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Manufactured Horseshit: Paul Manafort Returns to the Scene of the Crime

Vaughn Hillyard caught Paul Manafort in a victory lap on the floor of the RNC the other day.

Hillyard: Mr. Manafort, how is it to be back?

Manafort It’s great to be back.

And so it is that eight years after getting advance warning of the DNC release from his long time buddy Roger Stone, almost eight years after Stone emailed Manafort telling him he had a way to win the race, and just short of eight years after Manafort met with Konstantin Kilimnik in a cigar bar and discussed the outlines of a quid pro quo: campaign information for debt relief in exchange for a commitment to carve up Ukraine (Manafort insists he rejected the plan to carve up Ukraine, though the plan nevertheless remained active until at least 2018).

Aside from Hillyard and Robert Costa’s tweets marking Manafort’s arrival, his presence made barely a blip in the news coverage.

Why should it?

Among all the other criminals and insurrectionists, Manafort no longer sticks out.

And with JD Vance’s selection as VP, Manafort’s support for a pro-Russian Ukraine also looks banal, rather than alarming.

But there is likely a backstory few want to pursue.

Back in May, when Paul Manafort’s return was first reported and then denied, 24sight described how (as he had done in 2016), Paulie had been and kept working the back channel.

Manafort has quietly been passing strategic advice back to Trump through co-campaign manager Chris LaCivita and longtime Trump pollster Tony Fabrizio, the Republican sources said. Manafort has been analyzing polling results and advised on the organization of state Republican parties and selecting delegates to the Republican nominating convention — one of his specialties — according to two Republicans familiar with the dealings.

But LaCivita and other Trump campaign officials vehemently denied Manafort’s involvement.

LaCivita called questions about huddling with Manafort for Trump’s benefit “manufactured horseshit,” in a text message to 24sight News. Trump campaign spokesman Brian Hughes endorsed LaCivita’s reply, adding some context to the pushback.

“There was clearly a moment of consideration about using Manafort specifically for the convention,” Hughes said Wednesday. “But Manafort very publicly withdrew himself.”

Asked if Manafort had discussions with Fabrizio about helping steer the campaign, Hughes said he was unaware of everything that people talk about outside the campaign.

Three Republicans familiar with the dealings said that LaCivita met with Manafort in suburban Washington last fall. LaCivita denied details of the meeting to 24sight News, but declined to answer additional questions.

LaCivita was denying Manafort’s centrality as vigorously as he is now attempting to deny the (Orbán-aligned) Project 2025, as vigorously as Steve Bannon denied Manafort’s ongoing role in 2016, in spite of receiving plans on how to secure the victory, plans which led Bannon to worry about the appearance of Russian involvement in the victory.

But all these pieces go together.

That is, Trump is running not just as someone who explicitly wants to be a Dictator from Day One, someone who supports all the same policies as a Project that targets divorce and birth control along with the very idea of civil service.

He is running with Russian help on a plan to give Russia what it wants, starting, but not ending, with Ukraine on a silver platter.

Trump, and the guy Trump pardoned for lying about what happened with Russia in 2016, are simply picking up where things left off.

How the Steele Dossier Broke MAGAts’ Brains

The Steele Dossier broke America.

Not literally. Nearly three decades of Fox News, increasing wealth inequality, and unlimited money in politics likely did that.

But there are MAGAts who blame much of it on the dossier. There are MAGAts who situate their own shift in allegiance from the country to Trump based on a false belief that the dossier was part of a devious plot between Hillary Clinton and the Deep State to frame Donald Trump. That’s a key part of this thread from a right wing podcaster excusing January 6, which went viral just days after the attack.

Such views — mixing accurate criticism of the dossier with wild conspiracy theories — really did play a key role in polarizing the US. Phil Bump explained how the adoption of such conspiracy theories (which he fact checked) worked in real time. And I noted that if, as virtually all Republican members of Congress who spent years investigating the dossier concluded, it was riddled with Russian disinformation, it means MAGAts attacked their own country in response to Russian disinformation.

This didn’t happen by accident. Instead, it likely involved a brilliant multi-step disinformation campaign victimizing everyone: Hillary, Paul Manafort and Trump, and even the Deep State.

The first step was a brutal double game Oleg Deripaska deployed: using his tie to Christopher Steele to add to Paul Manafort’s legal insecurity — or perhaps to hide his own role in election interference by offering himself as a potential cooperator — even while using that insecurity to win cooperation from Trump’s campaign manager on the election attack.

The next step was, apparently, injecting garbage into the Steele dossier, some near misses that obscured the real attack and made Trump’s people less secure.

The third was an effort, partly deliberate and then later partly organic (albeit often on the part of credulous people who published obviously false claims from Konstantin Kilimnik), to conflate the dossier with the entire Russian investigation. Along the way MAGAt politicians, both right wing and quasi-lefty influencers, and even established journalistic institutions would join this effort. Because the dossier was unreliable, because it was used in the investigation of Carter Page (a guy already under scrutiny when he joined the Trump campaign) — this sustained propaganda campaign insisted — all the reporting on the Russian attack, the FBI investigation into it, and the results must be nought.

By substituting the dossier for the rest of the Russian investigation, this propaganda effort flipped Trump’s enthusiasm for foreign interference in democracy on its head, and allowed him — the guy who invited Russia to hack his opponent — to play the victim.

Deripaska’s double game

The first part of this process has gotten the least attention (indeed, Republican conspiracy theories covered it up).

There were two parts of the intelligence collection on Trump and his associates: with a few notable exceptions, accurate open source research done by Fusion GPS itself, and raw HUMINT collection from former MI6 officer Christopher Steele that may have been injected with disinformation. It has long been public that right wing billionaire Paul Singer indirectly paid for the open source research during the GOP primary, only to have the Democrats pick up the project during the general election.

What’s not widely known is that starting in March — the same month Manafort was publicly hired by the campaign (though, according to Sam Patten, Konstantin Kilimnik expected that to happen before it was public) — Deripaska paid Steele, through an attorney, to collect on Manafort.

[Steele’s] initial entree into U.S. election-related material dealt with Paul Manafort’s connections to Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs. In particular, Steele told the FBI that Manafort owed significant money to these oligarchs and several other Russians. At this time, Steele was working for a different client, Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.

And Steele paid Fusion to help with this effort. So before May, Deripaska paid Steele, who paid Fusion. After May, Democrats paid Fusion, which paid Steele.

But, as Igor Danchenko described, that earlier effort to collect on Manafort met with little success.

[H]e may have asked friends and contacts in Russia [for information on Manafort], but he couldn’t remember off-hand. He added that, for this topic, his friends and contacts in Russian couldn’t say very much because they were “too far removed” from the matter.

It was after that, on a trip Danchenko took to Russia, when Steele asked Danchenko to “look for information dealing with the US presidential election, including compromising materials on Donald Trump.”

Probably as a result of this close relationship, by July, intelligence reporting later assessed, one of Deripaska’s associates was probably aware of the DNC dossier project. Similarly, reporting found that, “two persons affiliated with [Russian Intelligence Services] were aware of Steele’s election investigation in early 2016.” As I have, John Durham linked these two reports, suggesting a likelihood that the Russian spooks had ties to Deripaska (though in making that link, Durham obscured Deripaska’s identity). Given Deripaska’s own alleged ties to Russian intelligence, if his lawyer knew and he knew, spooks close to him — including, allegedly, Kilimnik — would likely have known. Durham also described that Russian intelligence had identified Steele’s subsource network.

Paul Manafort’s former boss, Oleg Deripaska, probably knew about the dossier project in close to real time.

Christopher Steele denies that’s the case.

If Deripaska did know of the project, though, it dramatically changes the significance of a meeting Christopher Steele had with Bruce Ohr, then a top lawyer coordinating DOJ’s effort to combat multinational organized crime, in late July 2016. Steele had been trying to pitch Ohr to recruit oligarchs purportedly willing to cooperate against Russia. He had, earlier in 2016, assured Ohr that Deripaska had distanced himself from Putin. Earlier in July, he contacted Ohr about Deripaska.

Steele thought Deripaska could be trusted.

And on July 30, between the time Konstantin Kilimnik flew to Moscow to prepare for his Paul Manafort meeting and when he arrived in New York for that meeting, Steele met with Ohr in DC.

For years, Republicans claimed that this was an instance of Steele working every contact he had at FBI and DOJ to make sure his dossier reports got shared. Except Steele did more than share dossier leads at that meeting (one, about what Russian spooks had reportedly said about Trump, the other about whom Carter Page might have met with in Moscow). In addition, he shared information about Russian doping, a topic on which Steele reportedly had a good track record.

And most importantly, Steele pitched information from Deripaska about Paul Manafort (this is from Ohr’s testimony to Congress).

Mr. Ohr. So Chris Steele provided me with basically three items of information. One of them I’ve described to you already, the comment that information supposedly stated and made by the head, former head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service.

He also mentioned that Carter Page had met with certain high-level Russian officials when he was in Moscow. My recollection is at that time, the name Carter Page had already been in the press, and there had been some kind of statement about who he had met with when he went to Moscow. And so the first item that I recall Chris Steele telling me was he had information that Carter Page met with higher-level Russian officials, not just whoever was mentioned in the press article. So that was one item.

And then the third item he mentioned was that Paul Hauser, who was an attorney working for Oleg Deripaska, had information about Paul Manafort, that Paul Manafort had entered into some kind of business deal with Oleg Deripaska, had stolen a large amount of money from Oleg Deripaska, and that Paul Hauser was trying to gather information that would show that, you know, or give more detail about what Paul Manafort had done with respect to Deripaska.

[snip]

Q Were there any other topics that were discussed during your July 30, 2016, meeting?

A Yes, there were. Based on my sketchy notes from the time, I think there was some information relating to the Russian doping scandal, but I don’t recall the substance of that.

When I first understood how this worked together, I thought that Deripaska was primarily doing this to increase Paul Manafort’s legal exposure, making Manafort more vulnerable when Deripaska, via Kilimnik, started making asks in a cigar bar days later. It certainly may have increased the chance that the FBI would develop the criminal investigation into Manafort.

But it likely did another thing: it likely made the FBI more interested in treating Deripaska as a source, rather than a subject. And sure enough, in September 2016, the FBI interviewed Deripaska, at which interview (John Solomon parroted in advance of Robert Mueller’s testimony, during the period Solomon was a key player in Rudy Giuliani’s information operation) he scoffed that Manafort would have any tie to Russia.

“I told them straightforward, ‘Look, I am not a friend with him [Manafort]. Apparently not, because I started a court case [against him] six or nine months before … . But since I’m Russian I would be very surprised that anyone from Russia would try to approach him for any reason, and wouldn’t come and ask me my opinion,’ ” he said, recounting exactly what he says he told the FBI agents that day.

“I told them straightforward, I just don’t believe that he would represent any Russian interest. And knowing what he’s doing on Ukraine for the last, what, seven or eight years.”

As I’ve written, much of the outreach to Trump’s associates in 2016 involved people who had served as FBI sources. Deripaska knew Steele spoke with the FBI. People like Sergei Millian and Felix Sater had been FBI sources. More recently, of course, Alexander Smirnov allegedly attempted to frame Joe Biden.

A key tactic of this effort was to exploit FBI’s HUMINT efforts, to use FBI’s informants against it. So much so that Deripaska even feigned cooperation with the FBI himself!

The dossier would become an important part of — largely constructed — stories about the Russian investigation. But that all lay on top a foundation of efforts Deripaska made to use Christopher Steele to set up (and maybe even obscure) his asks of Paul Manafort.

A series of near misses

The knowledge that Deripaska and Russian spooks had of Steele’s network and the ongoing Fusion GPS project would have provided the means to plant disinformation.

As noted above, for a period, every one of the Republicans who examined the dossier at length concluded that Russia had succeeded in filling the dossier with disinformation. Lindsey Graham — who conducted an investigation into the circumstances of the Carter Page FISA — said it did. Chuck Grassley — who led the investigation into the dossier — said it did. Ron Johnson — who also made a show of investigating these things — said it did. Chuck Ross — the chief scribe of the dossier on the right — said it did. The high gaslighter Catherine Herridge said it did. Fox News and all their favorite sources said it did. WSJ’s editorial page said it did.

Then, they stopped saying it.

Maybe they thought through the implication of it being Russian disinformation. Maybe they started looking to John Durham’s efforts to blame Hillary Clinton by fabricating conspiracy theories instead.

Because, think about it: Unlike Rudy Giuliani, there’s no hint that Hillary set out to collect dirt that would be easily identifiable to the campaign as disinformation. She had no reason to seek inaccurate information; the reality was already damning enough.

“For us to go out and say a bunch of things that aren’t true, you know, can cause a lot of damage to the campaign,” Hillary Campaign Manager Robby Mook testified in the Michael Sussmann trial.

Hillary gained nothing by paying a lot of money for a project riddled with disinformation. Russian spooks simply took advantage of something every politician does — collect oppo research — to harm her, harm Carter Page, and harm the US.

Consider the effect it may have had (I examine the reports one by one here).

One effect possible disinformation may have had was to make Hillary complacent as she struggled to deal with a hack during the height of the campaign. For example, several of Steele’s reports said any kompromat Russia had on Hillary consisted of very dated intercepts, not recently-stolen emails. One report falsely claimed Russia hadn’t had success at hacking Western targets. Later reports provided purported updates on the hack-and-leak campaign, suggesting Russia was dropping any further efforts, that directly conflict with ongoing developments. Subsequent investigation showed those reports were all false.

And every one of those reports might have led Democrats (and the FBI) to be complacent about ongoing risks posed by the hack they had IDed in April (and indeed, they didn’t expect the files stolen from the DNC to be released).

Another report which could be disinformation (but which, if you can believe Danchenko, may also be Steele exaggeration of very tepid things he said about someone he believed to be Sergei Millian), would be to shield Konstantin Kilimnik’s role in the election interference. One of the most important reports for what came afterwards alleged that the,

“well-developed conspiracy of cooperation” between Trump’s team and Russian leadership “was managed on the TRUMP side by the Republican candidate’s campaign manager, Paul MANAFORT, who was using foreign policy advisor, Carter PAGE and others as intermediaries.

If Page was Manafort’s go-between, no one would look at what Kilimnik was doing.

To be sure, this could be Steele’s doing. It appears in a report that misrepresented what Danchenko claims to have told Steele about his contacts with Sergei Millian.

And as the Senate Intelligence Committee Report noted — I hope, sardonically — nothing about Manafort’s ties to Deripaska (or Kilimnik) ever made it into the dossier.

Steele and his subsources appear to have neglected to include or missed in its entirety Paul Manafort’s business relationship with Deripaska, which provided Deripaska leverage over Manafort and a possible route of influence into the Trump Campaign.

Steele mentions Paul Manafort by name roughly 20 times in the dossier, always in the context of his work in Ukraine; and, in particular, Manafort’s work on behalf of then-Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych. Deripaska, who had a long-standing business relationship with Manafort, is not mentioned once. Neither is Kilimnik, Manafort’s right-hand man in Kyiv, who himself has extensive ties to Deripaska. 5885 Despite Steele’s expertise on Ukraine and Russia, particularly on oligarchs, the dossier memos are silent on the issue.

Whatever the explanation — Danchenko’s failures to get dirt, Steele’s efforts to protect another contract, or disinformation — the dossier’s failure to note Kilimnik’s role (along with its silence about Natalia Veselnitskaya’s pitch of dirt to Don Jr. and George Papadopoulos’ shenanigans in London) effectively distracted from the most glaring signs of Trump ties with Russia. It served as camouflage. The things that don’t show up in the dossier that Fusion and Steele should have learned were almost as useful to the Russian project as the near-misses that did.

Perhaps the best established case of disinformation, however, is a tribute to its usefulness. Starting in October 2016 (in the period Michael Cohen was frantically cleaning up Trump’s Stormy Daniels problem), Steele produced first three (one, two, three), and then, in December 2016, a fourth report alleging that Michael Cohen was instead cleaning up the alleged coordination between Manafort and the Russians. Each report got progressively more inflammatory, with the last one alleging that Cohen and three associates went to Prague in August or September for secret discussions with the Kremlin and its hackers; the discussion allegedly involved cash payments to operatives and plans to cover up the operation.

If true, this would have been a smoking gun.

Within weeks of the last report, on January 12, 2017 — two days after Buzzfeed published the dossier — the Intelligence Community got intelligence assessing that it was disinformation.

January 12, 2017, report relayed information from [redacted] outlining an inaccuracy in a limited subset of Steele’s reporting about the activities of Michael Cohen. The [redacted] stated that it did not have high confidence in this subset of Steele’s reporting and assessed that the referenced subset was part of a Russian disinformation campaign to denigrate U.S. foreign relations.

Of course, that was not made public for over three years. As a result, even as the story of Mike Flynn’s attempts to undermine Obama’s foreign policy rolled out, even as Cohen was accepting big payments from Viktor Vekselberg, the Cohen-in-Prague story became the measure of so-called collusion.

From the start of the public accounting of Trump’s ties to Russia, then, something the IC already understood to be likely disinformation was the yardstick of the Russian investigation.

Two aspects of the story make it especially ripe to be intentional disinformation, in form and content.

First, according to Danchenko, the Cohen story came from his childhood friend, Olga Galkina, who knew he worked in some kind of intelligence collection and who even tried to task him to collect information after the dossier came out.

In March of 2016, Danchenko had introduced PR executive Chuck Dolan to her. Dolan and Danchenko traveled the same DC-based circles of Russian experts, and she was looking for the kind of public affairs consulting that Dolan offered, on behalf of her company. Over the course of two trips to Cyprus as part of that business, Dolan and Galkina developed an independent relationship. Dolan’s company was at the same time working on a business development project for the Russian government, in which he directly interacted with Dmitry Peskov’s office. Through that networking, on July 13, 2016, Galkina claimed that Dolan had recommended her for a job with Peskov’s office (he told Durham’s prosecutors he didn’t remember this when they asked). And on October 15, 2016 — in the same week that she first shared the Cohen story with Danchenko — Galkina gossiped about knowing something via Peskov’s office.

On October 15, 2016, Galkina communicated with a Russia-based journalist and stated that because of her [Galkina] “acquaintance with Chuck Dolan and several citizens from the Russian presidential administration,” Galkina knew “something and can tell a little about it by voice. ” 882

As Danchenko told the FBI, when he asked Galkina if she knew anything about several people on whom Steele had tasked him to collect, Michael Cohen’s name was the single one she recognized.

[Danchenko] began his explanation of the Prague and Michael Cohen-related reports by stating that Christopher Steele had given him 4-5 names to research for the election-related tasking. He could only remember three of the names: Carter Page, Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen. When he talked to [Galkina] in the fall of 2016 — he believes it was a phone call — he rattled off these names and, out of them, he was surprised to her that [Galkina] [later [Danchenko] softened this to “almost immediately] recognized Cohen’s name. [bold brackets original]

After that initial conversation, Danchenko asked Galkina to go back to her sources for more detail, which resulted in several more reports.

In other words, the source for the allegation that Michael Cohen, in an attempt to cover up a Trump scandal, had direct ties to the Presidential Administration — the Kremlin — is someone who had developed direct and lucrative ties to Dmitry Peskov’s office, and had been bragging about having dirt involving Peskov’s office that very week.

And Dmitry Peskov is one person who undoubtedly knew that Michael Cohen had called the Kremlin nine months earlier, because Trump’s fixer had called Peskov’s own office.

In the wake of Trump’s public denial on July 27 that he had any ongoing business with Russia, and in the period when Cohen was busy covering up other Trump scandals, a story arose that alleged Cohen’s cover-up involved ties to the Kremlin.

As Robert Mueller would substantiate two years later, Cohen’s cover-up did involve a ties to the Kremlin, a call in which he solicited Putin’s help for a business deal involving a sanctioned bank and the GRU. But those were entirely different ties, in time and substance, from the ties claimed in the dossier.

This is the kind of near miss story — a story that approximated Cohen’s real contact with the Kremlin, which he and Trump were lying to hide, a story that approximated Cohen’s real efforts to cover up Trump’s scandals — that could serve both to distract and raise the risks of the public lies Cohen and Trump were telling to hide that Trump Tower deal, the lies that Dmitry Peskov knew Trump was telling.

It also proved useful when Cohen doubled down on his lies, in 2017. As I pointed out in real time, as the Trump Tower deal started to get leaked to the press (though without the most damning detail, that Cohen did succeed in reaching the Kremlin; Trump Organization withheld the email that proved that from Congress) Cohen used denials of the dossier allegations as a way to deny the burgeoning Trump Tower scandal as well. Because there was nothing to substantiate the Cohen-in-Prague story, Cohen’s then lawyer claimed, it meant there was no story at all.

The entire letter is pitched around the claim that HPSCI “included Mr. Cohen in its inquiry based solely upon certain sensational allegations contained” in the Steele dossier. “Absent those allegations,” the letter continues, “Mr. Cohen would not be involved in your investigation.” The idea — presented two weeks before disclosure of emails showing Cohen brokering a deal with Russians in early 2016 — is if Cohen can discredit the dossier, then he will have shown that there is no reason to investigate him or his role brokering deals with the Russians. Even the denial of any documents of interest is limited to the dossier: “We have not uncovered a single document that would in any way corroborate the Dossier’s allegations regarding Mr. Cohen, nor do we believe that any such document exists.”

With that, Cohen’s lawyers address the allegations in the dossier, one by one. As a result, the rebuttal reads kind of like this:

I Did Not Go to Prague I Did Not Go to Prague I Did Not Go to Prague I Did Not Go to Prague

Cohen literally denies that he ever traveled to Prague six times, as well as denying carefully worded, often quoted, versions of meeting with Russians in a European capital in 2016. Of course that formulation — He did not participate in meetings of any kind with Kremlin officials in Prague in August 2016 — stops well short of other potential ties to Russians. And two of his denials look very different given the emails disclosed two weeks later showing an attempt to broker a deal that Felix Sater thought might get Trump elected, including an email from him to one of the most trusted agents of the Kremlin.

Mr. Cohen is not aware of any “secret TRUMP campaign/Kremlin relationship.”

Mr. Cohen is not aware of any indirect communications between the “TRUMP team” and “trusted agents” of the Kremlin.

As I said above, I think it highly likely the dossier includes at least some disinformation seeded by the Russians. So the most charitable scenario of what went down is that the Russians, knowing Cohen had made half-hearted attempts to broker the Trump Tower deal Trump had wanted for years, planted his name hoping some kind of awkwardness like this would result.

That is, Cohen used his true denial of having been to Prague to rebut the equally true claim that he had contact with the Kremlin.

Manafort’s plan

There’s good reason to believe that Cohen’s focus was not an accident.

That’s because, after meeting with a Deripaska associate, Paul Manafort advised Trump to use precisely this approach.

In early January, Manafort met in Madrid with a Deripaska associate, Gregory Oganov. Manafort’s explanations to Mueller’s team about the purpose of the meeting vacillated (it was one of the topics about which Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled he had lied). But according to a text from Kilimnik, the meeting was about recreating the old relationship he had had with Deripaska.

A May 2017 story from Ken Vogel (yeah, I know), described how after that trip, Manafort called Reince Priebus and told him that the dossier was full of inaccuracies, and that those inaccuracies — and the FBI’s reliance on Steele, the guy paid by a lawyer for Deripaska who brought claims about Manafort to DOJ — discredited the Russian investigation generally.

It was about a week before Trump’s inauguration, and Manafort wanted to brief Trump’s team on alleged inaccuracies in a recently released dossier of memos written by a former British spy for Trump’s opponents that alleged compromising ties among Russia, Trump and Trump’s associates, including Manafort.

“On the day that the dossier came out in the press, Paul called Reince, as a responsible ally of the president would do, and said this story about me is garbage, and a bunch of the other stuff in there seems implausible,” said a person close to Manafort.

[snip]

According to a GOP operative familiar with Manafort’s conversation with Priebus, Manafort suggested the errors in the dossier discredited it, as well as the FBI investigation, since the bureau had reached a tentative (but later aborted) agreement to pay the former British spy to continue his research and had briefed both Trump and then-President Barack Obama on the dossier.

Manafort told Priebus that the dossier was tainted by inaccuracies and by the motivations of the people who initiated it, whomhe alleged were Democratic activists and donors working in cahoots with Ukrainian government officials, according to the operative. [my emphasis]

Priebus shared Manafort’s comments with Trump.

Priebus did, however, alert Trump to the conversation with Manafort, according to the operative familiar with the conversation and a person close to Trump.

Notably, along with disputing that anyone with ties to Steele would know what Yanukovych would say to Putin, Manafort also debunked the claim that he was managing relations with Russia because he didn’t know Page.

In his conversation with Priebus, Manafort also disputed the assertion in the Steele dossier that Manafort managed relations between Trump’s team and the Russian leadership, using Page and others as intermediaries.

Manafort told Priebus that he’d never met Page, according to the operative.

As with Cohen’s later debunking of the Prague story to distract from the Trump Tower story, Manafort used a near miss in the dossier  to discredit the larger true claim, that he had been working with someone in Russia.

Manafort met with Kilimnik personally in February, and according to Rick Gates, at Manafort’s behest, Kilimnik kept hunting down the other sources for the dossier. Of course, according to later intelligence reporting, Russian spooks already knew that.

How about that?

Within a day after the release of the dossier, at a time when he was meeting with an Oleg Deripaska deputy, Manafort came up with a strategy to discredit the entire Russian investigation by discrediting the dossier. How was Manafort so prescient about the faults of the dossier?

But Deripaska had almost certainly known about the dossier project for six months by that point, and had funded an earlier collection effort targeting Manafort himself.

And Republicans followed that strategy — to discredit the Russian investigation by discrediting the dossier and FBI’s decision to rely on Steele, a strategy Manafort shared after a meeting with a top Deripaska aide — for three years.


This post is part of a series describing how Trump trained Republicans to hate rule of law. Earlier posts include:

LOLGOP and I are doing a podcast series that closely follows this series.

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Apple Podcast

Spotify

The series builds on this background.

 

Hunter Biden Prosecutor Leo Wise Aspires to Be the James Comer of John Durhams

In a filing submitted last week opposing Hunter Biden’s [surely doomed] bid for a continuance of his California trial until September, Leo Wise argued that this is just a garden variety tax case that doesn’t merit any more time to prepare than the week between the Delaware case and the California case.

The defendant claims that he requires only “a small amount of additional time to adequately prepare” ECF 97, p. 5 (emphasis added). However, he asks for this “limited reprieve,” ECF 97, p. 4, of 77 days without providing any details about how those two and half months would be utilized. His filing is simply unclear about what the defendant would actually do with any additional time. His perception of this case as “uniquely challenging and high-profile,” ECF 97, p. 5, is unlikely to change if a continuance is granted. The fact that there may be more press coverage of this trial than others does not affect the preparation required by counsel in any way. This is a straightforward tax case, and the defendant has not alleged otherwise. He is not above the rule of law and should be treated like any other defendant. Every case has pretrial deadlines; the fact that they exist here cannot support a continuance request. Given the complete lack of specificity as to what needs to happen between now and trial (other than compliance with the usual pretrial deadlines which the defendant has known about since January), the factor of usefulness does not support a continuance. [my emphasis]

But a motion in limine filed by Hunter Biden reveals that claim is false.

Wise has no intention of treating this as a straightforward tax case.

After Hunter Biden agreed, in response to Weiss’ own motion in limine, not to mention how Leo Wise had been badly duped by Alexander Smirnov and instead of dropping the case, continued to give Russia what it intended all along, a political hit job on Joe Biden during the 2024 election, Hunter asked David Weiss’ team if they would likewise agree not to make this a trial about influence-peddling.

Weiss refused.

Defendant Robert Hunter Biden, by and through his counsel of record, hereby files this Motion in Limine to exclude from trial reference to any allegation that Mr. Biden (1) acted on behalf of a foreign principal to influence U.S. policy and public opinion, (2) violated FARA, (3) improperly coordinated with the Obama Administration, (4) received direct compensation from any foreign state, (5) received compensation for actions taken by his father that impacted national or international politics, or (6) funneled money to his father or any related alleged corruption (together, allegations of “improper political influence and/or corruption”). This evidence should clearly be excluded under the Federal Rules of Evidence 403 balancing test, as the risk of unfair prejudice is significantly outweighed by any marginal probative value. On May 17, 2024, Mr. Biden’s counsel asked for the Special Counsel’s position on this proposed motion in limine. On May 20, 2024, the Special Counsel indicated that he opposes this motion.

[snip]

Although the Special Counsel’s filed exhibit list (DE 88) contains upwards of forty descriptions that are totally insufficient to identify what document is being referred to (see, e.g., “Text Messages” (#073), “Notes” (#318)), it is clear that many exhibits the Special Counsel intends to introduce relate to allegations of improper political influence and/or corruption that are wholly outside of the scope of the Indictment. See, e.g., “Email from Eric Schwerin to Antony Blinken re: My Remarks In Latvia” (GX-267), “Email from Eric Schwerin to Sally Painter re: Amos Hochstein” (GX-262). Allowing in evidence or testimony related to the unsubstantiated claims of improper political influence and/or corruption run a real risk of the jury convicting Mr. Biden based on facts and allegations outside of the Indictment.

Defense counsel notes that it is ironic that the Special Counsel has filed a motion in limine to exclude evidence “alleging the prosecution of the defendant is somehow due to or part of a Russian malign election influence campaign,” which Mr. Biden did not object to. (DE 92 at 4.) Yet, the Special Counsel opposes the instant motion, which would preclude him from putting forward similar politically charged information to the jury. To prevent this trial from becoming a trial on politics rather than a trial on the charges in the Indictment, this Court should grant both the Special Counsel’s motion as it relates to a “Russian malign election influence campaign” and this Motion.

Having investigated for six years, David Weiss never substantiated a FARA case. But (as the exhibit list makes clear) he wants to drag that into what he claims is a straightforward tax case anyway.

The scope of Leo Wise’s aspirations to use the tax case as a vehicle to air James Comer’s fevered fantasies is made clear by something else Wise revealed in that same filing: The reason giving Hunter Biden more than a week between trials would harm the government is because they plan to make more than thirty people from around the country fly to California to testify against Joe Biden’s kid.

The defendant is not seeking a modest delay of a few days to obtain a piece of evidence or to procure a witness. He seeks a 77-day delay in a case the government has extensively prepared for following a detailed and lengthy investigation. This will inconvenience the United States. For instance, the government anticipates calling more than thirty witnesses, most of them out-of-state. See Declaration of Leo J. Wise, at ¶4 . Trial subpoenas began being sent to these witnesses over a month ago. Id. Many of these individuals are represented; the witnesses and their counsel have planned their summer schedules to account for this trial commencing in June and concluding in July.

You don’t need to call 30 witnesses to present your tax case against Hunter Biden!!

The key witnesses will be Hunter’s ex-wife, Katie Dodge, no more than eight people Hunter paid out of Owasco funds and then wrote off (including, it seems, Hallie Biden, whose testimony Weiss is compelling), maybe a sex worker or two to titillate Matt Gaetz (Weiss has similarly refused to exclude the sex workers), the accountant who filed Hunter Biden’s taxes in 2020, former Hunter business partners Rob Walker and Eric Schwerin, and some law enforcement witnesses to present all the paperwork. That’s around 16 witnesses.

If Weiss really does call over 30 witnesses, it will make this “straightforward tax case” into the largest Special Counsel trial in recent years (as laid out by the list below).

The sheer overkill of Leo Wise’s aspirations is clear when you compare Hunter’s case — for a failure to pay taxes from income that all came through the US — to Paul Manafort’s EDVA trial. Like the Hunter Biden case, that was a tax case, one for which tax evasion was charged for five years, not one, and one for which the scope of income was at least an order of magnitude larger. Because Manafort’s tax evasion involved keeping his Ukraine income offshore in Cyprus, that case also included charges of FBAR violations. It also included nine counts of bank fraud. So tax evasion, plus hiding his funds overseas, plus trying to cheat some banks in the US. Prosecutors called a bunch of local Alexandria vendors, because one way Manafort shielded his income was by wiring money directly to US vendors to pay for things like Ostrich-skin vests.

And for all that, at this stage of the proceedings, prosecutors estimated they would call 20 to 25 witnesses; they ultimately called 27.

Leo Wise wants to do something more spectacular than the Paul Manafort case — and given his close ties to Rod Rosenstein, I wouldn’t rule out the grandiosity of his aspirations as some kind of payback. Of course, there’s a straight through-line between the Manafort case and the Russian-backed effort to fuck over Joe Biden, so Leo Wise is giving Russia precisely what they wanted.

Leo Wise was sure he was smarter than Lesley Wolf and so chased the Alexander Smirnov allegation only to discover he was participating in an attempt to frame Joe Biden. Having been duped there, Leo Wise now refuses to back down. He will stage the most spectacular Special Counsel trial yet!

Update: My apologies to Judge Scarsi. He has apparently granted the continuance to September 5.

Other Special Counsel prosecutions

Scooter Libby: 10 Government Witnesses (plus three CIA briefers not called)

Roger Stone: 5 Government Witnesses (plus Andrew Miller, Michael Caputo, and Jerome Corsi, not called)

Michael Sussmann: 25 Government Witnesses (about 5 not called)

Igor Danchenko: 6 Government Witnesses

The Cultivation of Don Jr: A Framework to Think of the Russian Attack

Months ago, I started laying out a framework to provide background to explain how Trump has trained the GOP to hate rule of law, a key part of how he has brought us close to fascism. My weekend post on Bill Barr’s obfuscation about his role in Ukrainian matters (to which there will be a follow-up) started to fill in another of the remaining bullets.

Today, and in parallel, LOLGOP and I will begin to release some podcasts as we explain the important part: how all this brings us to where we are, with both Aileen Cannon and SCOTUS taking active measures [heh] to help Donald Trump avoid accountability.

So I need to explain how I think of the Russian attack.

Generally, people think of the Russian attack in the same way Robert Mueller set up Volume I of his Report:

  • Volume I Section II: [Dead] Yevgeniy Prigozhin’s social media campaign
  • Volume I Section III: GRU’s hack and leak campaign
  • Volume I Section IV: Russian Government contacts to the Trump campaign

Remember, his report was an explanation of prosecutorial decisions. It was only intended to determine whether things were crimes. It only included the prosecutorial decisions that had been concluded by Mueller. So, for example, the report itself didn’t describe the referrals sent to other districts, such as SDNY’s prosecution of Michael Cohen for financial crimes and hush money payments or EDNY’s prosecution of Tom Barrack on foreign agent crimes, which ended in acquittal; it remains unclear how much of these referrals show up in the referral section. Mentions of ongoing investigations, such as into the suspected $10 million payment to Trump from an Egyptian bank or evidence that Roger Stone conspired with Russian in the hack-and-leak, were relegated to the appendix or a footnote.

The SSCI Report instead considered whether these things posed a counterintelligence risk, rather than a crime. As such, they considered a long list of possible compromises, categorized both by people (like Paul Manafort or Maria Butina — the latter of whom was not included in scope of Mueller Report) and events (like the June 9 meeting). Viewed from that framework, having a guy who spent years implementing influence operations for Russian allies Manafort, work for “free” on the campaign looks quite different, like a grave counterintelligence risk to Donald Trump. Great swaths of that report — such as a section on Andrii Telizhenko’s influence operations, which may even have incorporated Bill Barr — remain redacted.

But as this effort to interfere in the US election proceeded, Russia conducted at least two (and, I argue, at least a third) devastating attacks on US intelligence, which had ties to the election year attack itself.

  • The Shadow Brokers release of NSA’s hacking tools, which (I was told but have not reconfirmed) shared one forensic link and has several human infrastructure links to the election attack
  • The Vault 7/Vault 8 release of CIA’s hacking tools, which in implementation continued a pressure campaign by Julian Assange rooted in the election year attack
  • A concerted campaign against the FBI, largely focused but not exclusively reliant on the Steele dossier

The Solar Winds attack, discovered in the last year of Trump’s presidency, could be another such attack, one used by Sidney Powell’s team (including Mike Flynn and Patrick Byrne) in their attack on democratic elections, one that stole Chad Wolf’s emails as he helped Trump discredit election integrity efforts, one Trump is using in his attack on rule of law. The attack was first initiated years earlier, possibly as early as 2016. But so little is known about the attack — aside from that it targeted a number of government agencies and court filing systems — that I will bracket that for now.

This sets up a structure something like this:

What Mueller includes in his contacts with Russia section is possible (and in some cases, definite) attempted recruitment. That kind of thing is a constant.

In advance of the Russian attack, however, Russian entities may have been behind a number of efforts focused on Trump and his associates. Deripaska worked a brutal double game that made it more likely to get Manafort’s cooperation, witting or not. Joseph Mifsud brokered ties to Russian officials for George Papadopoulos — leading to an (aborted) plan to set up a meeting with Putin’s team in London. A former GRU officer and two sanctioned banks got involved in Felix Sater’s pitch of a Trump Tower to Cohen, resulting in Dmitry Peskov collecting proof of Trump’s willingness to work with GRU before the Hillary hack was ever revealed. Someone dangled stolen emails before Roger Stone, ultimately giving him an advance peek — in exchange for what, we don’t know — but Stone started pursuing a pardon for Julian Assange no later than November 15 (and probably as early as October 3).

With the exception of the Manafort pitch (which leveraged his financial desperation), none of those pitches from Russia — whether they were backed by Russian spooks or not — would have required anything more than recklessness and venality from the Trump side. For example, in January, when Cohen called Dmitry Peskov to ask for Putin’s help finalizing the Trump Tower deal, Trump probably doubted he was going to win and there was no reason to be particularly alarmed by the GRU tie; but after the revelation that GRU hacked the DNC, after Trump got the nomination, the existence of the January call became potentially devastating. The Coffee Boy bragged to diplomats from three different countries that Russia was going to attack Hillary, which looked dramatically different when WikiLeaks released the stolen DNC emails (which is when the Australians shared their knowledge of it).

If I’m right that Russia deliberately used some of the same infrastructure in the hack-and-leak and the Shadow Broker operation, it would serve as a stick unveiled at precisely the moment Roger Stone bit on the carrot of advanced access to John Podesta emails, basically tying Stone’s outreach to an attack on the NSA.

Similarly, the unveiling of the Vault 7 release, which WikiLeaks (or an intermediary between Josh Schulte and WikiLeaks) sat on from May 2016 until March 2017, made Stone’s sustained commitment to winning a pardon for Assange all the more damaging. It is unknown whether Russia got an advanced look at those files (which would have provided a way to identify CIA’s assets in Russia), but Assange used a Deripaska-linked attorney to try to negotiate immunity in advance of releasing the files, tying its release to Russia.

Along with Stone, this entire operation came to a focus on Don Jr.

Obviously, there’s the June 9 meeting pitch, which again requires nothing more than recklessness from Don Jr, but which resulted in him receiving a pitch for sanctions relief in exchange for dirt on Hillary. “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.” Maria Butina similarly tried to pitch Trump’s son.

Don Jr, who joined some of the most rabid Trumpsters in validating the Prigozhin’s trolls, likewise would have represented an overlap between those trolling operations and the ones run by right wing extremists.

At least as interesting is the way Assange repeatedly incorporated Don Jr into his pitch. On September 20, WikiLeaks alerted Don Jr to an anti-Trump campaign and provided a password.

59. On or about September 20, 2016, at approximately 11 :59PM, Target Account 1 sent a private message to a high level individual associated with the Campaign (the “high-level · Campaign individual”). 4 The message stated: “A PAC run anti-Trump site ‘ ‘ is about to launch. The PAC is a recycled pro-Iraq war·PAC. We have guessed the password. It is ‘. See ‘About’ for who is behind it. Any comments?”

Jr passed it onto the campaign, making it clear he had accessed the site. This was the basis of the (totally appropriate) prosecution declination for Jr. only disclosed after years of FOIA challenge by Jason Leopold.

In October, at a time when WikiLeaks was rebuffing Stone’s outreach, WikiLeaks repeatedly suggested Don Jr push out links (and recommend his father do so too). A figure in the Douglass Mackey DM threads by the name of P0TUSTrump kept pushing those links as if in response.

The day of the election, WikiLeaks pushed Don Jr to convince his dad not to concede.

Hi Don; if your father ‘loses’ we think it is much more interesting if he DOES NOT conceed [sic] and spends time CHALLENGING the media and other types of rigging that occurred–as he has implied that he might do. He is also much more likely to keep his base alive and energised this way and if he is going to start a new network, showing how corrupt the old ones are is helpful. The discussion about the rigging can be transformative as it exposes media corruption, primary corruption, PAC corruption etc. We don’t like corruption ither [sic] and our publications are effective at proving that this and other forms of corruption exists.

On December 16, 2016, WikiLeaks pushed Jr to convince his dad to give Assange an Ambassadorship (which would amount to immunity).

Hi Don. Hope you’re doing well! In relation to Mr. Assange: Obama/Clinton placed pressure on Sweden, UK and Australia (his home country) to illicitly go after Mr. Assange. It would be real easy and helpful for your dad to suggest that Australia appoint Assange ambassador to DC “That’s a really smart tough guy and the most famous australian you have! ” or something similar. They won’t do it, but it will send the right signals to Australia, UK + Sweden to start following the law and stop bending it to ingratiate themselves with the Clintons. Background: justice4assange.com

As news of the June 9 meeting broke, WikiLeaks advised Jr to release his emails via WikiLeaks and also advised he reach out to Margaret Kunstler.

When these DMs were released on November 14, 2017, Assange tweeted out a follow-up to the December 2016 one, adding a threat by hashtagging, Vault8, the source code to the CIA files, a single example of which WikiLeaks had just released on November 9, 2017.

I read this as a concerted effort to shift from Stone to Don Jr. Whether Don Jr was actively soliciting this help or not, WikiLeaks made sure to tie Trump’s son to their plight, both publicly and privately.

Whatever else may have gone on between WikiLeaks and the failson, around the time that Mueller’s questions would have alerted Trump that he knew of the pardon pitches, at a time when WikiLeaks’ ties with Russia were under far greater scrutiny, Jr’s buddy Arthur Schwartz went after Cassandra Fairbanks, disabusing her of any hopes Trump would pardon Assange. She ultimately flew off to London to tell him.

None of this says that Don Jr conspired with Russia on the 2016 attack. What is says is that Russian assets systematically viewed him as an idiot that could be and was often useful. And Jr ended up connecting all the through-strands: he bridged the hack-and-leak and social media campaigns with the right wing lists, he reliably got his dad to act on his instructions, and then — as the cost of all this went up — Assange repeatedly targeted Jr as he increased the cost of the hack of the CIA, effectively extorting Jr as he started releasing CIA source code.

Even before I turn to the dossier, viewed this way, the Russian operation in 2016 isn’t so much about getting Trump elected. Rather, it’s about sowing irreparable polarization in the US that deliberately tied Trump’s people to the twin attacks on the Deep State — Shadow Brokers and Vault 7/8.

With little involvement beyond predictable recklessness and venality (and Don Jr’s stupidity), then, Russian assets implicated Trump’s people in attacks on the Deep State that raised the cost of their openness to Russian help in 2016, but which would have made any admissions by Trump all the more costly.

Russia didn’t need cooperation from Trump’s people (though they got it from at least Manafort and Stone and a certain idiot who proved useful). They just needed to make any already improbable conciliation impossible, impossible politically and impossible for a Narcissist like Trump to do. That would practically guarantee that Trump would attack the country to defend himself, his son, his ego.

That, in turn, would make the aftermath of the 2016 attack far more fertile for recruitment, because it would prioritize allegiance to Trump over allegiance to country.

Another Maggie Haberman NYT Story Covers Up Oleg Deripaska’s Role

The reason it matters that Trump brought in Paul Manafort to work on his campaign again for “free” this year is that in 2016, Manafort shared the campaign’s strategy with his long-time business associate Konstantin Kilimnik, who (according to the Treasury Department) is a “known Russian Intelligence Services agent” who “provided the Russian Intelligence Services with [that] sensitive information on polling and campaign strategy.”

The reason it matters that Manafort — as he did in 2016 — claims he has stepped aside from that “free” job to find other ways to help Donald Trump is that he continued to coach the campaign even after he lost, projecting Trump and Russia’s own voter fraud claims onto Hillary Clinton. It also matters because after Trump won, Manafort met with a key Oleg Deripaska deputy to “recreat[e] old friendship.” After that meeting, he advised Reince Priebus to discredit the Russian investigation by focusing on the Steele dossier (recall that Deripaska had paid Steele to collect intelligence about Manafort before Fusion asked Steele to collect more broadly). That strategy worked spectacularly well, with every Russigate conspiracy theorist both making false claims about dossier reporting and, at the same time, claiming that because the dossier turned out to be false, everything else must be too.

The reason it matters that — even as he threatens to abandon NATO much less Ukraine — Trump welcomed Manafort onto his campaign again is that both at the meeting where Trump’s former campaign manager shared campaign strategy and for several years after, Manafort and Kilimnik kept talking about plans to carve up Ukraine. Kilimnik even told Manafort, in December 2016, that they could have peace in Ukraine within a few months with just a wink from Trump. Trump makes similar boasts all the time now.

You’ll find none of that in the NYT story reporting on Manafort’s announcement that he will help Trump in an unofficial role (or WaPo or CNN’s story either).

Seven paragraphs in, Maggie (writing with Jonathan Swan) describes that Manafort went to prison, but doesn’t bother to explain that he laundered money and violated FARA to hide that his influence peddling was backed by Russian-aligned oligarchs.

Mr. Manafort helped stave off efforts to thwart Mr. Trump’s nomination at the 2016 convention, went to prison for various financial crimes and was pardoned by Mr. Trump.

Hell, even just the thought of letting a massive tax cheat play a role in his campaign should be a key focus; instead, NYT brushes that off as, “various financial crimes.”

Three paragraphs later Maggie suggests some tie between those pro-Russian oligarchs and Manafort being “ensnared” by Mueller, but doesn’t describe what Mueller found.

In August 2016, he was ousted in part over headlines about his work for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine. Later, Mr. Manafort was ensnared in the investigation by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, into ties between Mr. Trump’s campaign and Russian officials.

Two paragraphs latter, Maggie and Swan suggest that five advisors, most quite senior (George Papadoloulos, Gates, Manafort, Michael Cohen, and Roger Stone) who were sentenced to prison equate to a “few,”

Mr. Manafort was one of only a few Trump advisers who were sentenced to prison, for crimes unrelated to the campaign.

That doesn’t count the two other advisors from 2016 (Mike Flynn and Elliot Broidy) who were pardoned before they were sentenced, and the three (Allen Weisselberg, Steve Bannon, and Peter Navarro) who have more recently been sentenced to prison.

I mean, sure, compared to the dozens of senior GOP officials currently facing prosecution for allegedly trying to steal the 2020 election and the hundreds of Trump devotees already sentenced for 2020, five or seven or whatever is teeny, but “few”? Since when did having even a few — much less seven — advisors from one campaign get convicted merit the word, “only”?

Maggie (and Swan) never mention that Amy Berman Jackson found that Paul Manafort lied to cover up the details of his relations with Kilimnik in 2016, a lie about something directly related to the election, but that Mueller simply chose not to prosecute those lies.

The sole mention of Mueller’s focus pertained to something that Mueller found Manafort didn’t orchestrate: the change in the platform on Ukraine.

[I]n a controversy that received little attention at the time, language was inserted into the platform watering down language supporting Ukraine with military aid against Russian incursions. That language change was among the issues Mr. Mueller sought information about during his investigation.

In other words, Maggie and Swan buried the real reason why Manafort threatened — and still threatens, given past history — to discredit Trump’s campaign or undermine US democracy: Wittingly or not — we don’t know because of the lies and the pardon — he was at the center of a key part of the Russian attack on American democracy.

Journalists should not simply bury that.

Worse, too, this is not the first time that a story bearing Maggie’s byline has covered up Manafort’s tie to Deripaska in all this. This story not only tried to shift the timing of the August 2 meeting Manafort had with Kilimnik, but it took out language describing Kilimnik sending Deripaska polling data as well as to Manafort’s Ukranian benefactors. (Since that story, a bunch of files liberated by Jason Leopold have shown Manafort’s efforts to suck up to Deripaska.)

A correction was made on Jan. 9, 2019:

A previous version of this article misidentified the people to whom Paul Manafort wanted a Russian associate to send polling data. Mr. Manafort wanted the data sent to two Ukrainian oligarchs, Serhiy Lyovochkin and Rinat Akhmetov, not to Oleg V. Deripaska, a Russian oligarch close to the Kremlin.

The story remains a source of disinformation and confusion five years later.

As I showed in this post, that change was made in the same period that Rick Gates, immediately after Bill Barr’s confirmation, started to revert his story to what it had been when he was still getting caught in false stories in interview after interview.

I get that outlets telling this story (WaPo and CNN were no better) want to avoid relitigating the Russian investigation. I get that Trump always complains when journalists report on the actual facts disclosed by the Russian investigation and the open questions his pardons guaranteed would never be answered.

That’s not a reason to bury it all. Burying these facts is nothing more than capitulating to a bully.

Holding Trump accountable for his past documented abuses should be the easy part of journalism.

How Josh Dawsey Downplays Paul Manafort’s Ties to Alleged Russian Spies

Josh Dawsey’s report that Trump plans to hire convicted money launderer and former business partner of an alleged Russian spy Paul Manafort to work on his campaign — possibly to help fundraising!!! — makes all the years of shitty coverage of the Russian investigation an urgent problem again.

The job discussions have largely centered around the 2024 Republican convention in Milwaukee in July and could include Manafort playing a role in fundraising for the presumptive GOP nominee’s campaign, according to these people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private deliberations.

Dawsey gets big and little things wrong in his report. For example, he claims that Manafort was sentenced to around four years in prison after which he was released under COVID protocols.

Manafort was found guilty of hiding millions he made lobbying on behalf of pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians in overseas bank accounts, then falsifying his finances to get loans when his patrons lost power. He was originally sentenced to about four years in prison but was released early to home confinement due to the coronavirus before he was pardoned by Trump.

In reality, Judge Amy Berman Jackson sentenced Manafort to 73 months (60 months concurrent with his EDVA sentence, and 13 months consecutive to that; his release to home confinement did not adhere to the priorities for release at the time).

 For the reasons stated on the record in open Court Defendant’s 540 Motion for Reconsideration is DENIED. Count 1ssss: Sentenced to Sixty (60) months incarceration. The sentence is to run concurrent to Thirty (30) months of the sentence previously imposed by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia which has already accounted for the credit defendant is due for time served. Special Assessment of $100.00 was imposed. Count 2ssss: Sentenced to Thirteen (13) months incarceration, to be served consecutively to the sentence on Count One (1).

Predictably, though, it is in downplaying the import of Manafort’s ties to Russian spies where Dawsey really fails.

During the 2016 campaign, Manafort also allegedly shared Trump campaign polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russian who the U.S. government said had ties to Russian intelligence. The special counsel accused Manafort of lying to the FBI about his interactions with Kilimnik, even after Manafort had said he would cooperate and provide truthful information.

Manafort also allegedly worked with Kilimnik to spread Russian disinformation that it was actually Ukraine who interfered in the 2016 U.S. election.

In a report issued in 2020, the Senate bipartisan committee that investigated Russian interference found that “Manafort’s presence on the Campaign and proximity to Trump created opportunities for Russian intelligence services to exert influence over, and acquire confidential information on, the Trump Campaign.”

First, there is absolutely no dispute that Manafort sent campaign data to Kilimnik to share with his Ukrainian backers and Oleg Deripaska. Manafort simply maintained that he only instructed Rick Gates to share public data (Kilimnik’s other business partner, Sam Patten, said Manafort shared internal data). But the polling data has never been the key point. They key point was, weeks before the Russians started stealing Hillary’s internal modeling, Manafort told Kilimnik how he planned to win the race in the swing states — Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and also Minnesota — where Trump ultimately did win it.

Dawsey of course is silent about the other two undisputed aspects of the August 2, 2016 meeting. Kilimnik pitched Manafort on a plan to carve up Ukraine (Manafort ultimately admitted that Kilimnik did; he just claimed he didn’t buy into the plan at that point). And Manafort talked about how to get paid by his Ukrainian backers and get his debt with Oleg Deripaska relieved.

That is, the meeting at least maps the outline of a quid pro quo: a commitment to carve up Ukraine in exchange for millions and help winning the election.

And Robert Mueller didn’t just accuse Manafort of lying during the period when he was supposed to be cooperating. Judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled that he had.

Paul Manafort lied to cover up what really happened between him and Konstantin Kilimnik, and Donald Trump pardoned Manafort to reward those lies.

Finally, it’s not that, “U.S. government said [Kilimnik] had ties to Russian intelligence.” In 2021, after Kilimnik allegedly interfered in a second US election, Treasury stated as fact that Kilimnik was Russian intelligence.

Konstantin Kilimnik (Kilimnik) is a Russian and Ukrainian political consultant and known Russian Intelligence Services agent implementing influence operations on their behalf. During the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign, Kilimnik provided the Russian Intelligence Services with sensitive information on polling and campaign strategy. Additionally, Kilimnik sought to promote the narrative that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. In 2018, Kilimnik was indicted on charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice regarding unregistered lobbying work. Kilimnik has also sought to assist designated former President of Ukraine Viktor Yanukovych. At Yanukovych’s direction, Kilimnik sought to institute a plan that would return Yanukovych to power in Ukraine.

Kilimnik was designated pursuant to E.O. 13848 for having engaged in foreign interference in the U.S. 2020 presidential election. Kilimnik was also designated pursuant to E.O. 13660 for acting for or on behalf of Yanukovych. Yanukovych, who is currently hiding in exile in Russia, was designated in 2014 pursuant to E.O. 13660 for his role in violating Ukrainian sovereignty. [my emphasis]

We also know, from the Charles McGonigal sentencing materials, that by 2017, the Intelligence Community had judged Oleg Deripaska to be “associated” with a Russian intelligence agency, too.

Among other things, in May 2017, McGonigal received a then-classified email stating that Deripaska was associated with a Russian intelligence agency, and possibly involved in that agency’s coup attempt in another country. (PSR ¶ 19).

By context, the agency must be GRU and the attempted coup must be Montenegro, a country implicated in McGonigal’s other prosecution — one where Manafort had an extensive history with Deripaska and one mentioned in Andrew Weissmann’s Team M report.

Donald Trump is considering hiring the former business partner of two alleged Russian spies, admitted money launderer Paul Manafort, to help with fundraising.

Way back in 2021, Avril Haines committed to declassifying parts of the SSCI Report that remained then, and still remain, redacted. It’s time to unseal those details describing why the spooks were so convinced that Kilimnik was, himself, a Russian spy.

Related posts

Deza: Oleg Deripaska’s Double Game

The Ongoing Investigation into Paul Manafort’s Handlers

Four Stories about Paul Manafort from Andrew Weissmann’s Team M

Paul Manafort Remains a Bigger Scandal than Hunter Biden

 

But Her Emails: How Trump Trained the GOP to Hate Rule of Law 1

Note: I haven’t quite finished spinning my Ball of Thread out of which I will explain how Trump trained the GOP to hate rule of law. But for a number of reasons — this great Heather Cox Richardson piece marking the Maidan anniversary and Paul Manafort’s role in it, the arrest of Alexander Smirnov in conjunction with a 2020 attempt, assisted by Bill Barr, to frame Joe Biden, and the heightened urgency of the fate of Ukraine — I thought I’d publish this now.

In an alternate reality, the final report laying out how Trump knowingly requested and accepted help — help he may have denied, but which did come from Russia — to win the 2016 election might have started with a nod to these exhibits, submitted in conjunction with Paul Manafort’s guilty plea on September 14, 2018.

The criminal information and exhibits describe Manafort’s efforts to help Viktor Yanukovych neutralize his pro-Western female opponent, Yulia Tymoshenko, first by prosecuting her for corruption, then by launching an increasingly complex transnational influence operation to “plant some stink on Tymo” to justify the prosecution. The exhibits describe how Manafort tried to spin a Skadden Arps report finding that Tymoshenko’s criminal intent “is almost non-existent,” and then how Manafort criminally covered up that effort at spin. There’s even a passage describing how Manafort manufactured a claim that Tymoshenko was antisemitic by getting an Israeli to make a statement to the NYPost.

“Bada bing bada boom,” Manafort bragged about his success in manufacturing a fake election scandal.

It was all an effort, Manafort described, to claim Ukraine was building a “‘rule of law’ democracy” so the EU and US would ignore Yanukovich’s human rights violations.

In that same alternate reality, Manafort would have honored his plea deal, and in the days following Manafort’s September 14 plea, he would have elaborated on the things he told prosecutors in the days leading up to it and some others they likely wanted to know. He might have explained how his Ukrainian backers and probably Konstantin Kilimnik — who a number of people, but not Manafort, admitted might be a Russian spy — seemed to know by December 2015 that Manafort would run Donald Trump’s campaign. Manafort might have revealed more about his meeting with Kilimnik on August 2, 2016, at which he reviewed polling that showed the key to winning was driving up Hillary’s negatives; Manafort might also have explained the relationship between that election discussion and two other topics discussed that night: how he would get paid millions and Kilimnik’s plan to carve up Ukraine for Russia’s benefit. If Manafort had fulfilled his plea deal, he might have explained what his long-time friend Roger Stone pitched to him on August 3, the day after that secret cigar bar meeting, as a way to “save Trump’s ass.”

He might have said more than he otherwise did about how Stone learned, within a few weeks after that August 3 conversation, that WikiLeaks would be dropping emails stolen from John Podesta that would show, Stone hoped, that Hillary’s campaign manager had the same kind of Russian exposures that Manafort did.

Manafort would be vindicated because he had to leave the campaign for being too pro-Russian, and this would show that Podesta also had links to Russia and would have to leave.

None of that happened.

Manafort seems to have decided — perhaps after a conversation his attorney had with Rudy Giuliani around the same day he flipped — to string out Mueller’s prosecutors until after the midterms. After the election Trump fired Jeff Sessions and ultimately replaced him with someone who would shut down the investigation and see to it that Manafort’s imprisonment remained comfortable, and not just comfortable, but amenable to further collusion with Rudy on schemes that would frame Hunter Biden for tax and influence peddling crimes in Ukraine, until such time as Trump could pardon his former campaign manager for tax and influence peddling crimes in Ukraine.

In this alternate reality, then, the story of how Trump taught Republicans to hate rule of law might start with a story of how his campaign manager had spun corruption as rule of law in the past, in Ukraine, and how the 2016 election did something similar in the US.

But then, Republicans didn’t need Paul Manafort’s help to demonize Hillary Clinton. That had been a core focus of the Republican party since her spouse’s presidency. That unrelenting focus on criminalizing the Clintons (and via that narrative, dehumanizing Democrats, thereby heightening polarization) had been nourished over three decades in an increasingly airtight Fox News bubble, one newly challenged by even sloppier, more radical propaganda outlets.

In the years before the election contest with Trump, the right wing propaganda machine manufactured two criminal investigations into Hillary to “plant some stink” on her.

In January 2016 — fifteen years after DOJ first investigated the Clinton Foundation  — three different FBI offices opened investigations into the Clinton Foundation based entirely or substantially on Peter Schweizer’s Clinton Cash. Notably. At least one of the FBI agents handling an informant on that investigation was affirmatively pro-Trump. “I saw a lot of scared MFers on … [my way to work] this morning,” one gloated the day after the election. “Start looking for new jobs fellas. Haha.” As NYT first reported, that investigation remained open until after Trump left office.

And by the time Manafort joined Trump’s campaign in March 2016, House Republicans were three years into their endless Benghazi investigations. After years of pushing, that had morphed into the investigation into Hillary’s private server, which would merge right into the public and private pursuit of Hillary’s deleted emails. “Russia, if you’re listening,” Trump begged a hostile country to find those deleted emails for him, even as his ascendant National Security Advisor worked with a Senate staffer to find out of hostile powers had gotten copies.

Details of both investigations into Hillary leaked, with a slew of stories (one, two, three) fed through Devlin Barrett (then still at WSJ) in the days before the election.

Of course it was Jim Comey who did the real damage, first by usurping DOJ’s authority to issue a prosecutorial decision and then planting some stink on Hillary while doing so. That led to a series of congressional hearings, and ultimately to the reopening of the investigation, predictably leaking days before the election.

Among the many but-fors that decided that election, Comey’s actions were easily the most important. Comey did this — made repeated attempts to stave off claims of partisanship — in a naive bid he could convince the hoards chanting “Lock her up!” of the legitimacy of the decision not to charge.

We’ll never know, but that effort, the orchestrated campaign to criminalize Hillary followed by a ham-handed effort to convince right wingers of the legitimacy of a considered prosecutorial decision, by itself, may have been enough to carry Trump to victory.

This, then, was the raw material Russia exploited in 2016 — stoking both sides of a deep partisan divide fueled by two decades of a propaganda focused on criminalizing Hillary Clinton.

The Republicans proved in that election (or reconfirmed the Whitewater test) that if only they repeated allegations often enough, loudly enough, preferably over and over again in Congress, eventually some criminal investigation would result, a criminal investigation that Republicans could then amplify.

The Republicans came to that election with an unshakeable belief that Hillary was a criminal and if DOJ said she wasn’t, there must be something wrong with DOJ, not any shortcomings in the evidentiary case.

And then Russia dropped a match on that already flaming bonfire.

How One New Hampshire Voter and One Politico Journalist Refused to Hold “a Pig … a Womanizer … [an] Arrogant Asshole” Accountable

Politico has an interesting profile of a two-time Obama voter, who will today become a three-time Trump voter, New Hampshire voter Ted Johnson.

It demonstrates that Johnson is driven by the very same false beliefs that Scott Perry is, which I laid out here.

Johnson admits that Trump is a pig. He even admits some concern about Trump’s stolen documents — before he parrots the false claims he learned on Fox News about that investigation.

And the Mar-a-Lago classified documents case in Florida? It’s the one that gives Johnson a modicum of pause. “You don’t f— around with classified material. Whoever advised him he could have that — he should have gave that s— up,” he said. “But he was being the stubborn, arrogant person that he is.” And he added, “I didn’t like the way the FBI did it. The raid was ridiculous. And that just emboldened me.”

But nevertheless Johnson will vote for the pig … womanizer … arrogant asshole today because he believes that Trump will bring accountability.

“And trust me, the guy’s a pig, he’s a womanizer — arrogant a—–e,” Johnson said of Trump. “But I need somebody that’s going to go in and lead, and I need somebody that’s going to take care of the average guy.”

“But is taking care of the average guy and breaking the system the same thing?” I said.

“Yes,” he said. “Because they’re all in it for themselves.”

“And if you break the system, what does that look like?”

“Accountability,” he said.

Go read it. It’s precisely the dynamic that I’m preparing to write about: how Trump trained people like Scott Perry and Ted Johnson to hate rule of law while calling that disdain for rule of law “accountability.”

But while you’re reading it, watch journalist Michael Kruse’s own blindspot. For much of the article, Kruse lets Johnson babble on, voicing his false beliefs about Trump’s legal woes.

Kruse largely lets Johnson spout those false beliefs unchallenged. But he pushes back when Johnson raises Hunter Biden.

Sort of.

Johnson started talking about “Russia-gate” and “Biden’s scandals” and Hunter Biden. What, I wondered, did Hunter Biden have to do with Nikki Haley? “She’s not going to hold anybody accountable for what they’ve done,” Johnson told me. “People need to be held accountable. That’s why you’ve got to break the system to fix the system,” he said. “Because it’s a zero-sum game right now. And to be honest with you, the Democrats are genius. They did anything they could do to win and gain power, even if they lie, cheat, steal. … What they’re doing is they’re destroying the country. Who could bring it back?” He answered his own question: “Trump’s the only one.” [my emphasis]

Rather than contest Johnson’s premise that Joe Biden has scandals, Kruse instead challenges Johnson as to what Hunter has to do with Nikki Haley.

Then later in the story, Kruse himself raises Hunter Biden as the counterpart of accountability to Trump.

“Accountability is accountability. But they’re throwing so much stuff at this guy, and it’s almost like I’m rooting for him,” he told me. “This is a whole system of government going after one man who, probably, I bet, right now, 85 million people want to be president.”

“But accountability is accountability,” I said.

“Accountability is accountability,” he said.

“Whether it’s Hunter Biden or Donald Trump,” I said.

“But do I trust the system?” he said. “I don’t.”

Kruse himself, who has actually been pretty sympathetic to Joe Biden in the past, likens the President’s son’s alleged crimes to Trump’s coup attempt.

Now, perhaps Kruse allowed Johnson to make all these false claims uncontested simply to let him talk. It’s a useful interview. I shouldn’t gripe.

But adopting Hunter Biden as the counterpart of accountability for Trump is itself a false claim. It’s why I spend so much time calling out shoddy dick pic sniffing stenography.

The record shows that even if everything Republicans allege about Hunter Biden were true (and at this point, DOJ has let statutes of limitation on FARA crimes expire without charges, so it seems that in going-on-six-years of looking, DOJ never substantiated FARA crimes), his actions still wouldn’t come close to those of Paul Manafort, whom Trump pardoned with nary a whisper.

Perhaps a better response to Johnson’s complaints about Hunter Biden would be a question about Trump’s decision to pardon Manafort for doing far worse? How is that accountability? Manafort is the quintessential sleazy insider and he gets a pass.

Plus, the record shows that Trump’s crimes are not a mirror of Hunter’s; rather, Trump’s crimes cannot be dissociated from the charges against Hunter.

The record shows that Trump started pushing Rudy Giuliani and Lev Parnas to gin up an investigation into Hunter Biden no later than December 2018, at such time as Joseph Ziegler was struggling to come up with some excuse to turn non-payment of taxes into a criminal case.

The record according to Johnathan Buma shows that before DOJ opened a grand jury investigation into Hunter Biden, FBI agents on the investigation enthusiastically accepted dirt on Hunter Biden from two Ukrainians that Buma would acknowledge were part of an influence operation.

The record shows that four days after Joe Biden announced he was running for President, DOJ decided the grand jury investigation into Hunter Biden would be in Delaware, where Joe might one day become a target, rather than Washington DC or Los Angeles, where any tax crimes would have happened. Ziegler first claimed, then backed off a claim, that Bill Barr made this decision personally.

The record shows that the first IRS supervisor on this case documented what he viewed to be problems with the predication of it and ongoing political influence into it.

The record shows that Donald Trump extorted Volodymyr Zelenskyy in an attempt to get an investigation into Hunter  Biden and his father. In that same conversation, he asked Zelenskyy to work with both his personal attorney and with Bill Barr to gin up such an investigation.

The record according to Chuck Grassley shows that even while Trump was claiming to care about Burisma corruption, his DOJ shut down an investigation into Mykola Zlochevsky, one that had been opened while Joe Biden was Vice President and Hunter was on the board of Burisma. Grassley says DOJ shut that investigation down in December 2019.

The record shows that the day after DOJ obtained a warrant to access a laptop obtained from John Paul Mac Isaac, Barr’s chief of staff texted him to say, “laptop on way to you.”

The record shows that days later, Bill Barr set up a dedicated channel by which Rudy Giuliani could share dirt he had obtained, including from a known Russian spy and almost certainly from Burisma, such that it could be laundered into the investigation into Hunter Biden.

The record shows that that process resulted in DOJ obtaining an informant report describing a conversation with Zlochevsky. Remarkably, the FBI neglected to write down what date that conversation happened even though that’s how they validated that it did occur, but it almost certainly dates to the period when DOJ was shutting down an investigation into Zlochevsky. The informant report recorded a claim of bribery of Joe Biden that conflicted with claims Zlochevsky had made just months earlier, when DOJ was (per Chuck Grassley) still investigating him.

The record shows that FBI made Steve Bannon associate Peter Schweizer an informant so he could pitch Hunter Biden dirt leading up to the 2020 election.

The record shows that Trump bitched Bill Barr out about the Hunter Biden investigation shortly after the October 14, 2020 NYPost story on the hard drive from Hunter Biden. Days later, Richard Donoghue ordered the Hunter Biden investigators to accept a briefing about that bribery allegation.

The record shows that, shortly before David Weiss used the FD-1023 obtained during the course of Scott Brady’s effort to launder dirt into the Hunter Biden investigation to justify reneging on the plea deal he had agreed to, Bill Barr described being personally involved in the handling of it.

The record shows that, the day after Trump hosted Tony Bobulinski at a Presidential debate, Bobulinski told the FBI things that conflict with his own communications.

The record according to Cassidy Hutchinson shows that shortly after that Bobulinski interview with the FBI, he had a secret meeting with Mark Meadows at which Trump’s Chief of Staff handed Bobulinski something that might be an envelope.

The record shows that, in the same call where Trump threatened to replace Jeffrey Rosen if he didn’t start endorsing Trump’s claims of voter fraud, he also criticized the handling of the Hunter Biden case.

The record shows that Trump repeatedly, publicly, demanded criminal charges against Hunter Biden, including in the January 6 speech that set off an insurrection.

The record shows that when Trump first learned he’d be indicted, he raised pressure on the Hunter Biden investigation.

The record shows that on the day Hunter’s plea deal was released, Trump complained three times, twice suggesting Joe Biden was implicated in this plea deal.

“Wow! The corrupt Biden DOJ just cleared up hundreds of years of criminal liability by giving Hunter Biden a mere ‘traffic ticket.’ Our system is BROKEN!

“A ‘SWEETHEART’ DEAL FOR HUNTER (AND JOE), AS THEY CONTINUE THEIR QUEST TO ‘GET’ TRUMP, JOE’S POLITICAL OPPONENT. WE ARE NOW A THIRD WORLD COUNTRY!”

“The Hunter/Joe Biden settlement is a massive COVERUP & FULL SCALE ELECTION INTERFERENCE ‘SCAM’ THE LIKES OF WHICH HAS NEVER BEEN SEEN IN OUR COUNTRY BEFORE. A ‘TRAFFIC TICKET,’ & JOE IS ALL CLEANED UP & READY TO GO INTO THE 2024 PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION. . . .”

The record shows that, among the other complaints and false claims Trump made about Hunter’s prosecution, one targeted David Weiss and demanded a death sentence.

Weiss is a COWARD, a smaller version of Bill Barr, who never had the courage to do what everyone knows should have been done. He gave out a traffic ticket instead of a death sentence. . . .

The record shows that when Trump attacks people on social media, they get threats, often so bad as to uproot their entire lives.

The record also shows that former President Trump’s words have real-world consequences. Many of those on the receiving end of his attacks pertaining to the 2020 election have been subjected to a torrent of threats and intimidation from his supporters. A day after Mr. Trump’s “IF YOU GO AFTER ME, I’M COMING AFTER YOU!” post, someone called the district court and said: “Hey you stupid slave n[****]r[.] * * * If Trump doesn’t get elected in 2024, we are coming to kill you, so tread lightly b[***]h. * * * You will be targeted personally, publicly, your family, all of it.” Special Counsel Br. 5; see United States v. Shry, No. 4:23-cr-413, ECF 1 at 3 (Criminal Complaint) (S.D. Tex. Aug. 11, 2023). The Special Counsel also has advised that he has received threats, and that a prosecutor in the Special Counsel’s office whom Mr. Trump has singled out for criticism has been “subject to intimidating communications.” Special Counsel Mot. 12.

The record shows that investigators in the Hunter Biden case were, just like prosecutors on Trump’s own cases, threatened in response to manufactured political outrage. That includes David Weiss himself. Here’s how former AUSA Lesley Wolf described those threats.

My desire to serve my community and my country, such a great source of pride, has recently come at significant cost. As a private person, the once routine and mundane details of my life have become the subject of public interest in an invasive and disturbing manner. Far worse, I’ve been threatened and harassed, causing me to fear for my own and my family’s safety.

I mentioned earlier that I recently left the U.S. Attorney’s Office. My decision to do so long predated and was unconnected to the baseless allegations made against me. In fact, I agreed to stay with the office months longer than planned because of my belief that my family and I were safer while I remained an AUSA.

I have no doubt that after today the threats of harassment and my own fear stemming from them will heighten. This not only scares me, but as someone who loves this country, it also breaks my heart.

We are living in a day and age where politics and winning seem to be paramount, and the truth has become collateral damage.

In short, the record shows that Trump was always a part of the Hunter Biden investigation.

I think the record is pretty clear that Hunter Biden owned a gun for 11 days during the worst days of his addiction. The record is pretty clear that as he tried to rebuild his life, it took several years to straighten out his taxes — but less time than it took Roger Stone to straighten out his taxes, even while the rat-fucker was using a shell company to shield his funds from the IRS.

But the story of Hunter Biden’s alleged crimes — the things that Michael Kruse seems to think mirror Trump’s 91 felony charges — is a story that cannot be told (or should not, were journalism engaged in a responsible pursuit), without also telling the story of Trump’s extortion, Rudy’s consorting with Russian spies, Bill Barr’s hijacking of DOJ for partisan purpose, Bobulinski’s seemingly inconsistent story and whatever role the secret meeting with Meadows had in that story, and Trump eliciting dangerous threats against every participant in the legal system who does not bow to his will, including on this case.

I get that journalists believe that the story of Hunter Biden is a story of DOJ holding Biden’s family member accountable for what they gleefully report are real crimes.

But it is, no less than that, a story of Trump crimes, including, possibly, under two statutes that prohibit this kind of pressure explicitly, 26 USC 7217 and 26 USC 7212. The story of Hunter Biden’s prosecution is the story of Trump’s successful going-on-six-year effort to hijack rule of law to target Joe Biden, an effort that builds on years of similar conduct targeting Hillary Clinton.

I’m grateful that Kruse has depicted Johnson’s nonsensical beliefs in all their absurdity. It’s an absolutely critical step in underestanding how Trump taught Republicans to hate rule of law.

But another step is in unpacking how journalists have come to reflexively equate Hunter Biden with Donald Trump, how journalists have come to simply ignore the five years of corruption that Trump and his lawyers engaged in to get us here, how journalists are not remotely curious about details in the public record about this case.

The reflexive equation of Hunter Biden with the President who targeted him for over five years is an equation every bit as manufactured by Donald Trump as Ted Johnson’s pathetic belief that Trump brings accountability rather than the opposite.

NYT Covers Up the Still-Ongoing Trump-Russian Effort to Frame Joe Biden

The reason I have so little patience for NYT’s decision to dedicate the resources of three senior reporters to warn about the dangers of a second Trump term is not that I disagree about the second term. They’re right that it would be far worse.

It’s that the same reporters continue to downplay Trump’s past corruption — some of which Maggie Haberman specifically enabled — and outright ignore the ongoing effects of it.

Imagine how much healthier American democracy would be if the NYT dedicated just half of the time and space that went into the eight, often repetitive stories on this topic to instead lay out how the ongoing effort to impeach Biden is a continuation of Trump’s efforts, made with the assistance of men now deemed to be Russian spies by both the US and Ukraine, to frame Joe Biden?

  1. December 4: Why a Second Trump Presidency May Be More Radical Than His First
  2. November 15/December 2: How Trump and His Allies Plan to Wield Power in 2025
  3. November 11: Sweeping Raids, Giant Camps and Mass Deportations: Inside Trump’s 2025 Immigration Plans
  4. November 1: Some of the Lawyers Who May Fill a Second Trump Administration
  5. October 31: If Trump Wins, His Allies Want Lawyers Who Will Bless a More Radical Agenda
  6. July 17: Trump and Allies Forge Plans to Increase Presidential Power in 2025
  7. June 21: Few of Trump’s G.O.P. Rivals Defend Justice Dept. Independence
  8. June 15: The Radical Strategy Behind Trump’s Promise to ‘Go After’ Biden

NYT appears not to have assigned a single reporter to chase down the following allegations that have come out of the GOP impeachment effort:

  • Bill Barr’s DOJ shut down a corruption investigation into Mykola Zlochevsky — which had been opened in January 2016, while Biden was VP and Hunter was on the board of Burisma — in December 2019, right in the middle of an impeachment defense claiming to prioritize the investigation of Burisma’s corruption.
  • Days later, Barr set up a rickety effort to ingest the dirt Rudy Giuliani had obtained, including from known Russian agent Andrii Derkach and possibly from Burisma itself, without being forced to prosecute Rudy for soliciting dirt from known Russian agents. One of several details we’ve learned since NYT’s superb past reporting on this effort (besides that Scott Brady’s testimony completely conflicts with that past NYT report), is that Brady mined information from the newly closed Zlochevsky investigation to obtain an FD-1023 recording Zlochevksy making new claims about Joe Biden around the same time in 2019 as Barr shut down the investigation into Zlochevsky, claims that were utterly inconsistent with what he had said months earlier.
  • Hunter Biden’s lawyer claims, backed by newly disclosed communications, that Tony Bobulinski falsely told the FBI on October 23, 2020 that he had personally attended a February 2017 meeting at which he saw CEFC’s Chair hand Hunter Biden an enormous diamond. That meeting with the FBI took place one day after attending the October 22, 2020 debate with Donald Trump. Weeks later, according to Cassidy Hutchinson, Bobulinski and Mark Meadows had a covert meeting at a campaign stop; she claims she saw Trump’s chief of staff hand Bobulinski, “what appeared to be a folded sheet of paper or a small envelope.”
  • Separately, Hunter Biden partner Rob Walker described the concerns he and Hunter had about Bobulinski’s business ties to Russians, possibly including Viktor Vekselberg.
  • In addition to the informant report on Zlochevsky’s changed claims about Biden, there were three other dodgy informant reports shared with the Hunter Biden team: from two Ukrainians that seem tied to the Rudy effort, from Gal Luft at meetings where — he has since been accused — he lied about his ties to CEFC, and from Bannon associate Peter Schweizer (the latter of which this important NYT story on Tim Thibault did address).
  • Throughout this period, the IRS supervisor on the investigation documented repeated examples of improper influence on the investigation. In a recent subpoena request, Hunter’s attorney noted that Trump’s improper effort to influence the investigation continues to this day.

In short, basic reporting on Republican efforts to impeach Biden show that it, along with key parts (though not necessarily all) of the investigation into Hunter Biden, are simply a continuation of an effort Trump started in 2018 to frame Joe Biden. That is an effort that involved people that both the US and Ukraine have labeled as Russian spies.

Aside from some key articles (linked above), NYT has covered none of this.

Instead, NYT claims the exact opposite. It claims that the effort to gin up a criminal investigation into Joe Biden didn’t succeed.

And neither effort for which he was impeached succeeded. Mr. Trump tried to coerce Ukraine into opening a criminal investigation into Mr. Biden by withholding military aid, but it did not cooperate.

It’s right there, the full-time pursuit of three different House committees, ongoing, with an FD-1023 about Zlochevsky’s changed claims about Biden and Bobulinksi’s FBI report that seems to have close ties to Trump (in which Bobulinski was represented by a known Maggie Haberman source).

NYT tells you the first term wasn’t that bad, because Trump’s efforts failed. Yet what failed was NYT’s reporting on ongoing events.

NYT tells this fairy tale even as they continue to whitewash Bill Barr’s efforts. In a recent 4,000-word story, in which they claimed that the commutation of Jonathan Braun’s sentence “stood out” more than the pre-trial pardon of Steve Bannon issued the same day, NYT gives Barr two paragraphs to claim he tried to clean up pardons.

William P. Barr, a Trump attorney general who had left by the time of the Braun commutation, said when he took over the Justice Department he discovered that “there were pardons being given without any vetting by the department.”

Mr. Barr added that he told Trump aides they should at least send over names of those being considered so the department could thoroughly examine their records. While the White House Counsel’s Office tried to do so, the effort fell apart under the crush of pardon requests that poured in during the final weeks before Mr. Trump left office, according to people with direct knowledge of the process.

It is true that of the eight pardons given before he arrived, there were some doozies, including Joe Arpaio, Dinesh D’Souza, Scooter Libby, and the ranchers whose arson cases sparked the Malheur occupation.

But Barr was utterly complicit in the most abusive pardons Trump gave. Less than two months after he was confirmed based off repeated assurances that giving a pardon in exchange for false testimony was obstruction, Bill Barr wrote a memo declining to prosecute a crime in process, the effort to use pardons to ensure that Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, Mike Flynn, and others continued to lie to cover up Trump’s ties to Russia in the 2016 campaign. The Barr memo did not once mention pardons, even though that was a key thrust of the second volume of the Mueller Report (something Charlie Savage has also noted).

Of course, NYT joins Barr in that complicity. This story finally mentions one of those pardons in its discussion of Trump’s abuse.

His lawyers floated a pardon at his campaign chairman, whom Mr. Trump praised for not “flipping” as prosecutors tried unsuccessfully to get him to cooperate as a witness in the Russia inquiry; Mr. Trump later did pardon him.

But it does not mention that Manafort specifically lied about why he briefed Konstantin Kilimnik campaign information, an act that the Intelligence Community later stated as fact resulted in the sharing of campaign information with Russian intelligence. This is a topic about which NYT has a still uncorrected story, hiding the tie to Oleg Deripaska.

It’s not that Trump pardoned Manafort for “not flipping.” It’s that he pardoned Manafort after he lied about why the campaign manager shared information that Russian spies could use in their attack on US democracy.

And the very link NYT relies on here mentions the Stone pardon, a commutation and then pardon that halted a still ongoing CFAA conspiracy investigation between Trump’s rat-fucker and the Russians (another detail NYT has never reported).

Yes, I absolutely agree. A second Trump term would be worse.

But repeating that, over and over, even while misinforming readers about the ongoing five year effort to frame Joe Biden is not the best way to prevent a second term.

Trump’s People: The Prettyman Pardons

As we wait for Trump to be arraigned in Prettyman Courthouse, I thought it worthwhile to list the 16 men who were prosecuted in Prettyman Courthouse that Trump pardoned, and their crimes:

  1. Scooter Libby: Obstruction of justice and perjury
  2. David Safavian: Obstruction of justice and false statements
  3. Mike Flynn: False statements
  4. Alex Van Der Zwaan: False statements
  5. George Papadopoulos: False statements
  6. Paul Slough, Manslaughter (Blackwater Nisour Square)
  7. Nicholas Slatten: Murder (Blackwater Nisour Square)
  8. Evan Liberty: Manslaughter (Blackwater Nisour Square)
  9. Dustin Laurent Heard: Manslaughter (Blackwater Nisour Square)
  10. Roger Stone: Obstruction of a proceeding, false statements, witness tampering
  11. Paul Manafort: Conspiracy to defraud the US (money laundering and FARA), conspiracy to obstruct (witness tampering)
  12. Robert Coughlin: Conflict of interest
  13. Todd Boulanger: Wire fraud
  14. Elliot Broidy: Conspiracy to violate FARA
  15. Douglas Jemal, Wire fraud
  16. Aviem Sella, Espionage

Four of these men lied to cover up Trump’s own Russian ties; a fifth, the son-in-law of Alfa Bank oligarch German Khan, Alex Van Der Zwaan, lied to cover up Manafort’s past Ukraine graft. A sixth, Elliot Broidy, did fundraising for Trump.

These are Trump’s people.

A lot of Republicans are wailing that Trump shouldn’t be prosecuted in DC. Marsha Blackburn is arguing that Trump should be treated differently than her constituents Lisa Eisenhart and Eric Munchel, who were prosecuted for conspiracy to obstruct the vote count, just like Trump is facing. Tim Scott is arguing that Trump should be treated differently than his constituent George Tenney, who was prosecuted for obstructing the vote count, just like Trump is facing.

But if anything, it is more appropriate to prosecute Trump in DC than Munchel (Zip Tie Guy) and Tenney (who opened the East Door of the Capitol). After all, he was a resident of DC when his alleged crimes were committed.

More importantly, even just the list of those he pardoned make it clear that Prettyman felons are his kind of people. Donald Trump is precisely where he belongs today.