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The Same Day Aras Agalarov Was Talking about Restoring Communication with Trump, Jared Kushner Pitched a Back Channel

I want to pull out a few details regarding the December 1, 2016 meeting between Mike Flynn, Jared Kushner, and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that come out of the SJC materials released some weeks back. They show that the same day that Jared pitched Kislyak on a back channel, Trump’s handler was in Moscow trying to figure out how to restore communications in the wake of the election.

In his statement (remember, he chickened out of testifying before SJC after Flynn pled guilty, though he attributed the decision to Dianne Feinstein’s release of Glenn Simpson’s transcript), Kushner stated that Kislyak requested the meeting on November 16.

On November 16, 2016, my assistant received a request for a meeting from the Russian Ambassador.

On November 18, Ike Kaveladze texted Aras Agalarov, following up on a phone conversation they had already had, reporting on Rob Goldstone’s outreach to the Trump team to set up a second meeting with Natalia Veselnitskaya to discuss Magnitsky sanctions again.

Q. Could you please take a look at the entry for November 18, 2016, at 17:45. This appears to  be a message from you to Aras Agalarov. Mr. Kaveladze, could you please translate the content of that message?

A. “Hello. Rob spoke with Trump people. They asked a short synopsis of what is she going to be discussing. Last time she produced a lot of emotions and less facts. Most of the people who took part in that meeting are moving to Washington, D. C. Some of them already fired. When they receive synopsis, they will decide who to send to that meeting.”

The text is bizarre for several reasons. While Kaveladze’s English is not great, the description of what has happened to the attendees at the June 9 meeting would suggest more than three attendees, not least because by saying “some” people got fired suggests more than one person — Paul Manafort — had been. In any case, the text makes it clear that the Agalarovs had already started their efforts to resume the discussion about raising Magnitsky sanctions first presented during the summer, which Don Jr had said  in that meeting they would revisit after his father won.

Indeed, while we don’t know when those calls occurred, the outreach seems to nearly if not exactly coincide with Kislyak’s outreach to Kushner, the one known June 9 meeting attendee who was already headed to Washington.

In his testimony, Goldstone claimed he hadn’t done the outreach clearly reflected in Kaveladze’s text and hadn’t forwarded Veselnitskaya’s document the previous week, as reflected in another text to Kaveladze.

Q. So in your November 27th message to Mr. Kaveladze, you said you forwarded the information last week. The last email was an email sent on November 28th, the day after this message with Kaveladze, forwarding the document to Ms. Graff. Had you, in fact, forwarded the document the week before your November 27th message with Kaveladze?

A. I don’t recall, but because I know myself, and I know how I write , I would imagine that the minute he reminded me of it in here, I forwarded it to Rhona, probably the next day. So I don’t recall one before then, no.

Q. All right. Prior to sending that email to Ms. Graff on November 28th, 2016, did you speak with Ms. Graff or any other Trump associates about a second meeting with Veselnitskaya?

A. I don’t believe so.

The Kaveladze transcript and his text messages reveal that the efforts to get Veselnitskaya back in to meet with the Trump team continued for the rest of November.

Probably because he was interviewed before Kaveladze’s documents were provided to the committee, Don Jr was not asked about any of those texts (and Goldstone wasn’t asked about the Kaveladze ones that clearly rebutted his story). Don Jr was asked only about a November 28, 2016 email from Goldstone to Rhona Graff forwarding Veselnitskaya’s document, which was not CCed to Junior. Even though he was probably the one whom Goldstone spoke to and was instructed by to send a synopsis and probably got a synopsis a week before Graff did, Junior claimed not to recall any other follow-up besides the email to Graff.

Q. It appears Mr. Goldstone continued his anti-Magnitsky effort beyond your June 9, 2016 meeting. Other than this e-mail, were you aware of any other effort he made on this issue after your meeting?

A. Not that I recall, no.

Goldstone told Kaveladze he made a bunch of calls following up on the synopsis on November 28, but got no response (though he testified he didn’t make the calls because he didn’t want to pitch the second meeting). He also texted Kaveladze about having Emin call “Trump” (presumably Junior) directly.

In a text on November 29 to Veselnitskaya, Kaveladze explained, without describing from whom Goldstone had learned this, that “Robert says that logistics of organizations of meetings with Team Trump now would be difficult and lengthy. I’ve landed in Moscow. I will discuss this situation … with my boss.”

The next day, December 1 at 11:49AM, Kaveladze texted again (Veselnitskaya was by this point frantic because Trump had met with Preet Bharara, with her even discussing who Trump might, “Wet and not to wet” with respect to the US Attorney, which Kaveladze translated as “crush”), explaining that Aras planned on meeting with Trump to restore communications. “Unfortunately, we don’t have communication. My boss planned to meet with him. We will send a formal request. Hopefully after the meeting we will keep communication.”

The timing on all of Kaveladze’s communications are difficult to track since he travels to Moscow so often, but his time stamps probably reflect PT, meaning that text would have been sent in the evening Moscow time, which is 7 hours ahead of DC.

On December 1, Jared Kushner (the one June 9 meeting attendee definitely on his way to DC at that point) and Mike Flynn met with Sergey Kislyak. Even according to Jared’s prepared statement, that meeting was about establishing communication channels to Russia.

The meeting occurred in Trump Tower where we had our transition office, and lasted twenty-thirty minutes. Lt. General Michael Flynn (Ret.), who became the President’s National Security Advisor, also attended. During the meeting, after pleasantries were exchanged, as I had done in many of the meetings I had and would have with foreign officials, I stated our desire for a fresh start in relations. Also, as I had done in other meetings with foreign officials, I asked Ambassador Kislyak if he would identify the best person (whether the Ambassador or someone else) with whom to have direct discussions and who had contact with his President. The fact that I was asking about ways to start a dialogue after Election Day should of course be viewed as strong evidence that I was not aware of one that existed before Election Day.

The Ambassador expressed similar sentiments about relations, and then said he especially wanted to address US. policy in Syria, and that he wanted to convey information from what he called his “generals.” He said he wanted to provide information that would help inform the new administration. He said the generals could not easily come to the U.S. to convey this information and he asked if there was a secure line in the transition office to conduct a conversation. General Flynn or I explained that there were no such lines. I believed developing a thoughtful approach on Syria was a very high priority given the ongoing humanitarian crisis, and I asked if they had an existing communications channel at his embassy we could use where they would be comfortable transmitting the information they wanted to relay to General Flynn. The Ambassador said that would not be possible and so we all agreed that we would receive this information after the Inauguration. [emphasis original]

Of course, intercepts of Kislyak’s calls back to Moscow captured his alarm that Kushner wanted to use Russian diplomatic facilities to communicate with Russia.

Ambassador Sergey Kislyak reported to his superiors in Moscow that Kushner, son-in-law and confidant to then-President-elect Trump, made the proposal during a meeting on Dec. 1 or 2 at Trump Tower, according to intercepts of Russian communications that were reviewed by U.S. officials. Kislyak said Kushner suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the communications.

[snip]

Kislyak reportedly was taken aback by the suggestion of allowing an American to use Russian communications gear at its embassy or consulate — a proposal that would have carried security risks for Moscow as well as the Trump team.

In any case, this makes it clear that the same day that Trump’s handler, Aras Agalarov, was discussing restoring communication channels with Trump in the post-election period, Jared was pitching the Russian Ambassador on using Russian facilities to conduct such communication. And even though Kushner claims he and Kislyak deferred such communications until after the inauguration, we know that within weeks, Kislyak had set up a meeting with the head of a sanctioned bank to meet with Kushner, a meeting that would precede Flynn’s calls with Kislyak about delaying any response to Obama’s December 28 sanctions, which would, in turn, lead to another meeting in Seychelles, all before the inauguration.

Natalia Veselnitskaya never got her second meeting to pitch the end to Magnitsky sanctions, but Sergey Gorkov got a meeting.

One more detail. Kushner’s statement suggests the meeting with Kislyak took place in formal transition space. But that’s not the case.

Don Jr revealed that meeting took place in his office (he came in at the end, sweaty from a workout).

Q. You mentioned during the conversation with my colleagues that you had become aware of a meeting or meetings with Ambassador Kislyak. Can you just explain like what meetings did you become aware of? When did they take place?

A. I don’t remember the exact timing of when they took place. I believe it was after we had already secured — meaning after the election, but I could be mistaken. The only reason I’m aware of it is because it occurred in my office. I came back from the gym and they were in there.

Q. So when you say after the election, you mean after November 8, 2016?

A. I believe so.

Q. Was it a meeting in December of 2016?

A. That would fit the description, yes, I believe so.

Q. So it was a meeting in Trump Tower?

A. Yes.

Q. In your office but you hadn’t known about it beforehand?

A. Correct.

Q. Do you know why they used your office?

A. It was open, I was at the gym.

Q. And who was in that meeting?

A. I believe it was Jared Kushner, the Ambassador, maybe Flynn, but I don’t remember.

Q. Anyone else, to the best of your recollection?

A. No, not that I recall.

Q. Was the meeting still ongoing when you returned?

A. I believe it was, yes.

Q. Did you go in and join the meeting?

A. No, I did not.

Q. Why not?

A. Because I didn’t know what it was about and I was sweaty from the gym.

Q. Did you ask Mr. Kushner or Lieutenant General Flynn about the meeting after?

A. No, I don’t think I did.

Don’t people shower at the gym before they head back to work? Especially if it’s a fancy schmancy private gym?

At the very least, this suggests that the meeting between Kushner, Flynn, and Kislyak took place outside of formal transition space, which might mean it took place outside the view of Secret Service (a habit Don Jr himself adopted the following year for a period). Don Jr’s claims to have been at the gym, ignorant to the meeting that seemed to parallel one taking place that day in Moscow between Agalarov team members in the wake of discussions about Emin reaching out to Don Jr, are suspicious, not least because he claimed to have forgone the normal shower process following a workout. Had he been in the meeting, you’d think Kislyak would have reported that back. Maybe he did.

But one thing is clear: In NYC and Moscow, on the same day, the Trump team and their Russian handlers were trying to figure out how to restore communications in the wake of the election.

The Access Hollywood Search Doesn’t Mean Trump Coordinated with Assange

As I noted, yesterday several outlets reported that among the things included in the FBI warrant for Michael Cohen’s premises was communications between Trump, Cohen, and others (whom I suspect to include Steve Bannon and Marc Kasowitz) “regarding the infamous ‘Access Hollywood'” video.

FBI agents who raided the home, office and hotel of Donald Trump’s personal lawyer sought communications that Trump had with attorney Michael Cohen and others regarding the infamous “Access Hollywood” tape that captured Trump making lewd remarks about women a month before the election, according to sources familiar with the matter.

[snip]

The search warrant also sought communications between then-candidate Trump and his associates regarding efforts to prevent disclosure of the tape, according to one of the sources. In addition, investigators wanted records and communications concerning other potential negative information about the candidate that the campaign would have wanted to contain ahead of the election. The source said the warrant was not specific about what this additional information would be.

From that, people on both the right and the left have assumed, without presenting hard evidence, that this means there must be a tie to Russia. Most often, people assume this must mean Trump somehow managed the events of October 7, when the Intelligence Committee report blaming Russia for the DNC hack, the Access Hollywood video, and the first Podesta emails all came out in quick succession.

That’s certainly possible, but thus far there’s no reason to believe that’s the case.

Mueller and Rosenstein referred this

That’s true, first of all, because after consulting with Rod Rosenstein, Robert Mueller referred this to the Southern District of New York for execution and prosecution, rather than dealing with it himself. He did that surely knowing what a sieve for leaks SDNY is, and therefore knowing that doing so would undercut his remarkably silent teamwork thus far.

In spite of a lot of reporting on this raid this week, we don’t yet have a clear understanding of why the two chose to refer it (or, tangentially, why interim SDNY US Attorney Geoffrey Berman recused himself from this matter).

There are two options. The first is that Rosenstein believed hush payments and taxi medallion money laundering sufficiently attenuated to the Russian investigation that it should properly be referred. In which case, the fact that it was referred is itself reason to believe that Mueller — even while he had abundant evidence supporting the search warrant — has no reason to believe those releases were orchestrated with Wikileaks, and therefore have no direct interest to his investigation (though they may cough up one to three witnesses who will be more willing to cooperate when faced with their own fraud indictments). In which case, the Access Hollywood video would be just another example, like the Stormy Daniels and the Karen McDougal payoffs, of Trump’s efforts to bury embarrassing news, using whatever means necessary.

The other option is that Mueller does have evidence that Trump in some way managed the October 7 events, which would be one of the most inflammatory pieces of evidence we would have heard of so far, but that there was some other reason to refer the matter.

Michael Cohen wasn’t serving as an attorney for much of the reported documents

The really good reason to refer the warrant would be so that SDNY would serve as a natural clean team, sorting through seized items for privileged communications, only to hand them back to Mueller’s team in DC once they’ve sorted through them. It’s an idea Preet Bharara and Matt Miller, among others, have floated.

Before we conclude that SDNY is only serving as a clean team for Mueller’s team here, consider that coverage has vastly overstated the degree to which the items being searched will fall under attorney-client privilege.

The search also sought information on Cohen’s taxi medallions, a business in which he has had really corrupt partners, some Russian, with their own legal problems, and one that has reportedly left Cohen with some debt problems that make his purported personal payment to Stormy Daniels all the more sketchy.

In addition, as soon as Trump claimed to know nothing of the hush payment to Daniels last Friday, the government could credibly claim that either Cohen was not representing Trump when paying off Daniels, or involved in fraud.

The NYT has reported that the raid also sought all communications between Cohen and National Enquirer’s top brass, communications that would in no way be privileged.

Even the reported communications about the Access Hollywood video may not be privileged. If they involved four people, then the only way they’d be covered by privilege is if they counted as campaign emails and Marc Kasowitz, not Cohen, was the attorney providing privileged advice in question. In that case, Cohen would have been playing the press contact role he often did during the campaign.

Still, just because Cohen was not playing the role of an attorney during most of the activities the FBI is interested in doesn’t mean the FBI won’t be really careful to make sure they don’t violate privilege, and I’m sure they’ll still use a taint team.

Mueller has already dealt with (at least) two sensitive attorney-client relationships in his investigation

Even on top of the eight members of the White House Counsel’s office who have spoken with the Special Counsel, Mueller’s team has dealt with (at least) two other sensitive attorney-client relationships.

The first was Melissa Laurenza, a lawyer for Paul Manafort whom he had write false declarations for FARA registry. Judge Amy Berman Jackson permitted Mueller’s team to ask her seven of eight proposed question after proving Manafort had used her services to engage in fraud.

More recently, we’ve gotten hints — but only hints — of what must be extensive cooperation from Skadden Arps and its partner Greg Craig, describing how Manafort and Gates laundered money to pay the firm loads of money to write a report they hoped would exonerate Ukraine’s persecution of Yulia Tymoshenko. While the cooperation of Skadden itself was probably effusive in its voluntary nature (the firm seems determined to avoid the taint that Tony Podesta’s firm has acquired in this process), Mueller did subpoena Alex Van der Zwaan and it’s unclear what methods the FBI used to obtain some of the materials he tried to hide from prosecutors.

Neither of those exchanges involves a search warrant. But they do show that Mueller is willing to take on the tricky issue of attorney testimony first-hand. Using SDNY as a clean team still may be the easiest option in the Cohen case, but Mueller clearly isn’t shying away from managing all such issues in-house in other cases.

The other possible explanations for the Access Hollywood search and the October 7 timing

Which brings us finally to the other possibilities behind the Access Hollywood search.

It’s certainly possible that the coincidental release of all these things was coordination, entirely orchestrated by the Trump campaign. But there are a number of reasons — on top of the fact that Mueller isn’t keeping this search far tighter under his own control — I think that’s not the most likely explanation.

Consider this story, arguing that the real story of Access Hollywood isn’t that it leaked on October 7 — the piece notes that David Farenthold had only received it that day — but that it didn’t leak earlier in the process, when it might have led Trump to lose the primary.

t is just impossible to believe that the tape not coming out at the start of Trump’s campaign, when logic dictates that it would have blown Trump instantly out of the water (before he was in a position where Republicans had no choice other than to keep backing him against the evil Hillary Clinton), was anything but a highly unethical political decision by someone at NBC. The fact that no one has ever even gotten an answer from NBC about how this could have happened is equally unfathomable and yet, given the news media’s overall incompetence, kind of expected.

[snip]

It has always struck me as EXTREMELY odd that it was the Washington Post, not NBC, who first released the tape on Friday Oct. 7, 2016, barely beating NBC which, it should be noted, was clearly ready to go with it immediately after the Post did. I presumed that perhaps NBC wanted this to be the case because it might take some of the focus off why they had not released it during the primaries (and thus chose not to prematurely kill off the media’s Golden Goose which was Trump’s ratings-friendly campaign).

However, there is another aspect of the Post being the outlet which got the big scoop that has always struck me as potentially very significant. The Post’s reporter, David Fahrenthold, has said that he was only made aware of the tape, via an unnamed source, THAT day — which is a clear indication that whomever was trying to get the Post to release it had decided to do so in tremendous haste. After all, if the source had planned it sooner they would have made contact with Fahrenthold well before then because he might have been out of pocket that day.

[snip]

For instance, what if it was actually someone from the TRUMP team who leaked the tape. At first glance, this seems ludicrous because no one thought that Trump would be anything but greatly harmed by the tape (though he clearly was not). But what if someone in Trump World got wind that the tape was about to be released and decided that stepping all over the Russia news (which would normally have dominated the narrative for the remainder of the campaign) would at least create the least bad outcome for them?

I don’t agree that the release was released when it was to distract from the Russia announcement that day. As I’ve long noted, in reality, the Access Hollywood distracted from the Podesta emails, effectively burying the most damning release in the bunch, the excerpts of Hillary’s speeches that even Democrats had been demanding she release since the primary. And while the Trump team might claim they didn’t control the release of the Podesta emails directly — and Roger Stone’s predictions that Wikileaks would release Clinton Foundation rather than Podesta emails were dead wrong — the Trump team at least knew something was coming (indeed, Wikileaks had made that clear themselves). So there’s little reason they would stomp on what they had long welcomed with the Access Hollywood tape. As this post alludes, I also think the Trump team and Russians or Wikileaks may have been squabbling over whether Wikileaks would release possibly faked Clinton Foundation emails that week, only to scramble when Wikileaks refused to release whatever the Peter Smith effort had gotten dealt to them.

Like the Mediate piece, I’m interested in the way that Steve Bannon had Clinton accusers all lined up to go that weekend (indeed, I noted how quickly Stone moved to that after having raised expectations for a Clinton Foundation release). But I also think there are some reasons to believe that attack was in the works for other reasons (though I agree it might reflect advance knowledge that the video might come out, or even that Stormy Daniels might come forward).  Finally, I don’t think the release came from Trump because of all the reports of Republicans trying to convince Trump to step down (though it’s possible the GOP dropped the video in one last bid to get him to do so).

One alternative narrative, then, is that the real story about the Access Hollywood suppression goes back months or years earlier, as one of the things Trump managed to suppress throughout the campaign, but something happened internally to breach that agreement. And, separately, that either Assange by himself, with Russian help, or with Trump assistance, timed the Podesta emails to come out as the Russian attribution was coming out. That is, it could be that the real story remains that whoever orchestrated the Wikileaks release did so in an attempt to bury the Russian attribution, but that the coincidental release of the Access Hollywood video in turn buried the Podesta emails.

Finally, it’s possible that Democrats got ahold of the Access Hollywood video and they released it to (successfully) drown out the Podesta emails, which they (and the intelligence community) also would have known were coming, but by doing so, they also drowned out the all-important Russian attribution in the process.

The point is, we don’t know. And nothing we know thus far about the process leading to this warrant or about the suppression and release of either the video or the women’s stories suggest it all took place that week of October. Trump’s usual m.o. is about suppression, not timing.

That said, I’m curious if this raid will reveal details about one other item Trump probably tried to suppress: the nude Melania photos that NYPost released on July 31, 2016, just as campaign season got going in earnest.

Michael Cohen’s Stormy Weather: Four Observations

As you’ve no doubt heard, the FBI raided Michael Cohen’s office, home, and hotel today. They were looking for stuff related to his payoff to Stormy Daniels … and other things, including (per the WaPo) “possible bank fraud, wire fraud and campaign finance violations.”

Some thoughts:

Geoffrey Berman, a symptom of Trump’s corruption, is responsible

As NYT first reported, this raid was a referral from Robert Mueller, not something executed by his team.

The prosecutors obtained the search warrant after receiving a referral from the special counsel in the Russia investigation, Robert S. Mueller III, according to Mr. Cohen’s lawyer, who called the search “completely inappropriate and unnecessary.” The search does not appear to be directly related to Mr. Mueller’s investigation, but most likely resulted from information that he had uncovered and gave to prosecutors in New York.

That means Mueller would have presented the evidence to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who would have made the decision to hand off the lead to Southern District of NY, with the folks there buying into not the investigation but the unusual raid of an attorney’s office.

Which, in turn, means it was approved by the US Attorney for SDNY. After Trump fired Preet Bharara (who was honing in on some of Trump’s corruption), he prioritized replacing Preet’s deputy, Joon Kim (who very recently returned to his former law firm). He replaced him not by elevating someone else, but by installing someone — Geoffrey Berman — he had interviewed personally. Berman is, if anything, a symbol of Trump’s abuse, not least because he hasn’t even been nominated formally. He’s a bureaucratic end-around.

And he had to have signed off on this raid (unless he recused, which will earn him the wrath of Trump all by itself).

Update: ABC did confirm yesterday that Berman did recuse. Daily Beast describes that Republican Robert Khuzami’s in charge.

[T]he recusal by Berman the developer’s son, the referral from Mueller is being handled by the deputy U.S. Attorney, Robert Khuzami. He is the son of two professional ballroom dancers.

That’s right, Mr. President, his dad and mom are ballroom dancers!

Deputy U.S. Attorney Khuzami is a Republican and even spoke at the 2004 Republican convention in support of George W. Bush.

But that will only make it harder for Trump to say he is the victim of Democrats.

And Khuzami is an expert at financial crimes, having ordered the arrest of 120 people for securities fraud in a single day during his earlier time as a Manhattan federal prosecutor. He subsequently served as head of enforcement at the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

Trump’s Friday comments probably made this worse

This raid is not all about Stormy Daniels, but some of it is. Which suggests Trump’s comments on Friday, in which he disavowed the payment Cohen made on his behalf, probably made this worse.

Q Mr. President, did you know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels?

THE PRESIDENT: No. No. What else?

Q Then why did Michael Cohen make those if there was no truth to her allegations?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, you’ll have to ask Michael Cohen. Michael is my attorney. And you’ll have to ask Michael Cohen.

Q Do you know where he got the money to make that payment?

THE PRESIDENT: No, I don’t know. No.

By claiming — almost certainly falsely — not to have known about the payment to Daniels, Trump probably scotched any claim Cohen might make to privilege. It also meant that Cohen either claimed to be representing Trump falsely, or is lying in sworn documents about doing so.

This raid would have had to have been approved over some time, not Friday afternoon. But one way or another, I imagine these comments made it easier for DOJ and a judge to approve the raid, at least with respect to the Stormy Daniels material.

Manafort will shortly get this raid approved for Mueller

Last week, in my analysis of the Mueller filing explaining his mandate, I suggested he was getting some things approved that weren’t relevant to the Manafort challenge but were relevant to the larger investigation.

Like this:

The filing includes a quotation from DOJ’s discussion of special counsels making it clear that it’s normal to investigate crimes that might lead someone to flip.

[I]n deciding when additional jurisdiction is needed, the Special Counsel can draw guidance from the Department’s discussion accompanying the issuance of the Special Counsel regulations. That discussion illustrated the type of “adjustments to jurisdiction” that fall within Section 600.4(b). “For example,” the discussion stated, “a Special Counsel assigned responsibility for an alleged false statement about a government program may request additional jurisdiction to investigate allegations of misconduct with respect to the administration of that program; [or] a Special Counsel may conclude that investigating otherwise unrelated allegations against a central witness in the matter is necessary to obtain cooperation.”

That one is technically relevant here — one thing Mueller is doing with the Manafort prosecution (and successfully did with the Gates one) is to flip witnesses against Trump. But it also makes it clear that Mueller could do so more generally.

So when Amy Berman Jackson rules against what was ultimately a desperate bid by Trump’s campaign chair, she’ll be implicitly approving of practices like “investigating otherwise unrelated allegations against a central witness” if it’s “necessary to obtain cooperation.”

And just to be sure, Michael Dreeben will be on hand for this argument.

Trump has no appropriate lawyer to this task

Trump is wailing right now about this raid.

So I just heard they broke into the office of one of my personal attorn[ey]s…It’s a disgraceful situation. It’s a total witch hunt. I’ve been saying it for a long time. I’ve wanted to keep it down. I’ve given over a million pages in documents to the special counsel. They continue to just go forward and here we are talking about Syria, we’re talking about a lot of serious things…and I have this witch hunt constantly going on for over 12 months now. Actually it’s much more than that. You could say right after I won the nomination it started.

When I saw this, when I heard about it, that is a whole new level of unfairness.

This has been going on. I saw one of the reporters who is not necessarily a fan of mine…he said this is now getting ridiculous. They found no collusion what so ever with Russia.

This is the most biased group of people. These people have the biggest conflicts of interest I have ever seen. Democrats — all. Either Democrats or a couple of Republicans who worked for President Obama. They’re not looking at the other side — Hillary Clinton… all of the crimes that were committed, all of the things that happened that everybody is very angry about from the Republican side and the independent side. They only keep looking at us.

They raided the office of a personal attorney early in the morning. It’s a disgrace. So we’ll be talking about it more.

[snip]

The stock market dropped a lot today as soon as they heard the noise you know of this nonsense that was going on. It dropped a lot. It was up — it was way up. It dropped quite a bit at the end. That we have to go through that. We’ve had that hanging over us from the very, very beginning. And yet the other side they’re not even looking. And the other side is where there are crimes and those crimes are obvious — lies under oath all over the place, emails that are knocked out, that are acid washed and deleted, 33,000 emails were deleted after getting a subpoena from Congress. And nobody bothers looking at that.

Amid the wailing, Trump suggested he might fire Mueller.

“Why don’t I just fire Mueller? Well, I think it’s a disgrace what’s going on. We’ll see what happens,” Trump said. “Many people have said you should fire him. Again, they found nothing. And in finding nothing, that’s a big statement.”

As he nudges closer to firing Mueller, remember: after having chased John Dowd off, Trump has no competent defense attorney.

He may well fire Mueller. But he has no one to guide him out of the morass that doing so will cause.

Iran-Contra Cover-Up King Doesn’t Address Sessions’ Other Lies, or Conspiracy-in-Chief

Fresh off several witnesses revealing that Jeff Sessions wasn’t as offended by George Papadopoulos’ plan to pitch meetings with Putin as he claims he was, ABC reported that, Andrew McCabe approved an investigation into whether Jeff Sessions lied to Congress about his ties with Russia.

Nearly a year before Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired senior FBI official Andrew McCabe for what Sessions called a “lack of candor,” McCabe oversaw a federal criminal investigation into whether Sessions lacked candor when testifying before Congress about contacts with Russian operatives, sources familiar with the matter told ABC News.

An anonymous source tried to claim that Sessions would not have known that McCabe briefly oversaw an investigation into Sessions’ own perjury, but Sessions’ lawyer pointedly refused to confirm that.

One source told ABC News that Sessions was not aware of the investigation when he decided to fire McCabe last Friday less than 48 hours before McCabe, a former FBI deputy director, was due to retire from government and obtain a full pension, but an attorney representing Sessions declined to confirm that.

Sessions’ lawyer is Chuck Cooper. Most recently, he got famous failing spectacularly to defend Prop 8. But years and years ago, he played a key role in excusing Iran-Contra, notably by inventing the concept of pixie dusting executive orders.

Given his past as a great cover-up artist, take note of how carefully he words his more general denial.

Two months ago, Sessions was interviewed by Mueller’s team, and the federal inquiry related to his candor during his confirmation process has since been shuttered, according to a lawyer representing Sessions.

“The Special Counsel’s office has informed me that after interviewing the attorney general and conducting additional investigation, the attorney general is not under investigation for false statements or perjury in his confirmation hearing testimony and related written submissions to Congress,” attorney Chuck Cooper told ABC News on Wednesday.

The AG is not under investigation for any lies in his confirmation hearing testimony, Cooper said.

Here’s what that leaves out:

  • Obstruction charges for inventing the reason to fire Comey, pretending to be involved in the firing of US Attorneys including Preet Bharara, and for firing McCabe
  • False statements charges tied to Sessions’ later testimony before Congress
  • False statements charges tied to his Mueller testimony about whether he opposed the Russian outreach (we now know Mueller has gotten conflicting statements on this point)
  • Implication in the Russian conspiracy directly

It’s the last one that is most interesting (and where all these false statements charges are headed anyway). We now know some of the people at the March 31, 2016 meeting believe Sessions was not opposed to the Russian outreach. We know that Sessions’ close aide, Stephen Miller, was in the thick of things.

And then there’s this bizarre exchange from a November exchange with Patrick Leahy (who seems to have known that Sessions was then under investigation for lying to Congress).

Leahy asked about each item in turn.

Leahy: Let’s take this piece by piece. Did you discuss any of the following: Emails?

Sessions: Repeat the question again about emails.

Leahy: Since the 2016 campaign, have you discussed with any Russian connected official anything about emails?

Sessions: Discuss with them. I don’t recall having done any such thing.

Right after this exchange, Sessions totally balks when Leahy asks him if he has been interviewed or asked for an interview by Mueller, saying he should clear it with the Special Counsel.

Now, there was some imprecision in this questioning. It’s clear that Sessions believed he was answering the question about during the campaign, not since it.

But of the things Leahy asked about — emails, Russian interference, sanctions, or any policies or positions of the Trump campaign or presidency — Sessions ultimately not-recalled in response to just one question: the emails.

Based on the past practice Leahy had just laid out, Sessions claimed to not recall issues that he had actually done. Which would suggest Sessions is worried that there’s evidence he has discussed emails — with someone. It’s just not clear how he interpreted that question.

Sessions refused to deny he had discussed emails with a “Russian connected official” since the election.

None of these potential ties in the conspiracy are included in Cooper’s carefully worded denial (nor is Sessions’ knowing that McCabe had okayed an investigation into him for failing to meet his duty of candor, the same thing Sessions just fired McCabe for).

That speaks volumes.

In any case, it seems we’ll be hearing a lot more about Sessions’ implication in all this, in the wake of his firing of McCabe.

On the Grassley-Feinstein Dispute

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

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

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

Whitehouse And related documents, yes. The package.

Bharara: And you’ve gone to read them?

Whitehouse: I’ve gone to read them.

Bharara: You didn’t send Trey Gowdy?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did Christopher Steele lie?

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

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

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

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

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

Did Christopher Steele lie to the FBI?

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

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

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

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

1023s are Confidential Human Source reports.

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

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

Does it harm the viability of the FISA application?

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

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

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

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

[snip]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about the Michael Isikoff reference?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let’s do some math.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does this matter at all to the Mueller inquiry?

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

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

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

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

 

[Photo: Emily Morter via Unsplash]

Ruin a Movie with a Name: Get Carter (Page)

[Get Carter by MGM c. 1971]

[NB: As always, check the byline before reading. ~Rayne]

After all the Nunes memo hubbub and the impending Democratic counterpart, erstwhile Trump campaign adviser Carter Page looks sketchier than ever after TIME reported this past Saturday that Page characterized himself as an “informal advisor to the Kremlin” back in 2013.

The FBI warned Page that same year that he was being recruited by spies; Page blew them off. During the following year the FBI obtained a FISA warrant on Page.

Page thought the FBI had retaliated against him — he knew his blow-off was pretty arrogant — but as much as he asked for trouble by saying they should focus on the Boston bombing, then as now, the body of his actions asked for more scrutiny.

Let’s take a step or two back and take a look at the bigger picture surrounding Page; the timeline here is a work in process and will be updated.


2010 — In New York City, Russian spies Igor Sporyshev, Victor Podobnyy, and Evgeny Buryakov began work on several economics-related objectives on behalf of Russia’s SVR ‘Directorate ER’; their efforts started shortly after guilty pleas by members of Russian ‘Illegals’ spy ring and their expulsion.

14 DEC 2012 — Bipartisan Magnitsky Act (Pub.L. 112–208) passed and signed into law.

XX JAN 2013Carter Page met Podobnyy in New York City at an Asia Society meeting where the topic was China and Chinese energy development. (specific date TBD).

2013 — Podobnyy and Sporyshev attempted to recruit Page. Special agents with the FBI’s New York Field Office Counterintelligence Division surveilled and investigated spies and Page.

XX JUN 2013 — FBI interviewed Page about his contacts with Russians and cautioned him he was being recruited (specific date TBD).

25 AUG 2013 — In a letter this date sent to an academic press, Page refers to himself as “an informal advisor to the staff of the Kremlin.”

13 APR 2013 — In response to the Magnitsky Act, Russian lawmakers banned 18 Americans from entering Russian Federation, including Preet Bharara, a judge and 12 other DOJ/DEA personnel from the Southern District of New York. Russia also barred adoptions of Russian children by U.S. citizens.

2014 — FBI obtains a FISA warrant to monitor Page‘s communications (specific date TBD).

26 JAN 2015 — Russian spy Buryakov arrested; he had non-official cover as an employee of Vnesheconombank. Igor Sporyshev and Victor Podobnyy had already left the country; both had diplomatic immunity. Case was under U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara’s office for Southern District of New York. Page‘s identity was masked and appeared in the complaint against the spies as “MALE-1.” (See Buryakov, et al complaint (pdf))

DEC 2015 — George Papadopoulos began work for Ben Carson’s presidential campaign as a foreign policy advisor.

Late 2015 — New York’s GOP chair Ed Cox was in contact with Page. It is not clear from Page‘s testimony how this contact occurred; Page uses the word volunteered more than once.

JAN 2016 — Page had at least one meeting with campaign officials based on his contact with Ed Cox; in his HPSCI testimony he said he met Corey Lewandowski. Page was an unpaid adviser. Unclear from testimony if Sam Clovis had Page sign an NDA now or later in the campaign, before the July trip to Moscow.

FEB 2016 — Papadopoulos left Carson’s campaign.

Early MAR 2016 — Sam Clovis recruited Papadopoulos to work for Trump’s campaign as a foreign policy advisor.

06 MAR 2016 — Clovis relayed to Papadopoulos that “a principal foreign policy focus of the campaign was an improved U.S. relationship with Russia,” according to court records related to Papadopoulos’ eventual indictment. Clovis later denied saying this.

14-21 MAR 2016 — Prof. Joseph Mifsud met twice with Papadopoulos; Mifsud brought to the second meeting “Olga” who posed as Putin’s niece.

XX MAR 2016 — Page had breakfast in “March-ish” timeframe with Sam Clovis in Falls Church, VA to discuss NDA and “general foreign policy topics.”

21 MAR 2016Page joined Trump campaign as one of five foreign policy advisors, including George Papadopoulos.

MAR-APR 2016 — Dialog continued between Papadopoulos, Mifsud, Olga Vinogradova (referred to as Olga Poloskaya in some earlier reports). [link, link]

24 MAR 2016 — Papadopoulos sends an email copying campaign foreign policy advisers and Sam Clovis, offering to set up “a meeting between us and the Russian leadership to discuss US-Russia ties under President Trump.”

28 MAR 2016 — Article: Donald Trump Hires Paul Manafort to Lead Delegate Effort

26 APR 2016 — Papadopoulos learned the Russians had “dirt” on Hillary Clinton consisting of “thousands of emails.”

05 MAY 2016 — Trump is the presumptive GOP presidential nominee. Page emailed fellow foreign policy adviser Walid Phares and J.D. Gordon, asking them to contact him via cell phone or iMessage, adding “P.S. I forgot to mention that I also have the Middle East staple of [redacted]* as well. So that’s another global connectivity alternative if you want to get in touch there.” (* Believed to be the name of a regionalized communications system. See testimony transcript (pdf).)

16 MAY 2016Page sent an email to Walid Phares and J.D. Gordon, suggesting that Trump visit Russia  (see testimony transcript (pdf)).

24 MAY 2016Page emailed J.D. Gordon: “FYI: At the Newark Sky Club, Delta has a private room when you can have a confidential conversation, but, unfortunately, no such luck at Third-World LaGuardia. So I’ll mostly be on the receive mode, since there are a significant number of people in the lounge. Rather than saying too much, I’ll just refer to the seven points on my list which I sent last night.” (see testimony transcript (pdf)).

26 MAY 2016 — Page emailed J.D. Gordon and another foreign policy team member, Bernadette Kilroy, letting them know he will be speaking at the New Economic School’s commencement alongside Russia’s Sberbank’s chair and CEO  (see testimony transcript (pdf)).

27 MAY 2016Page may have met Paul Manafort associate Rick Gates at Trump’s North Dakota speech event (see testimony transcript (pdf)).

Early JUN 2016Page called Putin “stronger and more reliable than President Obama” and “touted the positive effect a Trump presidency would have on U.S.-Russia relations” according to attendees of a meeting of campaign foreign policy team members with India’s Prime Minister Modi. Modi’s trip was five days long, beginning June 8.

09 JUN 2016 — Trump Tower meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and Natalia Veselnitskaya et al., ostensibly about Russian adoptions.

XX JUN 2016 — After back-and-forth and an initial refusal with Corey Lewandowski, J.D. Gordon, and Hope Hicks, Page finally  obtains approval from Lewandowski to travel to Russia as a campaign team member (specific date TBD). In HPSCI testimony there is an exchange about an email he sent asking for feedback about the speech he was going to give in Moscow; same email mentions Russia’s Minister of Economics and Trade Herman Gref was expected to speak at the same event.

30 JUN 2016 — On the Thursday before his Moscow trip Page attended a dinner meeting at the Capitol Hill Club in DC at which both Sen. Jeff Sessions and George Papadopoulos were present and seated next to each other. Page testified to HPSCI this is the last time he saw Papadopoulos, and that he (Page) wasn’t going to Russia as part of the campaign team.

05 JUL 2016Page‘s trip to Russia. (05-09 JUL 2016; in his HPSCI testimony he said he left Sunday night, which would have been July 3.)

06 JUL 2016 — In his HPSCI testimony Page admits to meeting Rosneft’s Directer of Investor Relations Andrey Baranov at a Morgan Stanley-hosted Europa football event as well as [redacted] Nagovitsyn* of Gazprom; he also admitted to having a 10-second exchange with Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich as well as meeting members of the Duma. (* This may be Oleg Nagovitsyn who in 2014 had been CEO of Gazprom Investproekt, a subsidiary entity; Nagovitsyn has been elevated to General Director of Gazprom if this is the same Oleg.)

07 JUL 2016Page gave a speech at New Economic School; his speech is critical of U.S. foreign policy. He testified that the school paid for his expenses. (video)

08 JUL 2016Page attended and gave commencement speech at New Economic School graduation.  (videoPage avoided answering journalists’ questions both days regarding officials Page may have/will meet with in Russia. Page emailed campaign advisers Tera Dahl and J.D. Gordon, telling them he would send them “a readout soon regarding some incredible insights and outreach I’ve received from a few Russian legislators and senior members of the Presidential administration here.”

14 JUL 2016 — Page praises fellow foreign policy advisers and campaign team members J.D. Gordon, Walid Phares, Joseph Schmitz, Bert Mizusawa, Chuck Kubic, and Tera Dahl for their work changing the GOP platform on Ukraine.

18-21 JUL 2016Page spoke with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kisylak during the Global Partners in Diplomacy event  associated with the RNC Convention in Cleveland (specific date TBD).

19 JUL 2016 — Former MI6 intelligence officer Christopher Steele wrote a memo about Page‘s July trip to Moscow. Steele’s intelligence said Page met with Rosneft’s Igor Sechin and Russian Internal Affairs minister Igor Diveykin.

U.S. received intelligence that Page met with Igor Sechin, Putin associate, former Russian deputy prime minister, and executive chairman of Rosneft, but it isn’t clear whether this intelligence is based on Steele’s dossier alone and/or if disinformation involved.

After 22 JUL 2016 — Australia’s Ambassador to the U.S. Joe Hockey disclosed to the FBI that diplomat Alexander Downer learned from George Papadopoulos the Trump campaign had “dirt” on HRC in the form of emails.

XX JUL 2016Page had dinner alone with Sam Clovis some time after the July trip to Moscow.

05 AUG 2016 — Article: Trump adviser’s public comments, ties to Moscow stir unease in both parties; includes a profile of Page. Hope Hicks characterized Page as “informal policy adviser.”

19 AUG 2016 — Paul Manafort resigns from the campaign two days after Trump’s first security briefing. Steve Bannon assumes Manafort’s role for the campaign.

26 AUG 2016 — Sen. Harry Reid sent a letter to FBI Director James Comey asking for the investigation of Russian hacking and influence on the 2016 election with publication of findings. Reid cited the example of an unnamed Trump adviser “who has been highly critical of U.S. and European economic sanctions on Russia, and who has conflicts of interest due to investments in Russian energy conglomerate Gazprom, met with high-ranking sanctioned individuals while in Moscow in July 2016…” (link)

XX AUG 2016 — Page said he sold his ADR shares in Gazprom this month, approximately five months after joining the campaign; it’s not clear whether this sale happened before or after Sen. Reid’s letter (see written testimony (pdf)).

XX AUG 2016 — Page traveled to Hungary and met with the ambassador to the US; the ambassador had already met Page at the RNC convention. They discussed U.S.-Russia policy as it affected Hungary — “in general,” according to Page‘s testimony.

23 SEP 2016 — Article: U.S. intel officials probe ties between Trump adviser and Kremlin.

25 SEP 2016Page wrote to Comey and asked him to end the investigation into his trip to Russia (see written testimony).

26 SEP 2016Page left Trump campaign.

Mid to Late SEP 2016 — After discussing the matter with Fusion GPS’ Glenn Simpson, Christopher Steele metwith the FBI in Rome to share what he had learned about the Trump campaign and related Russian efforts. Steele was concerned there was a crime in progress; some of his research shared included information about Page‘s interactions with key Russians during his July trip.

21 OCT 2016 — FISA warrant on Page obtained.

24-OCT-2016 — Page did an interview with Russian media outlet RT on its Going Underground program. Program host and Page characterized Page‘s status as “on leave” from the campaign. Page‘s written testimony shared that Wikileaks and leaked emails “tangentially came up.” (video, uploaded to YouTube on 29-OCT-2016.)

08 NOV 2016 — Election Day.

08 DEC 2016 — Page took another trip to Russia; Arkady Dvorkovich stopped by a dinner Page attended and said hello according to Page‘s testimony (specific date TBD). Page also met Shlomo Weber again; he had lunch with Andrey Baranov, a bank analyst with Bank of America/Merrill Lynch, and a third person whose names were redacted at Page‘s request. He had a laptop with him at the lunch which he said he used to share his speech and slides for another academic presentation. The Kremlin’s spokesperson, Dmitri Peskov, said there were no plans to contact Page yet managed to see Page just before a television interview.

XX DEC 2016 — On the return leg to the U.S., Page stopped in London to attend an energy conference. While in London he met with a Russian national, Sergey Yatsenko, in London on return from Moscow; they talked about opportunities in Kazahkstan related to the country’s privatization process and the sovereign wealth fund, Samruk Kazyna. They were joined by the Kazahk ambassador to the U.K. and an aide.

10 JAN 2017 — BuzzFeed published 35 pages of the dossier Steele prepared for Orbis under contract to Fusion GPS.

Mid JAN 2017 — Jones Day LLP, White House counsel Don McGahn’s former law firm, communicated with Page, instructing him not to depict himself as a representative of the campaign. Steve Bannon conveyed a similar message by text to Page.

XX JAN 2017 — In an interview with ABC News, Page said he didn’t meet with any Russian officials on behalf of Trump campaign or with Igor Sechin (specific date not clear in ABC’s report).

18 JAN 2017 — Deadline, FISA renewal required (before inauguration).

19 JAN 2017 — Article: Intercepted Russian Communications Part of Inquiry Into Trump Associates; Page along with Paul Manafort and Roger Stone have become subjects of an investigation.

20 JAN 2017 — Inauguration Day.

31 JAN 2017 — Trump nominated Maryland’s U.S. Attorney Rod Rosenstein as Deputy Attorney General.

31 JAN 2017 — Page told ABC News’ Brian Ross he never talked to anyone in the Kremlin about the campaign during his July trip, “not one word.”

15 FEB 2017 — Interview: Former Trump adviser says he had no Russian meetings in the last year

JUDY WOODRUFF:
Did you have any meetings — I will ask again — did you have any meetings last year with Russian officials in Russia, outside Russia, anywhere?

CARTER PAGE:
I had no meetings, no meetings.

I might have said hello to a few people as they were walking by me at my graduation — the graduation speech that I gave in July, but no meetings.

02 MAR 2017 — Interview: Page: ‘I don’t deny’ meeting with Russian amb.; Page admitted meeting Russia’s Ambassador Kislyak during the campaign.

04 MAR 2017 — Corey Lewandowski told Fox News, “I never met Carter Page.”

11 MAR 2017 — Preet Bharara fired by USAG Jeff Sessions.

11 MAR 2017Page sent a letter to the HPSCI asking to be interviewed in a public hearing. His letter coincided with letters from Paul Manafort and Roger Stone who both volunteered to be interviewed.

03 APR 2017 — ABC News and BuzzFeed contacted Page about his role as MALE-1 in Buryakov et al spy ring case ((see written testimony (pdf))

13 APR 2017Page told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos that he “said hello briefly to one individual, who was aboard member of the New Economic School where I gave my speech” during his July 2016 to Moscow. He also hedged as to whether he had any discussion of sanctions while in Russia.

05 APR 2017 — Evgeny Buryakov was released from prison on March 31 and expelled from the U.S. days later; he had been credited with time served while in custody against his 2.5 year sentence. His deportation shortened his sentence by a couple of months.

~19 APR 2017 — Deadline, FISA renewal required (specific date TBD).

25 APR 2017 — Rod Rosenstein confirmed by Senate as Deputy Attorney General.

28 APR 2017 — Senate Intelligence Committee sent a letter to Page along with Mike Flynn, Paul Manafort, and Roger Stone asking for records related to the campaign, including a “list of all meetings between you and any Russian official or representative of Russian business interests which took place between June 16, 2015, and Jan. 20, 2017.”

05 MAY 2017 — Senate Intelligence Committee chair and vice chair sent a joint statement to Page to insist on his cooperation with their investigation.

09 MAY 2017 — FBI Director James Comey fired.

21 MAY 2017—Page requested appealed to the DOJ, FBI, NSA for disclosure of “information, applications and other materials related to my illegitimate FISA warrant” (see written testimony (pdf)).

~18 JUL 2017 — Deadline, FISA renewal required (specific date TBD).

04 OCT 2017 — HPSCI issued a subpoena to Page.

10 OCT 2017Page informed the Senate Intelligence Committee he would plead the Fifth Amendment and not testify in front of the SIC.

30 OCT 2017 — Excerpt from interview with MSNBC’s Chris Hayes suggests Page expected House Speaker Paul Ryan to release the FISA warrant documentation (video, about 06:57):

HAYES: Did you bring an attorney to you when you spent five hours before the Senate?

PAGE: Nope. Nope. I’m very, very open and happy to give all the information I can. In the interest of really getting the truth out there, because I think when the truth comes out, when Speaker Paul Ryan says the FISA warrant or the details about the dodgy dossier and what happened and all this documents around that is going to be released, that’s what I’m really excited about. And I think the truth will set a lot of people free.

02 NOV 2017 — In testimony submitted to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Page said he briefly met Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich during his July trip. Page pleaded the Fifth Amendment on some of the materials responsive to the HPSCI’s subpoena.

14 NOV 2017 — Jeff Sessions testified before the House Judiciary Committee; he said he did not remember seeing Page at the June 30, 2016 dinner with campaign team members, nor did he recall any communications about Page‘s trip to Moscow.


Again, this is not a complete timeline of Trump-Russia events, let alone a complete timeline of everything Carter Page. It captures some key points from just before the FBI became aware of Carter Page through the release of the Nunes’ memo Friday last week.

From a comprehensive meta level, the push operation to release the Nunes memo — driven in part with help from Russian bots promoting #ReleaseTheMemo, complementing Page’s request for the FISA warrant documentation — looks less like an effort to remove Robert Mueller as special counsel or Rod Rosenstein as U.S. Deputy AG.

As others have suggested, Page looks like an expendable mule and/or a decoy — a perfect fit for a perfect useful idiot.

The entire picture reflects a more comprehensive effort to attack the USDOJ apart from Jeff Sessions, and to undermine or obscure the opposition research process which included the Steele dossier.

And it looks more like Devin Nunes aided Putin’s continued attack against the U.S.’ Magnitsky Act, attempting to undermine law enforcement charged with executing this public law.

For all the concern that Page and other campaign team members might have talked about the sanctions with Russia, the Magnitsky Act is lost in the media buzz.

There are quite a few oddities about Page which should cause the average Joe to take pause. Why did Page join the campaign in March 2016 when Trump wasn’t the presumptive nominee until the first week of May after the Indiana primary? Did he just show up at the campaign’s doorstep via Ed Cox on his own or was he recruited/encouraged? Why wasn’t Page vetted more thoroughly by the campaign?

And why when he joined the campaign was he not expected to have already eliminated any conflicts of interest like his Gazprom ADRs? The financial conflict made Page an easily compromised mark even though both campaign and administration didn’t and don’t give a fig about ethics. It’s not clear how Page earns his keep; he testified he was living off his savings. Did he sell his ADRs only because he was low on cash? In other words, was he at risk for financial compromise?

(An aside: with Page’s relationships to Russian oil and gas community members, did Page buy or sell his ADRs on what might have been insider information? He didn’t do well if he sold in August 2016 but it’s not clear when and at what price he bought the ADRs to begin with.)

How did a guy with such thin credentials — he was awarded his doctorate in 2012 after his thesis was twice rejected — end up speaking not just once at the New Economic School but twice, giving the commencement speech? Not to mention his flaky personal style spies Podobnyy and Sporyshev noted years earlier. What was in his speeches that students, faculty, and distinguished guests alike needed to hear? Did someone at the New Economic School ‘review’ an electronic or hardcopy version of the speeches in advance? This is a question the HPSCI attempted to ask but didn’t receive a clear answer. Did a member of Russia’s government ‘review’ the speeches?

Why was there such a lag between Page’s trip to Russia and the FISA warrant given Page’s history?

Some pieces in this puzzle hint at other possible connections. Recall that Rosenstein — who has been involved in the FISA warrants since Comey was fired — was the US Attorney for Maryland. Pioneer Point, one of Russia’s compounds confiscated December 29, 2016 under sanctions related to hacking the DNC, is located on the water in Maryland.

Maryland was also home to a Manafort-related business SCG raided on May 11 last year. Has Rosenstein been kept preoccupied so that he would not be involved in anything related to either Pioneer Point or SCG? Who (if anyone) was nominated to replace Rosenstein in Maryland? Has the pressure on Rosenstein been two-fold — not just to discourage another extension of the FISA warrant on Page, but to keep him from looking too closely in what was once his backyard?

Key events from George Papadopoulos’ tenure with the campaign were included in the timeline for comparison between two foreign policy advisers working for the same campaign. What marching orders did these two receive from Clovis or other senior campaign team members? They’re off doing their own things but both generating trouble at the same time. Page’s open activities drew media attention; Papadopoulos’ efforts were not as visible to the public. Was this intentional? Why did the campaign need not one but two foreign policy advisers with fossil fuel-based energy backgrounds mingling with Russians? Were they both proof-of-concepts establishing back channel communications, testing approaches to see which would be more successful? Were there any other attempts at back channels via campaign team members?

And while we’ve been focused on these two advisers, at least three others continued their work for the campaign and possibly into the transition. What were they doing?

It’s worth reading the HPSCI transcript of Page’s oral and written testimony. He’s a lousy writer; his work borders on irrational. His oral responses during the HPSCI hearing are as bad if not worse. Of particular concern is his repetitive use of certain arguments and phrases which have been use at times by online provocateurs.

Other persons and issues aside, consider this particular excerpt in a report published about a month before the FBI obtained a FISA warrant on Page:

Page came to the attention of officials at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow several years ago when he showed up in the Russian capital during several business trips and made provocative public comments critical of U.S. policy and sympathetic to Putin. “He was pretty much a brazen apologist for anything Moscow did,” said one U.S. official who served in Russia at the time.

How could the FBI not have requested a FISA warrant given what we the public already knew about Carter Page once he left for Moscow last July?

On the Breadcrumbs Suggesting Feds Flipped Reza Zarrab

In response to last week’s WSJ story on Mike Flynn’s sustained discussions about helping Turkey kidnap Fethullah Gulen, I suggested the far more interesting detail was his involvement in brokering a deal for Reza Zarrab, a Turk accused of laundering gold to benefit Iran. That’s because, in addition to any taint of a quid pro quo, it also implicated Trump’s decision to fire Preet Bharara.

Mostly, the focus has been on the kidnapping part of the story (perhaps, in part, because Republicans tried to attack James Woolsey for his involvement in it a few weeks back). But, because of the timeline, I think the far more interesting side of it is the inclusion of a deal on the Reza Zarrab prosecution — because that implicates Trump’s decision to fire Preet Bharara, substantiating a parallel case to his firing of Jim Comey.

[snip]

Here’s what the timeline looks like:

November 30: Trump tells Preet he can stay

Mid-December: Flynn has meeting discussing $15 million payoff for doing Turkey’s bidding

March 7: Flynn submits delated FARA registration ending in November

March 11: Trump fires Preet

Given Sessions’ confusion about whether he was really involved in that decision, I would bet there’s a paper trail showing he provided, as he did for the Comey firing, cover for a decision that had already been made.

Today, the Daily Beast has a piece suggesting (albeit backed by a long series of no comments from lawyers) that the Feds may have flipped Zarrab.

Mueller is reportedly looking at a December meeting blocks from Trump Tower where Michael Flynn—shortly before Trump became president and named him national security adviser—was reportedly offered upward of $15 million if he could help Turkey win the extradition of cleric Fethullah Gülen as well as the release of gold trader Reza Zarrab.

Now it appears Zarrab, whose trial for allegedly cheating U.S. sanctions by facilitating gold-for-gas deals between Turkey and Iran is scheduled to begin in just days, may be working with federal prosecutors.

Last month, lawyers for his co-defendant, bank manager Mehmet Atilla, remarked sardonically in court filings that Zarrab, the man at the root of the charges facing their client, had all but vanished, and it seemed “likely that Mr. Atilla will be the only defendant appearing at trial.”

It’s a reasonable suggestion. And one other bread crumb might support it: the tidbit that Mueller’s team added a prosecutor last week, who remains unnamed.

Mueller’s work isn’t just confined to his team of prosecutors, which special counsel spokesman Peter Carr said grew last week to 17 with the addition of an unnamed lawyer.

Zarrab was removed from BOP custody on Wednesday November 8, so the same week that this unnamed additional prosecutor was added to the team.

Mind you, it’s not clear how much Zarrab — who was in jail for the period of the alleged meetings — would know about Flynn’s involvement in any proposed deals. He would, however, know what his lawyers Rudy 9/11 and Michael Mukasey had claimed about such deals.

Of course, it’s also possible he was flipped on someone else, like other officials in the Turkish government, or that something else explains the move.

That said, the prosecutors from SDNY would surely be quite interested in exacting some kind of price for Preet’s abrupt removal, and Zarrab might provide the way to do that.

Update: There has always been confusion about whether Michael (the former AG) or Marc (his son) was the lawyer who weighed in for Zarrab, which continues (as Jim notes). It was Michael, not Marc. I’ve corrected this post accordingly.

The Flynn-Turkey Deal Raises the Obstruction Stakes for the Preet Bharara Firing

Twitter is abuzz this morning with the WSJ story (this is the NBC version of it; here’s a paywall free link) that Mike Flynn and his spawn hoped to make up to $15 million for kidnapping Fethullah Gulen and delivering him to Turkey.

Investigators for Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into Russia’s interference with the U.S. presidential election recently questioned witnesses about the alleged December 2016 meeting between Flynn and senior Turkish officials, two people knowledgeable with the interviews said. The questions were part of a line of inquiry regarding Flynn’s lobbying efforts on behalf of Turkey.

Mueller’s investigation into Flynn’s potential deal with Turkey was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Four people familiar with the investigation said Mueller is looking into whether Flynn discussed in the late December meeting orchestrating the return to Turkey of a chief rival of Turkish President Recep Erdogan who lives in the U.S. Additionally, three people familiar with the probe said investigators are examining whether Flynn and other participants discussed a way to free a Turkish-Iranian gold trader, Reza Zarrab, who is jailed in the U.S. Zarrab is facing federal charges that he helped Iran skirt U.S. sanctions.

The story has already been told; what’s new about this iteration of it is the eye-popping pay-off, as well as more details about the timing and location of a second meeting.

The meeting allegedly took place at the upscale 21 Club restaurant in New York, just blocks always from Trump Tower where Flynn was serving on the presidential transition team. Flynn was offered upwards of $15 million, to be paid directly or indirectly, if he could complete the deal, according to two sources familiar with the meeting.

Mostly, the focus has been on the kidnapping part of the story (perhaps, in part, because Republicans tried to attack James Woolsey for his involvement in it a few weeks back). But, because of the timeline, I think the far more interesting side of it is the inclusion of a deal on the Reza Zarrab prosecution — because that implicates Trump’s decision to fire Preet Bharara, substantiating a parallel case to his firing of Jim Comey.

As noted, SDNY is prosecuting Zarrab for laundering Turkish gold into Iranian coffers. Rudy Giuliani and Michael Mukasey are representing Zarrab, with Giuliani going so far as brokering a deal that would trade foreign policy cooperation for Zarrab’s release even while defying pressure from DOJ about explaining his role in it. Because the case implicates Recep Tayyip Erdogan personally, the impending trial has led to increasing diplomatic tensions with Turkey.

By November 30, Trump assured Preet, as he did Comey, that he would stay on in the Trump Administration. But that changed when, in March, Trump unexpectedly asked for the resignation of almost all US Attorneys. Preet forced the issue and made Trump fire him; early reports suggested Marc Mukasey might replace Preet. Since then, Jeff Sessions has struggled to explain his own role in the firing, which could be an important element to proving the reasons behind it. In the same hearing, it came out that Trump has personally interviewed potential successors for Preet.

In the wake of the Preet firing, those watching closely honed in on the connection between increasing scrutiny on Flynn’s ties with Turkey and the firing.

There’s another reason we should all be alarmed by the unceremonious firing of Preet Bharara, outgoing U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Bharara is presently involved in a case against Reza Zarrab, a dual Iranian-Turkish national accused of violating U.S. sanctions against Iran. Investigators initially focused on Zarrab’s sanctions evasion. They then discovered that Zarrab was in close contact with Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan, who used Illicit funds to provide weapons, financing and logistics for jihadi groups in Syria including ISIS.

Bharara has a reputation as a non-partisan professional. He is known for independence and resisting direction, which led to tensions with the Justice Department and the U.S. Department of State.

As it happens, Bharara’s dismissal occurred the same day [actually Flynn filed his FARA registration on March 7] former National Security Adviser Gen. Michael Flynn admitted to obscuring ties with Turkish interests in violation of the Foreign Agent Registration Act. Bharara’s dismissal also occurred in the wake of recent contact between Berat Albayrak, Erdogan’s son-in-law, and Jared Kushner.

What this story provides is — like the Comey firing and not coincidentally also tied to Mike Flynn’s actions — important timing. In November, Trump promised to keep Preet. In December, Flynn continued his discussions with the Turks. In March, just after DOJ started forcing Flynn to reveal details about his work for Turkey, Trump reneged on his promise to Preet and — in the guise of firing everyone — fired Preet.

Here’s what the timeline looks like:

November 30: Trump tells Preet he can stay

Mid-December: Flynn has meeting discussing $15 million payoff for doing Turkey’s bidding

March 7: Flynn submits delated FARA registration ending in November

March 11: Trump fires Preet

Given Sessions’ confusion about whether he was really involved in that decision, I would bet there’s a paper trail showing he provided, as he did for the Comey firing, cover for a decision that had already been made.

The one other important detail of this story, which follows on stories from yesterday, is that Mueller has implicated Flynn Jr in this deal. That reportedly is already making Flynn Sr consider pleading, to protect his son.

But if he does that, he may be forced to disclose how closely Trump was involved in these discussions to sell US policy to Turkey to enrich a staffer.

Jeff Sessions Can’t Remember Whether He Was Involved in Firing All the US Attorneys

One of the things that came out of Jeff Sessions’ testimony last Thursday was the news — elicited by Richard Blumenthal — that President Trump had personally interviewed candidates for two US Attorney positions, those in SDNY and EDNY, which was taken as a sign Trump wanted to install cronies in the districts that oversee most of his (and his family’s) activities.

But there was a counterpart exchange at the hearing that was, particularly because of Sessions’ inability to answer it, just as stunning.

After Mazie Hirono handed Sessions his ass for attacking a judge in HI for issuing a nationwide injunction, she then asked him who was involved in the decision to fire all the US Attorneys all at once.

Hirono: Who was involved in the decision to dismiss all of the US Attorneys without any warning. And why was it done when it was done?

At first Sessions just filibustered — Clinton Clinton Clinton.

Sessions: [stumped] We had gone for a number of months, about half of the United States Attorneys had already resigned, it’s traditional that they’re replaced by the next Administration, and President [pause] I believe President Clinton did the same, issued a single order, precedent, there’s precedent for it to complete the process of changeover.

So then Hirono asked what I imagine is the point: whether Trump made the decision entirely on his own.

Hirono: So it was totally President Trump who made that decision? You were not involved in that decision?

Sessions: I, I believe the responsibility is the President’s.

Hirono: You were not involved in that decision to fire them all?

But then when she double checks whether that’s true, he realizes he’s about to get his boss in a whole heap of trouble, and — literally mid-question!! — turns to ask a staffer what the correct answer is.

Sessions: Actually, actually, I think the Att —

[Sessions stops mid-sentence to talk to a staffer behind him]

Only after consulting the staffer did Sessions “remember” being involved in the decision.

Sessions: I can’t re — I can’t believe I can’t remember that. But it was an important issue. The President appoints United States Attorneys, and it was appropriate, I thought at that time to make the change.

Hirono: So you were involved?

Sessions: Yes, I was involved.

Thus far, the exchange is remarkable enough.

All the more so when you look back at the reporting from when it occurred, in early March. As NYT reported, it was a surprise to all the US Attorneys asked to leave.

The Trump administration moved on Friday to sweep away most of the remaining vestiges of Obama administration prosecutors at the Justice Department, ordering 46 holdover United States attorneys to tender their resignations immediately — including Preet Bharara, the United States attorney in Manhattan.

The firings were a surprise — especially for Mr. Bharara, who has a reputation for prosecuting public corruption cases and for investigating insider trading. In November, Mr. Bharara met with then President-elect Donald J. Trump at Trump Tower in Manhattan and told reporters afterward that both Mr. Trump and Jeff Sessions, who is now the attorney general, had asked him about staying on, which the prosecutor said he expected to do.

But on Friday, Mr. Bharara was among federal prosecutors who received a call from Dana Boente, the acting deputy attorney general, instructing him to resign, according to a person familiar with the matter.

And it was an apparent reversal from an earlier plan.

The abrupt mass firing appeared to be a change in plans for the administration, according to a statement by Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“In January, I met with Vice President Pence and White House Counsel Donald McGahn and asked specifically whether all U.S. attorneys would be fired at once,” she said. “Mr. McGahn told me that the transition would be done in an orderly fashion to preserve continuity. Clearly this is not the case. I’m very concerned about the effect of this sudden and unexpected decision on federal law enforcement.”

A statement from DOJ spox Sarah Isgur Flores does attribute the decision to Sessions.

“The Attorney General has now asked the remaining 46 presidentially appointed U.S. Attorneys to tender their resignations in order to ensure a uniform transition.”

But Acting Deputy Attorney General Dana Boente (one of just two to keep his job right away), not Sessions, made the calls to the US Attorneys.

In other words, it seems possible that Sessions really wasn’t involved, but he has to pretend to be, so that the decision to fire (especially) Preet Bharara doesn’t appear to be something Trump did on his own, partly in response to badgering from Sean Hannity.

In other words, this later exchange from the same hearing suggests that Trump first unilaterally fired all the US Attorneys, which even at the time was interpreted as an effort to fire one in particular, and now is exercising more control over his replacement than any President ever has before. Only, Sessions managed to remember being involved just in time to make that clear.

Loretta Lynch Is A Dubious Nominee For Attorney General

CryingJusticeLoretta Lynch is an excellent nominee for Attorney General, and her prior actions in whitewashing the blatant and rampant criminality of HSBC should not be held against her, because she didn’t know that at the time she last whitewashed that criminal enterprise, right?

No. Nothing could be further from the truth.

This is a cop out by Lynch’s advocates. Lynch either knew, or damn well should have known. She signed off on the HSBC Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA), if she was less than fully informed, that is on her. That is what signing legal documents stands for….responsibility. Banks like HSBC, Credit Suisse, ING etc were, and still are, a cesspool of criminal activity and avoidance schemes. Willful blindness to the same old bankster crimes by Lynch doesn’t cut it (great piece by David Dayen by the way).

But, all the above ignores the Swiss Alps sized mountains of evidence that we know Lynch was aware of and blithely swept under the rug by her HSBC DPA. So, we are basically left to decide whether Lynch is a bankster loving toady that is her own woman and cravenly whitewashed this all on her own, or whether she is a clueless stooge taking orders to whitewash it by DOJ Main. Both views are terminally unattractive and emblematic of the oblivious, turn the other cheek to protect the monied class, rot that infects the Department of Justice on the crimes of the century to date.

And that is only scratching the real surface of my objections to Lynch. There are many other areas where Lynch has proven herself to be a dedicated, dyed in the wool “law and order adherent” and, as Marcy Wheeler artfully coined, “executive maximalist”. Lynch’s ridiculous contortion, and expansion, of extraterritorial jurisdiction to suit the convenient whims of the Obama Administration’s unparalleled assault on the Rule of Law in the war on terror is incredibly troubling. Though, to be fair, EDNY is the landing point of JFK International and a frequent jurisdiction by designation. Some of these same questions could have been asked of Preet Bharara (see, e.g. U.S. v. Warsame) Loretta Lynch has every bit the same, if not indeed more, skin in the game as Bharara, whether by choice or chance.

Lynch has never uttered a word in dissent from this ridiculous expansion of extraterritorial jurisdiction. Lynch’s record in this regard is crystal clear from cases like US v. Ahmed, Yousef, et. al. where even Lynch and her office acknowledged that their targets could not have “posed a specific threat to the United States” much less have committed specific acts against the US.

This unconscionable expansion is clearly all good by Lynch, and the ends justify the means because there might be “scary terrists” out there. That is just dandy by American “executive maximalists”, but it is toxic to the Rule of Law, both domestically and internationally (See, supra). If the US, and its putative Attorney General, are to set precedents in jurisdictional reach on common alleged terroristic support, then they ought live by them on seminal concerns like torture and war crimes under international legal norms. Loretta Lynch has demonstrated a proclivity for the convenience of the former and a toady like disdain for the latter.

And the same willingness to go along to get along with contortion of the Rule of Law in that regard seems beyond certain to extend to her treatment of surveillance issues and warrant applications, state secrets, over-classification, attack on the press and, critically, separation of powers issues. Those types of concerns, along with how the Civil Rights Division is utilized to rein in out of control militarized cops and voting rights issues, how the OLC stands up to Executive overreach, whether OPR is allowed to continue to shield disgraceful and unethical AUSAs, and whether she has the balls to stand up to the infamously insulated inner Obama circle in the White House. Do you really think Loretta Lynch would have backed up Carolyn Krass and OLC in telling Obama no on the Libyan War Powers Resolution issue?

For my part, I don’t think there is a chance in hell Lynch would have stood up to Obama on a war powers, nor any other critical issue, and that is a huge problem. Krass and Holder may have lost the Libyan WPR battle, but at least they had the guts to stand up and say no, and leave a record of the same for posterity.

That is what really counts, not the tripe being discussed in the press, and the typically preening clown show “hearing” in front of SJC. That is where the rubber meets the road for an AG nominee, not that she simply put away some mobsters and did not disgrace herself – well, beyond the above, anyway (which she absolutely did) – during her time as US Attorney in EDNY. If you are a participant in, or interested observer of, the criminal justice system as I am, we should aspire to something better than Eric Holder. Holder may not have been everything hoped for from an Obama AG when the Administration took office in January of 2009, but he was a breath of fresh air coming off the AG line of the Bush/Cheney regime. Loretta Lynch is not better, and is not forward progress from Holder, indeed she is several steps down in the wrong direction. That is not the way to go.

The fact that Loretta Lynch is celebrated as a great nominee by not just Democrats in general, but the so called progressives in specific, is embarrassing. She is absolutely horrible. If Bush had put her up for nomination, people of the progressive ilk, far and wide, would be screaming bloody murder. Well, she is the same person, and she is a terrible nominee. And that does not bode well for the Rule of Law over the remainder of the Obama Administration.

And this post has not even touched on more mundane, day to day, criminal law and procedure issues on which Lynch is terrible. And horrible regression from Eric Holder. Say for instance pot. Decriminalization, indeed legalization, of marijuana is one of the backbone elements of reducing both the jail and prison incarceration rate, especially in relation to minorities. Loretta Lynch is unconscionably against that (See, e.g., p. 49 (of pdf) et. seq.). Lynch appears no more enlightened on other sentencing and prison reform, indeed, she seems to be of a standard hard core prosecutorial wind up law and order lock em up mentality. Lynch’s positions on relentless Brady violations by the DOJ were equally milquetoast, if not pathetic (See, e.g. p. 203 (of pdf) et. seq.). This discussion could go on and on, but Loretta Lynch will never come out to be a better nominee for Attorney General.

Observers ought stop and think about the legal quality, or lack thereof, of the nominee they are blindly endorsing. If you want more enlightened criminal justice policy, to really combat the prison state and war on drugs, and to rein in the out of control security state and war on terror apparatus, Loretta Lynch is a patently terrible choice; we can, and should, do better.