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So — What’s New, Rick? Paul? Fresh Indictments Today on Bank, Tax Fraud

Open thread for you folks to talk about the latest developments in the Trump-Russia investigation.

Earlier this afternoon, U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson rejected the bail package offered by Paul Manafort as the property offered as collateral wasn’t free and clear.

From reports about this rejection there were hints another shoe would drop soon.

Bingo — multiple counts of bank and tax fraud levied against each and both Manafort and his partner, Rick Gates.

Manafort was charged with a count each for each year:
Subscribing to False U.S. Individual Income Tax Returns for years 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014
Failure to File Reports of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts for years 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014

Gates was charged with a count each for year:
Assisting in the Preparation of False U.S. Individual Income for 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014
Subscribing to False U.S. Individual Tax Returns for years 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014
Subscribing to False Amended U.S. Individual Tax Returns for 2013
Failure to File Reports of Foreign Bank and Financial Accounts for 2011, 2012, 2013

Both Gates and Manafort were charged with one count for each year:
Bank Fraud Conspiracy (Lender B/$3.4 million)
Bank Fraud (Lender B/$3.4 million)
Bank Fraud Conspiracy (Lender C/$1 million)
Bank Fraud (Lender C/$1 million)
Bank Fraud Conspiracy (Lender B/$5.5 million)
Bank Fraud Conspiracy (Lender D/$9.5 million)
Bank Fraud (Lender D/$9.5 million)
Bank Fraud Conspiracy (Lender D/$6.5 million)
Bank Fraud (Lender D/$6.5 million)

That’s 18 counts for Manafort, 23 counts for Gates. (Do check my math, I am working off a ridiculously small mobile device screen – thanks!)

These charges open many questions, but perhaps we ought to spend our time looking at the indictment itself. I know you’ll find parts amusing.

You can read it at this link (pdf).

Quentin Hardy observed via Twitter:

Nice touch in the new indictment: Manafort has “a lavish lifestyle,” while Gates is portrayed as just a simple suburban money launderer.

Better buy up extra popcorn, gang. We’re going to need it.

Speaking of Manafort’s Efforts to Make Bail Doing Him In

Mueller watchers are abuzz with the news that the Special Counsel filed new, sealed charges in the Paul Manafort/Rick Gates docket. The move comes in advance of Gates’ 5PM deadline to tell the court which lawyers he’s going to the prom with.

As Josh Gerstein noted, the new charges might be related to new evidence obtained relating to some bank fraud.

Last week, prosecutors told the court they’d received new evidence that Manafort took part in “a series of bank frauds and bank fraud conspiracies” in connection with a loan he sought in 2016. Mueller’s team said Manafort obtained the loan using “doctored profit and loss statements” that overstated “by millions of dollars” the income of his consulting business.

The bank fraud allegations were disclosed in a bail-related court filing made public on Friday that did not contain any indication of what action, if any, Mueller’s team planned to take over the alleged fraud.

Meanwhile, NBC reports that Mueller’s team has been focusing on loans Manafort obtained in the wake of leaving the campaign that might be that newly identified fraud; they suggest Manafort may have promised the banker who made the loans a position in the Trump White House.

Manafort received three separate loans in December 2016 and January 2017 from Federal Savings Bank for homes in New York City, Virginia and the Hamptons.

The banker, Stephen Calk, president of the Federal Savings Bank, was announced as a member of candidate Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers in August 2016.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is now investigating whether there was a quid pro quo agreement between Manafort and Calk. Manafort left the Trump campaign in August 2016 after the millions he had earned working for a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine drew media scrutiny. Calk did not receive a job in President Donald Trump’s cabinet.

They point specifically to loans for which Manafort used his Hamptons and Alexandria homes — the same homes at the center of his effort to make bail — as collateral.

Manafort’s LLC, Summerbreeze, then took out a new $9.5 million loan in December using the Hamptons property and house in Alexandria, Virginia, as part of the collateral. The lender was Federal Savings Bank of Chicago, whose chief executive, Calk, was an economic adviser to the Trump campaign.

Yesterday, Manafort submitted additional paperwork on the collateral for precisely this loan.

The business attorney who handled the mortgage refinancing transaction relating to the Bridgehampton, NY property was contacted upon the conclusion of the hearing held on February 14, 2018 and asked to provide an analysis of the mortgage loan documents and the parties’ understanding at the time, of which he had first-hand knowledge. Specific attention to the additional collateral provided by the Alexandria property was requested. The attorney’s letter, with exhibits, is attached to this submission. (See Attachment A.)

Although the document speaks for itself, in general, the business attorney confirms the following: the primary collateral for the Bridgehampton loan refinancing was the real property itself, valued at [redacted], and the substantial deposit account of [redacted] established with the lending institution to be used by the bank in the event of a default on the mortgage. Importantly, the lawyer notes that “[t]he property at [redacted–his Alexandria property], is merely additional collateral with no expectation that its foreclosure would be necessary in the event of a default. These facts were discussed between myself and representatives of FSB well before the closing of the loan, and the loan documents were prepared accordingly.”

Next, the defendant wishes to advise that upon further investigation and inquiry with Mr. Manafort’s business attorney, the [redacted] on deposit with the lender was tied to the Union Street property in New York, not the Bridgehampton property. Regardless of the defendant’s intent to use these deposited funds – upon the satisfaction of certain requisite conditions – for the payment of Bridgehampton loan expenses, there is no contractual or legal obligation to do so in a hypothetical default scenario. Nevertheless, as the letter states, the appraised value of the Bridgehampton property plus the deposit account noted above totals [redacted] and would be more than sufficient to satisfy the [redacted] loan to Summerbreeze, LLC. Id.

After Manafort submitted that, the government asked for and obtained access to the sealed transcripts from that hearing.

Which is to say, the government has gotten sworn statements about the property Manafort has been trying to use to make bail, statements that, if he is found to lie on them, he’ll lose his current release conditions.

Call me crazy, but I think Manafort might finally spend his first night in jail.

Not to mention Manafort and these bankers are probably in a bigger heap of trouble.

I’m betting he’s going to get a lot closer to flipping after he spends a bit of time in jail.

Jared’s Clearance and the Foreign Policy Version of Conspiracy to Defraud America


I confess there is no multi-day Trump story I’ve looked forward to more than the problem with Jared Kushner’s clearance. And it is officially here. Last night, the NYT described how Jared is butting heads with John Kelly over whether he’ll lose clearance under Kelly’s post-Rob Porter mandate that people who can’t be cleared won’t be kept around anymore.

Kushner, frustrated about the security clearance issue and concerned that Mr. Kelly has targeted him personally with the directive, has told colleagues at the White House that he is reluctant to give up his high-level access, the officials said. In the talks, the officials say, Mr. Kushner has insisted that he maintain his current level of access, including the ability to review the daily intelligence briefing when he sees fit.

Today CNN and WaPo weigh in, with CNN nodding towards the conflict this will present Trump.

Though a source familiar with the situation said Kushner has not yet appealed to the President directly about his access to highly classified information, those close to Trump believe he would be inclined to grant his son-in-law access if asked. This source pointed to the fact that Kushner is part of the President’s family and has outlasted all of his rivals in Trump’s inner circle, including former chief of staff Reince Priebus, former chief strategist Steve Bannon, former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and former deputy campaign manager David Bossie.

Trump, however, has given Kelly his full support in efforts to reform the White House’s system of security clearances, and has told his chief of staff that changes need to be made to bring the system into order, according to a person who has spoken to him about the matter. Kelly has interpreted that as a wide-ranging mandate that would include Kushner, a person familiar with the matter said. The person said Trump and Kelly would likely discuss the matter this week, if they haven’t already, before Kelly’s self-imposed Friday deadline.

WaPo brings the appropriate level of skepticism over whether Kushner can really do his Fake Peace Plan job without clearance.

It is not clear how Kushner could perform his job without a high-level security clearance.

He holds a broad range of responsibilities, from overseeing peace efforts in the Middle East to improving the efficiency of the federal government. And he is the administration’s interlocutor with key allies, including China and Saudi Arabia, where he has developed a personal relationship with the young crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

[snip]

And apart from staff on the National Security Council, he issues more requests for information to the intelligence community than any White House employee, according to a person with knowledge of the situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private discussions.

More importantly, WaPo includes a series of false bravado quotes from Jared’s defense attorney, Abbe Lowell, who bizarrely offered up his judgement that Jared is speaking with foreign officials “properly.”

“My inquiries to those involved again have confirmed that there are a dozen or more people at Mr. Kushner’s level whose process is delayed, that it is not uncommon for this process to take this long in a new administration, that the current backlogs are being addressed, and no concerns were raised about Mr. Kushner’s application,” he said in a statement.

[snip]

Lowell said Kushner’s job is “to talk with foreign officials, which he has done and continues to do properly.”

I’ve come to think of Kushner’s clearance process in similar terms to the way I’ve thought of the bail process Mueller has used with Paul Manafort and Rick Gates: While Gates ultimately did make bail, Manafort is still (!) almost four months after his arrest, struggling to show enough liquidity free of taint from his money laundering to alter his release conditions. The process of making bail (and having to serially beg to attend his kids’ soccer events) seems to have been one of the factors that brought Gates to the point of flipping, but along the way, he probably gave Mueller’s team far more leverage in plea negotiations, because they know how little Gates actually has to pay a defense attorney to oversee the flip (indeed, that may lie behind the confusion over Gates’ current legal representation).

Kushner’s liquidity problems are literally an order of magnitude greater than these men. But unlike them, he made the idiotic decision to work in the White House, and thereby to undergo the scrutiny of sworn statements laying out all the financial vulnerabilities and foreign entanglements that might make him susceptible to blackmail.

Which brings me back to my description of how Mueller is leveraging “conspiracy to defraud the United States” (what I will henceforward refer to as ConFraudUS*) charges to prosecute political influence peddling for which our regulatory system has completely collapsed. With the Internet Research Agency indictment, Mueller charged ConFraudUS because the trolls bypassed a campaign finance system that no longer works. With Manafort and Gates, Mueller charged ConFraudUS because they bypassed Foreign Agents Registration Act requirements that have never been enforced.

In the old days, to pursue the kind of quid pro quo we see outlines of, in which Trump officials (from George Papadopoulos’ proposed business with Sergei Millian to the possibility Kushner might get bailed out by the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which is itself a cut-out for the sanctioned Vnesheconombank, whose head, Sergey Gorkov, Kushner met in December 2016), you’d pursue bribery. But post-Bob McDonnell, bribery is a far tougher charge to make stick, as Mueller prosecutor Andrew Goldstein, who worked on the Sheldon Silver prosecution team, knows well.

What if, however, you could charge people whose meetings seamlessly tie the foreign policy decisions of the United States with discussions of their own financial interests, with ConFraudUS? That might make it easier to charge someone whose foreign policy decisions don’t serve the US interest but might enrich them for the quid pro quo entailed.

Which is why I’m interested in the report that Mueller has shown increased interest (almost certainly tied to Steven Bannon’s public pronouncements that, “It goes through Deutsche Bank and all the Kushner shit”) in Jared’s foreign financial dealings, how he has mixed his business interests and US foreign policy.

One line of questioning from Mueller’s team involves discussions Kushner had with Chinese investors during the transition, according to the sources familiar with the inquiry.
A week after Trump’s election, Kushner met with the chairman and other executives of Anbang Insurance, the Chinese conglomerate that also owns the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York, according to The New York Times.

At the time, Kushner and Anbang’s chairman, Wu Xiaohui, were close to finishing a deal for the Chinese insurer to invest in the flagship Kushner Companies property, 666 Fifth Avenue. Talks between the two companies collapsed in March, according to the Times.

Mueller’s team has also asked about Kushner’s dealings with a Qatari investor regarding the same property, according to one of the sources. Kushner and his company were negotiating for financing from a prominent Qatari investor, former prime minister Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, according to The Intercept. But as with Anbang, these efforts stalled.

Lowell’s false bravado in this report is even more ridiculous than that in the clearance stories.

A representative for Kushner declined to comment prior to the publication of this story. After publication, Kushner attorney Abbe Lowell told CNN in a statement, “Another anonymous source with questionable motives now contradicts the facts — in all of Mr. Kushner’s extensive cooperation with all inquiries, there has not been a single question asked nor document sought on the 666 building or Kushner Co. deals. Nor would there be any reason to question these regular business transactions.”

Lowell may not have turned over any documents relating to 666 Fifth Avenue. But Deutsche Bank got subpoenas even before Bannon started running his mouth (albeit in a separate EDNY probe). Moreover, the key detail under my imagined ConFraudUS charge would be whether Kushner did things — like try to get Chinese investors visas — that didn’t serve or indeed violated the interests of the United States. Admittedly, the President gets largely unfettered control over the foreign policy of the United States (though Trump has defied Congress in areas where they do have some control). But to the extent Jared pursued his own business interests during the transition, he wouldn’t be able to claim to rely on presidential prerogative.

Which brings me back to Jared’s long struggle to get a security clearance.

Abbe Lowell may not have turned over the financial documents on 666 Fifth Avenue that would show how susceptible Jared’s debt woes make him to foreign influence. But he has serially provided that evidence in support of Jared’s almost certainly futile attempt to convince the FBI he should get a permanent TS/SCI security clearance.

I laid this out yesterday at the very end of my Democracy Now appearance:

I think—the reason why Kushner’s business deals are important, we’ve talked—and in the intro, this wasn’t the only example of—there’s the Don Jr. We’ve talked about how poorly Trump’s people have separated his business interests from the interests of the country. The same is even more true for Jared Kushner, whose family business is basically bankrupt. And over and over again, he’s been shown to be in negotiations with entities, including Russians, but also Chinese and Middle Eastern. So, you know, he’ll go in and say, “OK, we’ll talk about this grand peace plan,” which is not about peace at all, “but, oh, by the way, can you bail out our 666 Park Avenue building, which is badly underwater?” And I think Mueller could make the same argument he’s made with the IRA indictment and the Manafort indictment, and say that Jared Kushner is pretending to be serving America’s foreign policy interests, but in fact he is just doing his own bidding. He’s just trying to bail out his own company. So I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s moving towards a very similar indictment on conspiracy to defraud the United States, having to do with his conflicts of interest.

AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, interesting that Kushner also hasn’t managed to get top security clearance, when he’s a senior adviser to President Trump, as Porter didn’t because he beat his wives, etc. And then you’ve got Donald Jr. now in India promoting Trump businesses, as, of course, Donald Trump is the president of the United States. And he’s standing with the prime minister of India as he does this, promoting the Trump brand, Marcy.

MARCY WHEELER: Exactly. I mean, if Trump and his son and his son-in-law are pretending to be doing the business of the United States but are instead just trying to enrich themselves, again, I don’t think it’s a—you know, we’ve talked about the Emoluments Clause and how you go after the Trump campaign—the Trump officials for their egregious conflicts of interest. And, frankly, it extends into his Cabinet. But what Mueller seems to be doing, with some very good appellate lawyers, by the way, is to be laying out this framework that if you are pretending to be doing something in the interest of the United States but are actually doing something else, serving somebody else’s bidding, whether it’s Russia, pro-Russian Ukrainian political party, or whether it’s your own family business, then they’re going to go after you for a conspiracy charge. And I wouldn’t be surprised if these conspiracy charges all kind of link up at the end, in this kind of grand moment of—I think that’s where he’s headed.

Remember, Trump and his spawn never really thought they’d win the election. Instead, they seemed interested in, among other things, a Trump Tower in Moscow and refinancing 666 Fifth Avenue. But if they made deals with Russians in hopes such personal financial benefits would result, a ConFraudUS charge might be a way to prosecute them for it.

*I originally shortened this “CTDTUS,” but following Peter Crowley’s suggestion, I’m instead using “ConFraudUS.”

 

[Note: At the top of this post there is an embedded video of Marcy’s interview with Democracy Now. It isn’t rendering properly on all browsers and operating systems and may appear as a blank space. You can watch the video or listen to audio at this link. /~R]

Open Thread: All in the Families?

This is an open thread dedicated to this morning’s news. By now many of  you have heard that Alex van der Zwaan, a lawyer at mega-lawfirm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, was charged today by Team Mueller for making false statements while answering questions about his work for the Ukrainian Ministry of Justice in its case against Ukraine’s former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

The “materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statements and representations” arose from questions about interactions related to Paul Manafort’s partner Rick Gates and “Person A.”

[insert blogger’s laugh] Gee, I wonder who Person A could be? *

You can read the short and sweet court filing here (pdf).

These folks from Team Mueller signed the filing: Andrew Weissman, Greg Andres, Kyle Feeny, Brian Richardson. Add them and this assignment to Marcy’s bingo card

Richardson is a new name, which Marcy noted, already wondering if he is Mystery Prosecutor 17? She’ll probably elaborate in a separate post.

For a little background on Skadden Arps’ relationship to Ukraine, see this this NYT piece from September 21 last year: Skadden, Big New York Law Firm, Faces Questions on Work With Manafort

There was related legal news last autumn — emphasis on related.

Alfa Bank co-owners German Khan, Mikhail Fridman, and Peter Aven filed suit last October against Fusion GPS and Glenn Simpson claiming the Steele dossier was defamatory. Their reputations were “gravely” damaged as the dossier indicated they were engaged in criminal activity with Russia’s president Vladimir Putin.

Khan just happens to be van der Zwaan’s father-in-law. It’s a small world, yes?

It’ll be amusing if the Mueller-led investigation ends up unintentionally corralling multiple families.

* EDIT — 1:30 pm EST — I meant to add that  Andrea Manafort Shand, Paul Manafort’s daughter, was an associate at Skadden Arps-Washington DC office. I haven’t seen anything to suggest she’s involved in any way with today’s charges or that she’s Person A but stranger things have happened. Like the leaking of hacked text messages between Manafort’s daughters which have not been disavowed.

– – – – –

In case you missed it this morning, Marcy was on Democracy Now this morning, talking about the Mueller probe and the IRA indictment last Friday.

A transcript isn’t up as I type this but the video and audio are up on the main site under the Daily Show at the right side of Democracy Now’s homepage. I’ll add a link to the transcript as it becomes available.

Have at it!

 

The Conspiracy to Defraud the United States Backbone of the Internet Research Agency and Manafort Indictments

In this post, I suggested there was an important parallel between the structure of the Internet Research Agency indictment rolled out Friday and the Paul Manafort and Rick Gates indictment.

Both use a conspiracy to defraud the US (of its ability to enforce campaign finance and transparency law) as their backbone.

Just as way of comparison, Charge 1 in the IRA indictment alleges conspiracy to defraud the US because defendants impaired the lawful functions of the FEC, DOJ, and State in administering disclosure about foreign involvement in US politics.

From in or around 2014 to the present, in the District of Columbia and elsewhere, Defendants, together with others known and unknown to the Grand Jury, knowingly and intentionally conspired to defraud the United States by impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful functions of the Federal Election Commission, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the U.S. Department of State in administering federal requirements for disclosure of foreign involvement in certain domestic activities.

Charge 1 in the Manafort indictment alleges conspiracy to defraud the US because the defendants impaired the lawful functions of DOJ and Treasury to require disclosures about foreign political activity in US politics.

From in or about and between 2006 and 2017, both dates being approximate and inclusive, in the District of Columbia and elsewhere, the defendants PAUL J. MANAFORT, JR., and RICHARD W. GATES III, together with others, knowingly and intentionally conspired to defraud the United States by impeding, impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful governmental functions of a government agency, namely the Department of Justice and the Department of the Treasury, and to commit offenses against the United States, to wit, the violations of law charged.

Whatever else is true, both indictments start there, and go onto other related crimes (compellingly money laundering for Manafort and identity theft for IRA) from there.

Several people have already commented on the use of the conspiracy to defraud as backbone in the IRA indictment. Jamil Jaffer (not the Knight Foundation civil liberties guy, but the hawkish former DOJ NatSec guy) argued that this structure might provide a way to charge Americans who help foreigners interfere with our elections.

Today’s indictment also represents a significant step forward for the Mueller investigation and, in many ways, breaks new ground for a federal indictment. The conspiracy charge is significant because if upheld by a federal court, it shows how additional conspiracy charges might be brought against individuals–even Americans–that help foreigners interfere with our electoral system.

The Democrats’ campaign finance guru Bob Bauer laid this out in considerable more depth. He starts by observing that while evidence of campaign finance violations is abundant, Mueller instead uses only the backbone.

The indictment alleges facts that support charges of federal campaign finance law violations—such as the prohibition on foreign national contributions—but does not charge any such offenses. This is clearly not for want of evidence, since the indictment sets out in considerable detail the millions in foreign national spending to influence the 2016 election.

While it’s not clear that this is why Mueller approached it this way, Bauer notes that foreigners aren’t going to comply with campaign finance laws and the FEC is largely dysfunctional anyway.

Now, of course, those engaged in illegal campaign finance activity, such as spending from foreign national sources, won’t ever make an exception and comply with self-incriminating reporting requirements. And the irony of the premise–that the FEC would get the job done if given the needed facts–will not be lost on those who have observed the agency’s decline.

So, while in that paragraph, he didn’t go that far, Bauer implies that Mueller couldn’t charge campaign finance violations because the legal infrastructure for enforcing our country’s campaign finance laws has been shredded.

When I pointed out this parallel on Twitter, Jaffer argued the difference was that the Manafort indictment charged FARA violations (counts 3 through 6) in addition to the conspiracy to defraud backbone.

Plus in the Manafort case, it isn’t just a pure bootstrap because they they also charge the underlying crimes. Here, not so.

But let’s look at what Paul Manafort lawyer Kevin Downing argued after his arraignment: the surprising thing about the Manafort indictment is that Mueller charged Foreign Agents Registration Act, because it had so rarely been charged before and only once led to a conviction.

Today, you see an indictment brought by an office of Special Counsel using a very novel theory to prosecute Mr. Manafort regarding a FARA filing. The United States government has only used that offense six times since 1966 and it only resulted in one conviction.

Downing doesn’t dispute the letter of the law. He instead credibly disputes that Manafort could be expected to believe the law means what it says because it has never been enforced.

Admittedly, immediately after the indictment, there was a surge of compliance with FARA.

The number of first-time filings like SCL Social Limited’s rose 50 percent to 102 between 2016 and 2017, an NBC News analysis found. The number of supplemental filings, which include details about campaign donations, meetings and phone calls more than doubled from 618 to 1,244 last year as lobbyists scrambled to avoid the same fate as some of Trump’s associates and their business partners.

But that is, itself, testament to the fact that, at least when charged, no one believed FARA was a law. FARA, like other prohibitions on foreign campaign donations, didn’t work because those donating the money didn’t give a fuck and the agencies — FEC, DOJ, State, Treasury — mandated with protecting us from foreign tampering couldn’t do their jobs without the required reporting.

So we have a range of dysfunctional campaign transparency and finance laws, and two indictments charged as conspiracy to defraud the agencies empowered to oversee those laws, and only thereafter substantiated with more traditional crimes like money laundering and identity theft.

You see the parallel yet?

After arguing that FEC doesn’t work anymore anyway, Bauer argues you’re not going to charge foreigners with campaign finance violations because that would break too much legal ground.

Mueller and his team may have concluded that straight statutory campaign finance allegations rest on too much untested ground and would complicate what may well be the next phase of their investigation.  This consideration would not affect the foreign national side of the case: Foreign nationals are plainly prohibited from spending in the manner detailed in the indictment. But how the law reaches American co-conspirators is less certain, and the special counsel’s theory of the case, pleading the campaign finance aspect of the case through conspiracy-to-defraud, may allow more securely for the prosecution of American actors.

So to sum up thus far: campaign finance expert Bob Bauer, after admitting the FEC has been gutted, further argues that the theory of the conspiracy to defraud is necessitated by the involvement of foreign actors. His argument is based largely on the exclusion of FEC charges.

Yet Bob Mueller omitted any direct charge for violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act.

Instead, the indictment builds the campaign finance issues into a conspiracy to defraud the United States—it alleges that the Russians conspired to obstruct the capacity of the Federal Election Commission (FEC) to enforce the law.  The act of obstruction was a failure to report their illegal expenditures. If the FEC did not know about the expenditures, it could not enforce the law.

Click through to read that part of Bauer’s argument. Bauer seems to argue (I’m not convinced) that Mueller left off the FEC violations because he was only indicting foreigners.

But Bauer turns immediately to an invented necessity (having already proven that the underlying law is basically defunct) of sucking in Americans’ complicity that otherwise might hypothetically be covered by FEC.

If, however, Mueller possesses evidence of Americans’ complicity in these violations, he may have decided on a different theory of the campaign finance case that more reliably sweeps in U.S. citizen misconduct.

On the face of it, the law prohibits a U.S. campaign or person from “soliciting” something “of value” from a foreign national, and it bars rendering “substantial assistance” to illegal foreign national spending. It seems clear that the facts known to date implicate these rules. It is also true that there is little precedent and arguably an increased risk of a defense grounded in the “vagueness” of these prohibitions.  Some commentators have expressed unease about the constitutional limiting principle that would govern the enforcement of these provisions. I do not share this view, but it is held strongly in some quarters and, therefore, appropriately and respectfully noted.

The Mueller indictment is conceivably one way to solve this problem.

Bauer argues, breathtakingly, that instead of using America’s defunct campaign finance and transparency law, Mueller can use America’s insanely overbroad conspiracy law.

It alleges a conspiracy to prevent the FEC from taking up and addressing the regulatory issues, and American co-conspirators may be brought in on any overt act in furtherance of this illegal scheme. Any U.S. citizen who intentionally supported the Russian electoral intervention could be liable. Examples would include U.S. citizens engaged in conversations like those in Trump Tower in summer of 2016, or Don, Jr.’s communications with WikiLeaks about the timing of the release of stolen emails.  The conspiracy to defraud the United States could also envelop any Americans who helped cover the Russians’ illegal electoral program by lying to federal authorities about the campaign’s Russian contacts.

That is, Bauer is imagining Mueller might charge Trump associates in a conspiracy with IRA because they did really attenuated things — things like meeting with Russian lawyers in Trump Tower — that are associated with the conspiracy. That’s effectively what Jaffer argued, thought not in as unattenuated a way. “It shows how additional conspiracy charges might be brought against individuals–even Americans–that help foreigners interfere with our electoral system. ”

Maybe Bauer, who has the advantage of actually being an expert and a lawyer and a muckety muck, is right on this point.

But my guess is Mueller is, thus far, doing something more modest and more exciting.

To understand why, consider what Manafort is both alleged, in his indictment, to have done, and what is hanging over his head. He is alleged to have laundered both political influence (via some subordinate lobbying firms, including Tony Podesta’s) and money. The allegation is that this money and influence stems from misrepresenting the interests of his pro-Russian Party of Regions work in influence-peddling in the United States.

It is illegal to act as an agent of a foreign principal engaged in certain United States influence activities without registering the affiliation. Specifically, a person who engages in lobbying or public relations work in the United States (hereafter collectively referred to as lobbying) for a foreign principal such as the Government of Ukraine or the Party of Regions is required to provide a detailed written registration statement to the United States Department of Justice. The filing, made under oath, must disclose the name of the foreign principal, the financial payments to the lobbyist, and the measures undertaken for the foreign principal, among other information. A person required to make such a filing must further make in all lobbying material a “conspicuous statement” that the materials are distributed on behalf of the foreign principal, among other things. The filing thus permits public awareness and evaluation of the activities of a lobbyist who acts as an agent of a foreign power or foreign political party in the United States.

Effectively, the Manafort indictment argues that Manafort illegally hid the influence of Russian money and persuasion on US politics — in the form of face-to-face lobbying, among other things — in the same way that IRA obscured the financial backing and persuasion of Russia in the 2016 operation. The hidden object, Russian money and influence, is the same in both conspiracies to defraud the US indictments.

One of the biggest complaints from Republicans about the Manafort indictment, including from the President, is that Manafort’s Party of Regions work has nothing to do with his campaign. But once you define it as a conspiracy to hide Russian involvement in our politics, it goes right to the heart of whether the people running the Trump campaign, via their one-time campaign manager Paul Manafort, were honest about whose interest the campaign served.

Which brings us to the stuff hanging over Manafort’s head, the stuff Mueller seems to be trying to flip him to get. Manafort is suspected of acting as Trump’s campaign manager during key periods of staffing and policy commitment while serving the interests of Russia via some oligarch cut-outs, notably but not exclusively Oleg Deripaska.

It’s not clear how you’d charge this, in an era where campaign finance and transparency are dead. Particularly given that Manafort worked for free, bypassing every law imposed on actual donations, and therefore making it really easy for a foreign country to pay you to run a campaign.

Until you get to the conspiracy to defraud framework, to Manafort’s role in a conspiracy to hide the fact that the Russians were actually paying him to ensure Trump got elected.

I don’t actually think Don Jr will be charged (as Bauer surmised might be possible) with conspiracy to defraud based off the IRA indictment because he attended that June 9 meeting; the campaign’s data people might be different.

Which is to say that Mueller is not going to name Trump or his spawn in a conspiracy to defraud the government based off really attenuated claims that the conspiracy all derived from the IRA operation. The import of the Manafort charges (even in the limited form they exist) is that Mueller seems to be larding on the “conspiracy to defraud” charges from multiple directions, from Russians and whatever co-conspirator intermediaries to those who paid Manafort’s bills for getting Trump past the challenge of the Republican convention. Though I expect once that Marine running SCO gets all his leverage points into place they might all have that conspiracy to defraud structure. Including, I suspect, the foreign policy priorities implemented, at Jared Kushner’s direction, immediately after the election.

There are many acts, starting with the June 9 Trump Tower meeting, where principals might have criminal liability directly. But the IRA indictment made me realize why the Manafort indictment was so solidly within the scope of Mueller’s authority: because the larger project is to demonstrate that, by bypassing the agencies mandated with preventing foreign sabotage of our democratic process, the Russian-backed efforts broke a more fundamental law.

And I’m certain they’ll get there with far more evidence than Mueller laid out in the IRA indictment. But I suspect they all will use that conspiracy structure as backbone.

Update: Cleaned this up for clarity purposes.

Updated Mueller Docket Census: We Still Don’t Know What 6 Prosecutors Are Doing

With each development in the Mueller investigation, I’ve been tracking which of Mueller’s 17 prosecutors show up on which dockets, as a way of understanding how little we know about the case. This post updates what we know given Friday’s events (I’ve also updated the numbering and am only counting someone actually named on a given docket, with the James Quarles exception since obstruction involving the White House may be the last or least likely to be docketed).

Manafort docket:

  • Andrew Weissmann (1)
  • Greg Andres (2)
  • Kyle Freeny (3)

Papadopoulos docket:

  • Jeannie Rhee (4)
  • Andrew Goldstein (5)
  • Aaron Zelinsky (6)

Flynn docket:

  • Brandon L. Van Grack (7)
  • Zainab Ahmad (8)

Obstruction docket:

Internet Research Agency docket:

  • Jeannie Rhee (4)
  • Rush Atkinson (10)
  • Ryan Dickey (11)

Richard Pinedo docket:

  • Jeannie Rhee (4)
  • Rush Atkinson (10)
  • Ryan Dickey (11)

Still unaccounted for:

  • Aaron Zebley (12): probably working on coordinating SCO activities
  • Michael Dreeben (13): appellate wizard
  • Adam Jed (14): appellate specialist
  • Elizabeth Prelogar (15): appellate specialist and Russian speaker
  • Scott Meisler (16): appellate specialist
  • Mystery prosecutor (17)

 

What Did Mueller Achieve with the Internet Research Agency Indictment?

Back during Nunes Week, Trey Gowdy described the importance of Robert Mueller’s investigation by stating that we were only seeing half of what he was doing. The other half of his work, Gowdy said, was the counterintelligence side, the investigation into what Russia did to the US in 2016.

Friday, Rod Rosenstein rolled out the first glimpse of the other half of that investigation, an indictment of 13 Russians tied to the Internet Research Agency, the Russian troll factory. The indictment accuses IRA of 8 crimes: criminal conspiracy to defraud the United States, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and bank fraud, and five counts of aggravated identity theft.

In the wake of that indictment, the court unsealed a February 7  plea agreement with Californian Richard Pinedo, for identity theft (basically, selling bank account numbers; the information doesn’t identify the users who purchased the bank account numbers as IRA personnel who used them to set up “American” identities, but that is clearly what happened).

The 13 Russians charged in the IRA indictment — which include Yevgeniy Prigozhin, the close Putin associate who owns the company, those in charge of the operation (which was not limited to US targeting), down to a few of the analysts who did the troll work — will never be extradited to the US, though the most senior among them will surely be sanctioned. Nor will Putin in any way retaliate against them — they were doing work he approved of! Further, by criminalizing “information warfare” (as the Russians admitted they were engaged in, and as we do too, under the same name) we risk our own information warriors being indicted in other countries.

So what purpose did the indictment serve? Here are some thoughts:

Creating a paper trail

Rosenstein and Chris Wray have both said they believe investigators should speak through indictments and other official documents, not through Comeyesque press conferences. Here we have an indictment that serves as a record of what Mueller’s team has found.

We would probably have gotten it in any case, as Jeff Sessions’ DOJ has emphasized bringing more cybersecurity related indictments.

But that we did get it addresses one of the questions we’ve gotten about the Mueller investigation: whether we’ll get to read a report of what he has found.

To the extent that something is indictable, even if that indictment would name Russians or others located overseas, I guess we should expect more of the same.

Establishing bipartisan credibility for the larger investigation

The reason I keep pointing to Gowdy’s statements in support of the investigation in the last several weeks is because his actions seem to reflect one of the most partisan Republicans reacting soberly to an attack on the country, rather than just one party.

And while the details of the indictment — most notably that the trolls affirmatively supported Bernie Sanders as well as Trump — have resurfaced the old primary recriminations, for the most part, the indictment has provided a way for people from both parties to agree to the reality of the attack. Trump said Mueller did a good job with the indictment (admittedly, he may be currying favor). Trump’s National Security Advisor HR McMaster responded to the indictment by declaring the evidence that Russia interfered in the election “incontrovertible.” This indictment offers a way for even self-interested Republicans to start acknowledging the reality of what happened.

The indictment also gave Rod Rosenstein an opportunity to own this investigation with a press conference announcing it. None of the prosecutors tied to the case appeared (since I track these things, know that Jeannie Rhee, Rush Atkinson, and Ryan Dickey are on the docket), just Rosenstein. Hopefully, tying him to this non-offensive indictment will make it harder to fire Rosenstein, and thereby further protect Mueller.

Reiterating the crime of conspiracy to defraud the United States

The most interesting of the three crimes charged in the IRA indictment is the first, the conspiracy to defraud the United States. The indictment describes the conspiracy this way:

U.S. law bans foreign nationals from making certain expenditures or financial disbursements for the purpose of influencing federal elections. U.S. law also bars agents of any foreign entity from engaging in political activities within the United States without first registering with the Attorney General. And U.S. law requires certain foreign nationals seeking entry to the United States to obtain a visa by providing truthful and accurate information to the government.

Effectively, Mueller is saying that it’s not illegal, per se, to engage in political trolling (AKA information warfare), but it is if you don’t but are legally obliged to register before you do so. That’s an important distinction, because much of what these trolls did is accepted behavior in American politics — all sides did this in 2016, including people employed by campaigns and others expressing their own political opinions. Trolling (AKA information warfare) only becomes illegal when you don’t carry out the required transparency or reporting before you do so.

The charge of a conspiracy to defraud the United States has a very important parallel elsewhere in this investigation, in the first charge in the Paul Manafort and Rick Gates indictment. The indictment explains,

It is illegal to act as an agent of a foreign principal engaged in certain United States influence activities without registering the affiliation. Specifically, a person who engages in lobbying or public relations work in the United States (hereafter collectively referred to as lobbying) for a foreign principal such as the Government of Ukraine or the Party of Regions is required to provide a detailed written registration statement to the United States Department of Justice. The filing, made under oath, must disclose the name of the foreign principal, the financial payments to the lobbyist, and the measures undertaken for the foreign principal, among other information. A person required to make such a filing must further make in all lobbying material a “conspicuous statement” that the materials are distributed on behalf of the foreign principal, among other things. The filing thus permits public awareness and evaluation of the activities of a lobbyist who acts as an agent of a foreign power or foreign political party in the United States.

The Manafort indictment then argues that by hiding that the lobbying work they were doing was on behalf of Ukraine’s Party of Regions they, “knowingly and intentionally conspired to defraud the United States by impeding impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful governmental functions of a government agency, namely the Department of Justice and the Department of the Treasury.” I’ll have more to say about this parallel in coming days, but suffice it to say that Mueller is alleging that Manafort is the mirror image of the troll farm, engaging in politics while hiding on whose behalf he’s doing it (he was arguably doing the same in Ukraine). [Update: see this post for more on how this might work.]

In both cases, the indictments substantiate the conspiracy by naming a variety of crimes, like money laundering and identity theft.

I suspect we’ll be seeing more of this structure going forward (and suspect it’s something the numerous appellate specialists on Mueller’s team have been spending a lot of time thinking about).

Laying out how Americans might be involved with or without “colluding”

Much has been made of Rosenstein’s line, “There is no allegation in the indictment that any American was a knowing participant in the alleged unlawful activity.” I don’t read too much into that. Rather, I think Rosenstein included it because the indictment does explicitly and implicitly describe actions many Americans and possible Americans took that were part of this conspiracy. That includes:

Illegal compensated acvitities

  • Richard Pinedo: Selling Russian trolls (and others) bank account numbers they can use to conduct identity fraud
  • Unknown persons: Providing social security numbers and fake US drivers licenses of Americans
  • Unknown persons: Selling stolen credit card information

Presumptively legal compensated activities

  • Unknown Americans: Renting servers in the US to run VPNs to hide their foreign location
  • Yahoo, Gmail, Paypal: Providing email and PayPal accounts the Russians used as the basis for social media accounts
  • Twitter, Instagram, Facebook: Providing those social media accounts
  • Twitter, Instagram, Facebook: Selling advertisements on social media
  • Unknown Trump associates: Paying for IRA rally expenses
  • Paid providers: Building a cage, acquiring a costume, and posing as Hillary in prison stunt at a FL event
  • Unknown US person: Providing posters for a Support Hillary, Save American Muslims rally
  • Unknown American: Holding a sign in front of the White House on May 29, 2016

Uncompensated activities

  • Unknown Americans: Interacting with Aleksandra Krylova and Anna Bogacheva when they traveled to the US sometime between June 4 and June 26, 2014 to conduct reconnaissance and another co-conspirator that November
  • Members of the media: Accepting tips and promoting IRA events
  • A member of a real TX-based Tea Party organization: Advising the conspirators to focus on the purple states “like Colorado, Virginia & Florida”
  • Unwitting members, volunteers, and supporters of the Trump Campaign involved in local community outreach, as well as grassroots groups that supported then-candidate Trump: Distributing IRA materials through existing channels of those groups
  • Administrators of large social media groups focused on U.S. politics: Promoting IRA events
  • Trump volunteer: Providing signs for the March for Trump event and otherwise recruiting for it
  • A Florida-based political activist identified as the “Chair for the Trump Campaign” in a particular Florida county: Advising on more locations and logistics for the Florida Trump event
  • Campaign Officials 1, 2, and 3: discussing the Florida events

Later the indictment describes a database of 100 real US persons whom the trolls treated as recruiting targets, complete with profiling.

On or about August 24, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators updated an internal ORGANIZATION list of over 100 real U.S. persons contacted through ORGANIZATION-controlled false U.S. persona accounts and tracked to monitor recruitment efforts and requests. The list included contact information for the U.S. persons, a summary of their political views, and activities they had been asked to perform by Defendants and their co-conspirators.

Here’s the important thing about all this. While Pinedo pled guilty and faces 12-18 months even with his cooperation agreement (and even there, while the information makes it clear he knew he was dealing with foreigners, his lawyer has made it clear he didn’t know who or what he was dealing with), there are only two other known illegal roles in this conspiracy, and there’s no reason those roles would have had to be carried out by Americans. Perhaps Mueller has others cooperating, perhaps those other criminals are unknown. But as for the rest, they are (as Rosenstein made clear) not guilty of any kind of conspiracy with Russia.

DOJ just rolled out an indictment in which probably 20 Americans can recognize themselves (many of whom were likely interviewed), about as many as all the Trump officials named in one or another plea agreement so far. Yet, as far as Mueller knows, none of these people did anything but conduct business or engage in sincerely held politics. They almost certainly had far less reason to be suspicious of the trolls they were being used by than Facebook and Twitter. Those actions have been tainted now through no fault of their own.

Which is something to remember: I’ve seen Hillary supporters, in the same breath, criticize Bernie or Jill Stein supporters because their preferred candidate was treated favorably by the trolls, yet in the same breath suggesting the black and Muslim activists targeted are innocent victims.

Obviously, Hillary and her supporters are victims. But everyone is, even the Trump volunteers. Because to the extent they had honestly held beliefs, the Russian operation tainted those beliefs, it diminished the weight of their honestly held beliefs. They were used by Russian trolls, most of them without the same profit motive that led Facebook and Twitter to allow themselves to be used. And we should remember that.

Hinting at what the US has

There are, however, a few tactical things this indictment does, starting with hinting at what other evidence the US has. This indictment was relatively easy, in that Adrian Chen (in a June 2015 article that still gets too little attention), Facebook and (to a lesser extent) other social media outlets, the Daily Beast, and SSCI generally have already laid out what IRA did. The indictment slaps some criminal charges on fraudulent behavior that enabled it, and without showing much about any additional evidence Mueller collected, you’ve got a showy indictment.

There are two hints, however, of the additional evidence used (which, given that the named conspirators will never face trial, will never need to be disclosed or explained). First, in a passage about how IRA started to cover their tracks after Mueller started focusing on this activity, there’s the reference to Irina Kaverzina.

On or about September 13, 2017, KAVERZINA wrote in an email to a family member: “We had a slight crisis here at work: the FBI busted our activity (not a joke). So, I got preoccupied with covering tracks together with the colleagues.”

Kaverzina was just a low-level troll and this may be nothing more than Section 702 collected email off GMail or Yahoo, or it may be a more formal intercept. But Mueller obtained communications from at least one of the indictees. Emails from more senior people, such as Prigozhin or his more senior managers (or the IT guys buying server space in the US) would be more interesting.

Plus, Mueller likely obtained cooperation from one IRA employee, the unnamed person who traveled to Atlanta in November 2014 for reconnaissance. Had that person not cooperated, he or she would have been named in the indictment.

Nevertheless establishing the political stakes

I said above that none of the hundred-plus Americans who were unknowingly used by trolls should be considered anything but victims. Their chosen political views, loathsome or not, have now been tainted, and not because of anything they’ve done except perhaps show too much trust or credulity.

But there are hints that Mueller is using this indictment to set up a more important point.

For example, the indictment (perhaps because of Mueller’s mandate) focuses on political activities supporting or opposing one or another 2016 candidate. Even where topics (immigration, Muslim religion, race) are not necessarily tied to the election, they’re presented here as such. Unless Facebook’s public reports are wrong, this is a very different emphasis than what Facebook has said the IRA focused on. Which is to say that Mueller’s team are focusing on a subset of the known IRA trolling, the subset that involves the 2016 contest between Trump and Hillary.

And there are several events, in particular, that may one day serve as details in a larger conspiracy. Most interesting, for the timing and location, are the twin anti-Hillary and pro-Trump events in NYC in June and July 2016.

In or around June and July 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the Facebook group “Being Patriotic,” the Twitter account @March_for_Trump, and other ORGANIZATION accounts to organize two political rallies in New York. The first rally was called “March for Trump” and held on June 25, 2016. The second rally was called “Down with Hillary” and held on July 23, 2016.

a. In or around June through July 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators purchased advertisements on Facebook to promote the “March for Trump” and “Down with Hillary” rallies.

b. Defendants and their co-conspirators used false U.S. personas to send individualized messages to real U.S. persons to request that they participate in and help organize the rally. To assist their efforts, Defendants and their co-conspirators, through false U.S. personas, offered money to certain U.S. persons to cover rally expenses.

c. On or about June 5, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators, while posing as a U.S. grassroots activist, used the account @March_for_Trump to contact a volunteer for the Trump Campaign in New York. The volunteer agreed to provide signs for the “March for Trump” rally.

[snip]

On or about July 23, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the email address of a false U.S. persona, [email protected], to send out press releases to over thirty media outlets promoting the “Down With Hillary” rally at Trump Tower in New York City.

The description of a IRA-organized event at Trump Tower the day after WikiLeaks dropped the DNC emails, in particular, suggests the possibility of a great deal of coordination, coordination with people in the US.

Similarly, the extended descriptions of events in Florida may also take on added relevance in the future, particularly coming as they did in tandem with Guccifer 2.0’s release of DCCC data targeting FL. (And this, in turn, should focus even more attention on the FL congressmen like Matt Gaetz and Ron DeSantis who’re leading the pushback on Mueller’s investigation.)

Using the term “co-conspirator” 119 times

Perhaps most interesting, given the tiny nods to what other intelligence Mueller might have, are the 119 uses of the word “co-conspirators.” Almost all of these uses seem to necessarily mean unnamed IRA employees working from the same St. Petersburg location described as trolling. Several times the co-conspirators are clearly described as located in Russia. So it may be that all references to co-conspirators here are just a way to refer to the 70 other people involved in this operation at IRA. But that’s not necessarily the case.

Other uses of “co-conspirator” involve wider knowledge, perhaps an outsider’s knowledge of a go-between role Prigozhin might have had.

But others are things that might have involved a stateside co-conspirator, such as the mention of co-conspirators helping to set up the May 29, 2016 Prigozhin birthday tribute in front of the White House, co-conspirators tracking US social media use, co-conspirators engaged in identity theft, co-conspirators promoting claims of voter fraud, co-conspirators destroying data. Several of those things (such as tracking US social media use or claiming Hillary was going to steal the election) are things we know Trump associates were also doing. Others might be facilitated by someone stateside. So those uses of the term could be people not employed by IRA.

Which is to say, this indictment might be (probably is) intended to address just the activities of those employed by IRA. But that’s not necessarily the case.

Update: added the public indictment part.

The Gates Flip and the 404(b) Delay

CNN reported tonight that, after not getting funded by rich GOP donors (perhaps in part because Trump thinks his cooperation won’t imperil him), Paul Manafort’s deputy, Rick Gates, is about to flip.

Gates has already spoken to Mueller’s team about his case and has been in plea negotiations for about a month. He’s had what criminal lawyers call a “Queen for a Day” interview, in which a defendant answers any questions from the prosecutors’ team, including about his own case and other potential criminal activity he witnessed.

[snip]

Once a plea deal is in place, Gates would become the third known cooperator in Mueller’s sprawling probe into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. It would also increase the pressure to cooperate on Gates’ co-defendant Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, who has pleaded not guilty to Mueller’s indictment and is preparing for a trial on alleged financial crimes unrelated to the campaign. Gates pleaded not guilty on October 30 alongside Manafort.

[snip]

Gates has told associates he had hoped for outside assistance from a legal defense fund, but deep-pocketed GOP donors have shown little interest in helping either Gates or Manafort cover their legal fees, two sources said.

The judge has already acknowledged that Gates could not show he had $5 million in assets to secure his bail. His financial situation is further hampered by assets he would have to forfeit to the government if found guilty of money laundering charges. A complex criminal case such as this could cost a defendant more than a million dollars in legal fees, especially if he were to go to trial, according to several people familiar with the legal industry.

Hopefully I’ll have time tomorrow to lay out what Gates might have offered Mueller. But for now, I want to look at a detail from the Gates/Manafort docket.

On Wednesday, Judge Amy Berman Jackson held a status conference. With Manafort, she appears to have discussed his continued efforts to make bail (one thing that CNN reports pressured Gates financially enough that made him willing to flip).

With Gates, she appears to have discussed his confusing legal situation, where his existing lawyers are trying to ditch him so his new lawyer, Tom Green, can finalize this plea deal. The night before, Gates had filed a pro se motion asking Berman Jackson to hold off on deciding whether his current lawyers can ditch him until February 21.

In response, Berman Jackson granted Gates his week.

Defendant Manafort’s (1) Sealed Motion 153 for Reconsideration of Conditions of Release remains under advisement. Defendant Manafort (1) must supplement the Motion. The 161 Motion to Withdraw as Counsel for Defendant Gates (2) remains under advisement. Defendant Gates is to advise the Court of his position on the Motion by 5:00 PM on Wednesday, 2/21/2018.

Just as interesting, Berman Jackson held off on resetting deadlines and on deciding whether or not the government can delay providing 404(b) notice of the evidence of other crimes the government will submit at trial.

The Current Briefing and Hearing schedules that were established at the Status Conference held on 1/16/2018, and in the Minute Order issued on 1/17/2018 are suspended pending further Order of the Court. The government’s 155 Motion to Modify the Court’s Schedule for Rule 404(b) Notice and Briefing remains under advisement. SO ORDERED. By Judge Amy Berman Jackson on 2/14/2018. (jth) (Entered: 02/14/2018)

I noted, when the government submitted that request, that Mueller’s team likely wanted to hide what other crimes Manafort and Gates had committed to save their value for when they testify against Trump and his family.

First, Mueller doesn’t want to tip his hand to the many crimes it has found Manafort implicated in. Perhaps, he also wants to avoid making other obvious allegations about Manafort and Gates to preserve their credibility when they flip on the President and his family. But it also seems to suggest Mueller expects he’ll be finding other crimes Manafort and Gates committed for the next 8 months.

Everything’s on hold, now, until Gates can plead guilty to crimes that involve only indirect taint of conspiring with the Russians, so the government doesn’t yet have to reveal how much it knows of that taint, at least not publicly.

I could be wrong, but this may answer something we’ve been trying to understand about George Papadopoulos and Mike Flynn — whether the government let them plead to far lesser crimes because that’s all they’ve got or because Mueller is trying to keep his witnesses relatively clean for when they testify against Trump.

I think Mueller’s trying to keep them clean, and in the process trying to keep his poker hand still close to the chest for when he starts to use it against the big guns.

I’m also interested in the timing, which would put at least one more guilty plea into place before Rachel Brand leaves.

On the Grassley-Feinstein Dispute

In a podcast with Preet Bharara this week, Sheldon Whitehouse had the following exchange about whether he thought Carter Page should have been surveilled. (after 24:30)

Whitehouse: I’ve got to be a little bit careful because I’m one of the few Senators who have been given access to the underlying material.

Bharara: Meaning the affidavit in support of the FISA application.

Whitehouse And related documents, yes. The package.

Bharara: And you’ve gone to read them?

Whitehouse: I’ve gone to read them.

Bharara: You didn’t send Trey Gowdy?

Whitehouse: [Laughs] I did not send Trey Gowdy. I actually went through them. And, so I’ve got to be careful because some of this is still classified. But the conclusion that I’ve reached is that there was abundant evidence outside of the Steele dossier that would have provoked any responsible FBI with a counterintelligence concern to look at whether Carter Page was an undisclosed foreign agent. And to this day the FBI continues to assert that he was a undisclosed Russian foreign agent.

For the following discussion, then, keep in mind that a very sober former US Attorney has read the case against Carter Page and says that the FBI still — still, after Page is as far as we know no longer under a FISA order — asserts he “was” an undisclosed foreign agent (it’s not clear what that past tense “was” is doing, as it could mean he was a foreign agent until the attention on him got too intense or remains one; also, I believe John Ratcliffe, a Republican on the House Judiciary Committee and also a former US Attorney, has read the application too).

With that background, I’d like to turn to the substance of the dispute between Chuck Grassley and Dianne Feinstein over the dossier, which has played out in the form of a referral of Christopher Steele to FBI for lying. In the wake of the Nunes memo theatrics, Grassley released first a heavily redacted version of the referral he and Lindsey Graham sent the FBI in early January, followed by a less-redacted version this week. The referral, even as a transparent political stunt, is nevertheless more substantive than Devin Nunes’ memo, leading some to take it more seriously.  Which may be why Feinstein released a rebuttal this week.

In case you’re wondering, I’m tracking footnote escalation in these documents. They line up this way:

  • 0: Nunes memo (0 footnotes over 4 pages, or 1 over 6 if you count Don McGahn’s cover letter)
  • 2.6: Grassley referral (26 footnotes over 10 pages)
  • 3.6: Schiff memo (36 footnotes, per HPSCI transcript, over 10 pages)
  • 5.4: Feinstein rebuttal (27 footnotes over 5 pages)

So let me answer a series of questions about the memo as a way of arguing that, while by all means the FBI’s use of consultants might bear more scrutiny, this is still a side-show.

Did Christopher Steele lie?

The Grassely-Graham referral says Steele may have lied, but doesn’t commit to whether classified documents obtained by the Senate Judiciary Committee (presumably including the first two Page applications), a declaration Steele submitted in a British lawsuit, or Steele’s statements to the FBI include lies.

The FBI has since provided the Committee access to classified documents relevant to the FBI’s relationship with Mr. Steele and whether the FBI relied on his dossier work. As explained in greater detail below, when information in those classified documents is evaluated in light of sworn statements by Mr. Steele in British litigation, it appears that either Mr. Steele lied to the FBI or the British court, or that the classified documents reviewed by the Committee contain materially false statements.

On September 3, 2017 — a good three months before the Grassley-Graham referral — I pointed to a number of things in the Steele declaration, specifically pertaining to who got the dossier or heard about it when, that I deemed “improbable.”

That was the genius of the joint (!!) Russian-Republican campaign of lawfare against the dossier. As Steele and BuzzFeed and Fusion tried to avoid liability for false claims against Webzilla and Alfa Bank and their owners, they were backed into corners where they had to admit that Democrats funded the dossier and made claims that might crumble as Congress scrutinized the dossier.

So, yeah, I think it quite possible that Steele told some stretchers.

Did Christopher Steele lie to the FBI?

But that only matters if he lied to the FBI (and not really even there). The UK is not about to extradite one of its former spies because of lies told in the UK — they’re not even going to extradite alleged hacker Lauri Love, because we’re a barbaric country. And I assume the Brits give their spooks even more leeway to fib a little to courts than the US does.

The most critical passage of the referral on this point, which appears to make a claim about whether Steele told the FBI he had shared information with the press before they first used his dossier in a Page application, looks like this.

The footnote in the middle of that redacted passage goes to an unredacted footnote that says,

The FBI has failed to provide the Committee the 1023s documenting all of Mr. Steele’s statements to the FBI, so the Committee is relying on the accuracy of the FBI’s representation to the FISC regarding the statements.

1023s are Confidential Human Source reports.

I say that’s the most important passage because the referral goes on to admit that in subsequent FISA applications the FBI explained that the relationship with Steele had been terminated because of his obvious involvement in the October 31, 2016 David Corn story. Graham and Grassley complain that the FBI didn’t use Steele’s defiance of the FBI request not to share this information with anyone besides the FBI to downgrade his credibility rankings. Apparently FISC was less concerned about that than Graham and Grassley, which may say more about standards for informants in FISA applications than Steele or Carter Page.

The footnote, though, is the biggest tell. That’s because Feinstein’s rebuttal makes it quite clear that after Grassley and Graham made their referral, SJC received documents — which, given what we know has been given to HPSCI, surely include those 1023s — that would alter the claims made in the referral.

The Department of Justice has provided documents regarding its interactions with Mr. Steele to the Judiciary Committee both before and after the criminal referral was made. Despite this, the Majority did not modify the criminal referral and pressed forward with its original claims, which do not take into account the additional information provided after the initial January 4 referral.

Feinstein then goes on to state, several times and underlining almost everything for emphasis, that the referral provides no proof that Steele was ever asked if he had served as the source for Isikoff.

  • Importantly, the criminal referral fails to identify when, if ever, Mr. Steele was asked about and provided a materially false statement about his press contacts.
  • Tellingly, it also fails to explain any circumstances which would have required Mr. Steele to seek the FBI’s permission to speak to the press or to disclose if he had done so.

[snip]

But the criminal referral provides no evidence that Steele was ever asked about the Isikoff article, or if asked that he lied.

In other words, between the redacted claim about what Steele said and Feinstein’s repeated claims that the referral presents no evidence Steele was asked about his prior contacts with the press, the evidence seems to suggest that Steele was probably not asked. And once he was, after the Corn article, he clearly did admit to the FBI he had spoken with the press. So while it appears Steele blew off the FBI’s warnings not to leak to the press, the evidence that he lied to the FBI appears far weaker.

Does it harm the viability of the FISA application?

That should end the analysis, because the ostensible purpose of the referral is a criminal referral, not to make an argument about the FISA process.

But let’s assess the memo’s efforts to discredit the FISA application.

In two places, the referral suggests the dossier played a bigger role in the FISA application than, for example, Whitehouse suggests.

Indeed, the documents we have reviewed show that the FBI took important investigative steps largely based on Mr. Steele’s information–and relying heavily on his credibility.

[snip]

Mr. Steele’s information formed a significant portion of the FBI’s warrant application, and the FISA application relied more heavily on Steele’s credibility than on any independent verification or corroboration for his claims. Thus the basis for the warrant authorizing surveillance on a U.S. citizen rests largely on Mr. Steele’s credibility.

These claims would be more convincing, however, if they acknowledged that FBI had to have obtained valuable foreign intelligence off their Page wiretap over the course of the year they had him wiretapped to get three more applications approved.

Indeed, had Grassley and Graham commented on the addition of new information in each application, their more justifiable complaint that the FBI did not alert FISC to the UK filings in which Steele admitted more contact with the press than (they claim) show up in the applications would be more compelling. If you’re going to bitch about newly learned information not showing up in subsequent applications, then admit that newly acquired information showed up.

Likewise, I’m very sympathetic with the substance of the Grassley-Graham complaint that Steele’s discussions with the press made it more likely that disinformation got inserted into the dossier (see my most recently post on that topic), but I think the Grassley-Graham complaint undermines itself in several ways.

Simply put, the more people who contemporaneously knew that Mr. Steele was compiling his dossier, the more likely it was vulnerable to manipulation. In fact, the British litigation, which involves a post-election dossier memorandum, Mr. Steele admitted that he received and included in it unsolicited–and unverified–allegations. That filing implies that implies that he similar received unsolicited intelligence on these matters prior to the election as well, stating that Mr. Steele “continued to receive unsolicited intelligence on the matters covered by the pre-election memoranda after the US Presidential election.” [my underline]

The passage is followed by an entirely redacted paragraph that likely talks about disinformation.

This is actually an important claim, not just because it raises the possibility that Page might be unfairly surveilled as part of a Russian effort to distract attention from others (though its use in a secret application wouldn’t have sown the discord it has had it not leaked), but also because we can check whether their claims hold up against the Steele declaration. It’s one place we can check the referral to see whether their arguments accurately reflect the underlying evidence.

Importantly, to support a claim the potential for disinformation in the Steele dossier show up in the form of unsolicited information earlier than they otherwise substantiate, they claim a statement in Steele’s earlier declaration pertains to pre-election memos. Here’s what it looks like in that declaration:

That is, Steele didn’t say he was getting unsolicited information prior to the election; this was, in both declarations, a reference to the single December report.

Moreover, while I absolutely agree that the last report is the most likely to be disinformation, the referral is actually not clear whether that December 13 report ever actually got included in a FISA application. There’s no reason it would have been. While the last report mentions Page, the mention is only a referral back to earlier claims that Trump’s camp was trying to clean up after reports of Page’s involvement with the Russians got made public. So the risk that the December memorandum consisted partially or wholly of disinformation is likely utterly irrelevant to the validity of the three later FISA orders targeting Page.

Which is to say that, while I think worries about disinformation are real (particularly given their reference to Rinat Akhmetshin allegedly learning about the dossier during the summer, which I wrote about here), the case Grassley and Graham make on that point both miscites Steele’s own declaration and overstates the impact of their argued case on a Page application.

What about the Michael Isikoff reference?

Perhaps the most interesting detail in the Grassley-Graham referral pertains to their obsession with the applications’ references to the September 23 Michael Isikoff article based off Steele’s early discussions with the press. Grassley-Graham claim there’s no information corroborating the dossier (there’s a redacted Comey quote that likely says something similar). In that context, they point to the reference to Isikoff without explaining what it was doing there.

The application appears to contain no additional information corroborating the dossier allegations against Mr. Page, although it does cite to a news article that appears to be sourced to Mr. Steele’s dossier as well.

Elsewhere, I’ve seen people suggest the reference to Isikoff may have justified the need for secrecy or something, rater than as corroboration. But neither the referral nor Feinstein’s rebuttal explains what the reference is doing.

In this passage, Grassley and Graham not only focus on Isikoff, but they ascribe certain motives to the way FBI referred to it, suggesting the claim that they did not believe Steele was a source for Isikoff was an attempt to “shield Mr. Steele’s credibility.”

There’s absolutely no reason the FBI would have seen the need to shield Steele’s credibility in October. He was credible. More troubling is that the FBI said much the same thing in January.

In the January reapplication, the FBI stated in a footnote that, “it did not believe that Steele gave information to Yahoo News that ‘published the September 23 News Article.”

Let’s do some math.

If I’m doing my math correctly, if the FISA reapplications happened at a regular 90 day interval, they’d look like this.

That’d be consistent with what the Nunes memo said about who signed what, and would fit the firing dates of January 30 for Yates and May 9 for Comey, as well as the start date for Rosenstein of April 26 (Chris Wray started on August 1).

If that’s right, then Isikoff wrote his second article on the Steele dossier, one that made it clear via a link his earlier piece had been based off Steele, before the second application was submitted (though the application would have been finished and submitted in preliminary form a week earlier, meaning FBI would have had to note the Isikoff piece immediately to get it into the application, but the topic of the Isikoff piece — that Steele was an FBI asset — might have attracted their attention).

But that’s probably not right because the Grassley-Graham referral describes a June, not July, reapplication, meaning the application would have been no later than the last week of June. That makes the reauthorization dates look more like this, distributing the extra days roughly proportionately:

That would put the second footnote claiming the FBI had no reason to believe the September Isikoff piece was based on Steele before the time when the second Isikoff piece made it clear.

I’m doing this for a second reason, however. It’s possible (particularly given Whitehouse’s comments) Carter Page remains under surveillance, but for some reason it’s no longer contentious.

That might be the case if the reapplications no longer rely on the dossier.

And I’m interested in that timing because, on September 9, I made what was implicit clear: That pointing to the September Isikoff piece to claim the Steele dossier had been corroborated was self-referential. I’m not positive I was the first, but by that point, the Isikoff thing would have been made explicit.

Does this matter at all to the Mueller inquiry?

Ultimately, though, particularly given the Nunes memo confirmation that the counterintelligence investigation into Trump’s people all stems from the George Papadopoulos tip, and not Page (particularly given the evidence that the FBI was very conservative in their investigation of him) there’s not enough in even the Grassley-Graham referral to raise questions about the Mueller investigation, especially given a point I made out in the Politico last week.

According to a mid-January status report in the case against Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates, the government has turned over “more than 590,000 items” to his defense team, “including (but not limited to) financial records, records from vendors identified in the indictment, email communications involving the defendants, and corporate records.” He and Gates have received imaged copies of 87 laptops, phones and thumb drives, and copies off 19 search-warrant applications. He has not received, however, a FISA notice, which the government would be required to provide if they planned to use anything acquired using evidence obtained using the reported FISA warrant against Manafort. That’s evidence of just how much of a distraction Manafort’s strategy [of using the Steele dossier to discredit the Mueller investigation] is, of turning the dossier into a surrogate for the far more substantive case against him and others.

And it’s not just Manafort. Not a single thing in the George Papadopoulos and Michael Flynn guilty pleas—for lying to the FBI—stems from any recognizable mention in the dossier, either. Even if the Steele dossier were a poisoned fruit, rather than the kind of routine oppo research that Republicans themselves had pushed to the FBI to support investigations, Mueller has planted an entirely new tree blooming with incriminating details.

Thus the point of my graphic above. The Steele dossier evidence used in the Carter Page FISA application to support an investigation into Cater Page, no matter what else it says about the FISA application process or FBI candor, is just a small corner of the investigation into Trump’s people.

 

Are There Other Emails about the June 9 Meeting?

Something has been bugging me about this NYT story from last week reporting that, in a conference call with Mark Corallo on July 9, 2017 (see the timeline of events below), Hope Hicks told him emails on the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Don Jr, Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner and Natalia Veselnitskaya, Rinat Akhmetshin, Ike Kaveladze, and Rob Goldstone would never come out.

Corallo is planning to tell Mr. Mueller about a previously undisclosed conference call with Mr. Trump and Hope Hicks, the White House communications director, according to the three people. Mr. Corallo planned to tell investigators that Ms. Hicks said during the call that emails written by Donald Trump Jr. before the Trump Tower meeting — in which the younger Mr. Trump said he was eager to receive political dirt about Mrs. Clinton from the Russians — “will never get out.” That left Mr. Corallo with concerns that Ms. Hicks could be contemplating obstructing justice, the people said.

[snip]

In Mr. Corallo’s account — which he provided contemporaneously to three colleagues who later gave it to The Times — he told both Mr. Trump and Ms. Hicks that the statement drafted aboard Air Force One would backfire because documents would eventually surface showing that the meeting had been set up for the Trump campaign to get political dirt about Mrs. Clinton from the Russians.

According to his account, Ms. Hicks responded that the emails “will never get out” because only a few people had access to them.

As the story describes, the emails in question were already prepped (by the lawyers with whom Corallo worked on a day to day basis) to send to Congress, which would have made it really hard for anyone to withhold the emails.

Congress had requested records from Paul Manafort, Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman; Mr. Kushner; and other Trump campaign officials about meetings with Russians. And lawyers had already copied and stamped the emails for delivery to Capitol Hill.

But elsewhere in the story, the NYT admits that even as (or shortly after) that meeting transpired it already had the emails Don Jr released that day and was going to publish them itself.

The younger Mr. Trump ultimately released the emails after being told The Times was about to publish them.

The original story (as well as the second one) described that the meeting was discovered when Kushner disclosed it on one of his many revisions to his security clearance application and in a response from Paul Manafort to congressional inquiries.

The Trump Tower meeting was not disclosed to government officials until recently, when Mr. Kushner, who is also a senior White House aide, filed a revised version of a form required to obtain a security clearance.

[snip]

Manafort, the former campaign chairman, also recently disclosed the meeting, and Donald Trump Jr.’s role in organizing it, to congressional investigators who had questions about his foreign contacts, according to people familiar with the events.

But nothing in that description would mean Congress would have gotten the emails yet, which is where investigative materials normally get leaked to the press (though it’s possible Manafort had already turned them over).

Michael Wolff’s book reports the Bannon suspicion that a Jared aide (presumably Josh Raffel), who was in the initial meeting where Trump forced everyone else to say the June 9 meeting dealt primarily with adoptions, leaked the emails to the NYT.

Indeed, the best guess by many in the West Wing was that the details of the meeting had been leaked by the Kushner side, thus sacrificing Don Jr. in an attempt to deflect responsibility away from themselves.

[snip]

The lawyers, and spokesperson Mark Corallo, had been working to manage this news. But while in Hamburg, the president’s staff learned that the Times was developing a story that had far more details about the meeting—quite possibly supplied by the Kushner side—which it would publish on Saturday, July 8.

But it describes the Jared team as leaking details, not the emails themselves. Plus, it’s hard to see how the emails don’t also implicate Jared, unless he’s going to bank on having left the meeting as his means to defend himself even in light of all the other damning evidence he was willing to chat up Russians later in the year.

Furthermore, given that Jared was an active player in that first meeting, it’s hard to understand how Hicks wouldn’t have known that Jared would have to disclose any emails that involved him personally.

There’s one other detail of note. The NYT makes it clear that the lawyers (and Corallo) in DC were kept out of the loop on the panic on Air Force One and that they didn’t know the NYT was working on a story. Though it’s unclear where the Circa story that those lawyers (and Corallo) did contribute to came from, then, as it feels like an effort to pre-empt the NYT with a friendly outlet.

Significantly, the Circa story is the source of the claim that Trump didn’t know about the meeting that I noted here (which the lawyers are said to have believed, which is why the Trump and his family weren’t consulting with the lawyers).

President Trump was not aware of the meeting and did not attend it, according to the lawyers.

It’s also significant, though, because it adopts the line Paul Manafort seems to have convinced Reince Priebus to adopt, pointing to problems with the dossier and Fusion GPS as a way to discredit the entire investigation.

“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,” said Mark Corallo, a spokesman for President Trump’s legal team. “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. ”

“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 said.

I raise all this to highlight two possibilities: that the emails are all that exist, but that they were leaked by someone — Manafort? Bannon? Corallo? — to punish the White House for its first misleading lies about the meeting. Perhaps Gorelick leaked them, which might explain why she stopped representing Jared days later?

But there’s another possibility: that more emails exist, between Don Jr and Rob Goldstone (indeed, we know Goldstone sent follow-up emails involving Vkontakte). Or that there are communications between other players. In which case the release of the current emails might serve to distract from a fuller set that Hicks did succeed in burying.

In any case, not only is Corallo prepping his meeting with Mueller’s team, but Steve Bannon seems intent on meeting with Mueller before HPSCI has an opportunity to run interference with him.

A source familiar with the matter added that Bannon would instead answer all of special counsel Robert Mueller’s questions as part of his investigation.

So whatever particular complaints the Corallo/Kasowitz/Bannon/Priebus crowd has about the way things went down may soon be shared with Mueller.


Early July 7: NYT approaches WH officials and lawyers; WH schedules a conference call w/NYT for next morning.

July 7: Trump chats up Putin at dinner. (Note, whenever Melania decides it’s time to get revenge on Trump for treating her like shit, she can go tell Mueller what she overheard of this conversation.)

July 8, morning: Conference call doesn’t happen. NYT submits 14 questions about the meeting to the WH and lawyers of Trump campaign aides who attended the meeting (do these aides include all of Don Jr, Kushner, and Manafort?); Trump and his aides develop a response on Air Force One, with Hicks coordinating with Don Jr and his lawyer Alan Garten, who were both in NY, via text message.

July 8, afternoon: Jamie Gorelick provides a statement describing his revisions to his security clearance forms.

He has since submitted this information, including that during the campaign and transition, he had over 100 calls or meetings with representatives of more than 20 countries, most of which were during transition. Mr. Kushner has submitted additional updates and included, out of an abundance of caution, this meeting with a Russian person, which he briefly attended at the request of his brother-in-law Donald Trump Jr. As Mr. Kushner has consistently stated, he is eager to cooperate and share what he knows.

July 8, evening: Garten issues a statement in Don Jr’s name stating,

It was a short introductory meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at that time and there was no follow up. I was asked to attend the meeting by an acquaintance, but was not told the name of the person I would be meeting with beforehand.

July 8, 5PM: NYT publishes story.

July 8, slightly later: Circa publishes different story based on Mark Corallo’s statement, admitting Magnitsky Act discussion.

July 9, morning: Hope Hicks calls Corallo, with Trump in the room, accusing him of trafficking in conspiracy theories. It is this call, according to the NYT, where Hicks said the emails would never come out.

July 9: Don Jr issues a new statement.

After pleasantries were exchanged, the woman stated that she had information that individuals connected to Russia were funding the Democratic National Committee and supporting Mrs. 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.

July 14: Jamie Gorelick quits representing Kushner on Russian issues.

July 20: Mark Corallo quits.

July 21: Marc Kasowitz quits.

 

Some lawyers and witnesses who have sat in or been briefed on the interviews have puzzled over Mr. Mueller’s interest in the episode. Lying to federal investigators is a crime; lying to the news media is not. For that reason, some of Mr. Trump’s advisers argue that Mr. Mueller has no grounds to ask the president about the statement and say he should refuse to discuss it.