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Judicial Watch Sues DOJ and Obtains Proof that Mark Meadows and His Propagandists Are Conspiracist Idiots

Just over a year ago, on August 11, 2018, the President accused the “Fake News Media” of refusing to cover “Christopher Steele’s many meetings with Deputy A.G. [sic] Bruce Ohr and his beautiful wife, Nelly [sic].” It was the first of around 26 attacks Trump launched against the Ohrs on Twitter over the year.

Trump reported that the FBI received documents from Ohr, which was true; the FBI asked for them as part of vetting the Steele dossier and understanding how it related to Fusion GPS’ other work. Trump complained that Nellie Ohr investigated members of his family for pay (true) and then fed it to her husband who gave it to the FBI; Trump didn’t reveal that FBI asked for the documents and that Steele’s efforts and Nellie’s were separate.  The President claimed that Ohr “told the FBI it (the Fake Dossier) wasn’t true, it was a lie and the FBI was determined to use it anyway,” which was an exaggeration (Ohr said he believed that Steele believed his sources were telling him the truth, but Ohr described that all sorts of conspiracy theories could be spread from the Kremlin). Trump misquoted Ohr sharing with the FBI Steele’s concern that his sources would be exposed in the wake of the Jim Comey firing as a suggestion that Ohr was worried he, personally, would be exposed, which then got further misquoted by Fox propagandists. Trump accused the Ohrs of profiting off the dossier several times, “Bruce & Nelly Ohr’s bank account is getting fatter & fatter because of the Dossier that they are both peddling.”

Over the course of that year, Trump called for Bruce Ohr to be fired at least six times. “How the hell is Bruce Ohr still employed at the Justice Department? Disgraceful! Witch Hunt!”

And yet, documents obtained under FOIA released by Judicial Watch in recent days (Ohr’s 302s, Ohr’s comms) show that virtually all the allegations made to fuel this year long campaign targeting Bruce Ohr are false. It is true that Bruce Ohr had ties to Christopher Steele going back almost a decade and was part of a network of experts combatting organized crime who compared notes (as was his wife Nellie, if the organized crime in question pertained to Ukraine or Russia). It is true that Ohr met with Steele in July 2016 and learned four things, two from the dossier (some version of Russian kompromat on Trump and allegations about Carter Page)  and two not (Oleg Deripaska’s misleading claim to be prepping a legal attack on Paul Manafort and something related to Russian doping), which he passed on to the FBI. He also met and passed on information from Glenn Simpson later that fall, though given the team he met with at DOJ, the information may not have been sourced from the dossier and may have focused on the crimes Manafort has since pled guilty to. Neither of those meetings, however, are covered by the FOIAed documents. Moreover, Judicial Watch has not yet obtained documents from after May 2017, which (based on texts between the two that have been released) could show Steele trying to grill Ohr for details about ongoing investigations into his work. Maybe some day Judicial Watch will find a document that substantiates their attacks.

What the documents released so far don’t show is that Ohr served as some kind of “back channel” to the FBI via which Steele submitted new allegations. As I noted, Ohr’s 302s suggest there were three phases of communications covered by the 302s involving Steele (and Simpson) and Ohr. During the first — November 22 to December 20 — Ohr appeared to be helping the FBI understand Simpson’s project and Steele’s data collection process. He offered critical comments about Steele’s sourcing (noting that lots of fantastic stories come out of the Kremlin), appeared to prod Simpson for what he knew about Steele’s sourcing and then shared that information with the FBI, when he didn’t know answers to FBI questions (most notably, about whether Steele was involved in a key Michael Isikoff story), Ohr asked Simpson and reported the answer back to the FBI. Ohr offered up details about who else might have been briefed by Steele and why Steele was speaking to so many people.

Ohr would have done none of this if he were aiming to serve as a back channel to ensure Steele could continue to feed information to the FBI. The fact that members of the frothy right have, in recent days, focused on previously unknown details that Ohr shared with FBI’s Bill Priestap (such as when Victoria Nuland got briefed by Steele) is a testament to the fact that Ohr was not trying to hide a network of Steele contacts, but instead was helping FBI to understand them. Ohr cannot, simultaneously, be a source for unique knowledge for the FBI and at the same time be part of a Deep State plot aiming to feed the FBI new intelligence from Steele via as many different channels as possible.

Importantly, the main incidences where Ohr gave the FBI materials originating from Fusion — the materials include a timeline on Paul Manafort’s ties to oligarchs, a table showing Trump’s ties with suspect Russians, 137 pages of narrative backup for some of the table (part of which appears at PDF 216 to 299; Judicial Watch did not release this research as an independent link, presumably because it damages their narrative), and the latest version of the dossier from Simpson — came during that vetting period. Indeed, at the meeting where Ohr obtained a copy of the dossier from Fusion — according to his congressional testimony, at least, the only time he ever handled it — was the same meeting where he tried to get Simpson to tell him who Steele’s sources were (see PDF 33), information he passed onto the FBI. What the frothy right should do, if it had a single honest journalist left, would be to admit that Mark Meadows had them chasing a hoax for a year, but now that they can see the underlying evidence, it’s clear Meadows was wrong, lying, or perhaps opposed to the FBI doing the same kind of vetting that he imagines he himself to be doing.

Similarly, the frothy right is spinning what Nellie Ohr’s research shows in utterly deceitful ways. For much of the last year, the story was that Nellie’s work was an integral part of Steele’s dossier, a story that formed a critical part of any claim that Bruce Ohr would have some incentive to prop up the credibility of the dossier (which, as noted, the record shows he didn’t do). Her research shows that, in reality, there is little overlap between her research and Steele’s. There are over 75 names listed in her table of sketchy ties with Russia. The only identifiable overlap with the dossier are the Agalarovs, Mike Flynn, Paul Manafort, Sergei Millian (to the extent he really is one of the subsources for the dossier), and Carter Page. The Flynn and Manafort (and to some degree the Page) stuff goes beyond what is in the dossier.

In addition Nellie’s research includes others who should have been included in any solid HUMINT on what Trump was up to, starting with Felix Sater and Konstantin Kilimnik (but also including Michael Caputo and Giorgi Rtskhiladze). Chuck Ross notes these names in a piece on Nellie’s research, but doesn’t acknowledge the ways their inclusion undermines the conspiracy theories he has been peddling. I said in January 2018 that this open source research would probably have been more valuable for the election than the dossier, and I stand by that.

And look at the dates on Nellie Ohr’s research and the number of reports for each date (something else that Ross ignores the significance of):

  1. November 23, 2015 (12)
  2. December 14, 2015 (19)
  3. February 12, 2016 (8)
  4. February 13, 2016 (1)
  5. February 27, 2016 (1)
  6. March 4, 2016 (5)
  7. April 14, 2016 (2)
  8. April 22, 2016 (5)
  9. May 7, 2016 (1)
  10. May 13, 2016 (2)
  11. May 20, 2016 (1)
  12. May 27, 2016 (2)
  13. June 3, 2016 (1)
  14. June 10, 2016 (1)
  15. June 17, 2016 (4)
  16. June 24, 2016 (2)
  17. June 25, 2016 (3)
  18. July 1, 2016 (4)
  19. July 6, 2016 (3)
  20. July 9, 2016 (1)
  21. September 19, 2016 (2)
  22. September 22, 2016 (1)

Perhaps half of Nellie’s Ohr’s dated reports in this table date to before the Democrats started paying Fusion (that was sometime in April or May 2016, with Steele coming on around June 2016), and well more than half of the actual dated reports are from the primary period. That means that GOP billionaire Paul Singer, and not the Democrats, paid for much of the Nellie Ohr research in the table that the GOP is squawking about.

The GOP is squawking less about Nellie Ohr’s Manafort timeline (which is odd considering some of what Steele shared through Ohr consisted of Manafort details not reported in the dossier). But it’s worth mentioning that some of the same frothy right propagandists complaining here were instrumental in magnifying oppo research targeting John Podesta in 2016. The folks who made much of John Podesta’s stolen emails can’t complain about public source research focusing on Manafort’s corruption.

And for all the frothy right’s focus on Nellie Ohr’s interactions with Bruce’s colleague Lisa Holtyn (with whom Nellie clearly had a direct professional and personal relationship), they don’t mention this email to Holtyn, which suggests that Nellie has absolutely no clue about the connection that Fusion had with this anti-Magnitsky event that Natalia Veselnitskaya and Rinat Akhmetshin were involved in.

That provides some support to Simpson’s claim to Congress that the people working on the Trump oppo research were compartmented from those working on the Baker-Hostetler project tied to the June 9 meeting (though Nellie was never the most likely overlap).

As to two smoking guns that Mark Meadows claimed to have found when he referred Nellie Ohr for criminal prosecution earlier this year, the first is that at Holtyn’s suggestion, Nellie met, informally, with two organized crime prosecutors,  Joe Wheatley and Ivana Nizich, presumably to give them background on certain aspects of Russian and Ukrainian organized crime. Judicial Watch has focused on the set-up of the meeting, in which Bruce noted it should not be a conflict since Nellie would not be paid. They haven’t noted that Holtyn describes (PDF 31) her colleagues’ interest in the topic to be “some things that they are working on currently” which, if it’s a specific case, she’s careful not to mention directly, but sounds more like enterprise investigation. That kind of meeting is utterly consistent with Nellie’s claim to have no knowledge of ongoing investigations, Russian or otherwise.

Moreover, the aftermath of the meeting (PDF 24) certainly reflects that informal nature.

Meadows claims that this exchange (Nizich and Wheatley continued to exchange information from Nellie afterwards, but this is the only written discussion of a meeting) proves Nellie Ohr lied in this exchange with Democratic staffers Arya Hariharan and Susanne Sachsman Grooms last October.

Q You’ve never worked for the Department of Justice, correct?

A Correct.

Q You don’t currently work for them?

A Correct.

Q So you would not have any knowledge of what is going on in an ongoing investigation?

A Correct.

Ms. Sachsman Grooms. Just to make that one crystal clear, did you, at the time, that you were working for Fusion GPS have any knowledge of the Department of Justice’s investigations on Russia?

Ms. Ohr. No.

As to Meadows’ second allegation, he says that by sharing research on Zakhariy Kalashov, a Russian mobster, with Wheatley and Nizich, Nellie proved knowledge of an ongoing investigation and (he insinuates though doesn’t say directly) shared her Fusion research with people outside of Fusion and her spouse. (Best as I can tell, Judicial Watch hasn’t released this yet, but they have a habit of sitting on documents so it’s unclear if DOJ has released it to them.) If that’s true, Meadows must know Kalashov has some tie to Trump, which is not alleged in any of Nellie’s work for Fusion.

If it were true, I’m pretty sure it would have become a campaign issue.

Meadows has, at several times in his efforts to delegitimize the information sharing by a small network of people who compare notes on Russian organized crime, gotten shockingly close to suggesting that daring to investigate Russian criminals — whether they have any tie to Donald Trump or not — should itself be criminalized. This is one such instance.

But that’s not the most remarkable piece of evidence included these latest releases Judicial Watch that demolishes the attacks on the Ohrs.

That majority of the documents involving Nellie Ohr turned over to Judicial Watch involve not — as you might expect if you read the frothy right — evidence of a Deep State plot. Rather, they are tedious discussions of Ohr’s travel plans, which he either forwarded to Nellie (perhaps because she scandalously likes to know what country her spouse is in or even likes to pick him up from the airport) or discussed the inclusion of Nellie on trips where spouses were invited. Bruce Ohr spends a lot of time figuring out what kind of per diem he’s permitted and seems to travel on a range of airlines (meaning he’s not maximizing frequent flier miles from his work travel, as most business travelers, myself included, like to do). But the most remarkable bit of tedium regarding travel — for a trip to Riga — shows that Bruce Ohr went to some effort to ensure he only claimed €105 a night reimbursement for hotel, rather than €120, because the additional €15 was a charge associated with Nellie’s inclusion (on the same trip, he also didn’t submit for reimbursement for parking at the airport).

This is a couple that has been accused, by the President of the United States — a guy who never met a grift he didn’t love — of sharing information on Russian criminals not because they want to keep the country safe, but to make their bank account “fatter & fatter.”

It turns out, instead, that they’re the kind of people who make sure taxpayers don’t pay an extra €30 for an overseas business trip.

Of course the frothy right hasn’t admitted how obscene it was for Donald Trump to accuse the Ohrs of self-dealing.

Who knows? Maybe Judicial Watch will one day discover the smoking gun that Meadows has been claiming to have found against the Ohrs. Maybe the details surrounding the 2016 communications or Steele’s efforts to undermine the investigation into his work will actually make the Ohrs into the villains they’ve been cast as for the last year.

And certainly, all that’s a different question than Simpson’s candor or the overall wisdom of Steele’s project.

But as far as the Ohrs go, what the evidence that Judicial Watch worked hard to liberate proves is that the President and Congressman Meadows owe this couple an apology — and the frothy right should stop prostrating themselves by parroting what Meadows tells them is there and begin describing all the ways these documents prove their past reporting to be a hoax.

The Transcript the Frothy Right Claims Exculpates George Papadopoulos Instead Probably Inculpates Him

Last Monday, Republican huckster lawyer Joe Di Genova promised — among other things — that the documents the frothy right has been promising will blow up the Russian investigation would be released Wednesday — that is, a week ago. The frothy right — which for some unfathomable reason is following sworn liar and all around dope George Papadpoulos like sheep — believes that a transcript of the interactions between him and Stefan Halper somehow includes evidence that undercuts the case that there was probable cause that Carter Page was an agent of a foreign power.

An exchange from Sunday, however, confirms that the transcript in question shows that Papadopoulos was actively lying in September 2016 about his ties to Russia. In an exchange with Papadopoulos, Maria Bartiromo confirmed that the transcript in question is the one on which the former Trump flunkie told Stefan Halper that working with Russia to optimize the release of emails stolen from Hillary would be treason.

Bartiromo said that she had spoken with Papadopoulos on Saturday night, during which he told her that the recorded conversation in question involves him and FBI informant Stefan Halper in September 2016. Papadopoulos allegedly pushed back against Halper’s suggestion that he or the Trump campaign would have wanted Russia to release the Democratic National Committee emails it hacked in 2016.

[snip]

Bartiromo then said that “George Papadopoulos told me last night” that the transcript Gowdy was referring to is from a conversation Papadopoulos had with Halper in London at the Sofitel Hotel in London where she recounted that, according to Papadopoulos, Halper questioned Papadopoulos, saying, “Russia has all of these e-mails of Hillary Clinton and you know, and when they get out that would be really good for you, right? That would be really good for you and the Trump campaign, if all those e-mails got out, right?”

But Bartiromo says Papadopoulos responded to Halper by saying “that’s crazy,” “that would be treason,” “people get hanged for stuff,” and “I would never do something like that.”

That means it’s the same transcript that Mark Meadows — questioning Papadopoulos about what he learned not from his lawyers (who said there was no misconduct with Papadopoulos) but from the John Solomon echo chamber — asks about here.

Mr. Meadows. You say a transcript exists. A transcript exists of that conversation?

Mr. Papadopoulos. That’s I guess what John Solomon reported a couple days ago.

Mr. Meadows. So are you aware of a transcript existing? I mean —

Mr. Papadopoulos. I wasn’t aware of a transcript existing personally.

Mr. Meadows. So you have no personal knowledge of it?

Mr. Papadopoulos. I had no personal knowledge, no.

Mr. Meadows. But you think that he could have been recording you is what you’re suggesting?

Mr. Papadopoulos. Yes.

Mr. Meadows. All right. Go ahead.

Mr. Papadopoulos. And after he was throwing these allegations at me, I —

Mr. Meadows. And by allegations, allegations that the Trump campaign was benefiting from Hillary Clinton emails?

Mr. Papadopoulos. Something along those lines, sir. And I think I pushed back and I told him, I don’t know what the hell you’re talking about. What you’re talking about is something along the lines of treason. I’m not involved. I don’t know anyone in the campaign who’s involved. And, you know, I really have nothing to do with Russia. That’s — something along those lines is how I think I responded to this person.

By Papadopoulos’ own memory, he said three things in a mid-September meeting with Stefan Halper:

  1. He didn’t know anything about the Trump campaign benefitting from Hillary Clinton emails
  2. He believed if he did know about such a thing, it would amount to treason
  3. “I really have nothing to do with Russia”

Papadopoulos pled guilty, under oath, with the advice of counsel who knew the contents of this interview, that in fact he did know about the Trump campaign benefitting from Hillary Clinton emails, because he had been told about it in April 2016. So that’s one lie that this supposed exculpatory transcript records him telling.

I’m more interested in the second lie: that he “really has nothing to do with Russia.”

He made that statement sometime around September 16, 2016, in London. A month earlier, Papadopoulos had very different plans for a mid-September trip to London. He planned a meeting in London with the “Office of Putin,” that would hide any formal tie with the campaign.

The frothy right makes much of the fact that that meeting, as far as we know, did not take place. Though there is a written record of Sam Clovis — who probably was not entirely forthcoming in a grand jury appearance — encouraging Papadopoulos and Walid Phares to pursue such a meeting if feasible. More importantly, a year later, at a time when he was purportedly cooperating, Papadopoulos refused to cooperate in transcribing these notes, meaning he was still covering up the details about the fact that as late as mid-August the Trump campaign had plans to have a secret meeting at precisely the same time and in the same place that this Halper transcript was recorded.

Papadopoulos declined to assist in deciphering his notes, telling investigators that he could not read his own handwriting from the journal. Papadopoulos 9/19/17 302, at 21. The notes, however, appear to read as listed in the column to the left of the image above.

Worse still, Papadopoulos continued to show great enthusiasm for Russia even after the meeting where he claimed he “really has nothing to do with Russia.” He proudly alerted Joseph Mifsud of his September 30 column attacking sanctions against Russia.

On or about October 1, 2016, PAPADOPOULOS sent Mifsud a private Facebook message with a link to an article from Interfax.com, a Russian news website. This evidence contradicts PAPADOPOULOS’s statement to the Agents when interviewed on or about January 27, 2017, that he had not been “messaging” with [Mifsud] during the campaign while “with Trump.”

This column led the Trump campaign to sever ties with Papadopoulos.

Papadopoulos was dismissed from the Trump Campaign in early October 2016, after an interview he gave to the Russian news agency Inter/ax generated adverse publicity.492

492 George Papadopoulos: Sanctions Have Done Little More Than to Turn Russia Towards China, Interfax (Sept. 30, 2016).

And in spite of claiming he had “nothing to do with Russia” sometime in mid-September, immediately after the election Papadopoulos pursued deals with Russia, via Sergei Millian.

On November 9, 2016, shortly after the election, Papadopoulos arranged to meet Millian in Chicago to discuss business opportunities, including potential work with Russian “billionaires who are not under sanctions.”511 The meeting took place on November 14, 2016, at the Trump Hotel and Tower in Chicago.512 According to Papadopoulos, the two men discussed partnering on business deals, but Papadopoulos perceived that Millian’s attitude toward him changed when Papadopoulos stated that he was only pursuing private-sector opportunities and was not interested in a job in the Administration.5 13 The two remained in contact, however, and had extended online discussions about possible business opportunities in Russia. 514 The two also arranged to meet at a Washington, D.C. bar when both attended Trump’s inauguration in late January 2017.515

In short, the transcript (if it reflects Papadopoulos claiming he had nothing to do with Russia) is not exculpatory. On the contrary, it’s proof that Papadopoulos lied about at least two of three things Halper grilled him about.

The frothy right doesn’t seem to care that this transcript proves Papadopoulos lied, even before he knew he was under legal scrutiny for ties to Russia he continued to pursue even after being questioned about them.

The frothy right is using it differently. Trey Gowdy claims the transcript proves that the FBI was questioning “Trump campaign officials” (Papadopoulos was never paid by the campaign and would be “fired” two weeks later for his open enthusiasm for sanctions relief) about the campaign.

Gowdy told Bartiromo that this transcript “certainly has the potential to be” a game changer and said that he was “lost” and “clueless” as to why it hadn’t been made public yet, stating that he didn’t think it contained any information that would have an impact on relationships with our allies.

Gowdy further said that the transcripts would show “what questions [the FBI] coached the informants or the cooperating witnesses to ask of the Trump campaign officials” and implied that the questions would show that the FBI had been targeting the Trump campaign rather than simply attempting to combat Russian election interference.

Gowdy claimed that if the transcripts showed that the FBI was “veering over into the campaign or your [the FBI’s] questions are not solely about Russia, then you [the FBI] have been misleading us for two years.”

Here’s how that belief looked when Mark Meadows first mainstreamed it last fall.

Mr. Meadows. So essentially at this point, he was suggesting that there was collusion and you pushed back very firmly is what it sounds like.

Mr. Papadopoulos. That’s what I remember, yes.

Mr. Meadows. Okay. And then what did he do from there?

Mr. Papadopoulos. And then I remember he was — he was quite disappointed. I think he was expecting something else. There was a —

Mr. Meadows. So he thought you would confirm that you were actually benefiting from Hillary Clinton’s email dump?

Mr. Papadopoulos. Perhaps that’s why he was disappointed in what I had to tell him, which was the truth.

Mr. Meadows. So you have no knowledge — you’ve already testified that you have no personal interaction, but you have no knowledge of anybody on the campaign that was working with the Russians in any capacity to get these emails and use them to the advantage. Is that correct?

Mr. Papadopoulos. That’s absolutely correct.

Mark Meadows is pretty dumb. But this line of questioning is pretty shrewd (and may show some awareness of details that were not, at this point, public). His purportedly slam dunk question, proving misconduct, is whether Papadopoulos — who has, at times, been referred to as a “coffee boy” and was not a paid member of the campaign — had personal interaction or “knowledge of anybody on the campaign [] working with the Russians in any capacity to get these emails and use them to the advantage.”

Papadopoulos claimed he did not have that knowledge.

But we know that by the time this meeting with Halper happened, Donald Trump had ordered his top campaign aides to get Roger Stone to reach out to WikiLeaks to “get these emails and use them to the advantage.” Not Russia directly, not anybody still with the campaign, but the campaign did in fact try to “get these emails and use them to the advantage,” which is how Mark Meadows defines “collusion.” In short, this slam dunk exchange defines “collusion” to be precisely what Trump asked his aides to ask his rat-fucker to accomplish.

The Mike Flynn cooperation addendum makes it clear that, “only a select few people were privy” to the discussions about optimizing the WikiLeaks releases. The candidate’s campaign manager was privy to those discussions. The deputy campaign manager was privy to those discussions. The candidate’s top national security advisor was privy to them. The candidate’s rat-fucker was entrusted with those efforts. The candidate himself pushed this effort and got communication back about it.

But the coffee boy was not privy to those discussions.

Finally, let’s turn to the really bizarre part of what is supposed to be a smoking gun.

Trey Gowdy claims to believe that a transcript showing that Papadopoulos was lying to hide his ongoing ties with Russia in September 2016 — the contents of which Papadopoulos’ lawyers appear to have known about, which did not persuade them any misconduct had occurred with their client — should have been disclosed to the FISA Court for an application targeting Carter Page.

Gowdy also claimed that the potentially exonerating info was misleadingly concealed from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court by the FBI, and that this is not the only mysterious transcript yet to be released.

Now, I could be wrong about this. After all, Trey Gowdy is one of the few people who has reviewed the unredacted Page warrant, though in the past has said there was clearly enough evidence to justify the warrant, something the Mueller Report substantiates (in part by making clear that Page told the FBI he’d happily provide non-public information to known Russian spies). But it appears that Papadopoulos appears in Page’s FISA application because events he swore under oath happened suggest that Russia was trying to reach out to the Trump campaign (for which there is abundant evidence), in part by offering energy deals (which is one thing Papadopoulos was still chasing even after November 2016), and there was reason to believe both Papadopoulos and Page had gotten advanced notice of the July 22 DNC email drop.

  • FBI targeted Page because they believed Russia was recruiting him as part of their effort to influence the outcome of the election (4)
  • Trump named both Page and Papadopoulos as advisors in March 2016 (6)
  • What the FBI knew so far of Papadopoulos’ activities [and other things] led the FBI to believe that Russia was not just trying to influence the outcome, but trying to coordinate with Trump’s campaign as well (9)
  • Russia has recruited Page in the past (12-14)
  • [Redacted section that probably explains that Page had told the FBI that he thought providing information to people he knew were Russian intelligence officers was beneficial for both countries and, after he showed up in the Buryakov complaint, he told Russia he had not cooperated with the FBI] (14-15)
  • In addition to allegedly meeting with Sechin and discussing eliminating sanctions, he met with someone assumed to be Igor Nikolayevich Divyekin, also “raised a dossier of ‘kompromat’ that the Kremlin had” on Clinton and the possibility of it being released to Trump’s campaign (18)
  • After those July meetings, Trump appeared to change his platform and publicly announced he might recognize Crimea (21)
  • Once these details became public, the Trump campaign not only denied Page had any ongoing connection to the campaign, but denied he ever had, which was false (24)

Some of those allegations about Page — specifically about whether he was alerted to kompromat harming Hillary when he was in Moscow in July 2016 — may not be true (though Mueller concluded that it remained unresolved). But they were true about Papadopoulos.

Establishing proof that Papadopoulos was lying to people about his ties to Russia in the weeks before his role was included in a FISA application doesn’t really make his inclusion exculpatory. On the contrary, it makes it more justifiable.

The frothy right is so spun up by con man George Papadopoulos that they have run to the TV cameras and claimed that a transcript that shows Papadopoulos was lying to hide his ongoing efforts to establish ties with Russia was in some way exculpatory. I mean, sure, Bill Barr might believe this tale. But no one else should.

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

The Parts of the Mueller Report withheld from Roger Stone Show the Centrality of His WikiLeaks Activities to Trump’s Obstruction

Along with denying most of Roger Stone’s frivolous challenges to his prosecution, Amy Berman Jackson also partly granted his motion to get some of the redacted Mueller Report. As she laid out, she permitted the government to withhold grand jury information, sources and methods, stuff that would harm the reputation of others, and prosecutorial deliberations.

But the Court was of the view that the Report of the Special Counsel should receive separate consideration since a great deal of deliberative material within the Report had already been released to the public.

[snip]

Having considered the defendant’s motion, the government’s response and supplemental submissions, and the Report itself, the Court has determined that the defense should have the limited access he requested to some, but not all, of the redacted material.32 Insofar as defendant’s motion to compel seeks any material that was redacted from the public report on the basis that its release would infringe upon the personal privacy of third parties or cause them reputational harm; pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e); or on the basis of national security or law enforcement concerns, including information that if revealed, could potentially compromise sensitive information gathering sources, methods, or techniques or harm ongoing intelligence or law enforcement activities, the Court will deny the motion.33 With respect to material that was withheld solely on the basis that its release could affect the ongoing prosecution of this case, the Court has concluded that the material to be specified in the order issued with this opinion should be provided to counsel for the defendant subject to the terms and conditions of the Protective Order in this case.

As she described, the government “submit[ed] unredacted portions of the Report that relate to defendant ‘and/or “the dissemination of hacked materials.”‘” Then she and the government conducted a sealed discussion about what could be released to Stone. In addition to her opinion, she submitted an order describing which specific pages must now be released to Stone.

We can compare what the government identified as fitting her order — this includes anything that fits the order, whether redacted or not — with what she has ordered released to Stone (note, the government either did not include Appendix D, showing referrals, or ABJ didn’t mention it, because in addition to an unredacted reference to Stone, there are referrals that the FOIA copies show to be related to Stone; nor did it include questions to Trump).

ABJ has not ordered the government to turn over anything pertaining to how GRU got stolen documents to WikiLeaks. This is precisely the kind of thing Stone is trying to get with his demands for Crowdstrike reports; after ABJ pointed out if they really wanted the reports, they would have tried subpoenaing Crowdstrike and they are now launching an attempt to do that. That ABJ has not ordered the government to turn this material over does not bode well for Stone’s plans to make this trial about the hack-and-leak rather than his lies. I would not be surprised if Stone made a second effort to get this information.

She has permitted the government to withhold all the prosecutorial decisions covered by her order except the one pertaining to Stone’s own lies. In addition, she let the government withhold one line about how they hadn’t determined whether or not Stone and Corsi had managed to optimize the release of the Podesta emails in October (though she did give Stone the more detailed discussion of that).

But ABJ has not included any of the references in the main part of Volume II in her order (presumably to protect Trump’s reputation!). That Volume includes three references to Trump and the campaign’s enthusiasm for or attempts to optimize the WikiLeaks releases through Stone, the reference to Richard Burr leaking news of the targets of the investigation (including Stone) to the White House before Jim Comey got fired, and three instances describing Trump floating pardons to Stone or otherwise encouraging him to remain silent.

It also includes the page on which this passage appears:

After Flynn was forced to resign, the press raised questions about why the President waited more than two weeks after the DOJ notification to remove Flynn and whether the President had known about Flynn’s contacts with Kislyak before the DOJ notification.244 The press also continued to raise questions about connections between Russia and the President’s campaign.245 On February 15, 2017, the President told reporters, “General Flynn is a wonderful man. I think he’s been treated very, very unfairly by the media.”246 On February 16, 2017, the President held a press conference and said that he removed Flynn because Flynn “didn’t tell the Vice President of the United States the facts, and then he didn’t remember. And that just wasn’t acceptable to me.” 247 The President said he did not direct Flynn to discuss sanctions with Kislyak, but “it certainly would have been okay with me if he did. I would have directed him to do it if I thought he wasn’t doing it. I didn’t direct him, but I would have directed him because that’s his job.”248 In listing the reasons for terminating Flynn, the President did not say that Flynn had lied to him.249 The President also denied having any connection to Russia, stating, “I have nothing to do with Russia. I told you, I have no deals there. I have no anything.”250 The President also said he “had nothing to do with” WikiLeaks’s publication of information hacked from the Clinton campaign.251 [my emphasis]

Clearly, it was included for Trump’s public denials — at the moment he fired Flynn in an attempt to stop the Russian investigation — of having anything to do with WikiLeaks’ publication of materials stolen from Hillary’s campaign. It is, on its face, a reference to the publication of the stolen emails, and as such qualifies under ABJ’s order. At that level, it is unremarkable.

But the government is treating it not as Trump making empty denials, but instead to make a claim specifically disavowing any involvement in WikiLeaks’ publication of stolen emails. Mueller’s team put the claim right next to a claim we know to be false, a claim designed to hide his Trump Tower deals. And he put all that amid a discussion of why he first did not, and then did, fire Mike Flynn.

Now consider something else: While it doesn’t appear in the Mueller Report at all, one thing Flynn told prosecutors was that after WikiLeaks started dumping John Podesta’s emails, he took part in conversations during which the campaign discussed reaching out to WikiLeaks.

The defendant also provided useful information concerning discussions within the campaign about WikiLeaks’ release of emails. WikiLeaks is an important subject of the SCO’s investigation because a Russian intelligence service used WikiLeaks to release emails the intelligence service stole during the 2016 presidential campaign. On July 22, 2016, WikiLeaks released emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee. Beginning on October 7, 2016, WikiLeaks released emails stolen from John Podesta, the chairman of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. The defendant relayed to the government statements made in 2016 by senior campaign officials about WikiLeaks to which only a select few people were privy. For example, the defendant recalled conversations with senior campaign officials after the release of the Podesta emails, during which the prospect of reaching out to WikiLeaks was discussed.

There’s nothing in the public record that suggests Flynn knew of Trump’s efforts, during the campaign, to build a Trump Tower. But he did know about Trump’s efforts to optimize WikiLeaks’ releases of stolen emails. And Trump would have known that when he considered the impact of Flynn’s ties to Russia being investigated by the FBI.

And the treatment of that references as a real denial — as Trump evincing guilt even as he fired Flynn — sure makes the Flynn firing more interesting.

The Ongoing Question of Trump’s (and His Flunkies’) Susceptibility to Compromise by Russia

One of Robert Mueller’s most remarkable lines in his testimony to the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees last week was a follow-up in the latter hearing to a Raja Krishnamoorthi question about how Mike Flynn’s lies exposed him to compromise.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: For example, you successfully charged former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn of lying to federal agents about this conversations with Russian officials, correct?

MUELLER: Correct.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Since it was outside the purview of your investigation your report did not address how Flynn’s false statements could pose a national security risk because the Russians knew the falsity of those statements, right?

MUELLER: I cannot get in to that, mainly because there are many elements of the FBI that are looking at different aspects of that issue.

Two and a half years after Flynn was fired, the FBI is still trying to figure out what kind of damage his venality and lies put America at risk

It should surprise no one following closely that the FBI is still looking into different aspects of how Flynn’s lies — both about Russia and about Turkey — exposed him to compromise. After all, a footnote in the Mueller Report that should describe what happened to the counterintelligence investigations into Flynn remains redacted to protect ongoing investigations.

There’s still a redaction in Flynn’s cooperation addendum that likely pertains to something that went through Mueller but cannot yet be unsealed, which I suspect is a counterintelligence investigation. In March, prosecutors in Bijan Kian’s case said at least one other district had an ongoing investigation into matters relating to Flynn (after correcting himself for saying districts, plural, had such investigations). And just recently, Kian’s lawyers disclosed that prosecutors had told them there was classified evidence showing Ekim Alptekin’s efforts to cultivate Flynn and through him, Trump, outside of his consulting company.

Prosecutors wrote to lawyers for Flynn’s ex-lobbying partner Bijan Kian that the US government was “in possession of multiple, independent pieces of information relating to the Turkish government’s efforts to influence United States policy on Turkey and Fethullah Gulen, including information relating to communications, interactions, and a relationship between Ekim Alptekin and Michael Flynn, and Ekim Alptekin’s engagement of Michael Flynn because of Michael Flynn’s relationship with an ongoing presidential campaign, without any reference to the defendant of FIG.”

Then there are the new materials released by the Oversight Committee showing how willing Flynn was to entertain a corrupt proposal to sell nukes to Saudi Arabia.

(Note, it’s a bit ironic that one of the other National Security Advisors to plead guilty to a crime spoke to Flynn of the Christmas vacation during which he had tried to secretly undermine Barack Obama’s punishment of Russia for its interference in the election spoke to Flynn of his “conviction” in the new year.)

By August 2017, Flynn was being investigated for four things, and it’s not clear we yet know all of them.

Now that Bijan Kian has been convicted, Flynn may be scot free (though the timing on his sentence will be a bit awkward, given that Judge Trenga may still overturn one or both of his convictions in early September, after Flynn’s next status hearing). But, in one of the big disclosures Mueller made last week, he revealed that the FBI is still investigating all the ways the General’s venality put the United States at risk in his short time as Trump’s top national security advisor.

And that’s just one aspect of the most important confirmations of the Mueller hearings.

When the Mueller Report came out (and even more so, when the four page Barr summary came out), denialists proclaimed that the Report (that is, the Barr summary) proved that concerns about Trump being compromised by Russia had been proven false — the substantive concern that led to the Trump investigation in the first place. The damning details of Trump’s interactions with Russia left unmentioned in the Mueller Report, as well as the descriptions of the separate FBI track of the counterintelligence investigation, already suggested that wasn’t true.

But on several different occasions, Mueller made it clear that nothing in his report rules out Trump or Flynn or several other people having been blackmailed by Russia.

To be clear, Mueller makes it clear that Trump is not a “Russian agent,” meaning the report does not present evidence that Trump is willfully doing Russia’s bidding.

WENSTRUP: So a member of this Committee said President Trump was a Russian agent after your report was publicly released. That statement is not supported by your report, correct?

MUELLER: That is accurate. Not supported.

But three other times, Mueller does not dispute and at times agrees that Trump and his flunkies’ actions pose a blackmail threat. He didn’t disagree on this point with Lou Correa:

CORREA: I may begin because of time limits we have gone in depth on only five possible episodes of obstruction. There’s so much more. And I want to focus on another section of obstruction which is the president’s conduct concerning Michael Flynn, the president’s national security advisor.

In early 27, the White House Counsel and the president were informed that Mr. Flynn had lied to government authorities about his communications with the Russian ambassador during the Trump campaign in transition. Is this correct?

MUELLER: Correct.

CORREA: If a hostile nation knows that a U.S. official has lied publicly that can be used to blackmail that government official, correct?

MUELLER: I’m not going to speak to that. I don’t disagree with it necessarily, but I’m not going to speak to — anymore to that issue.

With Adam Schiff, Mueller seemingly agreed that Flynn’s lies could expose him, though he refused to answer Schiff’s question about the President specifically:

SCHIFF: You have, I think we can all see that. And befitting the times, I’m sure your reward will be unending criticism, but we are grateful. The need to act in ethical manner is not just a moral one, but when people act unethically it also exposes them to compromise particularly in dealing with foreign powers, is that true?

MUELLER: True.

SCHIFF: Because when someone acts unethically in connection with a foreign partner, that foreign partner can expose their wrongdoing and extort them.

MUELLER: True.

SCHIFF: And that conduct — that unethical conduct can be of a financial nature if you have a financial motive or elicit business dealing, am I right?

MUELLER: Yes.

SCHIFF: It could also just involve deception. If you are lying about something that can be exposed, then you can be blackmailed.

MUELLER: Also true.

SCHIFF: In the case of Michael Flynn, he was secretly doing business with Turkey, correct?

MUELLER: Yes.

SCHIFF: That could open him up to compromise that financial relationship.

MUELLER: I presume.

SCHIFF: He also lied about his discussions with the Russian ambassador and since the Russians were on the other side of the conversation, they could have exposed that, could they not?

MUELLER: Yes.

SCHIFF: If a presidential candidate was doing business in Russia and saying he wasn’t, Russians could expose that too, could they not?

MUELLER: I leave that to you.

But Krishnamoorthi’s full exchange with Mueller not only gets him to acknowledge that Trump lied about his Trump Tower deal (and continued to lie during the investigation), but establishes that at least some of Trump’s possible vulnerabilities because of his financial ties were not included in Mueller’s investigation.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Director, since it was outside the purview of your investigation, your report did not reach counterintelligence conclusions regarding the subject matter of your report.

MUELLER: That’s true.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: For instance, since it was outside your purview, your report did not reach counterintelligence conclusions regarding any Trump administration officials who might potentially be vulnerable to compromise of blackmail by Russia, correct?

MUELLER: Those decisions probably were made in the FBI.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: But not in your report, correct?

MUELLER: Not in our report. We avert to the counterintelligence goals of our investigation which were secondary to any criminal wrongdoing that we could find.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Let’s talk about one administration official in particularly namely President Donald Trump. Other than Trump Tower Moscow, your report does not address or detail the president’s financial ties or dealings with Russia, correct?

MUELLER: Correct.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Similarly since it was outside your purview your report does not address the question of whether Russian oligarchs engaged in money laundering through any of the president’s businesses, correct?

MUELLER: Correct.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: And of course your office did not obtain the president’s tax returns which could otherwise show foreign financial sources, correct?

MUELLER: I’m not going to speak to that.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: In July 2017 the president said his personal finances were off limits, or outside the purview of your investigation and he drew a “red line,” around his personal finances. Were the president’s personal finances outside the purview of your investigation?

MUELLER: I’m not going to get in to that.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Were you instructed by anyone not to investigate the president’s personal finances?

MUELLER: No.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Mr. Mueller, I’d like to turn your attention to counterintelligence risks associated with lying. Individuals can be subject to blackmail if they lie about their interactions with foreign countries, correct?

MUELLER: True.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: For example, you successfully charged former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn of lying to federal agents about this conversations with Russian officials, correct?

MUELLER: Correct.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Since it was outside the purview of your investigation your report did not address how Flynn’s false statements could pose a national security risk because the Russians knew the falsity of those statements, right?

MUELLER: I cannot get in to that, mainly because there are many elements of the FBI that are looking at different aspects of that issue.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Currently?

MUELLER: Currently.

KRISHNAMOORTHI: Thank you. As you noted in Volume two of your report, Donald Trump repeated five times in one press conference, Mr. Mueller in 2016 “I have nothing to do with Russia.”

Of course Michael Cohen said Donald Trump was not being truthful, because at this time Trump was attempting to build Trump Tower Moscow. Your report does not address whether Donald Trump was compromised in any way because of any potential false statements that he made about Trump Tower Moscow, correct?

MUELLER: I think that’s right — I think that’s right.

The FBI continues to assess the damage done by Flynn’s vulnerability to compromise. But Mueller didn’t say whether the FBI continues to assess whether the President’s own lies and entanglements have made him vulnerable to compromise.

That’s not to say they have — as Mueller said, the report does not show Trump to be an agent of Russia.

But the Mueller Report does not say, one way or another, whether Russia has been able to manipulate Trump by getting him to lie to America about his entanglements with Russia.

Updated Questions for Robert Mueller

As I pointed out in this post, lots of commentators mistakenly believe Robert Mueller will never provide damning answers to strictly factual questions. In 2007, he answered a Sheila Jackson Lee question about the most incendiary issue of the day — Stellar Wind — in a way that shows the Attorney General had lied under oath. Yet most proposed questions for Mueller’s testimony on Wednesday seem to assume he won’t similarly answer appropriately framed questions now, and are for the most part milquetoast or horserace issues.

Here are my (updated since I first posted them in June) questions for Mueller. Some are formulated to get him to answer questions about scope or results he otherwise might not (note that there’s a gag now in both the IRA and Roger Stone cases, which will sharply curtail what he can say about those cases). Some are process questions that would help the public understand what Mueller did and did not do. A few are about potential legislation that might arise out of this investigation.

  1. Can you describe how you chose which “links between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump” to focus your investigation on?
  2. The warrants released in Michael Cohen’s case and other public materials show that your grand jury conducted investigations of people before Rod Rosenstein formally expanded the scope to include them in October 2017. Can you explain the relationship between investigative steps and the Rosenstein scope memos?
  3. Lisa Page has explained that in its initial phase, the investigation into Trump’s aides was separate from the larger investigation(s) into Russian interference. But ultimately, your office indicted Russians in both the trolling and the hack-and-leak conspiracies. How and when did those parts of DOJ’s investigation get integrated under SCO?
  4. An FD-302 memorializing a July 19, 2017 interview with Peter Strzok was released as part of Mike Flynn’s sentencing. Can you describe what the purpose of this interview was? How did the disclosure of Strzok’s texts with Lisa Page affect the recording (or perceived credibility) of this interview? Strzok was interviewed before that disclosure, but the 302 was not finalized until he had been removed from your team. Did his removal cause any delay in finalizing this 302?
  5. At the beginning of the investigation, your team investigated the criminal conduct of subjects unrelated to ties with Russia (for example, Paul Manafort’s ties with Ukraine, Mike Flynn’s ties to Turkey, Michael Cohen’s false statements to banks). Did the approach of the investigation change later in the process — in 2018 — to refer such issues to other offices (for example, the Cohen financial crimes)? If the approach changed, did your team or Rod Rosenstein drive this change?
  6. Prosecutors pursuing documents from an unnamed foreign owned company described that the investigation started at the DC US Attorney’s Office, was integrated into your investigation, and continued after your investigation concluded. Is this foreign owned company owned by a country other than Russia?
  7. Did your integration of other prosecutors (generally from DC USAO) into your prosecution teams stem from a resourcing issue or a desire to ensure continuity? What was the role of the three prosecutors who were just detailees to your team?
  8. Your report describes how FBI personnel shared foreign intelligence and counterintelligence information with the rest of FBI. For more than a year, FBI agents were embedded with your team for this purpose. Were these agents focused just on Russian activities, or did their focus include the actions of other countries and Americans? If their focus included Americans, did it include Trump associates? Did it include Trump himself?
  9. Can you describe the relationship between your GRU indictment and the WDPA one focused on the WADA hacks, and the relationship between your IRA indictment and the complaint against a Yevgeniy Prigozhin employee in EDVA? Can you describe the relationship between the Maria Butina prosecution and your investigation?
  10. Do you regret charging Concord Management in the IRA indictment? Do you have any insight on how indictments against Russian and other state targets should best be used?
  11. Particularly given difficulties in the Bijan Kian case, do you believe the laws on 18 USC 951 unregistered foreign agents and FARA need to be changed to provide the government with tools to protect the country from influence operations?
  12. In discussions of Paul Manafort’s plea deal that took place as part of his breach hearing, Andrew Weissmann revealed that prosecutors didn’t vet his testimony as they would other cooperators. What led to this lack of vetting? Did the timing of the election and the potential impact of Manafort’s DC trial might have play into the decision?
  13. What communication did you receive from whom in response to the BuzzFeed story on Trump’s role in Michael Cohen’s false testimony? How big an impact did that communication have on the decision to issue a correction?
  14. Did Matt Whitaker prevent you from describing Donald Trump specifically in Roger Stone’s indictment? Did you receive any feedback — from Whitaker or anyone else — for including a description of Trump in the Michael Cohen plea?
  15. Did Whitaker, Bill Barr, or Rosenstein weigh in on whether Trump should or could be subpoenaed? If so what did they say? Did any of the three impose time constraints that would have prevented you from subpoenaing the President?
  16. Multiple public reports describe Trump allies (possibly including Mike Flynn or his son) expressing certainty that Barr would shut down your investigation once he was confirmed. Did this happen? Can you describe what happened at the March 5, 2019 meeting where Barr was first briefed? Was that meeting really the first time you informed Rosenstein you would not make a determination on obstruction?
  17. You “ended” your investigation on March 22, at a time when at least two subpoena fights (Andrew Miller and a foreign owned corporation) were ongoing. You finally resigned just minutes before Andrew Miller agreed to cooperate on May 29. Were these subpoenas for information critical to your investigation?
  18. If Don Jr told you he would invoke the Fifth if subpoenaed by the grand jury, would that fact be protected by grand jury secrecy? Are you aware of evidence you received involving the President’s son that would lead him to be less willing to testify to your prosecutors than to congressional committees? Can congressional committees obtain that information?
  19. How many witnesses invoked their Fifth Amendment rights that your office deemed “were not … appropriate candidates for grants of immunity”?
  20. Your report describes five witnesses who testified under proffer agreements: Felix Sater, George Nader, Steve Bannon, Erik Prince, and Jerome Corsi. Aside from the Nader child pornography referred to EDVA by your office, would other US Attorneys offices be able to independently pursue criminal conduct covered by these proffers?
  21. Emin Agalarov canceled a concert tour to avoid subpoena in your investigation. Can you explain efforts to obtain testimony from this key player in the June 9 meeting? What other people did you try to obtain testimony from regarding the June 9 meeting?
  22. Did your investigation consider policy actions taken while Trump was President, such as Trump’s efforts to overturn Russian sanctions or his half-hearted efforts to comply with Congressional mandates to impose new ones?
  23. Can you describe how you treated actions authorized by Article II authority — such as the conduct of foreign policy, including sanctions, and the awarding of pardons — in your considerations of any criminal actions by the President?
  24. The President did not answer any questions about sanctions, even the one regarding discussions during the period of the election. Do you have unanswered questions about the role of sanctions relief and the Russian interference effort?
  25. Your report doesn’t include several of the most alarming interactions between Trump and Russia. It mentions how he told Sergey Lavrov and Sergey Kislyak he had fired Comey because of the Russian investigation, but did not mention that he shared classified Israeli intelligence at the meeting. Your report doesn’t mention the conversations Trump had with Vladimir Putin at the G-20 in Hamburg, including one pertaining to “adoptions,” while he was working on the June 9 meeting. The report doesn’t mention the Helsinki meeting. Did your investigation consider these interactions with Russia? If not, are you aware of another part of the government that did scrutinize these events?
  26. Why did you include Trump’s efforts to mislead the public about the June 9 meeting when it didn’t fit your team’s own terms for obstructive acts?
  27. You generally do not name the Trump lawyers who had discussions, including about pardons, with subjects of the investigation. How many different lawyers are described in your report to have had such discussions?
  28. In your report you say your office “limited its pursuit” of witnesses including attorneys “in light of internal Department of Justice policies,” citing the Justice manual. How many potential witnesses did your office not interview because of DOJ guidelines on interviewing attorneys?
  29. You asked — but the President provided only a partial answer — whether he had considered issuing a pardon for Julian Assange prior to the inauguration. Did you investigate the public efforts — including by Roger Stone — to pardon Assange during Trump’s Administration?
  30. The cooperation addendum in Mike Flynn’s case reveals that he participated in discussions about reaching out to WikiLeaks in the wake of the October 7 Podesta releases. But that does not appear in the unredacted parts of your report. Is the entire scope of the campaign’s interactions with WikiLeaks covered in the Roger Stone indictment?
  31. Hope Hicks has claimed to be unaware of a strategy to coordinate the WikiLeaks releases, yet even the unredacted parts of the report make it clear there was a concerted effort to optimize the releases. Is this a difference in vocabulary? Does it reflect unreliability on the part of Hicks’ testimony? Or did discussions of WikiLeaks remain partially segregated from the communications staff of the campaign?
  32. Without naming any of the people involved, how many witnesses confirmed knowing of conversations between Roger Stone and Donald Trump about WikiLeaks’ upcoming releases?
  33. Did Julian Assange ask for immunity to cooperate with your investigation, as he did with congressional inquiries?
  34. In your report you say your office “limited its pursuit” of witnesses who might claim to be media “in light of internal Department of Justice policies,” citing the Justice manual. How many potential witnesses did your office not interview because of DOJ guidelines on media? Was Julian Assange among them?
  35. The President’s answers regarding the Trump Tower Moscow match the false story for which Michael Cohen pled guilty, meaning the President, in his sworn answers, provided responses you have determined was a false story. After Cohen pled guilty, the President and his lawyer made public claims that are wholly inconsistent with his sworn written answer to you. You offered him an opportunity to clean up his sworn answer, but he did not. Do you consider the President’s current answer on this topic to be a lie?
  36. Did Trump Organization provide all the emails pertaining to the Trump Tower Moscow deal before you subpoenaed the organization in early 2018? Did they provide those emails in response to that subpoena?
  37. In his answers to your questions, President Trump claimed that you received “an email from a Sergei Prikhodko, who identified himself as Deputy Prime Minister of the Russian Federation … inviting me to participate in the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.” But the footnotes to your discussion of that exchange describe no email. Did your team receive any email? Does the public record — showing that Trump never signed the declination letter to that investigation — show that Trump did not decline that invitation?
  38. The Attorney General has excused the President’s actions taken to thwart the investigation because, “as the Special Counsel’s report acknowledges, there is substantial evidence to show that the President was frustrated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency.” What events did your investigation show the President was frustrated or angry about? Was the President frustrated or angry that Mike Flynn’s conversations with Sergey Kislyak had been discovered as part of an effort to understand Russia’s actions? According to your investigation, what were the President’s feelings towards Flynn at the time? Was the President frustrated or angry that, after consulting with ethics professionals,  Jeff Sessions recused from the investigation? Was the President frustrated or angry that Jim Comey would not provide details of the ongoing investigation into his aides, which would be prohibited by Department of Justice guidelines? Was the President frustrated or angry that the investigation into Russian interference showed that Russia actively sought to help him get elected?
  39. Organizationally your team separated the efforts to obstruct the investigation of Mike Flynn, Michael Cohen, Paul Manafort and others (which appears in Volume I) from the obstruction of the investigation of the President (which appears in Volume II). Why?
  40. In his aborted sentencing hearing, Brandon Van Grack told Judge Sullivan that Mike Flynn could have been charged as an Agent of a Foreign Power under 18 USC 951. More recently, prosecutors in Bijan Kian’s case have treated him as part of a conspiracy to violate that statute. Why did you give Mike Flynn such a lenient plea deal?

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

The Steele Dossier and the Mueller Investigation: Michael Cohen

Update: I’m reposting this on July 20 because these warrants have been re-released in less redacted form. As noted below in the update on Section C, that previously redacted section does pertain to Michael Cohen’s hush payments to Stormy Daniels, meaning the only mention of the Steele Dossier in the earliest warrant on Cohen is just to a post-dossier WSJ article used exclusively to explain Cohen’s own description of how he served as Trump’s fixer. 

Because the frothy right thinks it’s an important question but won’t actually consult the public record, I’m doing a series on what that public record says about the relationship between the allegations in the Steele dossier and the known investigative steps against Trump’s associates. In this post, I argued that the way the Steele dossier influenced the Carter Page investigation may be slightly different than generally understood: it appears that the dossier appeared to predict — just like George Papadopoulos had — the release of the DNC emails on July 22. From that point forward, Page continued to do things — such as telling people in Moscow he was representing Donald Trump in December 2016, including on Ukraine policy — that were consistent with the general theory (though not the specific facts) laid out in the Steele dossier. That is, Page kept acting like the the Steele dossier said he would. That said, the government had plenty of reason before the Steele dossier to investigate Page for his stated willingness to share information with Russian spies, and his ongoing behavior continued to give them reason.

I’m more interested in the example of Michael Cohen.

The Steele dossier eventually describes Michael Cohen as the villain of coordination with Russia

The dossier makes allegations against Cohen four times, all after the time when Steele and Fusion GPS were shopping the dossier to the press, increasing the likelihood Russia got wind of the project and were shopping disinformation.

The first three mentions came on three consecutive days (probably based on just two sub-source to Kremlin insider conversations), all apparently sourced to the same second-hand access to a Kremlin insider, and evolving significantly over those three days.  Importantly, the sub-source is also the source for the claim that Page had been offered the brokerage of the publicly announced Rosneft sale, meaning this person purportedly had access to Igor Sechin and a Kremlin insider, and if this source was intentionally feeding disinformation, it would account for the most obviously suspect claims in the dossier.

October 18, 2016 (134): A Kremlin insider tells the sub-source that Michael Cohen was playing a key role in the Trump campaign’s relationship with the Kremlin.

October 19, 2016 (135): The Kremlin insider tells his source that Cohen met with Presidential Administration officials in August 2016 to discuss how to contain Manafort’s Russia/Ukraine scandal and Page’s secret meetings with Russian leaders. Since that August meeting Trump-Russian conversations increasingly took place via pro-government policy institutes.

October 20, 2016 (136): In a communication that “had to be cryptic for security reasons,” a Kremlin insider tells a friend on October 19 that the reported meeting with Cohen took place in Prague using Rossotrudnichestvo as a cover. It involved Duma Head of Foreign Relations Committee Konstantin Kosachev. This is notably different from the PA claim made just the day before.

Then there’s the final report, which Steele has claimed was provided for “free,” dated after David Corn and Kurt Eichenwald’s exposure of the dossier, after the election, after the Obama Administration ratcheted up the investigation on December 9, and after Steele had interested John McCain in the dossier. In addition to offering a report that seems to project blame onto Webzilla for what the Internet Research Agency did, this report alleges what would be a veritable smoking gun, missing from the earlier reports: that Cohen had helped pay for the hackers.

December 13, 2016 (166): The August meeting in Prague was no longer about how to manage the Manafort and Page scandals, but instead to figure out how to make deniable cash payments to hackers (located in Europe, including Romania, where the original Guccifer had come from, not Russia), who were managed by the Presidential Administration, not GRU.

This December report is really the only one that claims Trump had a criminal role in the hack-and-leak, but the claims in the report all engage with already public claims: situating the hackers where the persona Guccifer 2.0 claimed to be from, Romania, suggesting the hackers were independent hackers who had to be paid rather than Russian military officers, and blaming Webzilla rather than Internet Research Agency for disinformation. That is, more than any other, this report looks like it was tailored to the Russian cover story.

The way this story evolved over time should have raised concerns, as should have other obvious problems with the December report. But it’s worth noting that there are two grains of truth in it. Cohen had been the key interlocutor between the Trump campaign and the Presidential Administration during the campaign, but to discuss the building of a Trump Tower in Moscow in January, not how to steal the election in October. Few people (at least in the US) should have known that he had played that interlocutor role; how many knew in Russia is something else entirely. Cohen was also someone that people who had done business with Trump Organization, like Giorgi Rtslchiladze and people associated with Aras Agalarov’s Crocus Group, would know to be Trump’s fixer. That fact would have been far more widely known.

Nevertheless, by the end of it, Cohen was the biggest Trump-associate villain in the Steele dossier. If the Steele dossier had been directing the investigative priorities of the FBI, then Cohen should have been a focus for his role in the hack-and-leak as soon as the FBI received this report. Nothing in the public record suggests that happened. Indeed, at the time the FBI briefed the Gang of Eight on March 9, 2017, Cohen was not among the people described as subjects. Just Roger Stone had been added to the initial four subjects (Page, Manafort, George Papadopoulos, and Mike Flynn) by that point. Congress, including the Devin Nunes-led House Intelligence Committee, would focus closely on Cohen more quickly than the FBI appears to have.

That’s true even though Cohen was doing some of the things he would later be investigated for, including — immediately after the election — establishing financial ties with Viktor Vekselberg even while Felix Sater pitched him on a Ukraine deal.

Suspicious Activity Reports and the investigation into Cohen

The investigation into Cohen appears to have started — given this July 18, 2017 warrant application — as an investigation into suspicious payments, both Cohen’s payments to Stormy Daniels and payments from large, often foreign companies, particularly Columbus Nova, with which Viktor Vekelsberg has close ties, but also including Novartis, Korean Airlines, and Kazkommertsnank. The investigation probably started based off a Suspicious Activity Report submitted by First Republic Bank, where Cohen had multiple accounts, including one for Essential Consulting, where those foreign payments were deposited.

Cohen opened that Essential Consultants account on October 26, 2016, ostensibly to collect fees for domestic real estate consulting work, but in fact to pay off Stormy Daniels. His use of it to accept all those foreign payments would have properly attracted attention and a SAR from the bank under Know Your Customer mandates, particularly with his political exposure through Trump. Sometime in June 2017, First Republic submitted the first of at least three SARs on this account, covering seven months of activity on the account; that SAR and a later one was subsequently made unavailable in the Treasury system as part of a sensitive investigation, which led to a big stink in 2018 and ultimately to charges against an IRS investigator who leaked the other reports. The language of the third one appears to closely match the language in the warrant applications, including a reference to Viktor Vekselberg’s donations to Trump’s inauguration.

The first warrant application against Cohen

On June 21, the FBI served a preservation request to Google for his Gmail and to Microsoft for Cohen’s Trump Organization emails (see this post for the significance of Microsoft’s role). Generally that suggests that already by that point, FBI decided they would likely want that email, but needed to put together the case to get it. The preservation order on Microsoft suggests they may have worried that people at Trump’s company might destroy damning emails. It also suggests the FBI knew that there was something damaging in those emails, which almost certainly came in part from contact information the bank had and call records showing contacts with Felix Sater and Columbus Nova; it might also suggest the NSA may have intercepted some of Cohen’s contacts with Russians in normal collection targeting those Russians.

That July 2017 warrant (confirmed in later warrants to be the first one used against Cohen) lists Acting as a Foreign Agent (18 USC 951) and false statements to a financial institution. It explains:

[T]he FBI is investigating COHEN in connection with, inter alia, statements he made to a known financial institution (hereinafter “Bank 1”) in the course of opening a bank account held in the name of Essential Consultants, LLC and controlled by COHEN. The FBI is also investigating COHEN in connection with funds he received from entities controlled by foreign governments and/or foreign principals, and the activities he engaged in in the United States on their behalf without properly disclosing such relationships to the United States government.

In other words, the predicate for the investigation was his bank account — one in conjunction with which he would eventually plead guilty to several crimes — not the dossier. Had Cohen told the truth about why he was opening that bank account (to pay off the candidate’s former sex partners!), had he not conducted his international graft with it, had he been honest he was going to be accepting large payments from foreign companies, then he might not have been investigated. It’s possible that the public reporting on the dossier made the bank pay more attention, but his actions already reached the level that the bank was required to report it.

In the unredacted parts of the application, there is one citation of the dossier, but only to the title of a WSJ report on Cohen written in the wake of the dossier release, “Intelligence Dossier Puts Longtime Trump Fixer in Spotlight.” It uses the article in a section introducing who he is to cite Cohen explaining that he’s Trump’s “fìx-it guy . . . . Anything that [then-President-elect Trump] needs to be done, any issues that concern him, I handle,” not to describe any allegations in the dossier.

From there, it introduces the bank account, Essential Consulting.

Redacted section C

Update, 7/19: These warrants have now been unsealed, and — as media outlets originally reported — this section is about the hush payment to Stormy Daniels. The section also confirms that much of this investigation came from the KYC work of Cohen’s bank. I’ve marked the paragraphs that consider the possibility this section pertains to Russia with strike-through text.

The next section, C, is six paragraphs long (¶¶13 to 18), and remains entirely redacted. If the substance of the dossier appears in the warrant application, it would appear here. But such a redacted passage does not appear at all in a search warrant application for Paul Manafort from May, and no redacted passage appears as prominently in a Manafort warrant application from ten days later — which describes his relationship with three Russian oligarchs and the June 9 meeting — though there is a six page redaction describing the investigative interest in the June 9 meeting. The difference is significant because the dossier alleged that Manafort was managing relations with Russia until he left the campaign (including during June), so if there were redacted language about the dossier on Cohen, we would expect it to play a similar role in applications on Manafort, but nothing public suggests it does.

Some background on this redacted section. We got the Mueller-related warrants on Cohen because a bunch of media outlets asked Chief Judge Beryl Howell to liberate them on March 26, the week after Mueller officially finished his investigation. At first, Jonathan Kravis, the DC AUSA who has taken the lead in much of the ongoing Mueller word, noticed an appearance to respond. But it was actually Thomas McKay, one of the SDNY AUSA who prosecuted Cohen there, who responded to the request, along with another SDNY attorney.

Although the Warrant Materials were sought and obtained by the Special Counsel’s Office (“SCO”), the Government is represented in this matter by the undersigned attorneys from the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York (“SDNY”), as the SCO’s investigation is now complete.

They argue that they’re willing to release the warrant materials under terms consistent with the terms used in SDNY, where information about the FBI affiants and information we know deals with the hush payments investigation got redacted.

Judge Pauley ruled that “the portions of the Materials relating to Cohen’s campaign finance crimes shall be redacted” to protect an ongoing law enforcement investigation, along with “the paragraphs of the search warrant affidavits describing the agents’ experience or law enforcement techniques and procedures.” Cohen, 2019 WL 472577, at *6. By contrast, Judge Pauley ordered that the portions of the materials that did not relate to the campaign finance investigation be unsealed, subject to limited redactions to protect the privacy interests of certain uncharged third parties. Id. at *6-7. Judge Pauley’s decision in these respects is also consistent with prior decisions of this Court, which have recognized the distinction between law enforcement interests in ongoing, as opposed to closed, investigations, as well as the importance of respecting privacy concerns for uncharged third parties. See, e.g., Matter of the Application of WP Company LLC, 16-mc-351 (BAH), 2016 WL 1604976, at *2 & n.2 (D.D.C. Apr. 1, 2016).

Consistent with the foregoing, the Government does not oppose the Petitioners’ request for partial unsealing, but respectfully requests that the Court authorize redactions consistent with those authorized by Judge Pauley in the SDNY litigation.

Because of this language, some people assume the redacted passage C relates to the hush payments, which were, after all, the reason Cohen opened the account in the first place. That may well be the case: if so, the logic of the warrant application would flow like this:

A: Michael Cohen

B: Essential Consultants, LLC

C: Use of Essential Consultants to pay hush payments

[Later warrants would include a new section, D, that described Cohen’s lies about his net worth to First Republic]

D: Foreign Transactions in the Essential Consultants Account with a Russian Nexus

i. Deposits by Columbus Nova, LLC

ii. Plan to Life Russian Sanctions

E: Other Foreign Transactions in the Essential Consultants Account

That would explain McKay’s role in submitting the redactions, as well as his discussion of redacting the warrant consistent with what was done in SDNY, to protect ongoing investigations. (The government will have to provide a status report in August on whether these files still need to be redacted.)

That said, it was not until April 7, 2018 that anyone first asked for a warrant to access Cohen’s email accounts in conjunction with the campaign finance crimes. And some SARs submitted in conjunction with the hush payments, such as one associated with the $130,000 payment on October 27, 2016 to then Daniels lawyer Keith Davidson and one from JP Morgan Chase reflecting the transfer from the Essentials Consulting account to Davidson’s were not restricted in May 2018 in conjunction with a sensitive investigation (nor was the third one reflecting the foreign payments described above), suggesting they weren’t the most sensitive bits in May 2018. Of note, the Elliot Broidy payments to Essential Consulting would post-date this period of the investigation.

That leaves a possibility (though not that likely of one) that Section C could describe the Russian investigation. The next passage after the redacted one describes the “foreign transactions in the Essential Consultants Account with a Russian nexus” (though, as noted, subsequent warrants describe Cohen’s lies in the following paragraph). It describes the $416,664 in payments from Columbus Nova, and describes the tie between Columbus Nova and Vekselberg. After introducing the payments, the affidavit describes the public report on a back channel peace plan pitched by Felix Sater on behalf of Ukrainian politician Andrii Artemenko.

Another possibility is that it describes Trump’s inauguration graft, which embroils Cohen and Broidy (though the investigation into Broidy is in EDNY, not SDNY).

Perhaps most likely, however, is that that section just describes other reasons why that Essential Consulting account merited a SAR. For example, it might describe how Cohen set up a shell company to register the company, something that doesn’t show up in the unredacted sections, but which is a key part of the hush payment prosecution.

If the section does not mention the Russian investigation generally (and the dossier specifically), then it means there is no substantive mention of it in the warrant at all, meaning it played at most a secondary role in the focus on Cohen.

As the timeline of the investigation into Cohen below shows, that redacted section would grow by one paragraph in the next warrant application, for Cohen’s Trump Organization emails, obtained just two weeks later. It would remain that length for all the other unsealed Mueller warrants.

Felix Sater and the investigation into Cohen

The way in which Sater is mentioned in the warrants against Cohen presents conflicting information about what might be in that redacted section. Significantly, Sater (described as Person 3) is introduced as if for the first time, in the discussion of the Ukrainian deal that appears after the redaction. That means that he doesn’t appear in the redacted material. That’s important because Sater would be one other possible focus of any introduction to why Cohen would become the focus of the Russian investigation (aside from the dossier).

The next warrant would also note numerous calls with Sater, reflecting legal process for call records not identified here (the government almost certainly had a PRTT on Cohen’s phones by then). But those calls, as described, were in early 2017 (tied to the suspected Ukrainian peace plan), not in 2015-2016 when the two men were discussing a Trump Tower Moscow.

Mueller interviewed Sater on September 19, 2017, the first of two FBI interviews (he also appeared before the grand jury on an unknown date).

One of the most interesting changes to the Mueller warrants happens after that: In warrant applications submitted on November 13, the unredacted discussion of the Ukraine peace deal gets dropped. It’s unlikely Mueller’s investigation of it was eliminated entirely, because Mike Flynn, who allegedly ultimately received that deal, is not known to have been cooperating yet (his first known proffer was three days later, on November 16), and Mueller was still interested in interviewing Andrii  Artemenko — the Ukrainian politician who pitched the deal — in June 2018.

In addition, based off the details in the Mueller Report cited to Sater’s September interview, Mueller was already investigating the Trump Tower deal. That suggests both topics — the Trump Tower deal and the Ukranian peace pitch — could appear in the redacted passage. Indeed, while the unredacted passages don’t explain it, one important reason to obtain the earlier emails would be to obtain the communications between Sater and Cohen during that period.

None of these warrants explain why Mueller became convinced that Cohen had lied to Congress, but by the second December interview of Sater, he presumably knew that Cohen had lied. But he probably didn’t have all the documents on the deal until he subpoenaed Trump Organization in March 2018.

All of which is to say, the treatment of the warrants’ Sater’s ties to Cohen, so important in any consideration of Cohen’s ties to Russia, ultimately don’t help determine what’s in that section.

If Mueller obtained Cohen’s location data, it was only second-hand

Finally, there’s one other detail not shown in the Mueller warrants you might expect to have if the Steele dossier was central to the Cohen investigation: a concerted effort to confirm his location during August 2016, when the dossier claimed he had been in Prague.

Granted, by obtaining records from Google, Mueller would get lots of information helpful to confirming location. For example, Google would have provided all the IP addresses from which Cohen accessed his account going back to January 2016. He would have obtained calendar data, if Cohen used that Google function. The warrant (as all warrants to Google would) asks for “evidence … to determine the geographic and chronological context of account access” and describes the various ways investigators can use Google to ID location (though it doesn’t specifically talk about location data in conjunction with Google Maps).

Mueller would get even more information from the Apple warrant obtained on August 7, 2017. The warrant for Cohen’s iCloud account on August 7 focused on a new iPhone (a 4s!!!) he obtained on September 28, 2016 and used for a function that gets redacted (which, again, could be the hush payments). It described his use of Dust and WhatsApp on the phone (Dust was what he used with Felix Sater), meaning one reason they were interested in the account was not for Cohen’s Apple content, but for anything associated with the apps he used on his phone (remember that Mueller got Manafort’s otherwise encrypted WhatsApp chats from Apple; the Apple specific language notes that some users back up their WhatsApp texts to iCloud). That said, the language on Apple (as all warrants on it would) specified that users sometimes capture location data with the apps on their phones.

Apple allows applications and websites to use information from cellular, Wi-Fi, Global Positioning System (“GPS”) networks, and Bluetooth, to determine a user’s approximate location.

This is a way the FBI has increasingly gotten location data in recent years, via the apps that access it from your phone. So the FBI would have gotten information that would have helped them rule out a Cohen trip to Prague in 2016.

That said, it’s not until April 7 that the government obtained the only known warrant for cell location data. That warrant focused only on the campaign finance crimes, and it obtained historical data only started on October 1, 2016 — pointedly excluding the August 2016 period when Steele’s dossier alleged Cohen was in Prague.

In short, along the way, Mueller obtained plenty of information that would help him exclude a Prague meeting (and subpoenas and other government information — such as his Homeland Security file — could have helped further exclude a meeting). But there’s no sign in the public record that Mueller investigated the Steele dossier Prague meeting itself.

To sum up: while it’s possible the redacted portions discuss Russia and therefore potentially the dossier. But there are a lot of reasons to think that’s not the case. It is hypothetically possible that between March (when FBI wasn’t investigating Cohen) and May (when Mueller took over) the FBI had done something to chase down the dossier allegations on Cohen. But, there’s no evidence that Mueller investigated them. On the contrary, it appears that the investigation into Cohen arose from the Bank Secrecy Act operating the way it is designed to — to alert the Feds to suspect activity in timely fashion.

In another world, that should placate the frothy right. After all, they complain that the dossier was used in Carter Page’s FISA application. You’d think they’d be happy that, in the eight months between the time FBI obtained that order and started investigating Cohen aggressively, they hadn’t predicated an investigation into the dossier. By that time, there were overt things — like Vekselberg’s donation to the inauguration and the Ukraine plan — that were suspect and grounded in direct evidence.

Timeline

May 18, 2017: Possible date for meeting involving Jay Sekulow, Trump, and Cohen.

May 31, 2017: Cohen and lawfirm subpoenaed by HPSCI.

June 2017: A SAR from Cohen’s bank reflects seven months of suspicious activity in conjunction with this Essential Consulting account

June 2017: Federal Agents review Cohen’s bank accounts.

June 21, 2017: FBI sends a preservation request to Microsoft for Cohen’s Trump Org account.

July 14, 2017: FBI sends a preservation request to Microsoft for all Trump Org accounts.

July 18, 2017: FBI obtains a warrant for Cohen’s Gmail account focused on FARA charges tied primarily to the Columbus Nova stuff, but also his other foreign payments). ¶¶13-18 redacted.

July 20, 2017 and July 25, 2017: Microsoft responds to grand jury subpoenas about both Cohen’s account and TrumpOrg domain generally.

August 1, 2017: FBI obtains a warrant for Cohen’s Trump Org email account (which they obtained from Microsoft), adding bank fraud, money laundering, and FARA (as distinct from 951) to potential charges. ¶¶13-19 redacted. ¶¶20 to 24 note irregularities in claims to First Republic. ¶28 details how Cohen and Andrew Intrater started texting in large amounts on November 8, 2016, showing over 230 calls and 950 texts between then and July 14, 2017. ¶30 includes email reflecting visit to Columbus Nova. ¶31 reflects probable subpoena to bank (rather than just SARs). ¶32 describes Renova paying Cohen through Columbus Nova. ¶36 reflects phone records showing 20 calls with Felix Sater between January 5, 2017 and February 20, 2017, and one with Flynn on January 11, 2017. ¶39, ¶41 include new evidence from Google search.

August 7, 2017: FBI obtains a warrant for Cohen’s Apple ID (tied to his Google email). ¶¶14-20 redacted. ¶50-54 describes Cohen obtaining a new Apple iPhone 4s on September 28, 2016 and using it for a redacted purpose. It describes Cohen downloading Dust (the same encrypted program he used with Felix Sater) the day he set up the phone, and downloading WhatsApp on February 7, 2017.

August 17, 2017: FBI obtains second warrant on Cohen’s Gmail, not publicly released, but identified in second Google warrant. It probably added wire fraud to existing charges being investigated.

August 27-28, 2017: Cohen conducts a preemptive limited hangout on the Trump Tower story feeding WaPo, WSJ, and NYT.

August 31, 2017: Cohen releases the letter his attorney had sent — two weeks earlier — along with two earlier tranches of documents for Congress.

September 19, 2017: FBI interviews Sater. Cohen attempts to preempt an interview with SSCI by releasing a partial statement before testifying, only to have SSCI balk and reschedule the interview.

October 4, 2017: Additional SAR restricted because of ongoing sensitive investigations.

October 20, 2017: Cohen included in expanded scope of investigation.

October 24, 2017: HPSCI interviews Cohen.

October 25, 2017: SSCI interviews Cohen.

November 7, 2017: Mueller extends PR/TT on Cohen Gmail.

November 13, 2017: FBI obtains Cohen’s Gmail going back to June 1, 2015 and his 1&1 email. Adds wire fraud. ¶14-20 redacted.¶23a-25 adds Taxi medallion liability. Eliminates Ukraine/sanctions plan in unredacted section. Adds section F, payments in connection with political activities (associated with AT&T, expand Novartis, add Michael D Cohen and Associates.

December 15, 2017: FBI interviews Sater.

January 4, 2018: Mueller extends PR/TT on Cohen Gmail.

February 8, 2018: Mueller provides SDNY with Gmail and 1&1 email returns.

February 16, 2018: SDNY obtains d-order for header information on 1&1 account.

February 28, 2018: SDNY obtains warrant for emails sent after November 14, 2017 and warrant for emails Mueller handed over in conjunction with different conspiracy, false statements to a bank, wire fraud, and and bank fraud charges.

March 7, 2018: Mueller provides SDNY with iCloud returns.

March 15, 2018: Press reports that Mueller subpoenaed Trump Organization.

April 5, 2018: After CLOUD Act passes, SDNY applies for Google content that had been stored overseas and withheld in February 28 warrant.

April 7, 2018: FBI obtains warrant for cell location for two cell phones, tied only to illegal campaign donation investigation (the FBI would use this to use a triggerfish to identify which room he was in at Loews). FBI obtains warrant to access prior content for use in campaign donation investigation. This is the first warrant that lists 52 USC 30116 and 30109 as crimes being investigated.

April 8, 2018: FBI obtains warrant for cell location for two cell phones, tied only to illegal campaign donation investigation.FBI obtains warrant to search Cohen’s house, office, safe deposit box, hotel room, and two iPhones.

April 9, 2018: FBI obtains a warrant to correct Cohen’s hotel room.

June 20, 2018: Cohen steps down from RNC position.

July 27, 2018: Sources claim Cohen is willing to testify he was present, with others, when Trump approved of the June 9 meeting with the Russians.

August 7, 2018: First Cohen proffer to Mueller.

August 21, 2018: Cohen pleads guilty to SDNY charges. Warner and Burr publicly note that Cohen’s claim to know about the June 9 meeting ahead of time conflicts with his testimony to the committee.

September 12, 2018: Second proffer.

September 18, 2018: Third proffer.

October 8, 2018: Fourth proffer.

October 17, 2018: Fifth proffer.

November 12, 2018: Sixth proffer.

November 20, 2018: Seventh proffer.

November 29, 2018: Cohen pleads guilty to false statements charge.

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

Democrats Are Setting Themselves Up to Fail on Mueller Hearings

In a House Judiciary Committee hearing about the most controversial topic of the day 12 years ago, Robert Mueller provided testimony that sharply contradicted the sworn testimony of the Attorney General. He confirmed that the March 10, 2004 hospital confrontation between Jim Comey and the White House concerned a disagreement about the legality of the Stellar Wind warrantless wiretapping program, contrary to the earlier claims of Alberto Gonzales.

“I had an understanding that the discussion was on a N.S.A. program,” Mr. Mueller said in answer to a question from Representative Sheila Jackson Lee, Democrat of Texas, in a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee.

Asked whether he was referring to the Terrorist Surveillance Program, or T.S.P., he replied, “The discussion was on a national N.S.A. program that has been much discussed, yes.”

Mr. Mueller said he had taken notes of some of his conversations about the issue, and after the hearing the committee asked him to produce them.

[snip]

In a four-hour appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, Mr. Gonzales denied that the dispute arose over the Terrorist Surveillance Program, whose existence was confirmed by President Bush in December 2005 after it had been disclosed by The New York Times. Mr. Gonzales said it centered on “other intelligence activities.”

That event, like Russian investigation, involved a constitutional crisis and uncertain matters of law. It involved issues made more controversial by Jim Comey’s at times imperfect efforts to uphold principle. Mueller’s testimony specifically confirmed suspicions about the deceit and criminal exposure of the Attorney General, possibly contributing to his resignation a month later.

Sheila Jackson Lee — who remains on HJC — asked the question, and Mueller answered truthfully, and then provided evidence to back up his testimony.

And yet, even after studying Mueller’s past testimony to Congress (presumably including that hearing), House Democrats have themselves convinced that Mueller won’t be all that forthcoming in his hearing next week.

“I don’t think Mr. Mueller, based on everything I know about him, that anyone should expect any major departure from the contents of the report,” said Rep. David Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat on the Judiciary Committee. “I do think the contents of the report are so significant and so damning that when Mr. Mueller brings them to life and actually tells the American people … it will have an impact.”

The committees recognize that Mueller is a reluctant witness, and has stated he does not intend to answer questions beyond the contents of his report. The committee aides said they planned to respect Mueller’s desires but noted Congress isn’t bound by such limits. The aides anticipate questions will go beyond what’s written in the report, such as asking Mueller whether certain episodes detailed would have been crimes had they not involved the President — after Mueller said that his office followed Justice Department legal opinion that a sitting president cannot be indicted.

[snip]

Mueller’s long government career has given the two committees plenty of material to study from Mueller’s past congressional appearances. The bottom line is they don’t expect Mueller to readily volunteer information, aides say, particularly given that he doesn’t want to testify before Congress.

As Jackson Lee demonstrated years ago, a properly phrased question will elicit an honest answer from Mueller.

But that’s not my main complaint about the reported preparations for Mueller’s testimony next week: it’s that Democrats have locked themselves into a division of labor — with HJC focusing on the evidence showing Trump obstructed justice and the House Intelligence Committee focusing on details of Trump’s enthusiasm for the Russian attack — that leaves out the larger framework of the investigation (and aftermath), may not touch on the area that, given the focus of his press conference, Mueller’s likely to be most forthcoming about (the extent of the Russian operation), and threatens to make a weaker case for both obstruction and “collusion.”

I hope to finally write my narratology of the Mueller Report to lay out the latter point. My questions for Mueller (which I’ll update before next Wednesday) include some that — like the Jackson Lee question twelve years ago — are factual questions that may do more to illuminate the actions of others than questions designed solely to get Mueller to recapitulate what’s already in the report.

But one of the biggest reasons I’m concerned about this approach is that Democrats are adopting a structure Mueller did –separating Trump associates’ efforts to obstruct an investigation into a possible conspiracy from Trump’s own efforts to obstruct an investigation into a conspiracy — that serves to water down the impact of the report.

This report was not, as most people commenting on it seem to believe, a report “of what Mueller found.” Rather, it is strictly limited to prosecutorial decisions, and as such doesn’t include evidence Mueller obtained that’s not important to explain why he chose to charge people or not.

His report produced the following prosecutorial decisions: 

As noted with the shading the break between Volume I and Volume II is not actually a break between the conspiracy investigation (Russia’s interference in the election and Trump Associates’ ties with Russia) and the obstruction investigation (matters arising from the investigation). Prosecutorial decisions relating to the cover-up appear in both Volume I and Volume II. It’s unclear why Mueller organized it like that (this would actually be an interesting question); perhaps he did it because he didn’t reach a prosecutorial decision about Trump or perhaps because he wanted to provide an impeachment referral for Congress.

But the effect of the organization is that it severs the discussion of the suspicious actions from the efforts to cover up those actions.

To illustrate why this is important, consider the June 9 meeting. The actual events behind that are:

  • Don Jr willingly accepted dirt on Hillary offered as part of the Russian government’s support for Trump
  • According to two witnesses, Trump probably knew about the meeting ahead of time (but did not plan a speech around it, as some suspected)
  • Don Jr and Emin Agalarov had several conversations about what the meeting would be
  • At the meeting, Don Jr agreed to consider sanctions relief even after he grew fed up that the dirt wasn’t very interesting
  • When the Trump team identified this meeting as an area of focus for Congressional and other investigations, Trump repeatedly responded in a way that — according to Hope Hicks — was totally uncharacteristic; either he or she also considered withholding the evidence from investigators
  • Trump personally issued a blatantly misleading statement on the meeting (after talking with Putin about that cover story, though that detail doesn’t show up in the report, which is another thing worth asking about)
  • Although he willingly sat for interviews with three Congressional committees — even after the report came out — Don Jr refused to appear before the grand jury
  • Emin Agalarov canceled an entire concert tour to avoid being questioned about the meeting or — more importantly — what he told Don Jr on those phone calls

From the point of view of the crime of obstruction of justice, the June 9 meeting is the weakest case, in part because Don Jr avoided getting caught in a lie about it (and so was not charged in parallel with Flynn and Stone). Given their focus on treating Volume II as an obstruction of justice impeachment referral rather than the complete cover-up, HJC is not treating this incident. But it’s one of the most damning examples showing that Trump and his family acted to accept Russian help.

And consider how Manafort’s sharing of polling data will get watered down with this approach to questioning. One of the most obvious ways to illustrate the impact of Trump’s obstruction is to lay out that Mueller was never able to establish why Manafort was trading Ukraine away at a meeting where he also discussed how to win MI and WI. It looks like a smoking gun, but Mueller was never able to fully investigate it (Manafort’s use of encryption helped things along here, too). And one key reason why he was never able to investigate it is because Manafort believed Trump would pardon him if he lied, and he did lie.

Note, too, that while Mueller notes that Manafort lied in footnotes, unless he’s the redacted person who lied to the grand jury in the prosecutions section, Mueller did not describe his prosecutorial decision not to charge Manafort for lying to the grand jury in that section.

As laid out (according to these reports), HPSCI is going to investigate the equivalent of the Watergate burglary, while HJC will investigate the cover-up of the burglary. Worse, HJC will go first, so it’s not like people watching the entire day will have been reminded about the burglary before HJC delves into the cover-up of it.

In other words, dividing the questioning the way reports say the committees will separates a discussion of the cover-up from the actions Trump covered up. That, in turn, makes it a lot harder to show that one reason Mueller didn’t collect enough evidence to charge a conspiracy is because of that cover up.

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

Renewing My Obsession with Paul Manafort’s iPods: Robert Mueller’s 2,300 Media Devices

In an attempt to argue that properly processing Jason Leopold’s admittedly very broad FOIA for materials relating to the Mueller investigation, DOJ has claimed that it would need to process the contents of 2,300 media devices to fully comply with his FOIA, which would amount to more content than is stored in the Library of Congress.

For Request No. DOJ-2019-003143—Plaintiffs’ request for all records from the Office of the Special Counsel—the volume of responsive documents is enormous. Defendant estimates that the approximate number of responsive records that OIP would process is as follows:

  • 11 terabytes of non-email digital data, which is the approximate equivalent of 825 million pages (assuming each terabyte consists of 75 million pages); and
  • 318 gigabytes of email, which is the approximate equivalent of over 215 million pages (assuming each gigabyte consists of 677,963 pages).

Defendant estimates that the approximate number of responsive records that FBI would process is as follows:

  • More than 2 million pages of investigative records that are not on media devices; and
  • More than 2,300 media devices that have a combined storage capacity of 240 terabytes of data. If these devices are filled to capacity, this is the approximate equivalent 18 billion pages. [my emphasis]

I find that number — 2,300 — intriguing, given that in the public records on the investigation, I’m not sure we’ve seen warrants reflecting that volume of production. As a reminder, here’s what we know about the warrants obtained in the DC District; there are around 321 docket entries, the better part of which are for stored content rather than searches of media devices. The volume of devices obtained with DC searches would mean the balance of the 500 warrants Mueller obtained are either still sealed, precede Mueller’s appointment, or in other districts.

As a test of how we get to that number, consider what we learned as part of my continuing obsession with Paul Manafort’s iPod habit (I was interested in that habit, in part, because iPods can be used for non-telephonic texting). Just from the search of Manafort’s condo, the government obtained the contents of over 83 devices (note there were some device extractions done as part of the search).

  • 4 DVD discs
  • 7 external hard drives
  • 12 SD cards
  • 7 memory sticks
  • 1 micro SD card
  • 1 iPod
  • 3 compact flash cards
  • 1 MacBook Air hard drive
  • 2 iPads
  • 9 thumb drives
  • 1 iPhone
  • 1 micro vault pro
  • 1 DEWF_COMBO1: A 1TB (containing forensic images and device extractions from rooms: C, F, K, and Q)
  • 7 iPods
  • 1 iMac (including 1 Solid State Drive (SSD) and 1 Hard Disk Drive (HDD))
  • 4 iPhones
  • 1 SD card
  • 12 digital flash drives
  • 1 Macbook Air
  • 2 iPad Minis
  • 2 micro SD HC cards
  • 2 SD HC cards
  • 1 ultra-SD XC I card

My impression is that the government seized fewer devices from Michael Cohen and the same or more from Roger Stone, plus three from George Nader. But they are the only public searches of residences that would result in a big haul of devices, meaning about 300 would be from those three men (there are around 3 searches of residences the owners of which are not identified in the DC docket). Cooperating witnesses like Rick Gates and — before he reneged — Mike Flynn likely provided a number (Flynn described facilitating the production of electronic devices in his sentencing memo), though probably not that high of one, of devices. And many of Mueller’s 500 witnesses provided their phones “voluntarily,” or had some of their content subpoenaed. Mueller also obtained the transition cell phones and laptops for 13 transition officials, but the team appears to have obtained warrants before actually searching them, meaning they’re already accounted for in the DC docket.

Still, somehow that gets us from a universe of around 1,000 devices (counting 500 from Manafort, Cohen, Stone, Gates, and Flynn, plus 500 more from witnesses) to 2,300.

So there’s still a great number of media devices the source of which is not readily apparent.

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

The Original Subpoenas in the Mike Flynn FARA Investigation

The trial of Mike Flynn partner Bijan Kian, which gets started today in earnest, is as interesting for the exhibits reflecting on Flynn himself as they are for the Kian case (which he still stands a good chance of winning, given a variety of reasons). For example, yesterday the government had to file a motion to compel production from Covington, the law firm of Flynn’s original lawyer Rob Kelner, to obtain documents they presumably already obtained voluntarily from Flynn.

On Friday, July 12, 2019, the government verbally requested that current counsel for FIG produce these materials, and noted that time was of the essence, given that trial was scheduled to begin on Monday, July 15. Also on July 12, the government emailed this request to FIG’s current counsel and to Covington, attaching the April 5th subpoena, the June 15th subpoena, and the Court’s memorandum opinion. Covington responded by email the same day, copying FIG’s current counsel and General Flynn’s current counsel, and proposed that the government engage with them because they are the ones who would have to authorize any production at this point because the documents belong to them. To date, neither FIG’s current counsel nor General Flynn’s current counsel have responded to the government’s request to produce these documents.

If nothing else, any current resistance from Flynn to providing these documents will establish more evidence for Emmet Sullivan that Flynn is trying to undermine the government’s case against Kian (which may well succeed).

But the motion is interesting, as well, for what it reveals about how Flynn’s false FARA filing turned into charges.

The concern that the government would subpoena Flynn for FARA backup appears repeatedly in the notes his current lawyers released recently.

On April 5, 2017 — less than a month after Flynn submitted his FARA filing — EDVA prosecutor William Sloan sent a subpoena anyway, at first asking for a ton of organizational documents on Flynn Intelligence Group, asking for records including internal memoranda on Inovo BV, Ekim Alptekin, Ibrahim Kurtulus, and FIG’s work for Turkey and Inovo specifically. On June 15, 2017, Brandon Van Grack — using his EDVA address, not his Special Counsel one yet (it’s not clear Mueller’s grand jury had been convened yet) — sent another subpoena. The language of the subpoena should largely have covered the same material — asking for any and all documents relating to FIG, including internal memoranda generally, dated from January 1, 2014 to the present. This subpoena named Flynn Sr, his spawn, and Bijan Kian specifically. It also asked for,

a copy of any FIG LLC and FIG INC documents and physical objects that you have provided to Congress or any congressional committees from January 1, 2014, to present.

The second, broader subpoena, particularly with the reference to congressional requests, would have incorporated Russian matters, such as Flynn’s spawn’s notes after their meeting with Sergey Kislyak.

In his sentencing memo, Flynn said that he had voluntarily provided documents (but admitted there were still five productions of documents produced after he pled).

Even before his voluntary pre-plea proffer sessions, he had chosen to produce sweeping categories of documents held by his two companies, rather than fight over the breadth of subpoenas, and facilitated the production of electronic devices. After his Plea Agreement, he made another five productions of documents.

This may or may not be a big deal, but if going to trial without Flynn’s cooperation but with broad waivers of Covington’s privilege leads to him having to fully respond to an admittedly broad subpoena he always treated as voluntary, it may have some risk for Flynn going forward.

In which case Flynn might still be in the running for the Trump associate who fucked up good lawyering in most spectacular fashion.

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

On Mike Flynn’s Previously Undisclosed Interactions with Ekim Aptekin

In Friday’s pre-trial hearing for former Mike Flynn partner Bijan Kian, Kian’s attorneys revealed something prosecutors had told them in discovery: that Flynn had more ties with Alptekin than has been made public.

Prosecutors wrote to lawyers for Flynn’s ex-lobbying partner Bijan Kian that the US government was “in possession of multiple, independent pieces of information relating to the Turkish government’s efforts to influence United States policy on Turkey and Fethullah Gulen, including information relating to communications, interactions, and a relationship between Ekim Alptekin and Michael Flynn, and Ekim Alptekin’s engagement of Michael Flynn because of Michael Flynn’s relationship with an ongoing presidential campaign, without any reference to the defendant of FIG.”

Flynn’s new firebreather lawyer Sidney Powell thinks this is all about him, and as such suggests this is a last minute attack on Flynn because he reneged on a key part of his plea allocution.

Kian’s attorney Mark MacDougall read the statement at a court hearing Friday morning. He implied that the newly revealed information about Flynn — which was not part of his admitted crimes in his plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller — may be classified.

Flynn’s attorney Sidney Powell responded to the new accusation Friday, saying, “We have no idea what the government is talking about. It smacks of desperation.”

Admittedly, having blown up his plea deal, she now has to worry about anything that would provide cause to change the government stance on Flynn’s sentencing. And she’s probably — though not definitely — correct that this is something the government had in hand when they supported probation for Flynn. I do keep thinking of the redaction in the Mueller Report — a footnote that must explain the outcome of the counterintelligence investigation into Flynn — signaling an ongoing investigation.

Though I still think that likely relates to the investigation into Flynn’s Russian ties, not his Turkish ones.

That said, Powell’s concerns have to go beyond whether this is new information. The revelation that the government has proof that Alptekin’s efforts to influence Flynn go beyond the Flynn Intelligence Group consulting contract provide key background information to some of the files Powell released in an already unpersuasive effort to claim Flynn was fully forthcoming with his former, competent attorney, Rob Kelner, when they filed Flynn’s FARA submission in 2017. Of particular note, in the notes of the last interview recorded before the filing itself, Flynn told Kelner that he didn’t remember key parts of the relationship with Alptekin — neither the “consulting” agreement itself (which was really a kickback scheme) nor any side conversations about it.

It may well be that Flynn forgot those details, but if there are independent communications between Flynn and Alptekin, his claim to Kelner that Bijan was conducting all discussions with Alptekin seems demonstrably false.

The very last line of the first interview between Covington and Flynn, on January 6, 2017, shows him claiming he spoke with Alptekin “a handful of times.”

More interestingly, in that interview and elsewhere, Flynn downplays his role in the FIG consulting because he was on the campaign trail, away from Washington.

From the standpoint of claiming you weren’t lobbying, noting you were on the campaign with Trump might help. But if the point of all this, for Turkey, was to pay Flynn a half million dollars to (as his firebreather attorney claims) write an op-ed precisely to ensure they had access to someone who was spending all his time with Trump, then it actually hurts him.

The government claims that when Flynn downplayed the involvement of Turkey in his FARA filing, he did it knowingly and intentionally. If these notes — released by his own firebreather defense attorney — show him downplaying the extent of his relationship with Alptekin, that’s going to seriously undermine that claim.