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Quid Pro Quo Redux, Part Two: Russian Government Involvement in All Three Conspiracy Agreements

Given reports that Mueller will “report” imminently, I’m not sure I’m going to finish the second version of my Quid Pro Quo series laying out the evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia trading campaign help and real estate deals for sanctions relief (here’s the initial series; here’s the first post of this second series). But I’d like to make a point as a way of showing that Amy Berman Jackson deemed Paul Manafort’s August 2, 2016 meeting with Konstantin Kilimnik to be evidence of a link between the Russian government and the campaign.

We know of at least five conversations at which various people entered into what I describe as a quid pro quo conspiracy:

  1. January 20, 2016, when Michael Cohen told Dmitry Peskov’s personal assistant that Trump would be willing to work with a GRU-tied broker and (soft and hard) sanctioned banks in pursuit of a $300 million Trump Tower deal in Russia.
  2. June 9, 2016, when Don Jr, knowing that currying favor with Russia could mean $300 million to the family, took a meeting offering dirt on Hillary Clinton as “part of  Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” At the end of the meeting, per the testimony of at least four attendees, Don Jr said they’d revisit Magnitsky sanctions if his dad won.
  3. August 2, 2016, when Paul Manafort and Rick Gates had a clandestine meeting with Konstantin Kilimnik at which Trump’s campaign manager walked Kilimnik through highly detailed poll data and the two discussed a “peace” plan for Ukraine understood to amount to sanctions relief.
  4. December 29, 2016, when (working on instructions relayed by KT McFarland, who was at Mar-a-Lago with Trump) Mike Flynn said something to Sergey Kislyak that led Putin not to respond to Obama’s election-related sanctions.
  5. January 11, 2017, when Erik Prince, acting as a back channel for Trump, met with sanctioned sovereign wealth fund Russian Direct Investment Fund CEO Kirill Dmitriev.

Remember: to enter into a conspiracy you have to agree to one object of a conspiracy (a conspiracy might have multiple objectives), and take an overt act to further that conspiracy. You don’t have to agree to all objects of the conspiracy, nor do you have to know about all parts of it.

The key conversations in this conspiracy, it seems to me, are the middle three: the June 9 Trump Tower plus dirt for sanctions relief agreement, the August 2 election assistance for sanctions agreement, and the December 29 reassurance that Trump would revisit Obama’s sanctions. The involvement of the Russian government in the fourth one — with Sergey Kislyak and Mike Flynn on a series of phone calls relaying messages back and forth between Putin and Trump — is obvious (as it is for the first and fifth).

It’s the other two where, in recent months, the government has solidified its proof of direct Russian government involvement.

Natalia Veselnitskaya, Russian government agent, at the June 9 meeting

They did so for the June 9 meeting on December 20 when they charged Natalia Veselnitskaya with obstruction of justice. The indictment alleges that an MLAT request served on the Russian government in the Prevezon case was actually drafted by Veselnitskaya. As Joshua Yaffa argued after the indictment was unsealed on January 8, the indictment will probably never result in prison time for Veselnitskaya but it does substantiate a claim that she is an agent of Russia.

In short, the U.S. Attorney’s office alleges that a document that was ostensibly prepared by the office of Russia’s general prosecutor and sent to its counterparts in the U.S. Department of Justice was in fact drafted, or at least edited, by Veselnitskaya herself, who then went on to cite the document as independent proof of her version of events. In this manner, the U.S. Attorney’s office alleges, “Veselnitskaya obstructed the civil proceeding in the Prevezon action then pending in this District.”

[snip]

Veselnitskaya is unlikely ever to return to the United States. This means that U.S. prosecutors are probably less interested in this particular, narrow matter than in what filing charges allows them to do going forward. “If the government wants on record that Natalia is a Russian government agent, this indictment serves this purpose,” the former member of the Prevezon defense team told me. That is to say, if and when charges are filed in relation to the Trump Tower meeting, prosecutors now have a building block on which to argue that, in her actions in the United States, Veselnitskaya did not represent merely herself and her client but the interests of Russian officials. That should worry Donald Trump, Jr., and Jared Kushner, who attended the meeting with Veselnitskaya, and, in turn, the President himself.

So when Don Jr told Veselnitskaya on June 9, 2016, that Trump would revisit sanctions if he won, he was effectively telling an agent of the Russian government that.

Konstantin Kilimnik, Russian government link, at the August 2 meeting

While the redactions require logic to demonstrate the case, Amy Berman Jackson’s explanation of her breach decision shows she believes that Konstantin Kilimnik — regardless of his alleged ties to the GRU — served as a link to the Russian government at that August 2 meeting.

Early on in the hearing, while ruling that she regards Manafort’s attempts to backtrack on his confession to conspiring with Kilimnik to witness tamper in 2018 to be bad faith but not proven, she questions Manafort’s loyalties while calling Kilimnik his “Russian conspirator.”

To me, this is definitely an example of a situation in which the Office of Special Counsel legitimately concluded he’s lying to minimize things here, he’s not being forthcoming, this isn’t what cooperation is supposed to be. This is a problematic attempt to shield his Russian conspirator from liability and it gives rise to legitimate questions about where his loyalties lie.

When she turns to the two-fold lies about Manafort’s ongoing meetings with Kilimnik (which starts on page 28, line 2), here’s what ABJ judges, up to the point where she talks about whether Kilimnik is a tie to Russia:

  • Manafort’s most problematic Ukraine peace deal lie is that he never discussed a peace deal after August because he thought it was a bad idea. His subsequent emails supporting one show that claim to be an “alternative narrative.”
  • Manafort’s denial of the Madrid meeting amounts to denying a contact. (29)
  • Manafort offered “a series of revised explanations” about providing questions for a poll on a Ukraine peace deal in conjunction with running another campaign in Ukraine. (29-30)
  • Manafort’s claims to have forgotten about the August 2 meeting because he was so busy running Trump’s campaign in fact show the opposite. That’s because sharing polling data “relates to the campaign.” If he was “so single-mindedly focused on the campaign, then the meeting he took time to attend” to share polling data and discuss a Ukraine “peace” plan had a purpose related to the campaign. Or, if he only took the meeting to curry favor with Ukrainian and Russian paymasters, “well, in that case he’s not being straight with me about how single-minded he was. It’s not good either way.” (31)
  • The clandestine nature of the meeting, with Gates and Manafort arriving and leaving separately “because of the media attention focused at that very time on Manafort’ relationships with Ukraine” further undermines his claims he can’t remember the meeting. (32)
  • In heavily redacted language, ABJ lays out why she finds Gates’ testimony on the August 2 meeting credible. (33-35)
  • There’s further corroboration surrounding the August 2 meeting, which Manafort appears to have tried to rebut with information newly submitted on February 8 (which seems to relate to an earlier meeting and may be an effort to suggest this was dated polling information). (34)
  • There are a series of emails from Kilimnik to somebody else (possibly ones sharing the information) that corroborate Gates’ story. (35)
  • The defense claim that the polls are gibberish doesn’t fly because Manafort, Gates, and Kilimnik all understood them. Indeed, these polls (presumably from Fabrizio) were the ones Manafort preferred and that Kilimnik would understand. (35-36)

The discussion of whether Kilimnik amounts to a tie to Russia starts on 36; it is a response to Manafort’s attempt to disprove that this exchange is material by arguing that Mueller has alleged, but not proven, that Kilimnik has ties to Russian intelligence (which suggests not even Manafort is claiming that these events don’t amount to a tie with Russia). ABJ starts that discussion by moving directly from describing (in a heavily redacted passage) who the intended recipients of the data were to the Russian question.

Also, the evidence indicates that it was understood that [redacted–poll data] would be [redacted] from Kilimnik [redacted] including [redacted], and [redacted]. Whether Kilimnik is tied to Russian intelligence or he’s not, I think the specific representation by the Office of Special Counsel was that he had been, quote, assessed by the FBI, quote, to have a relationship with Russian intelligence, close quote.

The only way that ABJ would make that transition, logically, is if the descriptions behind some of those redactions are Russians. If they were just the Ukrainian oligarchs the NYT claims they were, this entire passage — and Manafort’s attempted rebuttal of them (that is, to deny its import because Kilimnik himself has no ties to Russian intelligence) — makes zero sense.

Having made that transition, ABJ then lays out why she doesn’t have to determine whether Kilimnik is himself Russian intelligence to determine that he does amount to a tie to the Russian government.

Whether that’s true, I have not been provided with the evidence that I would need to decide, nor do I have to decide because it’s outside the scope of this hearing. And whether it’s true or not, one cannot quibble about the materiality of this meeting.

In other words, I disagree with the defendant’s statement in docket 503, filed in connection with the dispute over the redactions, that, quote, the Office of Special Counsel’s explanation as to why Mr. Manafort’s alleged false statements are important and material turns on the claim that he is understood by the FBI to have a relationship with Russian intelligence.

I don’t think that’s a fair characterization of what was said. The intelligence reference was just one factor in a series of factors the prosecutor listed. And the language of the appointment order, “any links,” is sufficiently broad to get over the relatively low hurdle of materiality in this instance, and to make the [redaction] Kilimnik and [redaction] material to the FBI’s inquiry, no matter what his particular relationship was on that date.

From there, ABJ dismisses the defense claim that because Kilimnik made comments about various loyalties (possibly to the press, possibly to the State Department), he couldn’t be Russian intelligence. She even suggests that an email sent on August 18, 2016, at a time when Manafort’s ties to Ukraine were becoming incredibly toxic, may not be all that reliable. She notes the timing: “Manafort was gone the next day.”

Having dismissed that claim, ABJ then judges that “Manafort made intentional false statements to the FBI and the grand jury with respect to the material issue of his interactions with Kilimnik, including, in particular, [redacted; this must either be a reference to the August 2 meeting generally or the sharing of polling data].

But then ABJ makes a more general statement, having reviewed the multiple efforts Manafort made to obscure his relationship with Kilimnik. In it, she repeats again that he is a link to Russia, whether or not he’s an active spy.

On that note, I also want to say we’ve now spent considerable time talking about multiple clusters of false or misleading or incomplete or needed-to-be-prodded-by-counsel statements, all of which center around the defendant’s relationship or communications with Mr. Kilimnik. This is a topic at the undisputed core of the Office of Special Counsel’s investigation into, as paragraph (b) of the appointment order put it, Any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign.

Mr. Kilimnik doesn’t have to be in the government or even be an active spy to be a link. The fact that all of this is the case, that we have now been over Kilimnik, Kilimnik, and Kilimnik makes the defense argument that I should find the inaccurate statements to be unintentional because they’re all so random and disconnected, which was an argument that was made in the hearing, is very unpersuasive.  [my emphasis]

To have ruled this conversation material, ABJ rules that Kilimnik (especially the sharing of this polling data, seemingly) amounts to a link with the Russian Government, whether or not he has ties to Russian intelligence. And note, this is a link to the Russian government, not just a link to a Russian like Oleg Deripaska.

We don’t know why that is so; it seems like it relates to the recipients of this polling data. But we know she considers him one, according to the preponderance of the evidence she has seen.

Mind you, if this is all moving just to a report claiming such a conspiracy, but stopping short of charging one, then it may not matter all that much.

But for the three main exchanges in which Trump flunkies entered into agreements that form part of a larger conspiracy, at least one key player has been deemed to have a tie to the Russian government this year (and of course the other two exchanges — Cohen to Peskov and Prince to Kirill — also have obvious Russian government involvement).

RESOURCES

These are some of the most useful resources in mapping these events.

Mueller questions as imagined by Jay Sekulow

CNN’s timeline of investigative events

Majority HPSCI Report

Minority HPSCI Report

Trump Twitter Archive

Jim Comey March 20, 2017 HPSCI testimony

Comey May 3, 2017 SJC testimony

Jim Comey June 8, 2017 SSCI testimony

Jim Comey written statement, June 8, 2017

Jim Comey memos

Sally Yates and James Clapper Senate Judiciary Committee testimony, May 8, 2017

NPR Timeline on Trump’s ties to Aras Agalarov

George Papadopoulos complaint

George Papadopoulos statement of the offense

Mike Flynn 302

Mike Flynn statement of the offense

Mike Flynn cooperation addendum

Peter Strzok 302 (describing Flynn’s interview)

Michael Cohen statement of the offense

Internet Research Agency indictment

GRU indictment

Senate Judiciary Committee materials on June 9 meeting

BuzzFeed documents on Trump Tower deal

Text of the Don Jr Trump Tower Meeting emails

Jared Kushner’s statement to Congress

Erik Prince HPSCI transcript

Government declaration supporting breach determination

Manafort breach hearing

Amy Berman Jackson breach determination hearing

Amy Berman Jackson order finding Manafort breached his 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. 

A Focus on Florida: What Happened to the Three Campaign Officials Chatting with Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s Trolls?

I want to go back to something I’ve been uniquely obsessed about for almost an entire year. As I’ve noted, the Internet Research Agency indictment describes the IRA trolls interacting with three Trump campaign officials that it describes in the manner used with possible co-conspirators.

74. On or about August 15, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators received an email at one of their false U.S. persona accounts from a real U.S. person, a Florida-based political activist identified as the “Chair for the Trump Campaign” in a particular Florida county. The activist identified two additional sites in Florida for possible rallies. Defendants and their co-conspirators subsequently used their false U.S. persona accounts to communicate with the activist about logistics and an additional rally in Florida.

75. On or about August 16, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used a false U.S. persona Instagram account connected to the ORGANIZATION-created group “Tea Party News” to purchase advertisements for the “Florida Goes Trump” rally.

76. On or about August 18, 2016, the real “Florida for Trump” Facebook account responded to the false U.S. persona “Matt Skiber” account with instructions to contact a member of the Trump Campaign (“Campaign Official 1”) involved in the campaign’s Florida operations and provided Campaign Official 1’s email address at the campaign domain donaldtrump.com. On approximately the same day, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the email address of a false U.S. persona, [email protected], to send an email to Campaign Official 1 at that donaldtrump.com email account, which read in part:

Hello [Campaign Official 1], [w]e are organizing a state-wide event in Florida on August, 20 to support Mr. Trump. Let us introduce ourselves first. “Being Patriotic” is a grassroots conservative online movement trying to unite people offline. . . . [W]e gained a huge lot of followers and decided to somehow help Mr. Trump get elected. You know, simple yelling on the Internet is not enough. There should be real action. We organized rallies in New York before. Now we’re focusing on purple states such as Florida.

The email also identified thirteen “confirmed locations” in Florida for the rallies and requested the campaign provide “assistance in each location.”

77. On or about August 18, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators sent money via interstate wire to another real U.S. person recruited by the ORGANIZATION, using one of their false U.S. personas, to build a cage large enough to hold an actress depicting Clinton in a prison uniform.

78. On or about August 19, 2016, a supporter of the Trump Campaign sent a message to the ORGANIZATION-controlled “March for Trump” Twitter account about a member of the Trump Campaign (“Campaign Official 2”) who was involved in the campaign’s Florida operations and provided Campaign Official 2’s email address at the domain donaldtrump.com. On or about the same day, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the false U.S. persona [email protected] account to send an email to Campaign Official 2 at that donaldtrump.com email account.

79. On or about August 19, 2016, the real “Florida for Trump” Facebook account sent another message to the false U.S. persona “Matt Skiber” account to contact a member of the Trump Campaign (“Campaign Official 3”) involved in the campaign’s Florida operations. On or about August 20, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the “Matt Skiber” Facebook account to contact Campaign Official 3.

Since this indictment was rolled out last February, no one has identified these three Trump campaign officials nor what they did in response to dangles from Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s trolls.

That said, contrary to the assumption made when a DC-based team of US Attorneys joined the IRA prosecution team, DOJ’s investigation on this front has continued. Not only was IRA accountant Elena Alekseevna Khusyaynova charged in EDVA last September (the complaint was unsealed in October, during a pre-election disinformation campaign involving IRA trolls), but in August, Mueller prosecutor Rush Atkinson was still pursuing investigative action in the IRA case (this means it’s possible that the involvement of a DC prosecutor in Roger Stone’s prosecution serves largely to keep the Mueller team targeting him focused on other aspects of their investigation of him).

In any case, since the mention of three different campaign officials interacting with Prigozhin’s trolls, we’ve gotten a number of other reasons to be interested in what happened in Florida in 2016.

Obviously, there’s Roger Stone. The actions laid out in his existing indictment largely take place in DC and NY, but we know Mueller has pursued (and continues to pursue, with Andrew Miller) testimony from aides working for Stone elsewhere, including in Florida. We know in May 2016, for example, Stone met in Florida with a Russian using the name Henry Greenberg offering dirt on Hillary. In principle, his denials on that should be taken no more seriously than his denials pertaining to WikiLeaks, but he was willing to correct his testimony on that point, unlike his testimony on WikiLeaks.

And there are other connections in Florida of interest. In a piece adding to stuff we already knew about Sergei Millian (which bizarrely remains silent about Ivan Timofeev and Oleg Deripaska’s ties to him, or his promise to build a Trump Tower), the WaPo describes how Millian worked with a Florida-based Russian named Mikhail Morgulis to build support in Florida.

As he was working to build a relationship with Papadopoulos in 2016, Millian also offered to serve as a conduit to the Trump campaign for a Belarusan author in Florida with connections to the Russian government, according to emails obtained by The Washington Post.

The author, Mikhail Morgulis, who said he never ended up hearing from anyone in the campaign, later claimed that he rallied Russian Americans to back Trump.

[snip]

Morgulis took credit in interviews with Russian media for helping to elect Trump by organizing Russian-speaking voters.

“I personally visited 11 cities in Florida, where I said that if you want our new president to be a homosexual . . . vote for Hillary,” he said a July 2017 interview with the Russian government-funded outlet Sputnik, touting a false claim popular among some conservative conspiracy theorists. In the interview, he also said he had briefly met both Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

Then consider this detail from BuzzFeed’s report on what Suspicious Activity Reports say about Rinat Akhmetshin’s finances. Rather than getting paid by Lanny Wiles — as had previously been portrayed — Akhmetshin was in fact paying Wiles.

Akhmetshin continued receiving checks and wires from Wiles Consulting, a Florida-based company controlled by Lanny Wiles, a longtime Republican operator. Those payments, which began in January 2016, extended to April 2017, and totaled $72,500.

Investigators at Akhmetshin’s bank said the direction of the payments — from Wiles to Akhmetshin — contrasted with how their working relationship had been portrayed publicly. Investigators, citing unspecified public information, said Wiles claimed he was paid by Akhmetshin to work on the Magnitsky lobbying issue, not the other way around. The investigators did not cite their source, but a 2016 Politico article quoted Wiles saying he had been paid by Akhmetshin. Investigators at Bank of America did find that the foundation had issued checks to Wiles, but the amount is unclear. Wiles, whose wife was the chair of Trump’s Florida campaign, did not return messages seeking comment.

In the same Politico article, Wiles said he didn’t want to register as a foreign agent, but that Akhmetshin had told him it wouldn’t be necessary, as he would be working for BakerHostetler.

In the wake of the Natalia Veselnitskaya indictment in December, the government will have an easy time arguing that Akhmetshin and Wiles’ lobbying will easily be demonstrated to be work on behalf of Russia.

As noted, Wiles’ wife, Susie, was Trump’s Florida campaign chair, and the woman who got Veselnitskaya a seat in a hearing on Magnitsky sanctions.

Update: The Wiles’ daughter, Caroline Wiles, quit her White House job as director of scheduling after it became clear she’d fail a background check. (h/t LR)

Among those who won’t be working at the White House was President Donald Trump’s director of scheduling, Caroline Wiles, the daughter of Susan Wiles, Trump’s Florida campaign director and former campaign manager for Governor Rick Scott. Wiles, who resigned Friday before the background check was completed, was appointed deputy assistant secretary before the inauguration in January. Two sources close to Wiles said she will get another job in Treasury.

There seems to be a lot more that happened with Trump’s campaign in Florida in 2016 than we currently know about. Including the three campaign officials mentioned in the still active investigation into Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s trolls.

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. 

Felix Sater Promised a Putin Meeting with Michael Cohen Minutes after Don Jr Promised to Revisit Magnitsky Sanctions

BuzzFeed has posted the documents showing Michael Cohen and Felix Sater organizing a Trump Tower deal until June 14, literally as the news of the DNC hack broke. The documents show how closely those negotiations interacted with the June 9 meeting.

The Trump Tower meeting between Don Jr and Russians promising dirt was scheduled for 4PM (Rob Goldstone posted on Facebook that he was at Trump Tower at 3:57). Natalia Veselnitskaya ran a bit late, but they would have started the meeting by 4:10PM.

Four witnesses to the meeting (the four whose responses weren’t coached by Trump Organization lawyers) said that the meeting ended with Don Jr saying that his father might or would revisit Magnitsky sanctions if he became President.

Natalia Veselnitskaya said Don Jr said they’d revisit the topic.

Mr. Trump, Jr. politely wound up the meeting with meaningless phrases about somewhat as follows: can do nothing about it, “if’ or “when” we come to power, we may return to this strange and confusing story.

Ike Kaveladze said that Don Jr said they might revisit the issue if his father won.

There was no request, but as I said, it was a suggestion that if Trump campaign wins, they might get back to the Magnitsky Act topic in the future.

Rinat Akhmetshin said that Don Jr said they would revisit Magnitsky when they won.

A. I don’t remember exact words which were said, but I remember at the end, Donald, Jr., said, you know, “Come back see us again when we win.” Not “if we win,” but “when we win.” And I kind of thought to myself like, “Yeah, right.” But it happened, so — but that’s something, see, he’s very kind of positive about, “When we win, come back and see us again.” Something to that effect, I guess.

Anatoli Samochornov, Veselnitskaya’s translator, who is the most independent witness and the only one who didn’t compare his story with others, said that Don Jr said they would revisit the issue if Trump won.

A. Like I described, I remember, not verbatim, the closing that Mr. Donald Trump, Jr., provided, but that’s all that I recall being said from the other side.

MR. PRIVOR: That closing being that Donald Trump, Jr., suggested —

MR. SAMOCHORNOV: If or when yes, and I do not remember if or when, but if or when my father becomes President, we will revisit this issue.

The meeting lasted somewhere between 20 and 30 minutes.

At about that time, Trump tweeted out a reference to Hillary’s emails, invoking 823 staffers, which was a good ballpark estimate for how many staffers (including unpaid advisors) she really had at the time.

At that same time, Felix Sater texted Michael Cohen to tell him he was working on setting up Cohen’s trip to St. Petersburg.

At that point, Sater told Cohen there was a “very strong chance” he would meet Russia’s President, which Cohen and Don Jr would have both believed meant that the Trump Organization could make $300 million by lending Trump’s name to the tallest tower in Europe.

Quid pro quo, all executed on social media.

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. 

How Trump “Directed” Don Jr’s June 9 “No Follow-Up” False Statement to Congress

In the New Republic, I have a piece expanding on what I laid out in my first post on last week’s BuzzFeed story. It should not have been a big deal that BuzzFeed claimed Trump had “directed” Michael Cohen to lie, because we already had plenty of evidence that Trump had induced his top aides to lie. In it, I note an even more clear cut example of Trump scripting his aides’ lies with the June 9 meeting.

Then last June, the Times published a January 2018 letter in which Trump’s lawyers admitted to Mueller’s office that “the President dictated a short but accurate response to the New York Times article on behalf of his son, Donald Trump, Jr.” The letter tied that statement directly to Don Jr.’s testimony to Congress about the infamous Trump Tower meeting in 2016, in which Don Jr. sought to procure damaging information about Hillary Clinton from Russian agents. “His son then followed up by making a full public disclosure regarding the meeting, including his public testimony that there was nothing to the meeting and certainly no evidence of collusion.” Trump’s statement to the Times claimed there had been “no follow-up” after the June 9 meeting, and Don Jr.’s testimony to Congress sustained that claim. But the public record shows there was follow-up after the election.

And I suggest, later in the piece, that what we know happened with the June 9 meeting is probably what happened with Cohen’s Trump Tower story.

Mueller has hinted that Trump’s other subordinates were involved in just one of these lies: Cohen’s. In a filing describing how Cohen explained “the circumstances of preparing and circulating his response to the congressional inquiries,” Cohen suggested he coordinated with “White House-based staff and legal counsel to Trump.”

That’s what the public record shows happened with Cohen’s statements about the Trump Tower meeting, in which he falsely claimed there was no “follow-up.”

As I suggested, how that happened is already in the public record, in documents released by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

As early as June 3, 2017, Trump Organization lawyer Alan Garten called Rob Goldstone to find out details about the June 9, 2016 meeting, including who the Russian lawyer who attended was. On June 26, Garten contacted Goldstone again to find out about and get contact information for Ike Kaveladze. In a call with Goldstone the next day, Garten expressed “concern” because the June 9 meeting “links Don Jr. to officials from Russia, which he has already denied meeting.”

On July 8, the White House put out a Trump (and Putin) statement claiming the meeting was only about adoptions, and therefore didn’t include any topic that was a campaign  issue. As part of that statement, Trump claimed that “there was no follow-up.”

It was a short introductory meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at that time and there was no follow up. I was asked to attend the meeting by an acquaintance, but was not told the name of the person I would be meeting with beforehand. [my emphasis]

On July 9, Don Jr put out his own statement, admitting that Goldstone had also offered dirt and that Magnitsky sanctions were discussed, but repeating that “no follow-up” line (as well as telling some other lies).

I was asked to have a meeting by an acquaintance I knew from the 2013 Miss Universe pageant with an individual who I was told might have information helpful to the campaign. I was not told her name prior to the meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to attend, but told them nothing of the substance. We had a meeting in June 2016. After pleasantries were exchanged, the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Ms. Clinton. Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information. She then changed subjects and began discussing the adoption of Russian children and mentioned the Magnitsky Act. It became clear to me that this was the true agenda all along and that the claims of potentially helpful information were a pretext for the meeting. I interrupted and advised her that my father was not an elected official, but rather a private citizen, and that her comments and concerns were better addressed if and when he held public office. The meeting lasted approximately 20 to 30 minutes. As it ended, my acquaintance apologized for taking up our time. That was the end of it and there was no further contact or follow-up of any kind. My father knew nothing of the meeting or these events. [my emphasis]

That’s when Goldstone — who had been on a cruise in Europe and so out of the loop — got angry that, after having asked for advance warning a week earlier, was now fielding calls from the press without first knowing what Trump had put out.

I had requested last week of you guys to see what was being put out, so I could be able to prepare our own statement but never received anything from you or your colleague. Can I please at least now see the statement you guys put out.

Goldstone wanted that statement, he explained to SJC, so he could match what Trump put out. “I just felt it would be useful if I knew what they had put out, the style, the type.” He wasn’t so much looking to coordinate; he was just trying to message effectively. “This — this  was area was really alien to me. I’m a music publicist. We talk about ego and nonsense. I’m not used to this kind of structured world.”

Then, on July 10, both Alan Futerfas and Alan Garten sent Goldstone a statement they wanted him to put out under his own name. It included the claim that there had been no follow-up.

As the person who arranged the meeting, I can definitely state that the statements I have read by Donald Trump Jr. are 100 percent accurate. The meeting was a complete waste of time, and Don was never told Ms. Veselnitskaya’s name prior to the meeting. Ms. Veselnitskaya mostly talked about the Magnitsky Act and Russian adoption laws, and the meeting lasted 20 to 30 minutes at most. There was never any follow-up and nothing ever came of the meeting. [my emphasis]

Goldstone told SJC he thought the “ludicrous” because it sounded nothing like him, and so kept trying to put out his own statement.

But (as SJC made clear in questions about the statement) the two Trump Organization Alans, who had been chasing down what happened at this meeting for over a month by the time they drafted a statement for Goldstone, had to have known that the statement they wanted Goldstone to adopt was partly incorrect (in spite of their exhortations that any statement be accurate). That’s because they would already have reviewed an email Goldstone sent to Rhonna Graff the previous fall.

On November 28, after ten days of efforts to set up another meeting for Veselnitskaya after the election and on directions that almost certainly had to have come from Don Jr, Goldstone sent Veselnitskaya’s latest statement on sanctions to Trump’s Assistant, Rhona Graff. On July 15, 2017, after Trump and Don Jr had already issued statements claiming there had been no follow-up to the meeting — and after Trump’s lawyers tried to get Goldstone to say that publicly, too — Graff forwarded Goldstone’s email back to show that there had, in fact, been follow-up.

Nevertheless, almost two months after Graff identified this proof of follow-up (there are also some calls between Don Jr and Goldstone that are in some ways even more damning, though Goldstone disclaims them), Don Jr continued to hew to the family line that there had not been follow-up.

Even in response to a direct question about it, Don Jr insisted there had been no follow-up,

Q. There was, in your view, no follow-up at all from this meeting?

A . Correct.

So Trump dictated a statement (and the lawyers tried to massage it even while leaving a number of lies in the statement), his son repeated it, his lawyers tried to get Goldstone to repeat it, even while they had clear documentary evidence it was not true.

And then Don Jr repeated that lie — there was no follow-up at all from this meeting — in September 2017, sustaining the lie his father first told, only this time to Congress, where it counts as a criminal false statement.

Last week, people on both sides of the aisle treated the BuzzFeed story as the first evidence that Trump had suborned false statements. It’s not. We’ve seen how he does so in very detailed form already.

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. 

Trump’s “Official Acts” to Pay Off a Russian Bribe Should Make Impeachment a Legal Issue, Not Just a Political One

The pearl clutchers screamed about Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib saying that we need to impeach the motherfucker, Donald Trump, demeaning the presidency.* While I’m glad that she has refused to back down from her beliefs in the face of the attacks, I think her more substantial argument about impeachment deserves further attention (which I hope to return to in a later post). More important, I think that the response to Tlaib’s comments has resulted in members of both parties retreating to a debate about Trump’s impeachment using the old formulation that it’s a political, not a legal question.

It is true that impeachment is political question insofar as, so long as there’s the political will, a president can be impeached for anything, even lying about a consensual blowjob immaterial to an investigation into financial scandal. But impeachment is also a legal question. Indeed, the Constitution mandates that the President be removed from office if he is impeached and convicted not just for the unenumerated grab bag of “high crimes and misdemeanors” — where Congress exercises the political will to decide whether a blowjob merits impeachment — but also the enumerated crimes of treason and bribery.

The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

In spite of Emmet Sullivan’s question — as one of the only people who has read sealed documents laying out what Trump’s transition team did — about whether Mueller’s investigators considered charging Mike Flynn with treason, there’s no chance that Trump will be named in a treason charge.

But there is very good chance he will be named in a conspiracy involving a quid pro quo trading dirt and real estate deals for sanctions relief and other policy considerations.

The other day, I realized something ironic: in precisely the same period Trump was entering in an apparent quid pro quo with Russians, John Roberts was authoring a unanimous Supreme Court decision that clarified the limits of quid pro quo bribery.

And while the Supreme Court believed that Governor Bob McDonnell had not accepted bribes for setting up meetings in exchange for gifts, the language Roberts wrote in the weeks after Trump’s son told some Russians they would revisit Magnitsky sanctions if his father won does not so narrow the definition of bribery as to make Trump’s actions legally excusable.

Roberts described an official act this way:

In sum, an “official act” is a decision or action on a “question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy.” The “question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy” must involve a formal exercise of governmental power that is similar in nature to a lawsuit before a court, a determination before an agency, or a hearing before a committee. It must also be something specific and focused that is “pending” or “may by law be brought” before a public official. To qualify as an “official act,” the public official must make a decision or take an action on that “question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy,” or agree to do so.

Notably, the bribed public official doesn’t actually have to follow through on the official act he agreed to take, so it doesn’t help Trump that Congress has repeatedly prevented him from overturning sanctions on Russia.

Under this Court’s precedents, a public official is not required to actually make a decision or take an action on a “question, matter, cause, suit, proceeding or controversy”; it is enough that the official agree to do so.

And there are a number of data points in the public record that suggest Trump did believe he had made a deal with the Russians and that Russia had what it believed was a commitment from Trump. For example, four of the people who attended the June 9 meeting testified (most under oath) that Don Jr said his father would revisit sanctions relief if he got elected.

Natalia Veselnitskaya said Don Jr said they’d revisit the topic.

Mr. Trump, Jr. politely wound up the meeting with meaningless phrases about somewhat as follows: can do nothing about it, “if’ or “when” we come to power, we may return to this strange and confusing story.

Ike Kaveladze said that Don Jr said they might revisit the issue if his father won.

There was no request, but as I said, it was a suggestion that if Trump campaign wins, they might get back to the Magnitsky Act topic in the future.

Rinat Akhmetshin said that Don Jr said they would revisit Magnitsky when they won.

A. I don’t remember exact words which were said, but I remember at the end, Donald, Jr., said, you know, “Come back see us again when we win.” Not “if we win,” but “when we win.” And I kind of thought to myself like, “Yeah, right.” But it happened, so — but that’s something, see, he’s very kind of positive about, “When we win, come back and see us again.” Something to that effect, I guess.

Anatoli Samochornov, Veselnitskaya’s translator, who is the most independent witness and the only one who didn’t compare his story with others, said that Don Jr said they would revisit the issue if Trump won.

A. Like I described, I remember, not verbatim, the closing that Mr. Donald Trump, Jr., provided, but that’s all that I recall being said from the other side.

MR. PRIVOR: That closing being that Donald Trump, Jr., suggested —

MR. SAMOCHORNOV: If or when yes, and I do not remember if or when, but if or when my father becomes President, we will revisit this issue.

And Ike Kaveladze, in the call back to his boss to report on the meeting that witnesses observed, was happy with the outcome of the meeting.

It’s not just the Russians who seem to have acted on the meeting. Michael Cohen’s allocution seems to suggest that the meeting tied directly to the negotiations over a Trump Tower, because he took steps to travel to Russian on the day of the meeting.

From on or about June 9 to June 14, 2016, Individual 2 sent numerous messages to COHEN about the travel, including forms for COHEN to complete. However, on or about June 14 , 2016, COHEN met Individual 2 in the lobby of the Company’s headquarters to inform Individual 2 he would not be traveling at that time.

Remember: a “senior campaign official” was involved in discussions about trips to Russia. And had the President’s personal lawyer actually taken this trip to St. Petersburg, the plan was to meet Vladimir Putin (who did attend the forum that year).

While the dates provided in Cohen’s allocution also suggest the disclosure that Russia hacked the DNC halted Cohen’s plans “at that time,” we know that the plans did resume after that canceled trip into July.

The Russians certainly believed they had an agreement. They put in some effort to meet again after Trump won. While finding an appropriate communication channel failed for the Agalarovs, Flynn and Jared Kushner moved to establish a back channel via Sergey Kislyak. When Trump met with Preet Bharara and reportedly agreed to keep him on, Veselnitskaya panicked, and suggested Trump planned to keep him on so he could take him out.

In its indictment of Veselnitskaya, DOJ just established that she was actually working as part of the Russian government when she claimed to have fought to get an MLAT request in her Prevezon case. And Veselnitskaya believed that after Trump won the election, he would take out the prosecutor whom she was facing in court. Ultimately, Trump did take out Preet, firing all his US Attorneys in an effort to do so.

And details from Mike Flynn’s allocution provide one important piece of evidence that Russians believed they had received a commitment from Trump.

After Obama imposed sanctions on Russia partly in retaliation for the election year operation, Trump’s team panicked, both because they wanted to improve relations with Russia, but also because Russia’s role in his victory delegitimized the victory. That is, even those unlikely to be unaware of any quid pro quo recognized that the public accounting of Russia’s role in helping defeat Hillary would make it all the more difficult to deal with Russia.

Obama is doing three things politically:

  • discrediting Trump’s victory by saying it was due to Russian interference
  • lure trump into trap of saying something today that casts doubt on report on Russia’s culpability and then next week release report that catches Russia red handed
  • box trump in diplomatically with Russia. If there is a tit-for-tat escalation trump will have difficulty improving relations with Russia which has just thrown USA election to him.

Trump’s response, however, was to reach out to Russia and assure them they didn’t need to worry about Obama’s new policy. In response, the Russians made it very clear that Putin had decided not to respond based on the assurances that Flynn gave Kislyak.

On or about December 30, 2016, Russian President Vladimir Putin released a statement indicating that Russia would not take retaliatory measures in response to the U.S. Sanctions at that time.

On or about December 31, 2016, the Russian Ambassador called FLYNN and informed him that Russia had chosen not to retaliate in response to FL YNN’s request.

Mueller, of course, has the full transcript of what Flynn said to Kislyak that successfully placated Putin. It is highly likely the transcript provides explicit evidence of an official act to pay off his side of the deal, sanctions relief.

All of which is to say that Mueller may well be finalizing a conspiracy indictment of Don Jr and Trump Org laying out a quid pro quo in which Trump agreed to provide sanctions relief (and some other stuff) in exchange for Russia’s help winning the election.

That Mueller might be able to show all this is bribery may not affect Republican willingness to take the action laid out in the Constitution, to convict Trump in an impeachment inquiry. But given that the Constitution specifically envisions impeaching a President who has accepted a bribe, commentators should stop treating impeachment exclusively as a political issue.

Update: I posted this before I had read this analysis from Jack Goldsmith raising concerns about investigating the President for foreign policy decisions. While I think Goldsmith raises key points, he focuses on actions Trump took as President. But that’s one reason I think the transition activities are so important. If I’m right that the calls to Kislyak amount to an official act, then Trump took it to undermine the official policy of the government, not set it as President. Further, The Trump team had been asked — and at least one person had agreed — to not undermine Obama’s policies during the transition. There were several efforts to hide that they were doing so: the indications they couldn’t reengage on Magnitsky sanctions using the same channels as they used during the election, the request for a back channel, and the meeting with Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan that Susan Rice discovered by unmasking the identities of those who met with him.

The actions Trump took that led to Flynn and Comey’s firings were part of an effort to hide these clandestine efforts during the transition. Yes, they were conducted while he was President. But they were conducted to cover up actions taken before he became President. This is why I keep harping on the remarkable lack of curiosity about why Trump really fired Flynn. The public story Trump is telling is assuredly false. The real reason almost certainly ties back to these transition period actions.

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

*Full disclosure: I donated to Tlaib’s campaign.

Those Sexy Details in the Papadopoulos Sentencing Memo Aren’t Intended for Your Consumption

In this post, I argued that George Papadopoulos’ sentencing memo was written to make a case to Donald Trump for a pardon, not to judge Randolph Moss for no prison time (even though that’s what he asks for).

It would follow logically, then, that the details of his testimony Papapdopoulos chose to highlight in a claim that “George provided investigators with critical information” — details that have attracted much of the press coverage of this memo — also aren’t intended for our benefit, but for Trump and other co-conspirators.

Jeff Sessions lies as much as “young George” Papadopoulos

Consider the one that has attracted the most attention, revealing that (according to Papadopoulos), he told the government that Trump approved of his plan to pursue a meeting with Putin and — even more importantly — Jeff “Sessions … appeared to like the idea.”

On March 31, 2016, he joined Mr. Trump, Senator Jeff Sessions, and other campaign officials for a “National Security Meeting” at the Trump Hotel. George’s photograph at this meeting flashed around the world via Twitter. Eager to show his value to the campaign, George announced at the meeting that he had connections that could facilitate a foreign policy meeting between Mr. Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. While some in the room rebuffed George’s offer, Mr. Trump nodded with approval and deferred to Mr. Sessions who appeared to like the idea and stated that the campaign should look into it.

At a minimum, after 11 months of being prevented from sharing this detail, including it here tells all the other co-conspirators what Papadopoulos said. The allegation is not new; at least two other participants in the meeting offered a similar version to Reuters in March (and presumably to the FBI before that). Still, Papadopoulos provides the detail in such a way and at such a time that it’s sure to generate pressure on Sessions, just as Trump is trying to convince Republican members of Congress he should fire the Attorney General. Not to mention that Papadopoulos raises an example of a person who has thus far avoided all consequences for lying in official settings.

The offer of emails came during a discussion finalizing a meeting

An even more delicious mention is the specific description Papadopoulos gives of the meeting at which Joseph Mifsud told him the Russians had Hillary emails they planned to release to help Trump.

George strived to organize a meeting with the Russian government and help the Trump campaign promote its foreign policy objective: improve U.S. and Russian relations. He believed that such a meeting would be a boon for the campaign as Mr. Trump had not yet hosted any major foreign policy events with officials from other countries.

George joined Professor Mifsud for breakfast in London on April 26, 2016, with the intention of finalizing plans for the foreign policy meeting. It was during this breakfast meeting, however, that Professor Mifsud told George that individuals in Moscow possessed “dirt” on candidate Hillary Clinton in the form of “thousands of emails.” Not knowing what to make of this comment, George continued his efforts to make the Trump – Russia meeting a reality. [my emphasis]

Papadopoulos’ statement of the offense had made it clear that Mifsud mentioned the emails in the context of Papadopoulos’ efforts to set up a meeting.

On or about April 25, 2016, defendant PAPADOPOULOS emailed [Stephen Miller — see this story confirming Miller as the “Senior Policy Advisor” in the document]: “The Russian government has an open invitation by Putin for Mr. Trump to meet him when he is ready []. The advantage of being in London is that these governments tends to speak more openly in “neutral” cities.

On or about April 26, 2016, defendant PAPADOPOULOS met the Professor for breakfast at a London hotel. During this meeting, the Professor told defendant PAPADOPOULOS that he had just returned from a trip to Moscow where he had met with high-level Russian government officials. The Professor told defendant PAPADOPOULOS that on that trip he (the Professor) learned that the  Russians had obtained “dirt” on then-candidate Clinton. The Professor told defendant PAPADOPOULOS, as defendant PAPADOPOULOS later described to the FBI, that “They [the Russians] have dirt on her”; “the Russians had emails of Clinton”; “they have thousands of emails.”

[snip]

[T]he day after his meeting at the hotel with the Professor, on or about April 27, 2016, defendant PAPADOPOULOS emailed [Miller]: “Have some interesting messages coming in from Moscow about a trip when the time is right.”

Also on or about April 27, 2016, defendant PAPADOPOULOS emailed a [Corey Lewandowski] “to discuss Russia’s interest in hosting Mr. Trump. Have been receiving a lot of calls over the last month about Putin wanting to host him and the team when the time is right.”

The Schiff memo and Alexander Downer have subsequently added the detail that Mifsud specifically told Papadopoulos that, “the Russians might use material that they have on Hillary Clinton in the lead-up to the election, which may be damaging,” to assist Trump’s campaign.

Remember, Papadopoulos worked with Lewandowski to draft Trump’s first foreign policy speech, delivered on April 27, which Papadopoulos reportedly told Ivan Timofeev (whose entire existence Papadopoulos’ lies had managed to hide from the FBI at first) was a signal to meet. That speech included these lines:

I believe an easing of tensions, and improved relations with Russia from a position of strength only is possible, absolutely possible. Common sense says this cycle, this horrible cycle of hostility must end and ideally will end soon. Good for both countries.

Some say the Russians won’t be reasonable. I intend to find out. If we can’t make a deal under my administration, a deal that’s great — not good, great — for America, but also good for Russia, then we will quickly walk from the table. It’s as simple as that. We’re going to find out.

Obviously, the tie between Russia releasing stolen emails and foreign policy meetings was always implicit. But Papadopoulos has just revealed that Mifsud said Russia might release emails in the context of setting up a meeting, after having floated such a meeting with Miller the day before.

The breakfast meeting ties the release of the stolen emails to help the Trump campaign and foreign policy meetings together directly. And having just sat through such a meeting, Papadopoulos worked with Stephen Miller and Corey Lewandowski to send a message to Russian that Trump was willing to meet — and would pursue improved relations with Russia.

Papadopoulos tells the Greeks of the dirt offer just in time to pass Putin a message

I’m most interested, however, in the inclusion of Papadopoulos’ admission he told the Greek Foreign Minister about the Russian offer of dirt just before Putin came to town on May 27, 2016.

George provided investigators with critical information. George told investigators about his interactions and meetings with other members of the campaign. He detailed a meeting in late May 2016 where he revealed to the Greek Foreign Minister that the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. He explained that this meeting took place days before President Vladimir Putin traveled to Greece to meet with Greek officials.

Remember, Natalia Veselnitskaya dates the idea for the June 9 meeting to a conversation she had with Aras Agalarov at “the end of May” 2016.

Around the end of May 2016, during a conversation with a good acquaintance of mine, being my client, Aras Agalarov on a topic that was not related to the United States, I shared the story faced when defending another client, Denis Katsyv, about how terribly misled the US Congress had been by the tax defrauder William Browder, convicted in Russia, who, through his lobbyists and his close-minded rank-and-file Congress staffers, succeeded in adopting the Act in the name of a person whom Browder practically hardly ever knew. I considered it my duty to inform the Congress people about it and asked Mr. Agalarov if there was any possibility of helping me or my colleagues to do this. I do not remember who of us was struck by the idea that maybe his son could talk about this with Donald Trump, Jr., who, although a businessman, was sure to have some acquaintances among Congress people.

But it’s not just the tantalizing possibility that Papadopoulos left some kind of message for Putin just before Aras Agalarov started setting up the June 9 meeting.

Papadopoulos’ statement of the offense describes him emailing Paul Manafort about Russia’s desire to set up a meeting, which Manafort forwarded to the government’s most important now cooperating witness, Rick Gates, telling him that the candidate wasn’t going to do such meetings himself — someone else in the campaign would.

On or about May 21, 2016, defendant PAPADOPOULOS emailed another high-ranking Campaign official, with the subject line “Request from Russia to meet Mr. Trump.” The email included the May 4 MFA Email and added: “Russia has been eager to meet Mr. Trump for quite sometime and have been reaching out to me to discuss.”2

2 The government notes that the official forwarded defendant PAPADOPOULOS’s email to another Campaign official (without including defendant PAPADOPOULOS) and stated:

“Let[‘]s discuss. We need someone to communicate that DT is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal.”

The House Intelligence Majority Report, however, reveals that that Papadopolous sent that email from Greece.

(U) While on a trip to Athens, Greece in May 2016, Papadopoulos sent an email to Manafort stating that he expected to soon receive “an official invitation for Mr. Trump to visit Greece sometime this summer should his schedule allow.”183 In the same email to Manafort, Papadopoulos also forwarded a meeting Invitation from Ivan Timofeev, Director or [sic] Programs for the Russian International Affairs Council, and claimed that “Russia has been eager to meet Mr. Trump for quite sometime and have been reaching out to me to discuss. thought it would be prudent to send to you.”184

(U) As of May 2016, Manafort had not yet been elevated to campaign chairman, but had a long track record of work abroad. Manafort forwarded Papadopoulos’ email to his business and campaign deputy [Rick Gates] noting that we need someone to communicate that D[onald] T[rump] is not doing these trips.” 185 Manafort and [Gates] agreed to assign a response of a “general letter” to “our correspondence coordinator.” the person responsible for “responding to all mail of non-importance.”186

While it’s clear nothing in that email could have reflected a discussion of passing a message to Putin via Papadopoulos’ Greek contacts, it does show that Papadopoulos used the opportunity of a verbal offer from Greece to raise a Russian meeting with Manafort directly. Manafort responded by saying other campaign aides would do such meetings. Papadopoulos then somehow saw reason to tell Greece’s Foreign Minister that the Russians were offering dirt to help Trump just before Putin arrived. And that’s precisely the timeframe when the June 9 meeting setting up a Russian meeting with Trump’s senior-most campaign officials, including Manafort, got born.

Maybe it’s all a big fat coinkydink, but Papadopoulos seems to believe it important enough to tell all his co-conspirators (even while it makes his repeated claims not to have told the campaign itself laughable), possibly because he knows the FBI has evidence from the Greeks as well.

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

It Is False to Claim There Was No Follow-Up to the June 9 Meeting

On July 15, 2017 — a week after the June 9 meeting was reported in a NYT story publishing the first of numerous White House statements attempting to explain the meeting — Rhona Graff sent Rob Goldstone an email (PDF 44). With only a garbled (perhaps autocorrected) explanation, she forwarded back to Goldstone an email Goldstone himself had sent her the previous November, attaching some talking points from Natalia Veselnitskaya about Bill Browder and the Magnitsky sanctions (for a copy of the talking points, see PDF 37 ff).

A week after the White House had first issued a statement saying, in part, “there was no follow up” on the June 9 meeting, Trump’s Executive Assistant was sharing with Goldstone a paper trail showing that there had been.

Rudy gets all the facts about the June 9 meeting wrong, again

That’s an important detail that gets missed every single time the punditocracy deals with attempts by Rudy Giuliani or his client to spin the June 9 meeting, as has happened in the wake of this TV appearance by Rudy on Meet the Press.

RUDY GIULIANI:

Well, because the meeting was originally for the purpose of getting information about, about Clinton. The meeting turned into a meeting —

CHUCK TODD:

Which in itself it’s attempted collusion. I understand —

RUDY GIULIANI:

No it’s not.

CHUCK TODD:

You just said it. The meeting was intended to get dirt on Hillary Clinton from a criminal lawyer.

(OVERTALK)

RUDY GIULIANI:

No, it wasn’t. No, no.

CHUCK TODD:

That was the intention of the meeting, you just said it.

RUDY GIULIANI:

That was the original intention of the meeting. It turned out to be a meeting about another subject and it was not pursued at all. And, of course, any meeting with regard to getting information on your opponent is something any candidate’s staff would take. If someone said, I have information about your opponent, you would take that meeting. If it happens to be a person with a Russian —

CHUCK TODD:

From the Russian government?

RUDY GIULIANI:

She didn’t represent the Russian government, she’s a private citizen. I don’t even know if they knew she was Russian at the time. All they had was her name.

CHUCK TODD:

They didn’t know she was Russian, I think they knew she was Russian, but ok.

RUDY GIULIANI:

Well, they knew it when they met with her, not when they set up the meeting. You, you told me, you, you asked me, you know, did they show an intention to do anything with Russians? Well, all they knew is that a woman with a Russian name wanted to meet with them. They didn’t know she was a representative of the Russian government and indeed, she’s not a representative of the Russian government. So, this is much ado about nothing. Plus, the President of the United States wasn’t at that meeting. He didn’t know about that meeting. He found out about it after and by the time he found out about it, it was nothing. So, I mean —

Don Jr. took a meeting expecting and accepting dirt from the Russian government

Numerous people have noted that Rudy was totally wrong about the terms on which Don Jr took the meeting in the first place. Rob Goldstone told Don Jr his boss, Aras Agalarov, would,

provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.

This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.

Whether or not that’s what Don Jr got at the meeting (or a week later, when Guccifer 2.0 started releasing stolen documents and information), it is nevertheless the case that Don Jr accepted a meeting at which he expected to be offered dirt on Hillary that was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” Indeed, Don Jr specifically said he’d be willing to wait to receive that dirt until later in the summer.

If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer

The email exchange, by itself, goes a long way towards meeting the terms of a conspiracy, willfully engaging in an agreement to break the law (which includes both accepting things of value from a foreign government and, given events later in the summer, possibly conspiracy to hack a computer).

Remember: to be charged with conspiracy, the conspiracy doesn’t have to be successful. So even ignoring the “documents and information” the Russians started releasing a week later, that “it turned out to be a meeting about another subject,” as Rudy excuses, doesn’t help Jr. He took a meeting to obtain dirt.

Rudy is wrong about follow-up to the meeting as well

So the rest of that that sentence — “and it was not pursued at all” — actually isn’t necessary to an analysis of a conspiracy, because overt acts had already taken place. Still, on that point, too, Rudy is wrong.

The record shows that those behind the meeting did pursue the “it” in question — sanctions relief — fairly aggressively after the election, with some inconclusive cooperation from the Trump Administration. And even after the record on that pursuit goes dark, Russia as a state continued to pursue sanctions relief — indeed, continues even today, most recently by buttering up a series of Republican Senators visiting Moscow to lobby for it.

As I lay out below, Aras Agalarov’s US Vice President, Ike Kaveladze, pushed Goldstone to set up a second meeting, even if with lower level people. As far as we know, that meeting never got scheduled.

But even as the Agalorov effort to obtain sanctions relief fizzled, a more formal Russian effort started, then moved to a back channel.

The most important moment in any follow-up on the June 9 meeting request for sanctions relief came in the December 29, 2016 phones calls between Mike Flynn and Sergei Kislyak about sanctions, a discussion in which Flynn took close directions from KT McFarland, who was with Trump at Mar-a-Lago. Those are the phone calls Flynn lied to the FBI about, in spite of broad knowledge of the calls among transition aides. Those are the phone calls about which he got a plea deal to cooperate with the Mueller team.

Don Jr probably promised the Trumps would revisit sanctions after the election

According to most participants in the meeting who offered testimony to SJC, the Russians were right to expect a follow up discussion on Magnitsky sanctions. In fact, all the participants representing the Russian side save Goldstone (including Anatoli Samochornov, who is the only witness on either side not to have compared notes with at least some of the others before testifying) remembered Don Jr ending the June 9 meeting by saying they’d revisit the issue if or when his father won.

Natalia Veselnitskaya said Don Jr said they’d revisit the topic.

Mr. Trump, Jr. politely wound up the meeting with meaningless phrases about somewhat as follows: can do nothing about it, “if’ or “when” we come to power, we may return to this strange and confusing story.

Ike Kaveladze said that Don Jr said they might revisit the issue if his father won.

There was no request, but as I said, it was a suggestion that if Trump campaign wins, they might get back to the Magnitsky Act topic in the future.

Rinat Akhmetshin said that Don Jr said they would revisit Magnitsky when they won.

A. I don’t remember exact words which were said, but I remember at the end, Donald, Jr., said, you know, “Come back see us again when we win.” Not “if we win,” but “when we win.” And I kind of thought to myself like, “Yeah, right.” But it happened, so — but that’s something, see, he’s very kind of positive about, “When we win, come back and see us again.” Something to that effect, I guess.

Anatoli Samochornov, Veselnitskaya’s translator, who is the most independent witness and the only one who didn’t compare his story with others, said that Don Jr said they would revisit the issue if Trump won.

A. Like I described, I remember, not verbatim, the closing that Mr. Donald Trump, Jr., provided, but that’s all that I recall being said from the other side.

MR. PRIVOR: That closing being that Donald Trump, Jr., suggested —

MR. SAMOCHORNOV: If or when yes, and I do not remember if or when, but if or when my father becomes President, we will revisit this issue.

Just two people remember it differently. In an answer that, in some respects, exactly tracks statements that were massaged elsewhere by Trump’s lawyers, Rob Goldstone said Don Jr told Veselnitskaya to raise it with Obama.

And he stopped this in its tracks and said, with respect, I suggest that you address your — what seemed very valid concerns but to the Obama administration because they actually are in power. My father is a private citizen and, as such, it has no validity, of what you’re saying. Thank you very much for coming. I appreciate all your time. You know, we have a very busy schedule, and thank you.

And Don Jr himself remembers he ended the meeting by saying his father, a private citizen, couldn’t do anything about this.

I proceeded to quickly and politely end the meeting by telling Ms. Veselnitskaya that because my father was a private citizen there did not seem to be any point for having this discussion.

Paul Manafort would have provided testimony on this point to the Senate Intelligence Committee, but stood up SJC after the raid on his condo the morning after he testified. And Jared left the room before any of this transpired.

In any case, given their impression that Don Jr, in a meeting offering dirt on Hillary, had committed to revisiting Magnitsky sanctions if his pop won the election, the Russian side of the meeting did follow-up after Trump won. And so they did.

Agalarov’s team spent ten days in November trying to get Veselnitskaya a follow-up meeting

Ten days after the election, November 18, Ike Kaveladze reported to his boss, Aras, that Rob Goldstone had already reached out to the Trump people (Kaveladze doesn’t say to whom) to follow up.

Q. Could you please take a look at the entry for November 18, 2016, at 17:45. This appears to  be a message from you to Aras Agalarov. Mr. Kaveladze, could you please translate the content of that message?

A. “Hello. Rob spoke with Trump people. They asked a short synopsis of what is she going to be discussing. Last time she produced a lot of emotions and less facts. Most of the people who took part in that meeting are moving to Washington, D. C. Some of them already fired. When they receive synopsis, they will decide who to send to that meeting.”

Goldstone apparently asked for a short synopsis of the topic presented at the meeting — what would turn out to be the Magnitsky Act — so the Trump team could figure out who should attend a follow-up meeting.

On November 23, Kaveladze sent Goldstone that synopsis.

Less than an hour later, Goldstone wrote back and noted that the synopsis was largely what Veselnitskaya had presented in June.

When Kaveladze pressed for a meeting, Goldstone got squirrelly, even while saying he’d speak to both Don [Jr] and Rhona after sending a synopsis.

When Kaveladze followed up on November 27, Goldstone claimed he had sent materials the week before. Kaveladze suggested that this meeting could happen on the assistant or lawyer level — something both Kaveladze and Goldstone had expressed regret hadn’t happened during the summer.

The next time Kaveladze followed up, Goldstone said that Emin might have to call directly (which Kaveladze took to mean making a call to Don Jr).

It appears only after that did Goldstone forward the synopsis to Rhona Graff, above. After which he told Kaveladze that he had “again” asked about a low level meeting.

After that follow-up call, Graff forwarded Goldstone’s email to Steve Bannon (who early this year argued the June 9 meeting should have been held with lawyers, not the top campaign officials, thought without objecting to the exchange in principle), explaining that Trump knew Aras well, but that she wasn’t “sure how to proceed, if at all.”

During this whole exchange, Kaveladze was juggling messages with Veselnitskaya who was in New York on Prevezon business and beginning to panic based on news reports that Trump would keep Preet Bharara on (Kaveladze would continue handling her throughout December, until handing her off to Agalarov attorney Scott Balber in January).

On November 29, he explained to Vesenitskaya that,

Robert says that logistics of organizations [sic] of meetings with Team Trump now would be difficult and lengthy. I’ve landed in Moscow. I will discuss this situation … with my boss.

Kaveladze did not explain from whom Goldstone learned that, or if it included another phone call. He had also told Goldstone he was in Moscow if he wanted to speak directly. As Kaveladze told SJC, he discusses important things with his boss face-to-face because,

Agalarov is based in Russia, and I’m pretty sure, you know, his phone is being, you know, monitored.

And that’s where, as far as we know, the Agalarov effort to follow up on the June 9 meeting, ended, with Kaveladze explaining things face-to-face to his boss. Which would make it follow-up, just unsuccessful follow-up.

At least two communications are unaccounted for

One key question about this follow-up is the role that Don Jr had in it.

None of these texts suggesting Goldstone had phone conversations with someone, probably Don Jr, as early as November 18 were turned over to SJC before Don Jr testified. Probably as a result, he was asked only about the November 28 email from Goldstone to Graff. He claims he was not aware of any part of the follow-up.

Q. It appears Mr. Goldstone continued his anti-Magnitsky effort beyond your June 9, 2016 meeting. Other than this e-mail, were you aware of any other effort he made on this issue after your meeting?

A. Not that I recall, no.

For his part, Goldstone claims he didn’t send anything before that November 28 email, in spite of telling Kaveladze, back in November 2016, that he had.

Q. So in your November 27th message to Mr. Kaveladze, you said you forwarded the information last week. The last email was an email sent on November 28th, the day after this message with Kaveladze, forwarding the document to Ms. Graff. Had you, in fact, forwarded the document the week before your November 27th message with Kaveladze?

A. I don’t recall, but because I know myself, and I know how I write , I would imagine that the minute he reminded me of it in here, I forwarded it to Rhona, probably the next day. So I don’t recall one before then, no.

Q. All right. Prior to sending that email to Ms. Graff on November 28th, 2016, did you speak with Ms. Graff or any other Trump associates about a second meeting with Veselnitskaya?

A. I don’t believe so.

Nevertheless, there are several known or reported communications unaccounted for: the one Goldstone had before November 18, any email he had the week before November 28 with the synopsis, and any follow-up call via which Goldstone would conclude that the logistics of organizing a meeting with Trump people would be difficult during the transition.

Mueller, of course, will know whether Goldstone and Don Jr communicated directly, and if so when. So he will have a sense of whether Don Jr and Goldstone’s claims, which seem to contradict contemporaneous records, are true or not.

The Russian side concludes there is no communication channel

The problem, at least as the Russian side saw it (possibly based off what Goldstone had reported back), was those logistics: a channel of communications. The next day, December 1 at 11:49AM, Kaveladze texted again (Veselnitskaya was by this point frantic because Trump had met with Preet Bharara, with her even discussing who Trump might, “Wet and not to wet” with respect to the US Attorney, which Kaveladze translated as “crush”), explaining that Aras planned on meeting with Trump to restore communications.

Unfortunately, we don’t have communication. My boss planned to meet with him. We will send a formal request. Hopefully after the meeting we will keep communication.

As far as we know, that meeting never happened. Though the Agalarov camp and the Trump camp would resume intense conversations in June 2017, as the Trump Organization began to try to understand the legal liability posed by the meeting. Trump’s lawyers would speak directly with both Kaveladze and Goldstone before Agalarov’s lawyer, Scott Balber, took over the discussions (indeed, he remained the key architect of the narrative from that point forward, probably for all sides). Those are the conversations that would lead, on July 15, Graff to remind Goldstone that he had emailed her to follow up on the June 9 meeting.

So while there was clearly follow-up, there was not a clear resolution to the June 9 meeting in which Veselnitskaya got Trump to adopt her preferred policy.

Other Russians pursue a communication channel

Unless the resolution moved to a different path.

As it happens (this may be a coincidence, or may be a sign of greater coordination that the Trump people claim they’re capable of), later on the same day after Kaveladze said his boss would seek to restore a channel of communication with Trump, Jared hosted a meeting in Don Jr’s office with Sergei Kislyak, attended by Mike Flynn. Even according to Jared’s prepared statement, that meeting was about establishing communication channels to Russia.

The meeting occurred in Trump Tower where we had our transition office, and lasted twenty-thirty minutes. Lt. General Michael Flynn (Ret.), who became the President’s National Security Advisor, also attended. During the meeting, after pleasantries were exchanged, as I had done in many of the meetings I had and would have with foreign officials, I stated our desire for a fresh start in relations. Also, as I had done in other meetings with foreign officials, I asked Ambassador Kislyak if he would identify the best person (whether the Ambassador or someone else) with whom to have direct discussions and who had contact with his President. The fact that I was asking about ways to start a dialogue after Election Day should of course be viewed as strong evidence that I was not aware of one that existed before Election Day.

The Ambassador expressed similar sentiments about relations, and then said he especially wanted to address US. policy in Syria, and that he wanted to convey information from what he called his “generals.” He said he wanted to provide information that would help inform the new administration. He said the generals could not easily come to the U.S. to convey this information and he asked if there was a secure line in the transition office to conduct a conversation. General Flynn or I explained that there were no such lines. I believed developing a thoughtful approach on Syria was a very high priority given the ongoing humanitarian crisis, and I asked if they had an existing communications channel at his embassy we could use where they would be comfortable transmitting the information they wanted to relay to General Flynn. The Ambassador said that would not be possible and so we all agreed that we would receive this information after the Inauguration. [emphasis original]

Don Jr, in his SJC testimony, is the one who revealed that this meeting took place in his own office (and therefore outside of transition space that might be more closely monitored). But he claims he didn’t attend because he was sweaty from a workout; he also claims he didn’t know about it beforehand.

Q. You mentioned during the conversation with my colleagues that you had become aware of a meeting or meetings with Ambassador Kislyak. Can you just explain like what meetings did you become aware of? When did they take place?

A. I don’t remember the exact timing of when they took place. I believe it was after we had already secured — meaning after the election, but I could be mistaken. The only reason I’m aware of it is because it occurred in my office. I came back from the gym and they were in there.

Q. So when you say after the election, you mean after November 8, 2016?

A. I believe so.

Q. Was it a meeting in December of 2016?

A. That would fit the description, yes, I believe so.

Q. So it was a meeting in Trump Tower?

A. Yes.

Q. In your office but you hadn’t known about it beforehand?

A. Correct.

Q. Do you know why they used your office?

A. It was open, I was at the gym.

Q. And who was in that meeting?

A. I believe it was Jared Kushner, the Ambassador, maybe Flynn, but I don’t remember.

Q. Anyone else, to the best of your recollection?

A. No, not that I recall.

Q. Was the meeting still ongoing when you returned?

A. I believe it was, yes.

Q. Did you go in and join the meeting?

A. No, I did not.

Q. Why not?

A. Because I didn’t know what it was about and I was sweaty from the gym.

Q. Did you ask Mr. Kushner or Lieutenant General Flynn about the meeting after?

A. No, I don’t think I did.

So Don Jr doesn’t remember any calls with Goldstone about following up on the June 9 meeting (though they likely occurred), and he says a meeting with the Russian Ambassador just happened to get scheduled into his workout window on the same day his liaison was seeking a new channel of communications.

Mind you, the subject of this attempt to set up a back channel, per Jared, would be cooperating on Syria, something I learned — from someone who played a significant role in the Russian election attack — that Trump was working on within 15 hours of the close of polls in Hawaii the day after the election.

But within short order, these very same players would shift focus of back channel communications to sanctions relief. Within weeks, Kislyak had set up a meeting with the head of a sanctioned bank, Sergey Gorkov, to meet with Jared. And shortly after that, Flynn would make a series of calls to Kislyak about delaying any response to Obama’s December 28 sanctions. This, in turn, would lead to a meeting involving Erik Prince and another sanctioned bank in Seychelles leading up to the inauguration.

Natalia Veselnitskaya never got her second meeting to pitch the end to Magnitsky sanctions, but Sergey Gorkov got a meeting.

The stakes of dissociating the June 9 meeting from any sanctions relief

By this point, Rudy’s credibility is so shot that when he makes a claim, we should assume that it (like any claim his client makes) is suspect, if not an outright lie.

As I noted above, whether or not there was follow-up on the June 9 meeting doesn’t really change whether Don Jr gleefully accepted a meeting expecting dirt from the Russian government on Hillary Clinton. He did. But in Rudy’s dodgy explanations for why the June 9 meeting isn’t criminal, he relies heavily on his claim — a claim that the Trump side has maintained since a week before Rhona Graff found the email that proved it wasn’t true — that there was no follow-up on the meeting.

But there was.

At a minimum, there were several weeks of follow-up on the Russian side, understandably trying to hold Don Jr to (what they remember as) his offer to revisit the issue of sanctions after the election. As part of that follow-up, there are hints that Don Jr was in the loop, even if both he and Goldstone can’t remember that happening.

The follow-up led by the Agalarovs was, as far as the public record indicates, inconclusive. The Agalarovs lost their communication channel (perhaps as Don Jr got sidelined), and so never did get their follow-up meeting.

But on the same day Trump’s long-time handler, Aras Agalarov, said he’d seek out a new channel of communications, Jared Kushner and Mike Flynn were sitting in Don Jr’s office, attempting to establish a back channel of communication, and solidifying a relationship that would, less than a month later, involve yet another overt act regarding sanctions relief. And that overt act — persuading Sergey Kislyak to defer any response to Obama’s new sanctions — was closely directed from Mar-a-Lago.

Update: Looks like Rudy keeps issuing bogus exonerations for Jr because Mueller is closing in on him.

Mueller may be closing in on his son Don Jr. “A lot of what Trump is doing is based on the fact [that] Mueller is going after Don Jr.,” a person close to the Trump family told me. “They’re squeezing Don Jr. right now.”

Don Jr.’s lawyer said, “I’m not going to comment.” Another person briefed on the investigation disputed the term “squeeze,” but said the Mueller team continues to ask for documents.

As I disclosed last month, 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 Dossier as Disinformation: Why It Would Matter

As I disclosed last month, 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. 

When I wrote this post suggesting that Oleg Deripaska may have been in a position to make sure Christopher Steele’s Trump oppo research was filled with disinformation, a lot of people not only doubted that the dossier includes disinformation, but scoffed that even if it did it would matter. (See this post for more expert people talking about the possibility the dossier was seeded with disinformation.)

In his testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, Fusion GPS’ founder Glenn Simpson said that the Democrats used the Steele dossier in an effort, “to help [] manage a, you know, exceptional situation and understand what the heck was going on.” The same, we know from an endless series of Devin Nunes-led stunts to conflate the dossier with the FBI investigation, was true of the FBI.

The Democrats and the FBI used the dossier to figure out what was going on.

So to the extent information in the dossier was deliberately inaccurate — particularly in cases where it conflicted with publicly known or (given geographic location and known Steele network) knowable, more accurate information — it would lead the Democrats and the FBI to make incorrect decisions about how to prepare against or investigate the Russian attack.

And while I can’t tell whether the following examples arose from disinformation or some lack of due diligence or plain old hazards of human intelligence, all are examples where using the dossier to make decisions would have led the Democrats or the FBI to waste resources or act with less urgency than they should have.


How accomplished were the Russians at hacking

Steele claim, July 26, 2016:

In terms of the success of Russian offensive cyber operations to date, a senior government figure reported that there had been only limited success in penetrating the “first tier” foreign targets. The comprised western (especially G7 and NATO) governments, security and intelligence services and central banks, and the IFIs. To compensate for this shortfall, massive effort had been invested, with much greater success, in attacking the “secondary targets”, particularly western private banks and the governments of smaller states allied to the West. S/he mentioned Latvia in this regard.


Kaspersky Labs claim, April 21, 2015 (including links to older reporting attributing the attacks to Russia):

CozyDuke (aka CozyBear, CozyCar or “Office Monkeys”) is a precise attacker. Kaspersky Lab has observed signs of attacks against government organizations and commercial entities in the US, Germany, South Korea and Uzbekistan. In 2014, targets included the White House and the US Department of State, as believed.

The operation presents several interesting aspects

  • extremely sensitive high profile victims and targets
  • evolving crypto and anti-detection capabilities

[snip]

Recent CozyDuke APT activity attracted significant attention in the news:

Sources: State Dept. hack the ‘worst ever’, CNN News, March 2015
White House computer network ‘hacked’, BBC News, October 2014
Three Months Later, State Department Hasn’t Rooted Out Hackers, Wall Street Journal, February 2015
State Department shuts down its e-mail system amid concerns about hacking, Washington Post, November 2014

Note: FBI probably intended the DNC to consult to this report, describing “7 years of Russian cyberespionage,” when they first warned the DNC they were being hacked in September 2015, which would have also alerted the Democrats to the sophistication of Russian hacking.

Actions Democrats might have taken

The incorrect information, neglecting to mention known attacks on Germany’s parliament and US national security agencies, might have led Democrats to dismiss the persistence of the hackers targeting them.


What were Russians doing with social media and how social media was driving polarization

Steele claim, December 13, 2016:

[redacted] reported that over the period March-September 2016 a company called [Webzilla] and its affiliates had been using botnets and porn traffic to transmit viruses, plant bugs, steal data and conduct “altering operations” against the Democratic Party leadership.


Adrian Chen, The Agency, June 2, 2015,:

It has gone by a few names, but I will refer to it by its best known: the Internet Research Agency. The agency had become known for employing hundreds of Russians to post pro-Kremlin propaganda online under fake identities, including on Twitter, in order to create the illusion of a massive army of supporters; it has often been called a “troll farm.” The more I investigated this group, the more links I discovered between it and the hoaxes. In April, I went to St. Petersburg to learn more about the agency and its brand of information warfare, which it has aggressively deployed against political opponents at home, Russia’s perceived enemies abroad and, more recently, me.

Update: at 35:00 in this December 9, 2015 podcast, Chen describes the Russian trolls “only tweeting about Donald Trump and stuff … maybe it’s some kind of opaque strategy of like electing Donald Trump to undermine the US or something, you know like false flag kind of thing.” (h/t JL)

BuzzFeed, Hyperpartisan Facebook Pages Are Publishing False And Misleading Information At An Alarming Rate, October 20, 2016 (and virtually everything else Craig Silverman wrote in the months leading up to it):

Hyperpartisan political Facebook pages and websites are consistently feeding their millions of followers false or misleading information, according to an analysis by BuzzFeed News. The review of more than 1,000 posts from six large hyperpartisan Facebook pages selected from the right and from the left also found that the least accurate pages generated some of the highest numbers of shares, reactions, and comments on Facebook — far more than the three large mainstream political news pages analyzed for comparison.

[snip]

The rapid growth of these pages combines with BuzzFeed News’ findings to suggest a troubling conclusion: The best way to attract and grow an audience for political content on the world’s biggest social network is to eschew factual reporting and instead play to partisan biases using false or misleading information that simply tells people what they want to hear. This approach has precursors in partisan print and television media, but has gained a new scale of distribution on Facebook. And while it isn’t a solely American phenomenon — the British Labour party found powerful support from a similar voice — these pages are central to understanding a profoundly polarized moment in American life.

Actions Democrats might have taken

It’s hard to believe this December report is anything but pure disinformation. And, particularly given that it came just weeks before Manafort counseled Trump to discredit the investigation by discrediting the dossier, it’s easy to imagine that the point of this was to provide easily falsifiable information, seed politically and financially expensive lawfare, and protect Putin crony Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s contribution to the election operation.

In any case, intelligence about the publicly known trolling efforts earlier in campaign season might have led Hillary to pressure her close ally, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, to take the threat more seriously — or at least to pay more attention to Facebook’s optimization program, both in her own and her opponent’s campaign. But a late report blaming a completely different company has only helped to discredit efforts to collect information on Trump’s ties to Russia.


What kompromat did Russia plan to leak on Hillary

Steele claim, June 20, 2016:

Asked about the Kremlin’s reported intelligence feed to TRUMP over recent years and rumours about a Russian dossier of “kompromat” on Hillary CLINTON (being circulated), Source B confirmed the file’s existence. S/he confided in a trusted compatriot that it had been collated by Department K of the FSB for many years, dating back to her husband Bill’s presidency, and compromised mainly eavesdropped conversations of various sorts rather than details/evidence of unorthodox or embarrassing behavior. Some of the conversations were from bugged comments CLINTON had made on her various trips to Russia and focused on things she had said which contradicted her current position on various issues. Others were probably from phone intercepts.


Josef Mifsud to George Papadopoulos, April 26, 2016, over breakfast in a London hotel: the Russians “had emails of Clinton … they have dirt on her … they have thousands of emails.”

Papadopoulos, May 10, 2016, over a drink to Australia’s Ambassador to the UK, in Kensington’s Wine Room, 2.5 miles from Orbis’ office:

During that conversation he (Papadopoulos) mentioned the Russians might use material that they have on Hillary Clinton in the lead-up to the election, which may be damaging.

[snip]

He didn’t say dirt, he said material that could be damaging to her. No, he said it would be damaging. He didn’t say what it was.

Actions Democrats might have taken

At least some of the very first documents Guccifer 2.0 released starting in June were obtained via the Podesta hack. Had the Democrats been worried about “thousands of emails” as kompromat rather than “bugged comments [and] phone intercepts … collated by Department K of the FSB for many years, dating back to her husband Bill’s presidency,” the Democrats might have prepared for an assault more directly targeting Hillary. At the very least, the Guccifer 2.0 releases would have alerted the Democrats that Crowdstrike’s advice — that usually such emails weren’t publicly released — didn’t apply in this case.


Who managed outreach to Russia

Steele claim, undated (after July 22, 2016):

This was managed on the TRUMP side by the Republican candidate’s campaign manager, Paul MANAFORT, who was using foreign policy advisor, Carter PAGE, and others as intermediaries.


Fusion GPS client Natalia Veselnitskaya, before June 9, 2016 Prevezon hearing attended by Simpson:

Around the end of May 2016, during a conversation with a good acquaintance of mine, being my client, Aras Agalarov on a topic that was not related to the United States, I shared the story faced when defending another client, Denis Katsyv, about how terribly misled the US Congress had been by the tax defrauder William Browder, convicted in Russia, who, through his lobbyists and his close-minded rank-and-file Congress staffers, succeeded in adopting the Act in the name of a person whom Browder practically hardly ever knew. I considered it my duty to inform the Congress people about it and asked Mr. Agalarov if there was any possibility of helping me or my colleagues to do this. I do not remember who of us was struck by the idea that maybe his son could talk about this with Donald Trump, Jr., who, although a businessman, was sure to have some acquaintances among Congress people.

[snip]

But upon arrival in New York in the evening of June 8, 2016, in my e-mail box I found a letter from a certain Goldstone, who notified me of the time and place of the meeting with Donald Trump, Jr. In this correspondance Aras Agalarov’s colleague, Irakli Kaveladze, who had been living in the United States for a long time and to whom I left my mail for contacts, was mentioned in the copy.

Veselnitskaya to Rob Goldstone, June 9, 9:24AM, requesting the inclusion of another Fusion client:

I am writing to ask you to pass by Mt. Trump my request to include our trusted associate and lobbyist Mr. Rinat Akhmetshin, who is working to advance these issues with several congressmen.

Paul Manafort to deputy of likely Steele contact Oleg Deripaska, Konstantin Kilimnik, July 7, 2016, of Deripaska:

If he needs private briefings we can accommodate.

Actions Democrats might have taken

On this point, the dossier proved absolutely correct. Manafort was managing the conspiracy with the Russians, at least until he was fired and his hand-picked replacement Steve Bannon took over. But the dossier’s focus on Carter Page — who was part of Russia’s outreach but a marginal figure — served to distract from the far more central figures that Fusion and its contractor Steele had no business missing: Fusion’s clients Natalia Veselnitskaya and Rinat Akhmetshin, and through them the President’s son and son-in-law, along with Manafort. And Steele contact Oleg Deripaska’s deputy, Konstantin Kilimnik.

Whether intentionally or not, the Page focus in the dossier distracted from the more central players, the ones who interacted directly with the candidate, the ones being run by Steele contact Deripaska.


Whether both sides were comfortable with ongoing operations

Steele claim, July 30, 2016, based off “late July” reporting:

The émigré said there was a high level of anxiety within the TRUMP team as a result of various accusations levelled agains them and indications from the Kremlin that President PUTIN and others in the leadership thought things had gone too far and risked spiralling out of control.

Continuing on this theme, the émigré associate of TRUMP opined that the Kremlin wanted the situation to calm but for “plausible deniability” to be maintained concerning its (extensive) pro-TRUMP and anti-CLINTON operations. S/he therefore judged that it was unlikely these would be ratcheted up, at least for the time being.


July 27, 2016, Donald Trump:

Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.

July 27, 2016:

For example, on or about July 27, 2016, the Conspirators attempted after hours to spearphish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office. At or around the same time, they also targeted seventy-six email addresses at the domain for the Clinton Campaign.

[Note: I’ve spoken with someone involved in the effort to repel this attack, and he described it as a new “wave” of attacks launched seemingly in response to Trump’s comments.]

Actions Democrats might have taken

Because the targeting here was Hillary herself and not the feckless DNC, the Democrats weren’t going to be lulled by this claim that Trump and Russia were laying low. But if the report were disinformation, it may have been intended to disavow the seemingly clear tie between Trump’s requests and GRU’s response.


Who covered up Manafort’s scandals/What Cohen really was doing with Russia

Steele claim, October 19, 2016:

According to the Kremlin insider, [Michael] COHEN now was heavily engaged in a cover up and damage limitation operation in the attempt to prevent the full details of TRUMP’s relationship with Russian being exposed. In pursuit of this aim, COHEN had met secretly with several Russian Presidential Administration (PA) Legal Department officials in an EU country in August 2016. The immediate issues had been to contain further scandals involving MANNAFORT’s [sic] commercial and political role in Russia/Ukraine and to limit the damage arising from exposure of former TRUMP foreign policy advisor, Carter PAGE’s secret meetings with Russian leadership figures in Moscow the previous month.


Starting on August 15, Rick Gates helps Paul Manafort hide their Ukranian consulting by lying to the press and DOJ’s FARA Unit; Deripaska deputy Konstantin Kilimnik would remain closely involved through the next year:

For example, on August 15, 2016, a member of the press e-mailed Manafort and copied a spokesperson for the Trump campaign to solicit a comment for a forthcoming story describing his lobbying. Gates corresponded with Manafort about this outreach and explained that he “provided” the journalist “information on background and then agreed that we would provide these answers to his questions on record.” He then proposed a series of answers to the journalist’s questions and asked Manafort to “review the below and let me know if anything else is needed,” to which Manafort replied, in part, “These answers look fine.” Gates sent a materially identical message to one of the principals of Company B approximately an hour later and “per our conversation.” The proposed answers Gates conveyed to Manafort, the press, and Company B are those excerpted in the indictment in paragraph 26.

An article by this member of the press associating Manafort with undisclosed lobbying on behalf of Ukraine was published shortly after Gates circulated the Manafort-approved false narrative to Company B and the member of the press. Manafort, Gates, and an associate of Manafort’s corresponded about how to respond to this article, including the publication of an article to “punch back” that contended that Manafort had in fact pushed President Yanukovych to join the European Union. Gates responded to the punch-back article that “[w]e need to get this out to as many places as possible. I will see if I can get it to some people,” and Manafort thanked the author by writing “I love you! Thank you.” Manafort resigned his position as chairman of the Trump campaign within days of the press article disclosing his lobbying for Ukraine.

Manafort’s role with the Trump campaign is thus relevant to his motive for undertaking the charged scheme to conceal his lobbying activities on behalf of Ukraine. Here, it would be difficult for the jury to understand why Manafort and Gates began crafting and disseminating a false story regarding their Ukrainian lobbying work nearly two years after that work ceased—but before any inquiry by the FARA Unit—without being made aware of the reason why public scrutiny of Manafort’s work intensified in mid-2016. Nor would Manafort’s motives for continuing to convey that false information to the FARA Unit make sense: having disseminated a false narrative to the press while his position on the Trump campaign was in peril, Manafort either had to admit these falsehoods publicly or continue telling the lie.

Oleg Deripaska deputy Konstantin Kilimnik asks Alex van der Zwaan to call Rick Gates to cover up Yulia Tymoshenko cover-up, September 12, 2016

When confronted with an email dated September 12, 2016, sent by Person A to van der Zwaan, the defendant again lied. The email was sent to the defendant’s email address at his law firm, though the Special Counsel’s Office had obtained the email from another source. The email said, in Russian, that Person A “would like to exchange a few words via WhatsApp or Telegram.” van der Zwaan lied and said he had no idea why that email had not been produced to the government, and further lied when he stated that he had not communicated with Person A in response to the email.

[snip]

Further, van der Zwaan in fact had a series of calls with Gates and Person A—as well as the lead partner on the matter—in September and October 2016. The conversations concerned potential criminal charges in Ukraine about the Tymoshenko report and how the firm was compensated for its work.

Actions Democrats might have taken

I’m particularly interested in how Deripaska contact Christopher Steele told a story that put Michael Cohen at the center of Russia pushback rather than Manafort himself, Rick Gates, and Deripaska deputy Konstantin Kilimnik, because if this is disinformation, it served multiple purposes (not all of which I include here):

  • Distracted from Gates’ actions (and his ongoing ties with Kilimnik) while he remained a central figure on the Trump campaign and transition (effectively, ensuring that a high ranking campaign official with close ties to Deripaska’s deputy remained in place)
  • Distracted from Manafort’s reported ongoing back channel involvement in the campaign
  • Focused attention on Cohen in August, rather than his actions from January to June 2016 to negotiate a Trump Tower deal, something that probably had a more central role in the quid pro quo behind the election operation
  • Shifted focus on ongoing discussions about a Trump Tower deal between reported Steele source Sergei Millian and Russian go-between George Papadopoulos
  • Focused fall attention on Cohen on a Russian cover-up rather than on the sex worker hush payments he facilitated

Again, I don’t know that this line of Steele’s reporting is disinformation (though no evidence Cohen went to Prague has been substantiated). But if it was, it would have been a masterful distraction from a number of key threads that might have been lethal to Trump in the general election if they had become a focus.

In each of these cases, the disinformation would not so much disavow the existence of the election campaign. Indeed, in key respects — the centrality of Paul Manafort and Russia’s desire to end sanctions (though even there, the Steele dossier focused on the Ukrainian sanctions rather than the Magnitsky ones) — the dossier reported what actually happened, though both items were obvious. Rather, the disinformation would include grains of truth but incorrect details that would distract investigators and misinform Democratic decision-makers.

And all that’s before you get into how perfectly the dossier has served to discredit a very real, well-founded counterintelligence investigation and entangled Democrats and the press in expensive lawfare.

Lawfare’s Theory of L’Affaire Russe Misses the Kompromat for the Pee Glee

As I disclosed last month, 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. 

Lawfare has updated a piece they did in May 2017, laying out what they believe are the seven theories of “L’Affaire Russe,” of which just five have withstood the test of time. It’s a worthwhile backbone for discussion among people trying to sort through the evidence.

Except I believe they get one thing badly wrong. Close to the end of the long post, they argue we’ve seen no evidence of a kompromat file — which they imagine might be the pee tape described in the probably disinformation-filled Steele dossier.

On the other hand, the hard evidence to support “Theory of the Case #6: Kompromat” has not materially changed in the last 15 months, though no evidence has emerged that undermines the theory either. No direct evidence has emerged that there exists a Russian kompromat file—let alone a pee tape—involving Trump, despite a huge amount of speculation on the subject. What has changed is that Trump’s behavior at the Helsinki summit suddenly moved the possibility of kompromat into the realm of respectable discourse.

Nevertheless, along the way, they point to evidence of direct ties between Trump’s behavior and Russian response.

The candidate, after all, did make numerous positive statements about Russian relations and Vladimir Putin himself—though how much of this has anything to do with these meetings is unclear. At a minimum, it is no small thing for the Russian state to have gotten a Republican nominee for president willing to reverse decades of Republican Russia-skepticism and commitment to NATO.

[snip]

What’s more, two days before the meeting, Trump promised a crowd that he would soon be giving a “major speech” on “all of the things that have taken place with the Clintons”—but after the meeting turned out to be a dud, the speech did not take place. And notably, the hacking indictment shows that the GRU made its first effort to break into Hillary Clinton’s personal email server and the email accounts of Clinton campaign staff on the same day—July 27, 2016—that Trump declared at a campaign stop, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing” from Clinton’s email account.

For some reason, they describe Don Jr’s reported disappointment about the June 9 meeting, but not Ike Kaveladze’s testimony that his initial report to Aras Agalarov (the report made in front of witnesses) was positive. Based on Don Jr’s heavily massaged (and, public evidence makes clear, perjurious) testimony, they claim that the Trump Tower meeting was a dud. Then they go on to note that the Russians at the June 9 meeting asked for Magnitsky sanction relief, rather than offering dirt.

In June 2016, Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort met with a group of Russian visitors in Trump Tower, including attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya. In the now-infamous email exchange that preceded the meeting, Trump, Jr. wrote, “I love it, especially later in the summer” when informed that the meeting would provide him with documents that “would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.” Trump, Jr. and other representatives of the Trump campaign were reportedly disappointed when Veselnitskaya failed to provide the promised “dirt” on Clinton and discussed the issue of Russian adoptions under the Magnitsky Act instead.

[snip]

While there is evidence—most notably with respect to the Trump Tower meeting—of Trump campaign willingness to work with the Russians, there’s not a lot of evidence that any kind of deal was ever struck.

To sustain their case that “there’s not a lot of evidence that any kind of deal was ever struck,” they neglect a number of other points. They don’t mention, for example, that a week after the Trump Tower meeting, the Russians released the first of the stolen files. They don’t mention that (contrary to Don Jr’s massaged testimony and most public claims since) there was a significant effort in November 2016 to follow-up on that June 9 meeting. They don’t mention that that effort was stalled because of the difficulty of communicating given the scrutiny of being President-elect. They don’t mention that the same day the Agalarov people discussed the difficulty of communicating with the President-elect, Jared Kushner met the Russian Ambassador in Don Jr’s office (not in transition space) and raised the possibility of a back channel, a meeting which led to Jared’s meeting with the head of a sanctioned bank, which in turn led to a back channel meeting in the Seychelles with more sanctioned financiers. And inexplicably, they make no mention of the December 29, 2016 calls, during which — almost certainly on direct orders from Trump relayed by KT McFarland — Mike Flynn got the Russians to stall any response to Obama’s sanctions, a discussion Mike Flynn would later lie about to the FBI, in spite of the fact that at least six transition officials knew what he really said.

Why does Lawfare ignore the basis for the plea deal that turned Trump’s one-time National Security Advisor into state’s evidence, when laying out the evidence in this investigation?

All of which is to say that even with all the things Lawfare ignores in their summary, they nevertheless lay out the evidence that Trump and the Russians were engaged in a call-and-response, a call-and-response that appears in the Papadopoulos plea and (as Lawfare notes) the GRU indictment, one that ultimately did deal dirt and got at least efforts to undermine US sanctions (to say nothing of the Syria effort that Trump was implementing less than 14 hours after polls closed, an effort that has been a key part of both Jared Kushner and Mike Flynn’s claims about the Russian interactions).

At each stage of this romance with Russia, Russia got a Trump flunkie (first, Papadopoulos) or Trump himself to publicly engage in the call-and-response. All of that led up to the point where, on July 16, 2018, after Rod Rosenstein loaded Trump up with a carefully crafted indictment showing Putin that Mueller knew certain things that Trump wouldn’t fully understand, Trump came out of a meeting with Putin looking like he had been thoroughly owned and stood before the entire world and spoke from Putin’s script in defiance of what the US intelligence community has said.

People are looking in the entirely wrong place for the kompromat that Putin has on Trump, and missing all the evidence of it right in front of their faces.

Vladimir Putin obtained receipts at each stage of this romance of Trump’s willing engagement in a conspiracy with Russians for help getting elected. Putin knows what each of those receipts mean. Mueller has provided hints, most obviously in that GRU indictment, that he knows what some of them are.

For example, on or about July 27, 2016, the Conspirators  attempted after hours to spearphish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office. At or around the same time, they also targeted seventy-six email addresses at the domain for the Clinton Campaign.

But Mueller’s not telling whether he has obtained the actual receipts.

And that’s the kompromat. Trump knows that if Mueller can present those receipts, he’s sunk, unless he so discredits the Mueller investigation before that time as to convince voters not to give Democrats a majority in Congress, and convince Congress not to oust him as the sell-out to the country those receipts show him to be. He also knows that, on the off-chance Mueller hasn’t figured this all out yet, Putin can at any time make those receipts plain. Therein lies Trump’s uncertainty: It’s not that he has any doubt what Putin has on him. It’s that he’s not sure which path before him — placating Putin, even if it provides more evidence he’s paying off his campaign debt, or trying to end the Mueller inquiry before repaying that campaign debt, at the risk of Putin losing patience with him — holds more risk.

Trump knows he’s screwed. He’s just not sure whether Putin or Mueller presents the bigger threat.

At Helsinki Summit, Putin Re-enacts the June 9 Trump Tower Meeting

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

I know there are a lot of people who aren’t as convinced as I am that a clear agreement was reached between Trump’s top aides and Putin’s emissaries at the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting. For doubters, however, Vladimir Putin just re-enacted the meeting on the world stage at the Helsinki summit.

On top of the denials, from both sides, of Russian tampering in the election (and both sides’ embrace of a joint cybersecurity working group), that re-enactment came in three ways.

First, when asked whether Russia tampered in our election, Putin issued a line that was sort of a non-sequitur, asserting that, “I was an intelligence officer myself. And I do know how dossiers are made of.” The line — a reference both to the Steele dossier and Putin’s more damaging kompromat on Trump — is pregnant with meaning (and probably was planned). When asked, later, whether he had any compromising information on Trump or his family, Putin said, “Now to kompromat. I did hear these allegations that we collected kompromat when he was in Moscow. I didn’t even know he was in Moscow.”

This is a reference to the pee tape, allegedly taped when he put on Miss Universe in Russia in 2013. But it’s premised on a claim about which there is sworn counter-evidence in the US. Rob Goldstone — the guy who set up the June 9 meeting — described how Putin not only knew Trump was in Moscow, but was still trying to fit in a meeting with him.

And it went down to the wire. It was on the day of the contest itself that maybe around 4:00 in the afternoon Emin called a few of us into a conference room at Crocus, and his Dad, Aras, was there. And we were told that a call was coming in through from a Mr. Peskov, who I know to be Dmitry Peskov, who I believe is a spokesman for Mr . Putin, and there’d be an answer. And the answer I think, as I may have stated the last time I saw you, was that due to the lateness o f the newly crowned King of Holland who’d been delayed in traffic, whether air or road traffic, Mr. Putin would not be able to meet with Mr. Trump. However, he invited him to Sochi, to the Olympics, and said he’d be happy to meet him here or at any future time. And that’s how it was left, so there would be not meeting taking place.

So not only did Putin lie about whether there could be a pee tape (I don’t think there is one, but I think the 2013 involves compromise in another way), but did so in a way that invoked the Agalrovs as Trump’s handlers going back years.

And did you notice that he never denied having kompromat?

Then, in a response to one of the questions about Putin’s tampering in the election, after he suggested that he’d be willing to have Mueller come to Russia to question the GRU officers who hacked Hillary, he demanded similar cooperation on his legal issues. He then raised Bill Browder (who is no longer a US citizen), complaining that

For instance, we can bring up Mr. Browder in this particular case. Business associates of Mr. Browder have earned over $1.5 million [sic] in Russia. They never paid any taxes, neither in Russia nor in the United States. And yet the money escaped the country, they [sic] were transferred to the United States. They sent huge amount of money, $400 million, as a contribution to the campaign of Hillary Clinton.

Aside from being muddled, both in Putin’s delivery and the translation, this is precisely the dangle that Natalia Veselnitskaya used to get into Trump’s campaign back in 2016 to ask to have the Magnitsky sanctions overturned.

This was simply Putin laying out his receipts of Trump’s compromise on the world stage.

There’s one other area where Putin simply showed off how badly he has compromised the President. His prepared talks emphasized cooperation on Syria, claiming it “could be first showcase example of joint work.” As I have noted, that has been the operative plan since less than 15 hours after polls closed in November 2016. And it was known by someone who played a significant role in the Russian attack.

This meeting, then, is just Putin collecting on the receipts collected back on June 9, 2016.