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The False Statements George Papadopoulos Made about “Dirt” Were Designed to Hide Whether He Told the Campaign about the Emails

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Other outlets have now caught up to this post I wrote on Monday showing that a footnote in George Papadopoulos’ plea, describing a May 21, 2016 exchange between Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, probably means Manafort was trying to hide the campaign’s outreach to Russia rather than tamp it down via a low level staffer.

I want to turn now to some other details that become clear when similarly comparing Papadopoulos’ plea with the complaint, written two months earlier. In the plea, Papadopoulos’ false statements are listed as:

  1. PAPADOPOULOS met the professor and learned about Russian “dirt” before he joined the campaign
  2. PAPADOPOULOS’s contacts with the professor were inconsequential
  3. PAPADOPOULOS met the female Russian national before he joined the campaign, and his contacts with her were inconsequential

That is, the plea describes these false statements to pertain to the timing and significance of Papadopoulos’ communications with Professor Joseph Mifsud and the still unnamed woman that Papadopoulos once believed was the niece of Vladimir Putin (this WaPo story has the best descriptions of who is who in the documents). The plea disproves those three false statements by focusing on the timing of his meetings with the two (and his complete silence about Russian International Affairs Council program director Ivan Timofeev) and the sheer volume of his communications with the two. Significantly, the plea focuses on the impact of “omitt[ing] the entire course of conduct with the Professor and [Timofeev] regarding his efforts to establish meetings between the Campaign and Russian government officials.”

As I have noted, the grand jury testimony of at least one other person, Sam Clovis, appears to have downplayed that latter point, the assertiveness with which the campaign tried to set up meetings with the Russians. That and the limited hangout of these details shared with the WaPo in August suggests Trump people, collectively, know that email records show evidence the campaign was trying to set up meetings, and that more than one person has been lying to downplay how assertive they were.

The false statements as laid out in the affidavit supporting the complaint, however, have a significantly different emphasis. False statements 1 and 2 (as I’ve numbered them) were treated as one discussion under the heading “False Statements by PAPADOPOULOS Regarding Foreign Contact 1.” The first three paragraphs of the discussion look like this:

13. During the course of his January 27, 2017 interview with the FBI, GEORGE PAPADOPOULOS, the defendant, acknowledged that he knew a particular professor of diplomacy based in London (“Foreign Contact 1”). Foreign Contact 1 is a citizen of a country in the Mediterranean and an associate of several Russian nationals, as described further below. PAPADOPOULOS stated that Foreign Contact 1 told him that the Russians had “dirt” on Clinton.

a. PAPADOPOULOS told the Agents that, in the early part of 2016, Foreign Contact 1 “actually told me that the Russians had emails of Clinton. That guy told me.” PAPADOPOULOS further stated that Foreign Contact 1 told him that the Russians “have dirt on her,” meaning Clinton, and that “they have thousands of emails.”

b. PAPADOPOULOS, however, claimed to have received this information prior to joining the Campaign. He told Agents: “This isn’t like [Foreign Contact 1 was] messaging me while I’m in April with Trump.”

c. PAPADOPOULOS stated that he did not tell anyone on the Campaign about the “dirt” on Clinton because he “didn’t even know [if] that was real or fake or he was just guessing because I don’t know, because the guy [Foreign Contact 1]  seems like he’s … he’s a nothing.”

Laid out this way, the description of the false statements makes the import of them far more clear (import that the Special Counsel seems to want to obscure for now). Papadopoulos lied about the circumstances of his conversations with Mifsud — the FBI appears to have believed when they arrested him in July — as part of a story to explain why, after having heard about dirt in the form of thousands of emails from Hillary, he didn’t tell anyone else on the campaign about them. Laid out like this, it’s clear Papadopoulos was trying to hide both when he learned about the emails (just three days before the DNC did, as it turns out, not much earlier as he seems to have suggested in January), but also how important he took those emails to be (which in his false story, he tied to to a false story about how credible he found Mifsud to be).

FBI found those lies to be significant enough to arrest him over because they obscured whether he had told anyone on the campaign that the Russians had dirt in the form of Hillary emails.

To be sure, nothing in any of the documents released so far answer the questions that Papadopoulos surely spent two months explaining to the FBI: whether he told the campaign (almost certainly yes, or he wouldn’t have lied in the first place) and when (with the big import being on whether that information trickled up to Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner before they attended a meeting on June 9, 2016 in hopes of obtaining such dirt).

I’m sure that’s intentional. You gotta keep everyone else guessing about what Mueller knows.

But we can be pretty sure what the answers are.

Between the time they arrested Papadopoulos and the time he pled guilty, he became more forthcoming about his extensive efforts to broker a meeting between the campaign and the Russians, something Mifsud made clear was a high priority for the Russians. Mueller is perfectly happy — after securing the testimony of people like Clovis — to let everyone know that.

But Mueller is still hiding the pretty obvious answer to the question about whether Papadopoulos lied about Mifsud specifically to hide that he told people on the campaign that Russians had emails to deal in conjunction with such meetings.

The Footnote Shows Manafort Was Hiding Willingness to Reach Out to Russia

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There is now some debate about what this footnote, from George Papadopoulos’ plea, means.

On or about May 21, 2016, defendant PAPADOPOULOS emailed another high-ranking Campaign official, with the subject line “Request from Russia to meet Mr. Trump.” The email included the May 4 MFA Email and added: “Russia has been eager to meet Mr. Trump for quite sometime and have been reaching out to me to discuss.”2

2 The government notes that the official forwarded defendant PAPADOPOULOS’s email to another Campaign official (without including defendant PAPADOPOULOS) and stated:

“Let[‘]s discuss. We need someone to communicate that DT is not doing these trips. It should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal.”

The question is, does this mean the speaker was trying to agree to meetings, but keep it low level to hide the intent to cooperate with Russia, or send a low level person to reject the meeting.

As southpaw has noted, this exchange was actually included in a WaPo post this summer claiming that Papadopoulos was ignored by the campaign. The two campaign officials involved are … Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, who were surely shocked to learn Papadopoulos had flipped on them three weeks ago as they pled not guilty today.

Several weeks later, Papadopoulos forwarded the same message from Timofeev to Manafort, the newly named campaign chairman.

“Russia has been eager to meet with Mr. Trump for some time and have been reaching out to me to discuss,” the adviser told Manafort.

Manafort reacted coolly, forwarding the email to his associate Rick Gates, with a note: “We need someone to communicate that DT is not doing these trips.”

Gates agreed and told Manafort he would ask the campaign’s correspondence coordinator to handle it — “the person responding to all mail of non-importance” — to signify this did not need a senior official to respond.

Already, it’s clear that whoever shared this content with WaPo was spinning, hiding the context.

But the complaint against Papadopoulos written to support an arrest this July says something different. It shows that on July 14, Papadopoulos wrote Timofeev proposing an August or September meeting in the UK.

On or about July 14, 2016, PAPADOPOULOS emailed Foreign Contact 2 and proposed a “meeting for August or September in the UK (London) with me and my national chairman, and maybe one other foreign policy advisor and you, members of president putin’s office and the mfa to hold a day of consultants and to meet one another. It has been approved from our side.”

That is, less than two months later, Papadopoulous at least claimed that a meeting including Manafort had been approved, though not including Trump.

Mind you, back to the plea, by August 15 it was decided just Papadopoulous and an unnamed “another foreign policy advisor to the Campaign” [which WaPo has identified as Sam Clovis] should “make the trip[], if it is feasible.” But it then says that the meeting did not take place.

That’s likely not because at that time, August 15, Manafort was being ousted from the campaign because his corrupt ties to Ukraine (basically, the stuff he got indicted on today) was causing a scandal. Which is to say that particular meeting didn’t happen (though Papadopoulos remained on the campaign and — in Facebook messaging he tried to destroy after meeting with the FBI — remained in contact with his Russian handlers as late as October 1), but it didn’t happen not because Manafort wasn’t game, but because Manafort’s ties to Russia became toxic, precisely the kind of “signal” Manafort was trying to avoid in May.

And the connotation of that May 21 email is important because it shows Manafort’s mindset in the weeks before, on June 9, he met with a Russian lawyer hoping for dirt he likely expected to include stolen Hillary emails.

A Month and a Half before the June 9 Meeting, Trump Campaign Learned about Hacked Emails

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As I laid out here, the indictment against Paul Manafort is meant to embarrass him, but still pave the way for him to flip. That’s the carrot, if an indictment stripping the money laundered suits off Manafort’s back can be said to be good news.

The bad news is this guilty plea, for false statements, by campaign advisor George Papadopoulos, signed on October 5, but only unsealed today. That plea makes it clear that 1) the campaign had, as an explicit goal, making friends with Russia 2) a month and a half before the June 9 Trump Tower meeting, Russian handlers dangled the stolen Hillary emails 3) Papadopoulos has cooperated beyond what has been laid out in the guilty plea.

As the plea lays out, Papadopoulos learned in early March he’d be a foreign policy advisor to the Trump campaign. Within weeks, a professor fresh off a trip to Moscow started cultivating him, and introduced him to a woman pretending to be Vladimir Putin’s niece. After meeting that handler, Papadopoulos attended a meeting with Trump and others where he explained “he had connections that could help arrange a meeting between then-candidate Trump and President Putin.” The plea makes clear that Papadopoulos kept the campaign in the loop on his “outreach to Russia.”

And it makes it clear that on April 26 — three days before the DNC figured out Russia had hacked them — Papadopoulos’ handler told him Moscow had dirt on clinton.

The Professor told defendant PAPADOPOULOS that on that trip he (the Professor) learned that the Russians had obtained “dirt” on then-candidate Clinton. The Professor told defendant PAPADOPOULOS, as PAPADOPOULOS later described to the FBI, that “They [the Russians] have dirt on her”; “the Russians had emails of Clinton”; “they have thousands of emails.”

After learning the Russians had emails on Clinton even before Clinton learned it, Papadopoulos “continued to correspond with Campaign officials,” including his Senior Policy Advisor and a High-Ranking Campaign Official. (One of these may be Manafort; another almost certainly is Jeff Sessions.)

In response, the campaign decided to send someone low level “so as not to send any signal.”

It turns out, Papadopoulos lied about some of this the first time he spoke with the FBI about it on January 27. For example, he claimed he learned about the emails before he joined the campaign, trying to pretend that he didn’t learn about them only because he had just been named a top advisor.

Papadopoulos must be a fucking idiot, because a number of his communications with his Russian handlers were on Skype, a PRISM provider. Though he tried to stop using his communications immediately after his second FBI interview, which is a bit too late.

My favorite part of the plea his the last paragraph:

On July 27, 2017, defendant PAPADOPOULOS was arrested upon his arrival at Dulles International Airport. Following his arrest, defendant PAPADOPOULOS met with the Government on numerous occasions to provide information and answer questions.

I’m betting the FBI asked him about this detail, from a March 31 meeting.

On or about March 31, 2016, defendant PAPADOPOULOS attended a “national security meeting” in Washington, D.C., with then-candidate Trump and other foreign policy advisors for the Campaign. When defendant PAPADOPOULOS introduced himself to the group, he stated, in sum and substance, that he had connections that could help arrange a meeting between then-candidate Trump and President Putin.

Here’s what that meeting looked like:

You’ll note that Attorney General Jeff Sessions was at the meeting as well. Just last week Jeff Sessions claimed to know nothing about collusion.

I’m guessing this plea is going to make flipped far more attractive to Paul Manafort.  Because Manafort now knows that the government knows that the campaign knew about Hillary’s emails well before that June 9, 2016 meeting.

 

Paul Manafort Indicted for Laundering 50 Times as Much Through Rugs as Through Household Labor

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One of the nifty things Robert Mueller did with his indictment of Paul Manafort was to lay out all the extravagances he used to launder his money into the US. The most amazing was his $1M antique rug bill.

Mueller also listed $1.4 million laundered through two different clothing stores.

Compare that with the mere $20,000 Manafort spent on the people who clear his NY property.

Admittedly, Manafort appears to have redone his Hamptons and FL properties routinely to launder more money. But it basically means he shorted his staff while spending big on magic carpets.

Which will make Trump’s efforts to give rich shits like Manafort more tax benefits this week even more difficult.

The money laundering through luxury goods isn’t the key crime in Manafort’s indictment. That has to do with serving as an unregistered foreign agent with regards to work from 2012. Importantly, that means Mueller got to point to Tony Podesta’s corruption prominently as one of these two unnamed firms.

The allegation is that by having one Republican and one Democratic lobbyist firm to do the work of pro-Russian Ukrainians, Manafort hid what was really going on.

Just as interesting, Mueller slapped a false statements charge onto the failure to report being a foreign agent, tied to these claims (they carry onto a second page).

That way, if the idea of actually enforcing foreign registry laws doesn’t fly (which is admittedly a novel idea in DC), they still have some crimes to charge Manafort with.

Hopefully, that false statements charge and the idea of charging for failure to register will send a chill through all of DC’s other corrupt influence peddlers.

Importantly, Mueller called for all these toys and much (but not all) of Manafort’s real estate to be forfeited. Which will make it harder for him to pay his lawyers and harder for him to look like a million dollars as he turns himself in.

The money laundering charges here (though not necessarily the foreign registry ones) can be punted down to NY State if Trump pardons Manafort.

Here’s what this does: it applies some pressure to Manafort (and serves as an object lesson to Mike Flynn, who can be charged tomorrow with the same registry related crimes). But it doesn’t yet get into the heart of the Russian influence crimes, which preserves Manafort’s ability to testify about them (that is, to flip).

It’s unclear whether it will work. My biggest question of the day is who is paying for Manafort’s legal bills and how long they’ll be willing to continue doing so.

Some Thoughts On The Manafort Indictment

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The first shoe has dropped in the big indictment watch initiated late Friday with the news that an indictment had been rendered in the Mueller investigation. Paul Manafort and his longtime business partner Rick Gates have been told to self surrender this morning. Manafort has already arrived at the field office for processing as the attached picture reflects. Here is the NYT story:

The charges against Mr. Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, were not immediately clear but represent a significant escalation in a special counsel investigation that has cast a shadow over the president’s first year in office. Also charged was Mr. Manafort’s former business associate Rick Gates, who was also told to surrender on Monday, the person said.

Mr. Manafort walked into the F.B.I.’s field office in Washington at about 8:15 a.m. with his lawyer.

Mr. Gates is a longtime protégé and junior partner of Mr. Manafort. His name appears on documents linked to companies that Mr. Manafort’s firm set up in Cyprus to receive payments from politicians and businesspeople in Eastern Europe, records reviewed by The New York Times show.

Mr. Manafort had been under investigation for violations of federal tax law, money laundering and whether he appropriately disclosed his foreign lobbying.

The indictment is here and contains twelve counts for conspiracy, conspiracy to launder money, failure to file as foreign agents, failure to file proper financial reports and false statements. Notable also is the notice of forfeiture of both real and personal property, and any derivative property tied thereto.

The fact that the first shoe is Manafort is no surprise. What is surprising, to me at least, is that it does not appear that Manafort’s wife Kathleen was named. This may be a reflection as to the nature of the charges … the charges may only be for activity she was not involved in. Or not. But, make no mistake, she is involved in many of the charges for tax fraud and money laundering; she has solid exposure. Perhaps Mueller and Andrew Weissmann have already discussed this with Manafort and his lawyer, or maybe that is being reserved as leverage in a potential superseding indictment. But it is extremely interesting that she does not appear to be named yet. Stunning actually.

Add into the status of Kathleen Manafort that she and her husband are reported to be near broke as to liquid funds, and their real estate is already heavily leveraged and now subject to civil seizure at this point. And given the fairly recent outing of Manafort having a very expensive mistress half his age, things cannot be too cozy on the Manafort home front. This is total chum in the water for an aggressive prosecutor like Weissmann. Why did he not take it??

NBC News is reporting that the current charges were brought now because of statute of limitation concerns on some of them, and that further charges are absolutely not ruled out. Which makes it even more curious that Kathleen Manafort is not named.

Manafort is a high value target for the Mueller shop. But so too is his lesser known business partner Rick Gates. Gates was not only with Manafort on the Trump Campaign and DNC Convention, but stayed on in a significant role with Trump throughout the campaign and transition, including the inaugural committee, even after Manafort left. Gates, like Manafort, has close foreign ties, including with Russia and Ukraine.

Two people to keep your eye on are Dmitri Firtash and Oleg Deripaska, Putin allies. As as Spencer Ackerman says
in the money “behind pro-Kremlin party in Ukraine that hired Manafort. He’s indicted in IL. Watch what Sessions does”. Spencer is right about that. Here is some bits from Spencer’s report on Manafort, Rick Gates and Firtash back in August:

Asked whether any Manafort deals seemed particularly troubling in retrospect, a senior administration official replied, “You mean like this one?” and appended a link to a 2016 story on Manafort’s alleged attempts to launder a Ukrainian oil and gas billionaire’s ill-gotten fortune through New York real estate—including the Drake.

The Justice Department is now seeking the extradition of that billionaire, Dmitry Firtash, so he can stand trial for a 2013 racketeering indictment in a Chicago federal court. Two weeks ago, in response to a legal filing from Firtash seeking dismissal of the case, the acting U.S. attorney in Chicago termed Firtash and a deputy as “two organized-crime members” and people “identified by United States law enforcement as two upper-echelon associates of Russian organized crime.” Years before the indictment, Firtash was a major moneyman for the Party of Regions in Ukraine, the pro-Kremlin political faction for which Manafort consulted.

Firtash’s alliance with Manafort to acquire the Drake has been reported before. But far less attention has gone to the involvement of another party: Oleg Deripaska, one of the wealthiest men in Russia—and a longtime Putin associate. In 2006, according to the Associated Press, Deripaska signed a $10 million annual contract with Manafort for what Manafort pitched as political and economic efforts inside the U.S. to “greatly benefit the Putin Government.”
But Manafort was more than Deripaska’s political operative. They were business partners, as well.

“When Paul met with Mr. D last month he told Paul to lock in the other financing elements and then come back to him for the final piece of investment,” Gates wrote to two longtime business associates of Deripaska, Anton Vishnevsky and Andrey Zagorskiy, on July 1, 2008.

According to ex-prosecutors, a business relationship between a Kremlin-tied oligarch, an accused gangster and the manager of Donald Trump’s campaign is the sort of arrangement currently occupying Mueller’s time.

“Any financial dealings with Russia and Ukraine would be considered within the scope of [Mueller’s] current mandate,” said Barbara McQuade, the U.S. attorney in Detroit until Trump fired her in March. “With the search warrant executed on Manafort’s home, looking for bank records, tax records, and the like, it seems like this is the kind of thing that Mueller would be interested in.”

To sum up, today’s indictment news is quite a big deal. The spokes that look likely to come out of it lead directly to the biggest Russian interests imaginable. Ones that very likely lead to Trump as well, whether financial or in relation to potential collaboration and conspiracy to influence the 2016 election.

Time will tell where this goes, but this is an extremely significant and rollicking start.

The Boente Resignation and the Reported Charge[s]/Indictment[s]

Back in May, I argued (based on the since proven incorrect assumption that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein would be unlikely to hire a non-DOJ employee like Robert Mueller as Special Counsel), Dana Boente might be the best solution to investigate the Comey firing.

[T]here’s no reason to believe he isn’t pursuing the investigation (both investigations, into Wikileaks and Trump’s associates) with real vigor. He is a hard ass prosecutor and if that’s what you want that’s what you’d get. His grand jury pool is likely to be full of people with national security backgrounds or at least a predisposition to be hawks.

But — for better and worse — Boente actually has more power than a Special Counsel would have (and more power than Fitz had for the Plame investigation), because he is also in charge of NSD, doing things like approving FISA orders on suspected Russian agents. I think there are problems with that, particularly in the case of a possible Wikileaks prosecution. But if you want concentrated power, Boente is a better option than any AUSA. With the added benefit that he’s The Last USA, which commands some real respect.

Yesterday, at about 6:30, WaPo reported Boente’s resignation. An hour or so later, CNN first reported that Robert Mueller has approved charges against at least one person who might be arrested on Monday. Not long after that, former DOJ spox Matt Miller revealed that Boente told friends this week he was looking forward to returning full time to his US Attorney post after John Demers takes over as the confirmed Assistant Attorney General for National Security.

Miller assumes that means Boente was forced out, rather than chose to announce his departure — he’ll stay until someone is confirmed in his place — after some things he started (such as the investigation into Mike Flynn) are coming to closure.

I don’t believe, contrary to what Rachel Maddow has floated, that Boente is stepping down solely or primarily to be a witness. Mueller already has a list of people who witnessed Trump’s obstruction. He doesn’t need Boente and he’d be better off with Boente at the helm of related investigations than sitting before a grand jury.

So if Boente was forced out, it suggests the charges announced have led to a Trump decision to get rid of Boente, perhaps yet another person he believed would protect him or his close associates.

Or perhaps there’s this. I pointed out two weeks ago that an 2002 OLC memo (one interpreting language that Viet Dinh, who’s a tangential player in this whole affair, wrote) held that the President could order lawyers to share grand jury information with him.

July 22, 2002, memo from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, written by Jay Bybee, the author of the infamous torture memos, held that, under the statute, the president could get grand jury information without the usual notice to the district court. It also found that the president could delegate such sharing without requiring a written order that would memorialize the delegation.

Bybee’s memo relies on and reaffirms several earlier memos. It specifically approves two rationales for sharing grand jury information with the president that would be applicable to the Russian investigation. A 1997 memo imagined that the president might get grand jury information “in a case where the integrity or loyalty of a presidential appointee holding an important and sensitive post was implicated by the grand jury investigation.” And a 2000 memo imagined that the president might need to “obtain grand jury information relevant to the exercise of his pardon authority.”

If you set aside Trump’s own role in obstructing the investigation—including the firing of former FBI Director James Comey—these rationales are defensible in certain cases. In fact, the Justice Department has already shared information (though not from a grand jury) with the White House for one of these very reasons. In January, acting Attorney General Sally Yates warned White House Counsel Don McGahn that Russians might be able to blackmail then-National Security Advisor Mike Flynn. As Yates explained in her congressional testimony in May, after Flynn’s interview with the FBI, “We felt that it was important to get this information to the White House as quickly as possible.” She shared it so the White House could consider firing Flynn: “I remember that Mr. McGahn asked me whether or not General Flynn should be fired, and I told him that that really wasn’t our call, that was up to them, but that we were giving them this information so that they could take action.”

A similar situation might occur now that the investigation has moved to a grand jury investigation, if someone remaining in the White House—the most likely candidate is the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner—were found to be compromised by Russian intelligence. In Kushner’s case, there are clear hints that he has been compromised, such as when he asked to set up a back channel with the Russians during the transition.

If Trump were to rely on the memo, he might order a Justice Department lawyer to tell him what evidence Mueller had against Kushner, or whether Mike Flynn or former campaign manager Paul Manafort were preparing to cooperate with Mueller’s prosecutors if they didn’t get an immediate pardon. Unlike Yates, Trump would have an incentive to use such information to undercut the investigation into Russia’s meddling.

I argued in that piece that those who currently have visibility onto the investigation — Rod Rosenstein and Boente — would be unlikely to share such information.

But that doesn’t prevent Trump (or Sessions, on his behalf) from asking.

So one possibility is that — as things move towards the next volatile state of affairs — Trump asked Boente to do something he refused.

Update: CNN had the Boente story mid-afternoon, and they say the resignation was long planned. Which may mean the indictment yesterday was something (or things) he had been working on at EDVA for some time.

Update: NBC has yet more conflicting details, reporting that Jeff Sessions’ Chief of Staff told Boente on Wednesday he should submit his resignation so Trump can start the replacement process.

Did Manafort Prep Trump for the Dossier Lawfare

In the wake of the report that Marc Elias paid for the Steele dossier on behalf of the Democratic party, Ken Vogel linked back to an old story of his, reporting that the day after the Steele dossier came out, Manafort had a conversation with Reince Priebus about it.

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

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

[snip]

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

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

I think Vogel retweeted it because the story laid out much of what came next.

But I’m interested in it for several other reasons. First, where did Manafort learn of this? Did he learn of it from the Russians tied to the death, just a few weeks earlier, of one of the suspected sources of the dossier? If so, does Mueller have transcripts of those conversations?

And how broadly were Manafort’s comments shared in the White House? Did Brian Benczkowski, then running the transition team at DOJ, but not long later, advising Alfa Bank to sue BuzzFeed over it, learn of Manafort’s comments?

I’ve never been surprised that both Russians and Republicans were engaging in lawfare to expose the underlying circumstances of the dossier’s existence. I’ve just been amazed at how well coordinated that lawfare was. I mean, sure, it didn’t take much to understand that’s where this was going. But did Manafort serve as a go-between here, to make the lawfare more effective?

And if so, did Priebus tell Mueller about it in his interview?

Investigate All the Sleazy Influence Peddlers!

Back when CNN revealed that Paul Manafort had been the subject of a FISA order prior to his work on Trump’s campaign, only to have a new one approved after events of the campaign raised new concerns, I suggested Tony Podesta likely had been included on that first FISA order.

Manafort was first targeted under FISA for his (and associated consulting companies, probably including Tony Podesta) Ukrainian influence peddling in 2014.

As CNN noted, the earlier investigation pertained to Manafort’s and Podesta’s work for Viktor Yanukovych.

The FBI interest in Manafort dates back at least to 2014, partly as an outgrowth of a US investigation of Viktor Yanukovych, the former Ukrainian president whose pro-Russian regime was ousted amid street protests. Yanukovych’s Party of Regions was accused of corruption, and Ukrainian authorities claimed he squirreled millions of dollars out of the country.

Investigators have spent years probing any possible role played by Manafort’s firm and other US consultants, including the Podesta Group and Mercury LLC, that worked with the former Ukraine regime. The basis for the case hinged on the failure by the US firms to register under the US Foreign Agents Registration Act, a law that the Justice Department only rarely uses to bring charges.

[snip]

Last year, Justice Department prosecutors concluded that there wasn’t enough evidence to bring charges against Manafort or anyone of the other US subjects in the probe, according to sources briefed on the investigation.

Today, NBC reports that Robert Mueller has opened a separate investigation into Podesta on the activities targeted in the original FISA order.

Tony Podesta and the Podesta Group are now the subjects of a federal investigation being led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, three sources with knowledge of the matter told NBC News.

The probe of Podesta and his Democratic-leaning lobbying firm grew out of Mueller’s inquiry into the finances of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, according to the sources. As special counsel, Mueller has been tasked with investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.

Manafort had organized a public relations campaign for a non-profit called the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine (ECMU). Podesta’s company was one of many firms that worked on the campaign, which promoted Ukraine’s image in the West.

The sources said the investigation into Podesta and his company began as more of a fact-finding mission about the ECMU and Manafort’s role in the campaign, but has now morphed into a criminal inquiry into whether the firm violated the Foreign Agents Registration Act, known as FARA.

Presumably, as Mueller collected evidence against Manafort, he got some on Podesta that merited (re)opening this investigation, and he feels it sufficiently tied to the Russian investigation to keep it under his supervision.

This is a lovely development, and not just because all DC’s sleazy influence peddlers deserve far more legal scrutiny.

Now that it’s public that one of the most important names in Democratic politics — Podesta (nevermind that it’s Tony and not John — the wingnuts can never tell the brothers apart) — is also targeted by Mueller’s probe, it will change the politics around the investigation, at least a little. The nutjobs are likely to scream mightily about Podesta’s corruption (conflating Tony with John). But as they do so, they’ll also be making a case that Manafort (who set up the non-profit in question) is also corrupt. So to the extent that the nutjobs wail about Podesta (Tony or John), it will make it harder for Trump to pardon Manafort, when that time comes. It may also buy Mueller some time to work through the entire investigation.

Update: This, from August, provides detail on both what Podesta did and how closely it was tied to the Russian government. Notably, John Podesta’s brother was pitching DC power brokers using quotes from some of the same people who would, four years later, attack the campaign his brother was running.

To try to sanitize Ukraine’s elections, the firm distributed materials to Hill staff with quotes from election observers praising Ukraine’s process. It was a tall order, given Yanukovych’s penchant for imprisoning his political opponents. But the Podesta Group did its best.

“Initial Reactions from International Observers Positive,” claimed one Podesta Group document.

One person they quoted to make that argument was Sergey Markov, described as “Observer—The Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation.”

“The elections to the Ukrainian parliament were successful, democratic and organized according to standards even better than some of the European Union member states,” he said.

Markov likely relished the chance to bash the EU. He was no ordinary election observer; rather, Markov is well-known as an informal adviser to Vladimir Putin. He also advised Yanukovych on campaign tactics, according to a former State Department official with knowledge of the region’s politics. The official said Markov was likely in Ukraine helping Yanukovych at Putin’s behest.

[Photo: National Security Agency, Ft. Meade, MD via Wikimedia]

FISA and the Space-Time Continuum

I’m going to do a series of FISA posts on both the Keith Gartenlaub case (he was convicted on child porn charges after the FBI found old images on his computers during a FISA search) and the reported Paul Manafort FISA orders.

But first I want to explain FISA and the space-time continuum.

The space part is easy: the FISA Amendments Act slightly changed the geographical rules on what authority the government could use to target various kinds of people. It legalized the government’s practice of collecting on foreigners from facilities in the United States under Section 702. And it also required a judge’s approval for any spying on Americans overseas. While FAA envisioned two kinds of authorities for spying overseas — 703 (collection in the US on an American overseas, as in calling up Google for someone’s email box) and 704/705(b) (collection overseas on an American overseas, which is using all methods covered by EO 12333, including hacking them and collecting off switches), in practice just the latter authority is used. Effectively, then, the change just codified the domestic collection on foreigners, while requiring a court order for the same EO 12333 collection that had already been going on.

The time part is trickier.

The short version is that FISA imposes some restrictions on whether you can collect data at rest to obtain data from outside the period of a FISA order. Thus, if you’re not supposed to collect on someone when they’re in the US (whether that person is a US person or a foreigner), there are classified restrictions about whether you can collect stored data from that period.

None of these rules are (as far as I’m aware) public, but there are rules for all the various laws. In other words, you’re not supposed to be able to collect GMail on a foreigner while they’re in the US, but you’re also not supposed to be able to cheat and just get the same Gmail as soon as they leave the country.

This is even more complex for Americans. Domestically, there are two kinds of collection: 1805, which is the collection of data in motion — an old fashioned wiretap, and 1824, which is called a “physical search” order. The government likes to hide the fact that the collection of data at rest is accomplished with an 1824 physical search order, not 1805. So an 1824 order might be used to search a closet, or it might be used to image someone’s hard drive. Most often, 1805 and 1824 get combined, but not always (the FISC released a breakdown for these last year).

Of course (as the Gartenlaub case will show), if you image someone’s hard drive, you’re going to get data from well before the time they’ve been under a FISA order, quite possibly even from before you’ve owned your computer.

Then there’s travel overseas. If an American on whom there’s already an 1805 and/or 1824 order travels overseas, the Attorney General can automatically approve a 705(b) order for him (effectively replicating the old EO 12333 authority). But that collection is only supposed to cover the period when the person is overseas, and only for the period when they’ve had a FISA order against them. Using the kind of hacking they use overseas is going to get data in motion and stored communications and a whole lot more, meaning they may well get stuff sitting on the computer someone brings with them (yet another reason to bring travel laptops and phones overseas). And apparently, they only turn off an implant when a FISA order expires; they don’t entirely remove the implant. In addition, given the bulk collection the NSA conducts overseas, it would be child’s play (and from descriptions of violations, appears to have included) going back and accessing data that was collected in motion that had in the interim been sitting in NSA’s coffers.

Effectively, once someone leaves the country the NSA has access to time machines to collect data from the past, though there are supposed to be limits on doing this.

The FISA problems last year arose, first and foremost, from NSA collecting on Americans overseas outside the window of the orders covering them, which was a persistent problem that the NSA just never got around to fixing. That’s bad enough. But when you consider a 705(b) order only covers the period when an American normally targeted domestically is overseas, collecting outside the span of the order means you’re probably also using foreign collection to collect (including by hacking) in the US.

Which is all a way of saying that discussions of FISA almost always focus on the geographical limitations: Is someone inside the US or outside? Foreigner or American?

But because of the differing rules on data in motion and data at rest — and because of the truly awesome methods used as soon as someone goes overseas — there are actually a lot of ways that NSA can get around the legal limitations based on space by playing with the limitations on time.

Again, there are rules (which are not public) that are supposed to prevent this kind of thing from going on. But it does seem to be a problem NSA has long struggled with, even at the times it appeared to be operating in good faith rather than manipulating the space-time continuum to get what they want where they can get it.

Why Was Manafort FISA Tapped Rather than Criminal Tapped?

Congratulations to Donald Trump, who may have finally figured out how to prove his March 4 claim that there was a “tapp” on Trump Tower — by continuing to speak to Paul Manafort after FBI got a second FISA wiretap on him, at least according to the CNN’s report on the tap.

US investigators wiretapped former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort under secret court orders before and after the election, sources tell CNN, an extraordinary step involving a high-ranking campaign official now at the center of the Russia meddling probe.

The government snooping continued into early this year, including a period when Manafort was known to talk to President Donald Trump.

[snip]

The conversations between Manafort and Trump continued after the President took office, long after the FBI investigation into Manafort was publicly known, the sources told CNN. They went on until lawyers for the President and Manafort insisted that they stop, according to the sources.

It’s unclear whether Trump himself was picked up on the surveillance.

I mean, if you’re dumb enough to talk to a guy under active investigation, you should expect to be tapped. Trump should know this from his NY mobster buddies.

The CNN report — by the same team that last month revealed Carter Page had actually been wiretapped going back to 2014, too — is maddeningly vague about the dates of all this. Manafort was first targeted under FISA for his (and associated consulting companies, probably including Tony Podesta) Ukrainian influence peddling in 2014. Then the order lapsed, only to have a new one, possibly last fall, approved in association with the Trump investigation.

A secret order authorized by the court that handles the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) began after Manafort became the subject of an FBI investigation that began in 2014. It centered on work done by a group of Washington consulting firms for Ukraine’s former ruling party, the sources told CNN.

The surveillance was discontinued at some point last year for lack of evidence, according to one of the sources.

The FBI then restarted the surveillance after obtaining a new FISA warrant that extended at least into early this year.

[snip]

The FBI interest deepened last fall because of intercepted communications between Manafort and suspected Russian operatives, and among the Russians themselves, that reignited their interest in Manafort, the sources told CNN. As part of the FISA warrant, CNN has learned that earlier this year, the FBI conducted a search of a storage facility belonging to Manafort. It’s not known what they found.

The gap would presumably have excluded June, given that Mueller reportedly didn’t learn about the June 9 meeting until the usual suspects started turning over records on it (though I may come back to that).

The report of a fall wiretap, based in part on intercepts of Russians, would put it well beyond the time Manafort got booted from the campaign (and might be consistent with the reporting of an earlier application followed by ultimate approval in the fall). The mention of a search of a storage facility suggests that Manafort would have been targeted under both 1805 (data in motion) and 1824 (data at rest, plus physical search like that used with the storage facility).

Here’s some relevant information from last year’s FISC and I Con the Record transparency numbers.

For the same authorities (1805, 1824, 1805/1824, and 1881c), the FISA Court, which uses different and in most cases more informative counting metrics, reports 1,220 orders granted, 313 orders modified, and 26 orders denied in part (which add up to I Con the Record’s 1,559), plus 8 orders denied, which I Con the Record doesn’t mention.

As an improvement this year, I Con the Record has broken down how many of these targets are US persons or not, showing it to be 19.9%. That means the vast majority of targeted FISA orders are targeted at people like Sergey Kislyak, the Russian Ambassador all of Trump’s people talked to.

This is the target number for the original report, not the order number, and it is an estimate (which is curious). This means at least 28 orders target multiple people. Neither ICTR nor FISC reveals how many US persons were approved for 705b, meaning they were spied on when they went overseas.

I include this, especially the FISC numbers (the top ones), to show that for the category that Manafort would have been targeted under, the court outright rejected 8 applications, denied in part — perhaps by approving only some of the facilities in the application — 18, and modified — which can often be minimization procedures — 260. Note, too, that among all the individual orders approved last year, roughly 336 were targeted at Americans like Manafort and Page. I assume there would be more minimization procedures on those targeting Americans, especially those who hang out with political candidates or the President.

All of which is my way of saying that for Manafort, in particular, the FBI may have had to use some kind of clean team to separate the political items from the foreign intelligence ones. The members of Congress that are the most likely sources for this story probably would have known that too, but it wouldn’t serve the point of the leak as well if that detail were included.

One more point.

The CNN piece is clear: FBI had a FISA order targeting Manafort (and probably others, probably the same ones who’ve been asked to testify, including Tony Podesta’s group), then let it lapse. They then got an order focused on election-related issues.

By the point they got the election-related FISA, the FBI was very deep into their investigation of Manafort for money laundering (and in NY, where FBI agents are notoriously gabby).

But at least given all the public reporting thus far, there have been no reported criminal warrants against Manafort, at least not before the no-knock search in VA this summer.

Which is odd, because they sure seem to have probable cause against him for crimes, as well. If Manafort were targeted by a criminal warrant, it’s nowhere near as clear that any minimization would be overseen by a court. That is, it might be more likely that Trump would get picked up in his rash conversations with someone known to be under investigation if that person were targeted with a criminal warrant than if he were targeted under FISA.

One, final, point. Craig Murray, who ferried something (though not emails) to Julian Assange in September 2016 claimed the emails had been picked obtained by American National Security types wiretapping [John] Podesta because of the Podesta Group’s lobbying for Saudi Arabia. As I noted at the time, that didn’t make any sense, partly because Tony would have been the target, not John, but also the FBI wouldn’t be all that interested in lobbying for Saudi Arabia.

Murray claimed the documents came from someone in the national security establishment, and implied they had come from legal monitoring of John Podesta because he (meaning John) is a lobbyist for Saudi Arabia.

Again, the key point to remember, in answering that question, is that the DNC leak and the Podesta leak are two different things and the answer is very probably not going to be the same in both cases. I also want you to consider that John Podesta was a paid lobbyist for the Saudi government — that’s open and declared, it’s not secret or a leak in a sense. John Podesta was paid a very substantial sum every month by the Saudi government to lobby for their interests in Washington. And if the American security services were not watching the communications of the Saudi government paid lobbyist then the American intelligence services would not be doing their job. Of course it’s also true that the Saudis’ man, the Saudis’ lobbyist in Washington, his communications are going to be of interest to a great many other intelligence services as well.

As a threshold matter, no national security agency is going to monitor an American registered to work as an agent for the Saudis. That’s all the more true if the agent has the last name Podesta.

But that brings us to another problem. John Podesta isn’t the lobbyist here. His brother Tony is. So even assuming the FBI was collecting all the emails of registered agent for the Saudis, Tony Podesta, even assuming someone in national security wanted to blow that collection by revealing it via Wikileaks, they would pick up just a tiny fraction of John Podesta’s emails. So this doesn’t explain the source of the emails at all.

They would — and apparently were — interested in tapping all the corrupt people working with corrupt Ukrainians, including Manafort and, maybe, Tony (but not John).

This in no way confirms Murray’s explanation — his story still makes no sense for the reasons I laid out when I first wrote the post. But I find it particularly interesting that Tony Podesta may well have been wiretapped along with Manafort, for his Ukrainian influence peddling, not his Saudi influence peddling, earlier in the year last year.