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The State of Trump’s Anti-Mueller Strategy

As I laid out last week, 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 thought it’d be useful to summarize Trump’s many-fronted attack on the Mueller investigation today.

Forthcoming Peter Strzok testimony

As part of the GOP obstruction efforts, the House Judiciary Committee will have Peter Strzok for a public hearing Thursday, without (at least thus far) providing him with a transcript of his 11-hour testimony before the committee two weeks ago.

In his increasingly frequent rants about the Witch Hunt, Trump continues to focus on Strzok’s role.

Incidentally, I made some initial outreach to do an informal briefing with some Republican members of Congress about what I know about the election year tampering, but learned the committees were too busy with Strzok and related issues to hear from me.

Leak of two anti-Comey letters

Yesterday, a Saturday, the AP published two anti-Comey letters sent by the Trump team:

  • A June 27, 2017 screed from Marc Kasowitz delivered by hand to Robert Mueller, spinning Jim Comey’s descriptions of his own actions as inaccurate and Machiavellian
  • A September 1, 2017 letter from John Dowd to Rod Rosenstein complaining that there was no grand jury investigation into Comey’s behavior, the closure of the Hillary email investigation, and (vaguely) the Clinton Foundation

The AP claims that,

The 13-page document provides a window into the formation of a legal strategy that remains in use today by Trump’s lawyers — to discredit Comey’s value as a witness. It could have new relevance in the aftermath of a Justice Department inspector general report that criticized Comey for departing from protocol in the Clinton investigation.

The AP did not include Rudy Giuliani (among others, including Trump himself) in the list of those it reached out to for comment.

Lawyers for Comey declined to comment Saturday, as did Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller. Kasowitz and Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow did not return messages, and former Trump attorney John Dowd declined to comment.

The NYT’s continued parroting of Trump’s shitty legal team’s understanding of the case

Meanwhile, the Mike and Maggie team at NYT continues its practice of writing stories that claim to track a grand new Trump legal strategy, but along the way mostly maps out either Trump spin emphasizing obstruction or just outright misunderstanding of the case against the President. In the most recent installment, Mike and Maggie claim the obviously consistent half year strategy of inventing excuses not to do an interview is a new one.

President Trump’s lawyers set new conditions on Friday on an interview with the special counsel and said that the chances that the president would be voluntarily questioned were growing increasingly unlikely.

The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, needs to prove before Mr. Trump would agree to an interview that he has evidence that Mr. Trump committed a crime and that his testimony is essential to completing the investigation, said Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s lead lawyer in the case.

At one point, they even claim that the raid against Michael Cohen — as opposed to the mounting evidence that Mueller was examining Trump’s role in “collusion,” not just obstruction — that led Trump to take a more aggressive stance.

But in April, Mr. Trump concluded that Mr. Mueller and Justice Department officials were determined to find wrongdoing after federal investigators in New York, acting on a referral from the special counsel, raided the office, hotel room and home of Mr. Trump’s longtime personal lawyer Michael D. Cohen.

The most curious aspect of the story is Rudy’s claim that if Mueller — who as early as March was asking around 13 questions about “collusion” — could show real evidence, then Trump would be willing to sit for an interview.

“If they can come to us and show us the basis and that it’s legitimate and that they have uncovered something, we can go from there and assess their objectivity,” Mr. Giuliani said in an interview. He urged the special counsel to wrap up his inquiry and write an investigative report. He said Mr. Trump’s lawyers planned to write their own summary of the case.

This is an area where NYT could have laid out the evidence that implicates Trump personally, to show how silly this line is.

After that article, Schmidt weighed in twice more on Twitter, asserting that because Mueller told Trump’s team he needed to question the President for obstruction earlier this year, that remains true.

Mueller told Trump’s lawyers earlier this year that he needed to question the president to know whether he had criminal intent on obstruction issues. Hard to believe Mueller doesn’t try and do everything in his power to get Trump to answer those questions.

Schmidt also posted Dowd’s self-congratulation for his own strategy cooperating long enough to support the defense team’s current position that Mueller would have to show strong evidence of a crime to be able to subpoena the president to testify.

Giuliani’s hat trick of Sunday shows

In what must be the result of aggressive White House outreach, Rudy Giuliani appeared on several outlets this morning, following up on the NYT piece. On ABC, he nuanced his claim about whether Trump would sit for an interview, saying not that Mueller would have to show evidence of a crime, but that he’d have to show “a factual basis” for an investigation into Trump.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let’s talk about Robert Mueller. The New York Times reported that President Trump won’t agree to an interview with Robert Mueller unless Mueller first proves he has evidence that President Trump committed a crime.

That was based on an interview with you. Is that the current condition?

GIULIANI: Yes, but I have to modify that a bit, look at my quote. My quote is not evidence of a crime, it’s a factual basis for the investigation. We’ve been through everything on collusion and obstruction.

We can’t find an incriminating anything, and we need a basis for this investigation, particularly since we now know it was started from (ph) biased — by biased —

STEPHANOPOULOS: We have James Comey’s testimony.

GIULIANI: Well Comey’s testimony is hardly worth anything. And — nor — nor did he ever — James Comey had — never found any evidence of collusion. And rules out obstruction by saying the president had a right to fire me. So all the rest of it is just politics. I mean, the — the — the reality is Comey, in some ways, ends up being a good witness for us.

Unless you assume they’re trying to get him into a perjury trap by (ph) he tells his version, somebody else has a different version.

Rudy went a bit further on CNN, claiming to be certain there’s no reason for the investigation because his team has debriefed all of Mueller’s witnesses (who, according to Rudy, are all part of the joint defense agreement).

BASH: Thank you.

And these new terms, particularly that Robert Mueller must show proof of Trump wrongdoing to agree to an interview, you actually have said that you don’t think that Mueller would even agree to it. So why do this dance? Why not just tell the special counsel, sorry, no interview?

GIULIANI: Well, we’d like to know if there is any factual basis for the investigation originally or they have developed one, because we can’t find one, nor can anyone else, nor have they, with all the leaking they have done, even leaked one, which I think would have happened immediately, because they want to justify themselves.

The fact is, I should correct it. I didn’t say they have to prove a crime.

BASH: Right.

GIULIANI: What I said was, they have to give us a factual basis, meaning some suspicion of a crime.

For example, I can’t initiate an investigation of my neighbor just because I don’t like him or just he’s politically different from me.

[snip]

BASH: … that there is no evidence — you say that the special counsel hasn’t produced evidence.

But they haven’t said that they have no evidence. They have — you say that there have been leaks. They have been remarkably tight- lipped, aside from what they have had to do with indictments and such.

GIULIANI: No, they haven’t. They leaked reports. They leaked reports. They leaked meetings. They’re leaking on Manafort right now. They leaked Cohen before it happened.

BASH: But this is an ongoing investigation. We don’t really know what they have and what they don’t have. That’s fair, right?

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

BASH: You have debriefed all of their witnesses?

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

Rudy said much the same on NBC — the most interesting part of that interview is Chuck Todd’s questions about why Trump would meet with Putin while being under investigation for colluding with him.

Central to all three of these interviews is the notion that because Michael Horowitz found that Jim Comey acted improperly in the Hillary investigation, Trump can’t be investigated for anything to do with him — the same story told implausibly in those two leaked letters.

The Trump team went to great lengths to spend their limited Sunday Morning political capital on rolling this out as a purportedly new Mueller strategy.

The Tea Leaves on Mueller’s Hand Off

As part of writing this post, I confirmed for the first time that the prosecutor I spoke with regarding the Russian attack is not and never has been part of the Mueller team (among other things, I think that means Peter Strzok never got within a mile of my testimony, which is why I asked). But a prosecutor who was involved in discussions setting up my interview is, and the Special Counsel’s Office certainly seemed to recognize my interview as part of the investigation when I alerted them I was going to publish that text. Given that the FBI agents I spoke with didn’t know what topics I cover for a living (and seemed to get wiser about the person we were discussing over two breaks), my guess is that DOJ assigned a team segmented off from the investigation to ensure that no one accidentally dropped hints about the investigation. That’s all just a wildarseguess, though. DOJ has gone to great lengths to ensure I don’t learn anything from the process, as is proper.

Having that tiny glimpse into how DOJ used a prosecutor uninvolved in the case in chief to talk to me about what may have become part of the case in chief is background to explain why I doubt some of the conclusions made in this piece, reporting that Mueller has divvied up tasks to career prosecutors from elsewhere in DOJ.

As Mueller pursues his probe, he’s making more use of career prosecutors from the offices of U.S. attorneys and from Justice Department headquarters, as well as FBI agents — a sign that he may be laying the groundwork to hand off parts of his investigation eventually, several current and former U.S. officials said.

Mueller and his team of 17 federal prosecutors are coping with a higher-then-expected volume of court challenges that has added complexity in recent months, but there’s no political appetite at this time to increase the size of his staff, the officials said.

[snip]

Investigators in New York; Alexandria, Virginia; Pittsburgh and elsewhere have been tapped to supplement the work of Mueller’s team, the officials said. Mueller has already handed off one major investigation — into Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen — to the Southern District of New York.

The only thing that is clearly new in this paragraph is that Mueller has involved prosecutors in Pittsburgh. As the paragraph itself notes, [part of] the investigation into Michael Cohen got handed off to SDNY. But that’s because it involves conduct — a hush money payment that Cohen arranged from Manhattan and taxi medallion fraud — that don’t clearly relate to Russian election interference. Other reports suggest that conduct more closely tied to the election, such as Cohen’s involvement in inauguration graft, remains in Mueller’s hands.

Similarly, we know of at least one EDVA prosecutor involved in Mueller’s investigation. Uzo Asonye got moved onto the team to placate TS Ellis. He will presumably present a good part of the trial that starts later this month, freeing up another member of that team to focus on the DC side of Manafort’s corruption. But that move was driven, in significant part, from Ellis’ direction.

With Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort, there’s plenty of corruption to spread across multiple districts! Heck, Manafort’s former son-in-law is cooperating against him based off a case in LA, and Dmitri Firtash, who is under indictment in Chicago, is one of four oligarchs explicitly named in Manafort’s search warrant.

And, frankly, I’m offended by this passage.

Mueller indicted 13 Russian individuals and three entities in February on charges of violating criminal laws with the intent to interfere with the U.S. election through the manipulation of social media.

None of the targets are in the U.S., but one of them, the Internet Research Agency, has forced Mueller into another legal fight in federal court. The two sides have been sparring most recently over how to protect sensitive investigative materials from disclosure. Mueller has enlisted prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s office in Washington to handle the case.

I’m offended not just because the passage is factually false: the entity mounting a defense is Concord Management, not Internet Research Agency. But because one should never label a defendant mounting a defense as “forc[ing the prosecutor] into another legal fight.” Yes, Concord’s defense is trollish lawfare aiming to discover intelligence. But that is the risk of using indictments to lay out nation-state information operations.

Also, as I suggested in this post and this post, commentators have made far too much of the technical requirements of the Concord case. The government will use no classified data in the trial, if the trial ever really happens. Which suggests the case will be a glorified call records case, showing that the people running certain accounts were operating from certain IP addresses. That’s not to minimize the import of call records in proving crimes. But it’s just not the most technically difficult case to prove.

Which brings us back to Pittsburgh. In fact, Pittsburgh has already been involved in this case — back when the investigation of the hack of the DNC lived there, as many nation-state hacking cases do. Now, it is definitely true that the hack investigation had, at some point, been moved under Mueller; I know of a witness to the hack who was interviewed at Mueller’s office. But if Mueller’s team of 17 were focused more closely on the “collusion” case, I could imagine them moving the hack case back to where it started.

If that’s actually what happened, it would amount to a hand off, of sorts. But it may not be all that momentous a development. Rather, it might reflect Mueller’s (and Rod Rosenstein’s) continued efforts to keep the matters he will prosecute (as distinct from investigate) closely related to the “collusion” case. That seems like a sound decision both form a resourcing perspective, but it’s a good way to rebut claims that he’s a runaway prosecutor.

For Family and Country: The Questions Michael Cohen Won’t (Yet) Answer

Yesterday, Michael Cohen continued his public campaign to get an invitation from Robert Mueller to flip on Donald Trump with a(nother) interview with George Stephanopoulos. This interview clearly reflects the coaching of his new attorney, Guy Petrillo.

“Once I understand what charges might be filed against me, if any at all, I will defer to my new counsel, Guy Petrillo, for guidance.”

And while Cohen has actually always been complimentary of the FBI agents who raided his home, he has gotten downright effusive about the fact-finding wonders of federal prosecutors, and even condemned the Russian attack.

“I respect the prosecutors. I respect the process,” Cohen said. “I would not do or say anything that might be perceived as interfering with their professional review of the evidence and the facts.”

[snip]

“I don’t like the term witch hunt,” he said, adding that he condemned Russia for interfering in the 2016 election.

“As an American, I repudiate Russia’s or any other foreign government’s attempt to interfere or meddle in our democratic process, and I would call on all Americans to do the same,” he said.

The big headline quote comes where he vows to put his family and country ahead of Donald Trump’s interests (the latter, in my mind, is the more interesting).

“To be crystal clear, my wife, my daughter and my son, and this country have my first loyalty.”

I’m most interested, though, in the questions that Petrillo has coached Cohen to remain silent on. Cohen does answer a few questions, asserting Mueller will find he had no improper dealings with Russia and that those who attended the June 9 meetings were idiots for doing so.

Cohen believes Mueller will not find any evidence that he had any illegal or improper dealings with the Russians.

But Cohen did criticize those members of the Trump campaign who participated in that now infamous Trump Tower meeting in June of 2016 with several Russians after being promised dirt on Hillary Clinton.

“I believe it was a mistake by those from the Trump campaign who did participate,” he said. “It was simply an example of poor judgment.”

But Cohen smartly got quiet when asked about crimes he himself might be accused of.

Prosecutors in New York’s Southern District are investigating Cohen for alleged violations of election law and possible financial crimes associated with his personal business dealings.

He has not been charged with any crime. But on the advice of his attorney, Cohen declined to address specific questions about matters currently under investigation.

He won’t repeat his earlier answers as to whether he or Trump decided to pay off Stormy Daniels.

I asked Cohen if the president directed him to make that payment or promised to reimburse him. In the past, Cohen has said that he acted on his own initiative.

Not this time.

“I want to answer. One day I will answer,” he said. “But for now, I can’t comment further on advice of my counsel.”

The big one, though, pertains to whether Cohen knew whether Trump knew about the June 9 Trump Tower meeting before it happened.

When I asked Cohen if President Trump knew about that meeting before it happened, he declined to answer.

“I can’t comment under advice of my counsel due to the ongoing investigation by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York,” Cohen said.

That information — what Trump knew about the June 9 meeting before it happened — is what Cohen is publicly offering up to Mueller’s team in an effort to minimize his own criminal penalties.

Which pretty much confirms that Trump did know about it.

Devin Nunes Confirms Classified Information that “Henry Greenberg” Wasn’t Working for the FBI, and Other Tales of the Half-Wit Running our Intelligence Oversight

As I’ve been chronicling, Devin Nunes continues his effort to invent some reason to fire Rod Rosenstein. As part of his last extortion attempt, Nunes demanded information he thought would reveal that “Henry Greenberg,” a Russian offering dirt on Hillary Clinton, was secretly working for the FBI.

How did you use our nation’s counterintelligence capabilities. These are capabilities used to track terrorists and other bad guys around the globe. How did you weaponize that against a political campaign, against the Trump campaign, where ultimately it ended up in Carter Page having a FISA warrant put against him which allowed the government to go in and grab all of his emails and phone calls. So that’s primarily what we’ve been investigating for many many months. I will tell you that Chairman Gowdy was very very clear with the Department of Justice and FBI and said that if there was any vectoring of any informants or spies or whatever you want to call them into the Trump campaign before the investigation began, we better know about it by Sunday, meaning today. He was very very clear about that. And as you probably know there’s breaking news this morning that now you have a couple Trump campaign people who are saying that they were, that they’ve amended their testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, they sent in both Friday night and this morning, amendments to their testimony saying that in fact they feel like somebody, they’re not claiming that it was the FBI, but someone ran informants or spies into them to try to get information and offer up Russian dirt to the Trump campaign. Now this would have been in May of 2016. Which is obviously months before this counterintelligence investigation was opened by the FBI into the Trump campaign.

[snip]

If I were them I would pick up the phone and let us know what this is about, this story that broke in the Washington Post, this morning, just hours ago. They probably ought to tell us whether or not they were involved in that or else they have a major major problem on their hands.

Last Friday, DOJ and FBI had provided most of the documents requested, pending a few technical issues and a review by Dan Coats of some intelligence equities. Included among those was a classified letter telling Nunes whether FBI used informants against the Trump campaign.

On June 22, 2018, the FBI submitted a classified letter to the Committee responding to the Chairman’s question regarding whether, in connection with the investigation into Russian activities surrounding the 2016 Presidential election, the FBI utilized confidential human sources prior to the issuance of the Electronic Communication (EC) initiating that investigation.

That answer clearly didn’t feed Nunes’ Witch Hunt conspiracies, so he’s reformulating his request, apparently certain that if he keeps trying he’ll discover the vast (yet totally ineffective) Deep State plot to undermine the Trump campaign. He’s asking for contacts not just between informants, but also undercover agents or confidential human sources who interacted with any of 14 Trump campaign associates.

The new request seeks information not only on “FBI informants,” but also on “undercover agents, and/or confidential human sources” who interacted with former Trump associates before July 31, 2016 — the start of the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation into connections between the Trump campaign and Russia.

The list of Trump associates Nunes indicated he’s interested in includes: Michael Caputo, Sam Clovis, Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn, Corey Lewandowski, Stephen Miller, Peter Navarro, Sam Nunberg, George Papadopoulos, Carter Page, Walid Phares, Joseph Schmitz, Roger Stone and Donald Trump Jr.

It’s a really awesome request. Aside from confirming the content of that classified letter (among other things, that “Henry Greenberg” wasn’t our intelligence asset when Roger Stone entertained offers of Hillary dirt), Nunes has given us a list of campaign associates who should be criminally investigated:

  • Michael Caputo
  • Sam Clovis
  • Michael Cohen
  • Michael Flynn
  • Corey Lewandowski
  • Stephen Miller
  • Peter Navarro
  • Sam Nunberg
  • George Papadopoulos
  • Carter Page
  • Walid Phares
  • Joseph Schmitz
  • Roger Stone
  • Donald Trump Jr.

Notably, a number of these people — Caputo, Cohen, Lewandowski, Miller, Stone, and Navarro — aren’t on the list of document requests Mueller had submitted to the White House by January. Perhaps for the first three plus Stone, that’s because they never worked in the White House (and in the case of Caputo and Stone, pretended not to work for the campaign so as to give the campaign plausible deniability from the rat-fucking).

Nevertheless, their inclusion here seems to confirm that Nunes believes they are targets or at least subjects of Mueller’s investigation. Of those not on Mueller’s January list, we know that Stone and Cohen are in deep shit, so maybe the others are too!

Thanks Devin! Let’s hope leaking that classified information doesn’t get you in trouble with your colleagues, though.

A pity for the guy running our intelligence oversight that he can’t figure out that a number of these targets came from Rick Gates flipping, and not informants planted way back in May 2016.

Roger Stone and ConFraudUs

CNN’s David Gelles has an instructive tweet this morning showing how the rate at which Trump tweets about the Mueller “witch hunt” is accelerating.

Assuming this includes this morning’s two “witch hunt” tweets, Trump is on pace to use the phrase 28 times by the end of the month, though I bet he’ll continue to accelerate the use of it in the week remaining in the month.

The Mueller investigation is, I suspect, coming to a head.

I don’t claim I know how it will turn out. The president has an enormous amount of power and his flunkies in Congress promise they’re about to end Rod Rosenstein’s bend-don’t-break defense by impeaching him (though Rosenstein and Chris Wray have just thrown more documents out to slow the Republicans). It’s certainly possible that Trump will make a last ditch effort to undercut the Mueller investigation and that effort will be competently executed and none of the secondary fall-back defenses Mueller has put into place will work. For now, though, the Trump team seems intent on a delay and discredit strategy, which won’t stave off any imminent steps.

So we shall see whether Trump succeeds in undercutting the investigation. I keep thinking, “that’s why they play the game,” but this is no game.

There are a number of reasons I think Mueller’s investigation is coming to a head. But consider one detail. I’ve long explained that Mueller seems to be building a series of Conspiracy to Defraud the United States indictments that will ultimately incorporate the entire Russian operation (and may integrate the Trumpsters’ international self-dealing as well). As Mueller’s team has itself pointed out, for heavily regulated areas like elections, ConFraudUs indictments don’t need to prove intent for the underlying crimes. They just need to prove,

(1) two or more persons formed an agreement to defraud the United States;

(2) [each] defendant knowingly participated in the conspiracy with the intent to defraud the United States; and

(3) at least one overt act was committed in furtherance of the common scheme.

Let’s see how evidence Mueller has recently shown might apply in the case of Roger Stone, Trump’s lifelong political advisor. We already knew that Stone had communications that he did not immediately disclose with Guccifer 2.0 and Wikileaks. With both, Stone has contributed to and reinforced claims the entities were not Russian operations, though his conversion about the source of the Hillary emails was pretty sudden and curiously timed.

Now we know that in May, Stone had lunch with someone calling himself Henry Greenberg offering dirt on Hillary. His explanation — based only on the texts that Michael Caputo was asked about in a Mueller interview — is not that he didn’t entertain the offer, but that he didn’t take Greenberg up on the offer as made in late May because Greenberg was asking for big money.

Both clearly recognized Greenberg as a Russian, therefore a foreigner offering something of value during an election.

Bizarrely, in trying to rebut the import of this exchange publicly, Caputo and Stone are doing nothing more than working the public refs, claiming to assume this was an FBI sting. Mueller knows whether it was an FBI sting, and there’s virtually no way he’d be asking questions about it if it were (particularly if Stone really didn’t take the bait). In short, Stone has no justification for this he’s willing to offer publicly; instead, he’s just adopting the SpyGate narrative in an attempt to discredit the investigation. And that’s assuming there were no follow-ups or other damning texts that didn’t involve someone willing to leak them to the press.

And all that happened before Peter Smith came on the scene, someone who, unlike Donald Trump, was willing to spend money for such things, an operation Stone is suspected of being involved in but which he studiously avoids mentioning when trying to explain himself. Smith did obtain emails from people Matt Tait advised him might be part of a Russian operation, and when he couldn’t validate them, sent them on to Wikileaks.

Which is to say Stone repeatedly entertained offers from foreigners illegally offering dirt that would benefit the Trump campaign — Greenberg, Guccifer 2.0, possibly Peter Smith’s Dark Web hackers. He may even have exhibited a belief that Australian Julian Assange had and could release the latter dirt, possibly with the knowledge they came from Russians.

So we’ve got Stone meeting with other people, repeatedly agreeing to bypass US election law to obtain a benefit for Trump, evidence (notwithstanding Stone’s post-hoc attempts to deny a Russian connection with Guccifer 2.0 and Wikileaks) that Stone had the intent of obtaining that benefit, and tons of overt acts committed in furtherance of the scheme.

And all that’s without leaning on the the other stuff Mueller found on Stone’s phone, which Stone is also trying to explain away by public conspiracies (in this case that the phone content was obtained with a FISA order rather than with a probable cause warrant obtained on March 9).

This is just one of the people Mueller has publicly focused on in recent days. We could lay out similar arguments for Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort, and Brad Parscale, at a minimum. Mueller had — and acted on — probable cause warrants covering five AT&T phones in March, all of which probably had close ties to Rick Gates. Assuming those targets are distributed proportionately with the US population, he’s likely to have obtained warrants for as many as 15 phones just in that go-around.

So if Roger Stone is any indication, the Mueller investigation may soon be moving into a new phase.

Mueller Frees Up the Troll Team

In the background of the celebrating over the Carpenter SCOTUS decision — which held that the government generally needs a warrant to access historical cell phone location — there were a few developments in the Mueller investigation:

  • The George Papadopoulos parties moved towards sentencing, either on September 7 or in October. If Mueller told Papadopoulos his wife Simon’s Mangiante seeming coordination of the Stefan Halper smear with Sam Clovis (and his lawyer, Victoria Toensing) and Carter Page got him in trouble, we got no sign of that.
  • Amy Berman Jackson dismissed a Paul Manafort attempt to limit the criminal penalties of his Foreign Agent Registration Act violations; this isn’t very sexy, but if the well-argued opinion stands, it will serve as a precedent in DC for other sleazy influence peddlers.
  • After ABJ made sure Rick Gates ask Mueller if he really didn’t mind Gates going on a trip without his GPS ankle bracelet, Gates got permission to travel — with the jewelry.
  • Kimba Wood accepted Special Master Barbara Jones’ recommendations, which among other things held that just 7 of the files reviewed so far pertain to the privilege of anyone, presumably including Trump,  to whom Michael Cohen was providing legal services. So Cohen and Trump just paid upwards of $150,000 to hide the advice Cohen has gotten from lawyers and seven more documents — that is, for no really good reason.
  • In two separate filings, four DOJ lawyers filed notices of appearance in the Internet Research Agency/Concord Management case.

It’s the latter that I find most interesting. Mueller has added a team of four lawyers:

  • Deborah A. Curtis
  • Jonathan Kravis
  • Kathryn Rakoczy
  • Heather Alpino

To a team with three (plus Michael Dreeben):

  • Jeannie Sclafani Rhee
  • Rush Atkinson
  • Ryan Kao Dickey

Devlin Barrett (he of the likely impressive link map) reported that Mueller did this to prepare for the moment when his office shuts down and the Concord Management nuisance defense drags on for years.

People familiar with the staffing decision said the new prosecutors are not joining Mueller’s team, but rather are being added to the case so that they could someday take responsibility for it when the special counsel ceases operation. The case those prosecutors are joining could drag on for years because the indictment charges a number of Russians who will probably never see the inside of a U.S. courtroom. Russia does not extradite its citizens.

The development suggests Mueller is contemplating the end of his work and farming out any potentially outstanding prosecutions to other parts of the Justice Department.

Except this doesn’t make sense. Not only are Concord and the judge, Dabney Friedrich, pushing for a quick trial, but Atkinson and Dickey are themselves DOJ employees, so could manage any residual duties.

Far more likely, Mueller is ensuring one of his A Teams — including Dickey, DOJ’s best cyber prosecutor — will be able to move on to more important tasks on the central matters before him.

By January, Trump Believed Manafort Could Flip on Him; Since Then, Trump Learned Mueller Wanted to Know about Manafort’s Requests to Russia for Help

I don’t pretend to know Paul Manafort’s psyche or the many competing pressures he is experiencing right now. So I will not pretend to know whether Manafort will seek a plea deal with Mueller, either now or after sitting in the pokey for some time, or after Judge Ellis rules on the last remaining challenges to Mueller’s authority, which is likely the only way short of pardon Manafort will avoid conviction and imprisonment on his corruption charges.

But I agree that the chances he will seek a plea deal increase now that he is in jail.

In the wake of his jailing yesterday, I’ve seen some discussion about whether he (and Michael Cohen, who is openly telegraphing he’d like to start plea negotiations) can flip. That is, smart people are raising real questions whether Paul Manafort has anything to offer Mueller in a plea deal.

I don’t pretend to know what Mueller’s view on that is, either, or whether it changed in the wake of Rick Gates pleading guilty back in February (though I did entertain the question last month).

But I do think this story, from January, deserves reconsideration. In it Howard Fineman laid out the strategy with respect to the Russian investigation Trump has been pursuing ever since, culminating in his claims over the last few days about the DOJ IG Report. He planned then and has set out since to discredit the FBI and the Mueller investigation rather than to fire anyone else.

Trump — who trusts no one, or at least no one for long — has now decided that he must have an alternative strategy that does not involve having Justice Department officials fire Mueller.

“I think he’s been convinced that firing Mueller would not only create a firestorm, it would play right into Mueller’s hands,” said another friend, “because it would give Mueller the moral high ground.”

Instead, as is now becoming plain, the Trump strategy is to discredit the investigation and the FBI without officially removing the leadership. Trump is even talking to friends about the possibility of asking Attorney General Jeff Sessions to consider prosecuting Mueller and his team.

We now know Fineman’s story came in the immediate wake of a letter to Mueller making fairly absurd arguments about why Trump couldn’t be interviewed and, more importantly, providing illogical explanations for some of the actions he had taken. The letter is important because whereas an earlier June 2017 letter imagined any investigation into Trump constituted “a preliminary inquiry into whether the President’s termination of former FBI Director James Comey constituted obstruction of justice,” by January Trump’s lawyers recognized Mueller needed to ask Trump about both “collusion” and obstruction of justice.

As I noted at the time Fineman’s piece came out, though, the far more interesting detail than Trump’s strategy to beat back a “collusion” investigation is that multiple Fineman sources (Chris Ruddy, who I think serves as Trump’s more rational brain, was a source for this story) report that Trump had considered whether Manafort would flip on him and had concluded that he would not.

He’s decided that a key witness in the Russia probe, Paul Manafort, isn’t going to “flip” and sell him out, friends and aides say.

We have since learned that Trump had John Dowd offer pardons to both Mike Flynn and Manafort and there’s reason to believe that Manafort remains in a joint defense agreement with Trump. So Trump’s belief that Manafort wouldn’t flip on him likely derived from tangible discussions and not just gut feel.

At the time he was telling people Manafort wouldn’t flip, Trump would have known that Mueller was interested in his involvement in “the statement of July 8, 2017, concerning Donald Trump, Jr.’s meeting in Trump Tower;” Trump’s lawyers believed that Mueller had seen evidence that would lead him to conclude that, he “dictated a short but accurate response to the New York Times article on behalf of his son.” Trump also worked hard (and has been assisted consistently by the press in doing so) to spin the question of his involvement in the June 9 meeting as being about “a private matter with the New York Times,” and not a question about his conversations with Vladimir Putin about the statement.

But nothing else that Mueller had communicated to Trump’s lawyers (if we can believe Jay Sekulow and John Dowd’s understanding of their January 8 conversation with Mueller’s team) indicated an interest in matters even remotely related to Paul Manafort.

Which is to say in January, Trump had reason to believe that Manafort might have information that incriminated him independent of anything Mueller’s team had told him.

Of course, since then, Trump has far more reason to fear Manafort seeking a cooperation agreement. That’s because Mueller has since told Trump’s team things that confirm they know things that implicate Trump’s interactions with Manafort directly — and therefore place a premium on any testimony he’d give. Piggy-backing off the questions (Jay Sekulow thinks) Mueller wants to ask Trump, here are a bunch of questions that Mueller likely would like Manafort to explain about Trump.

  • Whether, like Mike Flynn, Trump offered Manafort a pardon in exchange for his refusal to cooperate.
  • Whether Trump discussed the Trump Tower meeting, and the offer of dirt, with Manafort during their meeting on June 7, 2016, and whether that led Trump to promise, “a major speech on probably Monday of next week and we’re going to be discussing all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons.”
  • Whether Trump had a role in how Don Jr’s emails about the June 9 meeting got released, including that he withheld Manafort’s side of that communication.
  • Whether Manafort discussed with Trump his strategy on how to entertain meetings with Putin without sending any public signs about it.
  • Whether, contrary to the account laid out in the HPSCI report, Manafort had a role in the defeat of an effort to make the RNC platform harsher on Ukraine, and if so, whether Manafort looped him in on it.
  • Whether Manafort, who had discussed campaign updates with the Russian oligarch at risk of sanctions to whom he owed millions, Oleg Deripaska, discussed ending sanctions on other Russian oligarchs.

Those are all damning enough. But the most damning question that we know Mueller wants to ask both Manafort and Trump is about the former’s outreach to Russia asking for help with the election. According to Sekulow, Mueller wants to know, “What knowledge did [Trump] have of any outreach by [his] campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign?”

Manafort knows the answer to that question.

Trump learned three months ago that Mueller had reason to believe Manafort had reached out to Russia for help and wanted to know if Manafort had shared details about that effort with Trump (or if Trump learned about it via some other means).

But at least two months before he formally learned that, Trump was telling his aides and friends that Manafort had information that could incriminate him.

After Judge Kimba Wood Rules Any Privilege Fight Would Have to Be Public, Cohen or Trump Withdraw Three Claims of Privilege

When Special Master Barbara Jones first reported privilege designations on matters seized from Michael Cohen on June 4, she found that three of the hard copy documents over which Cohen or Trump had claimed privilege were not.

1. Contents of Eight Boxes of Hard Copy Materials: Out of 639 total items consisting of 12,543 pages, the Special Master agrees with the Plaintiff and/or Intervenors and finds that 14 items are Privileged and/or Partially Privileged. The Special Master also finds that 3 items are not privileged.

Later that week, on June 8, Judge Kimba Wood ruled that if Cohen or Trump wanted to dispute any of Jones’ recommendations (it was Trump, not Cohen, who raised the issue), the legal argument (but not the contested documents) would have to be public.

With respect to the President’s letter dated June 6, 2018, (ECF No. 75), the Court agrees with the Government that Plaintiff and Intervenors’ objections should be filed publicly, except for those portions that divulge “the substance of the contested documents,” (ECF No. 76, at 1), which should be filed under seal and ex parte.

Jones has just submitted an amended report from those same materials, effectively reporting that Cohen and Trump now agree that the three documents are not privileged.

After no objections were filed in response to the Court’s Amended Order dated May 31, 2018 [Dkt. No. 70], and pursuant to the Procedures set forth in the Special Master’s report dated May 29, 2018 [Dkt. No. 65], the Plaintiff and/or Intervenors withdrew certain Privileged designations. Therefore, the Special Master amends its Report and Recommendation dated June 4, 2018 [Dkt. No. 72], and the following designations are being recommended to the Court for its review:

1. Contents of Eight Boxes of Hard Copy Materials: Out of 639 total items consisting of 12,543 pages, the Special Master agrees with the Plaintiff and/or Intervenors and finds that 13 items are Privileged and/or Partially Privileged and one item remains under consideration by the Special Master.

Perhaps it wasn’t the threat of publicity surrounding the privilege claim, but it sure seems likely Trump preferred to have SDNY look at those files than to have to tell the rest of us what they pertained to.

The Crimes with which NSD Envisions Charging Those Attacking Elections

The Senate Judiciary Committee had a hearing on how to protect our elections today. Among others, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Adam Hickey from DOJ’s National Security Division testified. He gave a list of some of the crimes he thought might be used to charge people who tampered with elections.

Foreign influence operations, though not always illegal, can implicate several U.S. Federal criminal statutes, including (but not limited to) 18 U.S.C. § 371 (conspiracy to defraud the United States); 18 U.S.C. § 951 (acting in the United States as an agent of a foreign government without prior notification to the Attorney General); 18 U.S.C. § 1001 (false statements); 18 U.S.C. § 1028A (aggravated identity theft); 18 U.S.C. § 1030 (computer fraud and abuse); 18 U.S.C. §§ 1343, 1344 (wire fraud and bank fraud); 18 U.S.C. § 1519 (destruction of evidence); 18 U.S.C. § 1546 (visa fraud); 22 U.S.C. § 618 (Foreign Agents Registration Act); and 52 U.S.C. §§ 30109, 30121 (soliciting or making foreign contributions to influence Federal elections, or donations to influence State or local elections).

In their testimony, Ken Wainstein (someone with extensive experience of national security prosecutions, but less apparent focus on the available evidence in this investigation) and Ryan Goodman (who doesn’t have the prosecutorial experience of Wainstein, but who is familiar with the public facts about the investigation) also list what crimes they think will get charged.

I find a comparison of what each raised, along with what has already been charged, to be instructive. I believe that comparison looks like this:

I’m interested, in part, because Hickey, who likely has at least a sense of the Mueller investigation (if not personal involvement), sees the case somewhat differently than two differently expert lawyers. Two charges — agent of a foreign power (basically, being a foreign spy in the US not working under official cover) and CFAA (hacking) seem obvious to both National Security Division prosecutors, but have not yet been publicly charged. Illegal foreign contributions seems obvious to those paying close attention, but also has not been charged. We might expect to see all three charges before we’re done.

Neither Wainstein nor Goodman mentioned false statements, but of course that’s what we’ve seen charged most often so far.

Then there are the two crimes Hickey mentions that the others don’t, but that have not yet been charged (both have been alleged as overt acts in the Internet Research Agency indictment): Visa fraud (alleged against the trolls who came to the US to reconnoiter in 2014) and destruction of evidence (again, alleged against IRA employees destroying evidence after Facebook’s role was discovered). Mueller also described George Papadopoulos destroying evidencec when he deleted his Facebook account, but like the Russian trolls, he didn’t get charged for it. Visa fraud, in particular, is something that multiple figures might be accused of — Alexander Torshin and others reaching out via NRA, Natalia Veselnitskaya, and even Brits who worked illegally during the election for Cambridge Analytica.

I confess I’m most interested in Hickey’s mention of destruction of evidence, though. That’s true, in part, because SDNY seems to think Michael Cohen might destroy evidence.

Hope Hicks, too, reportedly thought about hiding evidence from authorities. Then there’s the report that Mueller is checking encrypted messaging apps as people turn in phones when they arrive for interviews.

Huckey seems to think some of the people being investigated — beyond Papadopoulos and IRA troll Viktorovna Kaverzina — may have been destroying evidence.

I wonder if he has reason to suspect that.

“I Mean His Trump Organization Employees”

I’m still plodding through the June 9 meeting materials, working on what they show about the story about the June 9 meeting that got crafted after the fact.

There’s one detail that I want to post separately. On July 13, 2017, Ike Kaveladze (who was really in charge of the meeting for his boss, Aras Agalarov) and Roman Beniaminov (Emin Agalrov’s assistant, who heard ahead of time the meeting was about dealing dirt on Hillary to the Trumps) had the following exchange by text (PDF 34).

By July 13, the Agalarovs and Trumps were increasingly at odds on how to respond to the story, not least after the Trumps leaked Rod Goldstone’s name to the press after saying they wouldn’t. After that, there seemed to be increasing amounts of dirt being leaked, perhaps by both sides.

It appears that Kaveladze may have phoned Beniaminov right before this to raise this CNN story, which had just been posted. Beniaminov seemed to think Kaveladze had suggested that he, Beniaminov, had taken the video, even while he seems to have been present at the Las Vegas event back in 2013.

Scott Balber, the Agalarov’s ever-present lawyer (who had actually represented Trump on a Miss Universe related issue in 2013), was quoted in the piece.

“It’s simply fiction that this was some effort to create a conduit for information from the Russian federal prosecutors to the Trump campaign,” Balber said on CNN’s “New Day.” “It’s just fantasy world because the reality is if there was something important that Mr. Agalarov wanted to communicate to the Trump campaign, I suspect he could have called Mr. Trump directly as opposed to having his son’s pop music publicist be the intermediary.”

I don’t rule out Balber having taken and leaked the video.

Or maybe not: What Kaveladze is interested in highlighting to Beniaminov is the presence of two other Trump employees in the video: Keith Schiller and Michael Cohen, shown above.

I don’t know what to make of the reference — though it’s equally possible they were involved in the 2017 response, or were viewed for some other reason as an additional concern regarding the June 9 meeting. Both, of course, have gotten some scrutiny for the liaison role they have served between Trump and other Russians.