someone that DOJ had at least reason to believe had participated in obstruction.

But if Karl’s sources are people that his own outlet has reported to be under investigation for obstruction, he ought to at least temper his certainty that they can be believed.

Update: Rudy has gone on the record with exactly the line that Karl regurgitated yesterday.

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 More Interesting Michael Cohen Redactions: On Viktor Vekselberg

The materials backing the raid on Michael Cohen released yesterday suggest — give the large swaths of redacted pagers — that the investigation into hush payments continues. But the filings also suggest something about Mueller’s investigation.

One of the earliest warrants, dated February 28, 2018, obtained access to a USB drive holding the contents of Cohen’s Gmail account from June 1, 2015 to November 14, 2017 and a business account handed to SDNY from Mueller. The Agent’s affidavit (starting at PDF 36), describes how Mueller got access to those accounts in support of false bank entries, money laundering, and two foreign agent charges, then substantiates the need to access the same information in support of conspiracy, false bank entires, and bank fraud charges.

SDNY does not cite FARA or 951 among the crimes it was investigating.

Nevertheless, the affiant describes how the government came to be interested in Cohen’s Essential Consulting account, an account at First Republic that he hid when negotiating how to deal with his taxi medallion business. The account must have come to Mueller’s attention because of the FARA/Foreign Agent interest.

Cohen started the account on October 26, 2016. We now know he did so to pay off Stormy Daniels, but even on February 28, 2018, SDNY did not include that among the crimes it was investigating. Cohen told the bank Essential Consulting was a real estate consulting company for which his clients would be domestic individuals, which was one of the false statements he made to his bank. The affidavit notes:

[T]here is probable cause to believe that Cohen’s statements and the intended purpose of the account and source of funds for the account were false. Specifically, the account was not intended to receive–and does not appear to have received–money in connection with real estate consulting work; in addition, the account has received substantial payments from foreign sources.

A redaction about a third of a page long follows.

Then, the affidavit describes how a forensic accountant determined the account was used for other purposes, describing five payments. Those payment amounts and sources were:

  • $583,332,98 from Columbus Nova LLC, which is an investment firm controlled by Viktor Vekselberg’s Renova Group
  • $999,800 from Novartis Instruments
  • $550,000 from AT&T
  • $600,000 from Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI)
  • $150,000 from Kazkommertsbank, a Kazakhstani bank, which was listed on accounts as BTA Bank

Following the description of Columbus Nova, there is a redaction.

The affidavit then describes that emails and interviews with people at AT&T and Novartis show that the payments were associated with political consulting and notes that they may violate FARA, which this affidavit was not intended to investigate.

the aforementioned payments to the Essential Consultants Account and MDC&A ostensibly were for political consulting work, including consulting for international clients on issues pending before the Trump Administration.10

10 Based on my review of public sources, I have learned that Cohen is not registered as a lobbyist or a person acting as an agent of foreign principals, as may have been required by the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

It then describes emails supporting that claim for just four of the five companies:

  • KAI
  • BTA
  • AT&T
  • Novartis

In other words, even in the first affidavit, the SDNY Agent includes Columbus Nova, but then drops that out when he substantiates that the account was used for something other than Cohen had told the bank. One way or another, any FARA exposure related to KAI and BTA were still in DC. But Columbus Nova was treated differently than the other foreign entities.

And the discussion of why remains redacted. That may be because nothing ever came of it — though almost $600K is hard to explain away. Remarkably, Republicans remained silent about this payment during Cohen’s congressional testimony, even while they made a big deal about his payments from KAI and BTA.

The 18 pages of still-redacted discussion of the hush payments is interesting, because it suggests SDNY continues to pursue that prosecution, a prosecution that features a recording of Donald Trump admitting criminal intent.

But the small redactions around the Columbus Nova payment are far more interesting.

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 (Unsealed Parts of the) Michael Cohen Investigation

As noted, the search warrants leading up to and used in the April 9 search of Michael Cohen have been partly unsealed. In this post, I want to lay out what we know about how the investigation into Cohen developed.

On July 18, 2017, Mueller’s team got a warrant on Michael Cohen’s Google activity from January 1, 2016 to July 18, 2017, for which they would already have obtained the call records showing whom he was emailing when using it and a preservation order. At the time, they were investigating:

  • False statements to a financial institution
  • Money laundering
  • Acting as an unregistered foreign agent
  • FARA violations

On August 8, 2017, Mueller’s team got a warrant for Cohen’s iCloud account.

On November 13, 2017, they got a warrant for activity associated with a business account, MCDPC, which was hosted by 1&1, as well as for Cohen’s Gmail account going back to June 1, 2015. On November 7, 2017 and January 4, 2018, Mueller got pen registers to obtain records of everyone Cohen was talking to in real time.

While sorting through that evidence, they appear to have discovered more of the bank fraud associated with his taxi medallions.

On February 2, 2018, Mueller provided SDNY a subset of content from Cohen’s iCloud. On February 8, 2018, Mueller referred some of the crimes they were investigating to SDNY, including the taxi medallion payments and other money laundering, and handed them a USB drive with the stuff obtained in those earlier email warrants (but not yet the iCloud one). That month, SDNY got some of the emails turned over as hard copies from third parties using a subpoena, and accessed the toll records for the emails. Before accessing the content, on February 16, 2018, SDNY got a d-order for header information for the two accounts handed over by Mueller. They also interviewed and acquired emails from a number of employees at Sterling, from whom Cohen was getting a loan. Then, on February 28, 2018, SDNY submitted affidavits to access the content handed over from Mueller and to obtain everything in the accounts from the interim period (that is, since November 14), as well as another Gmail and AOL account associated with the taxi medallion related bank fraud.

This suggests that while they had found his Essential Consultants bank account and recognized that he was using it for things he hadn’t informed the bank about, they were not yet focusing on hush payments as an illegal campaign donation.

On March 7, 2018, Mueller handed over the iCloud material to SDNY.

In early April, SDNY started a slew of legal process leading up to its search of Cohen’s properties.

According to the letter associated with this release, they got a warrant for out of jurisdiction materials on April 5 (reportedly for stuff held overseas). I’m still trying to find that in the attachments.

Then, on April 7, 2018, it obtained a warrant to search the existing collection for material related to illegal campaign finance.

Also on April 7, SDNY got a warrant for prospective and historical location data associated with Cohen’s AT&T phones for the periods from October 1, 2016 to November 8, 2016 and January 1, 2018 to present. The campaign finance crimes were the only ones specified in this warrant.

On April 8, SDNY got a warrant for Cohen’s condo, office, safe deposit box, and hotel, as well as two iPhones. This covered all the crimes to which Cohen pled guilty in SDNY, as well as his sleazy influence peddling with BTA, KAI, AT&T, and Novartis, but not Columbus Nova (I’ll return to this). They also got a warrant to use a Stingray to figure out which room he was in at the hotel (like the location searches on his phone, this was just for his campaign finance crimes). Then, on April 9, they went back and got another warrant for the specific room at Loews hotel.

In the materials from SDNY, some names are redacted. The biggest redactions (suggesting ongoing investigation) pertain to the campaign finance crimes, meaning Trump and Trump Organization are in trouble. There may also be redacted material associated with Cohen’s sleazy influence peddling.

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. 

By July 18, 2017, Mueller Had Probable Cause Michael Cohen Was an Unregistered Foreign Agent

SDNY has released the warrants behind his April 9 raid, which are here. They actually include a series of warrants, showing how first Mueller got warrants, then handed parts of the investigation over to SDNY, which then obtained its own warrants tied to the crimes they were investigating. These two affidavits (one, two) are the ones showing that hand-off — basically SDNY asking, on February 28, 2018, for access to email accounts and storage devices that Mueller had already accessed. The second one describes Mueller’s first warrant on Cohen to be dated July 18, 2017.

The same affidavit describes the crimes listed in the earlier warrants. Among those crimes — unsurprisingly — was conspiracy to defraud the US. More surprising, however, are 18 USC §§ 951 (acting as an unregistered foreign agent) and 611 (FARA).

The latter may be tied to Cohen’s work with a Kazakhstan bank (BTA Bank) and Korean airspace company (Korea Aerospace Industries) — which were basically his efforts to monetize his ties to Trump after the election. These were the deals that Republicans made such a big deal about when Cohen testified to the Oversight Committee.

In addition, Cohen was working for Columbus Nova, which was ultimately controlled by Victor Vekselberg. That would be of immediate concern for the question of Russian influence.

The 951 charge, however, is more interesting. It could relate to the same thing (basically arguing that because he was working for instrumentalities of foreign countries, he was their agent — basically a “soft” spy). Or it could relate to his efforts to negotiate a Trump Tower deal for Trump. Note that the November 13 warrant basically extended the first warrant back to June 1, 2015, which would we know would cover the Trump Tower deal (and precede any tie to BTA or KAI).

951 is a charge I always suspected might be used with Paul Manafort (it still might), or even Jared Kushner. But it appears that Mueller’s worries about Trump’s closest associates acting as spies wasn’t limited to Manafort and Flynn, but extended, too, to his personal lawyer. And Mueller already had evidence of that fact by July 18, 2017.

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

“I Can’t Be Seen Taking Credit for HIS Victory:” The Purpose of Roger Stone’s Paperback

Towards the end of the day on January 14, amid a three day stint writing the 3,000 word introduction that would justify reissuing his 2016 book, Making of the President, Roger Stone rejected the title suggested by his publisher, Skyhorse Publishing, “The Myth of Collusion; The Inside Story of How I REALLY Helped Trump Win.” He suggests instead, “The Myth of Collusion; The Inside Story of How Donald Trump really won,” noting, “I really can’t be seen taking credit for HIS victory.”

That’s the title the book now bears.

That exchange — and a number of other ones revealed in the correspondence Stone’s lawyers submitted in an attempt to persuade Judge Amy Berman Jackson they weren’t just trying to get publicity for the book when asking for a “clarification” regarding the book on March 1 — raises interesting questions about why he reissued the book how and when he did.

On one level, the explanation is easy: his publishers expected the original book, Making of the President, would be a big seller. They made 100,000 copies when it first came out in January 2017. The book flopped.

So in November 2018, Stone’s rising notoriety — and more importantly, the increased polarization surrounding the Mueller probe — provided an opportunity to recoup some of the losses on the hardcover. At that level, the reissue needs no explanation other than the obvious formula publishers use to make money: Exacerbate and profit off of controversy.

But that doesn’t explain why the project started on November 15, 2018 rather than any time in the year and a half earlier, when Skyhorse would have all those same goals. Nor does it explain how Stone went from expressing no interest in the project to rushing it through quickly in mid-December.

Given the timeline of events and a few stray comments in the correspondence (as I laid out here, Stone has probably withheld at least eight exchanges with his publisher from the court submission, after letting the publisher review what correspondence was there), I think he’s got several other purposes.

As noted below, Skyhorse first approached Stone on November 15, in the wake of the Democrats winning the House in midterm elections. On January 14, Skyhorse president Tony Lyons suggests that “We can send copies [of the book] to all U.S. Senators.” Those two details suggest that Skyhorse intended the book, on top of the obvious financial incentives, to capitalize on the general right wing campaign to discredit the Mueller investigation in an effort to stave off impeachment.

The delay between the time — on November 15 — when Skyhorse first pitched the reissue and the time — mid-December — when Stone and his lawyer, Grant Smith, start engaging in earnest suggests two other factors may be in play.

First, while Stone had been saying that Mueller would indict him for months, the aftermath of the Corsi “cooperation” starting on November 26 made Stone’s jeopardy more immediate. Yes, Corsi’s attempt to make his own cooperation useless may have delayed Stone’s indictment, but the details Corsi described to be in his own forthcoming Mueller-smearing book made it clear the Special Counsel believed Stone had successfully affected the timing of the release of the John Podesta emails on October 7, 2016, in a successful attempt to dampen some of the impact of the Access Hollywood video.

That’s why the specific content of the new introduction Stone finished on January 13, 2019, which he notes is more substantive than Skyhorse initially planned, is of interest. In the introduction, Stone:

  • Describes learning he was under investigation on January 20, 2017
  • Discounts his May 2016 interactions with “Henry Greenberg” — a Russian offering dirt on Hillary Clinton — by claiming Greenberg was acting as an FBI informant
  • Attributes any foreknowledge of WikiLeaks’ release to Randy Credico and not Jerome Corsi or their yet unidentified far more damning source while disclaiming any real foreknowledge
  • Gives Manafort pollster, Tony Fabrizio, credit for the decision to focus on Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania in the last days of the election
  • Mentions Alex Jones’ foreboding mood on election night
  • Accuses Trump of selling out to mainstream party interests, choosing Reince Preebus over Steve Bannon
  • Blames Jeff Sessions for recusing from the Russian investigation
  • Harps on the Steele dossier
  • Dubiously claims that in January 2017, he didn’t know how central Mueller’s focus would be on him
  • Suggests any charges would be illegitimate
  • Complains about his financial plight
  • Falsely claims the many stories about his associates’ testimony comes from Mueller and not he himself
  • Repeats his Randy Credico cover story and discounts his lies to HPSCI by claiming his lawyers only found his texts to Credico after the fact
  • Suggests Hillary had ties to Russia
  • Notes that Trump became a subject of the investigation after he fired Jim Comey

Some of this is fairly breathtaking, given that Corsi’s theatrics had long ago proven Stone’s Credico cover story to be false. But of course, by the time Stone wrote this, he knew that he was at risk at a minimum for false statements charges, so he was stuck repeating the long-discredited HPSCI cover story. Which may be why his attorney, Grant Smith, provided some edits of the introduction on January 15 (something Smith should have but did not disclose in the filing to Amy Berman Jackson). Stone will now be stuck with this cover story, just as Corsi is stuck with the equally implausible cover story in his book.

But to some degree, that’s clearly one purpose this introduction serves: to “retake the narrative” (as Skyhorse’s editor Mike Campbell described it when pitching Stone on the project) and try to sell at least frothy right wingers on his cover story.

Another is to make money. Stone’s first response — over three weeks after Skyhorse first floated the paperback project — was to complain that because the publisher printed way too many copies of the hard cover, which was done as part of a joint venture, he made no money off the deal (a claim that Skyhorse corrects, slightly, in the follow-up). That’s why Skyhorse ended the joint venture: to mitigate the risk to Stone and by doing so to convince him to participate in the project.

More interesting — given the January stories suggesting that Jerome Corsi may have gotten a six month severance deal as part of a bid to have him sustain Stone’s cover story — is that Stone seemingly reversed his opinion about doing the project between December 9, when he said he was uninterested, and Monday, December 17, when Smith said they were ready to move forward, because Stone urgently needed money by the next day to pay off his collaborators in the book project.

From the public record, I’m actually fairly confused about who these collaborators are. A number of them would be the witnesses interviewed by Mueller’s grand jury.

But the book itself — because it retains the Acknowledgements section from the original — thanks Corsi third, after only Richard Nixon and Juanita Broaddrick, and lauds what Stone calls Corsi’s “investigative report[ing].”

Remember: A key product of that “investigative reporting” was the report Stone asked Corsi to write on August 30, 2016, to invent a cover for why he was discussing John Podesta and Joule Holdings in mid-August 2016. Things had already gone to hell by the time this book was released in e-book form on February 18 and they (appear to) have continued to disintegrate since then.

But I am very interested in who Stone paid off with that urgently wired payment in December. And because it happened before Stone was raided on January 25, Mueller likely knows the answer, if he didn’t already.

Which brings me to the last likely purpose of this paperback, one that goes to the core of whether Stone was trying to publicize its release with his little stunt about “clarifying” whether or not it would violate his gag.

Stone’s decision to do this paperback came not long after Stone repeated a formula other Trump associates bidding for a pardon have engaged in: promise publicly you won’t testify against Trump, then deny you’re asking for a pardon.

[T]here’s no circumstance under which I would testify against the president because I’d have to bear false witness against him. I’d have to make things up and I’m not going to do that. I’ve had no discussion regarding a pardon.

The next day, Trump let Stone and all the world know he had gotten the message.

Every person who is bidding for a Trump pardon is doing whatever they can — from reinforcing the conspiracy theories about the genesis of the investigation, to declaring ABJ found “no collusion” minutes after she warned lawyers not to make such claims, to sustaining embarrassingly thin cover stories explaining away evidence of a conspiracy — to hew to Trump’s strategy for beating this rap. Indeed, the Michael Cohen lawsuit claiming Trump stopped paying promised legal fees as soon as Cohen decided to cooperate with prosecutors suggests Trump’s co-conspirators may be doing this not just in hopes of a pardon, but also to get their legal fees reimbursed.

Which brings me back to Stone’s concern that the title, “The Myth of Collusion; The Inside Story of How I REALLY Helped Trump Win” would suggest he was taking credit for Trump’s win.

There are two reasons why such an appearance might undermine Stone’s goals for the book.

Stone has loudly claimed credit for his role in Trump’s victory, particularly as compared Steve Bannon. And evidence that will come out in his eventual trial will show him claiming credit, specifically, for successfully working with WikiLeaks.

Of course, Trump is a narcissist. And the surest way to piss him off — and in doing so, ruin any chance for a pardon — is to do anything to suggest he doesn’t get full credit for all the success he has in life.

But there may, in fact, be another reason Stone was quick to object to getting credit for all the things he did to get Trump elected.

At least according to Jerome Corsi, Stone, on indirect orders from Trump, took the lead in trying to learn about and with that knowledge, optimize the release of the materials Russia stole from Hillary’s campaign. If non-public details about what Stone did — or even the public claim that Stone managed the timing of the Podesta email release — had a bigger impact on the election outcome than we currently know, then Stone would have all the more reason to want to downplay his contribution.

That is, if Stone’s efforts to maximize the value of Russia’s active measures campaign really were key, then the last thing he’d want to do is release a paperback crowing about that.

Of course, because of the boneheaded efforts of his lawyers, his concerns about doing so are now public.

Update: I’ve corrected my characterization of Skyhorse. They’re not ideological. But they do feed off of controversy.


October 30, 2018: ABC reports that Stone hired Bruce Rogow in September, a First Amendment specialist who has done extensive work with Trump Organization.

October 31, 2018: Date Corsi stops making any pretense of cooperating with Mueller inquiry.

November 6, 2018: Democrats win the House in mid-term elections.

November 7, 2018: Trump fires Jeff Sessions, appoints Big Dick Toilet Salesman Matt Whitaker Acting Attorney General.

November 8, 2018: Prosecutors first tell Manafort they’ll find he breached plea deal.

November 12, 2018: Date Corsi starts blowing up his “cooperation” publicly.

November 14, 2018: Date of plea deal offered by Mueller to Corsi.

November 15, 2018: Mike Campbell pitches Stone on a paperback — in part to ‘retake the narrative — including a draft of the new introduction.

November 18, 2018: Jerome Corsi writes up his cover story for how he figured out John Podesta’s emails would be released.

November 20, 2018: After much equivocation, Trump finally turns in his written responses to Mueller.

November 21, 2018: Dean Notte reaches out to Grant Smith suggesting a resolution to all the back and forth on their joint venture, settling the past relationship in conjunction with a new paperback.

November 22, 2018: Corsi writes up collapse of his claim to cooperate.

November 23, 2018: Date Mueller offers Corsi a plea deal.

November 26, 2018: Jerome Corsi publicly rejects plea deal from Mueller and leaks the draft statement of offense providing new details on his communications with Stone.

November 26, 2019: Mueller deems Paul Manafort to be in breach of his plea agreement because he lied to the FBI and prosecutors while ostensibly cooperating.

November 27, 2018: Initial reports on contents of Jerome Corsi’s book, including allegations that Stone delayed release of John Podesta emails to blunt the impact of the Access Hollywood video.

November 29, 2018: Michael Cohen pleads guilty in Mueller related cooperation deal.

December 2, 2018: Roger Stone claims in ABC appearance he’d never testify against Trump and that he has not asked for a pardon.

December 3, 2018: Trump hails Stone’s promise not to cooperate against him.

December 9, 2018: Stone replies to Campbell saying that because he never made money on Making of the President, he has no interest.

December 13, 2018: Tony Lyons and Grant Smith negotiate a deal under which Sky Horse would buy Stone out of his hardcover deal with short turnaround, then expect to finalize a paperbook by mid January. This is how Stone gets removed from the joint venture — in an effort to minimize his risk.

December 14, 2018: Mueller formally requests Roger Stone’s transcript from House Intelligence Committee.

December 17, 2018: Smith, saying he and Stone have discussed the deal at length, sends back a proposal for how it could work. This is where he asks for payment the next day, to pay someone off for work on the original book.

For some reason, in the ensuing back-and-forth, Smith presses to delay decision on the title until January.

December 19, 2018: It takes two days to get an agreement signed and Stone’s payment wired.

December 20, 2018: HPSCI votes to release Stone’s transcript to Mueller.

January 8, 2019: Paul Manafort’s redaction fail alerts co-conspirators that Mueller knows he shared polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik.

January 13, 2019: Stone drafts new introduction, which he notes is “substantially longer and better than the draft sent to me by your folks.” He asks about the title again.

January 14, 2019: Stone sends the draft to Smith and Lyons. It is 3386 words long. Lyons responds, suggesting as title, “The Myth of Collusion; The Inside Story of How I REALLY Helped Trump Win.” Lyons also notes Stone can share the book with Senators.

Stone responds suggesting that he could live with, “The Myth of Collusion; The Inside Story of How Donald Trump really won,” noting, “I really can’t be seen taking credit for HIS victory.”

By end of day, Skyhorse’s Mike Campbell responds with his edits.

January 15, 2019: The next morning, Smith responds with his edits, reminding that Stone has to give final approval. Stone does so before lunch. Skyhorse moves to working on the cover. Late that day Campbell sends book jacket copy emphasizing Mueller’s “witch hunt.”

January 15, 2019: Mueller filing makes clear that not all Manafort’s interviews and grand jury appearances involve him lying.

January 16, 2019: Tony Lyons starts planning for the promotional tour, asking Stone whether he can be in NYC for a March 5 release. They email back and forth about which cover to use.

January 18, 2019: By end of day Friday, Skyhorse is wiring Stone payment for the new introduction.

January 24, 2019: Mike Campbell tells Stone the paperback “is printing soon,” and asks what address he should send Stone’s copies to. WaPo reports that Mueller is investigating whether Jerome Corsi’s “severance payments” from InfoWars were an effort to have him sustain Stone’s story. It also reports that Corsi’s stepson, Andrew Stettner, appeared before the grand jury. That same day, the grand jury indicts Stone, but not Corsi.

January 25, 2019, 6:00 AM: Arrest of Roger Stone.

January 25, 2019, 2:10 PM: Starting the afternoon after Stone got arrested, Tony Lyons starts working with Smith on some limited post-arrest publicity. He says Hannity is interested in having Stone Monday, January 28 “Will he do it?” Smith replies hours later on the same day his client was arrested warning, “I need to talk to them before.”

January 26, 2019: Lyons asks Smith if Stone is willing to do a CNN appearance Monday morning, teasing, “I guess he could put them on the spot about how they really go to this house with the FBI.”

January 27, 2019: Smith responds to the CNN invitation, “Roger is fully booked.” When Lyons asks for a list of those “fully booked” bookings, Smith only refers to the Hannity appearance on the 28th, and notes that Kristin Davis is handling the schedule. Davis notes he’s also doing Laura Ingraham.

January 28, 2019: The plans for Hannity continue on Monday, with Smith again asking for the Hannity folks to speak to him “to confirm the details.” In that thread, Davis and Lyons talk about how amazing it would be to support “another New York Times Bestseller” for Stone.

February 15, 2019: After two weeks — during which Stone was indicted, made several appearances before judges, and had his attorneys submit their first argument against a gag — Stone responded to Campbell’s January 24 email providing his address, and then asking “what is the plan for launch?” (a topic which had already been broached with Lyons on January 16). Campbell describes the 300-400 media outlets who got a review copy, then describes the 8 journalists who expressed an interest in it. Stone warns Campbell, “recognize that the judge may issue a gag order any day now” and admits “I also have to be wary of media outlets I want to interview me but don’t really want to talk about the book.”

February 18, 2019: Release of ebook version of Stone’s reissued book.

February 21, 2019: After Stone released an Instagram post implicitly threatening her, Amy Berman Jackson imposes a gag on Stone based on public safety considerations.

March 1, 2019: Ostensible official release date of paperback of Stone’s book. Stone submits “clarification” claiming that the book publication does not violate the gag.

March 12, 2019: Official release date of Corsi hard cover, which Mueller may need for indictment.

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. 

Art of the Get-Screwed-in-Your-Russian-Quid-Pro-Quo Deal

Donald J. Trump, self-proclaimed Master of the Deal, just got his ass handed to him in a high stakes nuclear negotiation by Kim Jong-Un, at a time when Trump had the full power of the United States and hundreds of experts available to help him.

And yet Russian conspiracy denialists believe that any conspiracy between said deal-maker and Vladimir Putin must show evidence that Trump came away with a big win over anything but the 2016 election. They believe this, even though Trump made any such deal at a time when he was desperate to avoid a humiliating loss, relying on negotiators like his feckless son Don Jr, his attention-craving personal lawyer Michael Cohen, and his financially exposed campaign manager Paul Manafort.

That’s what I learned last night when I walked Aaron Maté through the process of first claiming the Trump Tower deal went nowhere because Cohen and Felix Sater disagreed in December 2015, then admitting that Cohen and Sater were still at it in May and June 2016. By the end, Maté was dismissing Rudy Giuliani’s admission that the deal went through the election (which is itself a limited hangout designed to hide that a Trump Tower deal was pursued in two different forms after the election, as well as abundant evidence that other financial payoffs were dangled if not made) by pointing to Dmitry Peskov’s stories, which have changed right along with Michael Cohen’s evolving story.

Because there’s no shiny tower in Moscow with Trump’s name on it, Maté appears to believe, it is proof that when Don Jr took a meeting in June 2016 at which he (according to the sworn testimony of four people who attended) committed to revisit Magnitsky sanctions if his dad got elected, the possibility of a $300 million payoff didn’t factor in to Junior’s willingness to sign away American policy considerations on behalf of his father.

That’s not how criminal conspiracy law works.

If you sign up for a deal and take steps to make good on it — as Don Jr did on June 9, 2016 and Paul Manafort appears to have done on August 2, 2016 and Mike Flynn appears to have done, on Trump’s behalf, on December 29, 2016 — then it doesn’t matter if the partner to that deal fucks you over later in the process. And, after all, the Russians did continue to supply Trump with a steady supply of dirt on Hillary Clinton all through the election. They got Trump elected, or at least did what they could to help, even if that payoff wasn’t the one Trump was most interested in.

Do you think Oleg Deripaska, a key player in both the deal-making and likely in the cover-up of it, gives a shit if Paul Manafort — who had screwed Deripaska over years earlier — had his life ruined as part of the process of compromising a President and getting sanctions relief? My suspicion is we’ll learn that Deripaska actually magnified Manafort’s hurt, once he had gotten him to compromise himself and the campaign.

Do you think Putin really cares whether Trump — to say nothing of the United States — benefits from the stupid choices Trump made during the election? Putin — a far better “deal” maker than Trump — got a win-win either way: Either Trump succeeded in compromising America’s rule of law in an effort to squelch any investigation into what happened, robbing the United States of the claim to idealism that so irks the master kleptocrat, Putin, or Trump would spend his Administration desperately trying to find a way out, all the while Putin connives Trump into dismantling the alliances that keep Russia in check.

And, too, Putin’s election year operation exacerbated the polarization between Democrats and Republicans such that most Republicans and a goodly number of Democrats have been unable to step back and say, holy shit, this country got attacked and we need to come together to do something about it. Trump’s win got Republicans to fear Trump’s base so much that they care more about those fevered hordes than doing what is right for this country. And Democrats rightly want to punish Trump for cheating, but haven’t thought about what a least-damaging off-ramp for that cheater might look like.

Putin doesn’t care if Trump benefits from all this — though he is happy to keep toying with Trump like a cat plays before he eviscerates his mouse. He cares about whether he and his cronies win. And there are multiple ways for him to get a win out of this, whether or not Trump manages to eke out any kind of real payoff past the election.

And let’s be honest, Putin isn’t the only one playing this game. Certainly, Mohammed bin Salman feels the same way, even if his record of ruthless dealmaking is shorter and sloppier than Putin’s. The truth is that Donald Trump and Jared Kushner are easy marks for a whole range of skilled operators willing to stroke their egos and dangle loot, and over and over again they’ve let themselves be bested in foreign policy negotiations, to the detriment of the interests of the United States. That they are so bad at deal making in no way disproves their culpability.

There is no Trump Tower in Moscow. But there never had to be. All that was needed was the promise of a ridiculously lucrative narcissism-stroking deal for the Trump family to agree to shit that would hurt this country. And all the evidence suggests that they did, and continue to do so.

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. 

Two Trajectories: Sleazy Influence Peddler Paul Manafort and Foreign Agent Prosecutor Brandon Van Grack

Like many, while I expected TS Ellis to give Paul Manafort a light sentence, I’m shocked by just how light it was.

Ellis gave Manafort 47 months of prison time for crimes that the sentencing guidelines say should start at a 19 year sentence. Even if Amy Berman Jackson gives Manafort the stiffest sentence she can give him — 10 years — and makes it consecutive, he’ll still be facing less than the what sentencing guidelines recommend. Ellis even declined to fine Manafort beyond the $24 million he’ll have to pay in restitution (Zoe Tillman lays out the money issues here).

There are a number of reasons to be outraged by this.

Ellis explicitly suggested that Manafort’s crimes were less serious than similar organized crime that people of color would commit. In the wake of this sentence, any number of people (especially defense attorneys) have pointed to non-violent criminals facing more prison time than Manafort. That said, I agree with those who suggest we should aim to bring those other sentences down in line with what the civilized world imposes, and not instead bump white collar criminals up to the barbaric levels that come out of the drug war.

Ellis gave this sentence even though Manafort expressed no remorse. Ellis commented that “I was surprised that I did not hear you express regret for engaging in wrongful conduct. In other words, you didn’t say, ‘I really, really regret not doing what the law requires,'” but nevertheless sentenced him as if he had.

Perhaps most infuriating were the backflips Ellis did to spin Paul Manafort as a good man. He emphasized that Manafort was “not before the court for any allegation that he or anybody at his direction colluded with the Russian government to influence the 2016 presidential election,” which is true; but Ellis received the breach determination materials showing that at a time when Manafort was purportedly cooperating, he instead lied about sharing polling data with a suspected Russian asset while discussing a Ukrainian peace deal that he knew amounted to sanctions relief, a quid pro quo. Because those materials go to the issue of whether Manafort took responsibility and was a risk for recidivism, they were fair game for consideration, but Ellis didn’t consider them.

Indeed, because of time served, Ellis effectively sentenced Manafort to an equivalent sentence that Michael Cohen faces having committed an order of magnitude less financial fraud, pled guilty, and provided limited cooperation to the government. Effectively, then, Ellis has sanctioned Manafort’s successful effort to avoid cooperating in the case in chief, on how he and Trump conspired with Russia to exploit our democratic process.

Instead of referring to the materials on Manafort’s refusal to cooperate, Ellis instead just regurgitated defense materials and claimed that aside from stealing millions of dollars from taxpayers and whatever else went on before Amy Berman Jackson, Manafort had “lived an otherwise blameless life.”

And that’s where I step away from a generalized discussion of the barbaric nature of our criminal justice system to look specifically at the barbaric nature of what Paul Manafort has done with his life. I feel much the way Franklin Foer does.

In an otherwise blameless life, Paul Manafort lobbied on behalf of the tobacco industry and wangled millions in tax breaks for corporations.

In an otherwise blameless life, he helped Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos bolster his image in Washington after he assassinated his primary political opponent.

In an otherwise blameless life, he worked to keep arms flowing to the Angolan generalissimo Jonas Savimbi, a monstrous leader bankrolled by the apartheid government in South Africa. While Manafort helped portray his client as an anti-communist “freedom fighter,” Savimbi’s army planted millions of land mines in peasant fields, resulting in 15,000 amputees.

[snip]

In an otherwise blameless life, he spent a decade as the chief political adviser to a clique of former gangsters in Ukraine. This clique hoped to capture control of the state so that it could enrich itself with government contracts and privatization agreements. This was a group closely allied with the Kremlin, and Manafort masterminded its rise to power—thereby enabling Ukraine’s slide into Vladimir Putin’s orbit.

[snip]

In an otherwise blameless life, he produced a public-relations campaign to convince Washington that Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was acting within his democratic rights and duties when he imprisoned his most compelling rival for power.

In an otherwise blameless life, he stood mute as Yanukovych’s police killed 130 protesters in the Maidan.

Paul Manafort invented the profession of sleazy influence peddler. His own daughter once acknowledged, “Don’t fool yourself. That money we have is blood money.” And our democracy, as well as more corrupt regimes around the globe where Manafort was happy to work, are much less just because of Manafort’s life’s work.

Which is why I take more solace in something that happened the night before Manafort’s sentencing: A CNN report that DOJ has put Brandon Van Grack — a prosecutor who, under Mueller, prosecuted Mike Flynn and his sleazy influence peddler business partners — in charge of a renewed effort to crack down on unregistered sleazy influence peddlers.

The initiative at the Justice Department to pursue violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which requires that an entity representing a foreign political party or government file public reports detailing the relationship, will be overseen by Brandon Van Grack, who left Mueller’s team in recent months to rejoin the national security division.

Van Grack’s appointment to the newly created position and the Justice Department’s interest in expanding its pursuit of foreign influence cases stemmed largely from the impact of Russian operations on the 2016 presidential election, John Demers, the head of the national security division, said Wednesday at a conference on white-collar crime.

With Van Grack’s new role, the Justice Department will shift “from treating FARA as an administrative obligation and regulatory obligation to one that is increasingly an enforcement priority,” Demers said.

He also pointed to the impact of a recent settlement with one of the country’s highest-profile law firms — Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP — on the department’s decision to escalate its enforcement in that area.

[snip]

Demers added that the Justice Department is considering seeking congressional authorization for administrative subpoena power to enforce the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which it currently lacks.

“That’s something that we’re taking a hard look at,” he said. Referencing Skadden, he added: “Do I think the firm would have behaved differently if they had received a subpoena versus they had just received a letter? Yes.”

This marks a decision to treat FARA violations — sleazy influence peddling that hides the ultimate foreign customer — as a real risk to our country. As I have laid out in my comparison of Manafort’s “otherwise blameless life” and Maria Butina’s efforts to infiltrate right wing politics, a venal insider with an already rich political network will be far more effective (and insidious) than even a beautiful woman backed by a mobbed up foreign government official and abetted by her own washed out Republican insider.

I don’t know what Mueller is doing with all the evidence of a conspiracy that he continues to protect. I don’t know that he’ll be able to deliver a prosecutorial conclusion that will deliver justice for the sleazy things that Trump did to win the election. Prosecuting very powerful people is very difficult, and we shouldn’t forget that.

But one other point of this entire investigative process was to learn lessons, to make it harder for hostile outsiders to hijack our democratic process going forward.

In letting Manafort off with a metaphorical wrist-slap, TS Ellis did nothing to deter others who, like Manafort, will sell out our country for an ostrich skin jacket. Even ABJ will face some difficult challenges in DC when she tries to sentence FARA crimes (particularly those of Sam Patten, who cooperated) without precedents to do so.

But the way to build those precedents — the way to establish a record that causes a Skadden Arps or a Rob Kelner to treat FARA registration as the official declaration to the government that it is — is to pursue more of these cases, against sleazy influence peddlers working for all foreign entities, not just the ones we despise.

So Manafort may get off easy for helping Russia interfere in our election in a bid to line up his next gig white-washing brutal oligarchs.

But along the way, our justice system may be adapting to the certainty that he did not live an otherwise blameless life

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. 

Which Came First: The Indemnity Fail or Cohen’s Cooperation Curiosity?

Michael Cohen is suing Trump Organization for refusing to fulfill an indemnity agreement they had. By itself, the suit offers the promise that these shitholes will rip each other apart in court. Discovery could be awesome, especially since the suit names Eric and Don Jr.

It also may lead other members of the Joint Defense Agreement to question how long Trump will remain loyal to them.

But I’m acutely interested in the timeline the lawsuit draws out for what it says about Trump’s efforts to cover-up his own criminal actions, laid out below. The italicized entries are ones I’ve added to Cohen’s own timeline — many of those dates come from this post on the timeline of the Special Master review of materials seized in the raid of Cohen’s home. The underlined ones are ones in Cohen’s complaint that I’ve editorialized on, to note where someone is known to have told a lie that coordinated with Cohen’s own lies.

As you can see, Trump’s spawn were happy to pay Cohen’s legal bills so long as he continued to tell the agreed upon lies.

But that changed when he got raided in April 2018. As I’ve noted, even though Cohen and Trump succeeded in getting a Special Master appointed to review all the discovery, that appointment didn’t succeed in withholding any of the most damning materials. But the Special Master process did give Trump an opportunity to review what Cohen had — including to identify what he had tape recordings of.

This probably led them to two conclusions. First, because Cohen had taped incriminating conversations (to ensure he’d get paid, Cohen explained in his OGR testimony), he had exposed Trump where he otherwise wouldn’t have been exposed. But because he hadn’t taped the most damning conversations — those implicating the Trump Tower Moscow deal and other Russia-related issues — they could fuck him over with relative impunity.

And that’s about when Trump stopped paying for Cohen’s silence. Notably, Cohen’s filing states that “On June 2018, Mr. Cohen began telling friends and family that he was willing to cooperate with the Special Counsel,” as if there once was a date there. He doesn’t give us that date.

But we can see from the timeline that it happened at a key point in the Special Master review, which is the same time Trump stopped paying for Cohen’s silence.

Two things are unclear to me.

First, as the title suggests, which came first, Cohen’s willingness to cooperate, or Trump’s newfound unwillingness to pay. My bet is it’s the latter, and my bet is it was a response to what they were seeing in the Special Master review. That is, once they decided that Cohen couldn’t hurt them, they cut him free, to sink on his own.

I’m also curious about why Cohen included Papadopoulos, Manafort, Gates, Page, Sessions, and Flynn in his timeline. He is not known to have testimony relating to any of these people — except, perhaps, Manafort. And they weren’t the only ones in Trump’s JDA (Gates has said he was never in the JDA) to have testified in this period (for example, KT McFarland had her first interview).

But it suggests Cohen may have more on the JDA he’s hanging over the others. Which may get litigated in this suit.

Timeline

August 2016: Karen McDougal catch and kill.

October 2016: Stormy Daniels hush payment.

January 13, 2017: SSCI opens Russian investigation.

January 25, 2017: HPSCI opens investigation.

January and February 2017: Cohen seeks reimbursement for hush payment to Daniels.

March 2017: Cohen named RNC Deputy Chair.

May 17, 2017: Mueller appointed.

~May 18, 2017: Cohen meets with Trump and Jay Sekulow, implicitly agree to tell a cover story.

End of May 2017: Cohen lawyers up with McDermott Will & Emery.

May 31, 2017: HPSCI subpoenas Cohen.

July 2017: Trump Organization enters into indemnity agreement in context of joint defense agreement.

August 28, 2017, Cohen sends letter making false statements to HPSCI and SSCI.

September 7, 2017: Don Jr testifies before SJC, repeating Cohen’s false statement on Trump Tower Moscow.

September 19, 2017: Cohen lies to SSCI about Trump Tower Moscow.

September 26, 2017: Roger Stone lies to HPSCI about relaying information about WikiLeaks to campaign, including Trump.

October 5, 2017: George Papadopoulos pleads guilty to making false statements to FBI agents relating to contacts he had with agents of the Russian government while working for the Trump Campaign.

October 25, 2017: Cohen testifies to SSCI, lying about Trump Tower Moscow.

October 25, 2017: First payment, in sum of $137,460, to McDermott.

October 30, 2017: Paul Manafort and Rick Gates indicted by a federal grand jury, including conspiracy against
the United States

November 2, 2017: Carter Page testifies before HPSCI.

November 14, 2017: AG Jeff Sessions testifies before HJC.

December 1, 2017: Mike Flynn pled guilty to lying to the FBI about conversations he had with the Russian ambassador.

December 6, 2017: Don Jr testified before the HPSCI, sustaining Cohen’s lies about Trump Tower Moscow.

December 2017: Don Jr and Eric Trump confirm they will continue to pay Cohen’s attorneys’ fees and expenses.

March 6, 2018: Daniels files a lawsuit against Trump and Cohen in CA seeking to invalidate NDA.

March 26, 2018: Daniels amends lawsuit to allege that Cohen defamed Daniels through public statements he made in or around February 2018.

~March 20, 2018: McDougal files a lawsuit against AMI seeking to invalidate the NDA.

April 5, 2018: Trump says, of payment to Daniels, “You’ll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney. You’ll have to ask Michael.”

April 9, 2018: Cohen raided.

April 9, 2018: Trump states, “So, I just heard that they[, the FBI,] broke into the office of one of my personal attorneys, a good man, and it’s a disgraceful situation. It’s a total witch hunt. I’ve been saying it for a long time. . . . It’s an attack on our country in a true sense. It’s an attack on what we all stand for.”

April 13, 2018: Challenge to seized materials, leading to appointment of Special Master.

April 21, 2018: Rudy Giuliani associate Robert Costello emails Cohen and tells him he “can sleep well tonight” because he “has friends in high places” to reassure Cohen that the President was not made him. Emails also say,

I just spoke to Rudy Giuliani and told him I was on your team. He asked me to tell you that he knows how tough this is on you and your family and he will make (sure) to tell the President. He said thank you for opening this back channel of communication and asked me to keep in touch.

There was never a doubt and they are in our corner, Rudy said this communication channel must be maintained. He called it crucial and noted how reassured they were that they had someone like me whom Rudy has known for so many years in this role

April 21, 2018: Trump tweets, “The New York Times and a third rate reporter named Maggie Haberman, known as a Crooked H flunkie who I don’t speak to and have nothing to do with, are going out of their way to destroy Michael Cohen and his relationship with me in the hope that he will ‘flip.’ They use . . . non-existent ‘sources’ and a drunk/drugged up loser who hates Michael, a fine person with a wonderful family. Michael is a businessman for his own account/lawyer who I have always liked & respected. Most people will flip if the Government lets them out of trouble, even if . . . it means lying or making up stories. Sorry, I don’t see Michael doing that despite the horrible Witch Hunt and the dishonest media!”

April 26, 2018: On Fox & Friends Trump states that Mr. Cohen is a “good person” and “great guy” who handled “a percentage of my overall legal work. . . . He represents me – like with this crazy Stormy Daniels deal he represented me. And, you know, from what I see he did absolutely nothing wrong. . . . I hope he’s in great shape.”

April 27, 2018: Kimba Wood appoints Barbara Jones as Special Master. 

Through May 2018: Trump Organization continues to pay Cohen’s legal fees, totaling $1.7 million.

May 6, 2018: George Stephanopoulos asks Rudy Giuliani, “Are you concerned at all that Michael Cohen’s going to cooperate with prosecutors?” Mr. Giuliani responds, “No. I expect that he is going to cooperate with them. I don’t think they’ll be happy with it because he doesn’t have any incriminating evidence about the president or himself. The man is an honest, honorable lawyer.”

June 4, 2018: Jones issues first report (covering a number of Cohen’s recordings), disagreeing with three claims of privilege. 

June 6, 2018: Trump lawyer Joanna Herndon requests that any challenge to Special Master decision be sealed. 

June 7, 2018: SDNY demands that any legal discussions of challenges be public. 

June 8, 2018: Judge Wood agrees with SDNY, leading Trump to withdraw certain privilege claims. 

June XX 2018: Cohen begins telling friends and family that he was willing to cooperate with the Special Counsel and federal prosecutors in connection with the SDNY Investigation.

June 2018: Trump Organization ceases to pay McDermott’s invoices, without notice or justification.

June 13, 2018: Daniels files a new lawsuit in CA against former attorney, Keith Davidson, and Cohen, alleging that they “colluded” and “acted in concert” to “manipulate” Daniels and benefit Trump.

June 14, 2018: NYAG subpoenas Cohen in Charitable Foundation suit.

June 15, 2018; Trump says, “I haven’t spoken to Michael in a long time. . . . [H]e’s not my lawyer anymore.”

June 22, 2018: Judge Wood finds that Cohen didn’t do much privileged lawyering.

July 2, 2018: Jones begins releasing files to SDNY.

July 2, 2018: Cohen tells Stephanopoulos, “To be crystal clear, my wife, my daughter and my son, and this country have my first loyalty … I will not be a punching bag as part of anyone’s defense strategy. I am not a villain of this story, and I will not allow others to try to depict me that way.”

July 23, 2018: Cohen withdraws privilege claims from 12 recordings. 

July 26, 2018: On CNN Rudy claims of Cohen, “He has lied all his life” and that he is a “pathological liar.”

August 7, 2018: Cohen begins meeting with Mueller. At his first proffer, he lies.

August 21, 2018: Cohen pleads guilty in SDNY.

September 12, 2018: First truthful Cohen proffer with Mueller.

November 29, 2018: Cohen pleads guilty with Mueller.

December 12, 2018: Cohen sentenced.

December 16, 2018: Trump tweets, “Remember, Michael Cohen only became a ‘Rat’ after the FBI did something which was absolutely unthinkable & unheard of until the Witch Hunt was illegally started. They BROKE INTO AN ATTORNEY’S OFFICE!”

January 25, 2019: Cohen asks for reimbursement for $1.9 million in legal fees and $1.9 in restitution.

Update, March 14: Included Robert Costello email.

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 Ineffable Boiling Frog of Trump Scandal

In the last several days, two outlets have tried — but (in my opinion) failed — to communicate the sheer scale of the President’s corruption. Today, that bastion of warmed over conventional wisdom, Axios, deemed Trump’s Russian conspiracy “the biggest political scandal in American history.”

They miss most of the key details (and treat Trump’s contacts with Russian officials as the crime, when that’s not by itself one). Even in a piece invoking the Teapot Dome Scandal, they don’t seem to see the outlines of a quid pro quo bribe, Tower and dirt for sanctions relief. There’s no mention of Paul Manafort at all, much less one describing how he shared polling data in a meeting where he also discussed sanctions relief.

And I don’t think the Mueller investigation really has delivered one of the biggest counterintelligence cases in history (which may be a mis-citation of this Garrett Graff article).

More remarkably, the Axios founders don’t seem to be able to get their arms around where this scandal ends, in part because some of the other stuff Trump has done — monetizing the Presidency via other foreign powers or various properties — are separate from the Russian part of Trump’s scandals.

Tuesday, Greg Sargent attempted a different approach, cataloging all the things that Republicans in Congress think should not be investigated by Congress. He came up with this list:

  • Materials relating to any foreign government payments to Trump’s businesses, which might constitute violations of the Constitution’s emoluments clause.
  • Materials that might shed light on Trump’s negotiations over the duration of a real estate project in Moscow, which Trump concealed from the voters even as the GOP primaries were underway.
  • Materials that might show whether Trump’s lawyers had a hand in rewriting former lawyer Michael Cohen’s testimony to Congress falsifying the timeline of those negotiations.
  • Materials that might illuminate more detail about Trump’s numerous efforts to obstruct the FBI/Mueller investigation.
  • Materials that would shed more light on the criminal hush-money scheme that Cohen carried out, allegedly at Trump’s direction, and on Trump’s reimbursement of those payments.

This list is based on the HJC list of document requests, and so is limited to people who’ve already (publicly) been asked for documents. But even there, it doesn’t capture why some of these things matter — again, including the appearance of a quid quo pro bribe trading the Trump Tower for sanctions relief. Nor does it incorporate the full scope of kinds of crimes listed here. This list doesn’t include the range of lies told, not just by Cohen but by Roger Stone and Don Jr and others, nor does it consider the import of Cambridge Analytica and Manafort sharing polling data with the Russians.

And, of course, because Sargent works backwards from the HJC list, he doesn’t include issues already being investigated by other committees, such as how Trump’s ICE keeps losing immigrant children, or why he forced aides to give his daughter and her husband security clearances that they clearly weren’t suited for.

I raise this not to criticize, but instead to observe that we’re at a point where journalists are struggling to communicate the full scale of Trump’s corruption, even just that corruption tied exclusively to the Russian investigation. That’s partly been a result of his media approach, treating each day as a new opportunity to replace yesterday’s spectacle with a new one. It’s partly because of the boiling frog effect: we’ve had piecemeal disclosures over two years, and few journalists have taken stock along the way to see what the actual court evidentiary record amounts to. And even there, we often forget to add in the truly breathtaking corruption of Administration aides like Scott Pruitt or Ryan Zinke, or of current Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot of late — I don’t pretend to be able to get my brain around anything beyond the Russian investigation, to the extent even that is doable. It seems that we need to start trying to quantify this not in terms of names or actions but instead in terms of harm to the nation.

Just as one example, even the judges in the Russian investigation have — across the board — seen Trump’s flunkies to be selling out the interest of the United States, perhaps for Trump personally, perhaps for self-dealing, perhaps for foreign associates. Whatever crimes (or not) Trump committed, because he and his flunkies refuse to put the interest of the country first, it has consequences for Americans, including the constituents of members of Congress who want to ignore all this corruption.

We’ve been boiling frogs for several years here. But it’s time to take stock on the bottom line effect that Trump’s corruption has had on the country, and holding Republican enablers accountable for that damage.