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Trump Bitched Out McConnell about Not Protecting Him in Russia Probe on Day Manafort Raid Story Broke

Donald Trump continues his habit of alienating people he needs to help him survive his presidency. The NYT provides details of the souring relationship between Trump and Mitch McConnell, which it says culminated in an August 9 phone call.

In a series of tweets this month, Mr. Trump criticized Mr. McConnell publicly, then berated him in a phone call that quickly devolved into a profane shouting match.

During the call, which Mr. Trump initiated on Aug. 9 from his New Jersey golf club, the president accused Mr. McConnell of bungling the health care issue. He was even more animated about what he intimated was the Senate leader’s refusal to protect him from investigations of Russian interference in the 2016 election, according to Republicans briefed on the conversation.

Mr. McConnell has fumed over Mr. Trump’s regular threats against fellow Republicans and criticism of Senate rules, and questioned Mr. Trump’s understanding of the presidency in a public speech. Mr. McConnell has made sharper comments in private, describing Mr. Trump as entirely unwilling to learn the basics of governing.

In offhand remarks, Mr. McConnell has expressed a sense of bewilderment about where Mr. Trump’s presidency may be headed, and has mused about whether Mr. Trump will be in a position to lead the Republican Party into next year’s elections and beyond, according to people who have spoken to him directly.

In point of fact, the tweets started on August 9 (about 2:25PM) and continued through the next morning. Both the tweet described as occurring before and the one occurring after the phone call reference only the TrumpCare debacle, not the Russian investigation.

According to the NYT, Trump was “even more animated” about McConnell’s “refusal” to protect him from Russian investigations.

August 9 was the day the WaPo first broke (around 10:00AMthe story of the July 26 raid on Paul Manafort’s home. The raid itself, of course, was conducted by the FBI. But all the stories about it include allusions about the fact that it came after Manafort’s interview with the Senate Intelligence Committee and immediately after Manafort reluctantly agreed to cooperate with the Senate Judiciary Committee on threat of subpoena; Manafort had tried and failed to limit his appearance to SSCI.

Now go back to the language the NYT uses. “Refusal” to protect Trump.  That’s sure an interesting word, “refusal.” Did Trump contact McConnell about the subpoena to Manafort back on July 25? Or did McConnell refuse some other tangible request from Trump? If so does Robert Mueller know about it?

In response to reports on the raid, Trump lawyer John Dowd made all sorts of crazy comments to the press about how FBI had acted improperly because they hadn’t exhausted all options for obtaining the materials seized on July 26. Even Fox News said Dowd was trying to protect the President with his comments. And some of the reporting noted that among the seized documents were Manafort’s notes for his interview with SSCI.

That is, all the reporting on the raid intimated that it had as much to do with the Congressional testimony as Mueller’s own investigation.

And sometime that day, Trump called McConnell and complained the Majority Leader wasn’t providing him sufficient protection. Refused to protect him, in fact.

In any case, Trump’s attacks have gotten the thin-skinned McConnell wondering “whether Mr. Trump will be in a position to lead the Republican Party into next year’s elections and beyond,” which sure seems like a bad opinion for Trump to have fostered given that McConnell would have a big influence on how any impeachment trial would proceed if it ever got to the Senate.

Update: Coverage of the Glenn Simpson (head of Fusion GPS, which did the Steele dossier) interview with SJC makes clear that his was the first voluntary testimony, meaning Manafort (and Don Jr) have not sat for an interview yet.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

In Bid to Help Trump, John Dowd Suggests Manafort Raid Could Do Real Damage to the President

This Bloomberg piece suggesting, improbably, Trump’s legal team will some day catch up to match the quality of Robert Mueller’s team, describes Trump’s lawyers — especially John Dowd — coordinating with lawyers for other witnesses in the inquiry, including those of Paul Manafort and Mike Flynn.

For the moment, Trump’s personal lawyers are focused on coordinating with lawyers for the Trump campaign and the Trump Organization, as well as for individuals involved in the investigation such as Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn. Dowd also spends time communicating with Mueller—the two have known each other for years, says the person familiar with Trump’s legal strategy.

It also confirms that Dowd has been chatting regularly with Mueller, though doesn’t reveal — as the USA Today did — that those chats include passing on messages from the President.

“He appreciates what Bob Mueller is doing,” Trump’s chief counsel John Dowd told USA TODAY in an interview Tuesday. “He asked me to share that with him and that’s what I’ve done.”

Trump’s legal team has been in contact with Mueller’s office, and Dowd says he has passed along the president’s messages expressing “appreciation and greetings’’ to the special counsel.

“The president has sent messages back and forth,’’ Dowd said, declining to elaborate further.

All of which is useful background for this Fox News piece, which quotes from a letter Dowd sent to a WSJ reporter, complaining about the raid on Paul Manafort. Dowd’s chief concern is that Mueller allegedly didn’t exhaust other methods to obtain the materials seized in the raid.

The email reflects Trump’s legal team moving to protect the president, amid speculation that the raid could be part of a broader effort to squeeze Manafort for information on Trump.

Dowd, in his note, questioned the validity of the search warrant itself, calling it an “extraordinary invasion of privacy.” Dowd said Manafort already was looking to cooperate with congressional committees and said the special counsel never requested the materials from Manafort.

“These failures by Special Counsel to exhaust less intrusive methods is a fatal flaw in the warrant process and would call for a Motion to Suppress the fruits of the search,” Dowd wrote, arguing the required “necessity” of the warrant was “misrepresented to the Court which raises a host of issues involving the accuracy of the warrant application and the supporting FBI affidavit.”

Even assuming what Dowd claims is true (though given the reports that FBI seized financial records not known to have been requested by Congress, that’s doubtful), what does it say that Dowd knows so much about this raid and Manafort’s efforts to comply with all requests? What does it say that Fox presents Dowd’s email as “Trump’s legal team moving to protect the president”?

What is it about an investigation into Manafort’s corruption — and, yes, that June 9, 2016 meeting that Manafort attended, about which Trump dictated a response making false claims — that personally damages the President? I mean, sure, it is Fox claiming Dowd’s complaints protect Trump, not Dowd. But the panicked response here seems to hurt Trump, not help him. (And if you haven’t already, read Rayne’s point about Trump’s mid-twitter rant pause.)

But I am interested in this tidbit, claiming that the FBI seized materials Manafort was using to cooperate with Congressional investigators (and his testimony the day before and day of the raid.

Dowd also said agents seized “privileged and confidential materials prepared for Mr. Manafort by his counsel to aid him in his cooperation with the Congressional committees,”

This might explain the raid, as well as reporting from numerous outlets that suggested a connection with Manafort’s testimony to Congress. Manafort had materials that were timely, useful for the day before and day after, but which he might (rightly?) claim attorney-client privilege over were Mueller to subpoena them. Did staffers see something sketchy on July 25 and alert Mueller?

I actually am somewhat interested if this raid was used to get Manafort’s notes used to testify to Congress.

But given John Dowd’s panic in response — and all the reporting that he has consulted with Manafort’s lawyers — I’m really curious whether it is Dowd’s advice that Mueller was most interested in seeing.

Update: Just so it’s here, I wanted to show what happened with Manafort’s testimony on Tuesday, July 25. He had been asked to testify at a hearing that kept getting rescheduled (as much because of Fusion GPS CEO Glenn Simpson’s reluctance to testify as Manafort’s). On Monday, July 24 (“last night” in a July 25 release), Grassley and Feinstein issued a subpoena for Manafort in particular complaining that Manafort wanted to appear before just one committee.

While we were willing to accommodate Mr. Manafort’s request to cooperate with the committee’s investigation without appearing at Wednesday’s hearing, we were unable to reach an agreement for a voluntary transcribed interview with the Judiciary Committee.  Mr. Manafort, through his attorney, said that he would be willing to provide only a single transcribed interview to Congress, which would not be available to the Judiciary Committee members or staff.  While the Judiciary Committee was willing to cooperate on equal terms with any other committee to accommodate Mr. Manafort’s request, ultimately that was not possible. Therefore, yesterday evening, a subpoena was issued to compel Mr. Manafort’s participation in Wednesday’s hearing. As with other witnesses, we may be willing to excuse him from Wednesday’s hearing if he would be willing to agree to production of documents and a transcribed interview, with the understanding that the interview would not constitute a waiver of his rights or prejudice the committee’s right to compel his testimony in the future.

Later on Tuesday, Grassley and Feinstein announced that Manafort would cooperate, and started turning over documents.

Faced with issuance of a subpoena, we are happy that Mr. Manafort has started producing documents to the Committee and we have agreed to continue negotiating over a transcribed interview. It’s important that he and other witnesses continue to work with this committee as it fulfills its oversight responsibility. Our investigation is still in its early stages, and we will continue to seek information from witnesses as necessary. As we’ve said before, we intend to get the answers that we need, one way or the other. Cooperation from witnesses is always the preferred route, but this agreement does not prejudice the committee’s right to compel his testimony in the future.

This is the reluctant, last minute “cooperation” that Dowd is now pointing to as basis for his claim that Mueller could have gotten Manafort’s cooperation via other means.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

The Nine-Minute Gap [UPDATE-2]

[IMPORTANT: UPDATES AT BOTTOM]

Consider yourself warned: this won’t be a very long post.

There’s been a lot of chatter about the timing of the July 26 search warrant’s execution on Paul Manafort’s Alexandria VA residence. The Washington Post called it a “predawn raid.” Some have pooh-poohed this as hyperbole, claiming the warrant was probably executed sometime after 6:00 a.m. EDT. Sunrise happened to be 6:04 a.m. EDT that day, leaving a narrow four-minute window for both “predawn” and “daytime hours” (beginning at 6:00 a.m.) to be accurate.

Some have also noted Trump completely surprised his military leadership the same day as the raid by tweeting an unexpected ban on transgender individuals in the service.

You may also recall reports indicating members of the military sat with bated breath waiting for nine minutes between his first tweet and his next to determine if they were supposed to scramble or take other military action. That overlong ellipsis at the end of the first tweet left them wondering if they were to begin a North Korean strike.

But it wasn’t just the same day the raid and the tweets happened. Trump tweeted just as the raid must have been underway at Manafort’s house.

What happened to trigger the initial 5:55 a.m. EDT tweet of the series? We know Manafort wasn’t in contact with Trump at that time if he was still asleep when the FBI knocked on his bedroom door.

What happened in that nine minute gap between 5:55 a.m. and the 6:04 a.m. sunrise tweet containing the decisive wording about a transgender ban, while our military stood by, waiting a possible strike order?

And did any one or all of these tweets serve as a signal, not to the Department of Defense or transgender Americans an intent to change policy, but something else entirely different?

UPDATE — 12:15 a.m. EDT 10-AUG-2017 —

CNN’s Jim Sciutto confirmed the search warrant was “no-knock” — timing of the raid may have been earlier than 6:00 a.m. EDT. When did the raid begin and how long between the warrant being served and Trump’s tweets?

UPDATE — 1:30 p.m. EDT 10-AUG-2017 —

Jon Kimball says the time stamp on Trump’s tweets was PDT, not EDT.

Can somebody explain this back-and-forth timezone in tweets? The link Kimball shares to Trump’s tweet shows 8:55. The screenshot I took last night shows 6:55.

Ridiculous situation — I feel like Schroedinger’s dead/alive cat-in-a-box.

If Kimball’s right and the timestamp in my screenshot is PDT (I use EDT on my desktop, by the way), the nine-minute gap matters not. The deployment of an utterly unanticipated change in policy via tweets to distract from the raid on Paul Manafort’s residence is still absolutely relevant.

Blogger since 2002, political activist since 2003, geek since birth. Opinions informed by mixed-race, multi-ethnic, cis-female condition, further shaped by kind friends of all persuasions. Sci-tech frenemy, wannabe artist, decent cook, determined author, successful troublemaker. Mother of invention and two excessively smart-assed young adult kids. Attended School of Hard Knocks; Rather Unfortunate Smallish Private Business School in Midwest; Affordable Mid-State Community College w/evening classes. Self-employed at Tiny Consulting Business; previously at Large-ish Chemical Company with HQ in Midwest in multiple marginalizing corporate drone roles, and at Rather Big IT Service Provider as a project manager, preceded by a motley assortment of gigs before the gig economy was a thing. Blogging experience includes a personal blog at the original blogs.salon.com, managing editor for a state-based news site, and a stint at Firedoglake before landing here at emptywheel as technology’s less-virginal-but-still-accursed Cassandra.

As News of Raid Breaks, National Enquirer Discovers Manafort’s Long-Reported Mistress

I was just asking why the news of the search on Paul Manafort’s home was breaking now. Only to discover that Trump buddy David Pecker’s National Enquirer is breaking “an investigation” about Manafort’s mistress, including this quote from a “White House insider.”

President Trump has been focused on draining the swamp in Washington D.C., … Meanwhile, one of his trusted advisers was bedding another woman behind his wife’s back, betraying her and his country.

Mind you, the affair is not news. Krypt3ia first reported it, based of hack and leaked texts, back in March.

I found conversations between Manaforts daughter and someone about how her father was having an affair with a girl younger than one of his daughters.

What is even more interesting is that the allegation here is that not only was Manafort having this affair but that girl (who is named in the chats and I have backstopped and was in fact in Ukraine at the time mentioned while Manafort was there) but that of all things Paul seems to have said that she was some “Russian friends” daughter. Though the text below states they don’t really think that the girl is Russian there are more down stream that talk about her father and her family and ties to Russia (maybe) but the sick burn here is if she is, well, that is a pretty direct tie to the country that might, ya know, use that as kompromat on Pauly eh?

screenshot-from-2017-03-03-12-05-41

Even the idea that Paul may have had a young trophy mistress is enough for blackmail but the texts go on to describe her travel with him all over the world including to Ukraine while he was working there. So, if the Russians did not have access to her or had placed her in the proximity of Paul this certainly would have been information they would not have passed up on to use. So, once more, if the sql database is legit and the information presented here is on the mark, it is quite possible that Manafort was at least in this instance easily vulnerable to compromise by the Russians.

screenshot-from-2017-03-03-08-16-42

As the chats went on though, it seems that the new girl was also straining Manafort’s money because he was being extravagant with her. As you can see from above, he allegedly rented her a house in the Hamptons by his own for a summer and bought a NYC apartment for her to be in. All of this money being spent also as it happens, was concurrent with his daughters wedding coming and Ukraine not paying him for his services.

As I noted in a comment on the raid thread, this mistress is one way Manafort’s money laundering could implicate his involvement with Trump’s campaign — which is interesting why an “insider” from the White House of a serial divorcé and philanderer deems an affair to be tantamount to betraying your country, especially given that nothing in the Enquirer supports that claim. And the Enquirer, which never met privacy violations it couldn’t profit off of, is guarding the mistress’ ID.

There is, however, one detail in the Enquirer’s short screed of interest, though not precisely in the marriage-saving context in which it presents it. It reveals that as all of this was breaking, Manafort reached out to the mistress again.

“But when he was warned about the messages being leaked on the dark web, he went into damage control mode — yet foolishly reached out to his mistress again!”

Reaching out to a mistress that may or may not have ties to his Russian friends during the middle of an investigation into any coordination with Russia’s tampering in the election Manafort briefly ran sound sounds stupid, but for entirely different reasons than his marriage.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

On the Manafort Raid

This morning, the WaPo reported that Paul Manafort’s Alexandria home was searched in a pre-dawn raid on July 26.

There are several notable details about WaPo’s report.

First, as Julian Sanchez notes, it makes no mention of the fact that to get a search warrant, you have to convince a judge you’ll find evidence of a crime.

Note, too, that WaPo talked to someone who has seen the warrant, which is almost certainly otherwise still sealed.

The search warrant was wide-ranging and FBI agents working with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III departed the home with various records.

[snip]

The search warrant indicates investigators may have argued to a federal judge they had reason to believe Manafort could not be trusted to turn over all records in response to a grand jury subpoena.

Having neglected to mention the probable cause bit and reviewed the warrant, WaPo goes to some lengths to suggest the seized documents are ones Manafort would have gladly given over had Robert Mueller’s inquiry just asked nicely.

The raid came as Manafort has been voluntarily producing documents to congressional committees investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.

[snip]

The documents included materials Manafort had already provided to Congress, said people familiar with the search.

“If the FBI wanted the documents, they could just ask [Manafort] and he would have turned them over,” said one adviser close to the White House.

And it specifically points to documents pertaining to the June 9, 2016 meeting that Manafort and everyone else failed to disclose in timely fashion.

Manafort has provided documents to both the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate and House intelligence committees. The documents are said to include notes Manafort took while attending a meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in June 2016.

So the seized documents include documents Manafort turned over willingly, which in turn includes details on that June 9 meeting. But that doesn’t mean (contrary to some shitty derivative reporting on this) that the set of documents seized matches the set of documents provided to Congress. It may also include other things.

Manafort’s attorney is not the source for the story, but Manafort’s allies may be.

Josh Stueve, spokesman for Mueller, declined to comment, as did Reginald Brown, an attorney for Manafort.

[snip]

Manafort’s allies fear that Mueller hopes to build a case against Manafort unrelated to the 2016 campaign, in hopes that the former campaign operative would provide information against others in Trump’s inner circle in exchange for lessening his own legal exposure.

Now consider a detail included in the NYT version of this story but not (as far as I’ve seen) in any of the other coverage: the documents seized include tax documents and foreign banking records.

Investigators for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, recently searched a home of President Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, for tax documents and foreign banking records, according to a person briefed on the matter.

These are money laundering documents, not campaign documents.

The NYT, curiously, doesn’t report where the raid was, which suggests it was not just a response to WaPo’s reporting, which clearly identified the raid as taking place in Alexandria.

Remember: when high powered people are being investigated, the safest way they can communicate to each other is via leaks to the press. Moreover, such leaks can help spin the story away from one area (perhaps, here, away from the financial documents) and towards another (that June 9 meeting about which Manafort spoke with Congress). Given the Manafort allies’ spin that Mueller may be investigating stuff unrelated to the election campaign, it suggests this may be as much about money laundering (which FBI has been investigating for over a year) that all involved worry will be used to flip Manafort to testify about Trump.

Update: One other interesting question about this story is why it is coming out now. Why did it take two weeks for this story to come out?

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

The Leakers Get Craftier

Hey, are you all still here?

Thanks to everyone — especially Rayne — for watching after the likker cabinet while I was in Oz. It appears the Donald Administration has only gotten crazier since I was gone.

Last night, the WaPo published yet another big scoop show more lies about Russia. It reveals that President Trump personally dictated the response to the news that Don Jr, Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner met with Natalia Veselnitskaya.

Flying home from Germany on July 8 aboard Air Force One, Trump personally dictated a statement in which Trump Jr. said that he and the Russian lawyer had “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children” when they met in June 2016, according to multiple people with knowledge of the deliberations. The statement, issued to the New York Times as it prepared an article, emphasized that the subject of the meeting was “not a campaign issue at the time.”

Two important details about this scoop: first, as Laura Rozen noted, Trump’s focus on adoption came after he chatted up Vladimir Putin at the spouse’s dinner for up to an hour at the G20 (remember how Trump gesticulated wildly to get Putin’s attention). Given that Trump claims they spoke about adoptions, it makes it more likely (as batshit as this is to contemplate!) Trump looped Putin in on how to respond.

Remember, too, that Rob Goldstone specifically envisioned involving Trump in this matter.

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

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

At this point it’s probably safest to assume all the other claims about this — such as that there was no follow-up — will prove to be lies, too.

I wanted to point one more thing out, though.

The WaPo story is notable for two reasons. First, it features an almost entirely new set of journalists from the three mainstays who’ve published the other big Russian scoops. Just as interesting — in the wake of the unceremonious firing of Reince Priebus and others — the story almost entirely hides the sources for the story. While the story quotes an anonymous Trump advisor and airs the complaint of Jared Kushner’s legal team, the story says nothing about who actually revealed this story. And the story is specifically framed in a way that tees it up for Robert Mueller to ask questions about Trump’s obstruction, personally.

Trump has serially fired his staffers because no one can get a handle on this Russian scandal. But with each firing, Trump also makes it likely new leaks with badly exacerbate the scandal.

 

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Akhmetshin’s Involvement and the Trump Dossier

Over the course of the slow reveal of details about the meeting Don Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort had on June 9, 2016 with Natalia Veselnitskaya, the focus has rightly been on the changing stories of the initially identified players.

It was about adoption, maybe she made some vague statements, oh yeah, those vague statements were oppo research, yes, yes, here are the emails showing that oppo research came from an affirmative effort in Russia to elect Dad, how can a ‘good boy‘ be expected to remember all the Russians involved in a meeting? Don Jr. blathered until, perhaps, his newly-hired lawyer shut him up.

I have no ties to the Russian government, I had no damaging information and if I did I had no intention of leaving it, well, maybe I did get information directly from a top Russian prosecutor, explained Veselnitskaya over the course of the week.

I accidentally hit send, I met with no foreigners, maybe there were Russians, but not Veselnitskaya, oh yeah, maybe her too, my lawyers told Pop’s lawyers, well maybe I never got around to mentioning it to him personally, the tale of Kushner’s difficulties identifying all the Russians he met with evolved over the week, at which point Jamie Gorelick removed herself from any responsibility criminally defending the guy.

All of which climaxed in the news that former Russian intelligence officer Rinat Akhmetshin and accused (before the accusation was withdrawn) hacker also attended the meeting.

Akhmetshin has boasted to associates that he had served in the military with a group known as the Osoby Otdel, or Special Section, which in the Soviet period was a division of the K.G.B. The group was distinct from the G.R.U., or Main Intelligence Directorate of the defense ministry, an organization with which he has denied any affiliation.

[snip]

The Justice Department contacted Mr. Akhmetshin in March and asked him why he did not register his work for the nonprofit group under the Foreign Agent Registration Act, which requires anyone who lobbies in the United States on behalf of foreign interests to disclose their work to the Justice Department. Mr. Akhmetshin responded to the Justice Department in April, saying he had properly registered under congressional lobbying rules.

In 2015, International Mineral Resources, a mining company based in the Netherlands, accused Mr. Akhmetshin of hacking into its computer systems, stealing confidential information and unlawfully disseminating it as part of a smear campaign orchestrated by a rival Russian mining firm.

All of which, given that the meeting took place a week before hacked emails started coming out, sure makes it look like the principals were deliberately hiding Akhmetshin’s participation in the meeting, though Akhmetshin claims he got pulled into the meeting that day, still wearing his jeans and t-shirt.

He said he had learned about the meeting only that day when Veselnitskaya asked him to attend. He said he showed up in jeans and a T-shirt.

Given all these changing stories and what they might hide I’d like to return to Don Sr.’s initial response. Way back on Sunday, the spox for Trump’s lawyers (who reportedly had known of these emails for three weeks) claimed the meeting had been a set-up by the same intelligence firm, Fusion GPS, that put together the Trump dossier.

“We have learned from both our own investigation and public reports that the participants in the meeting misrepresented who they were and who they worked for,” Mark Corallo, spokesperson for Trump’s outside counsel, said in a statement released a few hours after the original New York Times story published.

“Specifically, we have learned that the person who sought the meeting is associated with Fusion GPS, a firm which according to public reports, was retained by Democratic operatives to develop opposition research on the president and which commissioned the phony Steele dossier,” Corallo continued, referring to the strategic intelligence firm hired by anti-Trump Republicans, then by Democrats, to do opposition research on the candidate.

(Fusion GPS eventually retained former MI-6 agent Christopher Steele to research potential connections between Trump and Russia, an investigation that resulted in a dossier that alleged financial, political, and personal connections between the then-president-elect and the Kremlin—a dossier that Trump’s communications team might have preferred to go unmentioned.)

“These developments raise serious issues as to exactly who authorized and participated in any effort by Russian nationals to influence our election in any manner,” Corallo concluded.

Even as all this was happening, Chuck Grassley released a testimony list suggesting the head of Fusion GPS, Glenn Simpson, would testify aside the key player accusing Akhmetshin of unlawfully lobbying for Russia, William Browder. But Simpson continues, as he started in June, to refuse to testify willingly.

The insinuation this meeting was all a set-up by a Clinton-surrogate was absolutely a cheap attempt, worthy of Corallo, to flip this story. But as I said earlier in this week, it’s more clever than first assumed. As I noted, a full eleven days after the meeting (and five days after the first stolen documents appeared), Fusion was still presenting conflicting details about whether Russian-derived Clinton dirt had been shared with Trump’s campaign, ultimately claiming, however, that it hadn’t.

The report, dated 11 days after the Veselnitskaya meeting, states that the Kremlin has a dossier on Clinton, but that it has not as yet been distributed abroad.

That claim is seemingly contradicted by the claims of Source A (a senior Russian Foreign Ministry figure) and Source D. Indeed, Source D appears to have claimed, in June, that dirt from Russia was helpful.

Ultimately, though, the memo seems to credit Source B, “a former top level Russian intelligence officer” and Source G, a senior Kremlin official, who said the dossier, attributed here to the FSB, had not yet been shared with Trump or anyone else in America.

Consider: First, Akhmetshin himself qualifies as a former intelligence officer (though it’s not clear how senior he was). He might have reason to deny that intelligence he tried to pass was the intelligence in question. And he’d likely be right, given that the Clinton dossier was purportedly a FSB, not a GRU, product. But it’s even possible that he didn’t want Hillary to know that he or a colleague was dealing dirt, however bad.

Nevertheless, the senior-most Russian quoted in the dossier compiled for Hillary Clinton claimed — and Steele appears to have believed — that Russia’s dirt on Hillary Clinton had not yet been released.

As I noted (and others have expanded elsewhere) some of these sources could be people who attended the meeting, particularly once we learn which Agalarov was involved and how closely.

It is definitely cheap to suggest that having three principals from Trump’s campaign meet with Russians claiming to represent the wishes of the Russian government is just an opposition plot invented by a Hillary surrogate. But the feedback loop within Fusion and the narrow circle of key Russian sources on Trump’s campaign is definitely worth considering.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Yet More Proof Obama Didn’t “Tapp” Trump

CNN is reporting that Robert Mueller’s investigation only recently learned of the June 9, 2016 meeting between Don Jr, Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and Natalia Veselnitskaya, but will now include it in the scope of the investigation.

The details of the interactions between Trump Jr., Goldstone and Veselnitskaya weren’t fully known to federal investigators until recently, according to three US officials familiar with the probe. The FBI, as part of its counter intelligence probe and the investigation into Russian meddling, has scrutinized some of Donald Trump Jr.’s business dealings and meetings even before the latest meeting was disclosed, one of the US officials said.

Now, Mueller’s probe will look at the meeting and email exchanges that Trump Jr. disclosed as part of its investigation, according to the US official briefed on the matter.

A different CNN report strongly suggests the government learned it as a result of Kushner’s revisions to his SF86 forms — which it sounds like he has revised almost as many times as Karl Rove revised his grand jury testimony in the CIA leak case.

The emails with Donald Trump Jr. about the Russian meeting were discovered as Kushner and his legal team prepared for his testimony before Congress as they were doing a document review, a source familiar with the process told CNN.

As soon as the document was discovered, Kushner’s disclosure form was amended to include the meeting, the source said.

This means that Kushner’s SF-86 changed a number of times: First, the inaccurate form, which left blank the foreign contacts section. Next (and the next day), the form was amended to say that he had multiple contacts and would disclose those. The process of gathering information progressed throughout the winter and spring. Then the form was amended yet again to include the Trump Jr. meeting as soon as it was discovered, a source with knowledge of the process told CNN.

In other words, until Kushner himself revealed these emails, the FBI didn’t have them, or even know about this meeting.

Which further confirms what I noted here: in addition to all the other things this email indicates, it confirms the Obama NSA did not “tapp” the Trump campaign.

That may not be a surprise: as a British citizen and someone who spends some or most of his time in the US, Rob Goldstone would not be easily targetable in NSA spying, and the Russian names included in the email would not be targetable under “about” collection.

But this also means that the FBI found nothing to justify collecting the email accounts of these recipients themselves, including Don Jr, Kushner, and even Manafort, the latter of whom has been under investigation for money laundering (though it’s not clear what emails these are).

So either this means the FBI only recent started collecting the emails of these men (and in so doing discovered the meeting), or still hasn’t.

Once again, whatever else the dumbass son did by releasing this email, he has helped to prove, once and for all, that Obama did not “tapp” Trump’s campaign.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Don Jr Provides Proof Obama Didn’t “Tapp” Trump

As you’ve no doubt heard, the NYT reported out the details of the meeting between Don Jr, Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, and Natalia Veselnitskaya. It not only makes clear that Veselnitskaya was introduced as an agent of the Russian government, but that Rob Goldstone, who set up the meeting, presented it as part of Russia’s efforts to help Trump. (And yes, for those asking in this thread, I do consider this the kind of evidence that rises to the level of collusion which was not present in the first round of this story.)

The documents “would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father,” read the email, written by a trusted intermediary, who added, “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

If the future president’s elder son was surprised or disturbed by the provenance of the promised material — or the notion that it was part of a continuing effort by the Russian government to aid his father’s campaign — he gave no indication.

He replied within minutes: “If it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.”

Four days later, after a flurry of emails, the intermediary wrote back, proposing a meeting in New York on Thursday with a “Russian government attorney.”

In an attempt to beat the NYT’s reporting (and because he is painfully stupid), Don Jr posted the emails in question. The email metadata makes it clear that the meeting involved Russia and Hillary — and included Jared and Manafort. (I’m stealing Matt Tait’s screencaps, which are here.)

Matt Tait annotated the most damning line, making it clear this was an effort on the part of Russia — which Don Jr presumably already knew about — to help Trump.

This one line, once and for all, proves that the NSA under President Obama did not “tapp” Trump and his associates. That’s because in the the IC report on the Russia hack (and as recently as Admiral Mike Rogers’ most recent appearance before Congress), NSA only had moderate confidence in the conclusion that Putin affirmatively supported Trump.

Had the NSA collected this email, they would have had high confidence Putin was affirmatively helping Trump. (This is a point Tait also made not long after I made it.) But Rogers has said there was something about the source of the prior intelligence supporting this point that led NSA to adopt a more conservative stance than FBI and CIA.

So, yeah, the dumbass son not only incriminated himself, but he did away with one of the few talking points the GOP had left.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.

Be Careful How You Define Collusion: On the Veselnitskaya Bombshell and the Steele Dossier

See update, below, which provides evidence that was not present when I wrote this post. 

The NYT has a new bombshell showing that Don Jr. was willing to meet with someone to get Russian dirt on Hillary. It is damning. But Democrats should be very careful about calling it collusion, yet.

On Saturday, the NYT reported that Don Jr, Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner met on June 9 with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer who has worked to overturn the Magnitsky sanctions. In Don Jr’s first response to the NYT, he admitted to the meeting, but said it focused primarily on adoptions (which means it focused on the sanctions).

Then, yesterday, NYT reported that Don Jr took the meeting because he was promised Russia-related dirt on Hillary. With that new detail, Don Jr changed his story, admitting that’s why he took the meeting, though he claimed that the information Veselnitskaya offered “made no sense.”

In a statement on Sunday, Donald Trump Jr. said he had met with the Russian lawyer at the request of an acquaintance. “After pleasantries were exchanged,” he said, “the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Ms. Clinton. Her statements were vague, ambiguous and made no sense. No details or supporting information was provided or even offered. It quickly became clear that she had no meaningful information.”

He said she then turned the conversation to adoption of Russian children and the Magnitsky Act, an American law that blacklists suspected Russian human rights abusers. The law so enraged President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia that he retaliated by halting American adoptions of Russian children.

“It became clear to me that this was the true agenda all along and that the claims of potentially helpful information were a pretext for the meeting,” Mr. Trump said.

WaPo revealed that the meeting was set up by music publicist Rob Goldstone, and hints that he may have done so at the behest of Emin Agalarov (which Goldstone has since confirmed).

He did not name the acquaintance, but in an interview Sunday, Rob Goldstone, a music publicist who is friendly with Trump Jr., told The Washington Post that he had arranged the meeting at the request of a Russian client and had attended it along with Veselnitskaya.

Goldstone has been active with the Miss Universe pageant and works as a manager for Emin Agalarov, a Russian pop star whose father is a wealthy Moscow developer who sponsored the pageant in the Russian capital in 2013.

This news is damning for several reasons. Kushner failed to disclose it at first in his clearance application, and Don Jr didn’t reveal it in past interviews about meeting with Russians. Everyone tried to hide this at first.

But thus far, it is not evidence of collusion, contrary to what a lot of people are saying.

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

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

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

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

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

The claim that merely meeting with Veselnitskaya is collusion is all the more dangerous given that it invokes some weird details about the Fusion dossier. Most importantly, as Trump’s lawyer’s spox has pointed out (incoherently, at first), like whatever Clinton supporter retained the oppo research firm, Veselnitskaya also employed Fusion. An update to NYT’s Friday story laid some of this out, in the form of Mark Corallo’s more clever than you actually might think suggestion that the Democrats might have paid Fusion to set up this meeting.

In an interview, Mr. [Mark] Corallo explained that Ms. Veselnitskaya, in her anti-Magnitsky campaign, employs a private investigator whose firm, Fusion GPS, produced an intelligence dossier that contained unproven allegations against the president. In a statement, the firm said, “Fusion GPS learned about this meeting from news reports and had no prior knowledge of it. Any claim that Fusion GPS arranged or facilitated this meeting in any way is false.”

[snip]

One of Ms. Veselnitskaya’s clients is Denis Katsyv, the Russian owner of a Cyprus-based investment company called Prevezon Holdings. He is the son of Petr Katsyv, the vice president of the state-owned Russian Railways and a former deputy governor of the Moscow region. In a civil forfeiture case prosecuted by Mr. Bharara’s office, the Justice Department alleged that Prevezon had helped launder money tied to a $230 million corruption scheme exposed by Mr. Magnitsky by parking it in New York real estate and bank accounts. As a result, the government froze $14 million of its assets. Prevezon recently settled the case for $6 million without admitting wrongdoing.

[snip]

Besides the private investigator whose firm produced the Trump dossier, the lobbying team included Rinat Akhmetshin, an émigré to the United States who once served as a Soviet military officer and who has been called a Russian political gun for hire.

Republicans have already pointed to Akhmetshin’s work with Fusion as a way to discredit the Steele dossier. Now they are (or at least were, before the really damning bits came out) using it to attempt to discredit the most damning detail about Trump’s ties to Russians.

But there in one other interesting detail.

The first report (that we have) reflecting Christopher Steele’s work (and also the first report that some unknown Democrat paid for after earlier oppo research had been paid for by some Republican) is dated June 20.

The report, dated 11 days after the Veselnitskaya meeting, states that the Kremlin has a dossier on Clinton, but that it has not as yet been distributed abroad.

That claim is seemingly contradicted by the claims of Source A (a senior Russian Foreign Ministry figure) and Source D. Indeed, Source D appears to have claimed, in June, that dirt from Russia was helpful.

Ultimately, though, the memo seems to credit Source B, “a former top level Russian intelligence officer” and Source G, a senior Kremlin official, who said the dossier, attributed here to the FSB, had not yet been shared with Trump or anyone else in America.

Consider: First, Akhmetshin himself qualifies as a former intelligence officer (though it’s not clear how senior he was). He might have reason to deny that intelligence he tried to pass was the intelligence in question. And he’d likely be right, given that the Clinton dossier was purportedly a FSB, not a GRU, product. But it’s even possible that he didn’t want Hillary to know that he or a colleague was dealing dirt, however bad.

Nevertheless, the senior-most Russian quoted in the dossier compiled for Hillary Clinton claimed — and Steele appears to have believed — that Russia’s dirt on Hillary Clinton had not yet been released.

Which doesn’t really help the treatment of this as a scandal.

Don’t get me wrong. I suspect there is more to this story. But I also note that Democrats should be really careful not to get too far ahead of this one, for fear of where it will lead.

Update: NYT’s latest provides evidence that gets you far closer to collusion than the previous evidence.

Mr. Goldstone’s message, as described to The New York Times by the three people, indicates that the Russian government was the source of the potentially damaging information. It does not elaborate on the wider effort by Moscow to help the Trump campaign. There is no evidence to suggest that the promised damaging information was related to Russian government computer hacking that led to the release of thousands of Democratic National Committee emails.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including Vice, Motherboard, the Nation, the Atlantic, Al Jazeera, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse in Grand Rapids, MI.