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Questions to Ask before Reporting a BREAKING Mueller Report

Update: CNN is matching NBC’s reporting on this. It also backs its report with real details from their superb stakeout.

On Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday last week, special counsel’s office employees carried boxes and pushed a cart full of files out of their office — an unusual move that could foreshadow a hand-off of legal work.

At the same time, the Mueller prosecutors’ workload appears to be dwindling. Four of Mueller’s 17 prosecutors have ended their tenures with the office, with most returning to other roles in the Justice Department.

And the grand jury that Mueller’s prosecutors used to return indictments of longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, and several Russians hasn’t apparently convened since January 24 the day it approved the criminal charges against Stone.

I take from that I’m wrong about Mueller waiting for the two appeals (he knows what he’ll get from them) before he delivers his verdict. 

Pete Williams did the NBC circuit yesterday claiming that the Mueller report may be submitted to DOJ as soon as next week.

Pete Williams on MSNBC says the Mueller report may go to DOJ as early as next week

Because a lot of people have asked me about this and because Williams (and some other journalists) don’t appear to know enough about the Mueller investigation to ask the proper questions to assess that claim, I’d like to lay out a little logic and a few facts. It’s certainly possible that a Mueller report is coming next week — I’d argue that one is assuredly coming on Friday. But I doubt that means what Williams thinks it does.

The conclusory report is not coming next week

When most people think of “the Mueller report,” they mean this report, dictated by the Special Counsel regulations.

At the conclusion of the Special Counsel’s work, he or she shall provide the Attorney General with a confidential report explaining the prosecution or declination decisions reached by the Special Counsel.

When Mueller is done, he has to submit a confidential report to the Attorney General (who is now Mueller’s friend William Barr) telling him what he did and didn’t do. Given everything Barr said as part of his confirmation process, we’re unlikely to see this report.

To assess whether this report is what Pete Williams thinks is coming, we should assess whether public evidence is consistent with Mueller being done.

The answer to that is clearly no. He’s still chasing testimony from Roger Stone flunkie Andrew Miller and from some foreign owned corporation (and has been chasing that, in the case of Miller, since last May).

Given that Miller already interviewed with the FBI for two hours and the foreign company is, by dint of being foreign, a no-brainer target for NSA, it’s quite likely Mueller knows what he’s getting from both of these entities. He just needs Miller on the record, so he can’t change his story to protect Stone, and needs to parallel construct the information from the foreign company. So it’s possible that as soon as Mueller gets both of these things, he’ll finish up quickly (meaning The Report could be soon). But there is no way that’ll happen by next week, in part because whatever the DC Appeals Court says in the Andrew Miller case, the loser will appeal that decision.

So it’s virtually certain that The Report is not coming by next week.

A report talking about “collusion” is coming this week

But maybe NBC’s sources are speaking metaphorically, and mean something else that isn’t the conclusory report but that will more closely resemble what everyone thinks of when they talk about The Report.

That’s likely to happen, but if it does, it’ll just be a partial report.

That’s because both Mueller and the defense have to submit a sentencing memo in Paul Manafort’s DC case Friday. As I noted back in November when Mueller’s prosecutors declared Manafort to have breached his plea agreement, this sentencing memo presents an opportunity for Mueller to “report” what they’ve found — at least with respect to all the criminal actions they know Manafort committed, including those he lied about while he was supposed to be cooperating — without anyone at DOJ or the White House suppressing the most damning bits. DOJ won’t be able to weigh in because a sentencing memo is not a major action requiring an urgent memo to the Attorney General. And the White House will get no advance warning because Big Dick Toilet Salesman Matt Whitaker is no longer in the reporting chain.

So, as noted, Mueller will have an opportunity to lay out:

  1. The details of Manafort’s sleazy influence peddling, including his modus operandi of projecting his own client’s corruption onto his opponents
  2. The fact that Manafort already pled guilty to conspiring with a suspected Russian intelligence asset
  3. The details about how Manafort — ostensibly working for “free” — got paid in 2016, in part via kickbacks from a Super PAC that violated campaign finance law, possibly in part by Tom Barrack who was using Manafort and Trump as a loss-leader to Middle Eastern graft, and in part by deferred payments or debt relief from Russian-backed oligarchs
  4. Manafort’s role and understanding of the June 9 meeting, which is a prelude of sorts to the August 2 one
  5. The dates and substance of Manafort’s ongoing communications with suspected Russian intelligence asset Konstantin Kilimnik, including the reasons why Manafort shared highly detailed polling data on August 2, 2016 that he knew would be passed on to his paymasters who just happened to be (in the case of Oleg Deripaska) a central player in the election year operation
  6. The ongoing efforts to win Russia relief from the American Ukrainian-related sanctions by pushing a “peace” plan that would effectively give Russia everything it wants
  7. Manafort’s ongoing discussions with Trump and the Administration, up to and including discussions laying out how if Manafort remains silent about items two through six, Trump will pardon him

Because those items are all within the substance of the crimes Manafort pled guilty to or lied about during his failed cooperation, they’re all squarely within the legitimate content of a sentencing memo. And we should expect the sentencing memo in DC to be at least as detailed as the EDVA one; I expect it, like the EDVA one and like Manafort’s plea deal, will be accompanied by exhibits such as the EDVA one showing that Manafort had bank accounts to the tune of $25,704,669.72 for which suspected Russian intelligence asset Konstantin Kilimnik was listed as a beneficial owner in 2012. Heck, we might even get to see the polling data Manafort shared, knowing it was going to Russia, which was an exhibit to Manafort’s breach determination.

The only thing limiting how much detail we’ll get about these things (as well as about how Manafort served as a secret agent of Russian backed Ukrainian oligarchs for years) is the ongoing sensitivities of the material, whether because it’s grand jury testimony, SIGINT collection, or a secret Mueller intends to spring on other defendants down the road.

It’s the latter point that will be most telling. As I noted, thus far, the silences about Manafort’s cooperation are — amazingly — even more provocative than the snippets we learned via the breach determination. We’ll likely get a read on Friday whether Mueller has ongoing equities that would lead him to want to keep these details secret. And the only thing that would lead Mueller to keep details of the conspiracy secret is if he plans to charge it in an overarching conspiracy indictment.

We may also get information, however, that will make it far more difficult for Trump to pardon Manafort.

So, yeah, there’s a report coming out this week. But it’s not The Report.

Any overarching conspiracy indictment will not be coming this week

It’s possible Mueller is close to charging an overarching conspiracy indictment, laying out how Trump and his spawn entered into a quid quo pro with various representatives of the Russian government, getting dirt on Hillary and either a Trump Tower or maybe a bailout for the very same building in which Manafort met with Konstantin Kilimnik on August 2, 2016. In exchange for all that, Trump agreed to — and took steps to deliver on, with some success in the case of election plot participant Deripaska — reversing the sanctions that were such a headache to Russia’s oligarchs.

Such an indictment, if Mueller ever charges it, will look like what Trump opponents would like The Report to look like. In addition to naming Don Jr and Jared Kushner and Trump Organization and a bunch of other sleazeballs, it would also describe the actions of Individual-1 in adequate detail to launch an impeachment proceeding.

But that indictment, if Mueller ever charges it, won’t be coming on Friday or Monday, as Williams predicts, because it likely requires whatever it is Mueller is trying to parallel construct from that foreign-owned company. And even if SCOTUS denies its appeal today, it’s unlikely that evidence will be in hand in time for a Friday indictment.

Mueller could ensure a report gets delivered to Jerry Nadler next week … but that’s unlikely

There’s one other possibility that would make Williams’ prediction true: if Mueller deliberately triggered the one other way to deliver a report, by asking to take an action William Barr is unlikely to approve, and if Mueller was willing to close up shop as a result, then a report would go to Congress and — if Barr thought it in the public interest — to the public.

Upon conclusion of the Special Counsels investigation, including, to the extent consistent with applicable law, a description and explanation of instances (if any) in which the Attorney General concluded that a proposed action by a Special Counsel was so inappropriate or unwarranted under established Departmental practices that it should not be pursued.

[snip]

The Attorney General may determine that public release of these reports would be in the public interest, to the extent that release would comply with applicable legal restrictions.

The only thing that Mueller might try to do that Barr would not approve (though who knows? maybe what Mueller has is so egregious Barr will surprise us?) is to indict the President.

I think this is unlikely, for all the reasons the first possibility laid out here is unlikely: that is, Mueller is still waiting on two details he has been chasing for quite some time, and I doubt he’d be willing to forgo that evidence just to trigger a report. It’s also unlikely because Mueller is a DOJ guy, and he’s unlikely to ask to do what he knows OLC says he should not do.

Still, it’s hypothetically possible that Mueller believes Trump is such an egregious criminal and national security risk he needs to try to accelerate the process of holding him accountable by stopping his investigation early (perhaps having the DC AUSAs named on the Miller and Mystery Appellant challenges take over those pursuits) and asking to indict the President.

But if that’s what Williams is reporting, he sure as hell better get more clarity about that fact, because, boy would it be news.

All of which is the lesson of this post: If you’re being told — or telling others — that Mueller’s report is imminent, then you’re either being told very very big news, or bullshit. Do yourself and us a favor of learning the base level regulations to understand which it is.

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

On SSCI’s Investigation: Manafort “Conspired” Whether or Not Trump Also “Colluded”

I’d like to point out something about this NBC report headlined, “Senate has uncovered no direct evidence of conspiracy between Trump campaign and Russia,” but instead showing,

investigators disagree along party lines when it comes to the implications of a pattern of contacts they have documented between Trump associates and Russians — contacts that occurred before, during and after Russian intelligence operatives were seeking to help Donald Trump by leaking hacked Democratic emails and attacking his opponent, Hillary Clinton, on social media.

I sometimes beat up on Ken Dilanian and I don’t mean to do so here. Putting the headline and lead aside, his report shows the disagreement here, and he even references Mark Warner’s recent focus on Paul Manafort’s sharing of polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik (though it’s not clear he asked Richard Burr about the report).

After it recently emerged that Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort shared campaign polling data with a man the FBI says is linked to Russian intelligence, Warner called that the most persuasive evidence yet of coordination.

“This appears as the closest we’ve seen yet to real, live, actual collusion,” he said on CNN.

No evidence has emerged, however, linking the transfer of polling data to Trump.

Natasha Bertrand says the report soft-pedals the Democrats’ belief.

Senate Intelligence Committee aide tells me, re: NBC story, that right now there is “a common set of facts” that the panel is working with, “and a disagreement about what those facts mean.” They add: “We are closer to the end than the beginning, but we’re not wrapping up.”

But I think something else is going on, in addition to any downplaying Democrats’ views.

It’s that the report shifts back and forth between “conspiracy” and “collusion.”

After two years and 200 interviews, the Senate Intelligence Committee is approaching the end of its investigation into the 2016 election, having uncovered no direct evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, according to both Democrats and Republicans on the committee.

[snip]

“If we write a report based upon the facts that we have, then we don’t have anything that would suggest there was collusion by the Trump campaign and Russia,” said Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, in an interview with CBS News last week.

[snip]

“We were never going find a contract signed in blood saying, ‘Hey Vlad, we’re going to collude,'” one Democratic aide said.

[snip]

House Republicans announced last year they had found no evidence of collusion, but their report came under immediate criticism as a highly partisan product that excluded Democrats.

[snip]

“Senator Richard Burr, The Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, just announced that after almost two years, more than two hundred interviews, and thousands of documents, they have found NO COLLUSION BETWEEN TRUMP AND RUSSIA!” Trump tweeted Sunday. “Is anybody really surprised by this?”

[snip]

“This [sharing polling data] appears as the closest we’ve seen yet to real, live, actual collusion,” he said on CNN.

[snip]

The final Senate report may not reach a conclusion on whether the contacts added up to collusion or coordination with Russia, Burr said.

Democrats told NBC News that’s a distinct possibility.

“What I’m telling you is that I’m going to present, as best we can, the facts to you and to the American people,” Burr told CBS. “And you’ll have to draw your own conclusion as to whether you think that, by whatever definition, that’s collusion.”

The story promises to talk about conspiracy, but then ends up talking about “collusion,” going so far as quoting Burr saying you need to draw your own conclusion about what you think the definition of “collusion” is.

That’s an important distinction, especially in a report that talks about Paul Manafort, not least because Manafort has already pled guilty to conspiring with Konstantin Kilimnik, albeit for covering up crimes in 2018 rather than committing them in 2016.

And while Burr complains we can’t know his or any of the other flunkies’ motives, Andrew Weissmann made it clear that Manafort told the grand jury he didn’t have just one motive when he handed highly detailed, recent polling data to Konstantin Kilimnik to be handed over to his Ukrainian and Russian paymasters.

And I think that in the grand jury, Mr. Manafort said that from his perspective, [sharing polling data] which he admitted at that point was with — he understood that it was going to be given by [redacted] to the [redacted] and to Mr. redacted 9 character name], both. That from his perspective, it was — there was no downside — I’m paraphrasing — it was sort of a win-win. That there was nothing — there was no negatives.

[snip]

My answer, with respect to the Court’s question about what it is — what the defendant’s intent was in terms of what he thought [redacted] I was just trying to answer that question, even though that’s not one of the bases for saying there was a lie here. And so I was just trying to answer that question. And what I meant by his statement that there’s no downside, is that can you imagine multiple reasons for [redacted]. And I think the only downside —

THE COURT: You meant no downside to him?

MR. WEISSMANN: Yes.

THE COURT: You weren’t suggesting that there was nothing — there’s no scenario under which this could be a bad thing?

MR. WEISSMANN: Oh, sorry. Yes. I meant there was no downside — Mr. Manafort had said there was no downside to Mr. Manafort doing it.

[snip]

MR. WEISSMANN: And meaning all of this is a benefit. The negative, as I said, was it coming out that he did this.

This August 2, 2016 data hand-off occurred in the specific context of Manafort trying to get whole on his $20 million debt to Oleg Deripaska. The data was also going to some Ukrainian oligarchs that Manafort expected to pay him $2.4 million in November 2016. And all that’s aside from whether Manafort expected the Russians to do anything with the data that might help Trump.

He was badly underwater, and — according to his grand jury testimony, at least as described by Weissmann — he clandestinely handed off recent detailed polling data to a guy connected to the agency that was still hacking Hillary Clinton, to be shared with a bunch of oligarchs who could help him reverse his financial fortunes.

It seems there’s a conspiracy there one way another. Either Manafort effectively stole Trump’s campaign data and traded it to foreigners for monetary gain. And/or Manafort handed over that data expecting that the campaign would get a thing of value from the foreigners he was sharing it with.

Richard Burr would seem to argue that’s not “collusion” unless Trump knew about it (whether he did is one of the questions Mueller posed to Trump).

But it is a conspiracy, an agreement with Konstantin Kilimnik to commit one or more crimes, right there in the middle of the election season. Whether Mueller will charge it or do something else with it remains to be seen. But it is fairly clearly a conspiracy, down to the clandestine arrivals and departures from the dark cigar lounge.

Ultimately, Burr’s retreat to that word “collusion” is a tell. Because, given the public facts in this case, Republicans should be outraged that Trump’s campaign manager was so disloyal he shared highly sensitive data with potentially malign actors. Republicans should be outraged that Trump’s campaign manager was putting his own financial imperatives ahead of sound campaign practice.

But they’re not. For some reason, Republicans are not squawking about the explanation for this data hand-off that would suggest the campaign didn’t expect to benefit.

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. 

Quid Pro Quo Redux, Part One: The Trump Tower Dangle

Last May, I wrote a series using the questions (as imagined by Jay Sekulow) Mueller had posed to Trump to lay out what theory of investigation Mueller might be pursuing — and what details we know about it. We’ve learned a lot more about the investigation and confirmed that the investigation focusing on Trump personally includes both a criminal and a counterintelligence component. I wanted to update the series. Because we know so much more about both sides of this quid pro quo, the organization of the series will be somewhat different.

November 9, 2013: During a 2013 Trip To Russia, What Communication and Relationships Did You Have with the Agalarovs and Russian Government Officials?

On November 9, 2013, Aras Agalorov helped Trump put on Miss Universe in Moscow; Trump Tower meeting attendees Rob Goldstone and Ike Kaveladze were both involved, as were Don Jr, Michael Cohen, and Keith Schiller. If the pee tape — or any kompromat involving “golden showers,” as Jim Comey claims Trump called it — exists, it was made on November 8, 2013.

The prior trip set up the 2016 quid pro quo in several ways. First, it deepened Trump’s desire for a Moscow Trump Tower — an effort the Agalrovs and Trumps pursued for years after the meeting. It established Trump’s enthusiasm for Vladimir Putin — though Putin reportedly disappointed Trump’s desire for a meeting on that prior occasion. It also introduced Trump to a bunch of other oligarchs.

Just after Trump kicked off his presidential bid, Emin invited Trump to his father’s birthday party in Moscow on November 8 (PDF 17), the first of a series of outreaches during Trump’s campaign which would continue through the election. The Agalarovs would remain the key handlers of the Trump family until shortly after the election, when first Sergei Kislyak, then Putin himself, would take over interacting with Trump and his family.

September 25, 2015 to November 2016: What Communication did you have with Michael D. Cohen, Felix Sater, and others, including foreign nationals, about Russian real estate developments during the campaign

By September 25, 2015, Felix Sater and Michael Cohen already had a Moscow design study completed for a Trump Tower in Moscow. Days later, Andrey Rozov was promising to build Donald Trump the tallest tower in Europe. In October 2015, Felix Sater (whose actions in brokering this deal seemed designed to ensure that Trump’s willingness to work with Russian military intelligence and sanctioned banks would leave a digital paper trail) started pitching the centrality of Putin to the deal. On October 28, at a time when his presidential bid was meeting unexpected success, Trump signed a Letter of Intent on a deal that stood to make him a fantastic sum of $300 million.

In the days after getting the signed letter of intent and in response to Trump publicly complimenting Putin at a press conference, Sater bizarrely tied the deal to getting Trump elected. He claimed to believe that if Putin complimented Trump’s deal-making prowess at a press conference tied to a then hypothetical Trump trip to Moscow, it would help Trump’s election chances.

Michael my next steps are very sensitive with Putins very very close people, we can pull this off. Michael lets go. 2 boys from Brooklyn getting a USA president elected.

Sater first tried to get commitments for both Cohen and Trump to travel to Moscow (with the documents to prove it) in December 2015. While Cohen was willing to share his passport, he held off on Trump’s. Perhaps as a result of Cohen’s increasing impatience with Sater’s swapping out a lightly sanctioned bank for a more compromising one, Cohen said he wanted to take more control. That led to him to reach out to Dmitry Peskov directly (who had been involved in Trump’s efforts to meet Putin in 2013), which in turn led him to have a 20 minute call with Peskov’s personal assistant on January 21, 2016. Over the course of that conversation, she would have taken notes recording Cohen committing to Trump’s willingness to work through a former GRU officer and with sanctioned banks to get his $300 million deal. By the next day, Putin’s office had that in hand, the first of many receipts he would obtain on Trump, making him susceptible to compromise regardless of what happened.

Cohen smartly shifted negotiations to the encrypted communication app Dust for a time. But when Sater renewed discussions about a trip to Russia to make this happen in May 2016, he did so on texts that would be accessible to law enforcement. And Cohen made it clear Trump had to seal the nomination before he would risk making his coziness with Putin public, making it crystal clear that the election and the Trump Tower deal remained linked in his brain.

Both Trump and Don Jr were thoroughly briefed on these negotiations. That means when Don Jr accepted a meeting offering dirt on Hillary as part of Russia’s support for Trump, he would have known that a $300 million real estate deal might depend on taking the meeting. Don Jr took the June 9, 2016 meeting and — per four sworn witnesses’ statements — agreed to revisit Magnitsky sanctions if his father won.

At almost exactly the moment that meeting broke up, Felix Sater texted Cohen to take the next step on a deal, a trip for him to St. Petersburg, potentially to meet with Putin personally. Oleg Deripaska and Sergei Millian (the latter of whom Cohen had also worked with in the past) would also have been at the event.

In the days after the Trump Tower meeting, Sater and Cohen were scrambling to put together the trip to St. Petersburg at the last minute. But they looked like they would pull it off, only to have the WaPo report, on June 14, 2016, that Russia hacked the DNC postpone the plans for the trip.

That said, Cohen only said, “he would not be traveling at that time.” The news that Russia hacked Trump’s opponent didn’t kill the deal. It just made it more difficult.

On July 22, 2016 — the day that WikiLeaks released the DNC emails — George Papadopoulos (possibly with the coaching of Ivan Timofeev) and Sergei Millian seem to have picked up keeping discussions of a deal alive from Cohen and Sater.

According to the President’s current teevee lawyer, Trump answered Mueller’s questions on this topic to allow for the possibility that the Russian deal remained active through November. He’s just not committing to any story about how long the deal remained (or remains) active.

One thing to remember about this Trump Tower deal. The deal was too good to be true (and to some degree that’s the point!). But it fed all of Trump’s character weaknesses. The promise of having the tallest tower in Europe would feed Trump’s narcissism. The fairly ridiculous claim Trump Organization stood to make $300 million off of it would have been irresistible to the highly indebted family.

And in exchange for that, Trump showed repeated and sustained willingness to deal with GRU-tied individuals and sanctioned banks. And at the June 9 meeting, his spawn made it clear he’d trade policy considerations to get the 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. 

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

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. 

Paul Manafort’s Ongoing Conspiracy with Suspected Russian Agent Konstantin Kilimnik

Update: The NYT had it correct the first time. They got — badly — played.

Because the NYT corrected an error (noting that Paul Manafort instructed Konstantin Kilimnik to pass on Trump polling data to pro-Russian Ukrainian oligarchs Serhiy Lyovochkin and Rinat Akhmetov, not Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska), the usual suspects are claiming that the really damning disclosures revealed by Paul Manafort’s filing of the other day don’t yet prove Trump’s campaign manager conspired with Russia.

Manafort already pled guilty to conspiring with Russian Konstantin Kilimnik

I saw claims as recently as the other day that no Trump associate has been charged or pled guilty to conspiring with a Russian. That’s false.

As part of his plea agreement in September, Manafort pled guilty to conspiring with Kilimnik, a Russian citizen, to witness tamper.  Admittedly, this particular conspiracy took place in 2018, not 2016, and it served not to tamper with the 2016 election, but to hide the ways in which Manafort kept secret that he was an agent of Ukraine spending millions to influence US policy. But, as Mueller has described it, Manafort committed a series of crimes designed to hide his ongoing ties to Russian-backed Ukrainian oligarchs after being fired from the Trump campaign in significant part to sustain lies he and Rick Gates told while still working for Donald Trump.

In other words, one purpose of his conspiracy with Kilimnik was to hide the fact that Trump’s campaign manager — who, in spite of being broke, worked for “free” throughout the campaign — had been a paid agent of Ukraine.

The Russian Manafort conspired with, Konstantin Kilimnik is suspected of ties to the same agency that hacked the DNC

Past Mueller filings have made it clear that Kilimnik is suspected to have ties to a Russian intelligence agency. The FBI thinks so.

Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agents assisting the Special Counsel’s Office assess that [Kilimnik] has ties to a Russian intelligence service and had such ties in 2016

And Rick Gates knew of those ties.

During his first interview with the Special Counsel’s Office, [Alex] van der Zwaan admitted that he knew of that connection, stating that Gates told him [Kilimnik] was a former Russian Intelligence Officer with the GRU.

The GRU, of course, is the Russian intelligence agency that hacked the Democrats in 2016. So Manafort has pled to conspiring not just with any Russian, but a Russian believed to have ties with the agency that hacked the DNC.

Akhmetov was named — in the same interview as Deripaska — in the affidavit for a 2017 probable cause search warrant targeting Manafort

Akhmetov, one of the oligarchs with whom NYT’s correction say Manafort did share data, was described in the probable cause warrant the FBI used to raid Manafort’s condo in July 2017. Indeed, Manafort described working for both Akhmetov and Deripaska in the same period he was supporting Viktor Yanukoych.

This suggests it’s difficult to separate Manafort’s historical criminal behavior involving Akhmetov from that involving Deripaska. And Kilimnik was involved in both.

Akhmetov and Lyovochkin were paying Manafort while he was working for Trump for “free”

As part of Manafort’s spox’s “clarifications” about the disclosures made clear in the redacted filing, he admitted that a $2.4 million payment Manafort anticipated — in an August 2016 email to his accountant — that he would receive in November was from Akhmetov and Lyovochkin. While that payment is understood to be debts owed for past work, his decision to share campaign data with the oligarchs seems to have been tied to ensuring he did get that payment.

If that’s right, it suggests that that $2.4 million payment, at a time when Manafort was broke but nevertheless working for “free,” had some tie to his work on the campaign.

Lyovochkin made an illegal donation to Donald Trump’s inauguration fund

Another Kilimnik business partner, Sam Patten, pled guilty (in part) to laundering a $50,000 donation to Trump’s inauguration fund for tickets to his inauguration.

To circumvent the foreign donation restriction, PATTEN, with the knowledge of Foreigner A, solicited a United States citizen to act as a “straw” purchaser so that he could conceal from the [Presidential Inauguration Committee] that the tickets for the inauguration were being paid for from a foreign source. The straw purchaser paid $50,000 for four inauguration tickets. The straw purchaser paid that sum one day after receiving from [Begemot Ventures] a check signed by PATTEN in the sum of $50,000. In turn, [Lyovochkin] had paid [Begemot] for the tickets though a Cypriot account. [Kilimnik and Lyovochkin] another Ukrainian, and PATTEN were allocated the four inauguration tickets. Thereafter, PATTEN attended a PIC event in Washington, D.C. with [Lyovochkin].

Thus, in addition to paying Trump’s campaign manager during the campaign, Lyovochkin made an illegal donation to Trump’s inauguration (and remember, there are outstanding questions about where all the inauguration funds went).

Manafort discussed Ukraine every time he spoke with Kilimnik during the campaign; those discussions included a Russian-friendly “peace plan”

Among the other lies Manafort told when he was supposed to be cooperating with Mueller pertained to his repeated conversations with Kilimnik. And while Manafort tried to minimize the persistence with which they discussed such things, suggesting he may have discussed a Ukraine peace plan more than once.

After being shown documents, Mr. Manafort “conceded” that he discussed or may have discussed a Ukraine peace plan with Mr. Kilimnik on more than one occasion

But Mueller maintains they have detailed descriptions showing the peace plan came up “at each” meeting they had, which suggests it was a key part of why the Russians and Ukrainians in touch with Manafort through Kilimnik were in touch with him.

And, again, both these lies and Manafort’s lies in 2018 and Manafort’s lies in 2016 and 2017 were all intended to hide these ongoing relationships, in significant part to hide Trump’s campaign ties to all of this.

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. 

Oleg Deripaska Met Sergei Millian at the St. Petersburg Forum Michael Cohen Would Have Met Putin

In a piece puzzling through why Oleg Deripaska — who wrote a deceptive op-ed that was published at his outlet — would get polling data from Trump’s campaign manager [Note, NYT has updated reporting to specify that Manafort sent the data to Serhiy Lyovochkin and Rinat Akhmetov], Chuck Ross mentions something that has entirely new meaning given recent disclosures. Oleg Deripaska met with Sergei Millian at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum in June 2016.

Deripaska has denied through intermediaries being a source for Steele, though he was spotted in June 2016 at an economic forum in St. Petersburg with Sergei Millian, an alleged source for the dossier.

Here’s a photo of the meeting, which Wendy Siegelman found.

Of course, Ross mostly cares about all this because Millian was allegedly a source for the Christopher Steele dossier, not for all the other events this one intersects with.

Consider the timeline of some key events below.

It shows that the email hacks paralleled Manafort’s increased responsibility on the campaign.

But even as Russia’s operation to release dirt on Hillary was proceeding (and Russians were reaching out to George Papadopoulos to dangle emails as well), Michael Cohen was negotiating a Trump Tower deal, via Felix Sater, which was premised on a meeting between him — and then later, Trump — and Vladimir Putin. On June 9 — the same day that Don Jr told Aras Agalarov’s representatives that the Trumps would revisit sanctions if Trump was elected — Cohen even started to book his travel for that meeting. He canceled those plans, however, on the same day Russia’s role in hacking the DNC became public.

But two key figures in the operation did meet at the St. Petersburg Forum: Deripaska and Millian. And Millian would pick up the Trump Tower deal after the RNC Convention, laundering it, at that point, through a junior staffer who had proven to be a useful go-between for the Russians.

We don’t know whether Deripaska, whom Steele was pitching as a viable partner to counter Russian organized crime, was a source for Steele’s dossier. We do know that Manafort is the one who pushed Trump to discredit the Russian investigation by attacking the dossier.

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. 

Timeline

January 12, 2016: Steele writes Bruce Ohr to say Oleg Deripaska may obtain a visa for later that year

January 20: Michael Cohen speaks with Dmitry Peskov’s personal assistant for 20 minutes about Trump Tower deal

January 21: Putin’s office contacts Felix Sater about Trump Tower deal

February 21: Steele sends Ohr Orbis reporting claiming Deripaska was not a tool of the Kremlin

February 29: Manafort drafts proposal to work for “free” for Trump

March 19: GRU hacks John Podesta

March 29: After the intervention of Roger Stone and Tom Barrack, Manafort joins the Trump campaign, initially only as Convention Chair

April: Manafort asks Kilimnik,”How do we use to get whole?”

April 18: GRU hacks into DNC via DCCC

April 26: George Papadopoulos learns Russians are offering election assistance in form of leaked emails

April 27: In first foreign policy speech Papadopoulos includes signal to Russians to meet

May 4: Cohen tells Sater he’ll do a trip to Russia before the Convention; Trump will do one after

May 5: Sater passes on Peskov invite to Cohen to attend St. Petersburg Forum to meet Putin or Medvedev

May 19: Manafort formally named campaign chair

May 21: Manafort forwards request for Trump meeting to Rick Gates, warning against sending a signal

June 3: Rob Golstone starts arranging meeting with Don Jr.

June 7: Manafort meets with Trump and Trump announces he’ll have an announcement about Hillary

June 8: GRU releases first emails via dcleaks

June 9: Trump Tower meeting presents dirt for sanctions relief; Cohen makes plans for trip to St. Petersburg Forum

June 14: WaPo reveals Russia hacked DNC; Cohen cancels plan for St. Petersburg trip

June 15: Guccifer 2.0 created

June 16-19: St. Petersburg forum (Putin does attend)

June 20: First Steele report, allegedly relying on Millian as one source

July 7: Manafort tells Kilimnik he’s willing to provide Deripaska private briefings; Ohr call with Steele about Deripaska

Week of July 15: Trump campaign prevents change making platform more belligerent to Ukraine

July 21: Sater visits Trump Tower

July 22: George Papadopoulos asks Ivan Timofeev to help prep for a meeting with Sergei Millian; Millian would eventually pitch Papadopoulos on Trump Tower Moscow deal

August 3: Manafort and Kilimnik meet in New York

August 17: Manafort fired from campaign

August: Manafort and Tom Barrack take boat trip, meet Kilimnik

October 18: Steele and Ohr discuss dispute between Ukraine and RUSAL

January 11 or 12, 2017: Manafort contacts Reince Priebus to tell him how to use the Steele dossier to discredit Russian investigation (remember, Manafort insists he didn’t lie about meeting with Trump officials, because those meetings happened before inauguration)

January 27: Papadopoulos agrees to meet FBI without a lawyer, in part in hopes of sustaining possibility of a job with Trump Admin and possibly a deal with Millian

January or February 2017: Manafort meets Kilimnik in Madrid

Someone Has Already Been Charged for Most of the Actions the Steele Dossier Attributes to Michael Cohen

Because of a McClatchy story claiming two new details corroborating a Steele dossier claim that Michael Cohen had a meeting with people serving the interests of Putin’s Administration, people have gotten themselves into a tizzy again about what a smoking gun it would be if the allegations in the Steele dossier were proven true.

It’s an utterly bizarre tizzy, both because the allegations in the Steele dossier not only don’t match some more damning allegations Cohen has already pled guilty to, but because Mueller has already charged other people for some of the allegations about Cohen made in the dossier. In other words, the McClatchy story has people excited about the wrong allegations, rather than focusing on the damning things Cohen (and others) have already been charged with.

Indeed, most functional allegations made in the Steele dossier have already been publicly explained in either court filings or sworn testimony. That doesn’t rule out that Cohen had a role in some of them, however. Indeed, one detail from Cohen’s SDNY plea — that among the things Trump Organization reimbursed Cohen for in January 2017 was a $50,000 payment to a tech services company — actually could confirm a detail made in the dossier. But generally, Mueller and other entities have already explained away many of the allegations made against Cohen in the dossier.

I’ve put the substantive claims the Steele dossier made about Cohen below. I’ll take each and show public reporting that explains who did something attributed to Cohen in the dossier.

Cohen met with Russian Presidential Administration Legal Department officials

The central allegation involving Cohen is that he met with people from Putin’s Presidential Administration’s legal department or, in a later version, someone acting on their behalf.

By the time that allegedly happened in August or maybe September, however, Cohen had already established a paper trail with someone more central than some anonymous lawyers. Cohen’s Mueller plea describes Cohen receiving an email on January 20, 2016 from Dmitry Peskov’s personal assistant and shortly thereafter calling her. Somehow Mueller knows that the assistant “asked detailed questions and took notes.” The day after Cohen spoke with the personal assistant, someone from Putin’s office called Felix Sater.

Given that Cohen made reservations to travel to St. Petersburg (for a possible meeting directly with Putin) on June 9, then canceled those reservations on June 14 (after Russia’s role in the DNC hack was made public), those communications about a Trump Tower deal surely tie to the hack-and-leak operation.

It’s certainly possible that, later in the summer (or in the fall, during Cohen’s known trips to London), Cohen would attempt to reschedule that meeting, though the purpose was originally and probably would remain more central to a quid pro quo trading a Trump Tower and election assistance for sanctions relief and policy considerations. But having already exchanged easily collectable communications directly with Peskov’s office (whom the dossier calls “the main protagonist” in the operation), it’s not clear how helpful using Rossotrudnichestvo would be to hide the Trump role. Furthermore, there are other known cut-outs for related matters, including Steele dossier source Sergei Millian and the Agalrovs.

Cohen aimed to contain the Paul Manafort scandal

The three Cohen reports in October all claim that Cohen got involved to tamp down scandals connecting Trump to Russia. That’s not, at all, far-fetched. After all, Cohen was Trump’s fixer and he told a bunch of lies to Congress in an effort to hide Trump’s Moscow Project.

That said, a filing explaining why Mueller might have to mention the Trump campaign in Manafort’s aborted DC trial and a filing in Alex Van der Zwaan’s prosecution show that Manafort and Rick Gates themselves — with the direct involvement of Oleg Deripaska associate Konstantin Kilimnik — worked to contain this scandal.

As Mueller laid out in numerous ways, the Manafort-Gates-Kilimnik team went on a crime spree in the fall trying to cover up their past activities with Russian-backed oligarchs.

Indeed, that a claim that Cohen managed this pushback (and its timing) appeared in the dossier is particularly tantalizing for two reasons. First, one of the things Manafort reportedly lied about after agreeing to cooperate with Mueller pertained a boat trip he took with Tom Barrack; Mueller seems to know that Kilimnik joined the two men. If that happened, then it would show that someone did indeed hold a meeting in August to contain the damage of Manafort’s burgeoning scandals, but that meeting would have been between a key Trump funder, Manafort himself, and someone suspected of ongoing ties with GRU, the agency that conducted the DNC hack.

More intriguing still, as I noted above, Kilimnik was Manafort’s go-between with Oleg Deripaska. That’s interesting because in 2016, Christopher Steele was attempting to convince DOJ’s Bruce Ohr that Deripaska could be a useful source on Russian organized crime. If Steele thought Deripaska would be a useful source for DOJ, he may well have been relying on Deripaska himself. If so, the report that Cohen (who in fact did have communications with Peskov!) was containing the damage of Manafort’s ties to Russian oligarchs might be an attempt to distract from the way that a Russian oligarch was actually working through his handler, Kilimnik, to minimize that damage himself.

Cohen aimed to contain the Carter Page scandal

It likewise seems unlikely that Cohen was the one to try to contain the Carter Page scandal. While he shouldn’t be relied on for anything, several claims in Page’s testimony to HPSCI provide an alternate explanation about who was containing the scandal tied to him.

Page denied ever speaking to Cohen.

But he did describe Keith Kellogg discussing the allegations with him. And he did describe Steve Bannon, both by himself and with the assistance of Trump’s election lawfirm, Jones Day, trying to minimize the Page scandal.

That’s consistent with a number of on-the-record claims from the campaign in the days following Page’s resignation in September. Which is to say, minimizing the Page scandal fell to the campaign itself.

The people who carried out the information operation had been paid by Russia and Trump

The three initial reports on Cohen came, in suspiciously quick succession, in October, after the number of reporters briefed on the Steele dossier started to expand.

The one other report implicating Cohen was the December 13 report, based on intelligence Steele claimed he obtained for “free.”

The report is most notable for the legal battle it caused. The allegations most clearly resemble what Adrian Chen had identified and attributed to the Internet Research Agency year earlier and there had been extensive reporting on it all through the campaign. But instead of blaming Internet Research Agency, the report blames all that on Webzilla. And Webzilla’s owner, Aleksei Gubarev was sufficiently comfortable facing the prospect of discovery to sue BuzzFeed right away (though he lost his lawsuit a few weeks back).

There’s another reference in the report to a long debunked claim made by the Russians — that a Romanian hacker was involved, presumably an allusion to Guccifer 2.0’s half-hearted claim to be Romanian.

Still, much of that last report instead presented the most inflammatory claim in the entire dossier: that Trump’s campaign had helped pay for the information operation targeting Hillary.

On its face, that claim makes zero sense. The scenario as a whole assumes that the hack was done by independent hackers coerced to work for the FSB — perhaps people like Yevgeniy Nikulin, who had already been arrested in Prague by this point. As far as Mueller has shown publicly, however, the information operation was instead done by two entities: Russians in the employ of Putin crony Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s Internet Research Agency and officers in the employ of Russia’s military intelligence agency, GRU. In indictments of both conspirators, Mueller provided details about how the money was handled.

So we’ve already got explanations for how the information operation was funded: by Prigozhin and the Russian state, using a range of money laundering techniques to hide Russia’s role. We even have evidence that — contrary to the claim about information warriors’ loyalty to Sergei Ivanov — Prighozhin’s employees even sucked up to him in one of their dry runs getting Americans to perform IRL actions.

Cohen arranged deniable cash payments to hackers working in Europe against the Clinton campaign

As noted, the December report involving Cohen made the most incendiary claim of all: that the Trump organization planned to pay for some of the hackers that targeted Hillary.

In spite of the fact that Mueller has already explained how the two main groups of participants in the information operation got funded, this allegation gets more interesting given details laid out in Cohen’s SDNY plea. Several of his SDNY crimes, after all, involving making deniable payments, in that case to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal.

That shows Cohen’s modus operandi for paying off Trump’s illicit debts. Mind you, it shows that he didn’t use cash. He laundered the funds using more sophisticated money laundering. But it does show that Cohen was the guy who did that kind of thing.

Which makes this detail included — but not explained — in the same plea document intriguing.

Cohen paid some tech company $50,000 in connection with the campaign.

That’s not a whole lot of money, in any case. And if it went to pay off part of the information operation, it would have to have involved some part of the operation not yet publicly identified. Even the one known instance of Trump supporters reaching out to hackers in Europe — Peter Smith’s reported consultation of Weev — is known to have been paid for by other means (in that case, Smith’s own fundraising).

Still, it’s certainly possible that that $50,000 went to some still unidentified entity that played a role in the information operation that, for some reason, didn’t get paid for by Putin’s cronies or the Russian state.

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.


18 October

Speaking separately to the same compatriot in mid-October 2016, a Kremlin insider with direct access to the leadership confirmed that a key role in the secret TRUMP campaign/Kremlin was being played by the Republican candidates personal lawyer Michael COHEN. [redacted line]

19 October

1. Speaking in confidence to a longstanding compatriot friend in mid-October 2016, a Kremlin insider highlighted the importance of Republican presidential candidate Donald TRUMP’s lawyer, Michael COHEN, in the ongoing secret liaison relationship between the New York tycoon’s campaign and the Russian leadership. COHEN’s role had grown following the departure of Paul MANNAFORT as campaign manager in August 2016. Prior to that MANNAFORT had led for the TRUMP side.

2. According to the Kremlin insider, COHEN now was heavily engaged in a cover up and damage limitation operation in the attempt to prevent the full details of relationship with Russia 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 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. The overall objective had been to “to sweep it all under the carpet and make sure no connections could be fully established or proven”

3. Things had become even “hotter” since August on the TRUMP-Russia track. According to the Kremlin insider, this had meant that direct contact between the TRUMP team and Russia had been farmed out by the Kremlin to trusted agents of influence working in pro-government policy institutes like that of Law and Comparative Jurisprudence. COHEN however continued to lead for the TRUMP team.

[snip]

The Kremlin insider was unsure of the identities of the PA officials with whom COHEN met secretly in August, or the exact date/s and locations of the meeting/s. There were significant internal security barriers being erected in the PA as the TRUMP issue became more controversial and damaging. However s/he continued to try to obtain these.

20 October

1. Speaking to a compatriot and friend on 19 October 2016, a Kremlin insider provided further details of reported clandestine meeting/s between Republican presidential candidate, Donald lawyer Michael COHEN and Kremlin representatives in August 2016. Although the communication between them had to be cryptic for security reasons, the Kremlin insider clearly indicated to his/her friend that the reported contact/s took place in Prague, Czech Republic.

2. Continuing on this theme, the Kremlin insider highlighted the importance of the Russian parastatal organisation, Rossotrudnichestvo, in this contact between TRUMP campaign representative/3 and Kremlin officials. Rossotrudnichestvo was being used as cover for this relationship and its office in Prague may well have been used to host the COHEN Russian Presidential Administration (PA) meeting/s. It was considered a “plausibly deniable” vehicle for this, whilst remaining entirely under Kremlin control.

3. The Kremlin insider went on to identify leading pro-PUTIN Duma figure, Konstantin KOSACHEV (Head of the Foreign Relations Committee) as an important figure in the TRUMP campaign-Kremlin liaison operation. KOSACHEV, also “plausibly deniable” being part of the Russian legislature rather than executive, had facilitated the contact in Prague and by implication, may have attended the meeting/s with COHEN there in August.

Company Comment

We reported previously, in our Company Intelligence Report 2016/135 of 19 October 2016 from the same source, that COHEN met officials from the PA Legal Department clandestinely in an EU country in August 2016. This was in order to clean up the mess left behind by western media revelations of TRUMP ex-campaign manager corrupt relationship with the former pro-Russian YANUKOVYCH regime in Ukraine and TRUMP foreign policy advisor, Carter secret meetings in Moscow with senior regime figures in July 2016. According to the Kremlin advisor, these meeting/s were originally scheduled for COHEN in Moscow but shifted to what was considered an operationally “soft” EU country when it was judged too compromising for him to travel to the Russian capital.

13 December

1. We reported previously (2016/135 and /136) on secret meeting/s held in Prague, Czech Republic in August 2016 between then Republican presidential candidate Donald TRUMP’s representative, Michael COHEN and his interlocutors from the Kremlin working under cover of Russian ‘NGO’ Rossotrudnichestvo.

2. [two lines redacted] provided further details of these meeting/s and associated anti- CLINTON/Democratic Party operations. COHEN had been accompanied to Prague by 3 colleagues and the timing of the visit was either in the last week of August or the first week of September. One of their main Russian interlocutors was Oleg SOLODUKHIN operating under Rossotrudnichestvo cover. According to [redacted] the agenda comprised questions on how deniable cash payments were to be made to hackers who had worked in Europe under Kremlin direction against the CLINTON campaign and various contingencies for covering up these operations and Moscow’s secret liaison with the TRUMP team more generally.

3. [redacted] reported that over the period March-September 2016 a company called XBT/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. Entities linked to one Aleksei GUBAROV were involved and he and another hacking expert, both recruited under duress by the FSB, Seva KAPSUGOVICH, were significant players in this operation. In Prague, COHEN agreed contingency plans for various scenarios to protect the Operation, but in particular what was to be done in the event that Hillary CLINTON won the presidency. It was important in this event that all cash payments owed were made quickly and discreetly and that cyber and other operators were stood down/able to go effectively to ground to cover their traces. (We reported earlier that the involvement of political operatives Paul MANAFORT and Carter PAGE in the secret TRUMP-Kremlin liaison had been exposed in the media in the run-up to Prague and that damage limitation of these also was discussed by COHEN with the Kremlin representatives).

In terms of practical measures to be taken, it was agreed by the two sides in Prague to stand down various “Romanian hackers” (presumably based in their homeland or neighboring eastern Europe) and that other operatives should head for a bolt-hole in Plovdiv, Bulgaria where they should “lay low”. On payments, IVANOV’s associate said that the operatives involved had been paid by both TRUMP’s team and the Kremlin, though their orders and ultimately loyalty lay with IVANOV, as Head of the PA and thus ultimately responsible for the operation, and his designator successor/s after he was dismissed by president PUTIN in connection with the anti-CLINTON operation in mid August.

The Year Long Trump Flunky Effort to Free Julian Assange

The NYT has an unbelievable story about how Paul Manafort went to Ecuador to try to get Julian Assange turned over. I say it’s unbelievable because it is 28 paragraphs long, yet it never once explains whether Assange would be turned over to the US for prosecution or for a golf retirement. Instead, the story stops short multiple times of what it implies: that Manafort was there as part of paying off Trump’s part of a deal, but the effort stopped as soon as Mueller was appointed.

Within a couple of days of Mr. Manafort’s final meeting in Quito, Robert S. Mueller III was appointed as the special counsel to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election and related matters, and it quickly became clear that Mr. Manafort was a primary target. His talks with Ecuador ended without any deals.

The story itself — which given that it stopped once Mueller was appointed must be a limited hangout revealing that Manafort tried to free Assange, complete with participation from the spox that Manafort unbelievably continues to employ from his bankrupt jail cell — doesn’t surprise me at all.

After all, the people involved in the election conspiracy made multiple efforts to free Assange.

WikiLeaks kicked off the effort at least by December, when they sent a DM to Don Jr suggesting Trump should make him Australian Ambassador to the US.

Hi Don. Hope you’re doing well! In relation to Mr. Assange: Obama/Clinton placed pressure on Sweden, UK and Australia (his home country) to illicitly go after Mr. Assange. It would be real easy and helpful for your dad to suggest that Australia appoint Assange ambassador to DC “That’s a really smart tough guy and the most famous australian you have! ” or something similar. They won’t do it, but it will send the right signals to Australia, UK + Sweden to start following the law and stop bending it to ingratiate themselves with the Clintons. 12/16/16 12:38PM

Weeks later, Hannity would go to the Embassy to interview Assange. Assange fed him the alternate view of how he obtained the DNC emails, a story that would be critical to Trump’s success at putting the election year heist behind him, if it were successful. Trump and Hannity pushed the line that the hackers were not GRU, but some 400 pound guy in someone’s basement.

Then the effort actually shifted to Democrats and DOJ. Starting in February through May 2017, Oleg Deripaska and Julian Assange broker Adam Waldman tried to convince Bruce Ohr or Mark Warner to bring Assange to the US, using the threat of the Vault 7 files as leverage. In February, Jim Comey told DOJ to halt that effort. But Waldman continued negotiations, offering to throw testimony from Deripaska in as well. He even used testimony from Christopher Steele as leverage.

This effort has been consistently spun by the Mark Meadows/Devin Nunes/Jim Jordan crowd — feeding right wing propagandists like John Solomon — as an attempt to obstruct a beneficial counterintelligence discussion. It’s a testament to the extent to which GOP “investigations” have been an effort to spin an attempt to coerce freedom for Assange.

Shortly after this effort failed, Manafort picked it up, as laid out by the NYT. That continued until Mueller got hired.

There may have been a break (or maybe I’m missing the next step). But by the summer, Dana Rohrabacher and Chuck Johnson got in the act, with Rohrabacher going to the Embassy to learn the alternate story, which he offered to share with Trump.

Next up was Bill Binney, whom Trump started pushing Mike Pompeo to meet with, to hear Binney’s alternative story.

At around the same time, WikiLeaks released the single Vault 8 file they would release, followed shortly by Assange publicly re-upping his offer to set up a whistleblower hotel in DC.

Those events contributed to a crackdown on Assange and may have led to the jailing of accused Vault 7 source Joshua Schulte.

In December, Ecuador and Russia started working on a plan to sneak Assange out of the Embassy.

A few weeks later, Roger Stone got into the act, telling Randy Credico he was close to winning Assange a pardon.

These efforts have all fizzled, and I suspect as Mueller put together more information on Trump’s conspiracy with Russia, not only did the hopes of telling an alternative theory fade, but so did the possibility that a Trump pardon for Assange would look like anything other than a payoff for help getting elected. In June, the government finally got around to charging Schulte for Vault 7. But during the entire time he was in jail, he was apparently still attempting to leak information, which the government therefore obtained on video.

Ecuador’s increasing crackdown on Assange has paralleled the Schulte prosecution, with new restrictions, perhaps designed to provide the excuse to boot Assange from the Embassy, going into effect on December 1.

Don’t get me wrong: if I were Assange I’d use any means I could to obtain safe passage.

Indeed, this series of negotiations — and the players involved — may be far, far more damning for those close to Trump. Sean Hannity, Oleg Deripaska, Paul Manafort, Chuck Johnson, Dana Rohrabacher, Roger Stone, and Don Jr, may all worked to find a way to free Assange, all in the wake of Assange playing a key role in getting Trump elected. And they were conducting these negotiations even as WikiLeaks was burning the CIA’s hacking tools.

The Theory of Prosecution You Love for Julian Assange May Look Different When Applied to Jason Leopold

The WaPo confirmed something Seamus Hughes disclosed last night: Sometime before August 22, EDVA had filed a sealed complaint (not indictment) against Julian Assange.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been charged under seal, prosecutors inadvertently revealed in a recently unsealed court filing — a development that could significantly advance the probe into Russian interference in the 2016 election and have major implications for those who publish government secrets.

The disclosure came in a filing in a case unrelated to Assange. Assistant U.S. Attorney Kellen S. Dwyer, urging a judge to keep the matter sealed, wrote that “due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged.” Later, Dwyer wrote the charges would “need to remain sealed until Assange is arrested.”

Dwyer is also assigned to the WikiLeaks case. People familiar with the matter said what Dwyer was disclosing was true, but unintentional.

The confirmation closely follows a WSJ story describing increased confidence that the US will succeed in extraditing Assange for trial.

The confirmation that Assange has been charged has set off a frenzy, both among Assange supporters who claim this proves their years of claims he was indicted back in 2011 and insisting that charging him now would amount to criminalizing journalism, and among so-called liberals attacking Assange lawyer Barry Pollack’s scolding of DOJ for breaking their own rules.

I’ve long been on record saying that I think most older theories of charging Assange would be very dangerous for journalism. More recently, though, I’ve noted that Assange’s actions with respect to Vault 7, which had original venue in EDVA where the Assange complaint was filed (accused leaker Joshua Schulte waived venue in his prosecution), go well beyond journalism. That said, I worry DOJ may have embraced a revised theory on Assange’s exposure that would have dire implications for other journalists, most urgently for Jason Leopold.

There are, roughly, four theories DOJ might use to charge Assange:

  • Receiving and publishing stolen information is illegal
  • Conspiring to release stolen information for maximal damage is illegal
  • Soliciting the theft of protected information is illegal
  • Using stolen weapons to extort the US government is illegal

Receiving and publishing stolen information is illegal

The first, theory is the one that Obama’s DOJ rejected, based on the recognition that it would expose NYT journalists to prosecution as well. I suspect the Trump Administration will have the same reservations with such a prosecution.

Conspiring to release stolen information for maximal damage is illegal

The second imagines that Assange would be charged for behavior noted in the GRU indictment — WikiLeaks’ solicitation, from someone using the persona of Guccifer 2.0, of material such that it would be maximally damaging to Hillary Clinton.

On or about June 22, 2016, Organization 1 sent a private message to Guccifer 2.0 to “[s]end any new material [stolen from the DNC] here for us to review and it will have a much higher impact than what you are doing.” On or about July 6, 2016, Organization 1 added, “if you have anything hillary related we want it in the next tweo [sic] days prefable [sic] because the DNC [Democratic National Convention] is approaching and she will solidify bernie supporters behind her after.” The Conspirators responded, “ok . . . i see.” Organization 1 explained, “we think trump has only a 25% chance of winning against hillary . . . so conflict between bernie and hillary is interesting.”

After failed attempts to transfer the stolen documents starting in late June 2016, on or about July 14, 2016, the Conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, sent Organization 1 an email with an attachment titled “wk dnc link1.txt.gpg.” The Conspirators explained to Organization 1 that the encrypted file contained instructions on how to access an online archive of stolen DNC documents. On or about July 18, 2016, Organization 1 confirmed it had “the 1Gb or so archive” and would make a release of the stolen documents “this week.”

Significantly, WikiLeaks (but not Roger Stone) was referred to in the way an unidicted co-conspirator normally is, not named, but described in such a way to make its identity clear.

This is a closer call. There is a Supreme Court precedent protecting journalists who publish stolen newsworthy information. But it’s one already being challenged in civil suits in ways that have elicited a lot of debate. Prosecuting a journalist for trying to do maximal damage actually would criminalize a great deal of political journalism, starting with but not limited to Fox. Note that when the founders wrote the First Amendment, the norm was political journalism, not the so-called objective journalism we have now, so they certainly didn’t expect press protections to be limited to those trying to be fair to both sides.

Such a charge may depend on the degree to which the government can prove foreknowledge of the larger agreement with the Russians to damage Hillary, as well as the illegal procurement of information after WikiLeaks expressed an interest in information damaging Hillary.

Mueller might have evidence to support this (though there’s also evidence that WikiLeaks refused to publish a number of things co-conspirators leaked to them, including but not limited to the DCCC documents). The point is, we don’t know what the fact pattern on such a prosecution would look like, and how it would distinguish the actions from protected politically engaged journalism.

Soliciting the theft of protected information is illegal

Then there’s the scenario that Emma Best just hit on yesterday: that DOJ would prosecute Assange for soliciting hacks of specific targets. Best points to Assange’s close coordination with hackers going back to at least 2011 (ironically, but in a legally meaningless way, with FBI’s mole Sabu).

This is, in my opinion, a possible way DOJ would charge Assange that would be very dangerous. I’m particularly worried because of the way the DOJ charged Natalie Mayflower Edwards for leaking Suspicious Activity Reports to Jason Leopold. Edwards was charged with two crimes: Unauthorized Disclosure of Suspicious Activity Reports and Conspiracy to Make Unauthorized Disclosures of Suspicious Activity Reports (using the same Conspiracy charge that Mueller has been focused on).

In addition to describing BuzzFeed stories relying on SARs that Edwards saved to a flash drive by October 18, 2017 and then January 8, 2018, it describes a (probably Signal) conversation from September 2018 where Leopold — described in the manner used to describe unindicted co-conspirators — directed Edwards to conduct certain searches for material that ended up in an October story on Prevezon, a story published the day before Edwards was charged.

As noted above, the October 2018 Article regarded, among other things, Prevezon and the Investment Company. As recently as September 2018, EDWARDS and Reporter-1 engaged in the following conversation, via the Encrypted Application, in relevant part:

EDWARDS: I am not getting any hits on [the CEO of the Investment Company] do you have any idea what the association is if I had more information i could search in different areas

Reporter-1: If not on his name it would be [the Investment Company]. That’s the only other one [The CEO] is associated with Prevezon Well not associated His company is [the Investment Company]

Based upon my training and experience, my participation in the investigation, and my conversations with other law enforcement agents familiar with the investigation, I believe that in the above conversation, EDWARDS was explaining that she had performed searches of FinCEN records relating to Prevezon, at Reporter-l’s request, in order to supply SAR information for the October 2018 Article.

Edwards still has not been indicted, two weeks after her arraignment. That suggests it’s possible the government is trying to persuade her to plead and testify against Leopold in that conspiracy, thereby waiving indictment. The argument, in that case, would be that Leopold went beyond accepting stolen protected information, to soliciting the theft of the information.

This is the model a lot of people are embracing for an Assange prosecution, and it’s something that a lot of journalists not named Jason Leopold also do (arguably, it’s similar but probably more active than what James Rosen got dubbed a co-conspirator in the Stephen Jin-Woo Kim case).

Charging Leopold in a bunch of leaks pertaining to Russian targets would be a nice way (for DOJ, not for journalism) to limit any claim that just Assange was being targeted under such a theory. Indeed, it would placate Trump and would endanger efforts to report on what Mueller and Congress have been doing. Furthermore, it would be consistent with the aggressive approach to journalists reflected in the prosecution of James Wolfe for a bunch of leaks pertaining to Carter Page, which involved subpoenaing years of Ali Watkins’ call records.

In short, pursuing Leopold for a conspiracy to leak charge would be consistent with — and for DOJ, tactically advantageous — the theory under which most people want Assange charged.

Using stolen weapons to extort the US government is illegal

Finally, there’s the fourth possibility, and one I think is highly likely: charging Assange for his serial efforts to extort a pardon from the US government by threatening to release the Vault 7 (and ultimately, a single Vault 8 live malware) files.

This post shows how, starting in January 2017, Assange (and Oleg Deripaska) representative Adam Waldman was reaching out to top DOJ officials trying to negotiate a deal and using the release of the Vault 7 documents as leverage.

This post shows how, the second time Assange tweeted Don Jr asking for an Ambassadorship, he included a threatening reference to Vault 8, WikiLeaks’ name for the actual malware stolen and leaked from CIA, the first file from which Assange had released days earlier.

[B]ack in November 2017, some outlets began to publish a bunch of previously undisclosed DMs between Don Jr and Wikileaks. Most attention focused on Wikileaks providing Don Jr access to an anti-Trump site during the election. But I was most interested in Julian Assange’s December 16, 2016 “offer” to be Australian Ambassador to the US — basically a request for payback for his help getting Trump elected.

Hi Don. Hope you’re doing well! In relation to Mr. Assange: Obama/Clinton placed pressure on Sweden, UK and Australia (his home country) to illicitly go after Mr. Assange. It would be real easy and helpful for your dad to suggest that Australia appoint Assange ambassador to DC “That’s a really smart tough guy and the most famous australian you have! ” or something similar. They won’t do it, but it will send the right signals to Australia, UK + Sweden to start following the law and stop bending it to ingratiate themselves with the Clintons. 12/16/16 12:38PM

In the wake of the releases, on November 14, 2017, Assange tweeted out a follow-up.

As I noted at the time, the offer included an implicit threat: by referencing “Vault 8,” the name Wikileaks had given to its sole release, on November 9, 2017 of an actual CIA exploit (as opposed to the documentation that Wikileaks had previously released), Assange was threatening to dump more hacking tools, as Shadow Brokers had done before it. Not long after, Ecuador gave Assange its first warning to stop meddling in other countries politics, explicitly pointing to his involvement in the Catalan referendum but also pointing to his tampering with other countries. That warning became an initial ban on visitors and Internet access in March of this year followed by a more formal one on May 10, 2018 that remains in place.

Notably, Ecuador may have warned Assange back then to stop releasing America’s malware from their Embassy; those warnings have laid the groundwork for the rigid gag rules recently imposed on Assange on risk of losing asylum.

Immediately after this exchange, accused Vault 7/8 leaker Joshua Schulte had some Tor accesses which led to him losing bail. They didn’t, however, lead BOP to take away his multiple devices (!?!?!). Which means that when they raided his jail cell on or around October 1, they found a bunch of devices and his activity from 13 email and social media accounts. Importantly, DOJ claims they also obtained video evidence of Schulte continuing his efforts to leak classified information.

The announcement of that raid, and the additional charges against Schulte, coincided with a period of increased silence from WikiLeaks, broken only by last night’s response to the confirmation Assange had been charged.

I think it possible and journalistically safe to go after Assange for releasing stolen weapons to extort a criminal pardon. But most of the other theories of prosecuting Assange would also pose real risks for other journalists that those rooting for an Assange prosecution appreciate and rely on.

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. 

Frothy Republicans Confuse Oleg Deripaska and Donald Trump

A letter from Elijah Cummings and Jerrold Nadler to Trey Gowdy and Bob Goodlatte answers two questions I’ve had since John Solomon and the rest of the propaganda mill started reporting on Christopher Steele’s communications with Bruce Ohr.

First, the communications that frothy right propagandists all seem to have, have not been officially released. Indeed, Cummings and Nadler complain that in the questioning of Ohr last week, Democrats weren’t even shown the communications that all the frothy right seems to have.

These documents were not included in the 800,000 pages of documents the Justice Department produced to our Committee during this investigation. During Mr. Ohr’s interview, the Republican Members never introduced these documents into the official record, never marked them as exhibits, never explained how they obtained them, and never provided copies to Democratic staff participating in the interview.

More hilariously, the letter reveals that Republicans read a reference Steele made to “our favorite business tycoon” and assumed — premised on the notion that everything Steele was doing at the time had to have been a conspiracy against Trump — that that must be a reference to Trump.

First, by cherry-picking portions of these documents out of context–and withholding the full set of documents–Republican Members are creating a highly misleading narrative with factually inaccurate interpretations and conjecture. For example, Republican Members read aloud a portion of one email in which Mr. Steele wrote to Mr. Ohr, “There is something I wanted to discuss with you informally and separately. It concerns our favorite business tycoon.” When Republican Members accused Mr. Ohr of discussing President Donald Trump with Mr. Steele, Mr. Orh explained that the Republican interpretation was false–and that the “business tycoon ” they were referring to was actually Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.

Cummings and Nadler point out that that interpretation has leaked to frothy right propagandists.

[S]elect portions of some of these same documents have no been leaked to the press to create similarly false and misleading narratives. For example, on August 7, 2018, John Solomon wrote in The Hill that he was given some of “Ohr’s own notes, emails and text messages.” In his piece, Mr. Solomon quoted the same email in which Mr. Ohr and Mr. Steele discussed “our favorite business tycoon.” Then, like the Republican Members, Mr. Solomon asserted inaccurately that this statement was “an apparent reference to Trump.”

Here’s how Solomon spun it.

Some of the more tantalizing Ohr contacts occurred in the days when Steele made his first contacts with the FBI in summer 2016 about the Russia matter.

“There is something separate I wanted to discuss with you informally and separately. It concerns our favourite business tycoon!” Steele wrote Ohr on July 1, 2016, in an apparent reference to Trump.

That overture came just four days before Steele walked into the FBI office in Rome with still-unproven allegations that Trump had an improper relationship with Russia, including possible efforts to hijack the presidential election.

And how Byron York repeated that “reasonable” supposition.

On March 17, Steele wrote a brief note asking if Ohr had any update on plans to visit Europe “in the near term where we could meet up.” Ohr said he did not and asked if Steele would like to set up a call. It is not clear whether a call took place.

There are no emails for more than three months after March 17. Then, on July 1, came the first apparent reference to Donald Trump, then preparing to accept the Republican nomination for president. “I am seeing [redacted] in London next week to discuss ongoing business,” Steele wrote to Ohr, “but there is something separate I wanted to discuss with you informally and separately. It concerns our favourite business tycoon!” Steele said he had planned to come to the U.S. soon, but now it looked like it would not be until August. He needed to talk in the next few days, he said, and suggested getting together by Skype before he left on holiday. Ohr suggested talking on July 7. Steele agreed.

Ohr’s phone log for July 7 notes, “Call with Chris Steele” from 8:00 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. eastern time.

(A caution here: It is possible the “favourite business tycoon” could be Deripaska, or perhaps even someone else, and not Trump. But no one referred to Deripaska in that way anywhere else in the communications. Also, Steele made it clear the “tycoon” subject was separate from other business. And July 1 was just before Steele met with the FBI with the first installment of the Trump dossier. So it appears reasonable, given Steele’s well-known obsession with Trump, and unless information emerges otherwise, to see the “favourite business tycoon” as Trump.)

Followed, marginally more critically, by Chuck Ross.

On July 1, 2016, Steele reached out to Ohr in hopes of discussing “our favourite business tycoon!” It is unclear if Steele was referring to Deripaska or Donald Trump. Steele met with Ohr and his wife, a Russia expert named Nellie Ohr, on July 30, 2016, at a Washington, D.C., hotel.

When I wrote this up, I noted the problematic assumption.

But in their effort to make everything an expert on Russian organized crime touched into a conspiracy against Donald Trump, the frothy right has just confused Trump and a mobbed up Russian oligarch.

I mean, there’s a clear difference. Deripaska really is as rich as he claims.