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Scott Balber’s Sixth Attempt to Craft the June 9 Meeting Story

I’ve been tracking the considerable effort one-time Trump lawyer and current Agalarov lawyer Scott Balber has made to craft a legit story for the June 9 Trump Tower meeting. Heretofore, he has done so on five occasions:

  1. meeting between Rinat Akhmetshin and Ike Kaveladze (the latter of whom Balber represents as an employee of Agalarov) in Moscow in June 2017, just as Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort were both belatedly disclosing the meeting to various authorities; this story appears to have been an attempt to pre-empt the damage that would be done when Akhmetshin’s involvement became public
  2. Balber trip sometime before October to Russia to coordinate a story with and get documents from Natalia Veselnitskaya to back her version of the talking points she reportedly shared with Trump’s people
  3. Another October story, this “revealing” that Veselnitskaya’s research came from (or actually was shared with) Russian prosecutor Yuri Chaika, but insisting (per Balber) that Agalarov had no ties with the prosecutor
  4. Balber filling in a hole in the story for Goldstone: he told the Daily Beast that after his client Ike Kaveladze saw an email (from whom he doesn’t describe) indicating that Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and Don Jr would be at the meeting, he called a close associate of Goldstone’s (and a former employee of Balber’s client), Roman Beniaminov, to find out what the meeting was about. That’s the first he learned — at least as far as he told congressional investigators — that the meeting was about dealing “dirt” on Hillary.
  5. Balber insisting that Rob Goldstone’s email calling the news of the DNC hack and leak “eerie” “odd because hacking was never discussed in the meeting and it was not consistent with what was discussed.”

Number Six:

Balber’s back in this story, revealing that Rob Goldstone (who I believe had meetings with all major investigations in DC this week) offered to set up a meeting between Putin and Trump in July 2015. Balber insists that such a thing couldn’t really happen because his client can’t just set up meetings with Putin.

About a month after Donald Trump launched his presidential bid, a British music promoter suggested his Russian pop-star client could arrange for the new candidate to meet with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, according to an email obtained by The Washington Post.

The July 2015 offer by publicist Rob Goldstone came about a year before he set up a meeting for Trump’s eldest son with a Russian lawyer who he said had incriminating information about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

Goldstone’s overture came as he unsuccessfully urged Trump to travel to Moscow later that year to attend a birthday celebration for his client’s father.

“Maybe he would welcome a meeting with President Putin,” Goldstone wrote in a July 24, 2015, email to Trump’s longtime personal assistant, Rhona Graff. There is no indication Trump or his assistant followed up on Goldstone’s offer.

[snip]

Scott Balber, an attorney for the pop star, Emin Agalarov, said Agalarov asked Goldstone to invite Trump to his father’s party but was not aware that the publicist dangled the possibility of meeting with Putin.

“It is certainly not the case that Emin Agalarov can arrange a meeting with Vladi­mir Putin for anybody,” Balber said.

In case you haven’t figured out, I think this is all an elaborate cover story to obscure what actually went on in the meeting and what the understanding about it was. Now that Goldstone has testified, this may start to fall apart.

In fact, I’m going to try to finish my last piece of analysis on this, because it may start falling apart that quickly.

Scott Balber’s Latest Narrative on Trump Tower

For some weeks, I’ve been tracking how sometime Trump and current Agalarov family lawyer Scott Balber has actively crafted a story about the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting. Prior efforts to craft the story include:

  1. meeting between Rinat Akhmetshin and Ike Kaveladze (the latter of whom Balber represents as an employee of Agalarov) in Moscow in June 2017, just as Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort were both belatedly disclosing the meeting to various authorities; this story appears to have been an attempt to pre-empt the damage that would be done when Akhmetshin’s involvement became public
  2. Balber trip sometime before October to Russia to coordinate a story with and get documents from Natalia Veselnitskaya to back her version of the talking points she reportedly shared with Trump’s people
  3. Another October story, this “revealing” that Veselnitskaya’s research came from (or actually was shared with) Russian prosecutor Yuri Chaika, but insisting (per Balber) that Agalarov had no ties with the prosecutor
  4. Balber filled in a hole in the story for Goldstone: he told the Daily Beast that after his client Ike Kaveladze saw an email (from whom he doesn’t describe) indicating that Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and Don Jr would be at the meeting, he called a close associate of Goldstone’s (and a former employee of Balber’s client), Roman Beniaminov, to find out what the meeting was about. That’s the first he learned — at least as far as he told congressional investigators — that the meeting was about dealing “dirt” on Hillary.

Balber is back again in this CNN story. The story reveals two things.

First, Rob Goldstone tried to get the Trump campaign to establish a presence on VKontakte. The move is presented as some kind of marketing gimmick by CNN’s sources, but it would also establish an easy communications vehicle that would be harder for US intelligence services to wiretap.

More interesting, however, is the revelation that Goldstone forwarded this story to Scott Balber’s clients and observed that it was eerily weird given what had transpired at Trump Tower earlier.

In one email dated June 14, 2016, Goldstone forwarded a CNN story on Russia’s hacking of DNC emails to his client, Russian pop star Emin Agalarov, and Ike Kaveladze, a Russian who attended the meeting along with Trump Jr., Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and Manafort, describing the news as “eerily weird” given what they had discussed at Trump Tower five days earlier.

One of the sources familiar with the content of the email downplayed the interaction, saying news of the DNC hack was surprising because in the run-up to the Trump Tower meeting, the Russian participants had promised information on illicit Russian funding of the DNC. But that dirt was not provided to Trump Jr., Kushner and Manafort during the meeting, according to accounts from the participants.

The DNC hacking was not brought up at the meeting, another source said, explaining it would not be ‘oddly weird’ if the topic had been broached.

Which is where Balber comes in, trustworthy as always, insisting that hacked emails were not consistent with what was discussed at the meeting.

Scott Balber, the attorney for, confirms his client received the email but viewed it as odd because hacking was never discussed in the meeting and it was not consistent with what was discussed.

Balber, of course, has already intervened four times in this story to lay out a narrative — one I’m virtually certain is absolutely false — about what might be consistent with what was discussed. Given that both his clients received this email, he would have known about the email from the very start — certainly by June 2017 when he was coordinating a meeting in Moscow to limit the damage of this story. This email would have been central to his prior four efforts to craft a story in which emails would never come up.

But Goldstone — who curiously didn’t mention this email in his “I hate the word guilty” narrative of events, who has been hiding out in Thailand since this story broke and who expressed worry that Russian goons might take him out, who will be in DC next weeks for a bunch of interviews — seemed to think at the time the report of the stolen emails was eerily weird given what he had heard just days earlier.

Did the Steele Dossier Lead the Democrats To Be Complacent after They Got Hacked?

I get asked, a lot, why I obsess over the Steele dossier. A lot of people believe that even if the dossier doesn’t pan out, it doesn’t matter because Mueller’s investigation doesn’t depend on it. I’d be more sympathetic to that view if people like Adam Schiff and John Podesta didn’t keep invoking the dossier in ways that makes their legitimate concerns easy to discredit.

But I now believe the dossier may have done affirmative damage.

Consider the timeline.

Perkins Coie lawyer Marc Elias reportedly engaged Fusion for opposition research in April (their first payment was May 24).

April 26, Joseph Mifsud told George Papadopoulos that Russians said they had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton, in the form of emails.

April 29, the DNC discovered they had been hacked. Perkins Coie partner Michael Sussman had a key role in their response.

“Not sure it is related to what the F.B.I. has been noticing,” said one internal D.N.C. email sent on April 29. “The D.N.C. may have been hacked in a serious way this week, with password theft, etc.”

No one knew just how bad the breach was — but it was clear that a lot more than a single filing cabinet worth of materials might have been taken. A secret committee was immediately created, including Ms. Dacey, Ms. Wasserman Schultz, Mr. Brown and Michael Sussmann, a former cybercrimes prosecutor at the Department of Justice who now works at Perkins Coie, the Washington law firm that handles D.N.C. political matters.

“Three most important questions,” Mr. Sussmann wrote to his clients the night the break-in was confirmed. “1) What data was accessed? 2) How was it done? 3) How do we stop it?”

Sometime in May, Robert Johnston (who then worked at Crowdstrike) briefed the DNC on the hack. He told them how much data had been stolen, but he told them intelligence hackers generally don’t do anything with the stolen data.

When he briefed the DNC in that conference room, Johnston presented a report that basically said, “They’ve balled up data and stolen it.” But the political officials were hardly experienced in the world of intelligence. They were not just horrified but puzzled. “They’re looking at me,” Johnston recalled, “and they’re asking, ‘What are they going to do with the data that was taken?’”

Back then, no one knew. In addition to APT 29, another hacking group had launched malware into the DNC’s system. Called APT 28, it’s also associated Russian intelligence. Andrei Soldatov, a Russian investigative journalist and security expert, said it’s not crystal clear which Russian spy service is behind each hacker group, but like many other cybersecurity investigators, he agreed that Russian intelligence carried out the attack.

So, Johnston said, “I start thinking back to all of these previous hacks by Russia and other adversaries like China. I think back to the Joint Chiefs hack. What did they do with this data? Nothing. They took the information for espionage purposes. They didn’t leak it to WikiLeaks.”

So, Johnston recalled, that’s what he told the DNC in May 2016: Such thefts have become the norm, and the hackers did not plan on doing anything with what they had purloined.

May 25 was likely the date on which the last emails shared with Wikileaks got exfiltrated.

On June 9, Natalia Veselnitskaya met with Don Jr, Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort at Trump Tower. Both at a Prevezon court hearing that morning and after the Trump Tower meeting, she reportedly met with Fusion’s Glenn Simpson. Though there’s no sign of Baker Hostetler paying for any services anytime near that meeting. Sometime Fusion associate Rinat Akhmetshin accompanied Veselnitskaya to the meeting; it’s possible he was paid for work in June.

Sometime in “mid-June,” the Perkins Coie lawyer Sussman and the DNC first met with the FBI about the hack. They asked the FBI to attribute the hack to Russia.

The D.N.C. executives and their lawyer had their first formal meeting with senior F.B.I. officials in mid-June, nine months after the bureau’s first call to the tech-support contractor. Among the early requests at that meeting, according to participants: that the federal government make a quick “attribution” formally blaming actors with ties to Russian government for the attack to make clear that it was not routine hacking but foreign espionage.

“You have a presidential election underway here and you know that the Russians have hacked into the D.N.C.,” Mr. Sussmann said, recalling the message to the F.B.I. “We need to tell the American public that. And soon.”

The FBI would not attribute the hack formally until the following year.

On June 14, the DNC placed a story with the WaPo, spinning the hack to minimize the damage done.

On June 15, Guccifer 2.0 started posting. In his first post, he proved a number of the statements Crowdstrike or Democrats made to the WaPo were wrong, including that:

  • The hackers took just two documents
  • Only Trump-related documents had been stolen
  • Hillary’s campaign had not been hacked
  • The DNC had responded quickly
  • No donor information had been stolen

Now, you’d think this (plus Julian Assange’s claim to have Hillary emails) would alert the Democrats that Johnston’s advice — that the Russians probably wouldn’t do anything with the data they stole — was wrong. Except that (as far as is publicly known) none of the documents Guccifer 2.0 leaked in that first batch were from the DNC.

Around this same time, Perkins Coie lawyer Marc Elias asked Fusion to focus on Trump’s Russian ties, which led to Christopher Steele’s involvement in the already started oppo effort.

On June 20, Perkins Coie would have learned from a Steele report that the dirt Russia had on Hillary consisted of “bugged conversations she had on various visits to Russia and intercepted phone calls rather than any embarrassing conduct.” It would also have learned that “the dossier however had not yet been made available abroad, including to TRUMP or his campaign team.”

On July 19, Perkins Coie would have learned from a Steele report that at a meeting with a Kremlin official named Diyevkin which Carter Page insists didn’t take place, Diyevkin “rais[ed] a dossier of ‘kompromat’ the Kremlin possessed on TRUMP’s Democratic presidential rival, Hillary CLINTON, and its possible release to the Republican’s campaign team.” At that point in time, the reference to kompromat would still be to intercepted messages, not email.

On July 22, Wikileaks released the first trove of DNC emails.

On July 26 — days after Russian-supplied emails were being released to the press — Perkins Coie would receive a Steele report (based on June reporting) that claimed FSB had the lead on hacking in Russia. And the report would claim — counter to a great deal of publicly known evidence — that “there had been only limited success in penetrating the ‘first tier’ foreign targets.” That is, even after the Russian hacked emails got released to the public, Steele would still be providing information to the Democrats suggesting there was no risk of emails getting released because Russians just weren’t that good at hacking.

It appears likely that the Democrats asked Fusion to focus on Russia because they believed they had been badly hacked by Russia.

Everything they learned (and would have learned, if the June reporting on cybersecurity had been produced in timely fashion) between the time they were hacked and when Wikileaks would start releasing massive amounts of emails would have told the Democrats that the Russians hadn’t really succeeded with their hacking, and any kompromat they had on Hillary was not emails, but instead dated intercepts. The Steele dossier would have led them to be complacent, rather than prepping for the onslaught of the emails.

We don’t know how Steele’s intelligence was used within the party. But if they had paid attention to it, it would have done affirmative damage, because it might have led them to continue to rely on Johnston’s opinion that the stolen emails weren’t coming out.

Does the Fusion Ledger Explain Why They’ve Pled the Fifth?

When the first two Fusion employees, Peter Fritsch and Thomas Catán, testified before the House Intelligence Committee on October 18, they pled the Fifth. I’ve been wondering since then what basis they had to do so — as have the House Intelligence Committee lawyers fighting with them to obtain bank records related to their Russian related activities last year and this. Indeed, HPSCI suggests the invocation of the Fifth suggests there may be relevant and important materials still to hand over.

It logically follows either that Plaintiff’s principals may have been perjuring themselves when they testified to a purportedly good-faith belief that their answers would tend to incriminate them, and/or that they are in possession of incriminating information of relevance to the Committee’s investigation that they have not yet disclosed.

In my last post, I noted that the House Intelligence Committee believes Fusion GPS, the intelligence firm behind the dossier, paid three or four journalists (actually, two or three journalists, plus someone who has served as a source for such information), and is trying to get records pertaining to other law firms and two businesses as well.

Looking at the exhibits Fusion submitted, however, at least suggests what they might be trying to hide.

The interesting exhibits are:

Here’s what, taken together, we learn about the 112 transactions HPSCI is trying to access but Fusion is trying to hide. The HPSCI filing describes them this way:

30 + 12 transactions associated with those who worked on the Steele or Prevezon projects

The filings make clear Fusion originally turned over 30 transactions. They are bolded in the ledger, which include:

  1. Transactions 5-11 (7 total) totaling $523,650.62 dated March 7, March 18, August 18, September 6, October 27, October 31, and October 31 (again) 2016 which are Baker Hostetler payments associated with Prevezon
  2. Transactions 46 (dated June 28), 48 (dated September 8), and 51 (dated November 2) paid to someone whose redacted name is of a length that it might be Rinat Ahkmetshin (3 total transactions)
  3. Transactions 77-81 (5 total) dated July 13, August 2, September 1, October 5, November 1 paid to a Russian expert with a short name [see the HPSCI justification page 5]; this may be Steele
  4. Transactions 83-88 (5 total) which are payments to someone else dated August 16, October 5, November 1, November 2, January 5, 2017
  5. Transactions 89-95 (7 total) which are payments from Perkins Coie dated May 24, July 15, July 29, August 31, September 30, October 28, and December 28
  6. Transactions 96-98 (3 total) which are payments to someone with a relatively short name dated August 11, September 2, and October 5

There are also 12 other transactions associated with people involved in those original transactions. They include:

  • A credit (Transaction 40) totaling $20,000 paid to Baker Hostetler on December 13, 2016
  • 7 payments associated with the redacted name person in 2, above, dated March 11, March 22, August 23, October 4, November 1 (which is listed as the same Bates stamp as one disclosed already), December 27, 2016 and January 5, 2017
  • 3 payments paid to the Russian researcher with the short name in 3, above, dated March 22, April 6, and May 25
  • A credit dated May 11, 2016 from the redacted name in 4, above

Comments:

There are four items of particular interest, here (before you get into coincidental dates).

First, the Russian expert with the short name is probably Steele (unless bullet 4 is him). If so, Fusion turned over payment information tied to the DNC work, but not payment information for something else (three payments in March through May) before the DNC came in. That may be stuff associated with Beacon’s funding of the earlier Trump dossier. Or it may be something else.

Second, Perkins Coie’s payments seem to track when the Trump reports come out. Except there is one payment for $58,669.00 (a curiously even number) in late December, after the last and most inflammatory Russian related report comes out on December 13. Admittedly, by report number, there are 31 reports between the October 19 and December 13 report publicly released, but the October 28 Perkins Coie payment of $365,275.33, by far the largest, would seem to pay for that. This suggests it is likely that Perkins Coie continued to pay for the dossier even after Trump won, contrary to what these entities have said in sworn declarations elsewhere. Given reports of John Podesta meeting with Christopher Steele after the election, I think that quite possible that Democrats paid for that last report.

Third, there is no payment even remotely associated with Baker Hostetler around the time of the Trump Tower meeting. There’s a March 18 payment and an August 18 one. This, in spite of the fact that Fox reported that Natalia Veselnitskaya met with Fusion both before and after the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting.

But there is a payment — which Fusion says is not related to Prevezon or DNC — to the person with the name of the length of Rinat Akmetshin, on June 28. I asked in September who paid Akhmetshin to be at that Trump Tower meeting. Is that the June 28 payment? If so, who paid for him to be at that meeting?

19 transactions pertaining to 8 law firms

Then there are the payments pertaining to 8 law firms. The HPSCI justification says those are:

  1. Transactions 1-3 (3 total), dated March 11, March 23, and August 17
  2. Transaction 17, dated February 12
  3. Transaction 65, dated June 6
  4. Transaction 67, dated March 30
  5. Transaction 70-73 (4 total), dated June 10, July 6, September 28, 2016, and February 17, 2017
  6. Transaction 88, dated May 10
  7. Transactions 99-105 (7 total), dated June 10, July 29, August 31, October 13, November 29, December 15, January 11
  8. Transaction 106, dated September 13

We have no idea what these are, and Fusion may well be correct saying this is just investigative work for real cases. Mind you, HPSCI has said it has classified information to justify some of these requests (not necessarily limited to the law firms). So I think it is worth noting.

8 transactions probably associated with Beacon

The HPSCI filing (paragraph 26) makes it clear they’re trying to get the payment information associated with Beacon, which reportedly paid for the Republican side of the dossier. The only otherwise unaccounted for 8 Transactions are 54-61, which suggest those are the Beacon transactions. The HPSCI justification backs this, as it says the committee seeks to investigate a public claim (as they note, Beacon has confirmed its role in paying for the dossier). Except that produces some really weird dates: March 31, June 7, July 12, September 30, October 17, November 30, 2016, and January 4, February 15, 2017.

Those dates don’t make sense at all (because we were led to believe the Republican sponsored research started earlier than February), and they go well beyond the time the Republicans were said to have stopped paying.

12 credits probably associated with a media outlet, possibly  Yahoo

As noted, the HPSCI filing suggests there are payments from (not to) a media company, which might be Yahoo.

As Mr. Steele has acknowledged in other dossier-related litigation, in addition to sharing memos comprising the dossier with Mother Jones, in fall 2016 he met with at least five major media outlets at Fusion GPS’ direction. Those outlets included Yahoo News, which on September 23, 2016, reported purported meetings between Trump campaign advisor Carter Page and specified high-ranking Russian officials, attributed to a single “well-placed Western intelligence service.” Substantively similar allegations were contained in the dossier. Given Fusion GPS’ demonstrated patter of dossier-related engagement with media outlets, the Requested Records include records from [line and a half redacted].

Those appear to be transactions 32-43, dated pretty much monthly: February 17, March 21, April 19, May 18, June 15, July 20, August 17, September 19, October 19, November 16, December 14, 2016 and January 8, 2017, though they clearly track the election and transition time frame.

Business A transactions

Then there are two businesses. Those appear to be Transactions 12-16, which are payments on June 9, June 23, October 16, November 14, 2016 and January 26, 2017, and Transactions 18-31, which are mostly monthly payments from February 2016 to February 2017, though with some odd bunching during summer 2016. Both Business A and B are likely lobbying firms — see the redaction in the filing:

Business A appears to work on Ukrainian issues, as a footnote justifying its inclusion describes Trump’s shift on Ukranian policy.

The hacked documents would be in exchange for a Trump Administration policy that de-emphasizes Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and instead focuses on criticizing NATO countries for not paying their fare share – policies which, even as recently as the President’s meeting last week with Angela Merkel, have now presciently come to pass.”).

But that’s recent representation — “since January 2017.”

Business B transactions

Business B represents a variety of interests, but one of them is the kind of business that got mentioned in the Steele dossier as potentially colluding with Trump.

The “Steele Dossier” directly implicates [redacted] in potential collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia;

Both these businesses appear to have names that can be referred to as a short acronym.

Journalist (and other) transactions

There are three journalist transactions (besides those tied to Yahoo and Beacon):

  • Transactions 62-64, payments dated May 16, June 9, and September 6
  • Transactions 68-69, payments dated June 15 and August 26
  • Transactions 107-112, payments dated September 1, October 25, November 14, December 2, January 9, February 2

Then there is this:

  • Transaction 66, a payment dated December 12

This is not a payment to a journalist, per se, but to “individuals on [sic] have contributed to press stories on Russian issues relevant to its investigation.” This last payment, generally treated in the “journalist” category, appears to be tied to someone being quoted in the press, not writing their own work.

It’s interesting because this payment happens in the time period when the last, allegedly free report was being prepared.

Update, 12/12/17: The researcher with the short name may be Nellie Ohr, the wife of a DOJ official who was in the loop on the dossier.

“I Hate the Word Guilty” Says the Self-Described “Conduit” between the Agalarovs and Trump

As you read Rob Goldstone’s efforts to telegraph what his potential testimony to Robert Mueller will be, keep the lesson of this post in mind: there is evidence that one-time Trump attorney and current Agalarov attorney Scott Balber has, on three occasions, attempted to orchestrate a cover story for the June 9 meeting that Goldstone set up. Those three are:

  1. A meeting between Rinat Akhmetshin and Ike Kaveladze (the latter of whom Balber represents as an employee of Agalarov) in Moscow in June 2017, just as Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort were both belatedly disclosing the meeting to various authorities; this story appears to have been an attempt to pre-empt the damage that would be done when Akhmetshin’s involvement became public
  2. A Balber trip sometime before October to Russia to coordinate a story with and get documents from Natalia Veselnitskaya to back her version of the talking points she reportedly shared with Trump’s people
  3. Another October story, this “revealing” that Veselnitskaya’s research came from (or actually was shared with) Russian prosecutor Yuri Chaika, but insisting (per Balber) that Agalarov had no ties with the prosecutor

In fact, it has been recently confirmed that Veselnitskaya’s research was originally done by Fusion GPS, the same firm that was doing oppo research for Clinton and would almost simultaneously with the June 9 meeting hire Christopher Steele to dig up dirt on Trump.

With that in mind, consider what Goldstone is now saying in advance of a reported trip to the US to voluntarily meet with Mueller.

First, Goldstone conflates interviewing with Mueller and the Senate Intelligence Committee with making his story public. But of course, this interview is what will make his story public (SSCI has gotten cranky of late when people release their testimony publicly before interviewing with the committee, so I guess this interview will substitute).

Although no date has yet been set, he has accepted invitations — unlike some others involved, he has not received a subpoena — to meet the team investigating the alleged Trump links with Russia, headed by Robert Mueller, the special counsel, as well as Senate investigative committees in Washington.

“I’m keen to talk to them and put my recollection of events in the public record,” Goldstone says. So why is he choosing to do this interview now? “After the story initially broke, it seemed to quieten down for a while. But now it’s back in the news with such force, I feel it’s time for me to explain what happened.”

That’s really not much of an explanation for why he’s talking now, suggesting it has everything to do with this planned testimony.

The dual US-British citizen claims both that he was distracted from the proceedings of the Trump Tower meeting because of a concern he’d get stuck in Lincoln Tunnel traffic on his way home, but also that his months-long absence from the US is just about wandering Asia rather than hiding out from these events.

He had not even planned to attend, but was encouraged to stay by Trump Jr. His biggest concern, he says, was that if the meeting dragged on, he would be caught in the notorious Lincoln Tunnel traffic on his journey home.

[snip]

We meet not in Manhattan, however, but in southeast Asia, where he has been travelling in recent months. One of his conditions of meeting me is that I do not disclose the precise whereabouts, because he does not want to be besieged by media, as he was when the controversy erupted in July.

“There are people saying that I’ve run away or I’m some sort of fugitive,” he tells me. “But the simple thing is that I decided to keep quiet, and the best way to do that was to go off the radar and disappear for a while. But I want to share what I know.”

[snip]

He knows his travels will be met with renewed suspicion that he went on the run to hide what he really knows. But there is no evasion, he insists.

When Goldstone claimed the trip was all coincidental I guess he didn’t yet know that the AP would have already published news of the advance coordination of Rinat Akhmetshin and Ike Kaveladze’s stories, the kind of advanced planning that might also explain this trip.

Goldstone explains that, several months before the scandal broke, he told friends — and The Sunday Times has separately confirmed this with them — that he was putting his business on hold and renting out his US apartment to travel the world, including a lengthy stay in Asia. The purpose, he told them, was to have the “gap year” that he never took after leaving school at 16 to start work as a reporter in Manchester.

And he denies any worry that Russian intelligence will knock him off to keep him silent.

“First of all, if Russian intelligence had used me in some way, as people perceive, but which I don’t believe, then they’ll know I don’t know anything. If Russian intelligence hasn’t used me, but are intelligent, they will equally know I don’t know anything and this is all nonsense.”

In spite of emphasizing how little he knows, Goldstone describes himself as the “conduit” — on matters that include business deals in Russia!!! — between the Agalarovs and Trump, but then pretends to be squeamish about a little politics.

“So when people ask why some music publicist was involved in all this, well, I was always the conduit, the Mr Go-To, between the Agalarovs and the Trumps,” Goldstone says.

[snip]

“I remember specifically saying to Emin, you know, we probably shouldn’t get involved in this. It’s politics, it’s Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Neither of us have any experience in this world. It’s not our forte. I deal with music. You’re a singer and a businessman.”

However, Emin was insistent that Goldstone contact the Trumps. “His mantra was always ‘Rob can do it’. All I had to do was facilitate a meeting, he said, after which I walk away from it and whatever comes of it, thank you very much.

[snip]

“I can apologise in some way for having sent the email in the first place. It went against everything my gut instinct was telling me.”

Yet, he couples that claimed squeamishness about politics and gut instinct — and his claim he warned Emin they should stay out of it — with the claim that had this been offered months later, as the Russian scandal broke out, he’d be … squeamish about the politics involved.

It never crossed his mind, he adds, that there would be any fallout about election rules or foreign influence.

“I didn’t understand anything about that, nothing at all. This meeting happened months before Russia became the hot topic. If this had happened later, sure, I would’ve been aware because it’s all people were talking about — Russia, and Russian interference. Hindsight is great, but it just wasn’t being talked about at the time.”

This makes no sense: either he recognized it was wrong and told Emin they shouldn’t do it or he only recognized it was wrong long after the fact. It can’t be both.

Which brings us to his telegraphed description of his email and the meeting it set up. Goldstone describes being “guilty” only of puffing up the language around the meeting, not of facilitating election tampering that he admits may have otherwise occurred.

“If I’m guilty of anything, and I hate the word guilty, it’s hyping the message and going the extra mile for my clients. Using hot-button language to puff up the information I had been given. I didn’t make up the details, I just made them sound more interesting.”

[snip]

So was he part of a Russian plot to influence the election? Goldstone rolls his eyes. “When people said that, I thought it was the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. That doesn’t mean that maybe there wasn’t any Russian interference or Trump campaign collusion in other ways. I don’t know. But I’m sure I wasn’t part of it.”

And he claims that he thought Veselnitskaya — not Chaika — was the “crown prosecutor” he mentioned in the email he sent Don Jr.

Much has also been made of how Goldstone said Aras Agalarov had met Russia’s “crown prosecutor”. Given that Russia has not had a crown since the 1917 revolution, there was a widespread presumption that Goldstone was referring to Vladimir Putin’s prosecutor general, Yuri Chaika. It has since been reported that the lawyer Veselnitskaya met Chaika in Moscow in the run-up to her trip to New York, sharing with him the talking points that she delivered at Trump Tower. But Goldstone insists Veselnitskaya was the one described to him by Emin as a “well-connected prosecutor” and that in his haste, he had said “crown prosecutor” as that was a British term he used to use as a young reporter.

Here’s Goldstone’s email, which describes something far more sensitive than he’s now describing.

Emin just called and asked me to contact you with something very interesting.

The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to 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 – helped along by Aras and Emin.

What do you think is the best way to handle this information and would you be able to speak to Emin about it directly?

I can also send this info to your father via Rhona, but it is ultra sensitive so wanted to send to you first.

Best

Rob Goldstone

Hmm. Folks seem awfully anxious about lining up their stories with the known documentation of this meeting. Yet even with Balber flying all over the world (has he perhaps been to Thailand to visit Goldstone, who after all is just another Agalarov employee, of sorts?) the stories don’t seem to be cohering.

Which may be why Goldstone provides an alternative version to Veselnitskaya’s recent claim that Paul Manafort appeared to be asleep in the meeting, claiming that he was distracted by his messages.

Goldstone described Kushner as “furious” and said that Manafort did not seem to look up from checking his messages.

Funny how people on two continents want to claim that Manafort wasn’t playing close attention.

Remember: there are at least four documents these players are trying to account for, even assuming the communications between people in Russia weren’t picked up:

  • Goldstone’s emails with Don Jr
  • The talking points Veselnitskaya claims to have shared at the meeting (but which Akhmetshin claims he only saw the Russian version of)
  • Paul Manafort’s own notes from the meeting
  • Text messages between Rinat Akhmetshin and Ike Kaveladze before their cover-up meeting

And for some reason, Goldstone needs to claim he believed the prosecutor in question was Veselnitskaya and not Chaika, which is what the others claim.

Did Akhmetshin and Kaveladze Coordinate Before or After Jared Disclosed the June 9 Meeting

Following Dianne Feinstein’s release of a letter revealing the things Jared Kushner didn’t turn over to the Senate Judiciary Committee, the press has honed in on the things Kushner failed to disclose or lied about. Most interesting is an email chain involving a back channel meeting sought by mobbed up Russian, Aleksander Torshin. While that particular meeting didn’t happen, Don Jr did sit next to Torshin at the NRA convention held in Mitch McConnell’s home town, Louisville (he took the picture above).

An email chain described Aleksander Torshin, a former senator and deputy head of Russia’s central bank who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin, as wanting Trump to attend an event on the sidelines of a National Rifle Association convention in Louisville, Kentucky, in May 2016, the sources said. The email also suggests Torshin was seeking to meet with a high-level Trump campaign official during the convention, and that he may have had a message for Trump from Putin, the sources said.

Kushner rebuffed the request after receiving a lengthy email exchange about it between a West Virginia man and Trump campaign aide Rick Dearborn, the sources said.

[snip]

While Kushner told Dearborn and other campaign officials on the email not to accept Torshin’s offer, Torshin was seated with the candidate’s son, Donald Trump Jr., during a private dinner on the sidelines of an NRA event during the convention in Louisville, according to an account Torshin gave to Bloomberg. Congressional investigators have no clear explanation for how that came to be, according to sources familiar with the matter.

But I’m at least as interested in an AP story that may relate to other Kushner disclosures to Congress. It reports that in June of this year, two participants in the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting, Rinat Akhmetshin and Ike Kaveladze met in Moscow.

Akhmetshin told congressional investigators that he asked for the Moscow meeting with Kaveladze to argue that they should go public with the details of the Trump Tower meeting before they were caught up in a media maelstrom. Akhmetshin also told the investigators that Kaveladze said people in Trump’s orbit were asking about Akhmetshin’s background, the person said.

Akhmetshin’s lawyer, Michael Tremonte, declined to comment.

Scott Balber, a lawyer for Kaveladze, confirmed that his client and Akhmetshin met over coffee and that the Trump Tower meeting a year earlier was “obviously discussed.”

Investigators wonder whether they met to orchestrate a limited hangout before the meeting otherwise came out.

Balber denied his client had been contacted by associates of Trump before he took the meeting with Akhmetshin, or had been aware of plans to disclose the Trump Tower gathering to the U.S. government.

Balber said the men did not discuss strategy or how to line up their stories, and did not meet in anticipation of the Trump Tower meeting becoming public and attracting a barrage of news media attention.

He said Akhmetshin did convey during coffee the possibility that his name could come out in connection with the Trump Tower meeting and cause additional, unwanted scrutiny given that he had been linked in earlier news reports to Russian military intelligence, coverage that Akhmetshin considered unfair. Akhmetshin has denied ongoing ties with Russian intelligence, but acknowledged that he served in the Soviet military in the late 1980s as part of a counterintelligence unit.

“That was the impetus,” Balber said of the men’s get-together. “It had absolutely nothing to do with anticipation of the meeting coming out in the press.”

There are three things the AP story doesn’t mention, however.

Previously, the leak of the June 9 meeting had been tied to document submission — by Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort — to Congress.

The Trump Tower meeting was not disclosed to government officials until recently, when Mr. Kushner, who is also a senior White House aide, filed a revised version of a form required to obtain a security clearance.

[snip]

Mr. Manafort, the former campaign chairman, also recently disclosed the meeting, and Donald Trump Jr.’s role in organizing it, to congressional investigators who had questions about his foreign contacts, according to people familiar with the events.

That might explain why investigators would suspect the meeting was designed to arrange testimony: because it roughly coincided with the admission to the meeting by Kushner and Manafort.

The AP also doesn’t note that Scott Balber, Kaveladze’s (and the Agalarov’s) lawyer, represented Trump in a lawsuit in 2013 (the same year that Agalarov brought Trump’s Miss Universe contest to Moscow).

Nor does it mention that Balber has orchestrated at least two other stories about this meeting: First, an October blitz performing a limited hangout of the emails and oppo research that Natalia Veselnitskaya purportedly brought to the meeting (which, as I noted should have focused on Balber’s role in massaging Veselnitskaya’s story).

But here’s the bigger question. Why would an American lawyer who has previously represented Trump need to fly to Russia to meet with Veselnitskaya personally? This email chain and the talking points could very easily be sent — but weren’t. So why did Balber need to solidify stories with Veselnitskaya in person? And what is the provenance of the emails as presented, stripped of any forensic information?

So while it’s clear Trump’s former lawyer wants to change the spin around this story, it seems to me the takeaway should be,

BREAKING: LAWYER WITH PAST TIES TO TRUMP FLEW TO RUSSIA TO COORDINATE STORIES WITH NATALIA VESELNITSKAYA

And, more recently, performing a new limited hangout, suggesting Veselitskaya got her oppo research from Russia’s prosecutor Yuri Chaika.

 Stories that note Veselnitskaya crafted the talking points on Browder and Ziff, which were then picked up by Russia’s prosecutor general Yuri Chaika, are used to suggest that that means Veselnitskaya got the talking points she wrote from Chaika. In conjunction, several iterations of the talking points are released (but not the ones she originally wrote). Also, Balber again weighs in to distance Agalarov.

Donald Trump Jr. has dismissed Mr. Goldstone’s emails as “goosed-up.” Mr. Balber blamed miscommunication among those arranging the meeting. “Mr. Agalarov unequivocally, absolutely, never spoke to Mr. Chaika or his office about these issues,” he said.

So orchestrating a meeting between Rinat Akhmetshin and Ike Kaveladze would make three attempts, on sometime Trump and current Agalarov lawyer Scott Balber’s part, to craft a story about the June 9 meeting.

There are other reasons I know of to suspect that Balber’s story is total crap, but they’ll have to wait.

One more data point.

Remember that in his telegraphed testimony, Don Jr claimed he couldn’t recall the presence of Akhmetshin.

I’m more interesting in the things the forgetful 39 year old could not recall. While his phone records show he spoke to Emin Agalarov, the rock star son of Aras Agalarov, who has been dangling real estate deals in Russia for the Trumps for some time, for example, he doesn’t recall what was discussed.

Three days later, on June 6th, Rob contacted me again about scheduling a time for a call with Emin. My phone records show three very short phone calls between Emin and me between June 6th and 7th. I do not recall speaking to Emin. It is possible that we left each other voice mail messages. I simply do not remember.

This is important, because those conversations probably explained precisely what was going to happen at that meeting (and how it might benefit real estate developer Aras Agalarov), but Jr simply can’t recall even having a conversation (or how long those conversations were).

He also doesn’t recall whether he discussed the meeting, after the fact, with Jared, Manafort, or (the unspoken “anyone else” here is pregnant) Pops.

The meeting lasted 20-30 minutes and Rob, Emin and I never discussed the meeting again. I do not recall ever discussing it with Jared, Paul or anyone else. In short, I gave it no further thought

Once we find out he did discuss it with Pops and others, he can say he’s stupid and we’ll all believe him.

Most interesting, to me, is his claim to only recall seven participants in the meeting.

As I recall, at or around 4 pm, Rob Goldstone came up to our offices and entered our conference room with a lawyer who I now know to be Natalia Veselnitskaya. Joining them was a translator and a man who was introduced to me as Irakli Kaveladze. After a few minutes, Jared and Paul joined. While numerous press outlets have reported that there were a total of eight people present at the meeting, I only recall seven. Because Rob was able to bring the entire group up by only giving his name to the security guard in the lobby, I had no advance warning regarding who or how many people would be attending. There is no attendance log to refer back to and I did not take notes.

The unstated subtext here is even more pregnant. Don Jr accounts for seven of the participants in this meeting:

(3) Himself, Paul Manafort, Jared Kusher

(4) Natalia Veselnitskaya, her translator, the Agalarov’s real estate invstment executive Irakli Kaveladze, and Rob Goldstone

So what he really means to say is he doesn’t recall the presence of Rinat Akhmetshin, who has ties to Russian intelligence and a history of fending off accusations of hacking.

Finally, remember that Veselnitskaya was in touch with Agalarov in advance of the meeting, at the same time that Trump Jr was having phone calls — the substance of which he simply can’t remember — with the younger Agalarov.

Me, 11 days ago.

THIS FEELS LIKE A LIMITED HANGOUT

All of which is to say that the efforts of the last month feel like a limited hangout — an attempt to avoid potentially more damaging revelations with new admissions about Magnitsky. That’s not to say the Magnitsky discussion didn’t happen. It’s to say the potential admissions — down to Veselnitskaya’s claim that, “I definitely don’t have!” information on Russian hacking and interference — have gotten far more damaging since when, in July, she claimed the election didn’t come up.

At the very least, it seems the players — particularly the Trump sponsor Agalarovs  are concerned about what Rob Goldstone has had to say to whatever investigative body — and are now trying to cement a different more damning one, yet one that still stops short of what they might admit to.

In either case, another thing seems clear: Veselnitskaya attempted to come to the country, using the same method she did when she actually used her presence to pitch Don Jr. After that meeting was denied, Trump went from suggesting he might meet with Putin to confirming that he plans to.

Earlier today, NBC reported that Rob Goldstone is preparing to come to the US (bizarrely showing willingness to come here rather than remain in Thailand where extraditions are possible but challenging) to meet with Mueller’s team.

From all this, I suspect that Jared’s delayed disclosures may hide other, far more damning ones.

Be Wary of Jumping on the Changing Veselnitskaya Claims

Boy oh boy, Natalia Vesenitskaya continues to work the press.

Veselnitskaya reverses a previous claim that the June 9, 2016 meeting didn’t mention the election

Bloomberg has a story based on a two and a half hour interview — on an unspecified date — with the Russian lawyer who met with Don Jr, Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016. In it, she adds to the story she has told in the past to claim that Don Jr suggested the US might revisit the Magnitsky sanctions if his dad got elected.

A Russian lawyer who met with President Donald Trump’s oldest son last year says he indicated that a law targeting Russia could be re-examined if his father won the election and asked her for written evidence that illegal proceeds went to Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

The lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, said in a two-and-a-half-hour interview in Moscow that she would tell these and other things to the Senate Judiciary Committee on condition that her answers be made public, something it hasn’t agreed to. She has received scores of questions from the committee, which is investigating possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign. Veselnitskaya said she’s also ready — if asked — to testify to Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Here’s the line of the story that, if accurate, introduces a damning new aspect of the story.

“Looking ahead, if we come to power, we can return to this issue and think what to do about it,’’ Trump Jr. said of the 2012 law, she recalled. “I understand our side may have messed up, but it’ll take a long time to get to the bottom of it,” he added, according to her.

Perhaps my favorite detail of the story, however, is that she suggests Paul Manafort (the only one known to have taken contemporaneous notes from the meeting) appeared to have been asleep, leaving Don Jr as the only woke witness to what went down.

Kushner left after a few minutes and Manafort appeared to have fallen asleep. “The meeting was a failure; none of us understood what the point of it had been,’’ Veselnitskaya said, adding she had no further contacts with the Trump campaign.

As Bill Browder noted, this marks a change in her story, one which must be contextualized with recent events.

In the days immediately after the story broke, Veselnitskaya released a statement saying nothing about the presidential election came up.

Ms. Veselnitskaya said in a statement on Saturday that “nothing at all about the presidential campaign” was discussed at the Trump Tower meeting. She recalled that after about 10 minutes, either Mr. Kushner or Mr. Manafort left the room.

She said she had “never acted on behalf of the Russian government” and “never discussed any of these matters with any representative of the Russian government.”

Now, she’s claiming different. I’d suggest that this claim, like all that have gone before, should be treated really really skeptically — especially published in the wake of allegations that campaign officials would have walked into that meeting expecting “dirt” to mean emails, not to mention as Veselnitskaya makes another bid to come to the US and Trump prepares to meet directly with Putin.

Veselnitskaya makes this claim as she tries to come to the US and Agalarov attempts to shape the story

Here’s what the recent timeline looks like:

October 4: Burr was asked last month about Veselnitskaya, and suggested SSCI had already reached out.

Q: Is the Russian attorney going to come through, the Russian who met with Donald Trump Jr., she’s offered to come in open committee. Have you reached out to her? Is she one of the 25 on your list?

Burr: How do you know we haven’t already [heard from] her?

October 9: A CNN story produced with involvement of Scott Balber, who is currently representing Aras and Amin Agalarov (who set up the June 9 meeting in the first place), but who has represented Trump in the past, attempts to rebut the public comments and presumed testimony of Rod Goldstone on two points. First, that the meeting was about dealing dirt, and second, that it was about anything but the Magnitsky sanctions.

The documents were provided by Scott Balber, who represents Aras and Emin Agalarov, the billionaire real estate developer and his pop star son who requested the June 2016 meeting.

Balber, who went to Moscow to obtain the documents from Veselnitskaya, said in an interview with CNN that the emails and talking points show she was focused on repealing the Magnitsky Act, not providing damaging information on Clinton.
The message was muddled, Balber said, when it was passed like a game of telephone from Veselnitskaya through the Agalarovs to Goldstone.

Balber also suggested that Goldstone “probably exaggerated and maybe willfully contorted the facts for the purpose of making the meeting interesting to the Trump people.”

Goldstone declined to comment for this story.

“The documents and what she told me are consistent with my client’s understanding of the purpose of the meeting which was from the beginning and at all times thereafter about her efforts to launch a legislative review of the Magnitsky Act,” Balber said.

October 18: Chuck Grassley sends a long list of questions to Veselnitskaya, demanding a response to schedule a transcribed, non-public interview, by October 20. Incidentally, I find this to be the most curious of the questions.

Did Mr. Goldstone or anyone else discuss a proposal regarding Vkontakte (VK) during the June 9, 2016 meeting?

October 19: In remarks in Sochi, amid a complaint about Magnitsky sanctions, Putin tells listeners to look at American sources for details of Ziff political contributions, closely mirroring the talking points now claimed to derived from Veselnitskaya.

What do I think about what you have just said, about Canada joining or wanting to join, or about somebody else wanting to do it? These are all some very unconstructive political games over things, which are in essence not what they look like, to be treated in such a way or to fuss about so much. What lies underneath these events? Underneath are the criminal activities of an entire gang led by one particular man, I believe Browder is his name, who lived in the Russian Federation for ten years as a tourist and conducted activities, which were on the verge of being illegal, by buying Russian company stock without any right to do so, not being a Russian resident, and by moving tens and hundreds of millions of dollars out of the country and hence avoiding any taxes not only here but in the United States as well.

According to open sources, I mean American open sources, please look up Ziff Brothers, the company Mr Browder was connected with, which has been sponsoring the Democratic Party and, substantially less, the Republican Party during recent years. I think the latest transfer, in the open sources I mean, was $1,200,000 for the Democratic Party. This is how they protect themselves.

In Russia, Mr Browder was sentenced in his absence to 9 years in prison for his scam. However, no one is working on it. Our prosecution has already turned to the appropriate US agencies such as the Department of Justice and the Office of the Attorney General for certain information so we can work together on this. However, there is simply no response. This is just used to blow up more anti-Russian hysteria. Nobody wants to look into the matter, into what is actually beneath it. At the bottom of it, as usual, is crime, deception and theft.

October 27: Stories that note Veselnitskaya crafted the talking points on Browder and Ziff, which were then picked up by Russia’s prosecutor general Yuri Chaika, are used to suggest that that means Veselnitskaya got the talking points she wrote from Chaika. In conjunction, several iterations of the talking points are released (but not the ones she originally wrote). Also, Balber again weighs in to distance Agalarov.

Donald Trump Jr. has dismissed Mr. Goldstone’s emails as “goosed-up.” Mr. Balber blamed miscommunication among those arranging the meeting. “Mr. Agalarov unequivocally, absolutely, never spoke to Mr. Chaika or his office about these issues,” he said.

October 30: George Papadopoulos plea makes it clear that that Papadopoulos originally lied to the FBI to hide two things: 1) attempts in the weeks and months after March 31, 2016 to set up meetings with Russians, and 2) knowledge that Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton in the form of thousands of emails. On the same day, Paul Manafort is indicted, raising the possibility he’ll flip on Trump. Also on same day, government informs SDNY that Prevezon has not paid its fine from May settlement, and asks for the case to be reopened.

October 31: Quinn Emanuel, representing Prevezon, asks that Veselnitskaya be given immigration parole for hearing.

November 2: Government objects to Prevezon request for immigration parole for Vesenitskaya, reiterating in the process they had objected to her entry in 2016, but that she got immigration parole in any case, which she used to attend the June 9 meeting.

The Government, however, has previously refused to extend immigration parole to Katsyv and Veselnitskaya during time periods when they were not to be witnesses. In particular, in the spring of 2016, then-counsel for Prevezon asked the Government to consent to parole for Katsyv and Veselnitskaya to prepare for and attend oral arguments in the Second Circuit on Hermitage’s motion to disqualify Prevezon’s counsel. Because there was no testimony to be given at a Second Circuit oral argument, the Government refused to grant parole to Katsyv or Veselnitskaya for that period. See Ex. A (March 9, 2016 letter to John Moscow).1

Subsequently, according to public news reports, Veselnitskaya obtained a visa from the State Department allowing her to enter the United States to attend the oral argument on June 9, 2016, a day on which she also reportedly engaged in a meeting with representatives of the Trump presidential campaign. See Brook Singman, Mystery Solved? Timeline Shows How RussianLawyer Got into U.S. for Trump Jr. Meeting, Fox News (July 14, 2017), available at http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2017/07/14/mystery-solved-timeline-shows-how-russianlawyer-got-into-us-for-trump-jr-meeting.html. This Office had no involvement in the granting of that visa and has no knowledge of whether Veselnitskaya has attempted to obtain another such visa to enter the country for these proceedings.

[snip]

If a testimonial hearing is ultimately required, and if it features Veselnitskaya or Katsyv as witnesses, the Government can revisit its parole determination at that time.2

2 The Government may not, however, again admit Veselnitskaya into the country to assist in witness preparation if she is not herself a witness. Although the Government did so previously, Veselnitskaya’s reported meeting with presidential campaign officials in June of 2016 (of which this Office was not aware prior to its public reporting) or other factors may alter this assessment. In any event, it is premature to reach this issue where no testimonial hearing is currently scheduled, and none is likely ever to be scheduled.

November 3: Judge Pauley denies Prevezon’s bid for immigration parole for Veselnitskaya.

November 6: Bloomberg story for the first time says Don Jr said he might consider lifting Magnitsky sanctions. It also repeats Veselnitskaya’s promise to answer SJC questions if her answers can be made public.

Senator Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, has sent her more than 90 questions concerning the meeting, asking whether she knows Putin, Manafort and Kushner, and requesting information about Russian hacking and interference, she said. “That I definitely don’t have!” the lawyer said. “I made up my mind a long time ago: My testimony must be honest, full and public.”

Taylor Foy, a Grassley spokesman, said, “We are encouraged that she is planning to cooperate and look forward to receiving the information.” He wouldn’t comment on whether the committee would comply with her request to make her answers public.

November 10-11: Trump and Putin will meet in Danang, Vietnam, purportedly to talk about North Korea.

This feels like a limited hangout

All of which is to say that the efforts of the last month feel like a limited hangout — an attempt to avoid potentially more damaging revelations with new admissions about Magnitsky. That’s not to say the Magnitsky discussion didn’t happen. It’s to say the potential admissions — down to Veselnitskaya’s claim that, “I definitely don’t have!” information on Russian hacking and interference — have gotten far more damaging since when, in July, she claimed the election didn’t come up.

At the very least, it seems the players — particularly the Trump sponsor Agalarovs  are concerned about what Rob Goldstone has had to say to whatever investigative body — and are now trying to cement a different more damning one, yet one that still stops short of what they might admit to.

In either case, another thing seems clear: Veselnitskaya attempted to come to the country, using the same method she did when she actually used her presence to pitch Don Jr. After that meeting was denied, Trump went from suggesting he might meet with Putin to confirming that he plans to.

Reasons Why Dems Have Been Fucking Stupid on the Steele Dossier: a Long Essay

Let me start this post by reposting in full my explanation of why Trump opponents are idiots for clinging to the Steele dossier, so I can add to that with an explanation of why the disclosure that Marc Elias paid for the dossier on behalf of Hillary and the DNC makes it far, far worse.

I have zero doubt that the Russians attempted to influence the election. I think it likely Robert Mueller will eventually show evidence that senior people in Trump’s camp attempted to and may have coordinated with people working for Russia, and people more tangential to the campaign sought out Russians for help. I think if the full story of the Russian involvement in the election comes out, it will be worse than what people currently imagine.

I also think Trump opponents have made a really grave error in investing so much in the Steele dossier. That’s true because, from the start, there were some real provenance questions about it, as leaked. Those questions have only grown, as I’ll explain below. The dossier was always way behind ongoing reporting on the hack-and-leak, meaning it is utterly useless for one of the most important parts of last year’s tampering. The dossier provides Trump officials a really easy way to rebut claims of involvement, even when (such as with Michael Cohen) there is ample other evidence to suggest inappropriate ties with Russia. Most importantly, the dossier is not needed for the most common reason people cling to it, to provide a framework to understand Trump’s compromise by Russia. By late January, WaPo’s reporting did a far better job of that, with the advantage that it generally proceeded from events with more public demonstrable proof. And (again, given the abundance of other evidence) there’s no reason to believe the Mueller investigation depends on it.

But because Trump opponents have clung to the damn dossier for months, like a baby’s blanket, hoping for a pee tape, it allows Trump, Republicans, and Russians to engage in lawfare and other means to discredit the dossier as if discrediting the dossier will make the pile of other incriminating evidence disappear.

So let’s see how the Marc Elias disclosure makes this far, far worse.

The WaPo reports that Elias’ firm, Perkins Coie, acting on behalf of both Hillary and the DNC, paid Fusion GPS. And they did so much earlier than previously reported, starting in April.

Marc E. Elias, a lawyer representing the Clinton campaign and the DNC, retained Fusion GPS, a Washington firm, to conduct the research.

After that, Fusion GPS hired dossier author Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer with ties to the FBI and the U.S. intelligence community, according to those people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Elias and his law firm, Perkins Coie, retained the company in April 2016 on behalf of the Clinton campaign and the DNC. Before that agreement, Fusion GPS’s research into Trump was funded by an unknown Republican client during the GOP primary.

Given the numbering of the dossier, the April date makes far better sense than the June date. In fact, on January 13, I said, “It must have started sometime in April.” Yay me — that’s the one piece of prescience I’ll write about here I’m happy about.

The news comes as Fusion has been digging itself deeper and deeper into a perjury hole in an effort to protect Elias and the Democrats, just as they would have had to release financial documents showing Perkins Coie’s involvement in any case (I’ll do a follow-up to show that Fusion seems to have been using a cute definition of “client” in its sworn legal declarations about the dossier).

Some of the details are included in a Tuesday letter sent by Perkins Coie to a lawyer representing Fusion GPS, telling the research firm that it was released from a ­client-confidentiality obligation. The letter was prompted by a legal fight over a subpoena for Fusion GPS’s bank records.

As the WaPo and an army of Dem flacks have noted since this story broke, it is totally normal to pay oppo research firms for dirt on opponents.

It is!!

Which ought to raise really big questions why Elias didn’t come forward before now to simply admit that Hillary and the Dems — rather than some unnamed big donor as has always been intimated — were doing what every campaign normally does.

And there are several likely reasons for that.

First, consider what position this puts the FBI in. Steele started sharing his information with the FBI during the summer, possibly before the FBI opened an investigation into Trump’s Russian ties (though the CIA claims to have had a report in June about such ties, so the investigation doesn’t derive exclusively from the dossier). It’s still unclear — not even given Steele’s legal statements on this fact — whether Steele shared the information on his own, or whether Fusion permitted him to share. It’s also not clear whether Steele disclosed to FBI who was paying for his work (or even if he actually knew). But it is qualitatively different for the FBI to accept and respond to information from a political party than it is to respond to information paid for by — say — a rich private person like George Soros. That is, admittedly, how the Whitewater investigation got started (so I can appreciate the irony), but it was wrong then and it’s wrong now.

Note, this detail also provides a much better explanation for why the FBI backed out of its planned relationship with Steele in October, one that matches my supposition. As soon as it became clear Elias was leaking the dossier all over as oppo research, the FBI realized how inappropriate it was to use the information themselves, no matter how credible Steele is. This also likely explains why FBI seeded a story with NYT, one Democrats have complained about incessantly since, reporting “none of the investigations so far have found any conclusive or direct link between Mr. Trump and the Russian government.” Ham-handed? Sure. But in the wake of Harry Reid and David Corn’s attempts to force FBI to reveal what Democratic oppo research had handed to FBI, the FBI needed to distance themselves from the oppo research, and make sure they didn’t become part of it. Particularly if Steele was not fully forthcoming about who was paying him, the FBI was fucked.

And consider what Hillary and the DNC did. Back when the June 9 Trump Tower meeting first broke, I warned Democrats who were screaming that this was proof of collusion to be very careful of how they defined it.

[T]hus far, it is not evidence of collusion, contrary to what a lot of people are saying.

That’s true, most obviously, because we only have the implicit offer of a quid pro quo: dirt on Hillary — the source of which is unknown — in exchange for sanctions relief. We don’t (yet) have evidence that Don Jr and his co-conspirators acted on that quid pro quo.

But it’s also true because if that’s the standard for collusion, then Hillary’s campaign is in trouble for doing the same.

Remember: A supporter of Hillary Clinton paid an opposition research firm, Fusion GPS, to hire a British spy who in turn paid money to Russians — including people even closer to the Kremlin than Veselnitskaya — for Russia-related dirt on Don Jr’s dad.

Yes, the Clinton campaign was full of adults, and so kept their Russian-paying oppo research far better removed from the key players on the campaign than Trump’s campaign, which was run by incompetents. But if obtaining dirt from Russians — even paying Russians to obtain dirt — is collusion, then a whole bunch of people colluded with Russians (and a bunch of other foreign entities, I’m sure), including whatever Republican originally paid Fusion for dirt on Trump.

Breaking: Our political process is sleazy as fuck (but then, so are most of our politicians).

I assumed at the time that Democrats were adults and provided Hillary some plausible deniability and distance from the payments to ex-spooks who in turn paid Russian spies.

Serves me right for underestimating, yet again, Hillary’s ability to score own goals, because Nope! They’re not that adult! And so while it pains me greatly to have to say this, the Dems who screamed “COLLUSION!!!!!!!!” after evidence of a meeting but not payment have earned this attack from Ari Fleischer, accusing them of colluding, because that’s the standard they adopted at the time.

Finally, there’s the most interesting thing implicated by the disclosure that Perkins Coie partner Marc Elias paid for the dossier.

As noted, the WaPo explains Elias started to do so in April, which makes far more sense given the numbering of the dossier. But Steele, we know, was brought in in June; his first report, about whether Russia had kompromat on Hillary, was June 20. That means Steele’s involvement, paid for by Perkins Coie, postdates the involvement of Perkins Coie partner (and former DOJ prosecutor who should have known better than to do this) Michael Sussman in the DNC’s response to learning they were hacked by Russia, starting around April 29.

“Not sure it is related to what the F.B.I. has been noticing,” said one internal D.N.C. email sent on April 29. “The D.N.C. may have been hacked in a serious way this week, with password theft, etc.”

No one knew just how bad the breach was — but it was clear that a lot more than a single filing cabinet worth of materials might have been taken. A secret committee was immediately created, including Ms. Dacey, Ms. Wasserman Schultz, Mr. Brown and Michael Sussmann, a former cybercrimes prosecutor at the Department of Justice who now works at Perkins Coie, the Washington law firm that handles D.N.C. political matters.

“Three most important questions,” Mr. Sussmann wrote to his clients the night the break-in was confirmed. “1) What data was accessed? 2) How was it done? 3) How do we stop it?”

It also means that Steele’s involvement — paid for by Perkins Coie — roughly coincides with the time Democrats and Perkins Coie partner Michael Sussman first sat down with the FBI and pushed the FBI to “tell the American public that” Russia had attacked the Democrats.

The D.N.C. executives and their lawyer had their first formal meeting with senior F.B.I. officials in mid-June, nine months after the bureau’s first call to the tech-support contractor. Among the early requests at that meeting, according to participants: that the federal government make a quick “attribution” formally blaming actors with ties to Russian government for the attack to make clear that it was not routine hacking but foreign espionage.

“You have a presidential election underway here and you know that the Russians have hacked into the D.N.C.,” Mr. Sussmann said, recalling the message to the F.B.I. “We need to tell the American public that. And soon.”

Shortly thereafter, Steele, paid for by Perkins Coie, started sharing reports with the FBI, with as yet unknown disclosure to them about who was paying his bills. Do you see why this is a problem yet?

Note, too, the irony. The DNC was unwilling to share their server directly with the FBI. But they were willing to launder their intelligence to it.

Not cool, Democrats. Also, not smart.

Now, add to this massive own goal the Democrats have scored on themselves. The second report in the released dossier, is dated July 26, released four days after WikiLeaks started releasing the DNC emails, making it clear the Democrats had a far bigger hack-and-leak problem on their hands than they had let on in a June 14 story to the WaPo. It is an incredibly back-assward report on Russian hacking that proved unaware of the most basic publicly known details about Russia’s hacking (the Democrats would have been better served reading this report that had been released ten months before, which is almost certainly what FBI was trying to point them to when they first warned of the hack in September). That is, in the wake of the DNC hack, the Democrats’ lawyer paid for private intelligence about Russian involvement with Trump, and they ended up paying someone whose sources (because Steele is a follow-the-money guy, not a follow-the-packets guy) consistently were months and months behind the public knowledge on the hack.

Yikes.

Finally, one more point. It has been clear for some time that Steele’s reports had some kind of feedback loop, responding to information the Democrats got. That was most obvious with respect to the September 14 Alfa Bank report, which was obviously written after first news of the Alfa Bank/Trump Tower story, which was pushed by Democratic partisans. Particularly given that we know the released report is a selective release of just some reports from the dossier, the inclusion of Alfa Bank in that release makes no sense. Even if reports about old corrupt ties between Alfa and Putin are true (as if Democratic politicians and corrupt American banks never have old ties), the inclusion of the Alfa report in the dossier on Trump made zero sense.

Which is why Alfa Bank decided — after consulting with big Republican lawyers like Viet Dinh and soon-to-be DOJ Criminal Division Chief Brian Benczkowski — to sue for defamation. Now I understand why (particularly given that Republicans seem to have known who paid for the dossier for some time). I’m not sure Alfa Bank executives pass the bar for defamation here (though the publication of a report that misspelled Alfa’s name is pretty damning), but the fact that Elias paid for this dossier on behalf of the Democrats is going to make that defamation case far more explosive (and I’ll be surprised if Elias doesn’t get added into the mix).

As I said when I began this: I have no doubt Russia tampered with the election, and if the full truth comes out I think it will be more damning than people now imagine.

But the Democrats have really really really fucked things up with their failures to maintain better ethical distance between the candidate and the dossier, and between the party and the FBI sharing. They’ve made things worse by waiting so long to reveal this, rather that pitching it as normal sleazy political oppo research a year ago.

The case of Russian preference for Trump is solid. The evidence his top aides were happy to serve as Russian agents is strong.

But rather than let FBI make the case for that, Democrats instead tried to make their own case, and they did in such a way as to make the very solid case against Trump dependent on their defense of the dosser, rather than on better backed claims released since then.

Boy it seems sadly familiar, Democrats committing own goals like this. And all that’s before where the lawfare on this dossier is going to go.

Update, 12/6/17: This, from April, is a really interesting claim by claim debunking of the dossier.

The Latest CNN Scoop Doesn’t Prove What Everyone Says It Does

CNN has a story that reports something the evidence it presents doesn’t support, which others are taking to say things that it supports even less.

It claims that a short email thread it shares and five pages of talking points it doesn’t proves that the June 9, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Natalia Veselnitskaya and Don Jr (and others) “not about dirt on Clinton.”

An email exchange and talking points provided to CNN are the latest indication of how some of the meeting participants plan to make their case about why the meeting with Donald Trump Jr. did not amount to collusion between Russian officials and the Trump campaign.

The new information stands in contrast with the initial email pitching the meeting to Trump Jr., which promised damaging information on Clinton.

The “proof” is an email chain — or perhaps, just five emails from a longer chain, out of context with other emails they relate to — that includes one where Veselnitskaya asks Rod Goldstone, who set up the meeting, permission to include Rinat Akhmetshin in the meeting because he “is working to advance these issues with several congressmen.” From that, CNN suggests, we should understand the meeting was primarily about the Magnitsky sanctions.

But even there, Goldstone’s references to the purpose of the meeting are oblique, wishing only that Veselnitskaya “bring[s] whoever you need in order to make the meeting successful.” Moreover, the talking point document that CNN doesn’t share does include “a passing reference to a possible financer of Clinton’s campaign.” The further discussion of the talking points suggest it was more than a passing reference.

As part of her explanation, Veselnitskaya’s talking points accuse the “Ziff brothers” — three billionaire brothers who had run a hedge fund company together — of violating Russian law, as well as their connections to Democratic politics.

“Ziff brothers participated in financing both Obama presidential campaign, American press dubs them as ‘main sponsors of Democrats,’ ” the memo states, according to a translated version. “It’s entirely possible they also take part in financing Hillary Clinton’s campaign.”

Now consider the provenance of the document, which to me is a big part of the story.

It was obtained, CNN explains, by an attorney CNN says represents Aras and Emin Agalarov, and who seems intent on refuting the story publicly told by Rod Goldstone.

The documents were provided by Scott Balber, who represents Aras and Emin Agalarov, the billionaire real estate developer and his pop star son who requested the June 2016 meeting.

Balber, who went to Moscow to obtain the documents from Veselnitskaya, said in an interview with CNN that the emails and talking points show she was focused on repealing the Magnitsky Act, not providing damaging information on Clinton.

The message was muddled, Balber said, when it was passed like a game of telephone from Veselnitskaya through the Agalarovs to Goldstone.

Balber also suggested that Goldstone “probably exaggerated and maybe willfully contorted the facts for the purpose of making the meeting interesting to the Trump people.”

A couple of points about this.

First, in addition to apparently representing the Agalarovs in this matter, and on top of being an early source for details about who attended this meeting, Balber also once represented Trump.

This story comes at a time when we know Akhmetshin has already testified before the grand jury, presumably saying what he said to the FT about Veselnitskaya sharing information developed with the help of corporate intelligence (which is quite likely to be Fusion! which might explain the NDA) on how bad money supported Hillary.

Akhmetshin said he did not read the papers about Hillary Clinton’s campaign funding that Veselnitskaya took to the meeting, but he had seen the Russian version of it before. He says the lawyer developed it with the help of private corporate intelligence and that it was about “how bad money ended up in Manhattan and that money was put into supporting political campaigns”.

Furthermore Richard Burr, last week, suggested that Veselnitskaya may have already met with SSCI investigators.

Sir, is the Russian lawyer who met Donald Trump, is she coming before you?

[snip]

Is the Russian attorney going to come through, the Russian attorney that met with Donald Trump Jr, she’s offered to come in open committee. Have you reached out to her, is she one of the 25 on your list?

Burr: How do you know we haven’t already heard from her?

So if this is an attempt to change the spin of the story, it may extend no further than changing the spin of the story publicly, not with Robert Mueller or anyone who matters.

But here’s the bigger question. Why would an American lawyer who has previously represented Trump need to fly to Russia to meet with Veselnitskaya personally? This email chain and the talking points could very easily be sent — but weren’t. So why did Balber need to solidify stories with Veselnitskaya in person? And what is the provenance of the emails as presented, stripped of any forensic information?

So while it’s clear Trump’s former lawyer wants to change the spin around this story, it seems to me the takeaway should be,

Breaking: Lawyer with past ties to Trump flew to Russia to coordinate stories with Natalia Veselnitskaya

Furthermore, given all the focus on Fusion and the emphasis in this story on NDAs, I’d suggest it possible they’re trying to hide the fact that Fusion was working both sides, or even providing dirt on Hillary to the initial funder of the Steele dossier to the Republican that originally paid for it.

Update: Compare this effort to rewrite the story with the flip-flop Don Jr made for his congressional testimony. Not only did Don Jr need to incorporate both adoptions and dirt on Hillary to accord with both his published emails but also with what Pops said, but he could not recall things about what Agalarov said in advance of the meeting.

I’m more interesting in the things the forgetful 39 year old could not recall. While his phone records show he spoke to Emin Agalarov, the rock star son of Aras Agalarov, who has been dangling real estate deals in Russia for the Trumps for some time, for example, he doesn’t recall what was discussed.

Three days later, on June 6th, Rob contacted me again about scheduling a time for a call with Emin. My phone records show three very short phone calls between Emin and me between June 6th and 7th. I do not recall speaking to Emin. It is possible that we left each other voice mail messages. I simply do not remember.

This is important, because those conversations probably explained precisely what was going to happen at that meeting (and how it might benefit real estate developer Aras Agalarov), but Jr simply can’t recall even having a conversation (or how long those conversations were).

Don Jr also claimed not to recall that Ahkmetshin attended the meeting. The focus in the CNN spin on the NDAs served to obscure his presence in a way.

Don Jr Does Not Recall Not Recalling Rinat Akhmetshin at the June 9 Meeting

Don Jr had himself a “Half Hillary” today, upwards of five hours of testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, after which the low-stamina 39 year old called it quits.

Already, Senators Blumenthal and Coons suggest there were gaps or clear lies in his testimony. And apparently after the testimony, Robert Mueller alerted the White House he’ll seek testimony from the people who helped Pops Trump write a misleading statement about the meeting.

The reason for that is obvious: in his statement, Jr changed his story from what the original White House statement was, to offer an explanation for how the Pop-crafted statement makes sense. He knew the meeting pertained to dirt on Hillary, but ultimately it was just about adoption.

In his email to me Rob suggested that someone had “official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary [Clinton] and her dealings with Russia” and that the information would be “very useful” to the campaign. I was somewhat skeptical of his outreach, as I had only known Rob as Emin’s somewhat colorful music promoter who had worked with famous pop singers such as Michael Jackson. Since I had no additional information to validate what Rob was saying, I did not quite know what to make of his email. I had no way to gauge the reliability, credibility or accuracy of any of the things he was saying. As it later turned out, my skepticism was justified. The meeting provided no meaningful information and turned out not to be about what had been represented. The meeting was instead primarily focused on Russian adoptions, which is exactly what I said over a year later in my statement of July 8, 2017.

Of course, by crafting that nonsensical statement, Don Jr is making it clear a quid pro quo was discussed: Dirt, in exchange for movement on the Magnitsky sanctions.

I’m more interesting in the things the forgetful 39 year old could not recall. While his phone records show he spoke to Emin Agalarov, the rock star son of Aras Agalarov, who has been dangling real estate deals in Russia for the Trumps for some time, for example, he doesn’t recall what was discussed.

Three days later, on June 6th, Rob contacted me again about scheduling a time for a call with Emin. My phone records show three very short phone calls between Emin and me between June 6th and 7th. I do not recall speaking to Emin. It is possible that we left each other voice mail messages. I simply do not remember.

This is important, because those conversations probably explained precisely what was going to happen at that meeting (and how it might benefit real estate developer Aras Agalarov), but Jr simply can’t recall even having a conversation (or how long those conversations were).

He also doesn’t recall whether he discussed the meeting, after the fact, with Jared, Manafort, or (the unspoken “anyone else” here is pregnant) Pops.

The meeting lasted 20-30 minutes and Rob, Emin and I never discussed the meeting again. I do not recall ever discussing it with Jared, Paul or anyone else. In short, I gave it no further thought

Once we find out he did discuss it with Pops and others, he can say he’s stupid and we’ll all believe him.

Most interesting, to me, is his claim to only recall seven participants in the meeting.

As I recall, at or around 4 pm, Rob Goldstone came up to our offices and entered our conference room with a lawyer who I now know to be Natalia Veselnitskaya. Joining them was a translator and a man who was introduced to me as Irakli Kaveladze. After a few minutes, Jared and Paul joined. While numerous press outlets have reported that there were a total of eight people present at the meeting, I only recall seven. Because Rob was able to bring the entire group up by only giving his name to the security guard in the lobby, I had no advance warning regarding who or how many people would be attending. There is no attendance log to refer back to and I did not take notes.

The unstated subtext here is even more pregnant. Don Jr accounts for seven of the participants in this meeting:

(3) Himself, Paul Manafort, Jared Kusher

(4) Natalia Veselnitskaya, her translator, the Agalarov’s real estate invstment executive Irakli Kaveladze, and Rob Goldstone

So what he really means to say is he doesn’t recall the presence of Rinat Akhmetshin, who has ties to Russian intelligence and a history of fending off accusations of hacking.

I’d say those three gaps — what Agalarov told him to expect from the meeting in calls arranged beforehand, what he told Pop about the meeting, and that a suspected spook was there — are pretty interesting things for a young guy like Jr to forget.