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The Shiny Object of the May 2017 Russian Investigation: The Evidence Mostly Came in after August 1

There’s a reason today’s NYT story so infuriates me — to say nothing of Trump’s efforts to declassify documents from the Russia investigation that, because of the personnel moves of virtually everyone involved, would mostly end by August 1, 2017.

That’s because it’s clear that — because Peter Strzok lost an August 2016 battle to investigate more aggressively in summer and fall 2016 — DOJ, FBI, and then Mueller were only obtaining key information around about August 1, 2017, a year later. It’s no surprise, then, that (as the frothy right has been obsessing about recently) Lisa Page and Strzok weren’t sure if there was evidence of “collusion” on May 17, 2017. Of course they weren’t. The government hadn’t started collecting the evidence in earnest yet.

Consider the following investigative steps:

FBI appears not to have sent a preservation request to Government Services Administration for George Papadopoulos’ material until March 9, 2017, and they appear not to have pursued his privately held call records (especially the Facebook ones that would have revealed the existence of Ivan Timofeev) until some time later.

On June 6, 2017, the Mueller team was still debating whether they would access Section 702 materials, something they otherwise do routinely with assessments, to say nothing of fully predicated national security investigations.

The John Dowd letter wrongly claiming unprecedented cooperation reveals that Mueller started to receive the documents requested by congressional committees on July 21; that would presumably be the first that the government obtained the version of the June 9 emails that included Paul Manafort’s replies.

Copies of all documents provided to the committees by the Campaign, and all search term lists and the privilege log, were also provided to the Special Counsel.

  • By letter dated May 17, 2017, the Campaign received a request for documents from the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI).
  • By letter dated June 7, 2017, the Campaign received a request for documents from the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI). The records requested included records generated from June 16, 2015, to 12pm on January 20, 2017, and hence, included the transition period.
  • The Campaign voluntarily responded to these requests by providing 840 documents on July 21, 2017, and another set of 4,800 documents on July 31, 2017. By letter dated July 19, 2017, the Campaign received a request for documents from the Senate Judiciary Committee (SJC).

Mueller sent a preservation request for Transition materials on June 22. He obtained all the emails and devices from 13 transition staffers in late August.

Specifically, on August 23, 2017, the FBI sent a letter (i.e., not a subpoena) to career GSA staff requesting copies of the emails, laptops, cell phones, and other materials associated with nine PTT members responsible for national security and policy matters. On August 30, 2017, the FBI sent a letter (again, not a subpoena) to career GSA staff requesting such materials for four additional senior PTT members.

The list of documents the White House provided, organized by Bates number, show that some key documents couldn’t have come in until July 2017. Indeed, documents pertaining to Comey’s firing appear to be the last of the document sets obtained, sometime after the disclosure of the June 9, 2016 meeting in July 2017.

BuzzFeed’s big scoop on financial transfers between Aras Agalarov and Ike Kaveladze around the time of the June 9 meeting shows banks didn’t start looking for such suspicious transfers until after the June 9 meeting was disclosed on July 8, 2017.

None of these transactions was discovered until 2017, after the New York Times revealed the Trump Tower meeting. Shortly after that report, investigators asked financial institutions to look back at their accounts to learn how money flowed among the people who planned and attended the meeting: Agalarov; Kaveladze; Agalarov’s pop star son, Emin; their employee, Rob Goldstone, who sent the original email to Trump Jr.; and others.

To unearth connections between some of their accounts, banks took an extraordinary step: They invoked a provision of the Patriot Act — a post-9/11 law that included new tools to track money laundering and terrorist financing. That provision, rarely used in the Trump-Russia investigation, allowed the banks to share information about customers with one another.

Three financial institutions — Citibank, JP Morgan Chase, and Morgan Stanley — discovered the $3.3 million that flowed from Agalarov to Kaveladze.

My interview with the FBI (I believe I was the second source about one aspect of what I shared, but believe I was the first about the stuff that tied more obviously to the campaign) was July 14. I believe my materials were moved under Mueller when Ryan Dickey got moved under Mueller in November, 2017.

So the constant six-year old soccer chases by journalists trying to learn what happened in May 2017 — when things were chaotic because Trump was breaking all norms and firing people who actually weren’t investigating that aggressively — to the detriment of attention on what happened in the months thereafter really does a huge disservice to the truth. The investigation into Trump’s conspiracy with Russia started in earnest around about August 1, 2017. Once the government actually started looking for evidence, I imagine the evidence of conspiracy was pretty obvious.

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

The NYT “Scoop” Appears To Be an Effort to Spin Opening an Investigation into Trump as an Erratic Act

I’d like to point out something strongly suggested by the stories based on gossiping about Andrew McCabe memos. These stories portray what people not at a meeting that took place just after Comey’s firing think happened at the meeting based off hearing about memos memorializing them. From the WaPo’s far more responsible version of the story, we know that Lisa Page was also present at the meeting.

Another official at the meeting, then-FBI lawyer Lisa Page, wrote her own memo of the discussion which does not mention any talk of the 25th amendment, according to a second person who was familiar with her account.

And the WaPo’s version of the “wire” comment puts it in context, making it clear that Rosenstein was questioning how they could investigate the President.

That person said the wire comment came in response to McCabe’s own pushing for the Justice Department to open an investigation into the president. To that, Rosenstein responded with what this person described as a sarcastic comment along the lines of, “What do you want to do, Andy, wire the president?”

Now go back to earlier in the week, to the frothy right rehashing some texts Page and Peter Strzok sent, talking about opening an investigation into … someone, while Andrew McCabe was Acting Director. (Apologies for the Fox slurs about Page and Strzok.)

Text messages from disgraced FBI figures Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, discussing whether to open a “case” in a “formal chargeable way” after Director James Comey was fired, are under fresh scrutiny after Page told congressional investigators there was no evidence of Russian collusion at the time, according to three congressional sources.

Two hours after Comey’s termination became public on May 9, 2017, Strzok, a now-former FBI agent, texted Page, his then-colleague and lover: “We need to open the case we’ve been waiting on now while Andy is acting.”

“Andy” is a reference to then-Deputy Director Andrew McCabe who temporarily took over the bureau until Christopher Wray was confirmed as director in August 2017.

Page, a former FBI attorney, replied to Strzok: “We need to lock in (redacted). In a formal chargeable way. Soon.”

Strzok concurred. “I agree. I’ve been pushing and I’ll reemphasize with Bill,” believed to be Bill Priestap, the head of the FBI’s counterintelligence division.

Finally, here’s the WaPo version of Michael Bromwich’s description of the memos.

McCabe’s lawyer, Michael Bromwich, said in a statement that his client “drafted memos to memorialize significant discussions he had with high level officials and preserved them so he would have an accurate, contemporaneous record of those discussions. When he was interviewed by the special counsel more than a year ago, he gave all of his memos — classified and unclassified — to the special counsel’s office. A set of those memos remained at the FBI at the time of his departure in late January 2018. He has no knowledge of how any member of the media obtained those memos.”

These are “significant memos” and went right to Mueller when he was appointed. The kind of memos that might back investigative decisions, such as whether to open an investigation into the President.

So what the NYT spin of the story is about is suggesting that at the moment when DOJ opened an investigation into the President, the guy who opened it was “acting erratically.” Presumably based off the third-hand opinions of people like Jim Jordan, who knows a bit about acting erratically. It’s also about whether a discussion of removing the President took place at the same meeting where a discussion of investigating him did.

Likely, the messages are muddled, because they always are when getting laundered through Jim Jordan’s feverish little mind.

Update: NYT has now updated their story with two details designed to rebut the more responsible reporting of other outlets. First, they cite their sources claiming — without having to explain — that Rosenstein spoke about recording the President on another occasion, with the suggestion that that time it wan’t sarcastic.

Mr. Rosenstein also mentioned the possibility of wearing a wire on at least one other occasion, the people said, though they did not provide details.

More remarkably, they include a paragraph that reveals their original story was inaccurate as to timing. To rebut WaPo’s report that Lisa Page’s version of events don’t include the reference to the 25th Amendment, the NYT has now decided there were “at least two meetings that took place on May 16” (but note the knowledge of their sources all appears to come from memos, not from witnessing the events).

At least two meetings took place on May 16 involving both Mr. McCabe and Mr. Rosenstein, the people familiar with the events of the day said. Mr. Rosenstein brought up the 25th Amendment during the first meeting of Justice Department officials, they said. He did not appear to talk about it at the second, according to a memo by one participant, Lisa Page, a lawyer who worked for Mr. McCabe at the time, that did not mention the topic.

Well, okay, maybe that’s true. But that utterly demolishes some key premises of the story as originally written. The story collapses the timing of all this, emphasizing that it happened just two weeks into the job.

Mr. Rosenstein was just two weeks into his job. He had begun overseeing the Russia investigation and played a key role in the president’s dismissal of Mr. Comey by writing a memo critical of his handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation. But Mr. Rosenstein was caught off guard when Mr. Trump cited the memo in the firing, and he began telling people that hefeared he had been used.

[snip]

The president informed them of his plan to oust Mr. Comey. To the surprise of White House aides who were trying to talk the president out of it, Mr. Rosenstein embraced the idea, even offering to write the memo about the Clinton email inquiry. He turned it in shortly after.

A day later, Mr. Trump announced the firing, and White House aides released Mr. Rosenstein’s memo, labeling it the basis for Mr. Comey’s dismissal. Democrats sharply criticized Mr. Rosenstein, accusing him of helping to create a cover story for the president to rationalize the termination. [my emphasis]

All this suggests the response was a direct response to the Comey firing.

And while the story does note the meetings take place a week later, the update emphasizes the actual date.

A determined Mr. Rosenstein began telling associates that he would ultimately be “vindicated” for his role in the matter. One week after the firing, Mr. Rosenstein met with Mr. McCabe and at least four other senior Justice Department officials, in part to explain his role in the situation. [my emphasis]

The “wire the president” comment (and the 25th Amendment one, if it did happen as described) took place on May 16, almost a week later.

One week after the firing, Mr. Rosenstein met with Mr. McCabe and at least four other senior Justice Department officials, in part to explain his role in the situation.

In this update, the NYT also took out language about Rosenstein wondering about motive.

wondered whether Mr. Trump had motives beyond Mr. Comey’s treatment of Mrs. Clinton for ousting him, the people said.

By May 16, of course, Rosenstein wouldn’t have to wonder about Trump’s motives, because he had already gone on TV and explained what his motive was — it was to end the Russia investigation.

More troublingly, he had taken a meeting with Sergei Lavrov and Sergei Kislyak — the latter of whom was a key figure in any conspiracy investigation — without American press present at which he shared highly sensitive Israeli secrets. While the public didn’t know it yet, at the meeting Trump also said he fired Comey to ease the pressure on him.

More importantly, if there were two meetings — one on whether Trump was handling the FBI hiring properly, and one on whether to open an investigation into the President — then it means those different topics have a different meaning. One meeting was about whether Trump was capable of doing the job, the other was about whether he had broken the law.

Anyway, what we’re not getting is any real understanding of the real context of these comments.

Trump Wants Voters — and Russia — to Know What the Russia Investigation Looked Like on August 1, 2017, not September 14, 2018

Between setting the first status hearing in Paul Manafort’s case as November 16, and setting the Mike Flynn sentencing for no earlier than November 28 (with the reports submitted on November 14), Mueller’s office seems to be suggesting they’ll wait until after election day to roll out the case they just added Trump’s Campaign Manager’s testimony to.

Not long after the release of the Flynn status hearing, Trump ordered the release of yet more stuff on the Steele dossier (the stuff in the first paragraph), plus unredacted texts on what the investigation looked like before August 1, 2017.

At the request of a number of committees of Congress, and for reasons of transparency, the President has directed the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Justice (including the FBI) to provide for the immediate declassification of the following materials: (1) pages 10-12 and 17-34 of the June 2017 application to the FISA court in the matter of Carter W. Page; (2) all FBI reports of interviews with Bruce G. Ohr prepared in connection with the Russia investigation; and (3) all FBI reports of interviews prepared in connection with all Carter Page FISA applications.

In addition, President Donald J. Trump has directed the Department of Justice (including the FBI) to publicly release all text messages relating to the Russia investigation, without redaction, of James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page, and Bruce Ohr.

Depending on how much the various parties put into these texts (I doubt Comey was much of a texter, for example), this will show unbelievable detail on how FBI runs counterintelligence investigations.

But it will also show voters what the investigation looked like before some key evidence came in, such as the communications surrounding the June 9 meeting and whatever the FBI seized from Paul Manafort’s home. Andrew McCabe was the last person in a key role on this investigation, and Christopher Wray took over that role on August 1.

It’s a desperate gambit, I think, throwing the last of the Steele dossier details out there, plus a picture of what the investigation looked like before the FBI learned that the President’s son entered into a conspiracy with Russians exchanging Hillary emails for sanction relief.

Which I take as yet more confirmation that that conspiracy — and whatever Manafort just gave the government — would (will, eventually) utterly damn the President.

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

Manafort Turns State’s Evidence: “It’s Time for Some Game Theory”

It took a day for the President to complain after his former campaign manager, having spent the week proffering up testimony, flipped on Friday. When he did, Trump tied the Mueller investigation to polls (and upcoming midterm elections) for the first time in a Tweet.

Of course, his freebie legal PR hack, Rudy Giuliani has been tying midterms to the investigation for some time in his insistence that no indictments can come between now and then. Rudy should be happy, then, that Paul Manfort’s plea avoids a four week trial for Trump’s campaign manager right in the middle of election season.

But he’s not.

I mean, at first, Rudy put a brave face on things Friday, claiming,

Once again an investigation has concluded with a plea having nothing to do with President Trump or the Trump campaign. The reason: the President did nothing wrong and Paul Manafort will tell the truth.

But almost immediately after making that statement, Rudy took out the part about Manafort telling the truth.

Roger Stone, who’s shrewder than Rudy, immediately suggested anything Manafort may be saying (or may already have said) implicating him would be a lie.

I am uncertain of the details of Paul’s plea deal but certain it has no bearing on me since neither Paul Manafort or anyone else can testify truthfully that I am involved in Russian collusion, WikiLeaks collaboration or any other illegal act pertaining to the 2016 election.

Though of course, Stone’s seeming awareness that Mueller might pursue Manafort testimony about Stone reveals his brave comment for the lie it is.

I’m more interested, however, in Rudy’s (and John Dowd’s) apparent desperation to stave off a mass prisoner’s dilemma.

Manafort first proffered testimony Monday, September 10. Rudy was still boasting about how much he knew about Manafort’s thinking for a Thursday Politico story — though he based that off conversations before and after the EDVA trial, which had ended three weeks earlier.

Giuliani also confirmed that Trump’s lawyers and Manafort’s have been in regular contact and that they are part of a joint defense agreement that allows confidential information sharing.

“All during the investigation we have an open communication with them,” he said. “Defense lawyers talk to each other all the time, where, as long as our clients authorize it, therefore we have a better idea of what’s going to happen. That’s very common.”

Giuliani confirmed he spoke with Manafort’s lead defense lawyer Kevin Downing shortly before and after the verdicts were returned in the Virginia trial, but the former mayor wouldn’t say what he discusses with the Manafort team. “It’d all be attorney-client privilege, not just from our point of view but from theirs,” he said.

Immediately after Manafort’s cooperation was announced, both NPR and the same Politico team that had been quoting Rudy’s bravura reported that someone close to Manafort said there would be no cooperation against the President. In later stories, both quote Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Rudy claiming Manafort’s cooperation has nothing to do with the President.

Despite Manafort’s having led the campaign, the White House has sought to distance itself from him and his case.

“This had absolutely nothing to do with the president or his victorious 2016 presidential campaign,” press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Friday. “It is totally unrelated.”

Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani echoed that idea, adding that “the president did nothing wrong.”

But the NPR version includes this correction.

Editor’s note: An early version of this story published before all the court documents in the case were available contained a characterization from a person familiar with the case that said Manafort’s cooperation would be limited. When charging documents and other materials appeared, they did not support that and the characterization was removed.

And the Politico noted how quickly Rudy backed off his claim that Manafort would testify truthfully.

Of course, anyone who has read the plea agreement closely — up to and including the government’s ability to declare Manafort in breach of the agreement with only a good faith rather than preponderance of the evidence standard —

— and it’s clear that if Mueller’s team wants Manafort to testify about Trump, he will.

Meanwhile, Rudy is yelling on Twitter that the morning shows aren’t taking his word about what Manafort is testifying about over what the clear text of the plea agreement suggests.

I’m more interested still that John Dowd emailed the lawyers for the (reportedly 37, though the number is likely smaller now) other witnesses in the Joint Defense Agreement, claiming outlandishly that Manafort has no evidence on Trump.

The President’s lawyers — the one who currently “works” for him for “free” and the one who allegedly doesn’t work for him anymore but recently got lionized in Woodward’s book as his main source about the Mueller investigation, and in that role was shown to be either an idiot or a fantasist, that the “free” one cites to claim that Woodward exonerates the President — are working very hard to convince others that Manafort’s plea deal doesn’t mean the calculation both other witnesses and the Republican party have been making has to change.

They’re trying to stave off an awful game of prisoner’s dilemma.

Consider if you’re one of the other 37 (which might be down to 34 given known cooperators, or maybe even fewer given how uncertain Rudy seems to be about Don McGahn’s third session of testimony) members of the Joint Defense Agreement, especially if you’re one who has already testified before the grand jury about matters that Manafort (and Gates) might be able to refute. So long as there’s no chance Trump will be touched, you’re probably still safe, as you can count on Trump rewarding those who maintain the omertà or at the very least working to kill the Mueller inquiry shortly after the election.

But if you have doubts about that — or concerns that other witnesses might have doubts about that — you still have an opportunity to recall the things you claimed you could not recall a year ago. Depending on how central your testimony is, you might even be able to slip in and fix your testimony unnoticed.

So each of 37 (or maybe just 30) people are considering whether they have to recalculate their decisions about whether to remain loyal to the President or take care of themselves.

Meanwhile, there’s the Republican party. Admittedly, the Republicans are unlikely to do anything until they rush through Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation, even if doing so without first inquiring about the allegation that he assaulted a girl when he was in high school will damage their electoral prospects with women in November.

But once they’ve got Kavanaugh confirmed (assuming no big news breaks in the Mueller investigation before that), then the calculation may change. Right now, a lot of Republicans believe they have to stick with Trump through the election, if only to ensure the GOP base turns out. But if Trump’s poll numbers continue to sink — and as the numbers of those who strongly disapprove of Trump continue to grow — Republicans in certain kinds of districts (especially suburbs) will have an incentive to distance themselves from the President.

All that’s a straight calculation based on whether Trump will help or hurt more, come November. But the Republican party, from Trump’s endless repetition of “no collusion;” to Devin Nunes’ naked attempt to obstruct the Mueller investigation; to Chuck Grassley and Lindsey Graham’s referral of Christopher Steele rather than Don Jr for perjury charges; to Mark Meadows’ latest attempts to turn Lisa Page and Peter Strzok’s attempts to chase down someone leaking about Carter Page into a suggestion they themselves leaked; to Richard Burr’s cynical boasts that his committee hasn’t found stuff they wouldn’t chase down if they had been told of it, has invested everything on a gamble that Trump was telling the truth (or, more cynically, that he could stave off discovery of any conspiracy he entered into with Russia).

Republicans have invested a whole lot into attempting to give the President a clean bill of health.

Meanwhile, his campaign manager — a guy many of them have worked with — is presumably now doing the opposite, telling Mueller precisely what the Republicans have been working so hard to suppress for 18 months.

At some point, the ones who have been playing along even while admitting that the President probably did conspire with Russia (I know of some who believe that’s likely), will make their move.

If the GOP were less dysfunctional, they’d do it sooner rather than later, cut their losses with Trump to try to salvage the Pence presidency (whom they like far more anyway). But for now, that calculation of whether or not to do so is likely happening in private.

I’m in no way promising Manafort’s plea deal will set off two parallel floods of rats fleeing the Trump JDA or his presidency generally. These are Republicans, after all, and I’m sure they still would prefer obstructing the whole thing away.

I don’t think a mass abandonment of Trump is going to happen anytime soon.

But Trump’s lawyers do seem worried that could happen.

Trump needs his fellow Republicans to believe that Paul Manafort isn’t providing evidence that incriminates him. Because if they start to believe that, their calculations behind support for him may change, and change quickly.

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

The Frothy Right Is Furious that Peter Strzok Pursued the Guy Leaking about Carter Page

Close to midnight on June 3, 2017, Lisa Page texted Peter Strzok to let him know that Reality Winner was in custody. Page used the same shorthand she and Strzok (and presumably, those around them) consistently use to describe leak investigations, ML, media leaks.

They used the term elsewhere, as when Strzok said “media leaks and what I do for a living” when responding to the first reports that Mueller was investigating Trump (and hypothesizing about who the WaPo’s likely sources were).

Significantly, they used the term on April 10, 2017, when trying to figure out how to respond to DOJ’s effort to increasingly politicize leak investigations.

Indeed, Strzok’s lawyer has issued a statement confirming this is how Strzok and Page used the term.

The term ‘media leak strategy’ in Mr. Strzok’s text refers to a Department-wide initiative to detect and stop leaks to the media. The President and his enablers are once again peddling unfounded conspiracy theories to mislead the American People.

In spite of all that context, Mark Meadows has the entire frothy right, from Sara Carter to Fox News to Don Jr to his dad, worked up about two newly produced texts, based on this letter to Rod Rosenstein, which gets just about every thing wrong.

Before I explain how wrong Mark Meadows’ letter is, let me point out two things.

Michael Horowitz has already investigated a media leak text and found no misconduct

First, Michael Horowitz is (with the possible exception of DOD’s Glenn Fine) the best Inspector General in government. His office spent over a year investigating the work of Peter Strzok and Lisa Page; he wrote a 500-page report on it. And when he found evidence that even looked like impropriety, acted on it immediately and then formally, leading to Strzok’s firing. He has also spent a year investigating whatever calls went between FBI lines and reporters covering Hillary or Trump. He even drew pretty pictures showing each one of concern.

As part of both investigations, he examined a text in the series Meadows is concerned about (the April 10 one, above). And in spite of examining Page and Strzok, including a relevant text, at such length, Horowitz found no impropriety with the discussions about how to investigate leaks to the media.

We know the likely culprit for the leak the frothy right is blaming on Page and Strzok

The punchline of Meadows’ letter — as fed via the always-wrong Sara Carter — is a claim that Strzok and Page were the source for the WaPo story revealing that FBI obtained a FISA order on Carter Page.

The review of the documents suggests that the FBI and DOJ coordinated efforts to get information to the press that would potentially be “harmful to President Trump’s administration.” Those leaks pertained to information regarding the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court warrant used to spy on short-term campaign volunteer Carter Page.

Aside from how fucking stupid you’d have to be to believe that Strzok would go to great lengths to get a FISA order on Page and then tell the entire world about it, there’s another reason that the frothy right should know this is wrong: because we know the likely culprit for it.

As I noted in my first post on the James Wolfe indictment, that investigation appears to have started to (and focused on) finding the source for the WaPo story the frothy right now blames on Strzok and Page.

The government lays out clear proof Wolfe lied about conversations with three reporters. With Watkins and another, they point to stories about Carter Page to do so. The Watkins story is this one, confirming he is the person identified in the Evgeny Buryakov indictment. Another must be one of two stories revealing Page was subpoenaed for testimony by the Senate Intelligence Committee — either this one or this one.

I’m most interested, however, in this reference to a story the FBI raised with Wolfe in its interview, a story for which (unlike the others) the indictment never confirms whether Wolfe is the source.

During the interview, FBI agents showed WOLFE a copy of a news article authored by three reporters, including REPORTER #1, about an individual (referred to herein as “MALE-l), that contained classified information that had been provided to the SSCI by the Executive Branch for official purposes

The story suggests they don’t have content for the communications between Wolfe and Reporter #1, and the call records they’re interested in ended last June (meaning the story must precede it).

For example, between in or around December 2015 and in or around June 2017, WOLFE and REPORTER #1 communicated at least five times using his SSCI email account.

For that reason, I suspect this is the story they asked about — whether Wolfe is a source for the original credible story on Carter Page’s FISA order. The focus on Page generally in the indictment suggests this investigation started as an investigation into who leaked the fact that Page had been targeted under FISA, and continued to look at the stories that revealed classified details about the investigative focus on him (stories which he rightly complained to SSCI about).

The government didn’t charge Wolfe for that story — they just (appear to have) included his lies about whether he knew the reporters behind it among the lies they charged him for. But that’s a common strategy for FBI when dealing with a leak investigation the direct prosecution of which would require declassifying information, particularly with someone like Wolfe who could easily graymail the government. Moreover, the docket in his case has the look of one where the defense is considering a plea to avoid more serious charges.

Now consider how they got Wolfe. Not only did the government go after a trusted employee, not only did they very publicly access his Signal and WhatsApp texts, not only did they get Congress to waive speech and debate (which very rarely happens), but they also obtained years of Ali Watkins’ call records, both directly and via Temple University.

In other words, the prosecution of James Wolfe pushed prior protocols on leak investigations on a number of fronts: going after favored insiders, going after encrypted comms, going after employees of Congress, and going far more aggressively after a journalist and a college student than would seem necessary. That’s precisely the kind of thing that FBI and DOJ would debate as part of revising their strategy to more aggressively pursue media leaks.

So the James Wolfe case not only provides a likely culprit for the leak, but probably even evidence that shifts in the media leak strategy did happen, shifts resulting in far more aggressive pursuit of leaks than happened at the end of the Obama Administration.

Mark Meadows dangerously wrong

Which brings us, finally, to the many errors of Mark Meadows’ letter to Rosenstein. Once again, the premise of the letter is that two next texts (one of which obviously relates the one I posted above) create grave new concerns.

As you may know, we recently received a new production of documents from the Department providing greater insight into FBI and DOJ activity during the 2016 election and the early stages of the Trump administration. Our review of these new documents raises grave concerns regarding an apparent systemic culture of media leaking by high-ranking officials at the FBI and DOJ related to ongoing investigations.

Review of these new documents suggests a coordinated effort on the part of the FBI and DOJ to release information in the public domain potentially harmful to President Donald Trump’s administration. For example, the following text exchange should lead a reasonable person to question whether there was a since desire to investigate wrongdoing or to place derogatory information in the media to justify a continued probe.

April 10, 2017: Peter Strozk [sic] contacts Lisa Page to discuss a “media leak strategy.” Specifically, the text says: “I had literally just gone to find this phone to tell you I want to talk to you about media leak strategy with DOJ before you go.”

April 12, 2017: Peter Strozk [sic] congratulates Lisa Page on a job well done while referring to two derogatory articles about Carter Page. In the text, Strzok warns Page two articles are coming out, one which his “worse” than the other about Lisa’s “namesake.” [see update below] Strzok added: “Well done, Page.”

Meadows goes on to cite the WaPo story revealing Page’s FISA order and Andrew Weissman’s meeting with the AP (in which, per court testimony from the Manafort trial, the AP provided information useful to the investigation into Manafort, but which — significantly — led to the warrant on Manafort’s condo which may have led to the discovery of information that implicates Trump).

Meadows is just wrong. Both texts he already has and the Wolfe case “should lead a reasonable person” to understand that the same people who had long pursued leak investigations still were doing so, doing so in an increasingly politicized environment, but doing so with results that would employ more aggressive techniques and would find the likely culprit behind the WaPo story in question (not to mention send Reality Winner to prison for five years).

But all that’s just a premise to claim that because he imagines, fancifully, that Page and Strzok were leaking about ongoing investigations to the press (when in fact they were investigating such leaks), he should be able to get the FBI to talk about ongoing investigations.

During our interviews with Peter Strozk [sic] and Lisa Page, FBI attorneys consistently suggested witnesses could not answer questions due to the US Attorneys’ Manual’s policy for ongoing investigations. However, documents strongly suggest that these same witnesses discussed the ongoing investigations multiple times with individuals outside of the investigative team on a regular basis.

Not only is Meadows almost certainly wrong in his accusations against Strzok and Page, but he’s also ignoring that there are two ongoing investigations being protected here — both the general Russian investigation, but also the prosecution of Wolfe for behavior that likely includes the story he’s bitching about.

Meadows then uses what he even seems to admit are authorized media contacts as a transition paragraph.

Our task force continues to receive troubling evidence that the practice of coordinated media interactions continues to exist within the DOJ and FBI. While this activity may be authorized and not part of the inappropriate behavior highlighted above, it fails to advance the private march to justice, and as such, warrants your attention to end this practice.

The transition paragraph — which I’ll return to — leads to the whole point of the letter, Meadows’ demand that, because he has trumped up a false accusation against Strzok and Page, he should be able to interview FBI agents he believes will undermine the investigation into Donald Trump.

In light of the new information, our task force is requesting to review text messages, emails, and written communication from FBI and DOJ officials Stu Evans, Mike Kortan, and Joe Pientka between June 2016 to June 2017. To be clear, we are not suggesting wrongdoing on the part of Evans, Kortan, and Pientka–and, in fact, previously reviewed documents suggest that some of these individuals may share the committees’ same concerns. However, these additional documents, with an emphasis on communications between the aforementioned individuals and Peter Strozk [sic], Andrew McCabe, Lisa Page, Bruce Ohr and Andrew Weissman, would provide critical insight into the backdrop of the Russian investigation.

Meadows is looking, among other things, testimony that says Pientka didn’t believe Mike Flynn lied when he interviewed Trump’s National Security Advisor with Strzok. But he’s doing so specifically for a time period that ends before the evidence showing that Flynn did lie came into FBI (in part, when Mueller obtained Transition emails showing Trump closely directed Flynn’s conversations with Sergei Kislyak.

Now back to authorized media interactions. I happen to know something about how they work. I had a conversation with the FBI that pertained, in part, to whether there was a tie between Russian criminals and the President, one that also pertained to my perception of possible threats. Apparently Meadows thinks that such a conversation “fails to advance the private march to justice,” though it’s not clear what he means by that.  I mean, thus far, I have been very circumspect about the content of such conversations; is Meadows really asking me to air details before the midterms? I have thus far hesitated to share suspicions I had, believing it would be inappropriate for anyone besides Mueller and the FBI to air such things publicly, until they had corroborated my suspicions. But Meadows apparently believes it important to air investigative details before the election.

The better option — one that would put the rule of law and the security of the nation ahead of partisan obstruction — would be for Meadows to stop inciting hoaxes among the frothy right. Or maybe, at least, the frothy right can recognize that Meadows has serially embarrassed them as they credulously repeat whatever hoax he floats?

Update: After Jerrold Nadler and Elijah Cummings released a response noting some of Meadows’ errors, he fixed just one of the errors in his letter, admitting that the “well done, Page” language was actually from an April 22, 2017 text that reads, “article is out! Well done, Page,” and which obviously refers to this story on Jim Comey.

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

Andy McCarthy’s Misconception

I was struck, in reading Andy McCarthy’s review of the Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort guilty outcomes last week (in which he measures Trump via a vastly different standard than he once measured Bill Clinton), by this erroneous claim:

The Trump camp continues to stress that Manafort’s case had nothing to do with the original rationale for Mueller’s investigation, “collusion with Russia.” But as we’ve pointed out any number of times, Mueller took over a counterintelligence investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Possible Trump-campaign collusion with Russia was just one thread in the larger probe.

The claim that the Trump-campaign “collusion” was just one thread of what Mueller originally took over is false, but utterly critical for McCarthy’s sustained belief that Mueller has not found evidence of a conspiracy between Trump and Russia. While it is true that when Comey confirmed the investigation, he did not specify the structure of the investigation,
I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia’s efforts. As with any counterintelligence investigation, this will also include an assessment of whether any crimes were committed.
When Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller, he described Mueller’s scope to include,
  • any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump; and
  • any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation; and
  • any other matters within the scope of 28 C.F.R. § 600.4(a)

Why McCarthy made this error is clear: he uses the existence of and Mueller’s indictments in a broader counterintelligence investigation to sustain his belief that Mueller doesn’t have a “collusion” case against Trump or his associates.

At this point, it does not appear that Mueller has a collusion case against Trump associates. His indictments involving Russian hacking and troll farms do not suggest complicity by the Trump campaign. I also find it hard to believe Mueller sees Manafort as the key to making a case on Trump when Mueller has had Gates — Manafort’s partner — as a cooperator for six months. You have to figure Gates knows whatever Manafort knows about collusion. Yet, since Gates began cooperating with the special counsel, Mueller has filed the charges against Russians that do not implicate Trump, and has transferred those cases to other Justice Department components.

When it comes to the president, I believe the special counsel’s focus is obstruction, not collusion. When it comes to Manafort, I believe the special counsel’s focus is Russia — specifically, Manafort’s longtime connections to Kremlin-connected operatives. Mueller may well be interested in what Manafort can add to his inquiry into the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting (arranged by Donald Trump Jr. in futile hopes of obtaining campaign dirt from Russia on Hillary Clinton). That, however, is not the more serious “collusion” allegation that triggered the Trump thread of the investigation — cyberespionage conspiracy (i.e., Russian hacking of Democratic party emails).

That is, because Mueller indicted trolls and GRU hackers and then spun those prosecutions off to other teams (in the GRU case, back to one of the teams that originally investigated it), it is proof, in McCarthy’s mind, that Mueller isn’t targeting Trump and his associates for conspiring with Russia.

The actual background of the Mueller investigation suggests precisely the opposite. As I noted when Lawfare made precisely the same error in a post on the GRU indictment,

Friday’s indictment is, rather, the result of investigations conducted primarily in San Francisco and Pittsburgh. At the time Comey confirmed the counterintelligence investigation into Trump’s camp and at the time Comey got fired for not shutting the Trump counterintelligence investigation down, those San Francisco and Pittsburgh investigations were totally separate. Those two investigations almost certainly had little if any involvement from Peter Strzok (indeed, they involved a bunch of FBI cyber agents, a division of FBI that Strzok never tired of mocking in his texts to Lisa Page). The DOJ press release from Friday states that explicitly.

This case was investigated with the help of the FBI’s cyber teams in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and San Francisco and the National Security Division.

Those two investigations (plus the separate one noted in Philadelphia that started later, as I understand it from what a lawyer who represented a witness in that investigation described to me) got moved under the Mueller umbrella sometime in or just before November, and now the GRU officer part of the investigation will be moved back to Pittsburgh where it started, to languish forever like some other nation-state hacker indictments investigated by Western District of Pennsylvania.

Given that both public reporting (starting in February 2017 and extending into November 2017) and Mueller team changes (not to mention my own reporting about the Philadelphia grand jury’s activity in the second half of May 2017 and my own knowledge about where I interviewed and where my interview materials subsequently got moved to) support this narrative, McCarthy (and the Lawfare crowd) might ask why Mueller decided to integrate the cybersecurity parts of the investigation, only to spin the Russian defendants back to other teams once they were indicted?

We can begin to get an answer from the two indictments that — Andy wants to believe — are themselves evidence that Mueller doesn’t have evidence on Trump’s associates but actually are. The Internet Research Agency indictment actually describes three Florida-based Trump campaign officials inconclusively, as if they were either still under investigation or at some legal risk.

On approximately the same day, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the email address of a false U.S. persona, [email protected], to send an email to Campaign Official 1 at that donaldtrump.com email account, which read in part:

Hello [Campaign Official 1], [w]e are organizing a state-wide event in Florida on August, 20 to support Mr. Trump. Let us introduce ourselves first. “Being Patriotic” is a grassroots conservative online movement trying to unite people offline. . . . [W]e gained a huge lot of followers and decided to somehow help Mr. Trump get elected. You know, simple yelling on the Internet is not enough. There should be real action. We organized rallies in New York before. Now we’re focusing on purple states such as Florida.

The email also identified thirteen “confirmed locations” in Florida for the rallies and requested the campaign provide “assistance in each location.”

[snip]

Defendants and their co-conspirators used the false U.S. persona [email protected] account to send an email to Campaign Official 2 at that donaldtrump.com email account.

[snip]

On or about August 20, 2016, Defendants and their co-conspirators used the “Matt Skiber” Facebook account to contact Campaign Official 3.

And while the GRU indictment (on top of key clauses being misread by virtually everyone who has read it) doesn’t use the same convention to describe Roger Stone’s communications with Guccifer 2.0…

On or about August 15, 2016, the Conspirators, posing as Guccifer 2.0, wrote to a person who wasin regular contact with senior members of the presidential campaign of Donald J. Trump, “thank u for writing back . . . do u find anyt[h]ing interesting in the docs i posted?” On or about August 17, 2016, the Conspirators added, “please tell me if i can help u anyhow . . . it would be a great pleasure to me.” On or about September 9, 2016, the Conspirators, again posing as Guccifer 2.0, referred to a stolen DCCC document posted online and asked the person, “what do u think of the info on the turnout model for the democrats entire presidential campaign.” The person responded, “[p]retty standard.”

It pointed to Russia’s response to Donald Trump’s request that they hack Hillary without referring to him one way or another.

For example, on or about July 27, 2016, the Conspirators attempted after hours to spearphish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a thirdparty provider and used by Clinton’s personal office. At or around the same time, they also targeted seventy-six email addresses at the domain for the Clinton Campaign.

What Mueller has done with both of the counterintelligence indictments that McCarthy takes solace in is lay out the Russian side of a conspiracy (and both are charged as conspiracies) with very clear spots into which American co-conspirators may be dropped when Mueller is prepared to do so. (I laid this out at more length in this post.)

Importantly, the fact that some of this investigation started out in other parts of DOJ but then got moved under Mueller make it clear that something came up in the investigation that Mueller and Rosenstein believed required they be moved under Special Counsel when they weren’t there, originally.

Let’s put it this way: Mueller didn’t subsume investigations located elsewhere at DOJ because the Special Counsel needed to be the one to indict a bunch of Russians. He did it to set up the conspiracies that would — that will — later be occupied by Russians and Americans.

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

The Epistemology of Security Clearance Dick-Waving

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

I really couldn’t be bothered to get hot and bothered about President Trump stripping John Brennan of his security clearance. Brennan himself has been involved in the politicization of security clearances (perhaps most directly in Jeffrey Sterling’s case), and to have David Petraeus, of all people, complain about politicized security clearances, discredits the pushback. I’m far more concerned about the loyalty policing at EPA, Interior, Department of Education, and on the DOJ team attacking ObamaCare than I am about Brennan, because the bullying of those more obscure people will have a tangible effect on Americans’ lives. Indeed, the fact that Trump issued a declaration stripping Brennan of his clearance on July 26 but we only learned about it on August 15 is a testament to how little impact this has, other than the posturing around it.

But it has led to dangerous politicization elsewhere.

After being stripped of his clearance, Brennan wrote this op-ed.

In it, Brennan spends six paragraphs setting up how deceitful are Russians generally and his former counterpart Alexander Bortnikov specifically, and how successfully they recruit targets, including Americans, leading from a description of Russian “perfidy” directly to deeming election tampering denials “hogwash.”

Brennan then turns to Trump. He leads his accusation that Trump “colluded” with Russia by describing how asking for Russian to find Hillary’s missing emails “openly authorized his followers to work” with Russians.

The already challenging work of the American intelligence and law enforcement communities was made more difficult in late July 2016, however, when Mr. Trump, then a presidential candidate, publicly called upon Russia to find the missing emails of Mrs. Clinton. By issuing such a statement, Mr. Trump was not only encouraging a foreign nation to collect intelligence against a United States citizen, but also openly authorizing his followers to work with our primary global adversary against his political opponent.

Brennan then points to what he has read in “the reporting of an open and free press” to declare Trump’s claims of no collusion — as he had just claimed Russia’s denials of election interference — to be “hogwash.”

Such a public clarion call certainly makes one wonder what Mr. Trump privately encouraged his advisers to do — and what they actually did — to win the election. While I had deep insight into Russian activities during the 2016 election, I now am aware — thanks to the reporting of an open and free press — of many more of the highly suspicious dalliances of some American citizens with people affiliated with the Russian intelligence services.

Mr. Trump’s claims of no collusion are, in a word, hogwash.

The only questions that remain are whether the collusion that took place constituted criminally liable conspiracy, whether obstruction of justice occurred to cover up any collusion or conspiracy, and how many members of “Trump Incorporated” attempted to defraud the government by laundering and concealing the movement of money into their pockets.

In response, Richard Burr issued this testy statement, defending Trump’s action of stripping the clearance of a former CIA Director with whom Burr got along splendidly when he was spying on Burr’s own separate branch of government oversight committee.

Director Brennan’s recent statements purport to know as fact that the Trump campaign colluded with a foreign power. If Director Brennan’s statement is based on intelligence he received while still leading the CIA, why didn’t he include it in the Intelligence Community Assessment released in 2017? If his statement is based on intelligence he has seen since leaving office, it constitutes an intelligence breach. If he has some other personal knowledge of or evidence of collusion, it should be disclosed to the Special Counsel, not The New York Times.

If, however, Director Brennan’s statement is purely political and based on conjecture, the president has full authority to revoke his security clearance as head of the Executive Branch.

I’m offended by Burr’s statement not just because it ignores the plain language of Brennan’s op-ed, which it links, but for the epistemology of the Russian investigation suggested by the Senate Intelligence Committee Chair. Here’s the logic of the statement:

1. Brennan “purports” to know Trump colluded with a foreign power

Here, Burr ignores how Brennan defines it — first “authorizing his followers to work” with Russia by calling on them to find Hillary’s missing emails, and then “highly suspicious dalliances of some American citizens with people affiliated with the Russian intelligence services” — stuff that’s public. He also ignores that Brennan himself says he doesn’t know whether the “collusion” involved constitutes a criminally liable conspiracy. That is, Brennan is defining collusion as something less than a criminal conspiracy to cooperate to cheat on the election, but Burr doesn’t care.

2. Why doesn’t Brennan’s claim show up in the Brennan-led Intelligence Community Assessment?

Again, Burr ignores Brennan’s description of becoming aware of this in the time period after he “had deep insight into Russian activities during the 2016 election” — so after he left the CIA — and taunts him that the ICA Brennan oversaw showed no evidence of collusion. The implication is Brennan’s ability to know if there were collusion ended on January 20, 2017. (Burr is also ignoring that there were two different investigations even while Brennan was in government — the intelligence investigation led by Brennan, which by law should not be targeting Americans, and the several parallel counterintelligence investigations at FBI, which could investigate Americans.)

Burr then presents three and only three possibilities for how Brennan might have knowledge of collusion, once again ignoring the free press that Brennan clearly attributes it to. First, either intelligence, or personal knowledge:

3. If Brennan has something called “intelligence” proving Trump’s collusion, then it must have come from an intelligence breach.

4. If he has something called “personal knowledge” of collusion, then it must only be shared with Mueller’s team, not with the NYT.

That’s it, according to the Senate Intelligence Chair, for real information about collusion. Either it’s intelligence to which Brennan is no longer entitled (assuming, of course, that Gina Haspel would have no reason to share intelligence about Russia with Brennan in some kind of consultation, which — if Brennan did then pass that on publicly, would be the only proper reason to strip his clearance). Or it’s “personal information,” usually called “evidence,” which may only be shared with Mueller and not with the press. “Intelligence,” which is the purview of the Intelligence Committee and the agencies it oversees. Or “evidence,” which is the purview of a DOJ investigation. Either/or.

That’s, of course, illogical, and not just because Burr’s own committee is investigating some of the same “evidence” that the FBI is, notably what happened on social media and what some witnesses have testified about, in secret, to the committee, and witnesses to both (like Rob Goldstone) have also commented publicly.

It’s illogical, too, because there are other ways to get real evidence of collusion. I believe I have evidence of collusion. I shared it with the FBI, sure. But after I revealed that I had provided information to the FBI in July, I also shared limited parts of it with some Republican Congressmen, in hopes of explaining to them how serious the investigation is and showing that entire parts of it don’t derive from Peter Strzok’s decisions. I’ve also discussed, prospectively, sharing it with some former top intelligence officials (unsurprisingly, not Brennan), in the interests of elucidating parts of the Russian attack they missed.

Yet even though his either/or proposition is false, Burr then uses it to proclaim Trump’s treatment of Brennan proper based on this remarkable statement:

5. “If, however, Director Brennan’s statement is purely political and based on conjecture, the president has full authority to revoke his security clearance as head of the Executive Branch.”

Having set up this false either/or proposition, Burr then suggests anything else must be “purely political” and “based on conjecture,” and — without showing the logical relation between the two clauses in this sentence — states that the President has the authority to revoke Brennan’s security clearance.

(If NOT (intelligence or evidence,) THEN political conjecture) THEN strip the damn clearance.

It is true that thus far the case law suggests that a President does have the authority to strip Brennan’s clearance (though a Brennan challenge, or even more easily, a Bruce Ohr challenge, might establish new limits to that authority). But that authority has no relationship to the claimed political or conjectural nature of Brennan’s comments. Not only does Burr suggest it does — suggest that stripping security clearances because of speech perceived to be political is not just proper but justified — but by yoking these two clauses together in one sentence, Burr suggests punishing political speech is in some way intimately tied to the authority therein.

Plus, as Brad Heath noted, Burr’s statement argues that Trump was right to strip Brennan’s clearance on July 26 because of statements Brennan made on August 16.

The Chairman of the Intelligence Committee, mind you, made this statement.

But here’s the reason why I really care about this.

Back when he was CIA Director, I openly criticized Brennan for the way he worked the press to get the most hawkish read of the Russian attack into the press. But I didn’t think his efforts arose from partisanship. Rather, it was an effort to raise alarm bells about the attack in the last weeks of the Administration. Such use of the press happens all the time when Administration officials are trying to advance their favored policy decisions.

Burr, however, is using his position of authority to affirmatively tie security clearances to speech he (or the President) deems excessively political. He’s doing it even as he argues there are just two appropriate categories of weighing whether collusion happened or not, intelligence (his purview) or evidence (Mueller’s). And he’s doing it as his committee is leading what has, up to this point, been the only Congressional investigation not utterly discredited by partisan bickering.

That pisses me off for several reasons. First, Burr is in the same breath being a raging partisan and asserting that his committee is one of the only entities that can appropriately weigh whether Trump conspired with Russia to win the election. He’s putting a thumb on the scale at precisely the moment that he claims only he (and Mueller) get to decide whether collusion happened. This raises real questions in my mind about what would happen if and when SSCI came upon information that shows Trump conspired with Russia. It raises real doubts in my mind about whether SSCI is able to conduct their investigation.

More importantly, he’s wrong. He’s wrong for the obvious reason that journalists are discovering important threads of the Russia investigation. Indeed, the part of SSCI’s work they’re most proud about — Russia’s use of social media — came out of a lot of really good reporting on the topic.

He’s wrong because we’re a democracy and whether Trump conspired with Russia will one day be most critically decided in a political sphere. As we get closer to that day, the American public has every right to read these two data points together and consider whether they show Trump and the Russians conspiring.

“Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”

For example, on or about July 27, 2016, the Conspirators attempted after hours to spearphish for the first time email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office. At or around the same time, they also targeted seventy-six email addresses at the domain for the Clinton Campaign.

And he’s wrong because none of the certified experts are getting the Russia story entirely right. As I said, I’ve had conversations in the last several months with Republican congressmen, former top intelligence officials, and a whole lot of experts on the Russian attack, including (but not limited to) top InfoSec people, other journalists, and some key witnesses. Even aside from the stuff I went to the FBI about (which might give me special insight to what happened, but also has made me admittedly blindered about other issues) all of those people, including me, have missed key things or gotten key details wrong. Just as one example, in conversations I’ve had with that ilk of people, every single person save one has either misread key parts of the GRU indictment or read in their prior assumptions (the one exception had the advantage of being a key witness behind at least two paragraphs of the indictment). That’s just one example, but it’s an example that suggests we need more honest discussion and less of Burr and Trump’s attempt to decertify democratic speech about what the President did.

The Chair of the Intelligence Committee, Richard Burr, effectively asserted that he is one of the few authorities with the right to say, based off what his committee does in private, whether Trump conspired with Russia or not, and that any citizen deigning to weigh in based off the public evidence may be properly disciplined by the President. The statement goes a long way to discredit the investigation his committee is doing, a real blow to his staffers’ success at bridging any partisan divide. Most importantly, because it so badly gets the epistemology of an attack that targeted all Americans wrong, it raises real questions about Burr’s understanding of the Russian attack at issue.

Dragons Caught in the Crossfire: On the Genealogy of the Current and Future Mueller Investigation

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

Lawfare has one of the best summaries of the Russian hack indictment on Friday. It does an excellent job of laying out what the indictment shows technically and legally. But I really wish it didn’t start with this passage.

This was the investigation over which the president of the United States fired James Comey as FBI director.

This is the investigation Comey confirmed on March 20, 2017, when he told Congress, “I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.”

This was also the investigation that multiple congressional committees have spent more than a year seeking to discredit—most recently Thursday, when two House panels hauled the former deputy assistant director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Department, Peter Strzok, a career FBI agent who worked on the Russia probe, up to Capitol Hill for 10 hours of public, televised, abusive conspiracy theorizing. When the president of the United States derides the Mueller investigation as a “witch hunt,” and when congressional Republicans scream at FBI agents, this is the investigation they are trying to harass out of existence.

I get the sentiment. I get criticizing Republicans for attacking the “Mueller probe” (or whatever you want to call it). I’ve criticized the Republicans for doing that myself. But it is assuredly not the case that Friday’s indictment is the “investigation over which the president of the United States fired James Comey as FBI director” or the investigation Comey confirmed in March of 2017.

The investigation that resulted in Friday’s indictment is, rather, the result of investigations conducted primarily in San Francisco and Pittsburgh. At the time Comey confirmed the counterintelligence investigation into Trump’s camp and at the time Comey got fired for not shutting the Trump counterintelligence investigation down, those San Francisco and Pittsburgh investigations were totally separate. Those two investigations almost certainly had little if any involvement from Peter Strzok (indeed, they involved a bunch of FBI cyber agents, a division of FBI that Strzok never tired of mocking in his texts to Lisa Page). The DOJ press release from Friday states that explicitly.

This case was investigated with the help of the FBI’s cyber teams in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and San Francisco and the National Security Division.

Those two investigations (plus the separate one noted in Philadelphia that started later, as I understand it from what a lawyer who represented a witness in that investigation described to me) got moved under the Mueller umbrella sometime in or just before November, and now the GRU officer part of the investigation will be moved back to Pittsburgh where it started, to languish forever like some other nation-state hacker indictments investigated by Western District of Pennsylvania.

There are several reasons, besides exactitude, I’m harping on this point.

First, House Republicans, working in tandem with the President, have made the CI investigation Comey confirmed the end-all and be-all of the investigation, a way of simplifying it so as to villainize and discredit it. An entire stable of right wing journalists and members of Congress are trying to discredit something in the early stages of the investigation — whether it’s the inclusion of the Steele dossier among other evidence to obtain a FISA order on long-time suspected Russian asset Carter Page, the use of a lifelong Republican operative to conduct interviews in the least intrusive way, or the fact that even as he was losing the fight to investigate aggressively, Peter Strzok shared a widespread belief that Trump was not fit to be President. They believe that if they can do so, they can claim everything downstream of those actions is tainted. They’re doing so even while launching conspiracies off of stories that clearly show the existence of four counterintelligence investigations focused on the Russian operation, just one of which is known to have targeted Trump’s people.

“Crossfire Hurricane” was one of the code names for four separate investigations the FBI conducted related to Russia matters in the 2016 election.

“At a minimum, that keeps the hurry the F up pressure on him,” Strzok emailed Page on Oct. 14, 2016, less than four weeks before Election Day.

Four days later the same team was emailing about rushing to get approval for another FISA warrant for another Russia-related investigation code-named “Dragon.”

The GOP is literally bitching that the FBI was expediting FISA applications targeted at likely Russian targets during an ongoing Russian attack.

It is important to show how each of these attacks on the CI investigation into Trump is bullshit.

  • It is common to use information from consultants like Steele or paid informants in FISA applications. Their credibility is measured, in significant part, based on past credibility. And whatever you think about the impropriety of using oppo research (as DOJ also did with Clinton Cash) and whatever the likelihood that in this case Steele’s intelligence network got fed disinformation, it is the case that in 2016, Steele’s track record with the DOJ was far more reliable than a host of other consultants that presumably get included in FISA applications.
  • The FBI is permitted to use human informants at the assessment level (and when Stefan Halper interviewed Papadopoulos, it appears to have been a full investigation), and using a Republican operative like Halper to question George Papadopoulos was both less likely to affect the election in any way, and legally less dangerous for Papadopoulos than an undercover FBI officer would have been.
  • Strzok definitely believed Trump was unfit to be President, but (as I noted), he fought to use more aggressive investigative methods with both Hillary and Trump, and he lost that fight both times.

Ultimately, when you ask people wielding these complaints as if they’re a big deal what investigative steps against Page (after he left the campaign) or Papadopoulos (when he remained on it) would have been acceptable, they start to scramble, because (and I say this as someone who exposed herself to significant FBI scrutiny by going to them as a witness) these were reasonable steps to take. And the other favorite suggestion — that Trump would have responded to a defensive briefing — ignores that Trump hired Mike Flynn as his National Security Advisor even after President Obama gave him far more explicit warnings about the counterintelligence concerns about Flynn at the time.

At some point, GOP hoaxsters have to commit to whether they think it is legitimate to investigate suspected Russian spies or not, and if so how.

It is equally important to note that — as is demonstrably the case both with the GRU indictment rolled out Friday and with the information I provided — there is a ton of really damning evidence that never touched Peter Strzok. As I explained the other day, you can put information I provided to a team that had nothing to do with the Mueller team at the time I spoke to them, together with several other pieces of information Mueller obtained via other means (some of it was public!), and get right to the question of Trump conspiring with Russians to win the election.

Treating a range of investigations as only one investigation plays into the Trump game of discrediting an overly simplistic caricature of the investigation.

The other reason those covering the Russian investigation should be far more careful with what the investigation consisted of over time is, without understanding where the investigation came from, you can’t understand where the investigation is going. There have been a slew of reports reading dockets and citing anonymous DOJ and Trump sources. Some show an awareness of why prosecutors get added to dockets in particular cases. Others completely ignore things that are in the public record.

It is my well-educated opinion that we’re seeing several things with recent developments. First, where possible, Mueller is handing off things (the Concord Management and GRU hack prosecutions) that don’t need to be politically protected. He has also handed off issues (the Cohen search) that don’t relate directly to conspiring with Russians, even while any prosecution there could result in cooperation on the conspiracy case; though note, Mueller’s reported investigation of inauguration funding would also implicate Cohen. I suspect, eventually, he’ll hand off things that amount to garden variety corruption, as distinct from graft tied directly to the election money laundering.

But when reports say Mueller is preparing to wrap it up, I suspect the reality is Mueller is close to taking steps that will lay out a case for conspiracies with Russia involving people very close to Trump, which will make it much harder for Trump to refuse an interview without putting himself at risk to be indicted personally. Those steps will show what a farce six months of Trump-planted stories emphasizing a focus on obstruction have been. That prosecution Mueller’s team will see through, I imagine, not least because that’s precisely why he included four appellate specialists on his team, including Solicitor General star lawyer Michael Dreeben.

Update: Tweaked the San Francisco/Pittsburgh discussion because it was confusing several people.

Timeline

June 15, 2016: Likely start date for FBI investigation into hack of DNC/DCCC (the genesis for Friday’s indictment)

July 31, 2016: Peter Strzok opens up Operation Crossfire

October 21, 2016: Carter Page FISA approved

January 12, 2017: Carter Page FISA reauthorized

February 18, 2017: Reuters describes a tripartite division of investigation, with DNC hack investigation in Pittsburgh, Guccifer 2.0 investigation in San Francisco, and Trump CI investigation in DC

Early April, 2017: Carter Page FISA reauthorized

May 2017: I learn of Philadelphia investigation targeted in some way at Guccifer 2.0

May 17, 2017: Rod Rosenstein appoints Robert Mueller to take over Operation Crossfire

June 29, 2017: Carter Page FISA reauthorized

August 2, 2017: Mueller investigation includes, at a minimum, George Papadopoulos obstruction, Paul Manafort graft, collusion (including June 9 meeting), and obstruction

October 5, 2017: Papadopoulos pleads guilty (waiving venue)

Mid-October, 2017: Technical witness preparing for interview with Mueller’s team

October 30, 2017: Papadopoulos guilty plea unsealed

Early November, 2017: Mueller adds cyber prosecutor Ryan Dickey

November 2, 2017: WSJ reports DOJ will prosecute GRU hackers, reports that Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Philadelphia, along with DC remain in charge of investigation

December 1, 2017: Mike Flynn pleads guilty

February 12, 2018: Richard Pinedo pleads guilty, waives venue

February 16, 2018: Internet Research Agency (Concord Management) indictment

February 20, 2018: Alex van der Zwaan pleads guilty

February 22, 2018: Paul Manafort indicted in EDVA, refuses to waive venue

March 1, 2018: NBC reports that Mueller — not main DOJ — will prosecute GRU hackers

April 9, 2018: Michael Cohen searches executed by SDNY; SDNY investigation, covering taxi medallion fraud and hush money payments, is likely just part of his criminal exposure

May 3, 2018: Mueller adds Uzo Asonye to EDVA team prosecuting Paul Manafort at request of Judge TS Ellis

June 22, 2018: Mueller brings in DOJ team to prosecute Concord Management, freeing up tech-focused Mueller prosecutors

July 13, 2018: Mueller indicts GRU hackers, sends prosecution back to Pittsburgh

Peter Strzok Is a Sideshow to Information that Directly Implicates the President

On Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee will hold a public shaming of Peter Strzok, in yet another attempt to prove that the Mueller investigation is hopelessly tainted by Strzok’s belief — shared at the time by Republicans Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz — that Donald Trump is “an opportunist” who is “not fit to be President of the United States” and “Donald Trump can’t be trusted with common sense. Why would we trust him in the White House?”

But Strzok and his testimony is, in significant respect, a sideshow to evidence that directly implicates Donald Trump.

I say that based on the following information related to my own interview with the FBI.

  • DOJ probably used a clean team with me to ensure it shared nothing it already knew with me
  • Peter Strzok had no connection to my interview
  • Information I provided would change the importance of evidence otherwise obtained publicly

DOJ probably used a clean team with me

First, as I have suggested, I believe the team that interviewed me was a “clean team,” a prosecutor and FBI agents who weren’t centrally involved in the investigation I provided information on. I say that because the agents came into the interview with almost no information about either me or the person I was discussing.

My interview consisted of three sessions with two breaks. In the first session, the lead agent questioned me aggressively about a detail about the person I was discussing; he didn’t believe I had adequately vetted the detail. By the third session, however, he said something that suggested he had since confirmed the detail he had earlier challenged me on. From that I conclude that the FBI already knew of this person, but the agents who interviewed me did not.

I believe they didn’t know about me because, while the second agent seemed to know I would happily make small talk about cycling in northern Michigan, neither knew how well I know FBI surveillance (for the love of J Edgar Hoover, why would you put agents in a room with me without making that clear?). To be very clear: in the interview, they did not disclose anything I didn’t already know. But I did find myself citing information publicly available in the DIOG about the FBI’s rules on journalists to them. Given that that issue is one I’ve reported on more than virtually anyone else, I conclude they simply were unfamiliar with my work.

Peter Strzok had no connection to my interview

This point has gotten muddled, though I have tried to be very meticulous about it. As far as I understand things, I was not interviewed by Mueller’s team. Rather, I provided information to the FBI about a subject matter that was not part of the Mueller investigation at the time. One of the prosecutors who was in the loop on, but did not participate in, my interview was later incorporated into the Mueller team, and public reports say that one of the subject matters was as well.

Thus, whether my interview happened before or after Strzok was removed from Mueller’s team (remember I’m deliberately not sharing what date it happened), it doesn’t seem possible that he had any upstream or downstream involvement in it. So even if you believe Strzok tainted everything downstream of him, my information was neither up- nor downstream of him. It came into Mueller’s possession via a parallel stream.

Information I provided may have changed the importance of other publicly available information — information that implicates Trump directly

I apologize, but I’m going to be deliberately obscure on this point (and will neither confirm nor deny if I’m asked, as it’s not something I’ve run by the Mueller team). As I have said, I don’t think I was the first person to provide information on the person I went to the FBI about. I’ll add that this person has no discernible tie to Trump or the Republican Party. But I do think I was the first person to provide certain information about him that may have widened the scope of FBI’s understanding of the matter.

Subsequent to my interview with the FBI, I realized certain things about publicly available information. I’ve never shared that realization with the government, but it’s a realization they undoubtedly came to on their own from the same publicly available information.

And that realization I had and the government surely also had would have changed the importance of evidence Mueller received via means unrelated to Peter Strzok.

That evidence likely implicates the President directly.

Let me reiterate: when I went to the FBI, I did not believe this person had a direct tie to Trump or the Republicans at all and I know of none, still. The text about Mike Flynn is the only thing that provably suggested any tie (and that, only in conjunction with the Jared Kushner and Mike Flynn corroboration of it — at the time I received it I thought it was bullshit).  Any suspicions I had about a tie between information I had — and understood — when I went into that interview with the FBI and the Trump team would have been speculative and in any case tangential to the central point of what I went to the FBI about.

I believe that when the government had the same realization I had, the scope of their understanding about the person in question would have eventually expanded, though probably not as far as the information I provided may have. Which is to say the information that implicates the President in no way relies on my information, though my information would have made the import far more obvious. In any case, none of this comes from me. It’s just the evidence that is publicly available.

So tomorrow, as House Judiciary Republicans spend half the day or longer publicly flogging Peter Strzok, know that all that flogging cannot change the fact that key evidence in Mueller’s possession, evidence which I suspect implicates the President directly, has absolutely no tie to Peter Strzok at all. None. Tomorrow will be just one big giant show that in no way can alter the provenance of key, damning evidence in Mueller’s possession.

The Special Counsel’s office declined to comment for this post.

The State of Trump’s Anti-Mueller Strategy

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

I thought it’d be useful to summarize Trump’s many-fronted attack on the Mueller investigation today.

Forthcoming Peter Strzok testimony

As part of the GOP obstruction efforts, the House Judiciary Committee will have Peter Strzok for a public hearing Thursday, without (at least thus far) providing him with a transcript of his 11-hour testimony before the committee two weeks ago.

In his increasingly frequent rants about the Witch Hunt, Trump continues to focus on Strzok’s role.

Incidentally, I made some initial outreach to do an informal briefing with some Republican members of Congress about what I know about the election year tampering, but learned the committees were too busy with Strzok and related issues to hear from me.

Leak of two anti-Comey letters

Yesterday, a Saturday, the AP published two anti-Comey letters sent by the Trump team:

  • A June 27, 2017 screed from Marc Kasowitz delivered by hand to Robert Mueller, spinning Jim Comey’s descriptions of his own actions as inaccurate and Machiavellian
  • A September 1, 2017 letter from John Dowd to Rod Rosenstein complaining that there was no grand jury investigation into Comey’s behavior, the closure of the Hillary email investigation, and (vaguely) the Clinton Foundation

The AP claims that,

The 13-page document provides a window into the formation of a legal strategy that remains in use today by Trump’s lawyers — to discredit Comey’s value as a witness. It could have new relevance in the aftermath of a Justice Department inspector general report that criticized Comey for departing from protocol in the Clinton investigation.

The AP did not include Rudy Giuliani (among others, including Trump himself) in the list of those it reached out to for comment.

Lawyers for Comey declined to comment Saturday, as did Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller. Kasowitz and Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow did not return messages, and former Trump attorney John Dowd declined to comment.

The NYT’s continued parroting of Trump’s shitty legal team’s understanding of the case

Meanwhile, the Mike and Maggie team at NYT continues its practice of writing stories that claim to track a grand new Trump legal strategy, but along the way mostly maps out either Trump spin emphasizing obstruction or just outright misunderstanding of the case against the President. In the most recent installment, Mike and Maggie claim the obviously consistent half year strategy of inventing excuses not to do an interview is a new one.

President Trump’s lawyers set new conditions on Friday on an interview with the special counsel and said that the chances that the president would be voluntarily questioned were growing increasingly unlikely.

The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, needs to prove before Mr. Trump would agree to an interview that he has evidence that Mr. Trump committed a crime and that his testimony is essential to completing the investigation, said Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s lead lawyer in the case.

At one point, they even claim that the raid against Michael Cohen — as opposed to the mounting evidence that Mueller was examining Trump’s role in “collusion,” not just obstruction — that led Trump to take a more aggressive stance.

But in April, Mr. Trump concluded that Mr. Mueller and Justice Department officials were determined to find wrongdoing after federal investigators in New York, acting on a referral from the special counsel, raided the office, hotel room and home of Mr. Trump’s longtime personal lawyer Michael D. Cohen.

The most curious aspect of the story is Rudy’s claim that if Mueller — who as early as March was asking around 13 questions about “collusion” — could show real evidence, then Trump would be willing to sit for an interview.

“If they can come to us and show us the basis and that it’s legitimate and that they have uncovered something, we can go from there and assess their objectivity,” Mr. Giuliani said in an interview. He urged the special counsel to wrap up his inquiry and write an investigative report. He said Mr. Trump’s lawyers planned to write their own summary of the case.

This is an area where NYT could have laid out the evidence that implicates Trump personally, to show how silly this line is.

After that article, Schmidt weighed in twice more on Twitter, asserting that because Mueller told Trump’s team he needed to question the President for obstruction earlier this year, that remains true.

Mueller told Trump’s lawyers earlier this year that he needed to question the president to know whether he had criminal intent on obstruction issues. Hard to believe Mueller doesn’t try and do everything in his power to get Trump to answer those questions.

Schmidt also posted Dowd’s self-congratulation for his own strategy cooperating long enough to support the defense team’s current position that Mueller would have to show strong evidence of a crime to be able to subpoena the president to testify.

Giuliani’s hat trick of Sunday shows

In what must be the result of aggressive White House outreach, Rudy Giuliani appeared on several outlets this morning, following up on the NYT piece. On ABC, he nuanced his claim about whether Trump would sit for an interview, saying not that Mueller would have to show evidence of a crime, but that he’d have to show “a factual basis” for an investigation into Trump.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let’s talk about Robert Mueller. The New York Times reported that President Trump won’t agree to an interview with Robert Mueller unless Mueller first proves he has evidence that President Trump committed a crime.

That was based on an interview with you. Is that the current condition?

GIULIANI: Yes, but I have to modify that a bit, look at my quote. My quote is not evidence of a crime, it’s a factual basis for the investigation. We’ve been through everything on collusion and obstruction.

We can’t find an incriminating anything, and we need a basis for this investigation, particularly since we now know it was started from (ph) biased — by biased —

STEPHANOPOULOS: We have James Comey’s testimony.

GIULIANI: Well Comey’s testimony is hardly worth anything. And — nor — nor did he ever — James Comey had — never found any evidence of collusion. And rules out obstruction by saying the president had a right to fire me. So all the rest of it is just politics. I mean, the — the — the reality is Comey, in some ways, ends up being a good witness for us.

Unless you assume they’re trying to get him into a perjury trap by (ph) he tells his version, somebody else has a different version.

Rudy went a bit further on CNN, claiming to be certain there’s no reason for the investigation because his team has debriefed all of Mueller’s witnesses (who, according to Rudy, are all part of the joint defense agreement).

BASH: Thank you.

And these new terms, particularly that Robert Mueller must show proof of Trump wrongdoing to agree to an interview, you actually have said that you don’t think that Mueller would even agree to it. So why do this dance? Why not just tell the special counsel, sorry, no interview?

GIULIANI: Well, we’d like to know if there is any factual basis for the investigation originally or they have developed one, because we can’t find one, nor can anyone else, nor have they, with all the leaking they have done, even leaked one, which I think would have happened immediately, because they want to justify themselves.

The fact is, I should correct it. I didn’t say they have to prove a crime.

BASH: Right.

GIULIANI: What I said was, they have to give us a factual basis, meaning some suspicion of a crime.

For example, I can’t initiate an investigation of my neighbor just because I don’t like him or just he’s politically different from me.

[snip]

BASH: … that there is no evidence — you say that the special counsel hasn’t produced evidence.

But they haven’t said that they have no evidence. They have — you say that there have been leaks. They have been remarkably tight- lipped, aside from what they have had to do with indictments and such.

GIULIANI: No, they haven’t. They leaked reports. They leaked reports. They leaked meetings. They’re leaking on Manafort right now. They leaked Cohen before it happened.

BASH: But this is an ongoing investigation. We don’t really know what they have and what they don’t have. That’s fair, right?

GIULIANI: Well, I have a pretty good idea because I have seen all the documents that they have. We have debriefed all their witnesses. And we have pressed them numerous times.

BASH: You have debriefed all of their witnesses?

GIULIANI: Well, I think so, I mean, the ones that were — the ones that were involved in the joint defense agreement, which constitutes all the critical ones.

Rudy said much the same on NBC — the most interesting part of that interview is Chuck Todd’s questions about why Trump would meet with Putin while being under investigation for colluding with him.

Central to all three of these interviews is the notion that because Michael Horowitz found that Jim Comey acted improperly in the Hillary investigation, Trump can’t be investigated for anything to do with him — the same story told implausibly in those two leaked letters.

The Trump team went to great lengths to spend their limited Sunday Morning political capital on rolling this out as a purportedly new Mueller strategy.