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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Correct.

Q You don’t currently work for them?

A Correct.

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

A Correct.

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

Ms. Ohr. No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ohr 302 Exemptions

As I noted yesterday, the FD-302s of FBI’s conversations with Bruce Ohr released to Judicial Watch the other day are unremarkable. The scope of Judicial Watch’s request left out the time periods — before Ohr was handed off to Bill Priestap after the election, and after Mueller was hired — that would be the most interesting. But what we do see shows that FBI first reached out to Ohr in an effort to assess the Steele dossier production, and Ohr was able and willing to chase down answers for the FBI that go to issues of credibility. Later, Steele reached out to Ohr in a panic about what would happen as Congress scrutinized his work more closely; in what we see, those conversations were not inappropriate (which is not to say I’m sympathetic to Steele’s concerns, given how he publicized his work). Though given Ohr’s notes, they may have been later in the year; at a minimum, they show how aggressively Steele was trying to prepare a public story that ended up being quite partial.

In my opinion, the FOIA exemptions are the most interesting aspect to the 302s. We can learn a bit from the things DOJ chose (or felt obligated) to protect. Here’s a short guide to FOIA exemptions and here’s DOJ’s more thorough one.

The less interesting redactions are for the following purposes:

  • b7C/b6: Protects privacy, used here to protect everything from Steele’s name to other sources
  • b7D: Protects confidential sources (both Steele and his sub-sources would get some protection)
  • b7E: Protects law enforcement techniques, including the bureaucracy of writing up 302s

The exemption, b3, protects information protected by statute, often the National Security Act. For example, that’s one of the exemptions (along with privacy and law enforcement technique exemptions) used to protect boring bureaucratic details about the case file. But it’s interesting in one instance.

The discussions, starting on PDF 14, of how Steele was panicking about one of his sources are protected for privacy, source, and b3, statute (as well as, sometimes, law enforcement technique).

That’s interesting, because FBI is not saying this person’s identity is classified. Nor is it saying that this person is credibly at risk of being killed, which would be a b7F (which is what they’d use to protect our own recruited agents). But they are according Steele’s source some kind of statutory protection.

The exemption, b1, protects classified information. It’s a measure, in these discussions about someone who used to work as an intelligence officer for an ally and who continues to collect HUMINT, of what the DOJ or other agencies considers genuinely classified (and doesn’t always line up with the initial or FOIA review classification marks on the paragraphs). For example, a paragraph describing how Ohr first met Steele — which appears in unredacted form in Ohr’s congressional testimony as follows — is protected by both a b3 and b1 exemption, presumably to protect references to MI6.

I believe I met Chris Steele for the first time around 2007. That was an official meeting. At that time, he was still employed by the British Government. I went to London to talk with British Government officials about Russian organized crime and what they were doing to look at the threat, and the FBI office at the U.S. Embassy in London set up a meeting. That was with Chris Steele. And there were other members of different British Government agencies there. And we met and had a discussion. And afterwards, I believe the agent and I spoke with Chris Steele further over lunch.

A more interesting redaction appears on PDF 8, in a series of paragraphs where Bill Priestap was asking Ohr whether about his personal knowledge of certain aspects of Steele’s work, such as whether he had witnessed Steele’s meetings with Jon Winer. One of those paragraphs is redacted, in part for b3 and b1 reasons, and classified Secret. Whatever that protects, it’s a reminder that Ohr and Steele had real discussions about organized crime in the past.

By far the most interesting exemptions, however, are what FBI has chosen to protect because of ongoing investigations, exemption b7A, starting with what they have not protected: these conversations, generally.

The frothy right believes that Bruce Ohr should go to prison because he shared information about suspected Russian crimes with other experts in the subject. Ohr’s role in the dossier has presumably been under scrutiny for some time as part of DOJ IG’s investigation into the basis for Carter Page’s FISA application. In addition, Christopher Steele and Glenn Simpson have both been referred to DOJ for suspected lies to Congress, the latter more credibly than the former. With one significant possible exception, there’s nothing in these 302s that has been protected for either of those reasons. Ohr’s earlier and later conversations with Steele would be more pertinent to those inquiries (and there’s reason to believe the later ones are being treated as such), but some of these 302s would clearly be too. But FBI has determined they can release these files. That’s interesting, especially, because of the history of this FOIA:

  • August 6, 2018: Initial Judicial Watch FOIA
  • September 10, 2018: JW sues
  • March 15, 2019: DOJ tells JW the files are being withheld in full
  • March 22, 2019: Conclusion of Mueller investigation
  • April 1, 2019: Status report states that FBI is evaluating impact of conclusion of that investigation on FOIA
  • May 8, 2019: DOJ still considering whether FBI can release the files
  • July 25, 2019: DOJ decides it can release the files in part

As recently as August 5, DOJ said it was “still engaged in internal discussions about the redactions necessary to release the requested records to the public.” In other words, a very recent review of these files has determined that files showing how FBI handled the mid-term discussions between Christopher Steele and Bruce Ohr may be released to the public.

The big possible exception pertains to details of the original conversation on Trump and Russia with Steele.

Steele’s initial conversation

The paragraph describing what Steele first told Ohr back on July 30, 2016 is redacted for b1, b3, and b7A reasons.

The redactions in this passage include the entirety of Steele’s explanation for the “over a barrel” comment, which is interesting because other agencies have released these details (which may name the people boasting they had kompromat on Trump). The paragraph also redacts part of the discussion of Deripaska preparing to bring details on Paul Manafort’s “theft” from him to US authorities. That may be for privacy reasons,  but — assuming the order is the same in the interview and the notes, but it seems Ohr was reading verbatim — both are redacted for ongoing investigation reasons in Ohr’s notes released in December.

If, as seems to be the case, Page was not redacted as part of an ongoing investigation in either of these suggests the early Ohr conversation is not one being scrutinized by DOJ IG on the FISA application (especially given the notes were released in December, well before the IG had come close to finishing, as has been reported).

Note, Ohr turned over notes from during and after the meeting with Steele to Priestap. Just these notes were released in December, meaning the notes he wrote after the meeting must be among the 6 pages of Ohr’s notes withheld in that December release, in part to protect an ongoing investigation (that could be consistent both with the known DOJ IG investigation into the origins of the investigation, and an investigation into those two allegations).

One other thing in that first interview pertains, per the redaction to an ongoing investigation: a discussion of a post-Ukrainian invasion meeting involving Ohr, Steele, and oligarchs (possibly, though not definitely, Russian).

 

The description seems to match a meeting Steele is known to have set up with Deripaska (though that meeting was in 2015).

Oleg Deripaska

The treatment of one known Deripaska reference and this reference to cultivating oligarchs as sources (earlier in 2016, Steele had been trying to get DOJ to use Deripaska as a source) is particularly interesting given that, what appear to be additional Deripaska references, are also redacted to protect an ongoing investigation.

A significant chunk of the 302 memorializing the February 6, 2017 interview protects an ongoing investigation.

There are good reasons to think this is a reference to Deripaska. Steele worked for Deripaska lawyer Paul Hauser, and Deripaska was interviewed in September 2016. Deripaska would be directly implicated in the election (two months after this interview, Deripaska was sanctioned).

This may reflect a conversation directly with Hauser though, as the Steele reference in this interview was covered in entirely in a WhatsApp chat. Given the redaction, it’s also possible that Ohr took notes, which would be among the 6 pages not turned over because of an ongoing investigation.

And while less definitive, this passage from the February 14 interview of Steele referring to which lawyers he was working for could also be the Hauser work.

Given the withholdings on Ohr’s note from the meeting, the ongoing investigation does pertain to Steele’s client.

If it is Deripaska, it would suggest that Steele was financially dependent on his Deripaska work, as the other client mentioned, Bilfinger, wasn’t paying him (which he complained about to Ohr).

[Note, this note also has what looks like a reference to “Snowden report,” which makes absolutely no sense to me, so I assume I’m misreading it.] Update: This is likely a reference to the report, from the day before, that Russia was offering Snowden to Trump.

It has long been troubling that Steele had an ongoing relationship with Deripaska during the time he worked on the dossier. It’s clear that Deripaska used Steele to misinform DOJ that he was upping the pressure on Manafort, hiding that Manafort was instead making a desperate — and somewhat successful bid — to get back on Deripaska’s payroll.

A good deal of the ongoing investigation redactions in these Ohr 302s suggest DOJ continues to be interested in all that, as well.

Alfa Bank

The other ongoing investigation redactions are far more surprising, as they suggest (though this is far less definitive than the Deripaska tie) that DOJ may continue to investigate … something pertaining to the Alfa Bank allegations.

The initial reference to Alfa Bank, from the November 22, 2016 interview and discussing his September 2016 meeting with Glenn Simpson, is not protected as part of an ongoing investigation — though what appears to be a continuation of a discussion of it is treated as classified.

But a follow-up reference to Alfa bank does seem to be redacted as part of an ongoing investigation. These two paragraphs from the December 12, 2016 interview of Ohr, at PDF 11, have just one exemption explanation, including the b7A ongoing investigation one.

It’s certainly possible that the second paragraph is unrelated, and that’s what pertains to the ongoing investigation. But treating them as the same FOIA exemptions suggests they’re related.

In the same interview, Ohr explained that when he asked Simpson if he was concerned about his personal safety, Simpson,

mentioned that someone called and asked him to find out where all of the Alfa Bank stories were coming from. Simpson did not state this was a threat from the Russians, but that was the impression made upon OHR based upon the timing of the comment and using that story as a response to OHR’s question.

This seems to suggest more than one Alfa Bank story.

Also note two things. First, when the NYT first got the story of Jared Kushner’s “back channel” meeting with Sergey Gorkov, they had it as a meeting with Alfa Bank (though they misspelled it in the same way that Steele’s dossier did). That meeting would take place four days after Simpson raised whatever crazy tip he got, on December 13.

Kushner agreed to meet with Gorkov. 1151 The one-on-one meeting took place the next day, December 13, 2016, at the Colony Capital building in Manhattan, where Kushner had previously scheduled meetings. 1152

Also, during this period, Petr Aven was trying to reach out to Trump’s people on direct orders from Putin.

In December 2016, weeks after the one-on-one meeting with Putin described in Volume I, Section IV.B.1.b, supra, Petr Aven attended what he described as a separate “all-hands” oligarch meeting between Putin and Russia’s most prominent businessmen. 1167 As in Aven’s one-on-one meeting, a main topic of discussion at the oligarch meeting in December 2016 was the prospect of forthcoming U.S. economic sanctions. 1168

After the December 2016 all-hands meeting, Aven tried to establish a connection to the Trump team. Aven instructed Richard Burt to make contact with the incoming Trump Administration

It’s highly unlikely that Simpson got wind of any of those things; we would have heard about it. I raise these other instances not because I think Simpson had them, but because it’s clear Mueller chased these Alfa leads much further than we otherwise knew, and the leads themselves still seem not to have amounted to anything (even while showing that Putin leveraged the threat of election-related sanctions on the one bank that was legally acceptable in the west at the time, Alfa, to get its oligarch to join his efforts to cultivate Trump).

These Alfa allegations all still seem to be fluff. But even so, the redactions in the second reference may suggest there’s something here of continued interest to the FBI.

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

The Unremarkable Bruce Ohr 302s

Last night, Judicial Watch (and DOJ) released some of the FD-302s (FBI interview reports) between Bruce Ohr and the FBI. This post will lay out what they include.

As a reminder, Ohr is a top DOJ expert on Russian organized crime. He has known Christopher Steele since 2007 and Ohr’s wife — who is an expert on Russia — did some work for Fusion GPS during the election that was related to, but not part of, Steele’s work for Fusion. Ohr and Steele had conversations in 2016 about a range of things, including Oleg Deripaska (for whom Steele was doing work and who Steele trusted far more than he should have), Russian doping, and Trump’s ties to Russia.

Starting on July 30, 2016 and continuing through November 2017, Steele shared first his Trump-related information with Ohr, and then his concerns about how his dossier was all blowing up, including his concern for at least one of his sources. After Steele was cut off as a paid source in November 2016, FBI had Ohr communicate with Bill Priestap, who was a top counterintelligence person at FBI, whenever he spoke with Steele as a way to stay in touch with the former British intelligence officer, at first as part of vetting the dossier, and later to monitor where he was at.

This release of 302s is partial (though that’s based on Judicial Watch’s request, not FBI’s response). It doesn’t include any record of Ohr’s conversations with FBI and DOJ prior to November 22, 2016 (which include at least an early August meeting with Andrew McCabe and Lisa Page and a fall meeting with Page, Peter Strzok, Andrew Weissmann, Zainab Ahmad, and Bruce Swartz). It also doesn’t include Ohr’s communications after May 2017. Thus, it explicitly would exclude any information about how Mueller treated the dossier, details of what FBI and Steele did to try to limit Congress’ investigation into the role of the dossier, and whether and how FBI investigated possible false statements from Steele and (especially) Glenn Simpson.

In addition, while DOJ already released a lot of the backup to this (including Ohr’s communications with Steele and Simpson and some but not all of his notes), Judicial Watch has apparently not posted something DOJ already provided them, which is a file “Manafort Chronology” that JW received in an earlier lawsuit (I’ve asked JW for that file; they say they’re still processing it, even though they received it before these 302s). That document would presumably make it clear (as if the investigative team Ohr met with didn’t already) that more of what Ohr passed on to FBI from Steele before the election would pertain to Manafort, not Carter Page.

These meetings covered by the 302s seem to be broken into three groups:

  • November 22 to December 20: FBI’s review of Steele’s reporting process and collection of relevant materials
  • January 25 to February 14: Steele and Simpson express their panic in the aftermath of the dossier publication to Ohr
  • May 8 to 15: Steele’s panic about Congress increases, FBI offers to set up an FBI contact

November 22, 2016

This meeting was obviously an introductory meeting between Ohr and Priestap. He describes how he first met Steele (which partly redacted here but not redacted in his testimony to HJC/OGR). There’s a redacted comment that probably reflects Ohr’s view of Steele’s sources. That probably pertains to one or more oligarchs, because Ohr then explains his own opinion about the willingness of oligarchs to share information; this paragraph has been redacted because of an ongoing investigation, as has the paragraph describing Ohr’s summary of his meeting with Steele in July 2016 (which Ohr told McCabe about within days). There’s a reference to these notes from July (see PDF 31)

When these notes were released in December 2018, both the source for the “over a barrel” comment and Deripaska’s threats against Manafort were protected for ongoing investigation; at least in this paragraph, some of both are unsealed.

Ohr then explains what he knew about the Fusion GPS oppo research project, including that Simpson was passing the information on to “many individuals or entities.”

It’s clear that Ohr was asked about Michael Isikoff’s Yahoo article on Carter Page. Ohr described meeting with Simpson and Steele around that time, but his focus was instead on the Alfa Bank server allegation, which I’l return to.

Pristap also must have asked Ohr whether Steele made up his allegations, which Ohr said he did not believe Steele had done. Ohr explained that “there are always Russian conspiracy theories that come from the Kremlin.” He stated that he believed that Steele was just reporting what he heard, “but that doesn’t make that story true.”

Ohr was also asked about Jon Winer and whether he knew how Steele handled his sources, as well as for contact information for someone, probably Steele.

December 5

Several weeks after the initial meeting, Priestap interviewed Ohr again with follow-up questions about the dossier. He appears to reveal that he never was present when Steele interviewed a source (though there was a meeting he described). He says he was never present for meetings between Steele and Jon Winer. He described his wife Nellie’s research for Simpson. And he explained that Simpson directed Steele to “speak to the press as that was what Simpson was paying” him to do. Priestap apparently asked if Steele went to David Corn on his own or at the direction of Simpson, which Ohr did not know the answer to.

At that meeting, Ohr handed over the “Manafort Chronology” (which may or may not be Nellie’s work), which is the document JW may not have released yet.

December 12

Ohr met with Simpson on December 10 and obtained a copy of the dossier on thumb drive, so met with Priestap to share that and his notes from that meeting (see PDF 32).

At the meeting, Simpson told Ohr the Michael Cohen allegations (though these should and do appear to be the dated October allegations). Simpson shared gossip about some former Trump person (he thought it was Rick Wilson, but Wilson denied it yesterday) who was concerned about Trump’s ties to Russia. He raised Aleksandr Torshin’s outreach to the NRA and shared this article on it, even while noting there was disagreement on his staff about how much money Russia was funneling to the NRA. Simpson disputed NYT’s doubts about the Alfa Bank server (either Priestap or Simpson got the date of the article wrong); in response to an Ohr question about whether he thought he was safe, Simpson said someone had called and “asked him to find out where all of the Alfa Bank stories were coming from.” Simpson told Ohr he still had concerns about Sergei Millian and noted, “Looking at Millian led Simpson’s company to Cohen” (which Simpson would later share with Congress).

Simpson admitted that he asked Steele “to speak to the Mother Jones reporter as  it was Simpson’s Hail Mary attempt.” Note this means that after Priestap asked Ohr who decided to contact Corn, Ohr asked Simpson, and then passed on the answer. From this point forward, Ohr was basically providing FBI information on the Fusion effort.

Finally, Simpson appeared to suggest that much of Steele’s reporting comes from one source but “Simpson does not know his name.” This also seems to be a question Ohr posed after having been asked about it by Priestap. There are almost entirely redacted notes at PDF 33 listing “possible intermediaries” attributed to Simpson, but it’s unclear if Ohr took those notes at that meeting.

December 20

Several weeks after he said he would do so, Ohr met with Priestap and shared Nellie Ohr’s research for Fusion on a thumb drive.

January 23

On January 20, Simpson contacted Ohr in a panic about one of Steele’s sources. The following day, Ohr and Steele spoke about the concerns. The description of those concerns are treated, among other redactions, as legally classified information. The description of what appears to be the person in Ohr’s notes released last year is protected as part of an ongoing investigation (PDF 34-35). One thing Steele told Ohr, though, was that he knew the person was alive and well because he had posted on Facebook.

On the January 21 call, Steele also told Ohr he had spoken with someone in John McCain’s office sometime “prior to October 2016.” Either he’s only telling Ohr part of the story, or the date is wrong, because Steele’s known contacts related to McCain were in December.

January 25

Several days later, Ohr reached out to Priestap again to update him on what Steele had said in a followup. In that call either Steele or Ohr suggested the person might be exposed because of journalists. (PDF 36)

January 27

Several days later Ohr updated Pristap on his latest WhatsApp contact with Steele.

February 6

A few weeks later, Steele called about two things. First, the firing of Sally Yates led him to believe he needed another contact in case Ohr was fired; Priestap asked Ohr to ask Steele if he’d feel comfortable going through the FBI. He also seemed to be passing on information from someone, probably Deripaska, complaining that because of the 2016 election the FBI considered him a “criminal.” There’s a redacted section, and all this redacted information is protected as an ongoing investigation.

At the same meeting, Ohr offered up that Kathleen Kavalec, who was briefing allies on possible Russian tampering in their elections, had also met with Steele several times before the 2016 election. Ohr said that she said Steele’s reporting was generated mainly from [redacted]; which either pertains to a named source or from a reporting source.

February 14

This was mostly a follow-up reporting on a February 11 FaceTime chat with Steele, though Steele described working for two attorneys, one of whom appears to be redacted as part of an ongoing investigation in Ohr’s notes (PDF 37).

Ohr told the FBI he had not yet asked Steele if he’d be comfortable working through an FBI agent.

Note: There are March WhatsApp texts and written notes Ohr took with no corresponding 302. They pertain to Steele’s concerns about Congressional inquiries.

May 8

Ohr reported on a May 3 WhatsApp call with Steele, in which he expressed concerns about Congress’ scrutiny of his role. Steele also told Ohr that Simpson would be heading over to the UK soon and was lawyering up. But he still offered additional information to the FBI, if it was interested. Note, this is the first 302 where a normal listing of both interviewers is used, though there are indications elsewhere that Priestap was accompanied by someone else.

May 12

Ohr reports on a May 10 WhatsApp call in which Steele tells him the Senate Intelligence Committee is seeking information. The FBI asks Ohr to ask if Steele is willing to “have a conversation” with FBI agents in the UK, and Ohr agrees to pass it on.

May 15

After meeting with the FBI on May 12, Ohr contacted Steele to find out whether he’d be willing to talk to the FBI — “nothing more than a conversation with the FBI;” three days alter he said he would.

Steele also said he had information on a conversation between two people.

Federal Judge Destroys the Hopes of RICO Salvation in DNC Lawsuit

Yesterday, Clinton-appointed Judge John Koeltl dismissed with prejudice the DNC’s lawsuit against Russia, Trump’s flunkies, and WikiLeaks alleging they conspired against the party in 2016. He also ruled against a Republican demand to sanction the DNC for sustaining their claim in the wake of Robert Mueller finding that he “did not establish” a conspiracy between Trump and Russia. Koeltl’s decision is unsurprising. But his decision is interesting nevertheless for what it reveals about his legal assessment of the events of 2016, not least because of the ways it does and does not parallel Mueller’s own decisions.

The scope of the two analyses is different: The Democrats alleged RICO and some wiretapping charges, as well as the theft of trade secrets; Mueller considered campaign finance crimes and a quid pro quo. A short version of the difference and similarity in outcome is that:

  1. Mueller charged the GRU officers who hacked the DNC for the hack (which DOJ has been doing for five years, but which has never been contested by a state-hacker defendant); by contrast, Judge Koeltl ruled that Russia’s hackers could not be sued under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act (which is what the Mystery Appellant tried to use to avoid responding to a subpoena); notably, Elliot Broidy’s attempt to blame Qatar for his hack serves as precedent here. For the DNC, this meant the key players in any claimed conspiracy could not be sued.
  2. While Democrats made a bid towards arguing that such a conspiracy went beyond getting Trump elected to getting Trump to enact policies that would benefit Russia, Koeltl treated any Trump role as just that, attempting to get Trump elected. This meant that (for example) Stone’s alleged criminal obstruction after Trump got elected was not deemed part of any conspiracy.
  3. As Mueller did with both the hack-and-leak itself but also with any campaign finance violation associated with getting hacked documents as assistance to a campaign, Koeltl ruled that the Supreme Court’s decision in Bartnicki meant the First Amendment protected everyone besides the Russians from liability for dissemination of the stolen documents.
  4. DNC’s RICO fails because, while the Trump campaign itself was an association, the DNC claim that there was an Association in Fact under RICO fails because the ties between individuals were too scattered and their goals were not the same. Moreover, the goal of the Trump associates — to get Trump elected — is in no way illegal.

The most important part of the decision — both for how it protects journalism, what it says about the EDVA charges against Julian Assange, and what it means for similar hack-and-leak dumps going forward — is Koeltl’s First Amendment analysis, in which he argued that even WikiLeaks could not be held liable for publishing documents, even if they knew they were stolen.

Like the defendant in Bartinicki, WikiLeaks did not play any role in the theft of the documents and it is undisputed that the stolen materials involve matters of public concern. However, the DNC argues that this case is distinguishable from Bartnicki because WikiLeaks solicited the documents from the GRU knowing that they were stolen and coordinated with the GRU and the Campaign to disseminate  the documents at times favorable to the Trump Campaign. The DNC argues that WikiLeaks should be considered an after-the-fact coconspirator for the theft based on its coordination to obtain and distribute the stolen materials.

As an initial matter, it is constitutionally insignificant that WikiLeaks knew the Russian Federation had stolen the documents when it published them. Indeed, in Bartnicki the Supreme Court noted that the radio host either did know, or at least had reason to know, that the communication at issue was unlawfully intercepted.

[snip]

And, contrary to the DNC’s argument, it is also irrelevant that WikiLeaks solicited the stolen documents from Russian agents. A person is entitled [sic] publish stolen documents that the publisher request from a source so long as the publisher did not participate in the theft. … Indeed, the DNC acknowledges that this is a common journalistic practice.

[snip]

WikiLeaks and its amici argue that holding WikiLeaks liable in this situation would also threaten freedom of the press. The DNC responds that this case does not threaten freedom of the press because WikiLeaks did not engage in normal journalistic practices by, for example, “asking foreign intelligence services to steal ‘new material’ from American targets.” … The DNC’s argument misconstrues its own allegations in the Second Amended Complaint. In the Second Amended Complaint, the DNC states that “WikiLeaks sent GRU operatives using the screenname Guccifer 2.0 a private message asking the operatives to ‘[s]end any new material (stolen from the DNC] her for us to review.'” … This was not a solicitation to steal documents but a request for material that had been stolen. [citations removed]

Koeltl analyzes whether the Democratic claim that GRU also stole trade secrets — such as their donors and voter engagement strategies — changes the calculus, but judges that because those things were newsworthy, “that would impermissibly elevate a purely private privacy interest to override the First Amendment interest in the publication of matters of the highest public concern.”

Koeltl goes on to note that the analysis would be the same for Trump’s associates, even though they make no claim (as WikiLeaks does) to being part of the media.

[E]ven if the documents had been provided directly to the Campaign, the Campaign defendants, the Agalarovs, Stone, and Mifsud, they could  have published the documents themselves without liability because they did not participate in the theft and the documents are of public concern. … Therefore, the DNC cannot hold these defendants liable for aiding and abetting publication when they would have been entitled to publish the stolen documents themselves without liability. [citations removed]

That analysis is absolutely right, and even while Democrats might hate this outcome and be dismayed by what this might portend about a repeat going forward, it is also how this country treats the First Amendment, both for those claiming to be journalists and those making no such claim.

All that said, there are several aspects of this analysis worth noting.

This is a DNC suit, not a suit by all harmed Democrats

First, this is a suit by the DNC. Neither Hillary nor John Podesta are parties. “Podesta’s emails had been stolen in a different cyberattack,” Koeltl said, “there is not allegation they were taken from the DNC’s servers.” Had they been, they would have had to have been prepared to submit to discovery by Trump and his associates.

Including Podesta might have changed the calculus somewhat, though Koeltl does not deal with them (though he does suggest they would not have changed his calculus).

They might change the calculus, however, because (as Emma Best has noted) WikiLeaks did solicit something — the transcripts of Hillary’s speeches — that was subsequently obtained in the Podesta hack. The DNC did not include that in their complaint and that might have changed Koeltl’s analysis or, at a minimum, tested one of the theories the government is currently using in the Assange prosecution.

Similarly, while there is now evidence in the record that suggests Stone may have had advanced knowledge even of the July 2016 DNC dump, the allegations that would show him having had an impact on the release of documents pertains to the release of the Podesta emails. Jerome Corsi (who was added in the DNC’s second complaint but not as a conspirator) claimed that he had helped Stone optimize the Podesta release in an attempt to drown out the Access Hollywood video, but Mueller was not able to corroborate that.

More tantalizingly, a filing in Stone’s case shows that in at least one warrant application, the government cited some conversation in which he and others — possibly Corsi and Ted Malloch — were discussing “phishing with John Podesta.” That’s not something that will be public for some time. But even if it suggested that Stone may have had more knowledge of the Podesta hack then let on, it would be meaningless in a suit brought by the DNC.

No one knows why Manafort shared polling data and his plans to win the Rust Belt (indirectly) with Oleg Deripaska

The second DNC complaint mentions, but does not explain, that Paul Manafort had Rick Gates send polling data to Konstantin Kilimnik intended to  be share with oligarchs including Oleg Deripaska.

At some point during the runup to the 2016 election, Manafort “shar[ed] polling data . . . related to the 2016 presidential campaign” with an individual connected to Russian military intelligence. This data could have helped Russia assess the most effective ways to interfere in the election, including how best to use stolen Democratic party materials to influence voters.

[snip]

In March 2016, the Trump Campaign also hired Manafort. As noted above, Manafort was millions of dollars in debt to Deripaska at the time. He was also broke.55 Yet he agreed to work for the Trump Campaign for free. A few days after he joined the Trump Campaign, Manafort emailed Kilimnik to discuss how they could use Manafort’s “media coverage” to settle his debt with Deripaska.56 Manafort had multiple discussions with Kilimnik in the runup to the 2016 election, including one in which Manafort “shar[ed] polling data . . . related to the 2016 presidential campaign.”57 This data could have helped Russia assess the most effective ways to interfere in the election, for instance, by helping it determine how best to utilize information stolen from the DNC .

[snip]

Manafort lied about sharing polling data with Kilimnik related to Trump’s 2016 campaign.226

The Mueller Report’s further details on the sharing, including Manafort’s review of his strategy to win the Rust Belt, came too late for the complaint. And as such, Koeltl doesn’t really deal with that allegation (which would likely require naming others as conspirators in any case), and instead treats any conspiracy as limited to the hack-and-leak.

Thus, he does not treat the hints of further coordination, nor is there currently enough public evidence for the DNC to get very far with that allegation. This is a ruling about an alleged hack-and-leak conspiracy, not a ruling about any wider cooperation to help Trump win the election.

No one knows what happened to the stolen DNC analytics

Finally, while the DNC complaint extensively described the September hack of its analytics hosted on AWS servers — a hack that took place after Stone scoffed at the analytics released to date by Guccifer 2.0 — Koeltl doesn’t treat that part of the hack in detail because it was never publicly shared with anyone.

The Second Amended Complaint does not allege that any materials from the September 2016 hack were disseminated to the public and counsel for the DNC acknowledged at the argument of the current motions that there is no such allegation.

The DNC included the analytics in their trade secret discussion, but given that Russia had FSIA immunity, and given that the GOP is not known to have received any of this, Koeltl did not consider the later theft (which is not known to have had the same public interest value as the claimed trade secrets that got leaked).

The SAC asserts: “The GRU could have derived significant economic value from the theft of the DNC’s data by, among other possibilities, selling the data to the highest bidder.” There is no allegation that the Russian Federation did in fact sell the DNC’s data, and any claims against the Russian Federation under the federal and state statutes prohibiting trade secret theft are barred by the FSIA.

Finally, given that it was not released publicly Koeltl does not consider how the GRU hack of analytics after Stone’s discussion of analytics with Guccifer 2.0 might change the analysis on whether Stone was involved prior to any hacks.

Similarly, Stone is alleged to have contacted WikiLeaks through Corsi for the first time on July 25, 2016 and spoke to GRU officers in August 2016 — months after the April 2016 hack. Stone is not alleged to have discussed stealing the DNC’s documents in any of these communications, or to have been aware of the hacks until after they took place.

[snip]

DNC does not raise a factual allegation that suggests that any of the defendants were even aware that the Russian Federation was planning to hack the DNC’s computers until after it had already done so.

Again, there’s too little know about the purpose of this part of the hack (which virtually no one is aware of, but which would have been particularly damaging for the Democrats), and as such the DNC would not be in a position to allege it in any case. But it is a key part of the hack that shifts the timeline Koeltl addressed.

Which ultimately leaves Koeltl’s final judgment about the DNC attempt to obtain some kind of remedy for having Trump welcome and capitalize on a foreign state’s actions to tamper in the election. “Relief from the alleged activities of the Russian Federation,” Koeltl said, “should be sought from the political branches of the Government and not from the courts.”

One of the few ways to do that is to impeach.

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. 

Updated Questions for Robert Mueller

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

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

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

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

The Steele Dossier and the Mueller Investigation: Michael Cohen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suspicious Activity Reports and the investigation into Cohen

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

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

The first warrant application against Cohen

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

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

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

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

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

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

Redacted section C

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A: Michael Cohen

B: Essential Consultants, LLC

C: Use of Essential Consultants to pay hush payments

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

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

i. Deposits by Columbus Nova, LLC

ii. Plan to Life Russian Sanctions

E: Other Foreign Transactions in the Essential Consultants Account

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Felix Sater and the investigation into Cohen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Timeline

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 24, 2017: HPSCI interviews Cohen.

October 25, 2017: SSCI interviews Cohen.

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

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

December 15, 2017: FBI interviews Sater.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

August 7, 2018: First Cohen proffer to Mueller.

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

September 12, 2018: Second proffer.

September 18, 2018: Third proffer.

October 8, 2018: Fourth proffer.

October 17, 2018: Fifth proffer.

November 12, 2018: Sixth proffer.

November 20, 2018: Seventh proffer.

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

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

Democrats Are Setting Themselves Up to Fail on Mueller Hearings

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

His report produced the following prosecutorial decisions: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jim Jordan’s Bubble Has Allowed Him to Remain Painfully Stupid about the Mueller Investigation

Politico has a piece on Republican plans to blow up Robert Mueller’s testimony later this month with stupid questions. It’s a fair piece; it even quotes Louie Gohmert calling Mueller an asshole, in as many words.

The Texas congressman added that his reading of the special counsel’s report did little to temper his long history of animosity for the former FBI director: “It reinforced the anal opening that I believe Mueller to be.”

But it misses an opportunity when it presents what Jim Jordan imagines will be a doozy of a question with only a minimal fact check.

But Republicans preparing over the next two-plus weeks to questionMueller say they have their own points they hope to drive home to Americans as well. Several indicated they intend to press Mueller on when he first determined he lacked evidence to charge Americans with conspiring with Russia — insinuating, without evidence, that he allowed suspicions to linger long after he had shifted his focus to the obstruction of justice investigation.

“The obvious question is the one that everyone in the country wants to know: when did you first know there was no conspiracy, coordination or collusion?” said Jordan, one of the Republicans’ fiercest investigators. “How much longer did it take Bob Mueller to figure that out? Did he intentionally wait until after 2018 midterms, or what?”

Mueller emphasized in his report that he did not make a finding on “collusion,” since it’s not a legal term, and that his decision not to bring charges didn’t mean he found no evidence of them.

If Jim Jordan, who has been spending most of his time as a legislator in the last year investigating this investigation, were not so painfully stupid, he would know not only that not “everyone in the country” feels the need to know when Mueller finalized a decision about conspiracy, but that attentive people already do know that Bob Mueller wasn’t the one who decided to wait out the mid-terms.

The Mueller team told Amy Berman Jackson that Paul Manafort had breached his plea agreement on November 26, 2018. His last grand jury appearance — on November 2 — did not show up in his breach discussion (meaning he may have told the truth, including about Trump’s personal involvement in optimizing the WikiLeaks releases). But in his October 26 grand jury appearance, he tried to hide the fact that he continued to pursue a plan to carve up Ukraine well into 2018, and continued to generally lie about what that plan to carve up Ukraine had to do with winning Michigan and Wisconsin, such that Manafort took time away from running Trump’s campaign on August 2, 2016 to discuss both of them with his co-conspirator Konstantin Kilimnik. Mueller never did determine what that August 2 meeting was about or what Kilimnik and Viktor Boyarkin did with the Trump polling data Manafort was sharing with them. But the delay in determining that Manafort’s obstruction had succeeded was set by Manafort, not Mueller.

And until November 26, prosecutors still hoped to get Jerome Corsi to stop lying to them about how he and Roger Stone got advanced notice of John Podesta’s stolen emails — to say nothing about why Stone was talking to someone “about phishing with John Podesta.” Indeed, the government obtained a search warrant against Stone in February 2019 — possibly the one on February 13 to search multiple devices  — to investigate hacking allegations. If that warrant is the February 2019 one targeting Stone, the devices likely came in the search of his homes on January 25 of this year.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump refused to answer questions — all the questions he answered were about conspiracy, and most of his answers were non-responsive — until November 20, 2018. His answers about the Trump Tower Moscow deal were worse than non-responsive: they replicated the lies for which Michael Cohen is currently sitting in prison. Then, in December and January, Trump and Rudy Giuliani made comments that made it clear Trump’s answers were willful lies. Mueller offered Trump the opportunity to clarify his testimony, but he declined.

In light of the President’s public statements following Cohen’s guilty plea that he “decided not to do the project,” this Office again sought information from the President about whether he participated in any discussions about the project being abandoned or no longer pursued, including when he “decided not to do the project,” who he spoke to about that decision, and what motivated the decision. 1057 The Office also again asked for the timing of the President’s discussions with Cohen about Trump Tower Moscow and asked him to specify “what period of the campaign” he was involved in discussions concerning the project. 1058 In response, the President’s personal counsel declined to provide additional information from the President and stated that “the President has fully answered the questions at issue.” 1059

1057 1/23/19 Letter, Special Counsel’s Office to President’s Personal Counsel.

1058 1/23/ 19 Letter, Special Counsel’s Office to President’s Personal Counsel.

1059 2/6/ l 9 Letter, President’s Personal Counsel to Special Counsel’s Office.

In short, the public record makes it clear that the answer to Jordan’s question — when Mueller made a determination about any conspiracy charges — could not have happened until after the election. But the person who dictated that timing, more than anyone else, was Trump himself, who was refusing to tell the truth to Mueller as recently as February 6.

This is all in the public record (indeed, Trump’s role in the delay is described in the Mueller Report, which Jordan might have known had he read it). The fact that Jordan doesn’t know the answer — much less believes that his already-answered question is a zinger — is a testament to what a locked bubble he exists in, where even the most basic details about the investigation itself, rather than the fevered dreams Jordan has about it, don’t seep in.

Jordan should branch out beyond the spoon-fed journalists from whom he got this question, because even in its original incarnation, the question was utterly inconsistent with the public record.

When did you determine that there was no conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia?

Some congressional Republicans have asserted that Mueller figured out early on in his investigation — which started on May 17, 2017 — that there was no conspiracy or collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian government.

Mueller’s report said that prosecutors were unable to establish that the campaign conspired with Russia, but the report did not go into detail about when that conclusion was reached.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m sure Jordan is going to pose unanswerable questions that will feed conspiracists (which is one of the reasons I was somewhat sympathetic for Mueller’s preference for a closed hearing). But it’s only within the closed bubble that can’t be pierced by obvious facts that such questions are legitimate questions.

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. 

Roger Stone’s Latest: When Legal Categories of Innocent or Guilty become Disinformation and Pardon [Updated]

Update, June 27: This post describes why Stone’s defense strategy — not to mount a legal defense, but to engage in disinformation — may pose a problem for Amy Berman Jackson’s enforcement  of her gag against Roger Stone. That’s because his magnification of other outlets’ coverage of his lawyers’ own bullshit filings questioning whether Russia hacked the DNC do amount to a magnification of his own defense strategy. ABJ ordered Stone to explain why his release conditions shouldn’t be changed. Stone’s response is here. As expected, his response largely claims he was within the terms of her order when commenting on his lawyers’ own filings.

The government’s disproportionate reaction is an effort to deprive Stone of the narrow latitude the Court left him; a latitude that was not violated by the posts, and a latitude which, if curtailed, based on the posts, would violate Stone’s First Amendment rights. The notion that “an appeal to major media outlets to publish information that is not relevant to, but may prejudice, this case” (Dkt. 136, p. 4, n.1), is oxymoronic, outré, and out of First Amendment bounds

Stone’s response is weakest in the explanation for calling for John Brennan to be hanged.

June 2, 2019 (Gov’t Ex. 8): “This psycho must be charged, tried, convicted . . . . [John Brennan] and hung for treason.” Dkt. 136-9. Stone: No comment was made by Stone about the “case” or about the “investigation.” Analysis: As background, Mr. Brennan, in a July 16, 2018 Tweet (about which 133,000 people were “talking”) wrote: “Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to and exceeds the threshold of ‘high crimes and misdemeanors. It was nothing short of treasonous’.” The First Amendment protected Brennan’s remarks. Likewise, Stone’s remarks are also protected. This posting has nothing whatsoever to do with Stone’s case and therefore posed no fair trial threat, nor did it violate the Order.

This is clearly an attempt to explain away what Stone’s deletion of the post seems to recognize did violate the gag.

Anyway, I may be alone in thinking this, but I suspect ABJ won’t do anything more than restrict Stone’s use of the Internet, if even she does that.

I will add, however, that the government would do well to formally notice what I pointed out here: that in the DNC lawsuit, his attorneys are arguing the opposite of what they’re arguing here, that Russia definitely did the DNC hack.


Yesterday, the government asked Judge Amy Berman Jackson to hold a hearing to determine whether Roger Stone didn’t violate his gag order earlier this week by trying to get mainstream press outlets to pick up marginal outlets’ reports of his attorneys’ effort to undermine the attribution of the DNC hack to Russia. They point to several Instagram posts Stone made that referred to conspiratorial interpretations of his lawyers’ own frivolous arguments and ask why other outlets aren’t picking up the story. [I’ve added links to the posts.]

On June 18, 2019, Stone posted a screenshot of an article about one of his recent filings in this case. The screenshot read: “US Govt’s Entire Russia-DNC Hacking Narrative Based on Redacted Draft of CrowdStrike Report.” Ex. 1. He tagged the post, “But where is the @NYTimes? @washingtonpost? @WSJ? @CNN?” Id. Later that day, Stone posted a screenshot of another piece about his filing with the title, “FBI Never Saw CrowdStrike Unredacted Final Report on Alleged Russian Hacking Because None was Produced.” Ex. 2. Next, Stone posted an article titled, “Stone defense team exposes the ‘intelligence community’s’ [sic] betrayal of their responsibilities.” Ex. 3. The text further stated, “As the Russia Hoax is being unwound, we are learning some deeply disturbing lessons about the level of corruption at the top levels of the agencies charged with protecting us from external threats. One Jaw-dropping example has just been exposed by the legal team defending Roger Stone.” Id. Stone tagged the article, “Funny , No @nytimes or @washingtonpost coverage of this development.”

On June 19, 2019, Stone posted a screenshot of an article with the title, “FBI Never Saw CrowdStrike Unredacted or Final Report on Alleged Russian Hacking Because None Was Produced.” Ex. 4. He tagged the post, “The truth is slowly emerging. #NoCollusion.” Id.2

They argue this violates ABJ’s ban on,

making statements to the media or in public settings about the Special Counsel’s investigation or this case or any of the participants in the investigation or the case. The prohibition includes, but is not limited to, statements made about the case through the following means: radio broadcasts; interviews on television, on the radio, with print reporters, or on internet based media; press releases or press conferences; blogs or letters to the editor; and posts on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or any other form of social media.

Thus far, ABJ has not responded to this request, though in that same time she assented to another of the government’s requests, to submit a sur-reply to Stone’s claim that the FBI never had any direct evidence Russia hacked the DNC.

I want Roger Stone to go to jail as much as the next opponent of rat-fucking. But I think the government’s claim, on this point, is problematic. Back when ABJ set Stone’s gag, she said,

You may send out as many emails, Tweets, posts as you choose that say, Please donate to the Roger Stone defense fund to help me defend myself against these charges. And you may add that you deny or are innocent of the charges, but that’s the extent of it. You apparently need clear boundaries, so there they are.

But in the same hearing, prosecutor Jonathan Kravis — the guy who signed yesterday’s filing — laid out that defensible public statements would include articulating a defense.

And because the conduct we’re talking about now, because the message we’re talking about now are not just messages about proclaiming innocence or articulating a defense, but are messages that could be construed as threatening, the government believes that the restriction on extrajudicial statements would be appropriate under the Bail Reform Act.

And the posts from this week that prosecutors lay out do nothing more than point to poor analysis of Stone’s own lawyers’ filings, and as such probably count as an effort to articulate a defense.

The problem is precisely what prosecutors explicitly explain is their real concern, that these posts are designed to generate more attention for conspiracy theories that totally undermine the public record of the Mueller investigation.

Stone’s posts appear calculated to generate media coverage of information that is not relevant to this case but that could prejudice potential jurors. They relate to Stone’s claims—made in both filings before the Court and in public settings—that Russia did not hack the DNC servers, that the FBI and intelligence community were negligent in investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, that the government improperly “targeted” Stone and others, and that the entire investigation was somehow invalid and any crimes flowing from it (including Stone’s witness tampering and lies to Congress) were justified.3 If those theories were relevant to this case (which they are not), public statements aimed at the media and meant to bolster the claims would risk prejudicing the jury pool. But these posts are arguably even worse, because they risk tainting the jury pool with information that is not relevant but that may appear, to some, to be relevant. At best, Stone’s efforts could create the misimpression that this case is about issues that are not charged in the Indictment, and risk the trial “devolv[ing] into a circus” (Tr. 49:19-20). But worse, it could confuse prospective jurors or color how they later view the actually-relevant evidence and understand the Court’s instructions about that evidence.

Prosecutors are absolutely right: the reporting on Stone’s lawyers filings misrepresent what his case is about. But that’s because Stone’s own lawyers are engaging in a legal strategy of disinformation, not legal defense.

I’ve repeatedly said that I think Stone will be pardoned before his November trial. Currently, there are no charges against him which could be refiled in NY or FL (the latter of which wouldn’t do it anyway). DOJ has already ruled that Stone’s known underlying activity — optimizing the release of documents stolen by Russians — does not reach the level of illegal conspiracy. So if Trump pardoned Stone before November, the fact that Stone would lose his Fifth Amendment rights over his charges would pose no legal risk to Trump (unlike, say, Manafort). Yet November’s trial, if it goes forward, will be unbelievably damning for the President.

And that means that Stone’s lawyers have an even bigger incentive than Manafort’s lawyers did to mount a defense that undermines the credibility of the Russian investigation, even if it does nothing to increase Stone’s chances for acquittal (which, if this goes to trial, are slim).

Which leaves ABJ and the prosecutors attempting to litigate a trial that will find innocence or guilt, while Stone’s lawyers are litigating to push disinformation in support of a pardon.

All that said, Stone may still be in trouble. Prosecutors note that this is not the first time Stone has violated the letter (if not spirit) of ABJ’s gag. They include several more examples.

1 These posts are not the first statements that appear to have run afoul of the Court’s order. See, e.g., Ex. 5 (Instagram Posting of April 4, 2019, stating “FBI Refuses Records Request for Emails to CNN on Day of Roger Stone Raid,” with the tag, “How curious? What could they possibly be hiding?”); Ex. 6 (Instagram Posting of May 8, 2019, with the headline “Judge demands unredacted Mueller report in Roger Stone case,” with the comment, “The Judge has ruled but @Politico gets most of the story wrong because they are biased elitist snot-nosed fake news [expletive] who’s [sic] specialty is distortion by omitting key facts to create a false narrative.”); Ex. 7 (Instagram Posting of May 16, 2019, with headline, “Roger Stone Swings For the Fences; Court Filing Challenges Russiagate’s Original Premise,” with the comment, “My attorneys challenged the entire “Russia hacked the DNC/CrowdStrike” claim by the Special Counsel in public court filings[.]”); Ex. 8 (Instagram Posting of June 2, 2019, picturing a former CIA Director and writing, “This psycho must be charged, tried, convicted . . . . and hung for treason.”) (ellipses in original) (subsequently deleted). The government is bringing this matter to the Court’s attention now because Stone’s most recent posts represent a direct attempt to appeal to major media outlets to publish information that is not relevant to, but may prejudice, this case.

Three of these, like the other four, might be viewed as articulating a defense, with the defense being, engaging in disinformation.

The fourth, however, solidly violates the spirit and letter of ABJ’s gag, because it would be likely to incite violence directed at John Brennan, because it calls for his hanging (Click through to see the post; I don’t want to magnify Stone’s violent language).

I’m not sure what the remedy is for lawyers whose defense strategy is to sow disinformation inside and outside the court room (in both filings this week, the government has said they’re going to move to prevent any such discussion from the trial). But I think these Instagram posts were probably designed, with advice of counsel, to be defensible as part of a defense strategy.

It’s Stone’s defense strategy that’s the problem.

Update: ABJ has given Stone until Thursday to convince her he didn’t violate her gag.

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.