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Trump’s Open Book Test Still Poses a Big Perjury Risk

In spite of a great deal of encouragement to do so on Twitter, I can’t muster a victory lap from the news that the Mueller team has agreed that Trump’s first round of open book test will focus only on conspiracy with Russia.

President Donald Trump’s legal team is preparing answers to written questions provided by special counsel Robert Mueller, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The move represents a major development after months of negotiations and signals that the Mueller investigation could be entering a final phase with regard to the President.

The questions are focused on matters related to the investigation of possible collusion between Trump associates and Russians seeking to meddle in the 2016 election, the sources said. Trump’s lawyers are preparing written responses, in part relying on documents previously provided to the special counsel, the sources said.

[snip]

Negotiations for Trump’s testimony lasted for the better part of a year. The two sides nearly reached a deal in January for Trump to be questioned at the presidential retreat in rural Maryland, Camp David, only for talks to break down at the last minute. What followed was a series of letters and meetings — some hostile — in which Trump’s lawyers raised objections and sought to limit any potential testimony.

For months, Mueller told Trump’s lawyers that he needed to hear from the President to determine his intent on key events in the obstruction inquiry.

While I find it significant that this report came first from Evan Perez and (?!?!) Dana Bash, not Maggie and Mike (suggesting it may come from different sources than the people who fed the NYT the line that Mueller was primarily interested in obstruction), this report seems to suggest that after letting Trump stall for almost a year, Mueller has decided to finally get him on the record on the key crimes.

While CNN has not said anything about timing — that is, how long Trump’s lawyers will stall over an open book test that they claim they’ve already written many of the answers to — this agreement may have as much to do with preparation for the post-election period in which Mueller can roll out any indictments he has been working on and Trump can start firing people. That is, before he makes any big moves in the case in chief, he has to get Trump on the record in some form or other. Better to get him on the record in sworn written statements than launch a subpoena fight that will last past that post-election period.

So I don’t think this says much about the relative legal exposure Mueller thinks Trump has for obstruction versus conspiracy (though, again, if you’ve got the conspiracy charges, the obstruction charges will be minor by comparison). It says that Mueller has decided it’s time to get Trump committed to one story, under penalty of perjury.

That said, consider two details about obstruction.

First, Mueller has gotten both of the men Trump reportedly dangled pardons to, Mike Flynn and Paul Manafort, to enter cooperation agreements. That means he’s got both men — possibly along with the non-felon lawyers who passed on the offer — describing that they were offered pardons if they protected the President. That, to my mind, is the most slam dunk instance of obstruction even considered. So by obtaining Manafort’s cooperation, Mueller may have already obtained the most compelling evidence of obstruction possible.

Also, it’s not at all clear that Trump can avoid perjury exposure even on an open book test. We’ve already seen that some of the written responses the Trump team has provided Mueller — such as the two versions of their explanation for the Flynn firing — obscure key details (including Trump’s own role in ordering Flynn to tell Russia not to worry about sanctions). Plus, Trump’s lawyers have recently come to realize they not only don’t know as much as they thought they did about what other “friendly” witnesses had to say (Bill Burck seems to have reconfirmed last week that his clients — which include, at a minimum, Don McGahn, Steve Bannon, and Reince Priebus — don’t have Joint Defense Agreements with Trump), but that they don’t actually know everything they need to know from Trump. Trump is unmanageable as a client, so it’s likely he continues to lie to his own lawyers.

Most importantly, on all of the key conspiracy questions Mueller posed to Trump last March (the first two were also in his first set of questions in January), Mueller has at least one and sometimes several cooperating witnesses.

  • What did you know about phone calls that Mr. Flynn made with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, in late December 2016? [Flynn]
  • When did you become aware of the Trump Tower meeting? [Manafort]
  • During a 2013 trip to Russia, what communication and relationships did you have with the Agalarovs and Russian government officials? [Cohen, Goldstone, Kaveladze]
  • What communication did you have with Michael D. Cohen, Felix Sater and others, including foreign nationals, about Russian real estate developments during the campaign? [Cohen, Sater]
  • What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding any meeting with Mr. Putin? Did you discuss it with others? [Manafort, Gates, Cohen]
  • What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding Russian sanctions? [Manafort, Flynn]
  • What involvement did you have concerning platform changes regarding arming Ukraine? [Manafort, Gates]
  • During the campaign, what did you know about Russian hacking, use of social media or other acts aimed at the campaign? [Stone’s associates, Gates, Manafort]
  • What knowledge did you have of any outreach by your campaign, including by Paul Manafort, to Russia about potential assistance to the campaign? [Manafort]
  • What did you know about communication between Roger Stone, his associates, Julian Assange or WikiLeaks? [Stone’s associates, Manafort]
  • What did you know during the transition about an attempt to establish back-channel communication to Russia, and Jared Kushner’s efforts? [Flynn]
  • What do you know about a 2017 meeting in Seychelles involving Erik Prince? [Flynn]
  • What do you know about a Ukrainian peace proposal provided to Mr. Cohen in 2017? [Cohen]

The one area where that’s not true is with Roger Stone (though Rick Gates, at least, seems to have been in the loop on some of that), but then Mueller has spent the last 10 months collecting every imaginable piece of evidence pertaining to Stone.

Between Trump’s lawyers’ incomplete grasp of what their client did and the witnesses and other evidence regarding these activities, Mueller has a much better idea of what happened than Trump’s lawyers do. Which means they may not be able to help their client avoid lying.

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

Peter Smith Had a Penchant for Secrecy, But Whence Might Be More Interesting Than How

After a long period of press disinterest in the Peter Smith operation during election year, the WSJ has an important story that describes that “investigators” are (predictably) showing intense interesting in the Republican rat-fucker’s efforts, which extended to working with presumed Russian hackers, to find Hillary’s deleted emails.

Before I address the headline claim of the story — about Smith’s secrecy — I’d like to lay out what the story actually describes.

Way at the end of the story, it provides evidence that casts doubt on the claim Smith killed himself last year — an on the record quote from retired Wall Street financier Charles Ortel, who had been involved in the anti-Clinton effort, describing correspondence with Smith in the days before he died laying out optimistic future plans.

As regards the Clinton email effort itself, the story says that the Smith effort “remain[s] of intense interest to federal investigators working for special counsel Robert Mueller’s office and on Capitol Hill,” suggesting it relies on both Hill sources and people who know what Mueller is up to (the latter of which up to this point, has always been mediated through witnesses). In key places in the story, it conflates those two investigations, which doesn’t necessarily mean witnesses making claims about Mueller’s intensifying focus are wrong, but does show real sloppiness on the part of the reporting, which invites some skepticism about the significance of the conclusions offered (including the article’s focus on Mike Flynn role in Smith’s rat-fuck; click through to read that).

People familiar with the investigations described Mr. Smith’s activities as an area of expanding interest.

The article also relies on documents, which it describes to include emails and court records, including:

  • Court records involving Smith associate John Szobocsan’s efforts to get Smith’s estate to repay him for legal fees associated with three interviews with the Mueller team and an August grand jury appearance (which is pretty good evidence of Mueller’s focus, though not why).
  • Correspondence showing Smith asking associates to “folder,” writing drafts in a Gmail account under the fake name of Robert Tyler, that both the associates and Smith had access to.
  • “[A]n email in the ‘Robert Tyler’ [foldering] account [showing] Mr. Smith obtained $100,000 from at least four financiers as well as a $50,000 contribution from Mr. Smith himself.” The email was dated October 11, 2016 and has the subject line, “Wire Instructions—Clinton Email Reconnaissance Initiative.” It came from someone calling himself “ROB,” describing the funding as supporting “the Washington Scholarship Fund for the Russian students.” The email also notes, “The students are very pleased with the email releases they have seen, and are thrilled with their educational advancement opportunities.” The WSJ states that Ortel is not among the funders named in the email, which means they know who the other four funders are (if one or more were a source for the story, it might explain why WSJ is not revealing that really critical piece of news).

The WSJ really bolloxes describing the significance of the timing of this email as coming,

just days after WikiLeaks and the website DCLeaks began releasing emails damaging to Mrs. Clinton’s campaign and four days after the U.S. government publicly warned that Russia was attempting to interfere in the U.S. election

What it means is that it came just four days after the Podesta emails first started coming out, suggesting that the reference to Russian students is actually code for happiness about the emails already being released by the Russians.

For reasons I’ll return to, the suggestion Smith and his fellow rat-fuckers appear to have been using code to discuss already released emails that were neither Clinton Foundation nor deleted emails are really interesting.

With all that in mind, here are Smith’s adopted methods of secrecy (beyond whatever funding methods are described in the email; Buzzfeed talked about different suspicious transactions here):

  • The apparent code used by an unidentified person, which appears to show conspirators speaking about stolen emails in the guise of a student fund in DC
  • Foldering — a method for which law enforcement has had effective countermeasures that have been widely publicized since the David Petraeus case, the use of which Smith committed to correspondence that got shared outside of the immediate conspirators
  • A burner phone or phone number: “one phone number that he used for sensitive matters”
  • Proton Mail or similar: “a commercially available encrypted email account”
  • Encryption not described to be anything beyond typical full disk encryption (but which could be PGP)

The code is interesting and perhaps intentionally damning. But fat lot of good either the code or the foldering does if the emails in question bear the smoking gun subject line, “Wire Instructions—Clinton Email Reconnaissance Initiative,” to say nothing of the correspondence that commits to writing that they’re using foldering. Indeed, using code in an email with an uncoded subject line is the opposite of good operational security; it serves instead as a blinking red light telling investigators where to look and that the code is code. “Bobby Three Sticks Read Me!!!”

As for the other things — basically the use of encryption and a burner that, given that it was discovered, wasn’t narrowly enough executed — they show an effort to use secrecy. But not a successful effort to do so.

Further, with regards to encryption, this Politico article from last year reveals Royal O’Brien (who, except for the context, might be a candidate to be the October 11 email described by WSJ) advising Smith about PGP, which suggests any non-commercial encryption may have been adopted after key parts of the conspiracy took place.

In an email chain from October obtained by Politico, Smith sought the advice of a tech-savvy business associate about concerns that WikiLeaks had been attacked by hackers. In the email, the associate, Royal O’Brien, a Jacksonville-based programmer Smith described as a dark web expert, advised Smith about the use of PGP keys for encryption and opined that anyone who launched an attack on WikiLeaks would likely face stiff blowback from the group’s web-savvy supporters.

All of this leads me to be more interested in where the methods adopted imperfectly by this 80 year old came from than that he did. An obvious candidate is Chuck Johnson, whose cooperation with the Smith rat-fuck is detailed in the Politico article, and whose businesses have all been shutting down in recent months, and whose defense attorney did not respond to a question from me last week about whether he still represents Johnson. Though Johnson, and his Nazi friend living in Ukraine, Weev, are better at operational security than what the WSJ describes here.

Someone got this old rat-fucker to use just enough secrecy to serve as signposts for the interesting bits.

I’m as interested in who provided that advice (and when) as I am in the identity of the four donors whom WSJ must know but isn’t sharing.

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

Mueller’s Inquiry Expands and Contracts: The Rat-Fucking Is More Interesting than the Manafort Plea

There were two pieces of news today on the Mueller inquiry.

Most intriguing is the news that the FBI has told Republican operative Cheri Jacobus that their investigation of her hack and catfish in 2016 has been referred to Mueller. Click through for the full account of what happened to Jacobus after she exposed a Corey Lewandowski PAC to be coordinating with the campaign. The short version, though, is that the campaign first used deceit to try to collect information on what anti-Trump PACs were planning, later carried out a sustained campaign of abuse, and finally hacked her email when she prepared to reveal the catfishing scheme.

The FBI has been investigating ever since. But on September 10, the agents she had been working with let her know that their inquiry had grown beyond the hack itself and so had referred the case.

Jacobus has been in regular contact with FBI agents since the bureau opened an investigation into the hacking of her email after Jacobus filed a complaint around September 2016.

Following Trump’s election, Jacobus relayed additional incidents she considered suspicious to the agents investigating the hack.

Jacobus said she was also interviewed by FBI agents in the Southern District of New York for several hours in February 2017 and has had dozens of phone calls with the agents over the past two years. A lawyer who worked for Jacobus at the time, Jay Butterman, said he also attended the February 2017 meeting and had follow-up conversations with FBI agents.

In November 2017, the FBI asked Jacobus to turn over the remainder of her communications related to the catfishing scheme, some of which she had already submitted, according to an email reviewed by POLITICO.

On Sept. 10 of this year, an FBI agent wrote to Jacobus that he would be calling her, which is when, she said, the bureau informed her of the case’s referral to Mueller.

To answer a question many have posed, I don’t think any investigation into what I perceived as threats mirrors this. That’s in part because the technical threats were more oblique. But it’s also because the FBI really doesn’t want to talk to me, and so (with one exception) generally only followed up via my lawyer. The one instance I involved the cops may have been different, but if so, I never heard about it directly.

I’m more interested in the possibility that Jacobus’ treatment mirrors some of the stuff that Roger Stone was doing with his Stop the Steal çampaign.

The possibility that Mueller’s interest in Stone (and Manafort) extends back to the primary is all the more interesting given how centrally some of Stone’s core skill-sets played out in the lead-up to the Convention. There were veiled threats of violence (and in the home of his dark money, actual violence), a smear story projecting on Cruz the infidelity more typical of Trump, and lots of money sloshing around.

It’s not entirely clear what crime that would implicate — besides potential campaign finance violations (particularly, given Trump’s repeated disavowals of any coordination between Stone and his old buddy Manafort).

And, given how rabidly Republican base voters support Trump, I could see why Republicans would let bygones be bygones. It’s not like the Republican party has ever before shown distaste for Stone’s rat-fucking. Plus, no one likes Ted Cruz, and he may not even survive his race against Beto O’Rourke. So, no, Republicans won’t be any more disposed against Stone if he is shown to have helped Trump cheat in the primary.

All that said, if Mueller indicts Stone in other crimes that Republicans would like to distance themselves from, any allegations about the primary may provide cover.

Indeed, the comparison is one a number of people made when I started focusing on Stone’s PACs.

With one caveat, I’d think these would probably be parallel efforts, with two different sets of dark money groups funding two different sets of dirty tricks, violating both campaign law and probably some other fraud statutes. I say that because Corey Lewandowski, who was behind the attack on Jacobus, and Roger Stone really don’t get along.

That said, the two parallel tracks likely show a tolerance among the principals who did get along with both Lewandowski and Stone (starting with Trump) for this kind of rat-fucking. And to the extent that some of the rat-fucking involved either intelligence obtained from Russians or coordinated voter suppression later in the campaign, then it’d have a solid Russian nexus.

The one caveat is this tweet from Jacobus, which reveals a text she received from a guy making explicit threats, which she clearly identifies as a Stone-related threat. (h/t TC)

So maybe Stone just took over all the rat-fucking after Jacobus busted Lewandowski’s PAC for illegal coordination?

Also remember that, the illegal coordination between PACs and the campaign is likely one way that the campaign benefitted from Cambridge Analytica.

And that’s why I find the referral of the attack on Jacobus to be one of the most important details to provide insight onto the Mueller investigation in some time.

I find the news that money laundering expert Kyle Freeny and National Security Division prosecutor Brandon Van Grack are moving back to their normal homes at DOJ less intriguing.

Kyle Freeny and Brandon Van Grack, two prosecutors who worked on Paul Manafort’s criminal cases, are ending their tenure working for special counsel Robert Mueller.

Van Grack left recently to return to his job in the National Security Division of the Justice Department, and Freeny will leave the office in mid-October to return to the Criminal Division.

The most obvious explanation for both moves is that the Paul Manafort and Mike Flynn plea deals have been sealed (CNN notes that Van Grack will continue to work on the Flynn sentencing, but has mostly moved back to NSD for now). Which would make the different timing — Van Grack has already left, apparently, whereas Freeny has a few more weeks of work — the most interesting part of the report. Perhaps Van Grack left as soon as Flynn got a sentencing date?

Though there is another possibility, particularly in Freeny’s case.

I’ve long said that it’s possible once Mueller puts together the conspiracy case, he may farm out the “garden variety” corruption to other parts of DOJ. One key part of that, for example, is the non-Russian inauguration pay-for-play. That might be the kind of thing Freeny would move with to another part of DOJ.

As for Van Grack, I don’t rule out a tidbit or two that he had touched being moved back under NSD, though if so, it’s not a part of the investigation that has any public sign yet.

Remember: We still haven’t seen what a good number of Mueller’s prosecutors have been up to for the last 15 months. Those are some of the prosecutors who remain quietly busy.

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

The Christie Ouster and the Flynn Hiring

The Guardian has an excerpt from Michael Lewis’ new book, The Fifth Risk, which happens to be the chapter focusing on Trump’s transition team. On top of describing how Trump believed spending money, as required by law, to pay a transition team amounted to stealing his own money, the excerpt includes this account of Chris Christie’s firing.

Not long after the people on TV announced that Trump had won Pennsylvania, Jared Kushner grabbed Christie anxiously and said: “We have to have a transition meeting tomorrow morning!” Even before that meeting, Christie had made sure that Trump knew the protocol for his discussions with foreign leaders. The transition team had prepared a document to let him know how these were meant to go. The first few calls were easy – the very first was always with the prime minister of Great Britain – but two dozen calls in you were talking to some kleptocrat and tiptoeing around sensitive security issues. Before any of the calls could be made, however, the president of Egypt called in to the switchboard at Trump Tower and somehow got the operator to put him straight through to Trump. “Trump was like … I love the Bangles! You know that song Walk Like an Egyptian?” recalled one of his advisers on the scene.

That had been the first hint Christie had of trouble. He had asked Kushner what that was about, and Kushner had simply said, Trump ran a very unconventional campaign, and he’s not going to follow any of the protocols.

[snip]

Christie was scheduled to brief the Trump children, Kushner and the other members of Trump’s inner circle. He was surprised to find, suddenly included in this group, retired army lieutenant general Michael Flynn. Flynn was a jobseeker the transition team had found reasons to be extremely wary of. Now he wanted to be named Trump’s national security adviser, which was maybe the most important job in the entire national security apparatus. The national security team inside the Trump transition – staffed with senior former military and intelligence officials – had thought that was an especially bad idea. Flynn’s name was not on the list. But here he was, in the meeting to decide who would do what in the Trump administration, and Ivanka was asking him which job he would like to have.

Before Christie could intercede, Bannon grabbed him and asked to see him privately. Christie followed Bannon to his office impatiently. Hey, this is going to have to be quick, said Christie.

It’s really quick, said Bannon. You’re out.

Why? asked Christie, stunned.

We’re making a change.

“OkayOK, what are we changing?

You.

Why?

It’s really not important.

A week after Christie, along with former HPSCI Chair Mike Rogers, got purged from the Transition Team, I wrote a post that concluded this way.

One of the first things Trump has done has been to ensure agreement in its national security team on this point: that by letting our Middle Eastern allies arm al Qaeda-allied fighters, the Obama Administration created the mess that is in Syria.

And unanimity on that point — accompanied by what is sure to be a very ugly campaign of recriminations against the Obama Administration for cooking intelligence (even aside from the merit of this claim, Flynn has been bitter about his firing for what he sees as objecting to this cooked intelligence) — will provide the basis for Trump to work with Putin on ending the civil war in Syria to Bashar al-Assad’s advantage.

When I wrote that post, this text I received less than 15 hours after the polls closed, from someone I later came to conclude was involved in the election attack, was in my mind.

The text continued, in part, “clearly this confirms key role for Trump admin.”

As I surmised two years ago, there was a close tie between the moment Christie and other Republican realists got fired and when Flynn got picked.

According to this Michael Lewis account, though, the tie is far more direct than I imagined. The moment that Flynn got hired is the moment that Chris Christie got fired.

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

On KT McFarland’s Belated Unforgetting of the Truth

The WaPo has an important story about how KT McFarland decided to unforget key details about her role in coaching Mike Flynn through reassuring Russia, on December 29, 2016, that the Trump Administration would ease off on sanctions. McFarland lied about whether sanctions were discussed in a summer 2017 interview with the FBI, then her memory seems to have cleared up after the Mike Flynn plea deal.

When FBI agents first visited her at her Long Island home in the summer of 2017, McFarland denied ever talking to Flynn about any discussion of sanctions between him and the ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, in December 2016 during the presidential transition.

For a time, investigators saw her answers as “inconsistent,” putting her in legal peril as the FBI tried to determine if she had lied to them.

[snip]

Not long after Flynn’s plea, McFarland was questioned by investigators again about her conversations with Flynn, and she walked back her previous denial that sanctions were discussed, saying a general statement Flynn had made to her that things were going to be okay could have been a reference to sanctions, these people said.

McFarland’s account does not answer the question of what the president knew or didn’t know about Flynn’s interactions with the ambassador, these people said.

McFarland didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment, including emails and calls to her home.

Eventually, McFarland and her lawyer Robert Giuffra were able to convince the FBI that she had not intentionally misled the bureau but had rather spoken from memory, without the benefit of any documents that could have helped her remember her exchanges with Flynn about the Kislyak conversations, these people said.

This is thoroughly unsurprising, and it probably has as much to do with McFarland withdrawing her nomination to be Ambassador to Singapore as did any concerns about a confirmation hearing where her past lies to Congress would be an issue. It explains part (though just part) of the Transition Team’s outrage that Mueller had obtained emails that the Trump people would have otherwise claimed privilege over. By doing that, Mueller caught McFarland (and, likely, a number of other people) in lies by showing their extensive communications that contradicted the emails.

Nor is it surprising that McFarland was able to clear up her testimony (indeed, the WaPo notes that Sean Spicer was telling similar lies as McFarland was telling, so he may have also had to have cleaned up testimony). She’s got a serious attorney, Robert Giuffra, and unlike George Papadopoulos she (presumably) didn’t do anything stupid, like deleting her entire Facebook account, when she tried to clean up her lies. That happens in cases like this (especially where the witnesses are powerful enough to fight a false statements case aggressively). Remember that Karl Rove cleaned up his testimony in the Plame investigation four different times.

Indeed, similar unforgettings have probably happened in the wake of each plea deal, or with the unveiling that Mueller obtained search warrants for at least five AT&T phones (and probably a similar number of Verizon phones) in the wake of the Rick Gates plea. That’s what I meant when I suggested that the Paul Manafort plea may set off a kind of mass Game Theory, as each of up to 30 co-conspirators consider whether they want to change their testimony before the former campaign chair clarifies it to Mueller for them, or before their fellow rats jump ship first.

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

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

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

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

While I suspect Mueller has key players in the case in chief largely sewn up, this should accelerate the process and make any prosecutions easier (assuming the NYT doesn’t get Rosenstein fired before then).

So one takeaway from this story — told probably eight months after the fact — is that Mueller has been slowly chipping away at the omertà, and that process will only keep getting easier (in part because virtually none of these people have any decent operational security).

But the other takeaway, and the likely explanation for it coming out, is that my assessment of why the Transition squawked so loudly last year is correct: they wanted to hide how closely Donald Trump micromanaged the sanctions conversation with Sergei Kislyak, and so both Flynn and McFarland lied about it, then subsequently cleaned up their lies. That puts Donald Trump attempting to deliver the quo of the quid pro quo.

Trump may be answering the take home exam he told Mueller he’d be willing to complete, which includes this question, which got added in the wake of Flynn’s plea and probably McFarland’s revised testimony: What discussions did you have during the campaign regarding Russian sanctions?

The correct answers to that question are getting narrower and narrower.

Update: Fixed syntax of Spicer description.

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

Paul Manafort Is One of 37 People in an Omertà with the President

Apparently, Bob Woodward committed some journalism along with canonizing racist John Kelly and wife-beater Rob Porter in his book: he got a number for how many people are included the Joint Defense Agreement that gives Rudy Giuliani such confidence the President is not at risk: 37.

And Politico committed still more journalism and answered the question we’ve all been asking: yes, Paul Manafort is among those 37.

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

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

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

That means when John Dowd complained that the raid of Manafort’s condo (where his eight iPods were seized), that was based on privileged conversations between lawyers. And when, in January, Trump confidently said he was sure Manafort would protect him, that was based on privileged conversations between lawyers.  And when, just before the EDVA trial, Kevin Downing was ostentatiously saying there was no way Manafort was flipping, and when he was balking on a plea with Mueller immediately after the trial, he was also talking to Rudy Giuliani.

Mind you, Rudy G will learn right away if Manafort starts considering cooperating, rather than just pleading, because Manafort will have to (finally!) drop out of the JDA before those discussions start.

And while I suspect Mueller has slowly been peeling away people like Sam Patten, that the JDA is so big likely means some or most of the following people are part of the omertà (and Michael Cohen, Rick Gates, and Mike Flynn were part of it):

  • Paul Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik
  • Jared Kushner
  • The Trump Org defendants: Don Jr, Rhonna Graff
  • Bill Burck’s clients: Steve Bannon, Reince Priebus, Don McGahn (and up to three more)
  • Victoria Toensing’s clients: Mark Corallo, Erik Prince, Sam Clovis
  • The hush payment recipients: Hope Hicks, Brad Parscale, Keith Schiller
  • Roger Stone and his buddies: Stone, Michael Caputo, Sam Nunberg, Andrew Miller, plus some (probably)

That’s 20. Some other likely (and enticing) JDA members are: Devin Nunes, Jeff Sessions, Tom Barrack, Keith Kellogg, John Mashburn, KT McFarland, JD Gordon, Walid Phares, Stephen Miller, Sean Spicer, Rob Porter, Corey Lewandowski, John Kelly. Heck, it’s not even clear that George Papadopoulos is not part of the JDA.

But that still leaves space in the JDA for people who were already comparing notes with known members of the JDA, including Rinat Akhmetshin, Rob Goldstone, and Ike Kaveladze (along with Emin and Aras Agalarov, who are all represented by Scott Balber).

No wonder Rudy thinks he knows everything that Mueller has.

That’s why the collective panic on the discovery that Stone’s phone was likely among the ~10 or so that Mueller got warrants for in the wake of Rick Gates’ cooperation agreement is so interesting, and also why Manafort, playing his part as point, tried so hard to find out who the other four AT&T users whose phones were obtained with his own.

These guys may be good at omertà. But every single one we’ve seen so far has shitty OpSec; they’ve been saying their co-conspiracy communications on their phones and on iCloud. Plus there are people like Omarosa wandering among them, dismissed as irrelevant even while they record everything they hear. And meanwhile, Mueller is chipping away at the edges, people they haven’t considered (like Patten). And all the while he’s been building his case against Stone and Don Jr.

The Frothy Right Is Furious that Peter Strzok Pursued the Guy Leaking about Carter Page

Close to midnight on June 3, 2017, Lisa Page texted Peter Strzok to let him know that Reality Winner was in custody. Page used the same shorthand she and Strzok (and presumably, those around them) consistently use to describe leak investigations, ML, media leaks.

They used the term elsewhere, as when Strzok said “media leaks and what I do for a living” when responding to the first reports that Mueller was investigating Trump (and hypothesizing about who the WaPo’s likely sources were).

Significantly, they used the term on April 10, 2017, when trying to figure out how to respond to DOJ’s effort to increasingly politicize leak investigations.

Indeed, Strzok’s lawyer has issued a statement confirming this is how Strzok and Page used the term.

The term ‘media leak strategy’ in Mr. Strzok’s text refers to a Department-wide initiative to detect and stop leaks to the media. The President and his enablers are once again peddling unfounded conspiracy theories to mislead the American People.

In spite of all that context, Mark Meadows has the entire frothy right, from Sara Carter to Fox News to Don Jr to his dad, worked up about two newly produced texts, based on this letter to Rod Rosenstein, which gets just about every thing wrong.

Before I explain how wrong Mark Meadows’ letter is, let me point out two things.

Michael Horowitz has already investigated a media leak text and found no misconduct

First, Michael Horowitz is (with the possible exception of DOD’s Glenn Fine) the best Inspector General in government. His office spent over a year investigating the work of Peter Strzok and Lisa Page; he wrote a 500-page report on it. And when he found evidence that even looked like impropriety, acted on it immediately and then formally, leading to Strzok’s firing. He has also spent a year investigating whatever calls went between FBI lines and reporters covering Hillary or Trump. He even drew pretty pictures showing each one of concern.

As part of both investigations, he examined a text in the series Meadows is concerned about (the April 10 one, above). And in spite of examining Page and Strzok, including a relevant text, at such length, Horowitz found no impropriety with the discussions about how to investigate leaks to the media.

We know the likely culprit for the leak the frothy right is blaming on Page and Strzok

The punchline of Meadows’ letter — as fed via the always-wrong Sara Carter — is a claim that Strzok and Page were the source for the WaPo story revealing that FBI obtained a FISA order on Carter Page.

The review of the documents suggests that the FBI and DOJ coordinated efforts to get information to the press that would potentially be “harmful to President Trump’s administration.” Those leaks pertained to information regarding the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court warrant used to spy on short-term campaign volunteer Carter Page.

Aside from how fucking stupid you’d have to be to believe that Strzok would go to great lengths to get a FISA order on Page and then tell the entire world about it, there’s another reason that the frothy right should know this is wrong: because we know the likely culprit for it.

As I noted in my first post on the James Wolfe indictment, that investigation appears to have started to (and focused on) finding the source for the WaPo story the frothy right now blames on Strzok and Page.

The government lays out clear proof Wolfe lied about conversations with three reporters. With Watkins and another, they point to stories about Carter Page to do so. The Watkins story is this one, confirming he is the person identified in the Evgeny Buryakov indictment. Another must be one of two stories revealing Page was subpoenaed for testimony by the Senate Intelligence Committee — either this one or this one.

I’m most interested, however, in this reference to a story the FBI raised with Wolfe in its interview, a story for which (unlike the others) the indictment never confirms whether Wolfe is the source.

During the interview, FBI agents showed WOLFE a copy of a news article authored by three reporters, including REPORTER #1, about an individual (referred to herein as “MALE-l), that contained classified information that had been provided to the SSCI by the Executive Branch for official purposes

The story suggests they don’t have content for the communications between Wolfe and Reporter #1, and the call records they’re interested in ended last June (meaning the story must precede it).

For example, between in or around December 2015 and in or around June 2017, WOLFE and REPORTER #1 communicated at least five times using his SSCI email account.

For that reason, I suspect this is the story they asked about — whether Wolfe is a source for the original credible story on Carter Page’s FISA order. The focus on Page generally in the indictment suggests this investigation started as an investigation into who leaked the fact that Page had been targeted under FISA, and continued to look at the stories that revealed classified details about the investigative focus on him (stories which he rightly complained to SSCI about).

The government didn’t charge Wolfe for that story — they just (appear to have) included his lies about whether he knew the reporters behind it among the lies they charged him for. But that’s a common strategy for FBI when dealing with a leak investigation the direct prosecution of which would require declassifying information, particularly with someone like Wolfe who could easily graymail the government. Moreover, the docket in his case has the look of one where the defense is considering a plea to avoid more serious charges.

Now consider how they got Wolfe. Not only did the government go after a trusted employee, not only did they very publicly access his Signal and WhatsApp texts, not only did they get Congress to waive speech and debate (which very rarely happens), but they also obtained years of Ali Watkins’ call records, both directly and via Temple University.

In other words, the prosecution of James Wolfe pushed prior protocols on leak investigations on a number of fronts: going after favored insiders, going after encrypted comms, going after employees of Congress, and going far more aggressively after a journalist and a college student than would seem necessary. That’s precisely the kind of thing that FBI and DOJ would debate as part of revising their strategy to more aggressively pursue media leaks.

So the James Wolfe case not only provides a likely culprit for the leak, but probably even evidence that shifts in the media leak strategy did happen, shifts resulting in far more aggressive pursuit of leaks than happened at the end of the Obama Administration.

Mark Meadows dangerously wrong

Which brings us, finally, to the many errors of Mark Meadows’ letter to Rosenstein. Once again, the premise of the letter is that two next texts (one of which obviously relates the one I posted above) create grave new concerns.

As you may know, we recently received a new production of documents from the Department providing greater insight into FBI and DOJ activity during the 2016 election and the early stages of the Trump administration. Our review of these new documents raises grave concerns regarding an apparent systemic culture of media leaking by high-ranking officials at the FBI and DOJ related to ongoing investigations.

Review of these new documents suggests a coordinated effort on the part of the FBI and DOJ to release information in the public domain potentially harmful to President Donald Trump’s administration. For example, the following text exchange should lead a reasonable person to question whether there was a since desire to investigate wrongdoing or to place derogatory information in the media to justify a continued probe.

April 10, 2017: Peter Strozk [sic] contacts Lisa Page to discuss a “media leak strategy.” Specifically, the text says: “I had literally just gone to find this phone to tell you I want to talk to you about media leak strategy with DOJ before you go.”

April 12, 2017: Peter Strozk [sic] congratulates Lisa Page on a job well done while referring to two derogatory articles about Carter Page. In the text, Strzok warns Page two articles are coming out, one which his “worse” than the other about Lisa’s “namesake.” [see update below] Strzok added: “Well done, Page.”

Meadows goes on to cite the WaPo story revealing Page’s FISA order and Andrew Weissman’s meeting with the AP (in which, per court testimony from the Manafort trial, the AP provided information useful to the investigation into Manafort, but which — significantly — led to the warrant on Manafort’s condo which may have led to the discovery of information that implicates Trump).

Meadows is just wrong. Both texts he already has and the Wolfe case “should lead a reasonable person” to understand that the same people who had long pursued leak investigations still were doing so, doing so in an increasingly politicized environment, but doing so with results that would employ more aggressive techniques and would find the likely culprit behind the WaPo story in question (not to mention send Reality Winner to prison for five years).

But all that’s just a premise to claim that because he imagines, fancifully, that Page and Strzok were leaking about ongoing investigations to the press (when in fact they were investigating such leaks), he should be able to get the FBI to talk about ongoing investigations.

During our interviews with Peter Strozk [sic] and Lisa Page, FBI attorneys consistently suggested witnesses could not answer questions due to the US Attorneys’ Manual’s policy for ongoing investigations. However, documents strongly suggest that these same witnesses discussed the ongoing investigations multiple times with individuals outside of the investigative team on a regular basis.

Not only is Meadows almost certainly wrong in his accusations against Strzok and Page, but he’s also ignoring that there are two ongoing investigations being protected here — both the general Russian investigation, but also the prosecution of Wolfe for behavior that likely includes the story he’s bitching about.

Meadows then uses what he even seems to admit are authorized media contacts as a transition paragraph.

Our task force continues to receive troubling evidence that the practice of coordinated media interactions continues to exist within the DOJ and FBI. While this activity may be authorized and not part of the inappropriate behavior highlighted above, it fails to advance the private march to justice, and as such, warrants your attention to end this practice.

The transition paragraph — which I’ll return to — leads to the whole point of the letter, Meadows’ demand that, because he has trumped up a false accusation against Strzok and Page, he should be able to interview FBI agents he believes will undermine the investigation into Donald Trump.

In light of the new information, our task force is requesting to review text messages, emails, and written communication from FBI and DOJ officials Stu Evans, Mike Kortan, and Joe Pientka between June 2016 to June 2017. To be clear, we are not suggesting wrongdoing on the part of Evans, Kortan, and Pientka–and, in fact, previously reviewed documents suggest that some of these individuals may share the committees’ same concerns. However, these additional documents, with an emphasis on communications between the aforementioned individuals and Peter Strozk [sic], Andrew McCabe, Lisa Page, Bruce Ohr and Andrew Weissman, would provide critical insight into the backdrop of the Russian investigation.

Meadows is looking, among other things, testimony that says Pientka didn’t believe Mike Flynn lied when he interviewed Trump’s National Security Advisor with Strzok. But he’s doing so specifically for a time period that ends before the evidence showing that Flynn did lie came into FBI (in part, when Mueller obtained Transition emails showing Trump closely directed Flynn’s conversations with Sergei Kislyak.

Now back to authorized media interactions. I happen to know something about how they work. I had a conversation with the FBI that pertained, in part, to whether there was a tie between Russian criminals and the President, one that also pertained to my perception of possible threats. Apparently Meadows thinks that such a conversation “fails to advance the private march to justice,” though it’s not clear what he means by that.  I mean, thus far, I have been very circumspect about the content of such conversations; is Meadows really asking me to air details before the midterms? I have thus far hesitated to share suspicions I had, believing it would be inappropriate for anyone besides Mueller and the FBI to air such things publicly, until they had corroborated my suspicions. But Meadows apparently believes it important to air investigative details before the election.

The better option — one that would put the rule of law and the security of the nation ahead of partisan obstruction — would be for Meadows to stop inciting hoaxes among the frothy right. Or maybe, at least, the frothy right can recognize that Meadows has serially embarrassed them as they credulously repeat whatever hoax he floats?

Update: After Jerrold Nadler and Elijah Cummings released a response noting some of Meadows’ errors, he fixed just one of the errors in his letter, admitting that the “well done, Page” language was actually from an April 22, 2017 text that reads, “article is out! Well done, Page,” and which obviously refers to this story on Jim Comey.

As I disclosed 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. 

Just before Mike Flynn Was Interviewed by the FBI, Putin Increased His Participation in the National Prayer Breakfast

There are twin filings (gag, bail) in the Mariia Butina case that I will write up separately. For the moment, I wanted to point to this passage of the government’s motion opposing Butina being released.

On January 26, 2017, [Paul Erickson] asked an acquaintance for National Prayer Breakfast tickets, noting that tickets could “advance the cause of US/Russian reset (on our terms).” [Erickson] later noted, “I was ahead of this in December, but last weekend Putin decided to up his official delegation – if we can accommodate them, we can empower rational insiders that have been cultivated for three years.”

I note it solely for the timing: it shows that the weekend of January 21-22, 2017, Putin decided to increase the seniority of his representatives attending the National Prayer Breakfast, which took place on February 2, and that decision filtered down to Erickson and Butina.

At the time, Trump had plans to meet with Aleksandr Torshin, plans which were scrapped at the last minute.

The event had been planned as a meet and greet with President Trump and Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of the Bank of Russia and a close ally of President Vladimir Putin, in a waiting room at the Washington Hilton before the National Prayer Breakfast on Feb. 2. Torshin, a top official in his country’s central bank, headed a Russian delegation to the annual event and was among a small number of guests who had been invited by Prayer Breakfast leaders to meet with Trump before it began.

But while reviewing the list of guests, a White House national security aide responsible for European affairs noticed Torshin’s name and flagged him as a figure who had “baggage,” a reference to his suspected ties to organized crime, an administration official told Yahoo News. Around the same time, a former campaign adviser alerted the White House that the meeting could exacerbate the political controversy over contacts between Trump associates and the Kremlin, another source familiar with the matter said.

It’s remarkable how many events relevant to the Mueller inquiry happened during those few weeks (and remember — Butina’s prosecution is being handled separately).

Update: This seems to suggest Butina believed there was a letter behind the earliest 2017 coverage of her (probably this Tim Mak story).

In early 2017, in response to the Russian Official’s comment to her that a reporter had contacted him about his relationship to the defendant, President Putin, and U.S. Person 1, among others, the defendant told the Russian Official that she had received inquiries from the same reporter. She told the Russian Official, “under no circumstances should you contact him. You didn’t even see the letter at all.”

Spy versus Spy: The Two Alleged Agents of Foreign Powers Sitting in the Alexandria Jail, Part Two (Mariia)

In this post, I laid out the difference between two laws criminalizing foreign agents of influence, 22 USC 611 et seq. (FARA) and 18 USC 951. Paul Manafort is charged with the former; Rick Gates, Mike Flynn, and Sam Patten have also all pled guilty to FARA related crimes; Mariia Butina is accused of the latter.

I think, particularly as Mueller’s investigation begins to put real teeth in FARA (and as nation-state spying hides under new kinds of cover and funding arrangements), the border between the two crimes will become increasingly tenuous. A comparison of Butina and Manafort shows some of the ways that’s clear.

Butina’s lawyer pitches her actions as lobbying

In response to her charges, her attorney Robert Driscoll has repeatedly denied she’s an agent of Russia, not by denying she did what Aleksandr Torshin instructed her to, but by claiming that hers is just a regulatory filing case.

“This is not an espionage case, this is not a spy case, this is a regulatory filing case,” in which Butina didn’t file the correct paperwork with the Justice Department, Driscoll told Robnson in arguing why she should be freed pending trial.

“She’s not an agent of the Russian Federation,” Driscoll told reporters after the hearing.

In a bid to overturn Magistrate Deborah Robinson’s decision to deny Butina bail, Driscoll minimizes the Russian’s activities as “going to dinners among intellectuals and foreign policy wonks to discuss U.S.-Russia relations, attending two National Prayer Breakfasts, and booking hotel rooms at the Washington Hilton, if true, is anything but an ‘obvious’ danger to the public.” He argues, “the allegations do not involve spying, tradecraft, classified information, or any other hallmarks of an espionage case.” To rebut any claim of covert operation, Driscoll points to the fact that one of the actions in her indictment — a dinner hosted by her unindicted co-conspirator, George O’Neill, just after the National Prayer Breakfast — was hosted by O’Neill and written up in the press (one of two stories he cited was written by O’Neill).

She is accused of arranging dinners to promote better relations between Russia and the United States although the very dinner that is listed as a predicate act for her alleged crimes was written about in Time Magazine and the American Conservative—hardly covert activity—and, in actuality, was initiated, organized, and directed by an American citizen, not the Russian government.3

He argues that the government charged Butina with section 951 as a tactical move, to make it easier to prosecute political activity (I’m not a lawyer, but I’m virtually certain he mis-states what the materials say about exempting political activity, not least because, per other materials, section 611 can be a subset of a section 951 violation).

To distract from the frailty of its charges, the government reprises that Ms. Butina is charged under section 951 and not FARA. However, that charging decision alone contradicts the Justice Department’s own policies, and perhaps was made as an attempt to aggrandize her conduct and mischaracterize her innocent political interest as nefarious.

That is, the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) Criminal Resource Manual makes a distinction between section 951 and a FARA violation. It describes FARA under section 611 et seq. as requiring an agent of a foreign principal engaged in political activities to register. See U.S. Dep’t of Justice, United States Attorneys’ Manual 9-90.700 and 9-90.701; and see Criminal Resource Manual at 2062. It also discusses other federal statutes like section 951, which is “aimed at persons loosely called foreign agents” but specifically exempts section 951 from applying to “foreign agents engaged in political activities.” Id. In plain English, DOJ further notes among frequently asked questions that section 951 is only “aimed at foreign government controlled agents engaged in non-political activities.”5

The government’s April, 2018 search warrant sought evidence of a potential violation under FARA.

[snip]

[A]lthough such allegations are unfounded and untrue, and although the government’s searches revealed no hidden transmitters, wads of cash, counterfeit passports, and plane tickets back to Moscow, the government still decided to paper a case against Ms. Butina under section 951. This decision shows that the government desired to overcharge and inflate her conduct for tactical advantages versus act with restraint or, at a minimum, be consistent with the DOJ and National Security Division’s own publicized understanding of appropriate charges.

And Driscoll doesn’t even concede she violated FARA.

[F]or reasons only it is aware, the government has charged Ms. Butina under 18 U.S.C. § 951 rather than the Foreign Agent Registration Act (“FARA”), 22 U.S.C. § 611 et seq., which generally carries civil penalties and much less severe criminal penalties (for circumstances far more egregious than the facts alleged here). Much like a FARA case, the government does not allege that Ms. Butina undertook any independently illegal activities in the United States. The only thing that made her alleged conduct illegal, if true, is that she did not notify the Attorney General prior to undertaking it.

[snip]

At bottom, the government’s case appears to be a novel attempt to stretch 18 U.S.C. § 951 to cover the activities of a foreign national student under the theory that her communications (about non-classified public source material) with contacts in her home country made her an “agent” of that country. The serious charges against her should be viewed in that context, which makes this case distinctly different from a typical section 951, “espionage-like or clandestine behavior” case.4

The lobbying included in Butina’s alleged crimes

To some extent, Driscoll is right: the government’s description of the allegations against Butina does focus closely on activity that might fall under FARA’s political activities (though, as noted, he cites a DOJ statement that suggests sections 611 and 951 are mutually exclusive, when by my understanding sections 611 can be a part of 951).

Many of the activities Butina is alleged to have done involve things that might be classified as lobbying. In her arrest affidavit, DOJ describes how Butina, with help from Paul Erickson, identified a network of influential Americans, including the NRA, to whom she could pitch closer relations with Russia. George O’Neill helped Butina set up a series of “friendship and dialogue” dinners. A number of her activities, such a publishing an article in The National Interest, are precisely the kinds of things FARA attempts to provide transparency on. This is where Driscoll gets his claim that Butina only “arrang[ed] dinners to promote better relations between Russia and the United States.”

Butina was directed by Aleksandr Torshin

A number of the allegations would support either a FARA or 951 violation.

The affidavit makes it clear she was following the directions of Aleksandr Torshin, the Deputy Governor of Russia’s Central Bank and as such an official representative of the government.

On the night of the election, for example, she asked for orders from Torshin, “I’m going to sleep. It’s 3 am here. I am ready for further orders.” The two moved to WhatsApp out of Torshin’s concern “all our phones are being listened to.” It’s clear, too, she and Torshin were hiding the role of the Russian government behind her actions. When she sent a report on a conference to establish a dialogue with US politicians, she said it “must be presented as a private initiative, not a government undertaking.”

The government even presented proof that Butina’s actions were approved by people close to Putin himself.

On March 14, 2016, Butina wrote O’Neill that what DOJ calls a  “representative of the Russian Presidential administration” had expressed approval “for building this communication channel,” suggesting she and Torshin had direct approval from Putin. “All we needed is <<yes>> from Putin’s side,” Butina explained to O’Neill.

With one exception, Driscoll largely offers bullshit in response to the government’s evidence she operated as a Russian government agent (indeed, his recognition that Butin advertised being Torshin’s special assistant on one of her business cards confirms that she continued to work for Torshin). He includes a letter of grad school recommendation for Butina for Columbia as proof of … it’s not clear what, particularly since Torshin includes his government affiliation on the letter.

Still: Paul Manafort was operating on behalf of a foreign government while Viktor Yanukovych remained in power, yet DOJ charged him with FARA, not section 951. The bar to meet foreignness under FARA is broader than it is under section 951, but lobbying for a foreign government can be sufficient to it. Yet Butina got charged under section 951, not FARA.

Paid by an oligarch

The exception to my claim that Driscoll offers little to rebut (in court filings — his statements to the press are another issue) that Butina was directed by the Russian government is the issue of her funding, which the government notes comes from an oligarch that Butina identified to the Senate Intelligence Committee as Konstantin Nikolaev.

Her Twitter messages, chat logs, and emails refer to a known Russian businessman with deep ties to the Russian Presidential Administration. This person often travels to the United States and has also been referred to as her “funder” throughout her correspondence; he was listed in Forbes as having a real-time net worth of $1.2 billion as of 2018. Immediately prior to her first trip to the United States in late 2014, Butina engaged in a series of text messages with a different wealthy Russian businessman regarding budgets for her trip to the United States and meetings with the aforementioned “funder.”

Driscoll points to this to disclaim a tie between her and the Russian state.

[T]he Russian Federation did not pay for her travel to the United States, her tuition, her living expenses, or make any payments to her at all.

This is actually an interesting point, because while FARA requires only that a person be working as an agent of a foreign principal (which might include, for example, an oligarch), section 951 requires that the agent be working on behalf of a foreign government. Butina no doubt still qualifies, given her tie to Torshin.

But particularly when comparing Manafort and Butina, both of whom worked at the border between laundered oligarch cash and government officials, the detail is of particular interest. If Russia outsources its intelligence operations to oligarchs (the Internet Research Agency’s Yevgeniy Prigozhin is another example), will that intelligence still qualify as spying under section 951?

In any case, thus far, the allegations against Butina and Manafort are fairly similar: both were hiding the fact that their political activities were backed by, and done in the interest of, Russian or Russian-backed entities.

The evidence for covert action

One area where Butina may go further than Manafort (at least for his pre-election work) is in the means by which she was trying to hide her work.

In spite of the great deal of publicity Butina made of her own actions — with all the pictures of her and powerful Republican men — the government affidavit also described Butina trying to set up (in her words) a “back channel” of communication with influential Americans.  On October 4, 2016, Erickson emailed a friend admitting he had “been involved in security a VERY private line of communication between the Kremlin and key [Republican] leaders through, of all conduits, the [NRA]. The affidavit describes Butina telling Torshin that her Russia-USA friendship society” is “currently ‘underground’ both here and there.” When discussing the list of delegates to the 2017 National Prayer Breakfast with Erickson in late November, she said the attendees were seeking to establish a “back channel of communication.”

Manafort was trying to hide that the lobbying he paid for was done for Yanukovych’s benefit, but there’s no allegation his pre-election work aimed to set up a secret channel of communication between Yanukovych and Congress.

Of particular interest, given the parallel efforts on voter suppression from Roger Stone and the Russians, Butina floated serving as an election observer. Torshin argued that “the risk of provocation is too high and the ‘media hype’ which comes after it.” But Butina argued she’d only do it incognito.

The honey pot claim

Then there’s the specific government insinuation that Butina was engaged in a honey pot operation. It substantiates this two ways — first, by suggesting she’s not that into Erickson.

Further, in papers seized by the FBI, Butina complained about living with U.S. Person 1 and expressed disdain for continuing to cohabitate with U.S. Person 1.

It also alleges she offered sex for favors.

For example, on at least one occasion, Butina offered an individual other than U.S. Person 1 sex in exchange for a position within a special interest organization.

Driscoll pretty convincingly argues the government misinterpreted this last bit.

The only evidence the government relied on for its explosive claim was an excerpt from an innocuous three-year-old text exchange (attached as Exhibit 3) sent in Russia between Ms. Butina and DK, her longtime friend, assistant, and public relations man for The Right to Bear Arms gun rights group that she founded.

DK, who often drove Ms. Butina’s car and thus was listed on the insurance, took the car for its annual government-required inspection and insurance renewal, and upon completion, texted (according to government translators), “I don’t know what you owe me for this insurance they put me through the wringer.” Ms. Butina jokingly replied, “Sex. Thank you so much. I have nothing else at all. Not a nickel to my name.” DK responded: “Ugh . . . ( ”—that is, with a sad face emoticon.

Aside from the fact that Maria is friends with DK’s wife and child and treats DK like a brother, the reference to sex is clearly a joke.

We still haven’t seen the government response to this, but what Driscoll presents does support his claim this is a “sexist smear.”

But Driscoll’s dismissal of the other claim — that Butina disdained living with Erickson — is far less convincing.

[I]n response to her girlfriend’s own complaints about her boyfriend’s failure to call in three weeks (accompanied by an angry face emoji) that Maria responds that her own boyfriend (Mr. Erickson) has been “bugging the sh*t out of me with his mom” and that she has “a feeling that I am residing in a nursing home.” “Send a link to the dating app[,]”

Driscoll spins this as an attack on Erickson’s now late mother, but doesn’t address the central allegation that she likened living with her much older boyfriend to living in a nursing home. Nor that she started the exchange by saying “let’s go have some fun with guys!!!” because she was “Bored. So there.” Furthermore, Butina seemed concerned that her use of Tinder would become public because she logged in using Facebook.

Though he has been sharing schmaltzy videos of Butina and Erickson with ABC, Driscoll also doesn’t address the fact that as early as May, Butina was proffering to flip on Erickson in fraud charges in South Dakota, which would have the effect of putting her in a position to negotiate permanent visa status independent of him, while limiting her own legal exposure.

A student visa or tourist one?

One key distinction between Manafort and Butina stems from the fact that she’s not a citizen.

The government’s detention motion also notes that Butina “use[d] deceit in a visa application.” They describe her attendance at American University as her cover, one she chose after rejecting carrying out the operation on tourist visas.

Butina chose a student visa from a range of options for her ultimate application, but not before a lengthy discussion of the risks associated with traveling to the United States repeatedly on a tourist visa. The FBI has discovered text messages and emails between U.S. Person 1 and Butina in which Butina would routinely ask U.S. Person 1 to help complete her academic assignments, by editing papers and answering exam questions. In other words, although she attended classes and completed coursework with outside help, attending American University was Butina’s cover while she continued to work on behalf of the Russian Official.

The government also notes that Butina claimed she was no longer employed by Torshin on her visa application. It points to her visa fraud as additional support that she did not intend to register as required by the law.

Butina entered the United States with the express purpose of working as part of a covert Russian influence campaign and did not disclose that fact—not on her visa application and not to the Attorney General.

Driscoll offers a narrow (and to my mind, unconvincing) defense, arguing the government hasn’t shown proof she lied on her form, when the claim is, instead, that intercepts show she applied for a student visa over a tourist visa because of the immigration advantages it offers.

[T]he government has also failed to provide any evidence to support its claim that Maria affirmatively lied on her application for a student visa should give this Court pause.

To be clear: this doesn’t mean Americans can’t be charged under section 951. In June, for example, DOJ charged Ron Rockwell Hansen under section 951 for spying for China.

But because Butina had to find a way to get and stay in the US, she had to game out the best way to do so, and that adds to the evidence that her entire purpose for being in the US is to push Russian policies. That is, it may be easier to charge a foreigner under section 951 because it often involves lying on visa forms.

Ongoing ties with Russian intelligence

Finally, there are ties with spooks.

The government alleges that Butina had ongoing ties with the Russian intelligence agencies, including a private meal with a suspected Russian intelligence operator, Oleg Zhiganov (whom Driscoll identified, to the government’s displeasure, to Politico).

FBI surveillance observed Butina in the company of a Russian diplomat in the weeks leading up to that official’s departure from the United States in March 2018. That Russian diplomat, with whom Butina was sharing a private meal, was suspected by the United States Government of being a Russian intelligence officer.

The government also cites from pointed to a conversation where Torshin likened Butina to Anna Chapman (see below) and argued that showed that Torshin treated her a covert spy. The government further points to a document suggesting she considered a job with FSB (though remains murky about other evidence that supports the claim).

Another document uncovered during the execution of a search warrant contained a hand-written note, entitled “Maria’s ‘Russian Patriots In-Waiting’ Organization,” and asking “How to respond to FSB offer of employment?” Based on this and other evidence, the FBI believes that the defendant was likely in contact with the FSB throughout her stay in the United States.

That said, the government also alleges that Manafort has had ongoing ties with Russian intelligence, in the form of Konstantin Kiliminik. So it’s not like ties to intelligence officers by itself merits a section 951 charge.

Recruiting assets

I suspect a key feature that may distinguish Butina from Manafort is that she had two Americans, Erickson and O’Neill, working with her. There’s even the allegation that she was seeking out time with JD Gordon in the lead-up to the election, suggesting she may have been recruiting assets within the new administration, an action akin to a formal spook. That is, she seems to have been recruiting agents.

That’s different from Manafort, employing a bunch of lobbyists (even while hiding some aspects of those engagements), because Manafort was hiring established professionals (or former European government officials).

I guess one question I have is whether the awareness of the recruitment targets is different.

Flight risk

While it matters little for the distinction between FARA and section 951, Driscoll suggests the fact that Butina hasn’t fled yet — notably did not in response to a report on her work — is proof she’s not an agent.

First, in February, 2017, the Daily Beast published an article about Maria, her connection to Aleksandr Torshin, her love of guns, and her activities in the United States, essentially alleging that her purpose in the United States might be to “infiltrate” American conservative political groups.13 If the government’s fanciful theory were correct, almost 18 month ago, Maria Butina was exposed, her handler identified, and her purpose in the United States published on the internet. She did not flee, visit the Russian Embassy, or make any effort to change her status as a student.

Curiously, he doesn’t address an intercept excerpted in the government’s detention motion, suggesting that in March 2017 there was an order against arresting her.

Specifically, in March 2017, after a series of media articles were published about Butina, the following conversation ensued:

Russian Official: Good morning! How are you faring there in the rays of the new fame?[] Are your admirers asking for your autographs yet? You have upstaged Anna Chapman. She poses with toy pistols, while you are being published with real ones. There are a hell of a lot of rumors circulating here about me too! Very funny!

[snip]

Butina: It’s the other thing that is important: evidently, there is an Order not to touch us. I believe it is a good sign.

Russian Official: For now – yes, but should things shift, then we are guaranteed a spot on the list of ‘agents of influence.” . . .

But as I noted, Butina’s flight risk would remain the same regardless of whether she had been charged with FARA or section 951.

Why Maria and not Manafort (yet)?

All of which raises a series of questions about what might distinguish Butina from Manafort:

  • How important is citizenship in this? And would dual citizenship — dual Russian Federation and US — change that? The government’s reliance on Butina’s alleged visa fraud would (and in other 951 cases has) have important repercussions for any subjects of the investigation who lied but have since obtained US citizenship.
  • Does who is paying for a person’s defense matter? Driscoll won’t say who is paying his bills, but neither do we know who is funding Manafort’s (thus far) much more expensive defense. In similar cases (such as Evgeny Buryakov, one of the spies who recruited Carter Page), the government filed for a Curcio hearing to make sure a person’s lawyer wasn’t representing the interests of the people paying his bills rather than the defendant, but in so doing proved that Buryakov was not a government agent. If a close Putin ally is paying for Manafort’s defense, does that change the calculus of who he’s working for?
  • At what point would obtaining useful information on political process in the US count as collecting intelligence? Manafort knows US politics better than almost anyone — he doesn’t need to recruit a source to learn that. Butina did. Does recruiting Erickson to learn about US politics amount to collecting intelligence?
  • Is beefed up FARA enforcement the proper tool to combat foreign influence operations, or is section 951, absent more covert operations, the way to go after foreign nationals engaging in influence operations?
  • Given how these two crimes might bleed into each other, are prosecutors threatening charges under section 951 to get pleas under FARA?
  • All this analysis is based off stuff Manafort did years ago, going back over a decade. It doesn’t address the stuff he is suspected of doing in during the 2016. For example, if Manafort was reporting back on an active Presidential campaign to Oleg Deripaska via suspected Russian intelligence agent Konstantin Kilimnik, is that a FARA violation, or a section 951 one? He got charged under FARA for his historic work. But I’m not sure his election-related work doesn’t pass the bar for a section 951 charge.

As I disclosed 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. 

Spy Versus Spy: The Two Alleged Agents of Foreign Powers Sitting in the Alexandria Jail, Part One (Paulie)

The Alexandria jail houses two alleged criminal agents of foreign influence: Paul Manafort and Mariia Butina. In the coming days, both may present interesting questions about the boundaries the US uses to define — and criminalize — foreign influence peddling. Legal questions in their prosecutions will address two questions:

  • What does it take to criminalize a failure to register as an Agent of a Foreign Principal?
  • What are the boundaries between Agent of Foreign Principals and Foreign Governments?

At issue are two laws: the Foreign Agents Registration Act, 22 USC 611 et seq., which requires certain people engaging in politics and propaganda for non-commercial foreign entities to register as their agents and to disclose the propaganda they disseminate. Mostly, FARA is a documentary requirement, but lying in the registration process can carry a five year sentence. That’s what Paul Manafort has been charged with. Butina has been charged with violating 18 USC 951, which basically criminalizes people who don’t register with DOJ (as, for example, diplomats would) when they spy for a foreign power; it carries a ten year sentence.

The problems with FARA … and distinguishing it from spying

As a DOJ Inspector General Audit completed in September 2016 laid out, people stopped complying with FARA in the 1990s, as any commercial lobbyists could register under the Lobbyist Disclosure Act more easily and FARA wasn’t rigorously enforced. The IG Report cited a bunch of reasons why FARA is not better enforced, such as that they aren’t staffed to be effective, nor do they have the investigative authorities DOJ thinks they need to figure out who’s not complying.

During our audit the FARA Unit was comprised of one Unit Chief, who is also an attorney; two staff attorneys; one Supervisory Program Manager; one Intelligence Research Specialist; one Program Specialist; and two Case Management Specialists.5 NSD staff emphasized that this is a limited staff, which is responsible for a considerable range of activities. The unit is responsible for processing and monitoring new and existing FARA registrations on an ongoing basis. This includes receiving, reviewing and processing documentation and payments, and addressing late or inaccurate submissions. The unit also performs periodic formal inspections to assess the adequacy of registrant reporting and disclosure, and conducts open source searches to identify individuals that may be obligated to register.

One of these two staff attorneys joined the FARA Unit during our audit. At the conclusion of our audit we were informed that the FARA Unit was back to one staff attorney, however the unit planned to hire a replacement.

[snip]

NSD officials stated that a major difficulty is a lack of authority to compel the production of information from persons who may be agents. As a result, NSD is currently pursuing civil investigative demand (CID) authority from Congress in order to enhance its ability to assess the need for potential agents to register.

Ultimately, however, DOJ almost never uses the teeth in the provision — prosecution — to ensure compliance.

Between 1966 and 2015 the Department only brought seven criminal FARA cases – one resulted in a conviction at trial for conspiracy to violate FARA and other statutes, two pleaded guilty to violating FARA, two others pleaded guilty to non-FARA charges, and the remaining two cases were dismissed. We were also told by NSD that the Department has not sought civil injunctive relief under FARA since 1991.

The IG Report cites two reasons why there aren’t more prosecutions. First, as the National Security Division explained, because it is so hard to get evidence of 1) willfulness, 2) that the agent is working under the “direction and control” of a foreign principal and 3) that the influence-peddling isn’t for some other (exempted) reason.

FARA contains a criminal penalty provision, and NSD approves criminal prosecution as an enforcement mechanism if there is sufficient admissible evidence of a willful violation of FARA, and the standards applicable to all federal criminal prosecutions set forth in the U.S. Attorney’s Manual are otherwise satisfied. The high burden of proving willfulness, difficulties in proving “direction and control” by a foreign principal, and exemptions available under the statute make criminal prosecution for FARA violations challenging. These challenges are compounded by the government’s current inability to compel the production of records from potential and current registrants, a situation NSD is working to remedy by proposing legislation for consideration by the Department of Justice (Department). Despite these challenges, the Department has brought four F ARA criminal cases since 2007, all of which resulted in convictions (one conviction at trial for conspiracy to violate F ARA and other statutes; two guilty pleas for violating FARA; and one guilty plea to related non-FARA charges).

The other reason why there aren’t more FARA prosecutions, per the IG Report, is because FBI agents confuse FARA (what Manafort is charged with) with 18 USC 951 (what Butin is charged with). Indeed, Agents mix the codes for the two crimes up in their filing system.

[W]hen we discussed FARA with FBI personnel, we found that they considered a “FARA case” to be a case investigated pursuant to either the FARA, 22 U.S.C. § 611, et seq., or 18 U.S.C. § 951 (Section 951), which is the federal statute that provides criminal penalties for certain agents of foreign governments who act in the United States without first notifying the Attorney General.12 Unlike Section 951, FARA requires agents of foreign principals engaged in legal political or quasi-political activities such as lobbying, government and public relations, tourism promotion, and foreign economic development activities in the United States to register and make detailed disclosures of their activities in the United States conducted on behalf of their foreign principals.13

By contrast, Section 951 was described to us by the NSD as “espionage lite” because a Section 951 case generally involves espionage-like or clandestine behavior or an otherwise provable connection to an intelligence service, or information gathering or procurement-type activity on behalf of a foreign government. Although FARA registration can serve as the required notification to the Attorney General under Section 951, NSD officials told us FARA and Section 951 involve different sets of elements and different types of issues. According to NSD officials, only 22 U.S.C. 611 et seq. constitutes a FARA case. Nevertheless, NSD officials acknowledged the differing views on what constitutes a FARA charge and are currently engaged in an ongoing effort to better educate field investigators and prosecutors on the difference.

12 According to NSD, notification under Section 951 may be made by registration under FARA in circumstances where the activity requiring notice is disclosed on the FARA registration form.

13 Political activities are defined by the statute as “any activity that the person engaging in believes will, or that the person intends to, in any way influence any agency or official of the Government of the United States or any section of the public within the United States with reference to formulating, adopting, or changing the domestic or foreign policies of the United States or with reference to the political or public interests, policies, or relations of a government of a foreign country or a foreign political party.”

Here’s how NSD described the difference.

Although OIG’s report reflects some criticism of aspects of NSD’s review of F ARA cases, NSD notes at the outset, as OlG acknowledged in the Report, that personnel interviewed in preparation of the Report frequently confused FARA (22 U.S.c. § 611 el seq) with 18 U.S.C. § 951 (“Section 951 “), a criminal statute entitled “Agents of foreign governments.” Although the two statutes have similar terms, they address different types of conduct. The typical conduct to which Section 951 applies consists of espionage-like behavior, information gathering, and procurement of technology, on behalf of foreign governments or officials. FARA, on the other hand, is designed to provide transparency regarding efforts by foreign principals (a term defined more broadly than foreign governments or officials) to influence the U.S. government or public through public speech, political activities, and lobbying. Accordingly, Section 95 1 is codified in Title 18 of the U.S. Code (designated for “Crimes and Criminal Procedure”), while FARA is codified in Title 22 (designated for “Foreign Relations”). Section 951 is aimed exclusively at criminally punishing individuals who violate its terms, and lacks a formal administrative registration regime. FARA in contrast, is predominantly a disclosure statute, under which there is an administrative registration regime, and while the Act authorizes criminal penalties for willful violations, the primary means of achieving FARA’s main purpose of transparency is through voluntary disclosure in compliance with the Act. The mistaken conflation of the two statutes can lead to undue weight being given to criminal prosecution as the measure of F ARA enforcement and insufficient recognition of the significance of administrative enforcement efforts relating to the FARA registration regime. It is therefore essential to understand the distinctions between FARA and Section 951 for purposes of this audit, the scope of which is expressly limited to the enforcement and administration of FARA.

Mueller’s two FARA pleas

Mueller actually already shifted the balance on FARA enforcement since that 2016 IG Report. Among the false statements Flynn pled guilty to is filing a false FARA filing.

On March 7, 2017, FLYNN filed multiple documents with the Department of Justice pursuant to the Foreign Agents Registration Act (“FARA”) pertaining to a project performed by him and his company, the Flynn Intel Group, Inc. (“FIG”), for the principal benefit of the Republic of Turkey (“Turkey project”). In the FARA filings, FLYNN made materially false statements and omissions, including by falsely stating that (a) FIG did not know whether or the extent to which the Republic of Turkey was involved in the Turkey project, (b) the Turkey project was focused on improving U.S. business organizations’ confidence regarding doing business in Turkey, and (c) an op-ed by FLYNN published in The Hill on November 8, 2016, was written at his own initiative; and by omitting that officials from the Republic of Turkey provided supervision and direction over the Turkey project.

And one of two conspiracy schemes (what I call ConFraudUS) to which Gates pled guilty is violating FARA.

GATES understood that it was illegal to engage in certain activities in the United States as an agent of a foreign pricipal without registering with the United States Government. Specifically, a person who engages in lobbying or public relations work in the United States (hereafter collectively referred to as lobbying) for a foreign principal such as the Government of Ukraine or the Party of Regions is required to register. Manafort, together with GATES’ assistance, engaged in a scheme to avoid this registration requirement for DMI, Manafort, and others.

These efforts — and Manafort’s prosecution — have already led to a significant increase in how many people are registering as foreign influence peddlers.

You can lose your profits if you don’t register

Particularly because Manafort’s case is so high profile, Mueller’s bid to prosecute him for FARA violations comes with high stakes and potentially high payoff — though DC District interpretations of the law. That said, the government has actually backstopped itself by charging Manafort’s sleazy influence peddling under multiple different crimes; the indictment actually uses seven different counts to hold Manafort accountable for hiding that he was an agent of a Russian-backed Ukrainian party, the Party of Regions (and its successor).

  1. ConFraudUs: Claiming Manafort prevented DOJ and Treasury from tracking his foreign influence peddling
  2. Conspiracy to Launder Money: Claiming Manafort and Gates laundered the proceeds of their Ukrainian influence-peddling
  3. FARA Violation: Claiming Manafort hid both his own lobbying for the Party of Regions and that he paid other influence peddlers to engage in
  4. Submitting a False FARA Statement: Claiming Manafort submitted a claim falsely claiming he didn’t need to register as a foreign agent
  5. False statements: Claiming he lied in his FARA filings
  6. Obstruction of justice: Claiming he tampered with witnesses associated with the Hapsburg group in an attempt to get them to lie about his failure to register as a foreign agent
  7. Conspiracy to obstruct justice: Claiming he conspired with former GRU officer Konstantin Kilimnik to tamper with witnesses

Manafort already tried and failed to narrow the application of FARA in two ways: first, by objecting to tying money laundering to FARA (and thereby tying a forfeiture to it). Second, Manafort tried to get either the false FARA statement (count 4) or the false statements (count 5) thrown as as multiplicitous. Amy Berman Jackson ruled against him on both attempts (forfeiture, multiplicitous), though the latter order basically just punted the issue until after trial.

The former is more interesting, in any case, because in her ruling ABJ took Manafort’s bid to distinguish FARA from 18 USC 951 and instead described how similar they are.

Section 951 of Title 18 states that “[w]hoever, other than a diplomatic or consular officer or attaché, acts in the United States as an agent of a foreign government without prior notification to the Attorney General” shall be fined or imprisoned for up to ten years, or both. 18 U.S.C. § 951(a). According to defendant, this statute criminalizes acting as a foreign agent, whereas FARA is merely a “regulatory scheme for foreign agent registration” that criminalizes only the willful failure to register. Def.’s Mot. at 5, quoting United States v. McGoff, 831 F.2d 1071, 1075 (D.C. Cir. 1987).

But the reference to section 951 does not support defendant’s position, since defendant acknowledges that section 951 plainly governs acting as an agent of a foreign government, and the language of the two provisions is quite similar. See Def.’s Mot. at 4–5; compare 18 U.S.C. § 951(a) (“Whoever . . . acts in the United States as an agent of a foreign government without prior notification to the Attorney General . . . shall be fined under this title or imprisoned . . . .”) with 22 U.S.C. § 612(a) (“No person shall act as an agent of a foreign principal unless he has filed with the Attorney General a true and complete registration statement . . . .”) and id. § 618(a) (imposing criminal penalties on any person who “willfully violates any provision of this subchapter or any regulation thereunder” or “willfully makes a false statement of a material fact or willfully omits any material fact” in a FARA statement). These laws are not just about paperwork; their object is to ensure that no person acts to advance the interests of a foreign government or principal within the United States unless the public has been properly notified of his or her allegiance. So both statutes expressly prohibit “acting” as a representative of a foreign entity without submitting the required notification to the Attorney General. For these reasons, the alleged international banking transactions could “promote,” and Manafort could realize “proceeds” from, a FARA violation.3

3 Defendant argues that section 951 does not bear on the issue presented here since it requires an “additional element” that FARA does not, and applies to “activities . . . under the control of a foreign government.” Def.’s Mot. at 4–5. But FARA also applies to agents of foreign governments. 22 U.S.C. § 611(b) (defining “foreign principal” to include “the government of a foreign country”). So the difference between the two provisions is that section 951 covers a narrower subset of foreign agents.

In addition to treating sleazy influence peddlers as akin to spies (albeit less serious ones) if they hide that influence peddling, ABJ’s order means that in DC, where all the sleazy influence peddlers work, a sleazy influence peddler can forfeit the money he makes off sleazy influence peddling if he doesn’t properly register to peddle influence.

Ouch.

The crime-fraud exception in FARA registration

Which brings us to one of the reasons why FARA is so hard to prosecute: the difficulty of proving willfulness. One way Mueller is getting around that is to rely on the testimony of the lawyer Manafort used to file his delayed FARA registration.

After Manafort’s influence-peddling for Ukraine became the focus of attention in 2016, the chief of the FARA unit wrote to Manafort and asked him if maybe he should have registered. Manafort hired Melissa Laurenza. She submitted three filings on Manafort’s behalf, on November 23, 2016, February 10, 2017, and June 27, 2017, all based on the representations made by Gates and Manafort (including that they had no record of communications with Tony Podesta and Vin Webber’s firms, but that they only retained email for 30 days). In the earlier filings, Laurenza claimed Manafort’s Ukrainian consulting didn’t include any outreach to US government officials or media outlets.

Last August, Mueller asked for and obtained Chief Judge Beryl Howell’s permission to compel Laurenza to testify under the crime-fraud exception to attorney-client privilege. Based off five lies for which Mueller provided evidence, Howell authorized Mueller’s team to ask seven questions of Laurenza about preparation of the FARA filings.

Then, earlier this month, a Taint Team lawyer asked for permission to have the taint Team turn over the emails that Laurenza used to write up her FARA filings. Manafort responded by claiming, in part, that he had never even seen the entirety of the litigation before Judge Howell. The Taint Team lawyer then produced the evidence that she had provided that information to Manafort in April.

If this thing goes to trial, we’re going to see a whole slew of evidence that Manafort was working directly for Viktor Yanukovych’s party, even while he hid that fact as he had Tony Podesta and Vin Weber lobby on Yanukovych’s behalf. That will get Mueller to the “direction and control” prong of the statute. By showing the efforts to which Gates and Manafort made to lie to their lawyer when they were finally forced to submit a FARA filing, Mueller will show that Gates and Manafort twice made sure that the FARA filing lied about what they had really been doing for Yanukovych.

One question I’m left with, particularly when we compare Manafort’s actions with Butina’s (which I’ll do in my next post), is why Mueller didn’t just charge Manafort with spying for Yanukovych, rather than just lobbying for him?

Update: Sam Patten, who also worked with Konstantin Kilimnik pitching Yanukovych’s party, is pleading guilty to FARA violations this morning.

As I disclosed 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.