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Three Times William Barr Said Trading Pardons for False Testimony Was Obstruction of Justice

In the discussion of the Bill Barr memo in the last two days, the discussion of Barr’s claimed views on obstruction have mostly focused on the crazier parts of the memo that got him the job, and not even the passage at the bottom of the first page where he claimed to believe that if a President suborned perjury, it’d be a crime for him just as it would be for anyone else.

Obviously, the President and any other official can commit obstruction in this classic sense of sabotaging a proceeding’s truth-finding function. Thus, for example, if a President knowingly destroys or alters evidence, suborns perjury, or induces a witness to change testimony, or commits any act deliberately impairing the integrity or availability of evidence, then he, like anyone else, commits the crime of obstruction.

There has been far less attention to what he said in his confirmation hearing (where Lindsey Graham did not put him under oath). There were three substantive exchanges about what might constitute obstruction of justice for a President. And all of them get perilously close to behavior that Barr, now ensconced as Attorney General, claimed Sunday did not amount to obstruction of justice.

When Barr answered these questions, he appeared to have little awareness that Trump had floated pardons to — at least — Paul Manafort, Mike Flynn, and Michael Cohen. The first time he got asked about a pardon for false testimony, he stated clearly that would be a crime.

Patrick Leahy, specifically invoking Barr’s sanction of the Caspar Weinberger pardon that squelched the Iran-Contra investigation, asked Barr about pardons.

Leahy: Do you believe a president could lawfully issue a pardon in exchange for the recipient’s promise to not incriminate him?

Barr: No, that would be a crime.

Then, in this exchange from Amy Klobuchar, it appeared to take Barr several questions before he realized she knew more about the evidence than he did, and started couching his answers.

Klobuchar: You wrote on page one that a President persuading a person to commit perjury would be obstruction. Is that right?

Barr: [Pause] Yes. Any person who persuades another —

Klobuchar: Okay. You also said that a President or any person convincing a witness to change testimony would be obstruction. Is that right?

Barr: Yes.

Klobuchar: And on page two, you said that a President deliberately impairing the integrity or availability of evidence would be an obstruction. Is that correct?

Barr: Yes.

Klobuchar: OK. And so what if a President told a witness not to cooperate with an investigation or hinted at a pardon?

Barr: I’d have to now the specifics facts, I’d have to know the specific facts.

Klobuchar: OK. And you wrote on page one that if a President knowingly destroys or alters evidence, that would be obstruction?

Barr: Yes.

Klobuchar: OK. So what if a President drafted a misleading statement to conceal the purpose of a meeting. Would that be obstruction?

Barr: Again, I’d have to know the specifics.

Shortly after that exchange, Lindsey Graham tried to clarify the issue, asking the pardon question at a more basic level, coaching another not to testify, as Trump has done on Twitter repeatedly.

Lindsey: So if there was some reason to believe that the President tried to coach somebody not to testify or testify falsely, that could be obstruction of justice?

Barr: Yes, under that, under an obstruction statute, yes.

Lindsey: So if there’s some evidence that the President tried to conceal evidence? That would be obstruction of justice, potentially?

Barr: [nods]

Admittedly, by the third exchange, both Lindsey and Barr were hedging far more carefully about the set of facts.

But on three different occasions during his confirmation hearing, Barr made some kind of statement that said floating pardons for false testimony would be a crime.

And then, on Sunday, he said it wasn’t a crime.

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

Rod Rosenstein’s Unfortunate Vocabulary: Defining a Criminal Investigation by “Links” and “Collusion”

Rod Rosenstein is the very unlikely hero of the Mueller investigation. “Rod is a survivor,” Jim Comey said after getting fired. “And you don’t get to survive that long across administrations without making compromises.”

Yet here we are, 22 months after he appointed Robert Mueller to investigate an investigation Trump tried to kill by firing Comey, awaiting the results of that investigation.

At times, I think Rosenstein didn’t imagine (and doesn’t now acknowledge) the damage his bend-don’t-break has done along the way. While based off the very sound precedent that existed until Comey’s declination speech about Hillary, it seems ridiculous for him to claim that the full results of the Mueller investigation can’t be shared with Congress, as he’s now claiming, given how he has provided unprecedented disclosure to Congress about the investigation already, including the first ever unsealed probable cause FISA application.

It will take some years to measure whether Rosenstein chose the best or perhaps only the least worst approach to the last several years.

But there’s one thing he did that really makes me uncomfortable, today, as we all await the results of the Mueller report: his mandate to Mueller.

As has been noted countless times in the last 22 months, Rosenstein asked Mueller to investigate:

    • any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and
    • any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation;
    • any other matters with the scope of 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(a).
  • if the Special Counsel believes it is necessary and appropriate, the Special Counsel is authorized to prosecute federal crimes arising from the investigation of these matters.

We actually know the answer to the first bullet, in part: As I laid out here, during five key interactions pertaining to the question of a possible conspiracy between Trump’s associates and Russia, there was direct contact between someone the government has deemed an agent of Russia and the Trump campaign:

  1. January 20, 2016, when Michael Cohen told Dmitry Peskov’s personal assistant that Trump would be willing to work with a GRU-tied broker and (soft and hard) sanctioned banks in pursuit of a $300 million Trump Tower deal in Russia.
  2. June 9, 2016, when Don Jr, knowing that currying favor with Russia could mean $300 million to the family, took a meeting offering dirt on Hillary Clinton as “part of  Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” At the end of the meeting, per the testimony of at least four attendees, Don Jr said they’d revisit Magnitsky sanctions if his dad won.
  3. August 2, 2016, when Paul Manafort and Rick Gates had a clandestine meeting with Konstantin Kilimnik at which Trump’s campaign manager walked Kilimnik through highly detailed poll data and the two discussed a “peace” plan for Ukraine understood to amount to sanctions relief.
  4. December 29, 2016, when (working on instructions relayed by KT McFarland, who was at Mar-a-Lago with Trump) Mike Flynn said something to Sergey Kislyak that led Putin not to respond to Obama’s election-related sanctions.
  5. January 11, 2017, when Erik Prince, acting as a back channel for Trump, met with sanctioned sovereign wealth fund Russian Direct Investment Fund CEO Kirill Dmitriev.

That Peskov’s assistant (and whatever representative from Putin’s office that called Felix Sater the next day), Sergey Kislyak, and Kirill Dmitriev are agents of Russia is clear. With the indictment of Natalia Veselnitskaya in December, the government deemed her to be working as an agent of Russia during the same time period she pitched sanctions relief to Trump’s campaign. And while the government hasn’t proven it beyond quoting Rick Gates acknowledging he knew of Konstantin Kilimnik’s past with the GRU and FBI’s belief that he continues to have ties, the government certainly maintains that Kilimnik does have ties to Russian intelligence.

Those are links. It’d be useful to have an official report on them. But since Mueller hasn’t charged them as a conspiracy, we may only learn what we’ve seen in plea agreements or official testimony to Congress.

Likewise Rosenstein’s invocation of “collusion” in the unredacted parts of his memo describing the scope of the investigation as it existed in August 2017 (it expanded and contracted after that point, so there are like different memos).

Allegations that Paul Manafort:

  • committed a crime or crimes by colluding with Russian government officials with respect to the Russian government’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 election for President of the United States, in violation of United States law;

Here, unlike in the initial mandate, Rosenstein at least noted that Mueller was assessing whether crimes were committed in using that squishy language. But he used the word “collusion,” which started to be politicized by March 2017, when Comey tried to correct it once and for all.

I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election, and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts. As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.

[snip]

Collusion is not a legal term. It is not one I have used today. I said we are investigating to see if there is any coordination between people associated with the campaign– [my emphasis]

Sure, “collusion” might be understood to incorporate a bunch of possible crimes, and so appropriately didn’t limit Mueller to one specific crime as he investigated Manafort (but then, so did the term, “coordination”). But I nevertheless think that using the word has confused the issue of what Rosenstein intended Mueller to be able to reveal, which would instead be conspiracy and a bunch of other crimes covering up evidence of coordination that Mueller has found necessary and appropriate to charge, and not whether there was “collusion.”

All the while, people on both sides of this debate have taken “collusion” to mean whatever minimalist or maximalist interpretation of wrong-doing that best serves their side.

There are two things at issue: whether Trump and his aides coordinated in a way that is criminal, which would be a conspiracy, and whether Trump has coordinated with Russia in a way that would be an abuse of power and/or puts the nation at risk.

Both are legitimate questions. And while Rosenstein says only crimes that are indicted are appropriate to reveal (and he may well be right about that, as a principle), he did ask Mueller to conduct an investigation of that other stuff, and Congress has deferred to Mueller even while that other stuff is squarely within their mandate.

Ideally, this weeks focus on Mueller’s discoveries would be on what the actual evidence showed, which we know to include, at a minimum, the following:

  • Trump pursued a ridiculously lucrative $300 million real estate deal even though the deal would use sanctioned banks, involve a former GRU officer as a broker, and require Putin’s personal involvement at least through July 2016.
  • The Russians chose to alert the campaign that they planned to dump Hillary emails, again packaging it with the promise of a meeting with Putin.
  • After the Russians had offered those emails and at a time when the family was pursuing that $300 million real estate deal, Don Jr took a meeting offering dirt on Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” At the end (per the sworn testimony of four people at the meeting) he said his father would revisit Magnitsky sanctions relief if he won. Contrary to the claim made in a statement authored by Trump, there was some effort to follow up on Jr’s assurances after the election.
  • The campaign asked rat-fucker Roger Stone to optimize the WikiLeaks releases and according to Jerome Corsi he had some success doing so.
  • In what Andrew Weissmann called a win-win (presumably meaning it could help Trump’s campaign or lead to a future business gig for him), Manafort provided Konstantin Kilimnik with polling data that got shared with Ukrainian and Russian oligarchs. At the same meeting, he discussed a “peace” plan for Ukraine that would amount to sanctions relief.
  • Trump undercut Obama’s response to the Russian hacks in December 2016, in part because he believed retaliation for the hacks devalued his victory. Either for that reason, to pay off Russia, and/or to pursue his preferred policy, Trump tried to mitigate any sanctions, an attempt that has (with the notable exception of those targeting Oleg Deripaska) been thwarted by Congress.

Instead, however, we’re still arguing about a word — collusion — that was stripped of all meaning years ago, with the result that Mueller’s presumably very measured assessment of what happened cannot serve as the arbiter of truth we need.

Rosenstein may well be the unlikely hero of preserving some semblance of rule of law in this country. But along the way, his choice of language has unfortunately twice fostered the confusion about where the line between crime and misconduct is.

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

After Mueller: An Off-Ramp on Russia for the Venal Fucks

We don’t know what the Mueller report says, though given William Barr’s promise to brief the Judiciary Committee leaders this weekend and follow it with a public summary, it’s not likely to be that damning to Trump. But I can think of five mutually non-exclusive possibilities for the report:

  • Mueller ultimately found there was little fire behind the considerable amounts of smoke generated by Trump’s paranoia
  • The report will be very damning — showing a great deal of corruption — which nevertheless doesn’t amount to criminal behavior
  • Evidence that Manafort and Stone conspired with Russia to affect the election, but Mueller decided not to prosecute conspiracy itself because they’re both on the hook for the same prison sentence a conspiracy would net anyway, with far less evidentiary exposure
  • There’s evidence that others entered into a conspiracy with Russia to affect the election, but that couldn’t be charged because of evidentiary reasons that include classification concerns and presidential prerogatives over foreign policy, pardons, and firing employees
  • Mueller found strong evidence of a conspiracy with Russia, but Corsi, Manafort, and Stone’s lies (and Trump’s limited cooperation) prevented charging it

As many people have pointed out, this doesn’t mean Trump and his kin are out of jeopardy. This NYT piece summarizes a breathtaking number of known investigations, spanning at least four US Attorneys offices plus New York state, but I believe even it is not comprehensive.

All that said, we can anticipate a great deal of what the Mueller report will say by unpacking the lies Trump’s aides told to hide various ties to Russia: The report will show:

  • Trump pursued a ridiculously lucrative $300 million real estate deal even though the deal would use sanctioned banks, involve a former GRU officer as a broker, and require Putin’s personal involvement at least through July 2016.
  • The Russians chose to alert the campaign that they planned to dump Hillary emails, again packaging it with the promise of a meeting with Putin.
  • After the Russians had offered those emails and at a time when the family was pursuing that $300 million real estate deal, Don Jr took a meeting offering dirt on Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” At the end (per the sworn testimony of four people at the meeting) he said his father would revisit Magnitsky sanctions relief if he won. Contrary to the claim made in a statement authored by Trump, there was some effort to follow up on Jr’s assurances after the election.
  • The campaign asked rat-fucker Roger Stone to optimize the WikiLeaks releases and according to Jerome Corsi he had some success doing so.
  • In what Andrew Weissmann called a win-win (presumably meaning it could help Trump’s campaign or lead to a future business gig for him), Manafort provided Konstantin Kilimnik with polling data that got shared with Ukrainian and Russian oligarchs. At the same meeting, he discussed a “peace” plan for Ukraine that would amount to sanctions relief.
  • Trump undercut Obama’s response to the Russian hacks in December 2016, in part because he believed retaliation for the hacks devalued his victory. Either for that reason, to pay off Russia, and/or to pursue his preferred policy, Trump tried to mitigate any sanctions, an attempt that has (with the notable exception of those targeting Oleg Deripaska) been thwarted by Congress.

We know all of these things — save the Stone optimization detail, which will be litigated at trial unless Trump pardons him first — to be true, either because Trump’s aides and others have already sworn they are true, and/or because we’ve seen documentary evidence proving it.

That’s a great deal of evidence of a quid pro quo — of Trump trading campaign assistance for sanctions relief. All the reasons above may explain why Mueller didn’t charge it, with the added important detail that Trump has long been a fan of Putin. Trump ran openly on sanctions relief and Presidents get broad authority to set their own foreign policy, and that may be why all this coziness didn’t amount to criminal behavior: because a majority of the electoral college voted (with Russia’s involvement) to support those policies.

Whatever reason this didn’t get charged as a crime (it may well have been for several involved, including Trump), several things are clear.

First, consider all this from the perspective of Russia: over and over, they exploited Trump’s epic narcissism and venality. Particularly with regards to the Trump Tower deal, they did so in a way that would be especially damaging, particularly given that even while a former GRU officer was brokering the deal, the GRU was hacking Trump’s opponent. They often did so in ways that would be readily discovered, once the FBI decided to check Kilimnik’s Gmail account. Russia did this in ways that would make it especially difficult for Trump to come clean about it, even if he were an upstanding honest person.

Partly as a result, partly because he’s a narcissist who wanted to deny that he had illicit help to win, and partly because he’s a compulsive liar, Trump and his aides all lied about what they’ve now sworn to be true. Over and over again.

And that raised the stakes of the Russian investigation, which in turn further polarized the country.

As I noted here, that only added to the value of Russia’s intervention. Not only did Trump’s defensiveness make him prefer what Putin told him to what American Russian experts and his intelligence community would tell him, but he set about destroying the FBI in an effort to deny the facts that his aides ultimately swore were true. Sure, Russia hasn’t gotten its sanctions relief, yet. But it has gotten the President himself to attack the American justice system, something Putin loves to do.

We don’t know what the Mueller report will say about Trump’s role in all this, and how that will affect the rest of his presidency. We do know he remains under investigation for his cheating (as an unindicted co-conspirator in the ongoing hush money investigation) and his venality (in the inauguration investigation, at a minimum).

We do know, however, that whatever is in that report is what Mueller wants in it; none of the (Acting) Attorneys General supervising him thwarted his work, though Trump’s refusal to be interviewed may have.

But we also know that Russia succeeded wildly with its attack in 2016 and since.

Democrats and Republicans are going to continue being at each other’s throats over Trump’s policies and judges. Trump will continue to be a venal narcissist who obstructs legitimate oversight into his mismanagement of government.

Both sides, however, would do well to take this report — whatever it says — as the final word on this part of the Russian attack in 2016, and set about protecting the country from the next attack it will launch.

An unbelievable swath of this country — including the denialists who say all those things that Trump’s own aides swore to doesn’t amount to evidence of wrongdoing — have chosen for tribal reasons (and sometimes venal ones) to side with kleptocratic Russians over the protection of America. Now that the report is done, it’s time to focus on protecting the United States again.

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

By July 18, 2017, Mueller Had Probable Cause Michael Cohen Was an Unregistered Foreign Agent

SDNY has released the warrants behind his April 9 raid, which are here. They actually include a series of warrants, showing how first Mueller got warrants, then handed parts of the investigation over to SDNY, which then obtained its own warrants tied to the crimes they were investigating. These two affidavits (one, two) are the ones showing that hand-off — basically SDNY asking, on February 28, 2018, for access to email accounts and storage devices that Mueller had already accessed. The second one describes Mueller’s first warrant on Cohen to be dated July 18, 2017.

The same affidavit describes the crimes listed in the earlier warrants. Among those crimes — unsurprisingly — was conspiracy to defraud the US. More surprising, however, are 18 USC §§ 951 (acting as an unregistered foreign agent) and 611 (FARA).

The latter may be tied to Cohen’s work with a Kazakhstan bank (BTA Bank) and Korean airspace company (Korea Aerospace Industries) — which were basically his efforts to monetize his ties to Trump after the election. These were the deals that Republicans made such a big deal about when Cohen testified to the Oversight Committee.

In addition, Cohen was working for Columbus Nova, which was ultimately controlled by Victor Vekselberg. That would be of immediate concern for the question of Russian influence.

The 951 charge, however, is more interesting. It could relate to the same thing (basically arguing that because he was working for instrumentalities of foreign countries, he was their agent — basically a “soft” spy). Or it could relate to his efforts to negotiate a Trump Tower deal for Trump. Note that the November 13 warrant basically extended the first warrant back to June 1, 2015, which would we know would cover the Trump Tower deal (and precede any tie to BTA or KAI).

951 is a charge I always suspected might be used with Paul Manafort (it still might), or even Jared Kushner. But it appears that Mueller’s worries about Trump’s closest associates acting as spies wasn’t limited to Manafort and Flynn, but extended, too, to his personal lawyer. And Mueller already had evidence of that fact by July 18, 2017.

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

“I Can’t Be Seen Taking Credit for HIS Victory:” The Purpose of Roger Stone’s Paperback

Towards the end of the day on January 14, amid a three day stint writing the 3,000 word introduction that would justify reissuing his 2016 book, Making of the President, Roger Stone rejected the title suggested by his publisher, Skyhorse Publishing, “The Myth of Collusion; The Inside Story of How I REALLY Helped Trump Win.” He suggests instead, “The Myth of Collusion; The Inside Story of How Donald Trump really won,” noting, “I really can’t be seen taking credit for HIS victory.”

That’s the title the book now bears.

That exchange — and a number of other ones revealed in the correspondence Stone’s lawyers submitted in an attempt to persuade Judge Amy Berman Jackson they weren’t just trying to get publicity for the book when asking for a “clarification” regarding the book on March 1 — raises interesting questions about why he reissued the book how and when he did.

On one level, the explanation is easy: his publishers expected the original book, Making of the President, would be a big seller. They made 100,000 copies when it first came out in January 2017. The book flopped.

So in November 2018, Stone’s rising notoriety — and more importantly, the increased polarization surrounding the Mueller probe — provided an opportunity to recoup some of the losses on the hardcover. At that level, the reissue needs no explanation other than the obvious formula publishers use to make money: Exacerbate and profit off of controversy.

But that doesn’t explain why the project started on November 15, 2018 rather than any time in the year and a half earlier, when Skyhorse would have all those same goals. Nor does it explain how Stone went from expressing no interest in the project to rushing it through quickly in mid-December.

Given the timeline of events and a few stray comments in the correspondence (as I laid out here, Stone has probably withheld at least eight exchanges with his publisher from the court submission, after letting the publisher review what correspondence was there), I think he’s got several other purposes.

As noted below, Skyhorse first approached Stone on November 15, in the wake of the Democrats winning the House in midterm elections. On January 14, Skyhorse president Tony Lyons suggests that “We can send copies [of the book] to all U.S. Senators.” Those two details suggest that Skyhorse intended the book, on top of the obvious financial incentives, to capitalize on the general right wing campaign to discredit the Mueller investigation in an effort to stave off impeachment.

The delay between the time — on November 15 — when Skyhorse first pitched the reissue and the time — mid-December — when Stone and his lawyer, Grant Smith, start engaging in earnest suggests two other factors may be in play.

First, while Stone had been saying that Mueller would indict him for months, the aftermath of the Corsi “cooperation” starting on November 26 made Stone’s jeopardy more immediate. Yes, Corsi’s attempt to make his own cooperation useless may have delayed Stone’s indictment, but the details Corsi described to be in his own forthcoming Mueller-smearing book made it clear the Special Counsel believed Stone had successfully affected the timing of the release of the John Podesta emails on October 7, 2016, in a successful attempt to dampen some of the impact of the Access Hollywood video.

That’s why the specific content of the new introduction Stone finished on January 13, 2019, which he notes is more substantive than Skyhorse initially planned, is of interest. In the introduction, Stone:

  • Describes learning he was under investigation on January 20, 2017
  • Discounts his May 2016 interactions with “Henry Greenberg” — a Russian offering dirt on Hillary Clinton — by claiming Greenberg was acting as an FBI informant
  • Attributes any foreknowledge of WikiLeaks’ release to Randy Credico and not Jerome Corsi or their yet unidentified far more damning source while disclaiming any real foreknowledge
  • Gives Manafort pollster, Tony Fabrizio, credit for the decision to focus on Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania in the last days of the election
  • Mentions Alex Jones’ foreboding mood on election night
  • Accuses Trump of selling out to mainstream party interests, choosing Reince Preebus over Steve Bannon
  • Blames Jeff Sessions for recusing from the Russian investigation
  • Harps on the Steele dossier
  • Dubiously claims that in January 2017, he didn’t know how central Mueller’s focus would be on him
  • Suggests any charges would be illegitimate
  • Complains about his financial plight
  • Falsely claims the many stories about his associates’ testimony comes from Mueller and not he himself
  • Repeats his Randy Credico cover story and discounts his lies to HPSCI by claiming his lawyers only found his texts to Credico after the fact
  • Suggests Hillary had ties to Russia
  • Notes that Trump became a subject of the investigation after he fired Jim Comey

Some of this is fairly breathtaking, given that Corsi’s theatrics had long ago proven Stone’s Credico cover story to be false. But of course, by the time Stone wrote this, he knew that he was at risk at a minimum for false statements charges, so he was stuck repeating the long-discredited HPSCI cover story. Which may be why his attorney, Grant Smith, provided some edits of the introduction on January 15 (something Smith should have but did not disclose in the filing to Amy Berman Jackson). Stone will now be stuck with this cover story, just as Corsi is stuck with the equally implausible cover story in his book.

But to some degree, that’s clearly one purpose this introduction serves: to “retake the narrative” (as Skyhorse’s editor Mike Campbell described it when pitching Stone on the project) and try to sell at least frothy right wingers on his cover story.

Another is to make money. Stone’s first response — over three weeks after Skyhorse first floated the paperback project — was to complain that because the publisher printed way too many copies of the hard cover, which was done as part of a joint venture, he made no money off the deal (a claim that Skyhorse corrects, slightly, in the follow-up). That’s why Skyhorse ended the joint venture: to mitigate the risk to Stone and by doing so to convince him to participate in the project.

More interesting — given the January stories suggesting that Jerome Corsi may have gotten a six month severance deal as part of a bid to have him sustain Stone’s cover story — is that Stone seemingly reversed his opinion about doing the project between December 9, when he said he was uninterested, and Monday, December 17, when Smith said they were ready to move forward, because Stone urgently needed money by the next day to pay off his collaborators in the book project.

From the public record, I’m actually fairly confused about who these collaborators are. A number of them would be the witnesses interviewed by Mueller’s grand jury.

But the book itself — because it retains the Acknowledgements section from the original — thanks Corsi third, after only Richard Nixon and Juanita Broaddrick, and lauds what Stone calls Corsi’s “investigative report[ing].”

Remember: A key product of that “investigative reporting” was the report Stone asked Corsi to write on August 30, 2016, to invent a cover for why he was discussing John Podesta and Joule Holdings in mid-August 2016. Things had already gone to hell by the time this book was released in e-book form on February 18 and they (appear to) have continued to disintegrate since then.

But I am very interested in who Stone paid off with that urgently wired payment in December. And because it happened before Stone was raided on January 25, Mueller likely knows the answer, if he didn’t already.

Which brings me to the last likely purpose of this paperback, one that goes to the core of whether Stone was trying to publicize its release with his little stunt about “clarifying” whether or not it would violate his gag.

Stone’s decision to do this paperback came not long after Stone repeated a formula other Trump associates bidding for a pardon have engaged in: promise publicly you won’t testify against Trump, then deny you’re asking for a pardon.

[T]here’s no circumstance under which I would testify against the president because I’d have to bear false witness against him. I’d have to make things up and I’m not going to do that. I’ve had no discussion regarding a pardon.

The next day, Trump let Stone and all the world know he had gotten the message.

Every person who is bidding for a Trump pardon is doing whatever they can — from reinforcing the conspiracy theories about the genesis of the investigation, to declaring ABJ found “no collusion” minutes after she warned lawyers not to make such claims, to sustaining embarrassingly thin cover stories explaining away evidence of a conspiracy — to hew to Trump’s strategy for beating this rap. Indeed, the Michael Cohen lawsuit claiming Trump stopped paying promised legal fees as soon as Cohen decided to cooperate with prosecutors suggests Trump’s co-conspirators may be doing this not just in hopes of a pardon, but also to get their legal fees reimbursed.

Which brings me back to Stone’s concern that the title, “The Myth of Collusion; The Inside Story of How I REALLY Helped Trump Win” would suggest he was taking credit for Trump’s win.

There are two reasons why such an appearance might undermine Stone’s goals for the book.

Stone has loudly claimed credit for his role in Trump’s victory, particularly as compared Steve Bannon. And evidence that will come out in his eventual trial will show him claiming credit, specifically, for successfully working with WikiLeaks.

Of course, Trump is a narcissist. And the surest way to piss him off — and in doing so, ruin any chance for a pardon — is to do anything to suggest he doesn’t get full credit for all the success he has in life.

But there may, in fact, be another reason Stone was quick to object to getting credit for all the things he did to get Trump elected.

At least according to Jerome Corsi, Stone, on indirect orders from Trump, took the lead in trying to learn about and with that knowledge, optimize the release of the materials Russia stole from Hillary’s campaign. If non-public details about what Stone did — or even the public claim that Stone managed the timing of the Podesta email release — had a bigger impact on the election outcome than we currently know, then Stone would have all the more reason to want to downplay his contribution.

That is, if Stone’s efforts to maximize the value of Russia’s active measures campaign really were key, then the last thing he’d want to do is release a paperback crowing about that.

Of course, because of the boneheaded efforts of his lawyers, his concerns about doing so are now public.

Update: I’ve corrected my characterization of Skyhorse. They’re not ideological. But they do feed off of controversy.


October 30, 2018: ABC reports that Stone hired Bruce Rogow in September, a First Amendment specialist who has done extensive work with Trump Organization.

October 31, 2018: Date Corsi stops making any pretense of cooperating with Mueller inquiry.

November 6, 2018: Democrats win the House in mid-term elections.

November 7, 2018: Trump fires Jeff Sessions, appoints Big Dick Toilet Salesman Matt Whitaker Acting Attorney General.

November 8, 2018: Prosecutors first tell Manafort they’ll find he breached plea deal.

November 12, 2018: Date Corsi starts blowing up his “cooperation” publicly.

November 14, 2018: Date of plea deal offered by Mueller to Corsi.

November 15, 2018: Mike Campbell pitches Stone on a paperback — in part to ‘retake the narrative — including a draft of the new introduction.

November 18, 2018: Jerome Corsi writes up his cover story for how he figured out John Podesta’s emails would be released.

November 20, 2018: After much equivocation, Trump finally turns in his written responses to Mueller.

November 21, 2018: Dean Notte reaches out to Grant Smith suggesting a resolution to all the back and forth on their joint venture, settling the past relationship in conjunction with a new paperback.

November 22, 2018: Corsi writes up collapse of his claim to cooperate.

November 23, 2018: Date Mueller offers Corsi a plea deal.

November 26, 2018: Jerome Corsi publicly rejects plea deal from Mueller and leaks the draft statement of offense providing new details on his communications with Stone.

November 26, 2019: Mueller deems Paul Manafort to be in breach of his plea agreement because he lied to the FBI and prosecutors while ostensibly cooperating.

November 27, 2018: Initial reports on contents of Jerome Corsi’s book, including allegations that Stone delayed release of John Podesta emails to blunt the impact of the Access Hollywood video.

November 29, 2018: Michael Cohen pleads guilty in Mueller related cooperation deal.

December 2, 2018: Roger Stone claims in ABC appearance he’d never testify against Trump and that he has not asked for a pardon.

December 3, 2018: Trump hails Stone’s promise not to cooperate against him.

December 9, 2018: Stone replies to Campbell saying that because he never made money on Making of the President, he has no interest.

December 13, 2018: Tony Lyons and Grant Smith negotiate a deal under which Sky Horse would buy Stone out of his hardcover deal with short turnaround, then expect to finalize a paperbook by mid January. This is how Stone gets removed from the joint venture — in an effort to minimize his risk.

December 14, 2018: Mueller formally requests Roger Stone’s transcript from House Intelligence Committee.

December 17, 2018: Smith, saying he and Stone have discussed the deal at length, sends back a proposal for how it could work. This is where he asks for payment the next day, to pay someone off for work on the original book.

For some reason, in the ensuing back-and-forth, Smith presses to delay decision on the title until January.

December 19, 2018: It takes two days to get an agreement signed and Stone’s payment wired.

December 20, 2018: HPSCI votes to release Stone’s transcript to Mueller.

January 8, 2019: Paul Manafort’s redaction fail alerts co-conspirators that Mueller knows he shared polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik.

January 13, 2019: Stone drafts new introduction, which he notes is “substantially longer and better than the draft sent to me by your folks.” He asks about the title again.

January 14, 2019: Stone sends the draft to Smith and Lyons. It is 3386 words long. Lyons responds, suggesting as title, “The Myth of Collusion; The Inside Story of How I REALLY Helped Trump Win.” Lyons also notes Stone can share the book with Senators.

Stone responds suggesting that he could live with, “The Myth of Collusion; The Inside Story of How Donald Trump really won,” noting, “I really can’t be seen taking credit for HIS victory.”

By end of day, Skyhorse’s Mike Campbell responds with his edits.

January 15, 2019: The next morning, Smith responds with his edits, reminding that Stone has to give final approval. Stone does so before lunch. Skyhorse moves to working on the cover. Late that day Campbell sends book jacket copy emphasizing Mueller’s “witch hunt.”

January 15, 2019: Mueller filing makes clear that not all Manafort’s interviews and grand jury appearances involve him lying.

January 16, 2019: Tony Lyons starts planning for the promotional tour, asking Stone whether he can be in NYC for a March 5 release. They email back and forth about which cover to use.

January 18, 2019: By end of day Friday, Skyhorse is wiring Stone payment for the new introduction.

January 24, 2019: Mike Campbell tells Stone the paperback “is printing soon,” and asks what address he should send Stone’s copies to. WaPo reports that Mueller is investigating whether Jerome Corsi’s “severance payments” from InfoWars were an effort to have him sustain Stone’s story. It also reports that Corsi’s stepson, Andrew Stettner, appeared before the grand jury. That same day, the grand jury indicts Stone, but not Corsi.

January 25, 2019, 6:00 AM: Arrest of Roger Stone.

January 25, 2019, 2:10 PM: Starting the afternoon after Stone got arrested, Tony Lyons starts working with Smith on some limited post-arrest publicity. He says Hannity is interested in having Stone Monday, January 28 “Will he do it?” Smith replies hours later on the same day his client was arrested warning, “I need to talk to them before.”

January 26, 2019: Lyons asks Smith if Stone is willing to do a CNN appearance Monday morning, teasing, “I guess he could put them on the spot about how they really go to this house with the FBI.”

January 27, 2019: Smith responds to the CNN invitation, “Roger is fully booked.” When Lyons asks for a list of those “fully booked” bookings, Smith only refers to the Hannity appearance on the 28th, and notes that Kristin Davis is handling the schedule. Davis notes he’s also doing Laura Ingraham.

January 28, 2019: The plans for Hannity continue on Monday, with Smith again asking for the Hannity folks to speak to him “to confirm the details.” In that thread, Davis and Lyons talk about how amazing it would be to support “another New York Times Bestseller” for Stone.

February 15, 2019: After two weeks — during which Stone was indicted, made several appearances before judges, and had his attorneys submit their first argument against a gag — Stone responded to Campbell’s January 24 email providing his address, and then asking “what is the plan for launch?” (a topic which had already been broached with Lyons on January 16). Campbell describes the 300-400 media outlets who got a review copy, then describes the 8 journalists who expressed an interest in it. Stone warns Campbell, “recognize that the judge may issue a gag order any day now” and admits “I also have to be wary of media outlets I want to interview me but don’t really want to talk about the book.”

February 18, 2019: Release of ebook version of Stone’s reissued book.

February 21, 2019: After Stone released an Instagram post implicitly threatening her, Amy Berman Jackson imposes a gag on Stone based on public safety considerations.

March 1, 2019: Ostensible official release date of paperback of Stone’s book. Stone submits “clarification” claiming that the book publication does not violate the gag.

March 12, 2019: Official release date of Corsi hard cover, which Mueller may need for indictment.

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

Judge Amy Berman Jackson Lays the Precedent for FARA

I said while following yesterday’s live tweets of the Paul Manafort sentencing that, because so few FARA cases have been criminally prosecuted, Manafort’s will set some precedent going forward, as DOJ moves to put some prosecutorial teeth behind the law. So I wanted to look at the various things she said yesterday about it.

First, there’s the way she characterizes Manafort’s own actions. After calling out the way Manafort claims his entire life’s work has been about spreading democracy without actually presenting evidence to support the case (and leaving unstated the obvious fact that in fact he was more often serving dictators), she then notes that ultimately it was easier for him to get a win for his clients if he hid who he was working for.

The sentencing memorandum also states: Mr. Manafort has spent his life advancing American ideals and principles. It starts with his work on numerous political campaigns and positions within some of the administrations, and it goes on to say during his years outside of government service, Mr. Manafort also worked with world leaders. He has spent a lifetime promoting American democratic values and assisting emerging democracies to adopt reforms necessary to become a part of Western society.

At times he interacted with politicians and business people in emerging countries to assist in the development of American beliefs of equal justice, human rights, and free markets. There aren’t really any exhibits or letters that go along with that, so I don’t have the facts or the record before me that would permit me to either accept or question what is a very general description. It will fall to others in other settings to assess whether the way the defendant chose to market the access he gained during political campaigns and the work he did for the clients he represented has been characterized accurately. So it doesn’t factor into my consideration of the history and characteristics of the defendant.

[snip]

It may have been that in addition to thinking of his own finances, he had his clients’ ability to win in mind. He knew that revealing the true source behind the lobbying activities would have made those activities ineffective and unsuccessful, as the prosecutor said. Secrecy was integral. But that willingness to win at all costs was contrary to laws designed to ensure transparency in the political process and the legislative process. So it cannot possibly justify the behavior, particularly when there’s no question that this defendant knew better and he knew exactly what he was doing.

This is important background for how she distinguishes lobbying, even for sleazy clients, and lobbying without disclosing it.

It is important to note, in case there’s any confusion, notwithstanding the use of the word “agent,” an unregistered foreign agent is not a spy. He is a lobbyist. Lobbying is not illegal. Being paid to do it, even on behalf of clients who others might view as unseemly or odious or even tyrannical is not illegal, if you follow the laws that govern foreign financial transactions and pay your taxes. But this defendant kept his money offshore and under wraps so he wouldn’t have to pay.

[snip]

So what remains to be considered here? According to the defendant, it’s just an administrative matter, a regulatory crime, a violation of the Foreign Agent Registration Act. And that’s not a fair description. He was hiding the truth of who he represented from policymakers and the public, and that’s antithetical to the very American values that he told me he championed. And this was after he knew and already had been warned not to do it.

What becomes clear from this record is that defendant’s approach in his career, and what he didn’t abandon even after he was indicted, was that it’s all about strategy, positioning, public relations, spin. And you could say, well, there’s nothing wrong with that, at least if you’re not a journalist. But there is something wrong with it if you’re not simply advancing a position as part of a PR campaign.

It’s okay to say: Members of Congress, the government of the Ukraine, President Victor Yanukovych, would like you to consider the following when you consider how to respond to his actions, when you determine what the foreign policy of the United States should be. But what you were doing was lying to members of Congress and the American public, saying, look at this nice American PR firm, look at this nice U.S.-based law firm, look at this nice group of prominent former European officials, isn’t it great how they’ve all voluntarily stepped forward to stand up for Yanukovych and the new administration, when all along you were hiding that you and the Ukrainians actually had them on the payroll. This deliberate effort to obscure the facts, this disregard for truth undermines our political discourse and it infects our policymaking. If the people don’t have the facts, democracy can’t work.

That’s key background for how she treats Manafort’s specific violations of FARA. She dismisses Manafort’s claims that this is a mere registration violation in several ways that may lay important precedent: she invokes the money laundering (which prosecutors said was an important part of hiding the lobbying he was doing), the serial lies to DOJ — including lies told to his lawyer preparing his registration, and his efforts to get others (Tony Podesta, Vin Weber, and Greg Craig) to lie as well.

The other thing the sentencing statute tells me I’m supposed to do is I’m supposed to avoid unwarranted sentencing disparities among defendants with similar records who have been found guilty of similar conduct. With respect to sentencing disparities, the defense points primarily to other regulatory cases. But those involve, ordinarily, just a plain failure to register, or a plain failure to reveal a foreign bank account. They’re not analogous. They don’t involve, as here, a failure to register — to hide the existence of — multiple foreign bank accounts for the purpose of laundering millions of dollars, shielding millions of dollars from the IRS.

[snip]

I’ve got the regulatory FARA piece of Count 1 and the money laundering. And I don’t believe that’s covered by the Eastern District sentence and I think it has to be addressed. As I noted earlier, it’s not a mere oversight, it’s not a missing piece of paper. To the extent it could or should have been treated as a mere administrative matter, I think the defendant forfeited being able to rely on that sort of discretion on the part of law enforcement by having his lawyer lie to the Department of Justice twice on his behalf.

I do note that the Eastern District of Virginia found 30 months to be an appropriate sentence for the other single regulatory disclosure violation. And here, it wasn’t just a single failure to register; the defendant prevailed upon others in the scheme not to register either, and he admitted under oath at the plea that he caused them not to register.

Those three factors (the second of which was present in Mike Flynn’s FARA violation as well), are all likely to be aggravating factors that may got into criminal prosecution of FARA in the future.

Finally, there’s the timing. To rebut claims that these prosecutions were simply about long passed lobbying efforts, ABJ clearly describes the crime as persisting through the time Manafort twice lied to DOJ about his lobbying.

Furthermore, this conduct is not, as the defendant would have me conclude, old news. It’s not just some ancient failure to comply with a couple of regulations, something that took place so long before the campaign it’s just unfair and inappropriate to charge him for it in 2017. He pled guilty to laundering of funds through 2016. He pled guilty to a lobbying campaign in the United States for the government of Ukraine, Victor Yanukovych, and when he was out of office, his Party of Regions and the Opposition Bloc from 2005 to 2015. And the defense says, well, yes, but the government investigated and wrapped it all up and there wouldn’t have been a prosecution but for the appointment of the special counsel.

I’m not exactly sure what that prediction — which they’ve made to me repeatedly — is actually based on. I don’t believe there is evidence that a formal final determination was made. Prior to the time when anybody was even thinking about a special counsel, the Department of Justice was already looking into this matter. And when the Department of Justice — not the Office of Special Counsel — was looking into the matter, it asked Mr. Manafort questions. He lied to his own lawyers and he lied to the Department of Justice. He had them submit not one, but two letters, falsely stating that he had not performed lobbying activities in the United States on the part of the Ukraine.

That first lie was in November of 2016, after he resigned as campaign chair but well before the appointment of the special counsel. The second, in February, was after the special counsel investigation was underway. So it’s not entirely clear that a civil resolution would still have been possible at that point.

This, too, would have big implications for Flynn’s actions, since he lied to DOJ while he was at the White House.

Particularly given Manafort’s example, people are unlikely to wrack up these many aggravating factors in the future. But they do lay out a clear map for what a criminal FARA violation would look like in the future.

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

Mueller Is Close to Done, But the Andrew Weissmann Departure Is Overblown

As my docket tracker of the Mueller and related investigations shows, around August 1, 2018, after finalizing the GRU indictment, Ryan Dickey returned to his duties elsewhere at DOJ.

Around October 1, 2018, after submitting a filing saying Mike Flynn was ready to be sentenced, Brandon Van Grack moved back to his duties elsewhere at DOJ (though he continues to be named in documents in the case, as he was Tuesday). He is now starting a prosecutorial focus on FARA.

Around October 15, 2018, Kyle Freeny, who had worked the money laundering angle on the GRU and Manafort cases, moved back to her duties elsewhere at DOJ.

Around December 31, 2018, after successfully defending the Mystery Appellant challenge in the DC Circuit, Scott Meisler moved back to his duties elsewhere at DOJ.

Today, after getting Paul Manafort sentenced to 7.5 years in prison, imposing a $24 million restitution payment, and an $11 million forfeiture (including of Manafort’s Trump Tower condo), multiple outlets are reporting that the guy in charge of prosecuting Manafort’s corruption, Andrew Weissmann, is moving to a job at NYU.

After each prosecutor has finished their work on the Mueller team, he or she has moved on. Weissmann’s departure is more final, since he’s leaving DOJ. But his departure continues a pattern that was set last summer. Finish your work, and move on.

Nevertheless, his departure is being taken as a surefire sign the Mueller investigation is closing up.

Let me be clear: I do agree Mueller is just about done with the investigation. He’s waiting on Mystery Appellant, possibly on Andrew Miller’s testimony; he may have been waiting on formal publication of Jerome Corsi’s book yesterday. Multiple other details suggest that Mueller expects to be able to share things in a month that he’s unable to share today.

None of that tells us what will happen in the next few weeks. There is abundant evidence that Trump entered into a quid pro quo conspiracy with Russia, trading dirt and dollars for sanctions relief and other policy considerations. But it’s unclear whether Mueller has certainty that he’d have an 85% chance of winning convictions, which is around what he’d need to convince DOJ to charge it. There is also abundant evidence that Trump and others obstructed the investigation, but charging Trump in that presents constitutional questions.

If Mueller does charge either of those things, I’d still expect him to resign and either retire or move back to WilmerHale and let other prosecutors prosecute it. That’s what Leon Jaworski did in Watergate.

The far more interesting detail from Carrie Johnson’s Weissmann report is that just some of Mueller’s team are returning to WilmerHale.

WilmerHale, the law firm that Mueller and several other prosecutors left to help create the special counsel team, is preparing for the return of some of its onetime law partners, three lawyers have told NPR in recent weeks.

I’m far more interested in the plans of James Quarles (who has been liaising with the White House and so presumably has a key part of the obstruction investigation) or Jeannie Rhee (who seems to have been overseeing the conspiracy investigation) than Mueller or his Chief of Staff, Aaron Zebley. Their plans might tell us more about what to expect in the next month (though Rhee appeared in Roger Stone’s status hearing today, and may be sticking around for his prosecution, which just got scheduled for November 5).

In any case, though, we don’t have long to wait, so it’s not clear that misreading the departure of Weissmann — which is better understood as part of the normal pattern of Mueller’s prosecutors leaving when they’re done — tells us anything useful.

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

Paulie’s Very Bad Day: “If the People Don’t Have the Facts, Democracy Can’t Work.” 

Recently, I got a new makeup artist for my TV appearances (which, of course, all have to do with the Russian investigation). She came to the US from Ukraine in the wake of Yanukovych’s ouster. When I told her I was talking about the Manafort the first time I met her, she expressed her hope that he would pay a price, here, for what he helped Yanukovych do to her country.

I like to think today is for her. Amy Berman Jackson sentenced Paul Manafort to an additional 43 in months in prison on top of the 47 from EDVA for crimes were tied to Manafort’s efforts to whitewash a brute, in Ukraine, Western Europe, and the US, and then hide the “blood money” (as his daughter called it) from tax authorities.

Immediately after the sentencing ended, Cy Vance announced a 16-count indictment in New York State, on charges that Trump cannot pardon. Whatever you think of Vance’s grandstanding, the NY indictment immediately shifts Manafort’s incentives for a pardon, because prison in NY State would be significantly less comfortable than FCI Cumberland, where Manafort will serve his federal charges. So any pardon might just hasten a move to less comfortable surroundings.

That means the entire strategy Manafort has pursued for the last 18 months, refusing to cooperate and then, when he did enter a plea deal, using it only to waste prosecutors’ time and share information with Trump, will serve no purpose.

Which is why I think today can best be summed up by the contrast between two statements. In the middle of a long judgment that was not televised but was superbly livetweeted by Zoe Tillman, Andrew Prokop, Ryan Reilly, and others, ABJ observed the gravity of Manafort’s FARA crimes by noting that, “If the people don’t have the facts, democracy can’t work.”

Immediately after the sentencing, Kevin Downing — the Manafort lawyer who, more than the others, has been cultivating Manafort’s pardon strategy — stepped out on the courtroom stairs and made a false statement that serves that pardon strategy (as he did last week) “Judge Jackson conceded that there was absolutely no evidence of Russian collusion in this case.” Protestors immediately called him a liar, and noted that that’s not what ABJ had said, hopefully to be picked up by every TV feed filming Downing.

Indeed, ABJ had just criticized that ploy in the courtroom.

During Wednesday’s sentencing, Jackson slammed Manafort and his lawyers for their focus on the fact that he was not charged in connection with his work on the Trump campaign or accused of colluding with the Russian government. She said that the “non-collusion mantra was a non sequitor,” unrelated to what sentence Manafort should receive, and that his lawyers made the “unsubstantiated” claim that Manafort was only charged with financial crimes predating his campaign work because Mueller’s office couldn’t charge him with anything to do with Russia.

The live-tweeting is what made it possible for protestors to spoil Downing’s effort to perform as Trump wanted him to, undermining Downing’s (and with it, Trump’s) effort to spin this verdict as an exoneration in the case in chief.

Today’s verdict was about Paul Manafort’s efforts to prevent voters in both Ukraine and the US from obtaining real facts.

And it turns out that President Trump isn’t going to be able to help Manafort avoid the consequences for that.

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

Dear Editors: Stop Trying to Predict the Mueller Report

Darren Samuelsohn, who gets credit for one of the most important courthouse scoops of the Mueller investigation — the challenge of a Mueller subpoena by a foreign-owned corporation — wrote a piece laying out, “The week that could reveal Mueller’s end-game.” It relies heavily on analysis from Matt Miller, who was among those people saying not just that Mueller was substantially done three weeks ago (apparently true) but that he would issue his report (didn’t happen as predicted). He also quotes Ty Cobb promising Mueller will finish by mid-March, which is something like 16 months after he first predicted the end date.

Yet Samuelsohn’s piece doesn’t mention his own Mystery Appellant scoop, which is currently scheduled for discussion on SCOTUS’ March 22 conference (and would take some time to coerce compliance after that), at all. This appears to be a case where a foreign owned corporation is shielding the potentially criminal behavior of an American citizen by claiming only the President can coerce it to comply, the kind of appellate question that might rival the one decided in US v. Nixon. Solicitor General Noel Francisco’s role in the defense of the subpoena seems to indicate the high stakes of this challenge. Yet even Samuelsohn seems ready to believe that the resolution of this challenge won’t hold up the end game of the Mueller investigation.

Samulesohn also doesn’t mention Andrew Miller’s challenge to a Mueller subpoena. He lost his challenge in the DC Circuit on February 26, but depending on whether this challenge is treated as a criminal or civil one, he still has time to ask for an en banc reconsideration. In the wake of Roger Stone’s indictment, Mueller’s team told Miller’s lawyer they still need his client’s testimony, apparently for other charges. Admittedly, that could just involve a superseding indictment for Stone down the road — which might explain why Mueller was looking for 8 months before trial — but it’s a loose end that won’t be tied anytime soon (unless Miller quietly complied without anyone noticing).

Even among the details that Samuelsohn lays out (status reports in Flynn and Gates, a gag review and status hearing in Stone’s case, and sentencing for Manafort), he misses a really intriguing one. In the wake of Mueller’s clarification regarding the circumstances behind the printing of polling data on August 2, 2016 and which oligarchs that got that data are Russian (a clarification that made it clear they reinterviewed Rick Gates just a month ago), Manafort submitted a sealed motion (docket 538) for Amy Berman Jackson to reconsider her breach determination.

In a minute order filed last Monday, she approved the filing of that motion under seal, but ordered Manafort’s lawyers and Mueller’s to get together to agree on a set of redactions to release that motion. While there have been several sealed motions submitted since then, we don’t yet have that motion for reconsideration.

Manafort’s lawyers have been working hard to publicly reveal details — spun using any of a variety of changing cover stories — about that August 2 meeting since last summer. They’ve already lost a bid to unseal more details of this dispute from one of the past hearings, and they may have lost a dispute here (or it may something that will be aired in Wednesday’s sentencing hearing).

It’s interesting not just that Manafort’s lawyers, in their relentless bid to perform as the guy holding the pardon pen most wants them to perform, are still trying to explain away why Trump’s campaign manager provided data to be shared with Russia at the same meeting he discussed what amounts to relief from the Ukraine related sanctions. But even as Kevin Downing tries yet again to offer a cover story, Mueller appears to be successfully hiding the full details of this incident.

If they’re done, there’s no reason to hide these details, yet ABJ seems to agree they do have reason to hide them.

It is at once possible — likely even! — that the bulk of the investigative work is done (allowing Mueller’s lead Agent to be put in charge of the Richmond FBI Office), but that there are remaining threads that Mueller needs for his final “report.” It’s even possible that everyone misunderstands what form that final report will take.

But thus far no editor has produced a story that adequately describes the signs of a nearing end that adequately accounts for the number of known loose ends that will take some weeks to be tied.

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

Art of the Get-Screwed-in-Your-Russian-Quid-Pro-Quo Deal

Donald J. Trump, self-proclaimed Master of the Deal, just got his ass handed to him in a high stakes nuclear negotiation by Kim Jong-Un, at a time when Trump had the full power of the United States and hundreds of experts available to help him.

And yet Russian conspiracy denialists believe that any conspiracy between said deal-maker and Vladimir Putin must show evidence that Trump came away with a big win over anything but the 2016 election. They believe this, even though Trump made any such deal at a time when he was desperate to avoid a humiliating loss, relying on negotiators like his feckless son Don Jr, his attention-craving personal lawyer Michael Cohen, and his financially exposed campaign manager Paul Manafort.

That’s what I learned last night when I walked Aaron Maté through the process of first claiming the Trump Tower deal went nowhere because Cohen and Felix Sater disagreed in December 2015, then admitting that Cohen and Sater were still at it in May and June 2016. By the end, Maté was dismissing Rudy Giuliani’s admission that the deal went through the election (which is itself a limited hangout designed to hide that a Trump Tower deal was pursued in two different forms after the election, as well as abundant evidence that other financial payoffs were dangled if not made) by pointing to Dmitry Peskov’s stories, which have changed right along with Michael Cohen’s evolving story.

Because there’s no shiny tower in Moscow with Trump’s name on it, Maté appears to believe, it is proof that when Don Jr took a meeting in June 2016 at which he (according to the sworn testimony of four people who attended) committed to revisit Magnitsky sanctions if his dad got elected, the possibility of a $300 million payoff didn’t factor in to Junior’s willingness to sign away American policy considerations on behalf of his father.

That’s not how criminal conspiracy law works.

If you sign up for a deal and take steps to make good on it — as Don Jr did on June 9, 2016 and Paul Manafort appears to have done on August 2, 2016 and Mike Flynn appears to have done, on Trump’s behalf, on December 29, 2016 — then it doesn’t matter if the partner to that deal fucks you over later in the process. And, after all, the Russians did continue to supply Trump with a steady supply of dirt on Hillary Clinton all through the election. They got Trump elected, or at least did what they could to help, even if that payoff wasn’t the one Trump was most interested in.

Do you think Oleg Deripaska, a key player in both the deal-making and likely in the cover-up of it, gives a shit if Paul Manafort — who had screwed Deripaska over years earlier — had his life ruined as part of the process of compromising a President and getting sanctions relief? My suspicion is we’ll learn that Deripaska actually magnified Manafort’s hurt, once he had gotten him to compromise himself and the campaign.

Do you think Putin really cares whether Trump — to say nothing of the United States — benefits from the stupid choices Trump made during the election? Putin — a far better “deal” maker than Trump — got a win-win either way: Either Trump succeeded in compromising America’s rule of law in an effort to squelch any investigation into what happened, robbing the United States of the claim to idealism that so irks the master kleptocrat, Putin, or Trump would spend his Administration desperately trying to find a way out, all the while Putin connives Trump into dismantling the alliances that keep Russia in check.

And, too, Putin’s election year operation exacerbated the polarization between Democrats and Republicans such that most Republicans and a goodly number of Democrats have been unable to step back and say, holy shit, this country got attacked and we need to come together to do something about it. Trump’s win got Republicans to fear Trump’s base so much that they care more about those fevered hordes than doing what is right for this country. And Democrats rightly want to punish Trump for cheating, but haven’t thought about what a least-damaging off-ramp for that cheater might look like.

Putin doesn’t care if Trump benefits from all this — though he is happy to keep toying with Trump like a cat plays before he eviscerates his mouse. He cares about whether he and his cronies win. And there are multiple ways for him to get a win out of this, whether or not Trump manages to eke out any kind of real payoff past the election.

And let’s be honest, Putin isn’t the only one playing this game. Certainly, Mohammed bin Salman feels the same way, even if his record of ruthless dealmaking is shorter and sloppier than Putin’s. The truth is that Donald Trump and Jared Kushner are easy marks for a whole range of skilled operators willing to stroke their egos and dangle loot, and over and over again they’ve let themselves be bested in foreign policy negotiations, to the detriment of the interests of the United States. That they are so bad at deal making in no way disproves their culpability.

There is no Trump Tower in Moscow. But there never had to be. All that was needed was the promise of a ridiculously lucrative narcissism-stroking deal for the Trump family to agree to shit that would hurt this country. And all the evidence suggests that they did, and continue to do so.

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